Events in 2017

Mo-Tu December 4-5, LAVA retreat

Th-Fr November 30-December 1, PhD seminar with Jason Rothman, Reading/UiT, on Adult heritage language acquisition

Th-Fr November 2-3, PhD seminar with Marit Westergaard on DP phenomena and word order in bilingual acquisition and attrition

We-Th October 25-26, Workshop on Structural and Developmental Aspects of Bidialectalism, featuring talks by Lisa Green (UMass Amherst), Leonie Cornips (Meertens), Raphael Berthele (Freiburg), and Laura Wagner (OSU) and others.

Friday October 20, 14.15, Colloquium talk by Roni Katzir, Tel Aviv: Comparing theories of UG using compression-based learning. E0104.


Comparing theories of UG using compression-based learning

I will discuss an approach to learning — compression-based learning — and show how it can help us choose among competing grammatical architectures in some cases where adult judgments alone are insufficiently informative.

Compression (or the principle of Minimum Description Length) considers both the size of the grammar and that of the description of the data given the grammar and attempts to minimize their sum. By doing so, compression guides the learner to hypotheses that balance between generality and the need to fit the data. Compression appears to match subjects’ generalization patterns in a variety of tasks, and it has yielded working learners for realistic linguistic theories in different domains.

I will review these properties of compression-based learning and show how we can use it to compare between competing architectures with two case studies, one in phonology and one in semantics. The phonological case study concerns constraints on underlying representations (also known as morpheme-structure constraints), which were central to early generative phonology but rejected in Optimality Theory. Evidence bearing directly on the question of whether the grammar uses constraints on URs has been scarce. I will show, however, that if children are compression-based learners, then they will succeed in learning patterns such as English aspiration if they can use constraints on URs but run into difficulties otherwise. In semantics, I will discuss two architectures for the representation of quantificational determiners: building blocks and semantic automata. While both choices support the representation and learning of quantificational determiners, I will show a specific domain where they predict different learning paths.

Thursday October 19th, 12.00: Special LAVA lunch session with Roni Katzir in C1004 on compression-based learning:

An adequate simplicity metric for learning grammars


I will review three notions of simplicity that have been used in work on grammar learning: simplicity of grammar (as in early Generative Grammar), simplicity of accounting for the data (as in the Subset Principle), and compression-based simplicity, balancing between generality and the need to fit the data (as in Minimum Description Length and Bayesian approaches). I will discuss evidence showing that the choice among these notions of simplicity matters and that it is the third, compression-based version that is the most adequate for the induction task. I will then show how this notion of simplicity can serve as the basis for a learner that handles several different learning challenges.

Th-Fr October 12-13, Minicourses by Kjell Johan Sæbø, UiO/UiT, on (i) semantic and information-structural perspectives on ellipsis and (ii) the embedding of speech acts.

Mo-We October 9-11, LingPhil course on eye-tracking with Sol Lago, Potsdam, and Akira Omaki, Washington. 10-12 MTuW and 2-3 MTu, with an optional lab session 1-2, in TEO 5.502.

Mo-Tu October 9-10, Workshop on the Emergence of Semantically Interpretable Formal Features, featuring talks by Anna Papafragou (Delaware), Daniel Harbour (Queen Mary London), Theresa Biberauer (Cambridge/Stellenbosch), and others.

Friday, October 6, Colloquium talk by Roksolana Mykhaylyk, Amazon and Harvard University. 14.15 in E0105.

Machine Language Acquisition, and Why Speech Technology Needs More Linguists.


It is hard to imagine our life before the advent of speech technology.  We now take for granted getting directions from the GPS voice in our cars, searching for information by talking to our smartphones, or communicating with personal smart home assistants. This presentation will focus on the role of linguistic and language knowledge in Natural Language Understanding, Automated Speech Recognition, and Text-to-Speech product development. As an example, I will demonstrate how Google Translate and Amazon Echo are able to “speak” and explain in the most basic terms how machines “learn” various languages. I will also suggest some ways through which linguists can enter the IT job market.

We-Th October 4-5, PhD seminar with Tanja Kupisch, Konstanz/UiT, on Cross-linguistic influence in heritage bilinguals. E-1004 on Wednesday, C-1002 on Thursday.

Friday, August 25th, 13.00-14.30, E0104: CASTL semester kick-off. This event will feature short talks by the three incoming post-doctoral fellows, Rachel Klassen, Evelina Leivada, and Craig Sailor. It will be followed by a reception with tapas and drinks in the X-bar.

