All are invited to attend the final department colloquium of the semester on Friday, April 19, featuring Linguistics graduate students Andrew McInnerney and Rachel Weissler.

Andrew will present “The Distribution of Parentheticals and the Sensorimotor Interface.” Read the abstract below.

Rachel will present “Grammatical Expectations of American English Dialects: The Case of Auxiliaries.” Read the abstract below.

The presentations will take place at 4 p.m. on April 19 in room R1220, Ross Business School. Light refreshments will be provided. All are welcome!


The Distribution of Parentheticals and the Sensorimotor Interface

In this talk, I present a theory of how a syntactically unintegrated parenthetical is integrated with its host at the Sensorimotor Interface. I argue that a parenthetical is integrated with its host at the Sensorimotor Interface in a manner that is constrained by (i) properties of the syntactic workspace, (ii) the No Tampering Condition, and (iii) properties of the syntax-phonology mapping. This theory accurately predicts that a parenthetical may appear at all and only the positions in its host which do not interrupt a host phonological phrase.


Grammatical Expectations of American English Dialects: The Case of Auxiliaries

The present study investigates how listeners alter their grammatical expectations when listening to different American English varieties in two EEG experiments. Bountiful neurolinguistics evidence shows that people invoke prediction during sentence processing through Event-related potentials (ERPs) (Kutas et al 2014) and that these predictions are conditioned by the identity of the speaker. For example, Van Berkum et al (2008) observe a N400 response for sentences like I like a glass of wine before bed when uttered in a child’s voice. This supported the hypothesis that listeners rapidly take in perceived speaker information when processing sentences. The present studies aim to distinguish whether speakers of a mainstream variety have specific knowledge of multiple grammars, or whether they lump all other stigmatized dialects into non-specific “other” categories with relaxed grammatical expectations.

The grammatical phenomenon of “auxiliary dropping” is a feature of African American Language (AAL) but not Mainstream U.S. English (MUSE) (e.g. “My brother, {he is/he’s/he} working today”). Listeners heard sentences with auxiliaries present and absent in MUSE and AAL.  They also heard matched sentences that are ungrammatical in all English varieties (e.g. “My brother, he’ll working today”). It was predicted that if listeners form specific expectations, the presence of the ungrammatical “ll” feature should elicit a P600 response when hearing both MUSE and AAL, whereas auxiliary dropping should elicit a P600 in MUSE, but not in AAL. Alternatively, if listeners group all non-standard dialects into an “other” category with relaxed grammatical expectations, neither auxiliary absence or the ungrammatical condition should show a P600 for AAL speech.

Experiment 1 used stimuli from one bidialectal Midwestern black speaker of both MUSE and AAL, yielding a within subject 2 (language varieties) by 3 (grammatical features) design.  EEG was recorded using 61 active electrodes and ERP analysis targeted the P600. Result for AAL show a P600 response to only the ‘ll condition, and no P600 for the auxiliary present or absent conditions. This supports the dialect-specific hypothesis, that listeners might be expecting speakers of AAL to use either of these constructions. Surprisingly, no P600s were found for the MUSE dialect; this may reflect listeners recognizing that the stimuli call came from a single speaker. Experiment 2 sought to clarify this issue by recording the MUSE stimuli with a Caucasian American male with a similar demographic background. Experiment 2 shows a P600 for the ‘ll condition in MUSE and auxiliary absence, but surprisingly no P600 to the ‘ll condition in AAL. Through analysis of American English dialects, this work contributes to further understanding of how social information interfaces with online processing. The impact of this work is paramount, as previous research has shown that perceptions of non-standard languages, which are often stigmatized, can lead to dialect discrimination that negatively affects the way those speakers are treated (Rickford 1999).