Yale linguists at the LSA

January 24, 2018

Professor Bob Frank; Lecturer Jonathan Manker; PhD candidates Rikker Dockum, Josh Phillips, Natalie Schrimpf, and Matt Tyler; graduate student Samuel Andersson; and graduate student Doyle Calhoun of the Department of French presented at this year’s annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA). Additionally, former Lecturer Hadas Kotek and undergraduate alumni Tom McCoy, Tyler Lau, Amalia Skilton, and Jesse Storbeck presented at the conference. In total, sixteen talks and posters from current and former Yale faculty and students were showcased at the LSA.

The Yale delegation covered a variety of topics spanning all the major subfields of linguistics: phonetics and phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics. In phonetics, Jonathan presented findings showing that people generally pay closer attention to content words such as cat or dog than function words such as to or from. This could be because function words are more predictable than content words. In morphology, Samuel examined a paper that claims that words can be decomposed into smaller units called morphemes because the rules governing how different forms of a word may vary seem to target specific locations within a word. Samuel shows that the data presented in that paper can be explained by patterns in how languages change over time, and presents an example of a language, Abkhaz, that seems to contradict the claims made in the paper. In syntax, Matt presented two posters. The first examines the syntax–prosody interface, arguing that prosodic rules are sensitive to function words. The second, co-authored with graduate student Michelle Yuan of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, argues that the languages Choctaw and Yimas assign case to nouns twice: once before a process known as clitic doubling, and once after. In semantics, Josh gave a talk with Hadas on the meaning of the word otherwise. They develop a semantics for this word that accounts for the difference in meaning between sentences like If the light is red, stop. Otherwise go straight on. and If the light is red, stop. Otherwise, you’ll get a ticket.

Yale presentations also covered historical and computational linguistics. At the session on Language Change, Rikker spoke about how changes in tone systems can be tracked by studying field notes collected at different points in time. At the session on Language Description and Classification, Doyle discussed how language study interacted with collection practices of natural and cultural artifacts by French missionaries in Africa. Alongside the main sessions of the LSA meeting was the inaugural meeting of the Society for Computation in Linguistics (SCiL), a sister society of the LSA focusing on computational linguistics. There, Bob gave an invited talk, collaborating with Tom, Professor Tal Linzen of Johns Hopkins University, and Professor Joe Pater of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, on whether or not sequence-to-sequence models for machine translation can learn the rules of question formation in the face of seemingly insufficient data. At the SCiL poster session, Tom and Bob presented a poster introducing methods for measuring the similarity between different words. When large datasets are not available for a particular language, Tom and Bob’s algorithm can be used to find pairs of similar words by exploiting patterns between related words in a language with more available data. Meanwhile, Natalie presented a poster detailing her algorithm for text summarization. This algorithm produces comprehensive summaries of documents by dividing them into parts with the same topic, producing a summary for each part, and combining these small summaries into a large one.

Finally, former Yale faculty and students presented on phonetics, phonology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, language processing, and experimental linguistics.

The titles of the sixteen talks and posters are shown in the table below.

Title and Authors Type Session
Differences in phonetic attention for function and content words and the role of predictability, Jonathan Manker Talk Intonation and Variability
Morphology without morphemes: a reply to Embick (2013), Samuel Andersson Poster Friday Morning Plenary Poster Session
Prosodic subcategorization interacts with MATCH WORD: evidence from English functional categories, Matthew Tyler Poster Friday Morning Plenary Poster Session
Case-assignment before and after clitic doubling: evidence from Choctaw and Yimas, Matthew Tyler and Michelle Yuan Poster Saturday Morning Plenary Poster Session
Dynamic updates and the semantics of otherwise, Josh Phillips and Hadas Kotek Talk Semantics–Pragmatics
Neural network syntax in the age of deep learning: the case of question formation, Robert Frank, Tal Linzen, Tom McCoy, and Joe Pater Invited Talk Perceptrons and Syntactic Structures at 60 (SCiL)
Phonologically informed edit distance algorithms for word alignment with low-resource languages, R. Thomas McCoy and Robert Frank Poster SCiL Poster Session I
Using rhetorical topics for automatic summarization, Natalie M. Schrimpf Poster SCiL Poster Session I
Undocumented labor: how old fieldwork sheds new light on Tai tone system diversification, Rikker Dockum Talk Language Change
Reading wonder back into the history of linguistics: curiosity cabinets, collection practices, and missionary linguists, Doyle Calhoun Talk Language Description and Classification
Intervention tracks scope-rigidity in Japanese, Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine and Hadas Kotek Talk Semantics and Syntax
Gender bias in linguistics textbooks: has anything changed since Macaulay & Brice (1997)?, Katharina Pabst, Paola Cépeda, Hadas Kotek, Kristen Syrett, Katharine Donelson, Miranda McCarvel Talk Experimental Approaches
The emergence of consonant-vowel metathesis in Karuk, Andrew Garrett and Tyler Lau Talk Phonetics/Phonology 1
Possession type affects resolution of possessive pronouns in English VP ellipsis, Jesse Storbeck and Elsi Kaiser Talk Sentence Processing
Coding evidence time in the Ticuna noun phrase, Amalia Skilton Talk Pragmatics and Semantics
Perceptual meanings in Ticuna demonstratives, Amalia Skilton Talk Demonstratives (and determiners)

The 2018 meeting of the LSA was held from January 4 to 8 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The meeting of the SCiL was held at the same place and time. The program and abstracts are available on the conference website. Next year’s meeting will be held in New York, New York.