Monthly Archives: May 2013

Pragmatics and Semantics of Adjectives, etc. (Guest Speaker Michael McCourt, 5/28/13)

Michael McCourt, a grad student in the UMD philosophy department, spoke to us about the semantics of adjectives (e.g. “why a blue diamond is a diamond but a fake diamond is not a diamond”), and gave us a general overview of different approaches to semantics.

Slideshow is available here.

NOTES (thanks to Megan Chao):

  • Truth and meaning
    • Truth conditional semantics
      • On one conception of semantics, a theory of meaning pairs sentences with their truth conditions, version of truth conditional semantics (TCS)
      • Know meaning of sentence -> know truth conditions and vice versa
    • Truth conditions
      • A sentence S is true iff p
      • Tarski biconditional
    • Compositionality
      • Competent speakers can understand sentences they have never heard b4
      • Limited # of lexical meanings and modes of composition -> infinite # of sentences
      • TCS has to respect principle of compositionality
    • Frege on compositionality
      • Saturated meaning are complete, while unsaturated ones are not
      • Unsaturated meanings as functions
      • When you apply an unsaturated meaning, you produce one meaning from the function, which is the saturated meaning.
    • First pass at a theory of semantic composition
      • Take the sentence “Ann swims”
      • [[Ann]] (the semantic value of Ann) is clearly the person called Ann
      • According to Frege, [[swims]] is a function from objects to truth values (It’s true if the object it applies to actually does swim)
    • Adjectives
      • What is [[gray]]? It really just combines with the meanings of nouns.
      • Adjectives like that are intersective. The set of grey cats is the intersection of the set of grey things and the set of cats.
      • Adjectives like ‘gray’ are also subsective. The set of gray cats is a subset of gray things. Most adjectives appear to be like this.
      • Some adjectives are subsective but not intersective. For example, “Sally is a beautiful dancer” could still be true even if Sally isn’t that great of a dancer, if you read it the right way.
      • Non-intersective, non-subsective adjectives do exist: For example, ‘fake’, ‘alleged’, etc.
      • ‘Fake’ is a privative adjective, since a ‘fake’ something is not that something.
      • Some argue that ‘Fake’ is not privative, since it just broadens the denotation of whatever it is applying to in that use only. This kind of respects our intuition more.
      • Consider: A fake diamond1 is not a diamond2.
      • In fact, we may need this to explain sentences like “A small elephant isn’t small”
      • So maybe all adjectives are intersective.
    • Not all sentences are complete in and of themselves:
      • Ned is ready. (for what? We need to know to give a truth value)
      • John is tall. (compared to what?)
      • Bill noticed. (noticed what?)
      • Sue might be in Boston (how do you give a truth value to ‘might’?)
      • Etc
      • We may need some mind-reading or something to get the correct meaning, since it can vary depending on the context
    • Frege’s solution to the puzzles
      • Sinn (sense) vs. Bedetung (reference)
      • (29) The first sentence here is not true.
        • Basically “This sentence is true iff it is false.” à PARADOX

2013 Elections

Elections 2013 are coming soon! If you’re interested in running, please send in an email with your (brief) spiel by 3:00 on May 28th, and we’ll post it here. You can also just comment on this post.

Voting will take place during the end-of-year party on June 4th. If you won’t be able to make that meeting, you may vote between 3:00 on May 28th and 3:00 on June 4th by emailing your name and choice for each position.

The positions are:

President/Co-President (currently Alan Du and Daniela Ganelin)

  • organizes meetings and special events (guest speakers, UMD trip, NACLO, etc.)
  • provides NACLO practice problems and backup lectures if necessary
  • works with Secretary to communicate with club and keep site updated

PR (currently RN)

  • recruits new members of the club, especially younger students
  • advertises through club fairs, InfoFlow, posters, class presentations, etc.

Secretary (currently de facto Megan Chao)

  • takes notes on presentations
  • works with President to communicate with club and keep site updated

If desired, candidates can run as panels of more than one member, and share work as they wish. Each person would then take the title of Co-[Position].




