University of Malta

Linguistics Circle 2018-2019
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Linguistics Circle occasional seminar series

The Institute of Linguistics organises an occasional series of seminars, where local and international speakers are invited to present the results of recent research which is of interest to both professional (computational) linguists and members of the broader public.
The seminars take place in an informal setting and their primary aim is to encourage discussion. Students and members of the public are welcome to attend!

I am always looking for speakers in the Linguistics Circle Seminar. Please contact Lonneke van der Plas if you have something to present.


Current Seminars (2018-2019):

(Seminars from previous years:2016-20172015-20162014-20152013-20142012-20132011-20122010-2011)  




Dr. Pawel Rutkowski, University of Warsaw

Title: What corpus data can tell us about sign language grammar: The case of Polish Sign Language

Date: Wednesday 13th March 12-14

Venue: GW154


Dr  Rutkowski will give a presentation about the Polish Sign Language corpus project - the largest annotated sign language corpus in the world.

He will illustrate the linguistic uses of the corpus and give some examples of how the grammar of Polish Sign Language is analyzed on the basis of the PJM Corpus data.



 Prof. Jieun Kiaer, University of Oxford

Title: Argument and Particle Realisation: Syntactic or socio-pragmatic behaviours?

Date: Wednesday 17th October 13-14

Venue: OH122


In this talk, I argue that argument and particle realisation is pragmatically-driven rather than morpho-

syntactically driven. Often, in theoretical linguistics, it has been assumed that arguments and particles

in SOV, agglutinative languages can be “arbitrarily” omitted or dropped. The process behind choice

making – (i) whether to realise an argument or particle and if to choose to do so (ii) which one to

choose – has been largely overlooked in syntactic literature.

Wasow (2002), Philips (2003), Hawkins (1994, 2004, 2014) among many others aimed to show that

efficient structure building plays a crucial role in understanding human languages. Yet, often these

claims are only considered within processing literature rather than in mainstream syntactic literature.

This is because it is not easily tenable to incorporate resource-sensitive nature of syntactic behaviours

within a Chomskian linguistic framework which assumes native speakers’ access to “limitless”

linguistic creativity.

Based on processing-driven frameworks - Dynamic Syntax (DS, Cann et al 2005) and my recent

proposal on Pragmatic Syntax (Kiaer 2014), I aim to show how natural language structures are built to

maximize efficiency, expressivity and empathy (3Emodel). I argue that the choices surrounding

argument and particle realisations are driven by the above principles to make the utterance socio-

pragmatically adequate. I shall include data in this talk from SOV order, agglutinative languages such

as Korean, Japanese and Turkish.

Selected References

Cann R, R Kempson, L Marten (2005) The dynamics of language. Oxford: Elsevier.

Hawkins, J.A. (2004) Efficiency and Complexity in Grammars. Oxford University Press,

Kiaer, J (2014) Pragmatic Syntax, Bloomsbury, London, UK.

Wasow, T (2002). Postverbal Behavior. CSLI Publications.

Philips (2003) Linear order and constituency. Linguistic Inquiry, 34 (1), pp. 37–90. 


Mr. Andrei Zammit, University of Malta

Title: Maltese Dependency Parsing using Deep Learning Techniques

Date: Friday 2nd November 12.00 -14

Venue: OH105

Applications such as information retrieval and sentiment analysis depend on natural language processing tools. Dependency parsing is one of the tasks performed in NLP that analyses the grammatical structure of a sentence by determining the relationships between the words in a sentence. Whilst there are several parsers for many European languages, Maltese remains a low-resourced language and currently there is no parser for Maltese. This work investigates parsing of Maltese by using novel Deep Learning and bootstrapping techniques from multilingual sources, with the aim of contributing to the increase in computational resources for Maltese and also to dependency parsing. Results show an Unlabelled Attachment Score of 90% and Labelled Attachment Score of 86% when using a Quasi-Recurrent Neural Network (QRNN) with a bootstrapped data source of Maltese and other Romance languages. To our knowledge, this is the first time that a QRNN is applied to the task of dependency parsing. Thus, we report on the applicability of this technique for the task of dependency parsing in general.


Prof. Manfred Krug, University of Bamberg

Title: Language change in Maltese English and patterns of linguistic globalization

Date: Friday 9th November 12 -13

Venue: GW HD1

This paper draws primarily on data from Maltese English and, to a lesser extent, Puerto Rican English, British English and American mainland English. The data stem from questionnaire studies; the focus is on the lexicon.

