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Morphological and Syntactic Variation and Change in European Spanish  

María José Serrano

Since the 1990s, there have been major developments in the variationist approach to morphological and syntactic variation and change in European Spanish. This research area has garnered increasing interest because of the various morphosyntactic phenomena available for study. A significant amount of work on morphological and syntactic variation and change has been devoted to analyzing the linguistic differences among variants and the social and stylistic communicative settings in which they are used. The main phenomena studied in European Spanish are classified in three main groups: variation of personal pronouns, variation of verbal forms, and variation of syntactic constructions. Morphological and syntactic variants are linguistic choices constructed in a meaningful way that reveal speakers’ perceptions of real-world events and are projected stylistically onto the domain of discourse and interaction. Effective engagement with these choices requires the adoption of a broad, multifaceted notion of meaning to overcome earlier methodological controversies about studying variation at the morphological and syntactic levels because of the meaning that variants convey. In recent years, variation theory has benefited greatly from research in cognitive linguistics, a field whose basic tenet is that grammatical structures reflect the human perception of events. In fact, the most modern theoretical approach to morphosyntactic variation is based on the study of the cognitive meanings underlying variants, which is at the core of the empirical concerns of cognitive sociolinguistics. From a cognitive viewpoint, language is not a separate ability within the realm of human cognition; rather, it is developed along with all other cognitive skills. Studies of morphosyntactic variation address the social contexts in which variation takes place to adequately explain linguistic variation phenomena. The analysis of the communicative and cognitive backgrounds of morphological and syntactic variation challenges the traditional, structural, and behavioral concepts of linguistic variability and change. Thus, the study of these changes reflects the diversity and evolution of ways of thinking.

Article

Acoustic Theories of Speech Perception  

Melissa Redford and Melissa Baese-Berk

Acoustic theories assume that speech perception begins with an acoustic signal transformed by auditory processing. In classical acoustic theory, this assumption entails perceptual primitives that are akin to those identified in the spectral analyses of speech. The research objective is to link these primitives with phonological units of traditional descriptive linguistics via sound categories and then to understand how these units/categories are bound together in time to recognize words. Achieving this objective is challenging because the signal is replete with variation, making the mapping of signal to sound category nontrivial. Research that grapples with the mapping problem has led to many basic findings about speech perception, including the importance of cue redundancy to category identification and of differential cue weighting to category formation. Research that grapples with the related problem of binding categories into words for speech processing motivates current neuropsychological work on speech perception. The central focus on the mapping problem in classical theory has also led to an alternative type of acoustic theory, namely, exemplar-based theory. According to this type of acoustic theory, variability is critical for processing talker-specific information during speech processing. The problems associated with mapping acoustic cues to sound categories is not addressed because exemplar-based theories assume that perceptual traces of whole words are perceptual primitives. Smaller units of speech sound representation, as well as the phonology as a whole, are emergent from the word-based representations. Yet, like classical acoustic theories, exemplar-based theories assume that production is mediated by a phonology that has no inherent motor information. The presumed disconnect between acoustic and motor information during perceptual processing distinguishes acoustic theories as a class from other theories of speech perception.

