Welcome to LEAP!

Language Evolution, Acquisition, and Processing (LEAP) is a workshop at the University of Chicago, funded by the Council on Advanced Studies.

Schedule: Winter Quarter 2023

  • Unless otherwise noted, LEAP will take place on select Fridays from 11 am to 12:20 pm in person in Wieboldt 408 and on Zoom.
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  • Additional details (including Zoom links) will be sent via our mailing list. Sign up here!
  • Add the LEAP schedule to your calendar by clicking here.

Talk Details

19 January – ON ZOOM ONLY – Melissa Baese-Berk (Assoc. Professor, Linguistics, UChicago)


Title: Adaptation to unfamiliar speech

Abstract: It is often more difficult for listeners to understand accents they are unfamiliar with. Often this difficulty manifests in terms of decreased intelligibility, or ability to transcribe the speech the listener hears. However, with relatively limited exposure, listeners can improve their perception of this speech. In this talk, I present a series of studies that are designed to investigate the factors that impact initial perception of unfamiliar accents, how listeners can adapt to these accents, and how this adaptation generalizes to novel talkers and accents. I will also discuss some consequences of adaptation for later processing (e.g., comprehension and memory). I will conclude with recommendations for future work in this area, including ways these lab-based studies can be translated to real-world practice.

9 February – Sanghee Kim (PhD Candidate, Linguistics, UChicago)


Title: Encoding discourse structure information during language comprehension: Evidence from web-based visual world paradigm experiments

Abstract: This study explores the way discourse structure-related information is used during the encoding of linguistic representations, using the distinction between main and subordinate information as a case study. We use the two contrasting constructions: (a) “The singers[+main] who admired the violinists[+main] invited their mentors to the party”; and (b) “The singers[+main], who admired the violinists[+subordinate], invited their mentors to the party.” While both contain discourse-main information, (b) includes discourse-subordinate information in the clause, (the singers) admired the violinists. Importantly, the singers and the violinists are both plausible antecedents for their, but the overlap in discourse structure information between the two NPs differs: (a) has an overlap ({[+main], [+main]}); (b) has no overlap ({[+main], [+subordinate]}). We found evidence through two web-based eye-tracking experiments using a visual world paradigm that the overlap in discourse structure leads to a competition effect between the two NPs, evidenced by smaller eye-gaze differences between the two NPs in (a) compared to (b). We also find that this competition effect manifests early, even before the relevant information needs to be retrieved, i.e., before pronoun resolution. I will also talk about my experience in using PCIbex for conducting a visual world paradigm eye-tracking experiment, including the caveats and practical challenges as well as the benefits of using it.

23 February – Aaron White (Assoc. Professor, Linguistics, University of Rochester)


Title: Identifying lexical semantic categories from gradient inference judgments (joint work with Benjamin Kane and William Gantt)

Abstract: Gaps in logically possible patterns of lexically triggered inferences have long played an important role in semantic theory because they suggest potentially deep constraints on lexicalization. The clearest cases of such gaps tend to be found among closed classes–e.g. the apparent lack of non-conservative quantificational determiners and non-convex color terms–and it is often quite challenging to clearly establish similar gaps among more open classes–even in the lexicons of extremely well-studied languages. One conclusion that might be drawn from this difficulty is that it is hard to find inferential gaps in open classes because they do not exist–at least not in the same way as for closed classes.

In this talk, I argue against this conclusion. I suggest, instead, that such gaps do exist–in spades–but that they are often difficult to discover due to the gradience inherent in inference judgments. I take as a case study lexically triggered inferences that are associated with predicates’ intensional properties—in particular, lexically triggered veridicality inferences, neg(ation)-raising inferences, doxastic inferences, and bouletic inferences. These inferences are of interest for at least two reasons. First, they have been argued to display apparent correlations with each other across lexical items—potentially suggesting some core set of lexical properties that interact to give rise to them. Second, they have been argued to correlate with morphosyntactic distribution—potentially suggesting that said lexical properties may be formally represented, rather than solely a byproduct of how conceptual representations interact with pragmatic reasoning.

I report on the collection of three dataset that attempt to capture these inferences across over 1,000 predicates of English as well as a dataset that captures the acceptability of those predicates in a variety of syntactic contexts. I then develop a clustering model that attempts to discover underlying classes of predicates in terms of their inference judgments while appropriately modeling potential sources of gradience in those judgments. I show that, if the number of classes to assume is determined by selecting the clustering that best predicts the acceptability judgments with the minimum number of clusters, a small, compact set of intuitive classes is revealed. I argue that this finding suggests not only that there are clear classes of predicates–and gaps between them–but also that these classes are plausibly semantic, given that they correlate with syntactic distribution.

1 March – Yuchen Jin (PhD Student, Comp. Human Development, UChicago)


Title: When does word learning happen? The contribution of overhearable speech

Abstract: When does word learning happen? Fruitful research has been done on how children learn words from caregivers’ speech that is directly addressed to them. But little do we know about what happens with overhearable speech which constitutes a considerable proportion of children’s linguistic input – neither its linguistic features nor its impact on child language development. Current research therefore aimed to investigate whether and when overhearable speech contributes to everyday word learning. In study 1, we used “transcripts-informed parental survey” to estimate the frequency distribution of common household object labels. Based on the findings, in study 2, we conducted an eye-tracking experiment to assess whether children of 18, 24 and 30 months old understand words that mostly appear in overhearable speech. I can only share the preliminary results, since the data analysis is still ongoing. I would really love to learn about your suggestions on everything, including data analysis, interpretation, presentation as well as further directions.

About LEAP

Language evolution, acquisition, and processing are research topics of great interest to language researchers. The LEAP workshop brings together students and faculty from Linguistics, Psychology, Comparative Human Development, Neuroscience, Computer Science and other fields to foster a unique interdisciplinary perspective. We aim not only to familiarize students with the wealth of language research at the University, but also to allow students to receive feedback from faculty in different disciplines and to foster collaboration among language researchers from different fields.

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Head to this link to sign up for the LEAP mailing list.

Contact Us

Please feel free to get in touch if you are interested in getting involved! LEAP’s student coordinator for 2023-24 is Parker Robbins (Linguistics, probbins[at]uchicago[dot]edu). LEAP’s faculty sponsors for 2023-24 are: Ming Xiang (Linguistics) and Monica Do (Linguistics).