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Linguistics Circle 2011-2012
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Linguistics Circle occasional seminar series 2011/2012 

By clicking on the title, you can access the relevant presentation slides.


Samantha Austen, Learner error in second language acquisition: The transfer of form or concept?

  • Date: Thursday 26rd April 2012, 15:00
  • Venue: Mediterranean Institute, Room 122

The influence that L1 transfer has on acquisition of a second language (L2) is well known but the form it takes is less well understood. Originally, research focused on transfer of form-function relations. Recently, a new category of conceptual transfer has emerged, mainly through research into the Aspect Hypothesis, in which a learner recognises the scope of an L2 structure but conceives of situations in a way influenced by the L1 and so misapplies the L2 structures. The aim of this study was to ascertain whether the interlanguage of Italian L1 learners of English L2 contains evidence for conceptual transfer in descriptions of temporality. Possible areas of conceptual divergence were identified through the development of semantic maps of temporality and systemic descriptions of form and function for both English and Italian. These schemas were then used to design a cloze test to target these particular areas. Participants were interviewed about their responses and this data was cross referenced with the test results. Analysis revealed support for the transfer of L1 conceptualisations in interlanguage. This evidence that conceptual transfer may influence learner interlanguage, has important pedagogical implications and will be investigated further through generation of a functional/cognitive model of tense and aspect in English and Italian.


Manuel Padilla Cruz (Department of English Philology, University of Seville), Applying relevance-theoretic pragmatics in second language teaching.

  • Date: Wednesday 25th April 2012, 12:00
  • Venue: Media and Knowledge Sciences Building (ex-CCT), Room 301

Relevance theory (Sperber and Wilson 1986, 1995; Wilson and Sperber 2004) has enabled practitioners of second language acquisition and learning to reinterpret extant notions, observed phenomena and tendencies from a cognitive perspective (Paiva 2003; Foster-Cohen 2000, 2004; Paiva and Foster-Cohen 2004; Jodłowiec 2004). It has also been applied to explain specific aspects of interlanguage pragmatic development and to L2 teaching (Padilla Cruz 2001a, 2001b, 2001c, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010; Taguchi 2002, 2008; Liszka 2004; Žegarac 2004; Ying 2004; Rosales Sequeiros 2004; Tzanne et al. 2009; Ifantidou 2011; Zheng 2011; Pouscoulous et al., in press; Pouscoulous and Noveck, in press).

This talk will argue that the relevance theory can also be applied to systematise the interpretation problems L2 learners may have in order to understand the pragmatic failures arising because of processing deficits. Such systematisation suggests that pedagogical intervention should improve learners’ interpretive skills so that they achieve a greater level of sophistication. As opposed to some methodological proposals to address L2 pragmatics (Cohen 2005; Martínez Flor and Usó Juan 2006; Kondo 2008; Usó Juan and Martínez Flor 2008), it will underscore the need to pay attention to cognitive issues determining utterance comprehension and the development of learners’ processing strategies.


John Tomlinson Jr (Department of Psychology, University of Cardiff), Stavros Assimakopoulos (Institute of Linguistics) The pragmatic enrichment of figurative lexical meaning: A mouse-tracking study.

  • Date: Monday 23rd April 2012, 16:00
  • Venue: LC 120

Do listeners process literal and figurative speech differently? Research testing interpretation times has resulted in mixed findings. Some researchers have found that figurative language is processed more slowly than literal language (e.g. Noveck, Bianco & Castry 2001) whereas others have not (e.g. Glucksberg 2003, Gibbs & Tendahl 2006). This may be due to limitations of standard reaction time methodology, such as speed accuracy trade-off issues or differences in the types of items, such as the conventionality of metaphors or the priming effect of the meaning of preceding sentences in a story. In this talk, we will revisit the questions at hand by presenting the results of two sets of experiments we have conducted using a novel mouse-tracking paradigm. In the first set we investigated whether understanding non-literal sentences involves rejecting a literal meaning first while in the second we tested between activation and suppression accounts of metaphor processing with a view to better understand how contexts affect the ways in which a concept’s salient features are used in online-processing.