Article

Nonverbal Clauses in Wano: A Trans–New Guinea Language  

Willem Burung

West Papua has approximately 300 ethnic languages, which are classified into two main families: the Austronesian languages, of the coastal ethnic groups, and the Papuan languages, of the montane native dwellers. Papuan languages are further sub-divided into 43 language families, of which Trans–New Guinea is the largest in terms of number. Wano is a member of the Trans–New Guinea family. Clauses lacking a verb as a core element in their structures are known as nonverbal clauses, which are intransitive cross-linguistically. Languages like English may grammatically differentiate nonverbal clauses from nonverbal predicates, which is not so in languages like Wano that lack a copula. An English clause, he is my child, for instance, is a verbal clause with a nonverbal predicate, while its equivalent expression in Wano, at nabut ‘he is my child’, with its morphosyntactic structure {he/she/it 1s-child.of male possessor}, is a nonverbal clause with a nonverbal predicate. Nonverbal clauses in Wano may have the forms of (a) subject-predicate, for example, at nica ‘she is my mother’, with its morphosyntactic structure: {he/she/it 1s-mother}, where the inalienable kin noun, nica ‘my mother’ {1s-mother} is the predicate; and (b) subject-object-predicate, for example, kat an nabua ‘you.sg love me’, with its morphosyntactic structure: {you.sg I 1s-love’}, of which the cognition noun, nabua ‘my love’ {1s-love}, functions as predicate head. How a nonverbal clause could be transitive is a fundamental question that is worth the explanatory definition of Wano nouns in terms of their morphology-semantics-pragmatics interface. Noun morphology in Wano is straightforward yet may undergo complex semantic-pragmatic coding with respect to morphosyntactic structures. One reason is that in some kin terminologies, the language distinguishes the sex of the possessor, such as the inalienable kin phrase ‘my child’, that is, nabut, which has the morphological structure of {1s-child.of male possessor} or {1s-fatherling:child}; this is applicable only for male possessor, and nayak {1s-motherling:child} is for female possessor. The distinction may lead to semantic-pragmatic complexity for the interpretation of the English possessive phrase our child in Wano, which is either ninyabut ‘our child’ {1p-fatherling:child}, restricted to male possessors, or ninyayak ‘our child’ {1p-motherling:child}, restricted to female possessors. The other reason is the presence of a type of inalienable noun, that is, physiocognition nouns, in nonverbal clauses as predicate elements, for example, an nanop anduk ‘my head is painful’ {I 1s-head 3s-pain}, where the physiology noun anduk ‘his pain’ {3s-pain} is the predicate, and kat at enokweid ‘you.sg think of him’ {you.sg he 3s-mind} is the clause that has the cognition noun enokweid ‘his mind’ as predicate. Wano divides inalienable nouns into: (2.1) cultural nouns, for example, nayum ‘my netbag’ {1s-netbag}; (2.2) kin nouns, for example, kare ‘your.sg uncle’ {2s-uncle}; (2.3) body part nouns, for example, nanop ‘my head’ {1s-head} for (2.3.1) solid body part nouns and adian ‘his blood’ {3s-blood} for (2.3.2) liquid body part nouns; and (2.4) physiocognition nouns, for example, nabua ‘my love’ {1s-love} for (2.4.1) cognition nouns, and anduk ‘his pain’ {3s-pain} for (2.4.2) physiology nouns. Physiology nouns are found in the subject-predicate structure and cognition nouns in the subject-object-predicate.

Article

Arthur Abramson  

Philip Rubin

Arthur Seymour Abramson (1925–2017) was an American linguist who was prominent in the international experimental phonetics research community. He was best known for his pioneering work, with Leigh Lisker, on voice onset time (VOT), and for his many years spent studying tone and voice quality in languages such as Thai. Born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey, Abramson served several years in the Army during World War II. Upon his return to civilian life, he attended Columbia University (BA, 1950; PhD, 1960). There he met Franklin Cooper, an adjunct who taught acoustic phonetics while also working for Haskins Laboratories. Abramson started working on a part-time basis at Haskins and remained affiliated with the institution until his death. For his doctoral dissertation (1962), he studied the vowels and tones of the Thai language, which would sit at the heart of his research and travels for the rest of his life. He would expand his investigations to include various languages and dialects, such as Pattani Malay and the Kuai dialect of Suai, a Mon-Khmer language. Abramson began his collaboration with University Pennsylvania linguist Leigh Lisker at Haskins Laboratories in the 1960s. Using their unique VOT technique, a sensitive measure of the articulatory timing between an occlusion in the vocal tract and the beginning of phonation (characterized by the onset of vibration of the vocal folds), they studied the voicing distinctions of various languages. Their long standing collaboration continued until Lisker’s death in 2006. Abramson and colleagues often made innovative use of state-of-art tools and technologies in their work, including transillumination of the larynx in running speech, X-ray movies of speakers in several languages/dialects, electroglottography, and articulatory speech synthesis. Abramson’s career was also notable for the academic and scientific service roles that he assumed, including membership on the council of the International Phonetic Association (IPA), and as a coordinator of the effort to revise the International Phonetic Alphabet at the IPA’s 1989 Kiel Convention. He was also editor of the journal Language and Speech, and took on leadership roles at the Linguistic Society of America and the Acoustical Society of America. He was the founding Chair of the Linguistics Department at the University of Connecticut, which became a hotbed for research in experimental phonetics in the 1970s and 1980s because of its many affiliations with Haskins Laboratories. He also served for many years as a board member at Haskins, and Secretary of both the Board and the Haskins Corporation, where he was a friend and mentor to many.

