Lila Gleitman and Norvin Richards at McGill

Two great talks coming up:

The CRLMB Distinguished Lecture Series presents:
Lila Gleitman: If the shoe fits: Earliest steps in vocabulary acquisition

Time: Thursday, Sep. 16, 2010 – 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Location: Leacock Building, Room 232, 855 Sherbrooke Street West

As a precondition for entering the human community, infants must efficiently and rapidly acquire the meanings of words Their first procedures for doing so rely heavily on noticing the contingencies between the occurrence of a sound (e.g. “shoe”) with something observed (say, a shoe) in the environment. Because these links between sound and interpretive cue are notoriously uncertain and sometimes misleading, the procedure has widely been conceived as an associative-statistical one in which the choice of meaning is determined across several examples by recovering the features that recur most systematically with the sound (cf., Hume, 1740). Recent experimental results appear to support this position (Yu & Smith, 2007, inter alia). But several commentators and experimenters have pointed to the sheer rate and relative errorlessness of word learning as favoring a more insightful, one-trial, learning procedure that has been called “fast mapping” (Carey, 1978). In this talk I will present new experiments in word learning that strongly support the latter view. Discussion turns on the reasons why — experiments aside — this must be true. Prominent among such reasons is the “poverty of the stimulus” problem that also motivates theorizing about language acquisition at levels below (phonetics) and above (syntactic) the word form.

The Colloquium Talk Series at the Linguistics Department presents:
Norvin Richards (MIT): Affix Support and the EPP

Time: Friday, Sep. 17, 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM
Location: Education Building, Room 216, 3700 McTavish Street

The distribution of EPP effects in the world’s languages is famously uneven; we find them in languages like English and French, but they seem to be absent in languages like Spanish and Italian. The point of this talk will be to develop a theory to predict the distribution of EPP effects from independently observable properties of languages, having to do with verbal morphology and the placement of stress in the verb. The proposal is part of a research program that seeks to provide deeper explanations for syntactic phenomena by allowing the syntax to make more extensive reference to phonology than we are used to. Part of the goal of the talk will be to explore the consequences the proposal has for our understanding of the interface between syntax and phonology.

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