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Linguistics Circle 2014-2015
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Linguistics Seminar Series 2014-2015: 

(Seminars from previous years: 2013-20142012-20132011-20122010-2011)


Silvia Sanchez, Department of English Philology, University of Valladolid

Title: Dativisable or non-dativisable? That’s the question. Ditransitive constructions in bilingual English acquisition.

Date: Friday 3rd of July 2015 at 11.00 hrs

Venue: GWHD1

[The full abstract of her talk can be found here.] 

This talk addresses the relative order of acquisition of ditransitive constructions in bilingual children. In particular, it analyses the syntactico-semantic factors which trigger dative shift (Larson,1990; Snyder and Stromswold, 1997), focusing on dativisable verbs, i.e. those verbs that allow alternation of double object (DOC), and to/for-dative constructions, as illustrated in (1), and non-dativisable constructions, i.e., those verbs that restrict their subcategorisation framework to either DOCs or to/for-dative constructions, as illustrated in (2) and (3).

(1) a. He bought a house for Mary (dativisable  for-dative)
b. He bought Mary a house (dativisable DOC)
(2) a. He said that to Mary (non-dativisable to-dative)
b.*He said Mary that (ungrammatical non-dativisable DOC)
(3) a. *They called Snow White to her (ungrammatical non-dativisable to-dative)
b. They called her Snow White (non-dativisable DOC)

In order to provide information on the relative order of acquisition of (non)-dativisable constructions, we have analysed data from the CHILDES database (MacWhinney, 2000). We consider both child and child-directed speech in English in the case of a set of simultaneous Spanish/English bilingual twins from the FerFuLice corpus. 


Larson, Richard K. (1990). “Double Objects Revisted: Reply to Jackendoff.” Linguistic Inquiry, Volume 21, Number 4, 589-632.

MacWhinney, Brian (2000). The CHILDES Project: Tools for Analyzing Talk. 3rd Edition. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Snyder, William and Karim Stromswold (1997). “The Structure and Acquisition of English Dative Constructions.” Linguistic Inquiry, Volume 28, Number 2, 281-317.


Stavros Assimakopoulos, Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta

Title: Logical connectives: a procedural reanalysis

  • Date: Friday 5th of June 2015 at 12.00 hrs
  • Venue: GW154


With a view to addressing the non-truth-conditional meaning of discourse connectives, such as so, well, but, etc., from a cognitive perspective, relevance theorists have for quite some time pursued the argument that they do not carry conceptual (≈ denotational) meaning, but rather encode procedures, i.e. instructions which guide pragmatic inference by creating cognitive ‘shortcuts’ that the hearer takes advantage of during utterance interpretation. For example, it has been repeatedly proposed (e.g. Blakemore 1987, 2000, 2002, Iten 2005) that but encodes an instruction to process the clause it introduces as contradicting and therefore eliminating an assumption that should be readily available to the hearer at that processing stage. In this setting and given their conviction that what is important in a psychologically plausible account of utterance interpretation is the “kind of cognitive information” that a linguistic expression encodes, rather than whether it “contributes to something with truth conditions” (Blakemore 2000: 464), it is quite surprising that relevance theorists have only minimally dealt with what logical connectives encode, accepting pretty much without argument the traditional truth-tabular approach to their meaning and even explicitly assuming that they are essentially conceptual, rather than procedural encodings (Wilson 2011:24). 

The starting point of my analysis will be Sperber’s proposal that, from a cognitive perspective, there is no particular reason to differentiate between logical and discourse connectives, since both types of expressions can be taken to have evolved for argumentation rather than reasoning purposes (e.g. Sperber 2001). Against this background, I will attempt to reanalyse ‘and’, ‘or’ and ‘if’ along procedural lines, showing in the first instance how they fare in relation to the tests for procedurality put forth within relevance theory (Wilson & Sperber 1993). Then, I will turn to discuss the shortcomings that a conceptual approach to their content presents when it comes to the description of the diverse range of meanings that the relevant terms can be used to communicate. In this vein, I will draw on research by Mauri and colleagues, which shows how, in some languages, the meaning of a single logical operator is assumed to be encoded by more than one lexical items, which are nevertheless used to mark semantic distinctions that are unidentifiable from a logical point of view (e.g. Mauri 2008), as well as on further conclusions that follow from Sweetser’s (1990) distinction between content, epistemic and speech-act readings of the connectives at hand. Finally, after exploring some preliminary directions for the identification of the procedures that the relevant connectives can be taken to encode, I will discuss the position that traditional logical analyses can and should occupy in this picture. 


