Skip to Content

December 9, 2011-Student Colloquium

Friday, December 9, 2011
12:00 AM
2001 LSA Building

Student Colloquium: David Medeiros and Joseph Tyler

Joseph Tyler Prosody and listeners' interpretation of ambiguous discourse While prosody as been shown to correlate in systematic ways with the structure of discourse in speech (Lehiste 1975, Hirschberg & Grosz 1992, Tyler under revision), much less is known about prosody's ability to affect the interpretation of discourse. This talk will focus on experiments that test prosody's ability to bias listeners' interpretation of ambiguous discourses. For example, the discourse “I sat in on a history class. I read about housing prices. And I watched a cool documentary.” could reasonably be interpreted two ways, as the narrator meaning she read about housing prices and watched a cool documentary in history class or separate from history class. And crucially, the lexical and syntactic material is identical; thus, the ambiguity arises precisely in the relations between sentences (discourse). The experiments test the ability of different prosodic manipulations to bias interpretation towards one or the other interpretation. Results show that contrasts in sentence-final pitch contours, inter-sentential pause duration, mean pitch and mean intensity do bias interpretation. Originally using participants from the Psychology Subject Pool, these results were replicated with participants from the online labor market Amazon Mechanical Turk. Because both populations used prosody systematically and similarly in their interpretation, this suggests Mechanical Turk is a reliable, quick and inexpensive alternative to bringing people into the lab. Then, a series of follow-up studies attempted to isolate the contributions of individual prosodic manipulations. In sum, these experiments show that prosody can systematically bias the interpretation of ambiguous discourse and create a paradigm for further studies to isolate more specific contributions of individual prosodic features to the interpretation of structures of discourse. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- David Medeiros Analyze this! Deducing aspects of imperative syntax from morphological variation A consensus view among generative linguists in the 70s-90s maintained that imperative clauses cannot be syntactically embedded (e.g. *These are the dishes that wash!); this prohibition on embedding was usually stated as a cross-linguistic, Universal Grammar constraint motivated by imperative semantics/pragmatics. Recently, however, linguists have discussed a number of languages which arguably allow syntactic embedding of imperative clauses, although a unified analysis is heretofore absent in the literature. In this talk, I discuss a number of clear-cut cases of embedded imperatives in Ancient Greek, with additional evidence from Bhojpuri (Indo-Aryan), Slovenian, and Kobon (Trans-New Guinean). I offer the empirical generalization that languages which allow embedded imperatives also have relatively rich imperative morphology, indicated by the presence of overt 3rd or 1st person imperatives (I also briefly discuss interpretation of these 'rich morphology' cases and the semantics of embedded imperatives). I then explain this generalization by reference to three independently motivated properties of language: morphological variation, a theory of clause types (Sadock and Zwicky, 1985), and the theory of Feature Transfer (Chomsky, 2008). This research can therefore be situated within broader efforts to explain syntactic variation in the framework of linguistic Minimalism.