09 October 2015

Colloquium on Chinese linguist Chao Yuen Ren

Professor Chen-Pang Yeang of the U of T's Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology will be giving a talk on Wednesday the 14th at 4 PM in Victoria College room 323: "Dialects, speech, and information: Chao Yuen Ren’s route to cybernetics." Refreshments will follow.

A founder of modern Chinese linguistics, Chao Yuen Ren (Zhao Yuenren, 1892-1982) is famous for his extensive surveys of dialects and promotion of a national language. This paper examines a less-familiar part of his later career: his thought and use of cybernetics. When Chao taught at Harvard in 1947, he read Norbert Wiener’s manuscript on the topic, and immediately acknowledged its importance. In 1953, Chao attended the Macy Conference (the major symposium for cybernetics) to give a paper on meaning. In the following decades, he further developed his thought and introduced it to his research on Chinese language. Chao’s cybernetic vision concerned the statistical distinctiveness of morphemes, quantitative measure of redundancy, and varying degrees of meaning in Chinese. Although he attributed languages’ information-theoretic “forms of meaning” as products of long-term negative feedback, he nonetheless stressed their stability and non-plasticity, unlike the contemporary Western cognitive scientists that highlighted feedback’s open-endedness or the later Communist technocrats that championed the power of human actions in controlling feedback systems. I will explore aspects of Chao’s intellectual trajectory that may give rise to this view: his lifelong preoccupation with oral languages in both field and laboratory, his commitment to structuralism, and his attempt to modernize a longstanding humanistic area of study among Chinese literati - phonology - with “scientific methods” that characterized the intellectuals of the May Fourth generation. Print Page

Research Groups: Friday, October 9

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Emily Blamire (Ph.D.) will report on the results of her Generals paper investigating vocal/cue attractiveness in speech.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Becky Tollan (Ph.D.): "Unergatives and split ergativity in Samoan" (practice talk for NELS).

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Group discussion of summer fieldwork undertaken by members and of topics for the rest of the meetings over the course of the school year. Print Page

04 October 2015

2015 Annual Meeting on Phonology

This year's Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP) is being co-hosted by the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University and taking place in Vancouver between October 9th and 11th.

Yu-Leng Lin (Ph.D.) is presenting a poster: "What matters in artificial learning: sonority hierarchy or natural classes?"

Frederick Gietz (Ph.D.), Peter Jurgec (faculty), and Maida Percival (Ph.D.) are also presenting a poster: "Shift happens! Shifting in Harmonic Serialism."

Avery Ozburn (MA 2014, now at UBC) and Peter Jurgec (faculty) are presenting a poster: "Blocking in Slovenian sibilant harmony: a perception experiment."

Avery Ozburn (MA 2014, now at UBC) is presenting a second poster solo: "Partial identity preference in Oromo co-occurrence restrictions."

Manami Hirayama (Ph.D. 2009, now at Ritsumeikan University) and colleague Hyun Kyung Hwang (National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics) are presenting a poster: "The prosodic effects of VP and embedded CP boundaries in Japanese."

Rachel Walker (MA 1993, now at the University of Southern California) is co-presenting a talk with colleague Sharon Rose (University of California, San Diego): "Guttural semi-transparency." Print Page

Frederick Gietz continues his dramatic career

Earlier this year, we briefly highlighted Frederick Gietz's life as a playwright: this week, he is directing the Victoria College Dramatic Society's production of The Physicists by Friedrich Durrenmatt, translated by James Kirkup.

Written in the shadow of the atom bomb, at a time of unprecedented scientific advance, Durrenmatt's hilariously satirical masterpiece asks the dangerous question, "Is insanity the only refuge for the dangerously intelligent?"

Performances will be this Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evening at the Cat's Eye Theatre inside the Goldring Centre on Devonshire Place. Tickets are available through UofTtix. Print Page

02 October 2015

flʌut talk: Guillaume Thomas

Please join us for the first flaut (Friends of Linguistics at the University of Toronto) talk of the 2015-16 year. Professor Guillaume Thomas will be presenting "Documenting Garani oral culture", based on his fieldwork in Brazil. The talk will be taking place from 7 to 9 PM on Wednesday, October 14, in the department lounge. All are welcome! Print Page

30 September 2015

Guest talk at UTM: R. Malatesha Joshi (Texas A & M University)

R. Malatesha Joshi (Texas A & M University) is giving a talk for the Linguistics Speaker Series at our Mississauga campus: "Componential Model of Reading (CMR) applied to different orthographies." It will be taking place on Monday, October 5, at 4:00 PM in room 340 of the Instructional Building.

One of the influential models that is useful in the assessment and intervention of reading problems is the Simple View of Reading (SVR) proposed by Gough and Tunmer (1986) and Hoover and Gough (1990), according to which the two most important elements of reading are decoding and comprehension. The relationship between decoding and comprehension is expressed as RC = D × LC, where RC is reading comprehension, D is decoding, and LC is linguistic comprehension. Various studies have shown that SVR can account for approximately 40–80% of the variance in reading comprehension for readers ranging from 2nd through 10th grade among English speaking children.  In addition to English-speaking children, we have tested SVR model with students from Spanish, Chinese, and Hebrew backgrounds as well as ESL and EFL students.  I shall present results of these studies and also discuss educational implications. Print Page

DVD/digital release for Do I Sound Gay?