Blakemore, D. (1987) Semantic Constraints on Relevance. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Blakemore, D. (2000) ‘Procedures and indicators: nevertheless and but’, in Journal of Linguistics 36: 463–86.

Blakemore, D. (2002) Relevance and Linguistic Meaning: The Semantics and Pragmatics of Discourse Markers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 

Iten, C. (2005) Linguistic Meaning, Truth Conditions and Relevance: The Case of Concessives. London: Palgrave/Macmillan.

Mauri, C. (2008) Coordination Relations in the Languages of Europe and Beyond. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Maria Galea, Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta

Title: Towards the standardization of written Maltese Sign Language (LSM) and how this links to the development of literacy in Deaf signers

Date: Friday 15th of May 2015 at 17:30 hrs 

Venue: GWHB2

SignWriting (SW) was invented by Valerie Sutton in the 1970s. It has developed over the years and is now well established, where it is used in over 40 countries for literature, research and education. Nowadays it is known as the ISWA 2010 (the International SignWriting Alphabet) (Sutton, 2011).  SW can be used to write any sign language. However not all SW symbols (glyphs) from the ISWA are required for the writing of a specific sign language.

In Malta SignWriting has been and is still being used in the compilation of a dictionary of LSM (Azzopardi-Alexander, 2003, 2004).  It has been used by university students studying LSM, who have made use of the system as a notation of LSM (cf. Azzopardi, 2001; Mifsud, 2010). The writing system has also been used to write LSM children’s stories and some bible excerpts in a project carried out by the Institute of Linguistics (cf. Galea, 2008).

In this presentation I would like to show why it is important for the writing system to develop into a more standardized system for writing LSM. Using one example from the analysis of LSM (from Galea, 2014), pronouns and related verbs are discussed to illustrate the need for the move from a general writing system to a specific orthography of LSM. The standardization of written LSM may have a direct impact on the development of literacy of Deaf signing adults and children in Malta, through the development of bi-lingual reading and literacy resources for the Deaf community.


Azzopardi (2001). The Maltese Sign Language (LSM) variety of two Deaf Maltese children: An analysis. (Unpublished undergraduate thesis). Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta, Malta.

Azzopardi-Alexander, M. (2003). Maltese Sign Language Dictionary, Volume 1: Animals. Foundation for the Development of Maltese Sign Language with the Institute of Linguistics and the Association for the Deaf: Malta.

Azzopardi-Alexander, M. (2004). Maltese Sign Language Dictionary, Volume 2: Places. Foundation for the Development of Maltese Sign Language with the Institute of Linguistics and the Association for the Deaf: Malta.  

Galea, M. (2008). Rakkonti tal-Milied bil-kitba tal-lingwa tas-sinjali Maltija (LSM) [Christmas Stories in SignWriting of Maltese Sign Language (LSM]). Malta: University of Malta, Institute of Linguistics.

Galea, M. (2014). SignWriting of Maltese Sign Language (LSM) and its development into an orthography: Linguistic considerations. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Institute of Linguistics: University of Malta.

Mifsud, M. (2010). A study of superordinates and hyponyms in Maltese Sign Language (LSM). (Unpublished Masters thesis). Institute of Linguistics, University of Malta: Malta.

Sutton, V. (2011). The SignWriting alphabet: The International SignWriting Alphabet 2010, ISWA 2010. La Jolla: The SignWriting Press




Slavomír Čéplö, Charles University, Prague

Title: Towards a syntactically annotated corpus of Maltese: Theory and tools

Date: Friday 8th of May 2015 at 12.00 hrs

Venue: LC119

This paper discusses the recent efforts to create a treebank of Maltese, including the theoretical approach adopted and the tools and formats developed for this purpose, within the ongoing work on Maltese corpora. 



Sarah Grech, Centre for English-Language Proficiency, University of Malta

Title: Patterns of perception and of production in Maltese English

Date: Friday 13th of March 2015 at 12.15 hrs

Venue: LC119

Native listeners of a language or language variety are often quite quick to accurately identify a native speaker. Taking this as a cue to the study of patterns of variation in Maltese English (MaltE), two groups of native MaltE listeners participated in a perception task using magnitude estimation to judge how readily identifiable (or not) they felt native MaltE speakers sounded. For six of the speakers, the resulting judgment data was correlated with features of variation in their speech data, with indicative results.

This study presents an overview of the research carried out on both the perception and the production patterns, as a useful way forward in the description of Maltese English as an emerging variety of English.