Michael Spagnol (Department of Maltese), A couple of morphologies: Verb structure and argument alternations in Maltese

  • Date: Friday 20th April 2012, 15:00
  • Venue: LC 216

As a result of intense language contact between typologically diverse languages (viz. Arabic, Sicilian, Italian, English), Maltese has developed two verb formation strategies: root-and-pattern association and concatenation. In terms of stem structure, derivational potential and inflectional morphology, Maltese verbs fall into two classes:

•  templatic verbs, e.g., kiteb ‘write’, formed by combining a consonantal root (√ktb) with a verbal pattern or binyan (C1vC2C3);
•  concatenative verbs, e.g., ttajpja ‘type’ formed by attaching a verbal suffix (-ja) to a syllabic root (√TAJP), which generally undergoes initial gemination.

In this talk, I compare and contrast the two verb classes in two main steps. First, I report on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of an exhaustive database of templatic verbs. Second, on the observation that the main function of templatic verbs is to mark argument alternations, I seek to provide a unifying analysis of the two verbal morphologies by focusing on the causative-inchoative alternation.


Luke Galea, The mental representations of strong triliteral Semitic Maltese verbs

  • Date: Friday 17th February 2012, 15:00
  • Venue: LC 216

This talk highlights the results of a psycholinguistic study carried out on triliteral Semitic Maltese verbs. The study is a pioneering one in its field and is based on an experiment by Boudelaa and Marslen-Wilson (2004) which they conducted on Arabic. The study examines which element(s) of the Semitic Maltese verbs are extractable items in the mental lexicon. Even though this study is a small-scaled one, it suggests that the word pattern and the CV-structure are decomposable items in strong triliteral Semitic Maltese verbs, a process quite similar to Arabic. Therefore, this talk will show that the root is a salient element in the Maltese mental lexicon. This talk will give further evidence to a decompositional route from a language that encompasses both concatenative and non-concatenative morphology.


Patrizia Paggio (Institute of Linguistics), Towards an empirically-based grammar of speech and gestures

This talk involves a discussion on how non-verbal behaviour can be integrated in a theory of multimodal grammar. This integration is non-trivial for a number of reasons: firstly, coverbal gestures relate to speech units of varying granularity and complexity; furthermore, they contribute meaning at different conceptual levels, ranging from the lexical level to information structure and turn taking. This talk focuses on the analysis of head movements and facial expressions found in a Danish corpus consisting of annotated video-recorded conversations. The types of gestures occurring in the corpus and the methods used to annotate them are described. Based on the data, a discussion follows on what constraints should be imposed on the gesture-speech relation, how feedback is expressed by means of gestures, and how gestures contribute to information structure. Finally, a study is presented in which a combination of features related to the shape of head movements and facial expressions, in combination with features of the words these gestures are related to, are used for the automatic classification of feedback behaviour types.


Stavros Assimakopoulos (Institute of Linguistics), On the mental mapping of public meanings

  • Date: Thursday 1st December 2011, 15:00
  • Venue: GW Hall B2
From a relevance-theoretic perspective, the distinction between semantics and pragmatics runs parallel to the distinction between the decoding and inferential processes that mediate utterance comprehension. In this thoroughgoing cognitivist view of semantics, which equates word meaning with conceptual content, all natural language expressions correspond to some mental counterpart which can encode full-fledged conceptual, schematic pro-conceptual and/or computational (i.e. procedural) information. After identifying the notion of encoded meaning that RT is interested in and the way in which it is effectively connected to Fodor’s view of semantics, the speaker will evaluate the compatibility of Fodor’s position with the implications that the linguistic underdeterminacy thesis carries for the delineation of semantic content. On this basis, he will turn to discuss why the customarily denounced investigation of linguistic semantics from a psychological perspective should matter more than it is usually assumed, as well as why, of all researchers investigating language, relevance theorists have a ‘natural obligation’ to explore more cognitively realistic alternatives to the one Fodor puts forth when it comes to the description of semantic content.

Following recent research in the domains of mindreading and lexical pragmatics, the speaker will then outline a more psychologically realistic alternative to the current approach, while discussing the implications that cognitive pragmatics can carry for our understanding of the intricate relationship between language and thought.



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Last Updated: 25 September 2013

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