Psycholinguistics I/II - 2021-2022

LING 640/641

Overview

This course is a year-long foundation course sequence in psycholinguistics, aimed at graduate students from any language science field. The course assumes no specific background in psycholinguistics, including experimentation or statistics. The first semester course also requires only limited background in formal linguistics. But all students should have a serious commitment to some area of language science, and relevant expertise that they can contribute to the class group.

Psycholinguistics is a broad field. In principle, it includes all areas of the mentalistic study of language, including the various fields of so-called formal/theoretical linguistics, plus language acquisition and the neuroscience of language. And while we’re at it, why not throw in language disorders and second language acquisition for good measure! Due to this breadth, psycholinguistics can sometimes appear like a scientific archipelago – many interesting but disconnected islands. We will make no attempt to tour all of these islands in this course. Instead, we will focus on trying to understand the overall space, how the pieces fit together, and recurring themes and problems. The course will focus on:

  • Understanding the landscape of psycholinguistics
  • Psycholinguistic thinking: finding good questions, evaluating evidence, resolving conflicts
  • Doing psycholinguistics: tools needed to carry out psycholinguistic research

In the Fall semester (LING 640) we will devote a lot of time to ‘model’ problems, such as speech categorization and word recognition, because these relatively simple cases allow us to probe deeply into psycholinguistic issues with limited linguistic overhead.

In the Spring semester (LING 641) we will devote more attention to the relation between the syntax and semantics of sentences and language learning and language processing.

‘Normal’ will be anything but

We thought that things would be back to “normal” by now. No such luck. It is wonderful that we can be together again. But this semester may in some ways be the most complicated yet. 

 We will need to adapt and be flexible. There is a great deal of uncertainty now. And we are likely to see more change over the course of this semester.

 We also need to be mindful of the different situations that we are all emerging from, and the different perspectives that this brings.

Location, location, location

By default we meet in a traditional classroom indoors. That has some advantages, but right now it also has some disadvantages. Such as, we can’t see each other so well.

We may want to experiment, in order to create the kind of environment that supports the kind of interaction that we want. Soon we will have glorious fall weather, so we could maybe meet outdoors sometimes. Or we could meet on Zoom sometimes if that helps. This will be a time of experimentation.

We do not know whether the mask mandate will extend through the entire semester. UMD will likely remove the mandate as soon as Prince George’s County does so.  

Health

COVID-19 will be around us for a long while yet. How it will impact us locally at UMD is much less clear. We will be learning a lot about this in the Fall 2021 semester. Experiments with tens of thousands of people who are almost entirely vaccinated have not yet happened, but they are now happening at many US campuses.

We hope that you will not be sidelined by COVID-19 during this academic year. But it could happen. UMD has extensive guidelines on how that impacts your class participation.

Remember that mental health is an important element of good health, especially for graduate students. Be aware, and seek help if needed. 

Connectivity

A research university thrives on connectivity. We have lost a great deal of that over the past year and a half. This is a time for rebuilding. We have learned a great deal over the course of the pandemic so far about this.

We have seen fewer people. We have had fewer spontaneous encounters. We have had fewer shared experiences. So we have needed to take extra steps to be connected.

One tool that helped us last year was a class Slack channel, created within the “Maryland Psycholinguistics” workspace. It proved to be useful for sharing questions, documents, and class updates. It could be good to do this again.

Individual meetings

 Individual and small group conversations are especially valuable right now. Seek them out!

I am very happy to have individual discussions. Just drop me a line.

I welcome opportunities for in person meetings. I had many outdoor meetings on campus in 2020-2021 and plan to continue in 2021-2022. The UMD campus is beautiful year round, and it is good for graduate students and faculty to be visibly active on campus. (Did you know that the entire campus is an arboretum? — Check out the University of Maryland Arboretum Explorer app.)

 

 

 

Schedule – Fall

Mondays & Wednesdays, 12:00 – 1:30. Mostly 1108B Marie Mount Hall … but this may change to facilitate interaction.

August 30: Introduction. The psycholinguistic landscape

September 1: Some core concepts

September 8: Development of Speech Perception

September 13: Development of Speech Perception

September 15:  Becoming a native listener

September 20: Distributional learning

September 22: Learning contrasts

September 27:

September 29: 

October 4: Neuroscience of speech perception and production

October 6: Word recognition

October 11: Active processing

October 13: Recognizing words in context

October 18:

October 20: Neuroscience of word recognition

October 25:

October 27: Word production

November 1:

November 3:

November 8:

November 10:

November 15:

November 17:

November 22:

November 24: NO CLASS – THANKSGIVING BREAK

November 29: 

December 1:

December 6:

December 8:

December 13:

 

 

Requirements

This is graduate school. Your grade should not be your top concern here. You should be aiming to get a top grade, but your focus should be on using the course to develop the skills that will serve you well in your research. There will be no exams for this course. The focus of the course is on reading, discussing, writing and doing throughout the semester, and hence your entire grade will be based upon this.