In a first step, we will investigate linguistic choices made by different age groups in Malta, thereby identifying language change in progress. More specifically (though not unexpectedly), it will be seen that younger speakers in Malta generally portray a more globalized linguistic behaviour than older speakers. More surprisingly perhaps (given a very short diachronic time span), the data also suggest real-time changes, as globalization tendencies are more pronounced in recently elicited data from 2014 than in the first questionnaire studies from 2008 and 2009. Finally, the changes observed for Maltese English will be integrated into larger patterns of linguistic globalization. 


 Dr. Natalie Schembri, University of Malta

Title: Interview-based research in multilingual research situations: Recommendations for best

Date: Friday 16th November 12.30 -14

Venue: OH105

Interview-based research in multilingual settings requires significantly increased research effort compared to monolingual situations. Researchers carrying out non-English interview-based research who publish in English need more time, research effort and financial means to translate as well as transcribe and code the data. With a view to understanding how this might affect the research process and in an attempt to establish a code of best practice optimizing the research effort in such situations, we investigate the views and experiences of four European researchers carrying out interview-based research in multilingual situations for a COST project. Data will be collected initially through a questionnaire followed by in-depth interviews. The study aims to raise an awareness of the issues involved in interview-based multilingual research and to contribute to establishing principles of best practices optimizing research time, effort and financial resources in multilingual research projects.


 Dr. Teresa Lynn, University of Dublin

Title: Developing the Irish Dependency Treebank

Date: Friday 23rd November 12 -14

Venue: GW HD1

Syntactic parsing is concerned with the linguistic structural analysis of language in text. Statistical parsers are data-driven and rely on the availability of syntactically annotated corpora (known as treebanks) from which they learn patterns of syntax in a given language. Treebanks are costly in both terms of development time and skills required. For this reason, low-resourced languages often lack both treebanks and statistical parsers.

In this talk I will report on the development of the first Irish dependency treebank and syntactic parser. I will discuss the linguistic structures of the Irish language (a low-resourced language), and the motivation behind the design of the final dependency annotation scheme. I will also demonstrate how we examined methods such as Active Learning to semi-automate the treebank development. Through empirical methods, we will see the impact our treebank's size and content has on parsing accuracy for Irish.  I will also briefly discuss our work in cross-lingual studies through the use of a universal annotation scheme and our involvement in the Universal Dependencies Project.



Prof. Holger Mitterer, University of Malta

Title: Glottal speech sounds in German:  phonological status and acquisition by late L2 learners

Date: Wednesday 5th December 12 -14

Venue: GW HC


The glottal stop (coded as ‘q’ in Maltese) is a speech sound that is a phoneme in Maltese but assumed to only be a boundary marker in German. In contrast with this point of view, results from a word recognition task show that the two are similar. Additionally, German /h/ also behaves like the glottal stop. This indicates that German has two glottal consonants: /h/ and glottal stop. This has implications for teaching German to late learners (L2 learners) with native languages that do not contain glottal consonants. Following the orthodox view, /h/ should be easy to acquire as it is perceptually distinctive from all other sounds of German and the native language of the L2 learners. With the glottal stop added, the /h/ and glottal stop represent a sound pair that should be difficult to distinguish. We therefore tested the acquisition of these consonants by Italian L2 learners of German in production and perception. In production, L2 learners performed moderately well with about 70% native-like productions. However, omissions (dropping /h/ or glottal stop) and exchanges (using /h/ were the glottal stop would have been appropriate) were observed for both target sounds with similar frequencies. In perception, listeners were able to hear a difference if asked explicitly but ignored the difference for word recognition. Again, glottal stop and /h/ behaved similarly. This is surprising given the head start that /h/ has over glottal stop: Listeners are constantly reminded of /h/ through orthographic coding and only /h/ is discussed in high-school education. These results suggest two conclusions: First, perception and production are skills that are acquired relatively separate in L2 acquisition. Secondly, explicit instructions on how to use a new sound in an L2 have little effect on actual attainment, which seems to be governed by implicit acquisition. This, in turn, means that natural phonological acquisition is still possible for late learners, even though they operate less efficiently after specialization for the first language(s).  



Linguistics Circle (13 March)

Dr. Pawel Rutkowski, University of Warsaw

Title: What corpus data can tell us about sign language grammar: The case of Polish Sign Language

Date: Wednesday 13th March 12-14

Venue: GW154



Class timetables are now available from this page.

For study-units LIN1063, LIN1065, LIN2013 and LIN5063, please click on this page to check the Academic English timetable.

Last Updated: 7 March 2019

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