Article

Lexical Representations in Language Processing  

Gary Libben

Words are the backbone of language activity. An average 20-year-old native speaker of English will have a vocabulary of about 42,000 words. These words are connected with one another within the larger network of lexical knowledge that is termed the mental lexicon. The metaphor of a mental lexicon has played a central role in the development of theories of language and mind and has provided an intellectual meeting ground for psychologists, neurolinguists, and psycholinguists. Research on the mental lexicon has shown that lexical knowledge is not static. New words are acquired throughout the life span, creating very large increases in the richness of connectivity within the lexical system and changing the system as a whole. Because most people in the world speak more than one language, the default mental lexicon may be a multilingual one. Such a mental lexicon differs substantially from a lexicon of an individual language and would lead to the creation of new integrated lexical systems due to the pressure on the system to organize and access lexical knowledge in a homogenous manner. The mental lexicon contains both word knowledge and morphological knowledge. There is also evidence that it contains multiword strings such as idioms and lexical bundles. This speaks in support of a nonrestrictive “big tent” view of units of representation within the mental lexicon. Changes in research on lexical representations in language processing have emphasized lexical action and the role of learning. Although the metaphor of words as distinct representations within a lexical store has served to advance knowledge, it is more likely that words are best seen as networks of activity that are formed and affected by experience and learning throughout the life span.

Article

Psycholinguistics and Aging  

Michael Ramscar

Healthy aging is associated with many cognitive, linguistic, and behavioral changes. For example, adults’ reaction times slow on many tasks as they grow older, while their memories, appear to fade, especially for apparently basic linguistic information such as other people’s names. These changes have traditionally been thought to reflect declines in the processing power of human minds and brains as they age. However, from the perspective of the information-processing paradigm that dominates the study of mind, the question of whether cognitive processing capacities actually decline across the life span can only be scientifically answered in relation to functional models of the information processes that are presumed to be involved in cognition. Consider, for example, the problem of recalling someone’s name. We are usually reminded of the names of friends on a regular basis, and this makes us good at remembering them. However, as we move through life, we inevitably learn more names. Sometimes we hear these new names only once. As we learn each new name, the average exposure we will have had to any individual name we know is likely to decline, while the number of different names we know is likely to increase. This in turn is likely to make the task of recalling a particular name more complex. One consequence of this is as follows: If Mary can only recall names with 95% accuracy at age 60—when she knows 900 names—does she necessarily have a worse memory than she did at age 16, when she could recall any of only 90 names with 98% accuracy? Answering the question of whether Mary’s memory for names has actually declined (or improved even) will require some form of quantification of Mary’s knowledge of names at any given point in her life and the definition of a quantitative model that predicts expected recall performance for a given amount of name knowledge, as well as an empirical measure of the accuracy of the model across a wide range of circumstances. Until the early 21st century, the study of cognition and aging was dominated by approaches that failed to meet these requirements. Researchers simply established that Mary’s name recall was less accurate at a later age than it was at an earlier one, and took this as evidence that Mary’s memory processes had declined in some significant way. However, as computational approaches to studying cognitive—and especially psycholinguistic—processes and processing became more widespread, a number of matters related to the development of processing across the life span began to become apparent: First, the complexity involved in establishing whether or not Mary’s name recall did indeed become less accurate with age began to be better understood. Second, when the impact of learning on processing was controlled for, it became apparent that at least some processes showed no signs of decline at all in healthy aging. Third, the degree to which the environment—both in terms of its structure, and its susceptibility to change—further complicates our understanding of life-span cognitive performance also began to be better comprehended. These new findings not only promise to change our understanding of healthy cognitive aging, but also seem likely to alter our conceptions of cognition and language themselves.

Article

Psycholinguistic Research on Inflectional Morphology in the Romance Languages  

Claudia Marzi and Vito Pirrelli

Over the past decades, psycholinguistic aspects of word processing have made a considerable impact on views of language theory and language architecture. In the quest for the principles governing the ways human speakers perceive, store, access, and produce words, inflection issues have provided a challenging realm of scientific inquiry, and a battlefield for radically opposing views. It is somewhat ironic that some of the most influential cognitive models of inflection have long been based on evidence from an inflectionally impoverished language like English, where the notions of inflectional regularity, (de)composability, predictability, phonological complexity, and default productivity appear to be mutually implied. An analysis of more “complex” inflection systems such as those of Romance languages shows that this mutual implication is not a universal property of inflection, but a contingency of poorly contrastive, nearly isolating inflection systems. Far from presenting minor faults in a solid, theoretical edifice, Romance evidence appears to call into question the subdivision of labor between rules and exceptions, the on-line processing vs. long-term memory dichotomy, and the distinction between morphological processes and lexical representations. A dynamic, learning-based view of inflection is more compatible with this data, whereby morphological structure is an emergent property of the ways inflected forms are processed and stored, grounded in universal principles of lexical self-organization and their neuro-functional correlates.

