We’ve just been awarded funding by the ESRC for our project Systematicity and Variation in Word Structure Processing Across Languages: a Neuro-Typology approach (SAVANT). Research on how the human brain processes language has mostly focused on a very small set of familiar, related European languages like English, Dutch, German, Spanish and French. We know almost nothing about how the brains of speakers of most of the world’s languages respond to even simple linguistic tasks like processing a single word. This project investigates how speakers of a diverse range of languages solve the basic problem of detecting, recognising and interpreting constituent pieces of complex words, by recording their brain activity while they read and judge the wellformedness of familiar and novel words in their language. By employing a very simple paradigm, that can be replicated across all the languages in our sample, we can both better understand the shared neurocognitive bases for the human language capacity, while also uncovering the neurobiological basis for the distribution of different linguistic patterns across the languages of the world. The systematic comparison of the responses evoked by the same manipulations across a range of languages will lead to new discoveries and to the refinement of existing models of how word-internal linguistic structure is parsed.
We’ll be recruiting a team of early career researchers to join our project to help us investigate morphological processing in Tagalog, Bangla, Arabic, Slovenian and Bosnian-Serbo-Croatian in early 2021. The project will run from 2021-2024.
It’s been a productive few weeks for the Generics project team (Linnaea, Dimitra Lazaridou-Chatzigoga and Napoleon Katsos). We’ve just one new paper come out, with two more on the way! We’ve just published our research on how children and adults understand and make new generalisations about ‘striking’ properties that are expressed in the form of a generic statement (eg. glippets love to play with fire). We find that both children and adults are less likely to extend such a property to a novel exemplar, counter to the results of previous experiments, and suggestions in the semantics literature proposing that strikingness licenses generic generalisations for properties with low statistical prevalence (eg. sharks kill people). Read the paper here. This research was funded by our British Academy Small Grant “Learning about the world through generic statements: a cross-linguistic perspective.” (SG-132271).
And our work on the processing of generic vs. quantificational generalisations in context will soon be appearing in two publications. In the Journal of Semantics, our paper Contextualising generic and universal generalisations: quantifier domain restriction and the generic overgeneralisation effect. describes a pair of English and Greek experiments demonstrating that the so-called Generic Over-Generalisation (GOG) effect may be largely due to correct, grammatically licensed Quantifier Domain Restriction (QDR) rather than to a processing error. Our paper Experimental evidence on genericity and universal quantification in Greek and English., which will be published in the Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Greek Linguistics, reports additional experimental work on the Greek quantifiers o kathé and kathé, further supporting the QDR approach.