Friday, May 12th: Colloquium talk by Nazarré Merchant: “Sonority and Stringency: Property Analysis using the Holographic Principle.” E0105 at 14.15.

May 4: MSCA workshop (extended LAVA lunch) – Gustavo Guajardo (San Diego) and Serkan Uygun (Istanbul) will present their projects and there will be short presentations of ongoing work by other LAVA members.

April 28, 14.15–about 16.00, E0104: Two incoming CASTL PhD students present their work.

  • 14.15-14.55: Maud Westendorp will be speaking on “Development and variation of non-V2 order in Norwegian wh-questions.” abstract
    Across Norwegian dialects wh-questions show variation with respect to word order possibilities, with many dialects allowing non-V2 word order (e.g. Ka du ha jorrt?). The acceptance of non-V2 order differs considerably across dialects and further depends on the complexity and function of the wh-element. In this study, findings from both synchronic and historical data are combined to show that non-V2 word order first occurred in simplex non-subject wh-questions which are most frequent and subsequently spreads to other, less frequent, types of questions. Furthermore, emergence of non-V2 order is linked to the loss of the present tense marker on the finite verb opening up the possibility for other elements to lexicalise the verb-second position resulting in the emergence of non-V2 word order. 
  • 15.00-15.40: Natalia Jardon will be speaking on “Structural configurations inside Spanish event nominals.” abstract

    In this talk I present a configurational analysis of nominalizations that accounts for the limited distribution and the different interpretations of three types of Spanish event nominals: miento (e.g. movimiento ‘movement’), do/da (lavado ‘washing’) and quema-type nominals (e.g. arresto ‘arrest’).

    The traditional characterization of these nouns as derived forms is taken here to be the result of embedding some verbal structure under a nominal head. Such a head will be sensitive to two types of syntactically relevant information inside the verbal domain: category and index features (Ramchand, 2008).

    Specifically, I propose that the underlying verbal structure of do/da and quema-type nominals identifies a sequence [init_i, proc_i], where subjects are interpreted as thematic Actors. This correlates with the absence of miento and the impossibility of reflexive readings in the corresponding nominals (e.g. lavado ‘the washing /*of oneself/, cierre ‘the closing /*by itself/).

The usual reception will be held afterwards with light refreshments.

April 25th, 12.00, E0105: LAVA guest Savithry Namboodiripad, from UC San Diego, will present work on syntactic change in Malayalam and its relationship with language contact:  Towards a motivated model of contact-induced syntactic change: Flexible constituent order and beyond.

April 21: CASTL colloquium talk featuring Laura Downing and Martin Krämer on ‘Positioning Kinande phrasal harmony in phonetics, phonology, and syntax.’ 14.15 in E0105.

April 21: LAVA lunch presentation featuring Dianna Walla presenting work from her MA thesis on code mixing in bilingual language acquisition. The title of the presentation is ‘Code mixing in early bilingual acquisition: Dominance, language modes, and discourse strategies.’ 12.00 in E2004.

April 19–20: Minicourse by Laura Downing on typological issues in tone, accent, and intonation

