Linguistics and English Language

63rd Language at Edinburgh lunch

The Language@Edinburgh Lunch is a bi-monthly opportunity to present your work to an interdisciplinary audience in an intimate and feedback-rich setting, all while enjoying a buffet lunch.

Posters by both postgraduate students and academic staff are welcome on any area of human language research - including all sub-fields of linguistics, philosophy of language, natural language processing, psycholinguistics, and any other language related discipline. Reporting on work in progress is equally welcome.

If you would like to present your language-related research, please email us with a title and an abstract by Monday 11 June, and a digital version (pdf) of your poster by Thursday 14 June, which we will print for you and you will get to take home at the end.

Please send the abstracts, posters and other enquiries to:

We would ask you to mind these few guidelines when preparing your abstract:

  • aim at about 100-300 words in length (including any example sentences and references)
  • if linguistic examples are glossed, they should follow the common Leipzig Glossing Rules
  • the abstract may be sent within an email message or as an attachment (doc/docx or txt are fine)
  • if not using plain text, kindly refrain from using formatting that is prone to causing errors or getting lost between conversions (e.g., tabs, small caps; automatic indentation, bullets and numbering).


The Effects of Second Language Processing on Comprehension Coreference Preferences - Carine Abraham

In discourse, processing ambiguous pronouns is often instantaneous for adult native speakers. Recently, studies have found effects of verbal aspect, specifically whether events are completed or ongoing (perfective vs imperfective), on pronoun disambiguation strategies (Rohde, Kehler & Elman, 2006). While these effects are seen in various languages (e.g. English (Rohde et al., 2006), Japanese (Ueno & Kehler, 2010; 2016) and Korean (Kim, Grüter & Schafer, 2013)), evidence from second language (L2) research indicates that L2 speakers have diverging preferences (Grüter, Rohde & Schafer, 2017). They posited that this was due to L2 speakers’ inability to generate expectations of the discourse within their mental models, and proposed the Reduced Ability to Generate Expectations (RAGE) hypothesis. Their results, however, are possibly explained by their participants’ proficiency levels or differences between aspectual systems. The study presented here tests predictions of the RAGE hypothesis and the two alternative mechanisms that might underlie the prior results.

To test effects of proficiency, and possible effects from speakers’ L1 aspectual system, the current study recruited L1 English and high proficiency L2 English (L1 Japanese or Spanish) speakers, as well as L1 Spanish speakers (from Spain) to establish the effect of event-structure in Spanish. Participants were tested using a Story Continuation (SC) task, in either English or Spanish, which prompted them with trials including a transfer-of-possession verb (e.g. give or dar in Spanish), where aspect was manipulated, and were asked to write continuations beginning with either He or She (Il or Ella in Spanish). The results found that, unlike Grüter et al. (2017), L2 participants had effects of aspect on coreference preferences. Additionally, L1 speakers of Spanish were found to only be marginally affected by aspect regardless of condition. The current findings support that increased language proficiency helps L2 parsers create native-like expectations when processing ambiguous pronouns.

Predictive Language Processing and the Now-or-Never Bottleneck - Sofiia Rappe

The general principles of perceptual-motor processing and memory (in particular, rapid loss of sensory information and limited working memory capacity) impose limitations known as the Now-or-Never (NoN) bottleneck (Christiansen & Charter, 2016) on the organization of the language processing system. I argue that the emerging Predictive Processing (PP) framework (Clark, 2015; Hohwy, 2013) is well-suited for the task of providing a comprehensive account of language processing under the NoN constraint. Moreover, the PP framework presents a stronger alternative to the Chunk-and-Pass account proposed by Christiansen and Charter (2016) – it better accommodates the available evidence concerning the role of context (both in the narrow and wider senses) in language comprehension at various levels of linguistic representation.

Competition Effects in Infant Word Learning: An fNIRS Study - Serene Siow

Swingley and Aslin (2007) found that toddlers have difficulty learning novel nouns which are phonologically similar to familiar nouns (neighbours). Extending this finding, Dautriche, Swingley and Christophe (2015) found a further dissociation between different types of neighbours – toddlers easily learn verb-neighbours (e.g. ‘kive’, similar to ‘give’) but not noun-neighbours (e.g. ‘tog’, similar to ‘dog’). This led them to propose a competition hypothesis, where strong semantic and/or syntactic similarity between novel concepts and competitors generates competition effects that interfere with word learning. In contrast to noun-neighbours which give rise to strong competition effects when learning novel names for objects, verb-neighbours are proposed to induce relatively weak competition due to contextual distance. The current study aims to investigate this competition hypothesis using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), by studying whether noun-neighbours activate brain regions associated with semantic competition more strongly than verb-neighbours and no-neighbours.

Lebanese: language, education, identity - Georges Sakr

For a country that is as quick to assert its standing and status as an independent, Arab state, Lebanon certainly has an interesting linguistic landscape. People speak any combination of Arabic, French, English, German, Armenian, Kurdish, and Assyrian (Shaaban & Ghaith, 1999), learn in French or English, and code-switch between languages (Bacha, 2011). This causes many, even in scholarly circles, to believe (and often, spread) the notion that “all Lebanese are multilingual” (Shaaban & Ghaith, 1999; Esseili, 2011).

