Linguistics Department News (Calques)

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This week @ Berkeley linguistics

September 21, 2018

In and around the linguistics department in the next week

Johnson colloquium

September 20, 2018

The 2018-2019 colloquium series continues this coming Monday, Sept 24, with a talk by Keith Johnson.  Same time as always, same place as always: 3:10-5 p.m.,  370 Dwinelle Hall. 

Four phonetic discoveries: How I spent my sabbatical “vacation”

In a scientifically young field like phonetics it is possible to make some relatively basic discoveries.  I’ll talk about four that I made last year while on sabbatical.

1) Perceptual voice stereotypes are based on selective memory of spoken exemplars.  This acoustic and perceptual study (with Eric Tracy of UNC-Pembroke) of gay men’s speech shows that listeners’ judgement of what sounds ‘gay’ is based on a subset of exemplars - namely exemplars that have some acoustic feature that makes them stand out. A model built on such ‘accessible’ exemplars matches listener data better than a model that draws on a full set of exemplars produced by gay men.  (One bonus observation here -  we could build an acoustic/ phonetic ‘gaydar’ that was much more accurate than listeners.)


2) Speech perception may involve speaker normalization, after all.  The ‘famous' conclusion in Johnson (1997) that speech perception doesn’t involve speaker normalization, may have been wrong.  A new approach for finding the length of the vocal tract from acoustic vowel formants is much more accurate, and feasible in real time, than methods that I rejected in my earlier work. Perception of vocal tract length may be an evolutionarily old ability - useful for survival and sexual selection.  The study concludes that a normalization method based on perceived vocal tract length may have a simple neural implementation.  


3) Vocal tract length and palate doming have different effects on articulation in the same speakers.  This is a study of speech articulation based on data from the Wisconsin x-ray microbeam database.  Studies of individual differences in speech production have been somewhat "vocal tract provincial” - focussed on differences in pharynx length, or palate doming, but not both; and on pronunciation of particular vowels or consonants. I looked at all of the anatomical parameters explored in previous work and played them off against each other in the same group of speakers.   Earlier observations about the relationship between vocal tract anatomy and speech production patterns were replicated. (These findings about individual differences are really important for the study of sound change.)  In addition, vocal tract length effects were largely independent from palate shape effects.


4) Neural activity in Broca’s area is correlated with lexical word frequency.  A single speaker (a neurosurgery patient) spoke 3000 words (reading from word lists) while a grid of electrodes on the surface of the brain recorded activity over a wide swath of the left hemisphere. Half a second before word onset, neural firing in Broca’s area (Inferior Frontal Cortex) was higher for high frequency words than for low frequency words.  Shortly later, overlapping with word onset, neural firing in a portion of the motor cortex was LOWER for high frequency words. By the onset of speech, these differences were largely gone.  I have no theory for this, so end the talk with an observation in need of an explanation.  

Petruck book, Brazil visit

September 18, 2018

Alumna Miriam R. L. Petruck (PhD '86) writes to share news of her edited book MetaNet, recently published by John Benjamins. The book contains contributions by Miriam and fellow alumni Karen Sullivan (PhD '07),  Elise Stickles (PhD '16), Oana David (PhD '16), Ellen Dodge (PhD '10), and Jisup Hong (PhD '12), along with faculty member Eve Sweetser and emeritus faculty member George Lakoff

Miriam also sends a photo of linguistics in action in Juiz de Fora, Brazil, where she recently spent a semester teaching at UFJF. Also depicted are former Berkeley visitors Alexander Ziem (Heinrich Heine University) and Oliver Czulo (Leipzig University).

Miriam R. L. Petruck photo


David to Google

September 18, 2018

Congrats to alumna Oana David (PhD 2016), who has just taken up a new position as an Analytic Linguist at Google!

This week @ Berkeley linguistics

September 13, 2018

In and around the linguistics department in the next week: 

  • Syntax and Semantics Circle - Friday Sept 14 - Dwinelle 1303 - 3-4:30pm
    Ryan Bochnak (Universität Konstanz):  Combining coordination and focus: Towards an analysis of alternative questions in Washo
  • Linguistics Department Colloquium - Monday Sept 17 - Dwinelle 370 - 3:10-5 pm
    Jesse Zymet (UC Berkeley): Lexical propensities in phonology: Corpus and experimental evidence, grammar, and learning
  • Phonological Reading Group - Thursday Sept 20 - Dwinelle 1226 - 11-noon 
    From Matthew Gordon's book Phonological Typology, we will be reading Chapter 3: Phoneme Inventories.
  • SLUgS - Thursday Sept 20 - Dwinelle 1229 - 5-7pm
    Join us for linguistics-related games! 
  • Syntax and Semantics Circle - Friday Sept 21- Dwinelle 1303 - 3-4:30pm
    Sabrina Grimberg (Stanford): Between Economy and Recoverability: The Case of Subject Doubling in Colloquial Finnish

And coming up at Stanford (Saturday, Sept 22): Analyzing Typological Structure: From Categorical to Probabilistic Phonology

Calques goes visual

September 12, 2018

Taking advantage of the visual possibilities afforded by the new Calques format, we present some recent evidence of Berkeley linguists out and about. Send your photos of linguistics-in-action to Calques!

 Berkeley linguists at LabPhon

The Berkeley Crew at LabPhon16:  Yao Yao (PhD 2011), Charles Bond Chang (PhD 2010), Grant McGuire (former postdoc), Keith JohnsonMatt Faytak (PhD 2018)Myriam Lapierre, Jeremy Steffman (BA 2016), Hannah Sande (PhD 2017), Alice ShenAndrew Cheng and Alan Yu (PhD 2003).

Berkeley semantics at Sinn und Bedeutung

The Berkeley Crew at Sinn und Bedeutung 23: Emily Clem, Virginia Dawson, Amy Rose Deal, Peter Jenks, Rachel RudolphRuyue Agnes Bi 

Nik Rolle and Jack Merrill

Two new doctors in celebratory gear: Jack Merrill (PhD 2018) and Nik Rolle (PhD 2018)