Category Archives: News

More Syntactic Bootstrapping

Today, Elia Martin came to talk about his Senior Research Project in linguistics! His experiment looked at how infants use syntactic bootstrapping to learn new words and how this changes between sixteen-month olds infants who already have been producing verbs (have more developed processes) and those who haven’t. Earlier studies had found that the more developed sixteen-month olds and nineteen-month olds were worse at identifying the unknown word in the sentence “She’s pushing with the tig.” Corpus analysis suggested that the more linguistically adept infants knew from experience that noun phrases often followed push (so they were expecting “She’s pushing the tig”) and therefore they predicted incorrectly that the new word ought to be a noun phrase. In other words, the kids were being tricked. They did a further experiment to confirm this hypothesis, which it did.

Why Nerds Shouldn’t Make Languages

This meeting we were talking about constructed languages, so naturally, we wanted to try our hand at making our own language. It turns out that if you take a bunch of crazy nerds and tell them they can make up the rules…yeah.

We didn’t finish making the language, but there’s a basic structure. So far there are five sounds in the alphabet: ‘bo’, ‘ma’, [click], [ascending hum] (denoted as “m/”), and [descending hum] (denoted as “n\”), with more to be added as needed.  We collectively decided immediately that conjugation was stupid/boring (I’m possibly projecting…).

The first sentence we translated was: “I am shopping”.
I = [click]
shopping = bo-ma-m/

Now, tense. Tense is fun. We thought that it would clearly make the most sense for the word order to determine tense. If the verb is before the subject, past tense. If the verb is before the subject, future. Nobody really needs more specificity than that. Oh yeah, present. Present’s simple: You put the subject inside the verb. Duh. I guess that means all verbs are more than one syllable long…

I was shopping: [click] bo-ma-m/
I am shopping: bo-[click]-ma-m/
I will be shopping: bo-ma-m/ [click]

Best of all: I was shopping a long time ago = [click][long pause][bo-ma-m/]

I’m not sure if pauses can actually have meaning in language (I feel like that’s problematic), but we’re going with it.

This structure makes recursion odd, but fortunately, we figured out a simple solution. When a clause finished, we used a popping sound (made like kissing, except you’re kissing yourself) to denote that the next clause was nested inside.

For example, if you were to say “The store I was shopping at sucked”, you would say “the store sucked [pop] I was shopping there”.

Next time, we’ll either translate some more sentences or do NACLO puzzles.

UMD Visit (3/11/14)

On Tuesday, March 11, we visited the University of Maryland Linguistics Department and saw lectures on various topics.

We learned about crowdsourcing from Alex Quinn.

Slideshows from Alia Biller on music and tone language acquisition here and here.

Chris Heffner‘s slideshow on phonetic category learning is here.

Zoe Schlueter and Liz Nguyen spoke to us about MEG/EEG. Zoe’s slideshow on EEG and prediction is here.

More slideshows coming soon!

SLIYS Linguistics Summer Camp

We received an email from the Summer Linguistic Institute for Youth Scholars at Ohio State University. It’s copied below if you’re interested — sounds like a fun opportunity. The flyer is available here.

We’re writing to you from the Ohio State University Linguistics Department to let you know about a great opportunity for high school students interested in linguistics. For the last five years we’ve run a week long summer camp here at OSU called SLIYS – the Summer Linguistic Institute for Youth Scholars. SLIYS (pronounced like “slice”) is the nation’s only linguistics summer camp for high school students, and we want to share our program with high school linguistics clubs around the country.

SLIYS students spend one week living on campus here at Ohio State, gaining the tools to better understand how languages work. You will learn about sound systems, grammatical systems, writing systems, and the ways that speakers of different languages interact with each other.

Whether you want to become a foreign language teacher, join the Peace Corps, live in another country, or study languages or linguistics in college, the knowledge you gain from your SLIYS experience is certain to help! SLIYS Instructors are members of the Department of Linguistics at the Ohio State University, including faculty, staff, and PhD candidates. We have a wide range of linguistic expertise and are familiar with an extensive and diverse collection of the world’s languages.

I’ve attached the flyer for this year’s program, which includes information on dates and costs. Please share this information at your next linguistics club meeting, and check out our website at Feel free to contact us ( if you have any questions! We’re glad you’re interested in linguistics, and look forward to seeing you at SLIYS!

Linguistics 2013-2014

Hi everyone!

Linguistics is moving to Wednesdays at 3:00 this year, starting September 11th. Bring a junior-or-under on the first day, and you will each receive a cookie.

We’re also switching to a proper mailing list. If you did not receive an invitation, please sign up here.

We’re in the process of planning our first guest speakers of the year. In the meantime, of course, you are more than welcome to sign up to do a lecture yourself. This year, we’re going to try to alternate guest speakers with student lectures, so that we can provide background for the visitors and squeeze in some NACLO alongside the student lectures.

See you soon!