Grades will be aligned with the values that guide this course: (i) active engagement with the core questions, (ii) thinking and writing clearly, (iii) taking risks and exploring new ideas, (iv) communicating and collaborating with others. 

If you want to get the maximum benefit from this class (i.e. learn lots and have a grade to show for it at the end), you will do the following …

1. Come to class prepared, and participate (40% of grade).

Being prepared means having done some reading and thinking before coming to class. Writing down your initial thoughts or questions about the article(s) is likely to help. Although many readings are listed for this course, you are not expected to read them all from beginning to end. An important skill to develop is the ability to efficiently extract ideas and information from writing. Particpating in class discussions is valuable because it makes you an active learner and greatly increases the likelihood that you will understand and retain the material. You should also feel free to contact me outside of class with questions that you have about the material.

2. Think carefully and write clearly in assignments (60% of grade).

The assignments will come in a variety of formats. In lab assignments you will get hands-on experience with various research techniques in psycholinguistics, plus experience in reporting the results of those experiments. In writing assignments you will think and write about issues raised in class and in the assigned readings. The writing assignment will often be due before the material is discussed in class: this will help you to be better prepared for class and to form your own opinions in advance of class discussion. In your writing it is important to write clearly and provide support for claims that you make.

We will plan to have many shorter writing assignments, typically involving responses to questions about individual readings, for which you will have relatively limited time. These are not intended to be major writing assignments. But they will all be read, and they will contribute to your class grade, following the guiding values of the class.

If you are worried about how you are doing in the course, do not hesitate to contact me. Email is generally the most reliable way of reaching me.

Grade scale

 A 80-100%  B- 60-65%
 A- 75-80%  C+ 55-60%
 B+ 70-75%  C 50-55%
 B 65-70%  C- 45-50%

Note that even in the A range there is plenty of room for you to show extra initiative and insight. The threshold for A is deliberately set low, so that you have an opportunity to get additional credit for more creative work.

Teamwork

Written work should be submitted individually, unless the assignment guidelines state otherwise or you have made prior arrangements with the instructor, but you are strongly encouraged to work together on labs and homeworks in addition to group projects. Academic honesty includes giving appropriate credit to collaborators.  Although collaboration is encouraged, collaboration should not be confused with writing up the results of a classmate’s work – this is unacceptable. If you work as a part of a group, you should indicate this at the top of your assignment when you submit it.  

Assignments

 

The assignments for the course consist of a mix of shorter and longer written assignments, together with practical lab assignments.

The lab assignments are an important component of the course, and they are designed to give you first-hand experience with experimental and computational techniques used in psycholinguistic research. Typically you will have around 2 weeks for each lab assignment. 

Discussion note #1 [9/1/21]: Whistled languages are a striking example of the adaptation of human speech to different environments. Generally they are not distinct languages, but versions of spoken languages that are conveyed in whistled form. A new review of whistled languages from around the world by Julien Meyer reveals striking similarities in how languages adapt to the whistled medium. This is also summarized in a broad audience piece (with demos!) by Bob Holmes in Knowable Magazine. Please answer the following questions: (i) Why does whistling force languages to limit the information that is conveyed to the listener? Describe a couple of regularities in how languages choose to do this. (ii) Are there psycholinguistic implications of how languages adapt to the whistled medium? In particular, do the adaptations seem more suited to helping speakers or helping listeners (or neither)?

Discussion note #2 [9/8/21]: Marr’s (1982) discussion of visual perception highlights the “goal” of the computation. Does linguistic computation have a “goal”? Does Marr’s view on levels of analysis align with Chomsky’s contrasting of competence and performance? [See especially Marr, pp. 20-28, Chomsky pp. 3-15.]

Note that these classic distinctions from Chomsky and Marr are by no means the last word on these issues. Some argue that the distinctions are unnecessary, others argue for additional distinctions. In thinking about these issues, you may find it useful to apply the contrasts highlighted in class: (i) levels of analysis, (ii) tasks, (iii) mechanisms.

Disussion note #3 [9/15/21]: A very short paper by Stager & Werker (1997) reports four experiments on infants’ sensitivity to labels assigned to pictures. In one key experiment, 8-month olds appear to “outperform” 14-month olds. This seems counterintuitive. What is going on, and why is this an elegant demonstration? (The paper appeared in Nature, it has been cited around 1,000 times, and it has generated a lot of interesting subsequent work.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes

These are links to the slides used in the course. But note that they include some things that were not discussed in class, and in many cases the slides do not do justice to our extensive discussions in class.

