UMass Sesquicentennial

The Department of Linguistics at UMass Amherst

We are internationally recognized as a major center for work in theoretical, experimental and field linguistics. Our top-ranked doctoral program focuses on educating a small number of PhD students as high quality researchers and teachers. The atmosphere here is cooperative and collegial, with faculty and students collaborating on projects in a range of areas including phonology, syntax, semantics, phonetics, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, prosody, field linguistics, typology, historical linguistics, and morphology. We are especially known for innovative work at the interfaces between areas.

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Emmanuel Chemla to lecture

October 8, 2014

Emmanuel Chemla from the Institut Jean Nicod and the Laboratory of Cognitive Science and Psycholinguistics at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris will visit us from October 13 to October 31. He will give a series of three lectures and will also be available for individual appointments. Emmanuel is a philosopher, logician, semanticist, and psycholinguist all in one person. His lecture series will inaugurate what we hope to be a string of events in the next couple of years dedicated to:


The Investigation of Linguistic Meaning: From the Armchair to the Lab and Back 

Here is a summary of Emmanuel’s lectures:

"Our language ability relies on complex rules. Combinatorial semantic rules, syntactic rules, phonological rules are all complex in the following sense: if you translate these rules in a non-linguistic domain and ask a competent speaker to apply them, these speakers would suffer (and show signs of it: slow reaction times, high error rates if that's defined, etc.). Yet, we all apply these rules, hundreds of times every day, effortlessly. That's the tension I'm interested in: the complexity of language (measured from the perspective of speakers) and the easiness with which these same speakers deploy it in language. Models coming from modern linguistics offer the means to investigate these issues, by providing the right test cases and careful descriptions of the underlying rules. I will discuss specific case studies and propose different methods to investigate this tension and see what it says about the organization of our language system.”


Lecture 1: October 15, 2:30 to 4:00. Integrative Learning Center, N400. 

Logic in Grammar: Parallel Investigations. Joint work with Vincent Homer and Daniel Rothschild.

Joint session with Vincent Homer’s seminar.


Lecture 2: October 22: 4:00 to 5:30. Integrative Learning Center, N400. 

Concepts in a lexicon: Learning homophony. Innateness and Bayesianism. Joint work with Isabelle Dautriche.

Joint session with Alejandro Pérez-Carballo’s and Vincent Homer’s seminars. 


Lecture 3: October 27: 4:00 to 5:30. Integrative Learning Center, N400. 

Priming studies to study linguistic representations and operations. Joint work with Lewis Bott, Mora Maldonado, and Benjamin Spector. 

Joint session with Brian Dillon & Lyn Frazier’s seminar. 


You are cordially invited to attend one, two, or all three of the lectures. There will be receptions after lectures 2 and 3, followed by special discussion sessions. We hope to inspire a lot of discussion and deep thinking about the arduous road from the armchair to the lab and back. 

NSF grant awarded to support research on phonology at UMass

September 21, 2014
The NSF has awarded a grant of $305,613 to support a project entitled “Computing constraint-based derivations: Phonological opacity and hidden structure learning”, starting September 1, 2014, and lasting for 3 years. John McCarthy and Joe Pater will direct the grant, and the other senior personnel will be Robert Staubs (UMass) and Mark Johnson (Macquarie). The grant will support a graduate student RA, and also includes a Research Experience for Undergraduates component that will involve two undergraduates every semester. The project plans include the creation of a publicly accessible database on instances of phonological opacity, development of accounts of opacity in Harmonic Serialism and comparison with other approaches, implementation of computational tools for working with derivational versions of OT and Harmonic Grammar ("OT-Help 3"), and research on the learning of hidden structure in a Maximum Entropy framework, including learning of derivations.

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