David Thorpe's documentary Do I Sound Gay?, which includes interview segments with our own professor now-emeritus Ron Smyth, has now completed a two-month theatrical release and received a considerable amount of media attention, including in Time, The New Yorker, and The Daily Beast.

Do I Sound Gay? will be available on DVD, Netflix, iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, and Google Play starting on November 3. It will also be released theatrically in the United Kingdom beginning at the end of October, and will be playing at film festivals across Europe over the course of the autumn.

Congratulations, Ron and David and the rest of the team involved with the film! Print Page

Public lecture on semiotics and multilingualism in Italy

Simone Casini (a postdoc at the Università per Stranieri di Siena) is giving a talk (sponsored by the Emilio Goggio Chair in Italian Studies) on language-contact and semiotics in Italian cities. It is open to the public and free of charge. The time is 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM on Thursday, October 1, in 406 Carr Hall. Please RSVP by emailing italian.studies@utoronto.ca. A reception will follow.

“The Neomultilingualism in Italy: the Visibility and Impact in Urban Linguistic Landscapes”

The report examine the semiotics visibility of language contact and outlines the results of a research developed at the Centre of Excellence of the University for Foreigners of Siena on linguistic urban landscapes. The models of survey and the analysis of neomultilingualism are based on the distinction between semiotics and sociolinguistics 'migrant languages' and 'immigrant languages'. The latter term refers to the ability to define semiotically the language space in which they insist, are collected and analyzed on the basis of their visibility and viability in real contexts of communication. 

The streets, squares, markets etc. represented the linguistic urban contexts of communication or rather the context of communication in which are recognized linguistic habits that result in notices on signs, on shop windows, on billboards, on the menus of restaurants, as well as in all other forms of interaction and contact between Italian and other languages.

In this perspective, the language faces of Italian cities appear undergoing evolutionary pressures due to new idiomatic subjects that establish a competitive relationship marking the symbolic space and that are evidence of a renewed national multilingual identity, a real neomultilingualism of Italian linguistic space. Print Page

28 September 2015

Guest speaker: Raj Singh (Carleton University)

We're pleased to welcome Raj Singh, an associate professor of cognitive science at Carleton University, to our department. He is a U of T alumnus (2001, B.Sc. in math and philosophy) and now works primarily on semantics and pragmatics. His talk, "Conjunctive scalar implicatures of disjunctive sentences", will be taking place in SS 560A beginning at 3:10 PM.

It is well-known that disjunctive sentences “A or B” are ambiguous between an inclusive and exclusive disjunction. Recent work has discovered populations in which “A or B” is ambiguous between an inclusive disjunction and a conjunction. These populations include speakers of Warlpiri, American Sign Language (ASL), and English speaking children. So-called `free-choice’ inferences also show that the ambiguity is available in adult speakers of English as well. In all attested cases of this ambiguity, the conjunctive reading is overwhelmingly preferred over the disjunctive reading. This is not true with the more familiar inclusive/exclusive ambiguity.

This talk will review some of these findings, some of which come from our lab. We will argue that the conjunctive reading, when it’s available, is the result of a scalar implicature. However, this implicature differs from other implicatures in many ways: not only is the implicature strongly preferred, it is also acquired in the child earlier, it is faster to process, and it is easier to detect in embedded positions. We will discuss possible sources of this difference: one has to do with the alternatives used in the computation, and the other has to do with the pragmatics of questions and answers.

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Research Groups: Friday, October 2

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Phonetics/Phonology Group

Group discussion: Katz, J. (2015). Hip-hop rhymes reiterate phonological typology. Lingua, 160, 54-73.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Language Variation and Change Group

Practice talks for NWAV 44:

Paulina Lyskawa (University of Maryland), Emilia Melara (University of Toronto), and Ruth Maddeaux (University of Toronto): "Heritage speakers abide by all the rules: Evidence of language-contact effects in Heritage Polish word-final devoicing."

Emilie LeBlanc (York University): "Vraiment vraiment intense: The use of intensifiers in Acadian French adolescent speech."

12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Semantics Group

Raj Singh (Carleton University): "On the preference for global over local accommodation"

It is commonly assumed that presuppositions typically project out of embedded positions (“global accommodation”). Under restricted conditions, this projection can be blocked, in which case we say that the presupposition has been cancelled (“local accommodation”). To the extent that the generalization is correct, it remains unexplained. However, we will point out ways in which the generalization has been misstated. A further complication is that theories typically invoke several mechanisms to make sense of the data. For example, the satisfaction theory involves at least a projection component, a strengthening component (to deal with the proviso problem), and a cancellation component (local accommodation). Similar concerns can be raised for other approaches.

The goal of this talk is to work toward a more descriptively adequate generalization of the relevant preference principle, and to suggest that the revised generalization hints at a principled explanation and a reduction in the inventory of presupposition-specific mechanisms. The key insight is that pragmatic presuppositions are determined using a set of alternatives derived by taking the projected presuppositions of alternatives to the utterance. Assuming this, default `global accommodation’ amounts to selecting the maximal subset of alternatives (the entire set), and `local’ accommodation amounts to selecting the minimal subset (the empty set). This eliminates the need for a cancellation mechanism, and converts the “global over local” question into one of why “max” is preferred to “min”. Print Page