Minicourse details
  • Typological Issues in Tone and Accent
  • The course will be divided into 3 parts: Tone (why it’s different), Tonal Accent, and Intonation.
  • 1- Tone- why it’s different
  •   As Hyman (2011) has argued, tone can do everything that other features can do – and more. This part of the course will survey the autosegmental properties of tone highlighted in Hyman (2011) and other recent work, like Downing (2005, 2006) and Gordon (2016, chapter 7). The lecture will focus on tonal mobility, tonal inflections and tonal morphemes, the autosegmental properties that seem to be the most tone-specific and most understudied by non tone specialists.
  • 2- Tonal Accent
  •   Traditionally, prosodic systems have been divided into 3 categories: stress, tone and pitch accent (or tonal accent). However, Hyman has written a number of papers arguing that tonal accent is not a coherent, canonical prosodic category. To understand his point of view, we will critically discuss two recent papers of his: Hyman (2012, 2014).
  • 3- Intonation
  •   Very little work has been done on the typology of intonation, as noted in Zerbian (2010). We will survey this topic from an Africanist perspective, highlighting what recent work on intonation in African languages (like Downing & Rialland  2017 and Rialland & Aborobongui 2017) contributes to our understanding of how – or whether – intonation reliably signals sentence type (affirmative vs. declarative), syntactic structure (both XPs and clauses) and focus.
  • Readings:
  • – Downing, Laura J. 2005. The Emergence of the Marked: Tone in some African reduplicative systems. In Bernhard Hurch, ed. (in collaboration with Veronika Mattes). Studies on    Reduplication. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 87-108.
  • – Downing, Laura J. 2006. Compounding and tonal non-transfer in Bantu languages. Phonology 20, 1-42.- Downing, Laura J. and Annie Rialland. 2017. Introduction. LJ Downing & A Rialland (eds), Intonation in African Tone Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • – Gordon, Matthew. 2014. Disentangling stress and pitch-accent: a typology of prominence at different prosodic levels. In Harry van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and Typological Issues. Cambridge University Press, 83-118.
  • – Gordon, Matthew. 2016. Phonological Typology. Oxford: OUP. – chapter 7 only
  • – Hyman, Larry M. 2011. Tone: is it different? In the 2nd edition of the Handbook of Phonological Theory.
  •      Prepublication version available at this link:
  • – Hyman, Larry M. 2012. In defense of Prosodic Typology. Linguistic Typology 16, 341–385.
  • – Hyman, Larry M. 2014. Do all languages have word accent? In Harry van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and Typological Issues. Cambridge University Press, 56-82.
  • – Rialland, Annie & Martial Embanga Aborobongui. 2017. How intonation interacts with tone in Embosi. In Downing & Rialland. Intonation in African Tone Languages.
  • – Zerbian, Sabine. 2010. Developments in the study of intonation typology. Language and Linguistics Compass 4/9, 874-889.

Friday, April 7: Colloquium talk by Bożena Rozwadowska, University of Wroclaw

Wednesday, April 5: Special Lava Lunch meeting with guest Tiffany Judy from Wake Forest University, presenting on The Syntax-Semantics of Adjectival Distribution in Argentine Spanish-Polish speakers. E.1004, 12.00-13.00.

Tuesday, March 28: CASTL-FISH presentation by Bożena Rozwadowska, University of Wroclaw

Tuesday, March 28th: Jakub Dotlacil on Interpreting pluralities: Syntax and the lexicon, in the CASTL-FISH slot (12.15–14.00, TEO 5.402)

Friday, March 24th: A workshop featuring talks by Jakub Dotlačil, University of Amsterdam, Donka Farkas, University of California at Santa Cruz, Kjell Johan Sæbø, UiO/UiT, and Alexander Pfaff, UiT.

  • 1215-1300  Donka Farkas (UCSC). The semantics and discourse effects of declaratives and interrogatives
  • 1300-1315  break
  • 1315-1400 Kjell Johan Sæbø (UIO/UiT). How verbs are conceived and born: three theories.
  • 1400-1415 Coffee break with waffles and fruit
  • 1415-1500 Jakub Dotlačil (University of Amsterdam). Cognitive modeling of syntax.
  • 1500-1515 break
  • 1515-1600 Alexander Pfaff (UiT). ​ When Strong Articles lose their Denotations – A Nanosemantic Exploration into Definite Description​

Friday, March 24th, 11.30–12.15: A guest presentation at Lava Lunch by Roumyana Slabakova, University of Southampton, on Object pronoun reference in second language acquisition: Effects of computational complexity. Room E.2004.

Thursday, March 23rd, all day: Sergey Minor defends his PhD thesis Dependent Plurals and the Semantics of Distributivity.

10.15-11.00: Trial lecture on ‘The dynamics of plural interpretation – cases when morphologically singular DPs antecede plural pronouns’

11.15–15.00: The defense. The first opponent is Dr. Jakub Dotlačil, University of Amsterdam, and the second opponent is Professor Donka Farkas, University of California at Santa Cruz.

Tuesday, March 21st, 12.15-14.00: Kjell Johan Sæbø on ‘Subjective Content at Sole Issue’ in the CASTL-FISH seminar. Room TEO 5.402.

Friday, March 17, 14.15–16.00: CASTL colloquium with Pavel Caha

Deriving Blansitt’s generalization by overlapping decomposition


In this paper, I provide a Nanosyntactic account for the so-called Blansitt’s generalization (Blansitt 1988). The generalization says that in the linear sequence dative-allative-locative, only adjacent functions may be marked the same. In previous work, such patterns have been taken as one of the hallmarks of feature cumulation. However, Blansitt observes that in the case of datives, allatives and locatives, the allative (which is in the middle) tends to be composed of the dative and the locative, so the classical account does not work.

