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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

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

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

Deixis and Pragmatics  

William F. Hanks

Deictic expressions, like English ‘this, that, here, and there’ occur in all known human languages. They are typically used to individuate objects in the immediate context in which they are uttered, by pointing at them so as to direct attention to them. The object, or demonstratum is singled out as a focus, and a successful act of deictic reference is one that results in the Speaker (Spr) and Addressee (Adr) attending to the same referential object. Thus, (1)A:Oh, there’s that guy again (pointing)B:Oh yeah, now I see him (fixing gaze on the guy) (2)A:I’ll have that one over there (pointing to a dessert on a tray)B:This? (touching pastry with tongs)A:yeah, that looks greatB:Here ya’ go (handing pastry to customer) In an exchange like (1), A’s utterance spotlights the individual guy, directing B’s attention to him, and B’s response (both verbal and ocular) displays that he has recognized him. In (2) A’s utterance individuates one pastry among several, B’s response makes sure he’s attending to the right one, A reconfirms and B completes by presenting the pastry to him. If we compare the two examples, it is clear that the underscored deictics can pick out or present individuals without describing them. In a similar way, “I, you, he/she, we, now, (back) then,” and their analogues are all used to pick out individuals (persons, objects, or time frames), apparently without describing them. As a corollary of this semantic paucity, individual deictics vary extremely widely in the kinds of object they may properly denote: ‘here’ can denote anything from the tip of your nose to planet Earth, and ‘this’ can denote anything from a pastry to an upcoming day (this Tuesday). Under the same circumstance, ‘this’ and ‘that’ can refer appropriately to the same object, depending upon who is speaking, as in (2). How can forms that are so abstract and variable over contexts be so specific and rigid in a given context? On what parameters do deictics and deictic systems in human languages vary, and how do they relate to grammar and semantics more generally?

Article

Innateness of Language  

Yarden Kedar

A fundamental question in epistemological philosophy is whether reason may be based on a priori knowledge—that is, knowledge that precedes and which is independent of experience. In modern science, the concept of innateness has been associated with particular behaviors and types of knowledge, which supposedly have been present in the organism since birth (in fact, since fertilization)—prior to any sensory experience with the environment. This line of investigation has been traditionally linked to two general types of qualities: the first consists of instinctive and inflexible reflexes, traits, and behaviors, which are apparent in survival, mating, and rearing activities. The other relates to language and cognition, with certain concepts, ideas, propositions, and particular ways of mental computation suggested to be part of one’s biological make-up. While both these types of innatism have a long history (e.g., debate by Plato and Descartes), some bias appears to exist in favor of claims for inherent behavioral traits, which are typically accepted when satisfactory empirical evidence is provided. One famous example is Lorenz’s demonstration of imprinting, a natural phenomenon that obeys a predetermined mechanism and schedule (incubator-hatched goslings imprinted on Lorenz’s boots, the first moving object they encountered). Likewise, there seems to be little controversy in regard to predetermined ways of organizing sensory information, as is the case with the detection and classification of shapes and colors by the mind. In contrast, the idea that certain types of abstract knowledge may be part of an organism’s biological endowment (i.e., not learned) is typically met with a greater sense of skepticism. The most influential and controversial claim for such innate knowledge in modern science is Chomsky’s nativist theory of Universal Grammar in language, which aims to define the extent to which human languages can vary; and the famous Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus. The main Chomskyan hypothesis is that all human beings share a preprogrammed linguistic infrastructure consisting of a finite set of general principles, which can generate (through combination or transformation) an infinite number of (only) grammatical sentences. Thus, the innate grammatical system constrains and structures the acquisition and use of all natural languages.

Article

Models of Human Sentence Comprehension in Computational Psycholinguistics  

John Hale

Computational models of human sentence comprehension help researchers reason about how grammar might actually be used in the understanding process. Taking a cognitivist approach, this article relates computational psycholinguistics to neighboring fields (such as linguistics), surveys important precedents, and catalogs open problems.

Article

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

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

Paradigms in Morphology  

Petar Milin and James P. Blevins

Studies of the structure and function of paradigms are as old as the Western grammatical tradition. The central role accorded to paradigms in traditional approaches largely reflects the fact that paradigms exhibit systematic patterns of interdependence that facilitate processes of analogical generalization. The recent resurgence of interest in word-based models of morphological processing and morphological structure more generally has provoked a renewed interest in paradigmatic dimensions of linguistic structure. Current methods for operationalizing paradigmatic relations and determining the behavioral correlates of these relations extend paradigmatic models beyond their traditional boundaries. The integrated perspective that emerges from this work is one in which variation at the level of individual words is not meaningful in isolation, but rather guides the association of words to paradigmatic contexts that play a role in their interpretation.

Article

Psycholinguistic Methods and Tasks in Morphology  

Daniel Schmidtke and Victor Kuperman

Lexical representations in an individual mind are not given to direct scrutiny. Thus, in their theorizing of mental representations, researchers must rely on observable and measurable outcomes of language processing, that is, perception, production, storage, access, and retrieval of lexical information. Morphological research pursues these questions utilizing the full arsenal of analytical tools and experimental techniques that are at the disposal of psycholinguistics. This article outlines the most popular approaches, and aims to provide, for each technique, a brief overview of its procedure in experimental practice. Additionally, the article describes the link between the processing effect(s) that the tool can elicit and the representational phenomena that it may shed light on. The article discusses methods of morphological research in the two major human linguistic faculties—production and comprehension—and provides a separate treatment of spoken, written and sign language.

Article

Usage-Based Linguistics  

Holger Diessel

Throughout the 20th century, structuralist and generative linguists have argued that the study of the language system (langue, competence) must be separated from the study of language use (parole, performance), but this view of language has been called into question by usage-based linguists who have argued that the structure and organization of a speaker’s linguistic knowledge is the product of language use or performance. On this account, language is seen as a dynamic system of fluid categories and flexible constraints that are constantly restructured and reorganized under the pressure of domain-general cognitive processes that are not only involved in the use of language but also in other cognitive phenomena such as vision and (joint) attention. The general goal of usage-based linguistics is to develop a framework for the analysis of the emergence of linguistic structure and meaning. In order to understand the dynamics of the language system, usage-based linguists study how languages evolve, both in history and language acquisition. One aspect that plays an important role in this approach is frequency of occurrence. As frequency strengthens the representation of linguistic elements in memory, it facilitates the activation and processing of words, categories, and constructions, which in turn can have long-lasting effects on the development and organization of the linguistic system. A second aspect that has been very prominent in the usage-based study of grammar concerns the relationship between lexical and structural knowledge. Since abstract representations of linguistic structure are derived from language users’ experience with concrete linguistic tokens, grammatical patterns are generally associated with particular lexical expressions.