11 September 2011

First Meeting of Acquisition Lab/LARC this Monday

Tom Roeper writes:

The First Meeting of  Acquisition Lab/LARC  (Language Acquisition Resource Center) will be at 5:15 this Monday, September 12, in the Partee Room (301 South College). Everyone is Welcome!!

On this week's agenda:

1. Organization: introductions, future meetings, experimental plans

2.  Magda Oiry: "Exploring the pragmatics of long-distance questions"

If you are interested in language acquisition, this is an excellent way to
learn about ongoing work at UMass and Smith, present your own ideas, and get feedback for planned projects.

SRG starts up

Anisa Schardl writes:

SRG (the Syntax/Semantics Reading Group) had a brief planning meeting on Friday.  This is how it went:

We would like SRG to continue to exist.  The plan is that most of the time, S-side members of the department will offer informal, low-key presentations of the work they've been doing in the past year or so, and the group will be there to provide feedback and ideas.  This way, S-siders will be more in touch with each other's work.  SRG will continue to be a place where people can give practice talks, we will continue to invite S-side colloq speakers and gurus to talk to us, and if anyone actually wants to read something to discuss, we can do that too.  If you want to present or you have an idea of what to read, email me (Anisa).

We're sticking with Thursday evenings, every two weeks or so, and we'll be alternating between Northampton and Amherst locations.

The first real meeting will be this coming Thursday, September 15th, at Barbara's house (50 Hobart Lane in Amherst.)  It will be at 6pm, and we'll order some dinner in so we don't starve.  Stefan will be presenting his work on long-distance agreement in Hindi.

The next few scheduled meetings are as follows, locations TBA:

Sept 29 -- Andrew W.
Oct 27 -- Jason

... plus hopefully some presentations by gurus and colloq speakers during that time.

As far as the SRG traditions of cocktails and other fancy edibles, we hope that this will emerge organically.  If someone wants to provide a fancy edible, we will be happy to consume it.

SRG has a Google calendar!  You can access it in any of the following ways:


Roger Levy speaks Friday, September 16

Joe Pater writes:

The Institute for Computational and Experimental Study of Language (suggested pronunciation: ['aisəl]) welcomes Roger Levy of the University of California, San Diego, who will present on "Probabilistic Knowledge and Uncertain Input in Rational Human Sentence Comprehension" on at 3:30, Friday September 16th in Machmer E-37. A reception will follow in South College.

Roger will be available for meetings on Friday morning from 9-12. Graduate students and post-docs are especially encouraged to meet with him. To sign up for a meeting, please indicate your available times here:


An abstract of Professor Levy's talk follows:

Considering the adversity of the conditions under which linguistic communication takes place in everyday life — ambiguity of the signal, environmental competition for our attention, speaker error, our limited memory, and so forth — it is perhaps remarkable that we are as successful at it as we are. Perhaps the leading explanation of this success is that (a) the linguistic signal is redundant, (b) diverse information sources are generally available that can help us obtain infer something close to the intended message when comprehending an utterance, and (c) we use these diverse information sources very quickly and to the fullest extent possible. This explanation suggests a theory of language comprehension as a rational, evidential process. In this talk, I describe recent research on how we can use the tools of computational linguistics to formalize and implement such a theory, and to apply it to a variety of problems in human sentence comprehension, subsuming both classic cases of garden-path disambiguation and syntactic processing difficulty patterns in the absence of structural ambiguity. In addition, I address a number of phenomena that remain clear puzzles for the rational approach, due to an apparent failure to use information available in a sentence appropriately in global or incremental inferences about the correct interpretation of a sentence. I argue that the apparent puzzle posed by these phenomena for models of rational sentence comprehension may derive from the failure of existing models to appropriately account for the environmental and cognitive constraints — in this case, the inherent uncertainty of perceptual input, and humans’ ability to compensate for it — under which comprehension takes place. I present a new probabilistic model of language comprehension under uncertain input and show that this model leads to solutions to the above puzzles. I also present behavioral data in support of novel predictions made by the model. More generally, I suggest that appropriately accounting for envir
onmental and cognitive constraints in probabilistic models can lead to a more nuanced and ultimately more satisfactory picture of key aspects of language processing and of human cognition.

UMass Morphologists at the LSA Institute

A workshop, "The Challenges of Complex Morphology to Morphological Theory"
was organized at this summer's Linguistic Institute in Boulder by Alice
Harris, Farrell Ackerman, and Gabriela Caballero.  Presentations included
Robert Staubs' "Operational Exponence: Process Morphology in Harmonic
Serialism", Minta Elsman's "Multiple Plural Exponence in Maay: An Optimality
Theoretic Account", and Alice Harris's "Exponent Adjacency in Multiple

UMass at GALA

Tom Roeper writes:

GALA in Thessalonika, Greece, Sept 6-8th had a good representation from
UMass. Papers or Posters were presented by UMass alumn Bart Hollebrandse, Miren Hodgson as well as Barbara Pearson, Chloe Gu and Tom Roeper. In addition UMass visitors Angeliek van Hout, Petra Schulz, Ruth Lopes, Rama Novogrodski made presentations.