Article

Cognitive Semantics in the Romance Languages  

Ulrich Detges

Cognitive semantics (CS) is an approach to the study of linguistic meaning. It is based on the assumption that the human linguistic capacity is part of our cognitive abilities, and that language in general and meaning in particular can therefore be better understood by taking into account the cognitive mechanisms that control the conceptual and perceptual processing of extra-linguistic reality. Issues central to CS are (a) the notion of prototype and its role in the description of language, (b) the nature of linguistic meaning, and (c) the functioning of different types of semantic relations. The question concerning the nature of meaning is an issue that is particularly controversial between CS on the one hand and structuralist and generative approaches on the other hand: is linguistic meaning conceptual, that is, part of our encyclopedic knowledge (as is claimed by CS), or is it autonomous, that is, based on abstract and language-specific features? According to CS, the most important types of semantic relations are metaphor, metonymy, and different kinds of taxonomic relations, which, in turn, can be further broken down into more basic associative relations such as similarity, contiguity, and contrast. These play a central role not only in polysemy and word formation, that is, in the lexicon, but also in the grammar.

Article

Articulatory Phonology  

Marianne Pouplier

One of the most fundamental problems in research on spoken language is to understand how the categorical, systemic knowledge that speakers have in the form of a phonological grammar maps onto the continuous, high-dimensional physical speech act that transmits the linguistic message. The invariant units of phonological analysis have no invariant analogue in the signal—any given phoneme can manifest itself in many possible variants, depending on context, speech rate, utterance position and the like, and the acoustic cues for a given phoneme are spread out over time across multiple linguistic units. Speakers and listeners are highly knowledgeable about the lawfully structured variation in the signal and they skillfully exploit articulatory and acoustic trading relations when speaking and perceiving. For the scientific description of spoken language understanding this association between abstract, discrete categories and continuous speech dynamics remains a formidable challenge. Articulatory Phonology and the associated Task Dynamic model present one particular proposal on how to step up to this challenge using the mathematics of dynamical systems with the central insight being that spoken language is fundamentally based on the production and perception of linguistically defined patterns of motion. In Articulatory Phonology, primitive units of phonological representation are called gestures. Gestures are defined based on linear second order differential equations, giving them inherent spatial and temporal specifications. Gestures control the vocal tract at a macroscopic level, harnessing the many degrees of freedom in the vocal tract into low-dimensional control units. Phonology, in this model, thus directly governs the spatial and temporal orchestration of vocal tract actions.

Article

Mirativity in Morphology  

Tyler Peterson

Broadly defined, mirativity is the linguistic term often used to describe utterances that speakers use to express their surprise at some unexpected state, event, or activity they experience. As an illustration, imagine the following scenario: rain is an infrequent occurrence in the Arizona desert, and the news forecast predicts another typically long stretch of sunny weather. Wanda and her colleague are planning a hike in the mountains that afternoon. Aware of this prediction, and being familiar with the typical desert climate, they step outside into the pouring rain. This elicits the surprise of Wanda: based on the weather forecast and coupled with her background knowledge, the rain is an unexpected event. As such, Wanda has a number of linguistic options for expressing her surprise to her colleague; for example, Wow, it’s raining!It’s raining!No way, it’s raining?(!)I can’t believe it’s raining(!)I see it’s raining(!)It looks like it’s raining(!)Look at all this rain(!) These utterances provide a sample of the diverse lexical and grammatical strategies a speaker of English can deploy in order to express surprise at an unexpected event, including expressive particles such as wow and no way, surprised intonational contours (orthographically represented by the exclamation mark ‘!’), rhetorical questions, expressions of disbelief, and evidential verbs such as look and see. When we look across the world’s languages we find that there is considerable intra- and cross-linguistic diversity in how mirative meanings are linguistically expressed. The examples above show how English lacks specific morphology dedicated to mirativity; however, the focus of this article is on the role morphology plays in the expression of mirative meanings.