As it stands today, the Lebanese learn and speak Lebanese, English and/or French, often with one or more other languages. They all additionally learn to read and write Modern Standard Arabic. The educational system reinforces this trilingual façon d’être and there seems to be little confusion as to the separation between MSA and Lebanese at least in the minds of the educated (who call both Arabic). The flexibility of the system is on the whole well taken advantage of, such that many will start learning in one language and continue their education in another, although considerably more people go from French schools to English universities than otherwise.

This study analyses the situation of Lebanese language through an historical overview of language policies in Lebanon over the past century and a survey distributed to 191 students (184 usable responses). They were asked their opinions of Lebanese, French, (Modern Standard) Arabic, and English, and to fill out basic biographical information, including gender, language of secondary education, and language of postsecondary education.

The results, among other things, show that Lebanese speakers associate Arabic and Lebanese with ‘beauty and appeal,’ English and Lebanese with ‘identity, international relations and politics,’ French, English then Arabic (in that order) with ‘education,’ and Arabic with ‘culture and arts.’ English also scored moderately well in all categories, but wasn’t associated the most with any category.

The poster will showcase statistical information obtained by way of a survey. The information shown, for instance, could include the connotations associated with each language, themes most frequently associated with each language, and education language shifts between school medium language and university medium language.

Our language, our land ᐅᖃᕐᕕᐅᑦ, ᓄᓇᕗᑦ: The linguistic mojo of Inuktitut and Nunatsiavummiutut in Canada and the reclamation of the Inuit Nation - Cedric Ludlow

The mojo of Inuktitut and Nunatsiavummiutut (two Eastern Eskimo-Aleut languages), the history of the Inuit of Canada’s Far North and Labrador, and the Government of Canada, are inextricably linked. Inuktitut and Nunatsiavummiutut— the most spoken dialect of Inuttut—both have their own distinct, yet similar mojos. Linguistic mojo, as defined by John Joseph (2017), consists of identity, supra-material, heritage, getting-on, and resistance mojos; effectively, the appeal a language has to its speakers.

This paper investigates the vitality and mojo of Inuktitut and Nunatsiavummiutut in two of the four Inuit Nunangat regions in Canada, Nunavut and Nunatsiavut in the Torngat Mountains of Labrador. Vitality and mojo of the two languages are analysed using Joseph (2017)’s Linguist Mojo framework and UNESCO’s Language Vitality Assessment, buttressed with government policy, education and curricula, and the history of the two languages with emphasis on European colonialism and acts of resistance against British, Newfoundlander, and Canadian imperialism that lead to the formation of Nunavut and Nunatsiavut.

Beginning with the European colonialisation (primarily by the British and French) the Inuit of Canada have experienced a troubled past, marked with events such as the High Arctic Relocation during the Cold War and the residential schooling system that systematically sought to destroy Indigenous Canadian language and culture through the integration and so-called ‘civilising’ of Indigenous Canadians into white Euro-Canadian cultures (be it French or English Canadian) (Ryerson, 1847). The High Arctic Relocation and the Residential School Systems were both detrimental to the transmission of Indigenous languages between generations, which is essential for the vitality, maintenance, and expansion of languages (UNESCO, 2003; Moseley, 2010).

Both Inuktitut and Nunatsiavummiutut have reclaimed significant amounts of mojo, with strong points in resistance, heritage, and identity mojo. Both have strong government support (Government of Nunavut, 2008; Torngâsok Cultural Centre, 2012), as expansion of day-to-day usage. This seems to contradict the heritage and getting-on mojos; however, the languages’ ability to do so provides a unique way for the languages and cultures to continue to expand and establish themselves as major languages within the Canadian culturo-linguistic quilt and cement the reclamation and position the Inuit Nation has within the broader notion of Canadian Multiculturalism.

The revitalisation and reclamation of Indigenous languages is thus an essential portion of the effort activists in Canada are undergoing as an effort to decolonialise Canada in the present age of reconciliation (Palmater, 2015). Using language is a means of reclaiming heritage, resisting colonialism, and a core part of Indigenous identities.

In Nunavut, the process is well underway, with Inuktitut being used as the medium to preserve and promote Inuit culture and Inuit nationhood. Second-language learners of Inuktitut are a large portion of its speakers (Nunavut Bureau of Statistics, 2006; Statistics Canada, 2012), illustrating that the language is receiving more attention and continues to grow its mojo. This process is in progress in Nunatsiavut, but to a lesser degree.



Language at Edinburgh Lunch committee

Joachim Fainberg, Andres Karjus, Madeleine Long, Joana Ribeiro, Eva-Maria Schnelten

Further information

The Language at Edinburgh Lunch is made possible through funding from the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences and the Human Communication Research Centre, with the intent to facilitate interdisciplinary language research at the University of Edinburgh.

Apr 12 2018 -

63rd Language at Edinburgh lunch

2018-06-21: Lunch meeting

Room G.07, The Informatics Forum, 10 Crichton Street, Edinburgh, EH8 9AB