Eva Reinisch, Institute of Phonetics and Speech Processing, LMU Munich

Title: How adaptation to accents may reveal the units of speech perception 

Date: Friday 27th of February 2015 at 12.00 hrs

Venue: LC119

Listeners are extremely good at adapting perception to unusual pronunciation variants such as a foreign accent. Studying the mechanisms of this adaptation allows us not only to assess the process how listeners come to understand foreign-accented speech but it may also provide insights into the units of speech perception. Whatever perceptual units listeners adapt to better understand an accent are likely to play a role in speech perception more generally. In my talk I will present a series of studies addressing these mechanisms of adaptation to foreign-accented speech and discuss what we can learn about the nature of units used for speech perception. I will show that once adapted, listeners use information about deviant pronunciation variants as early during processing as they interpret the unfolding speech signal. In addition, based on studies using lexical vs. visual (lipread) information to trigger adaptation, I will argue that the units of speech perception are prelexial, sub-phonemic, but at the same time show a certain degree of context sensitivity.  



Holger Mitterer, Department of Cognitive Science, University of Malta

Title: When is a phone a phoneme?

Date: Friday 20th of February 2015 at 12.00 hrs

Venue: LC119

The glottal stop is viewed as a phoneme in some languages (e.g., Maltese) but as a prosodic boundary marker in others (e.g., Dutch). German is an interesting case, in which the glottal stop is assumed to form the onset of “vowel-initial” words (in contrast to Dutch), even though most phonological analyses argue that the restrictions for the glottal stop (only appearing morpheme-initially) make it unnecessary to give it a phonemic status (in contrast to Maltese). However, similar restriction apply to /h/, and, apart from orthography, there is no a-priori reason to favour one over the other. To investigate this issue, we performed several production and perception studies in Maltese, German, and Dutch. The production experiment showed that there is no difference in production of the glottal stop in German and Dutch. The perception experiments then tested the consequences of deleting an initial glottal stop or an initial /h/. The results showed that deleting the Dutch glottal stop, the German glottal stop, the Maltese glottal stop, and German /h/ all have very similar consequences in perception. The results then would favour the assumption that the glottal stop is part of the lexical representation of words in these three languages rather than lexically represented in Maltese and post-lexically inserted in the Germanic languages. 



Jack Tomlinson, ZAS, Berlin

Title: Exhaustive and ignorance implicatures in partial answers

Date: Friday 6th of February 2015 at 12.00 hrs

Venue: LC119

In many cases, speakers respond to polar (yes/no) questions as if the information request was the same as an alternative question (Farkas & Bruce, 2009; Krifka, 2009). Besides filling information requests, partial answers can often lead to different types pragmatic inferences. The derivation of inferences depend highly on two crucial variables: the contextual or linguistic activation of alternatives (Horn, 1984) and assumptions or further reasoning about the speaker’s knowledge state (Sauerland, 2004; Russell, 2012). Consider the following example:

Were Nia and Tom at the party?

(2a) Only Tom was there

(2b) TOM was there (pitch accent on Tom)

(2c) Tom WAs thERE (rise-fall-rise contour)

(2d) I saw Tom

In cases, (2a) & (2b), listeners are licensed to derive that the partial answer is exhaustive (only Tom came), however in cases (2c) and (2d) should derive ignorance inferences (the speaker only knows that Tom came, but doesn’t know about Nia). Our main research question was to see if speakers reliably alter their answers to reflect their respective knowledge (epistemic) states. In an interactive speech production experiment, speakers provided answers to questions from conversational partner about attendees at various student parties. One hypothesis is that listers should use more reliable productions to reduce ambiguity for the listener, e.g. cases (2a) or (2d).  On the other hand, speakers could opt for more efficient means of production such as prosody, which requires less production effort from the speaker, however could result in more processing effort from the listener.  Conversational dyads exchanged questions and answers in two different conditions: complete knowledge condition (saw all possible attendees) or the incomplete knowledge condition (briefly attended party and could not account for all possible attendees). 

Overall, the results suggest that speakers opted for more efficient and implied means for expressing their knowledge states. Over 80% of the responses were simple partial answers without distinct lexical markings, e.g. “Tom was there”. We further analyzed this subset of the data for response latencies to measure production effort and prosodic markings of the proper nouns in the partial responses. Exhaustive partial answers took longer to produce in the incomplete knowledge condition, whereas ignorant partial answers took longer to produce in the complete knowledge condition.  Proper names in complete knowledge condition had larger pitch excursions on the first syllable than proper names in the incomplete knowledge condition, but the opposite pattern was found for the second syllable and verum focus, F(1, 10) = 4.43, p < 0.04. We discuss these findings across several linguistics theories and psycholinguistic models of pragmatic inference. 

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Last Updated: 12 October 2015

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