Alan Du and Daniela Ganelin: We plan to keep inviting guest visitors (from UMD, Georgetown, possibly MIT), practicing for NACLO, visiting UMD, and having student lectures. Baking frequency may increase.


RN and MN: [RN] will advertise for Linguistics Club, recruit and retain new members, and enthusiastically support it everywhere [RN] go[es]. [RN] will also visit classes of freshmen/sophomores to spread the word and invite them to join. [MN] promise[s] not to scare underclassmen away and will do everything (within normal reason) that authorities, including [RN], tell [her] to do. [MN is] also taking a lot of classes next year that current sophomores are going to take (bad decision) so that may help in underclassmen accessibility.


Hannah Tsai and Megan Chao: [Hannah] will type very fast. There will be so many notes you’ll swear [Hannah] actually understand[s] the presentation. Yours truly [Megan] will attempt to take twice as many notes as this past year and make them a lot more coherent than they were this year. [Megan] might even take notes on questions that people ask, if they’re particularly enlightening and/or amusing. Also, notes will be completely electronic next year, so they should be up on the website the day of the lecture instead of several weeks afterwards, due to problems with paper and general inefficiency with typing up written notes. On another note, [Megan] double[s] as the honorary Linguistics food truck.

Prosody and Research (Guest Speaker Chris Heffner, 5/21/13)

Chris Heffner, a NSF Graduate Research Fellow in the Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science at UMD, spoke about prosody and about the undergraduate research process.

Slideshow available here.

NOTES (thanks to Megan Chao):

  • IPA system, phonetics, and different sounds

    • Jay asked about Chinese sounds on the IPA system

    • X-sound is “c with a loopy thing”

    • Keep in mind that it is an international system, so it works for Chinese, too

  • Lots of transcription ambiguity

    • Punctuation

    • Reading IPA sounds

      • No spaces between words

  • PROSODY – the ~variations~

    • Suprasegmental traits

    • Also, there are TREES

    • Not quite like syntactic trees, can’t just take part of the tree and know what it means?

    • Various way to transcribe

  • Sound pressure graphs of speech

    • How to segment the graph and decode into words

    • Amplitudes correspond to going up and down really fast (like vocal cords)

      • Bigger = louder

    • People don’t actually pause in between every word

      • Where do they stop/start?

  • Throw things into the Prosody Box and don’t worry about it

  • Preserve proximal context and slow down distal context

    • John said he would obey a rebel.

    • Slowed context causes people to report hearing fewer words in a sentence

    • Proximal cuts should be weighted more heavily than distal cues

  • Research is a long and arduous journey, kids (917 days)

  • Make money! Mechanical Turks (sp?)

  • Phoneticians are more likely to have an extra fold in brain

    • Which came first? The phonetician or the fold?

Constituency, Dependency, and Link Grammars (Alan Du, 5/14/13)

This was a fairly low key meeting. Only 5 people showed up. Others were presumably studying for APs. My preparation notes can be found here.

We started with a basic review of fundamental constituency grammars. We then reviewed X’ theory before talking about minimalism and bare phrase structure. We then briefly talked about transition grammars, before leaving off with link grammars.

Constituency Grammars

Every word is part of the sentence.
Every word is part of the sentence.

The basic idea of a constituency grammars is that sentences are divided into “phrases”, which are called constituents. To the left, we have a very basic syntax tree, where every word is part of a sentence. Obviously, this isn’t very useful, or informative.

Tree w/ parts of speech labeled
Tree w/ parts of speech labeled

More information comes by adding the parts of speech. We restrict ourselves to nouns, verbs, prepositions, inflections, and determiners for now. Nouns, verbs, and prepositions should be obvious from English class. Determiners are things like articles and demonstratives (the dog, or this one), while inflections include modals and negatives (things like can, cannot, should, and could). For a full treatment of word typology, see here.

Continue reading Constituency, Dependency, and Link Grammars (Alan Du, 5/14/13)