The present paper thus argues for a different representation of the underlying categories, namely as containing (abstractly) the features A, AB and B respectively. I refer to this as the “overlapping“ decomposition.


Tuesday, March 14th, 12.15–14.00 (CASTL-FISH seminar slot): Pavel Caha (joint work with Markéta Ziková):

Phonological processes in Czech prefixed verbs

The paper looks at the phonological processes that take place in prefixed verbs in Czech. Specifically, I look at vowel zero alternations and length alternations in order to determine the constituents of the verbal cluster over which such processes operate. The complete inventory of such processes leads to contradictions which are resolved by proposing that verbal prefixes move from a root attached position to a stem attached position, hence supporting the phrasal movement approach to Slavic prefixes proposed in Svenonius (2004).


Monday, March 13th, 11.00–12.00 in C-1004:
Pritty Patel-Grosz, Patrick Georg Grosz, ‘Revisiting pronominal typology: On the syntax and semantics of personal and demonstrative pronouns’

The goal of this talk is to shed new light on the debate of whether pronouns (she/he/it) generally have the syntax and semantics of definite descriptions (the woman/the man/the thing) or that of individual variables (see Elbourne 2013 for a recent discussion). As a case study, we investigate the differences between personal and demonstrative pronouns in German (e.g., Wiltschko 1998). We argue that the two types of pronouns have the same core make-up (both contain a null NP and a definite determiner), but demonstrative pronouns have additional functional structure that personal pronouns lack. This analysis is shown to derive both their commonalities and their differences, and it derives the distribution of demonstrative vs. personal pronouns by means of structural economy constraints (in line with Cardinaletti & Starke 1999 and Schlenker 2005).​ 


Friday, March 10th, 14.15-16.00, E0105: Colloquium presentation by Patrick Georg Grosz and Pritty Patel-Grosz of UiO, on “Exploring the semantics of dance,” joint work with Tejaswinee Kelkar, and Alexander Refsum Jensenius


Recent linguistic research has extended the application of formal syntactic and semantic methodology to non-linguistic phenomena such as music (Lerdahl & Jackendoff 1983, Katz & Pesetsky 2011, Schlenker 2016) and dance (Napoli & Kraus 2015, Charnavel 2016). The overarching goal of such research programs is to understand the underlying cognitive building blocks that language shares with other aspects of human cognition. Our own ongoing research on the semantics of dance focuses on Bharatanatyam, a narrative dance form. By virtue of video and motion capture recording, we explore the possibilities of encoding co-reference and disjoint reference in this dance form. We take as our point of departure recent work such as Abusch (2013), who explores co-reference outside of spoken language in comics without text. Our pilot production study shows that disjoint reference involves more complexity than co-reference, in the sense that a larger-level group boundary (cf. Charnavel 2016) is introduced. Furthermore, in addition to a manual gesture for “a different (man/woman)”, the dancer encodes disjoint reference by means of mirroring of orientation, direction and posture. We propose to account for this difference (between a manual gesture and global mirroring) in terms of an at-issue vs. non-at-issue distinction, which is reminiscent of phenomena such as speech-accompanying gestures (Ebert & Ebert 2014, Schlenker 2015).


Friday, March 3, 14.15-16.00 in E0105: Colloquium presentation by Alexandra Spalek, University of Oslo, presenting joint work with Louise McNally, Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona): ‘The logical semantic underpinnings of cross-linguistic variation in ‘figurative’ uses of verbs’


Formally-oriented linguists have paid comparatively little attention to ‘figurative’ uses of verbs
(e.g. (1-b) or (1-c) in contrast to e.g. (1-a)).

a. […] the knife cut through the meat.
b. His words cut with the sting of an obsidian sliver.
c. a bipartisan plan to cut the deficit

Our ongoing contrastive study of English and Spanish shows that while examples like (1-b) may fall under familiar theories of conceptual metaphor that are independent of grammar (e.g. Lakoff and Johnson 1980), examples like (1-c) vary across languages in ways that reflect fundamental grammatical differences in lexical aspectual systems. In this talk we maintain that examples like (1-c) constitute evidence that should not be ignored in debates about the analysis of verb meaning and the grammar/meaning interface,  such as that concerning Manner/Result complementarity (Levin and Rappaport-Hovav 1991).