UMass Sesquicentennial

711 Language Acquisition (3 units)

Fall 2008


M 2:30-5:15 - Hasbrouck Add 106


Thomas Roeper []


Recursion from Various Perspectives

This course will review recursion in all dimensions: mathematical representation, cross-linguistic variation, acquisition evidence, experimental evidence, and fieldwork. Where the larger emphasis will fall depends on the interests of the class members.

Robert Moll (computer science), Chris Potts, and Rajesh Bhatt will help with an introduction to the mathematical background and implications with respect to issues like Tag grammar, semantics, and concepts in computer science.

We hope to have speakers to address the cross-linguistic variation. We will review recent field work results obtained by Bart Hollebrandse and Uli Sauerland in Indonesia and whatever other information on that topic we are able to find.

From the acquisition perspective, we will review the work by Tenenbaum et al on Bayseian studies of complementation in acquisition, and Snyder and Roeper on acquisition of recursion in: compounds, genitives, adjectives, serial verb constructions, and the work by Valentine Hacquard and Emily Sowalsky on "according to" recursion.

We will consider the important question of Discourse recursion and papers by Joshi, Hollebrandse and Roeper, Hobbs et al, reviewing current experimental work on the topic. This leads to the important question of the cognitive interface and the representation of False Belief in children.

Questions about animal cognition and recursion will be addressed by looking at work by Fitch and Hauser. If there is interest we will discuss implications of non-recursive numerical abilities in animals.

The scope of these topics will be determined by class interest and students will be asked to discuss a paper in the literature of their choosing.

Mini-projects involving searches may arise. Otherwise a final project on any relevant topic is expected. In the last class we will consider the ethical issues and responsibility of intellectuals with respect to an issue that has captured public attention.

The skills of the class members in doing acquisition searches, corpus searches, mathematical learnability, and experimentation will hopefully be engaged in possible joint projects (in the spirit of the learnability seminar last Fall).

We have received an NSF grant (to Peggy Speas and Tom Roeper) to host a large Woskshop on recursion next May where, we expect, many of the authors under discussion will be attending. The seminar should serve as a good background for this conference and, possibly, lead to presentations at it.

Partial Reading list (further suggestions welcome)

Fitch,T. and M. Hauser (2004) Science Computational Constraints on Syntactic Processing in a Nonhuman Primate

Joshi, A. (2007 draft) Does recursion in language behave the same way in formal systems? UPenn ms.

Hollebrandse, B. and T. Roeper (2008) Recursion and Propositional Exclusivity (submitted)

Juarros-Daussa, Eva (2007) Lack of recursion in the lexicon: The two-argument restriction Ms. UBuffalo

Levy, Simon D (2007).: Becoming recursive: Toward a computational neuroscience account of recursion in language and thought ms.

Progovac, L. (2007) Grammars Within without Recursion: Implications for Evolutionary Studies Wayne University ms (submitted)

Langendown, T. (2007, draft) Just how big are natural languages? NSF ms. (submitted)

Perfors, A. Tenenbaum, T. Gibson, T. Regier (2007 draft) How recursive is language? A Bayesian exploration MIT ms. (submitted)

Hollebrandse,B. K. Hobbs, J. deVilliers. T. Roeper (2008) "Second Order Embedding and Second Order False Belief" GALA Proceedings (to appear)

Snyder, W. , T. Roeper and K. Hirmatsu (2001) "Learnability in a Minimalist Framework: Root Compounds, Merger, and the Syntax- Morphology Interface" Selected Papers from GALA (2001) (Peter Lang).

Roeper, T. and W. Snyder (2005) Language Learnability and the Forms of Recursion in A. Disciullo ed. UG and External Systems: computation, acquisition and the brain John Benjamins