TO BE ADDED

 

 

Readings 

This list will be updated over the course of the year.

Introduction (Fall)

Whistled languages – something completely different … maybe

Meyer, J. (2021). Environmental and linguistic typology of whistled languages. Annual Review of Linguistics, 7, 493-510.

Holmes, B. (2021). Speaking in whistles. Knowable Magazine, publ. 8/16/21.

Higher level background

Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the theory of syntax. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [chapter 1]

Marr, D. (1982). Vision. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [excerpt]

Jackendoff, R. (2002). Foundations of language. Oxford University Press. [chapter 1, chapter 2, chapter 3, chapter 4]

Lewis, S. & Phillips, C. (2015). Aligning grammatical theories and language processing modelsJournal of Psycholinguistic Research, 44, 27-46.

Momma, S. & Phillips, C. (2018). The relationship between parsing and generation. Annual Review of Linguistics, 4, 233-254

Speech Perception, Learning Sound Categories

 

Stager, C. & Werker, J. (1997). Infants listen for more phonetic detail in speech perception than word learning tasksNature, 388, 381-382. [This is one of the primary readings for the section of the course on phonetic/phonological representations. A very short, but very important study. Why are younger infants better than older infants, even on native-language contrasts?]

 

Vallabha, G. K., McClelland, J. L., Pons, F., Werker, J. F., & Amano, S. (2007). Unsupervised learning of vowel categories from infant-directed speechProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 13273-13278. [This is an explicit implementation of the idea that is implicit in the papers by Maye et al. 2002 and Werker et al. 2007.]

 

Werker, J. (1994). Cross-language speech perception: Developmental change does not involve loss. In: Goodman & Nusbaum (eds.), The Development of Speech Perception. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp:93-120. [Useful for Lab 1. This paper reviews in more details the reasons why Werker adopts a structure-adding view of phonetic development.]

 

Werker, J. (1995). Exploring developmental changes in cross-language speech perception. In L. Gleitman & M. Liberman (eds) Language: An Invitation to Cognitive Science, Vol 1 (2nd edn.), 87-106. [This paper is the best starting point for this section of the course. It presents an overview of Werker’s views on phonetic development up to 1995, including a straightforward study of her important cross-language experiments from the early 1980s.]

 

Werker, J. F., Pons, F., Dietrich, C., Kajikawa, S., Fais, L., & Amano, S. (2007). Infant-directed speech supports phonetic category learning in English and JapaneseCognition, 103, 147-162. [Analysis of what infants actually hear. It is presented as an argument for unsupervised distributional learning, but I suspect that it shows the opposite.]

 

 

 

Cognitive Neuroscience of Speech Perception

 

Näätänen et al. 1997. Language-specific phoneme representations revealed by electric and magnetic brain responsesNature, 385, 432-434.

 

Kazanina, N., Phillips, C., & Idsardi, W. 2006. The influence of meaning on the perception of speech soundsProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103, 11381-11386.

 

van Turennout, M., Hagoort, P., & Brown, C. 1998. Brain activity during speaking: from syntax to phonology in 40 millisecondsScience, 280, 572-574.

 

Word Recognition

 

An accessible introduction to some foundational concepts and findings:

 

Altmann, G. 1997. Words and how we (eventually) find them. Chapter 6 of The Ascent of Babel. Oxford University Press. [A good introductory chapter.]

 

Some recommended readings for class discussion.

 

Magnuson, J., Mirman, D., & Myers, E. 2013. Spoken word recognition. In D. Reisberg (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Cognitive Psychology, p. 412-441. Oxford University Press.

 

Gaston, P., Lau, E., & Phillips, C. 2020. How does(n’t) syntactic context guide auditory word recognition. Submitted.

 

Lau, E., Phillips, C., & Poeppel, D. 2008. A cortical network for semantics: (de)constructing the N400. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 9, 920-933.

 

Some seminal papers discussed in class.

 

Marslen-Wilson, W. 1975. Sentence perception as an interactive parallel processScience, 189, 226-228 

 

Marslen-Wilson, W. 1987. Functional parallelism in spoken word recognitionCognition, 25, 71-102.

 

Boland, J. and Cutler, A. 1996. Interaction with autonomy: Multiple output models and the inadequacy of the Great DivideCognition, 58-309-320.

 

Dahan, D., Magnuson, J., & Tanenhaus, M. 2001. Time course of frequency effects in spoken word recognition: Evidence from eye-movementsCognitive Psychology, 42, 317-367.

 

Chen, L. & Boland, J. 2008. Dominance and context effects on activation of alternative homophone meaningsMemory and Cognition, 36, 1306-1323.

 

Kutas, M. & Federmeier, K. 2000. Electrophysiology reveals semantic memory use in language comprehension. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 463-470