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Special Interest Groups (SIG)

Special Interest Groups (SIGs) are in-depth reading and discussion groups, which often spark interdisciplinary research collaborations continued throughout the year. This year's SIGs are listed below:

What does it mean to process meaning? – The relationship between syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic processing
Leaders: Shota Momma, Mike McCourt
Location: Language Science Center large conference room (0121 Taliaferro Hall)
One major goal of sentence processing is to understand an interlocutor's message. Accurately constructing this message involves analyzing the structure, the literal meaning of the sentence, and the meaning conveyed by a speaker in context (syntax, semantics, and pragmatics). The relationship between the processing mechanisms involved in syntax, semantics, and pragmatics has been hotly debated in recent years, e.g., does semantic processing follow syntactic processing, or are these operations parallel? Studies that are used to support these hypotheses often make non-trivial assumptions about the representations being constructed, and conflate these different mechanisms, e.g., garden path sentences trick participants to build an incorrect structure and semantics. This SIG will take a critical survey of different proposals, and try to clarify the relationship between psycholinguistic models and the experimental findings used to motivate them, with the goal of providing a more careful program for investigating these questions.

Modeling cognitive constraints on diachronic shifts in patterns of person, number, and gender specification
Leaders: Chris Hammerly, Tom Roberts, Caitlin Richter
Location: Language Science Center small meeting room (0121 Taliaferro Hall)
Diachronic shifts in morphosyntactic structures are a ubiquitous part of human language. This process is especially evident in the phi-feature (i.e. person, number, and gender) specification of nominal forms. Over the course of many generations, systematic changes take the form of innovations (the arising of new feature distinctions) and conflations (the collapsing of old distinctions into a single form). In this Special Interest Group, we will first explore the linguistic and conceptual space that phi-features inhabit, then consider the insight that typological universals may provide, to demarcate the limits and potential of change. We will then discuss the domain-general and domain-specific cognitive constraints that have been posited as defining the activity space of phi-features: from Universal Grammar and spatial deixis to sociolinguistic honorific, working memory and more. Finally, we will consider the application of Bayesian models of language change to specific phenomena such as the loss of the feminine gender in certain North Germanic languages and dialects, predictions from Greenberg's (1963) Universals, and other topics with time and interest permitting.

Extralinguistic contributors to language acquisition: Investigating processing accounts of non-adultlike behavior
Leaders: Julie Gerard, Laurel Perkins, Anton Malko
Location: Marie Mount Hall 3416
There are numerous debates in the literature about whether children's non-adult-like behavior on a particular construction reflects a non-adult grammar or some issue with processing. However, in many cases the attempt to connect this behavior with processing has been rather cursory. We want to explore whether it's possible to draw from what we know about adult sentence processing and developmental psychology to create more explicit models of how processing interacts with the acquisition of specific grammatical structures.

Our current goal in preparing for the SIG is to conduct a thorough literature review in order to identify a set of acquisition findings that might be interesting to connect with the adult sentence processing literature; we will then work with the group to narrow down the set of topics we want to discuss.

The use of technology to understand language: which techniques, when, and why? An examination of neuroimaging and eye tracking methodologies.
Leaders: William Matchin, Adam Stone
Location: Marie Mount Hall 1108B
The last several decades have seen the increased use of sophisticated techniques to record behavioral and neural measures during language processing. This SIG examines the utility of such techniques in understanding language. We will examine what questions these techniques allow us to address, which techniques are useful and appropriate for these questions, and why we should pursue them. For instance, how do neuroimaging studies contribute to our understanding of the representations and processes involved in language, or do they? What is the relation between language and brain? A particular emphasis will be on eye tracking, neuroimaging methods including EEG, MEG and fMRI, and the integration among these modalities. The SIG will include a basic introduction to these methodologies.

Syntactic processing by adult L1 and L2 speakers
Leaders:  Nur Basak Karatas, Nick Huang
Location: Marie Mount Hall 1401 conference room
It is well-attested that, in late acquisition, syntactic and phonological aspects of L2 are particularly difficult to master (De Groot & Kroll, 1997; Ellis, 2002), in contrast to the lexical-semantic aspects. Studies on non-local dependencies and ambiguity resolution suggest differences between L1 and L2 processing (e.g Felser et al., 2003, but see also Omaki and Schulz, 2012). Even learners with near-native performance in offline behavioral tasks or who went through long periods of immersion show differences in terms of the online computation of hierarchical constituents (Schrag et al., 2004).

To that end, in this special interest group, we will examine similarities and differences between L1 and L2 syntactic processing: the construction of structural representations for sentences, phrases and morphologically complex words in real-time language comprehension. In addition to the phenomena described above, we will look at violations of subject–verb number/gender agreement and case marking (Ojama et al., 2005, Mueller et al., 2005). The discussion is also expected to include the potential factors influencing late L2 learners’ morphosyntactic processing, such as language proficiency (Clahsen & Felser, 2006), age of first exposure (Wartenburger et al., 2003) and L1 transfer. Lastly, we hope to discuss the extent to which these findings on L2 grammatical processing generalize to other L1 and L2 combinations not examined in the literature, and what these findings might mean for future research on the time-course of language processing.