Monthly Archives: December 2013

Morphology of ASL (Guest Speaker Pamela Toman, 12/18/2013)

Pamela Toman, a data scientist who studied linguistics at Georgetown, talked about the morphology of American Sign Language. We explored various syntactic features in ASL, and talked about sign languages and the deaf community in general.

Brian and Aaron gave a preparatory lecture last week.

Pamela gave us a packet with puzzles for figuring out morphological rules of ASL. The answers, with detailed notes, are here.

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Morphology Intro (Aaron Szabo and Brian Morris, 12/11/13)

Brian and Aaron introduced us to morphology, in preparation for Pamela Toman’s talk on the morphology of American Sign Language next week. Their presentation included a NACLO-style problem.

Presentation is here; most of the content, including the problem, came from this and the morphology section of this.

NOTES (thanks to Brian, as may be guessable:)

The presentation started with a pair of wonderful jokes delivered by Brian Morris, that you simply had to be there to fully appreciate. After that, we started the presentation on morphology in earnest.
Morphology is the study of the structure of the meaning of language.

The basic unit of meaning in a language is a morpheme, of which there are two types: free and bound. There are two types of bound morphemes: inflectional (those that don’t change the inherent meaning of a word) and derivational (those that do). The null morpheme is a specific type of derivational morpheme that is not pronounced or written, but changes the lexical class of a word.

A root is a free morpheme that serves as the heart of a word, and affixes are morphemes attached to a root. There are multiple types of affixes; see the slides for more information.

Languages can be categorized based on how they handle morphology. See the slides for more information.

The presentation ended with a demonstration of a method for solving certain types of morphology problems. See the slides for more information.

Aphasic Discourse (Daniela Ganelin, 12/04/13)

I talked about my summer project. We also watched the great “Tono Tono”, and worked on NACLO problems.


About 300,000 people each year suffer some degree of aphasia after strokes. A lot of post-stroke aphasics end up scoring really well on the standard tests after a while, so they’re considered recovered and insurance stops paying for treatment. The problem is that the standard tests only cover phonological, lexical, and syntactic stuff; many of these people (we estimate ~20,000 a year) have lingering discourse-level difficulties that prevent them from having normal conversations or doing their jobs.

We had transcripts of “well-recovered patients” and controls describing Norman Rockwell paintings. I cleaned up the transcripts and scored them for content units. Then I analyzed the data on a word-by-word basis by statistically comparing the usage percent of each word between the two groups (I developed the method). Some 35 words were significant, most of which were detailed descriptors which were used more by controls. We also used a neat statistical method called VLSM to identify brain areas associated with each deficit, which lets us speculate about what might be responsible. The results indicated that patients conserve unnecessary words, as the physical act of speech is difficult. Applied to a much larger corpus, this technique could allow the development of a diagnostic tool to quickly flag patients with discourse difficulties based on a speech sample.

My slide show is here, and my paper (if you’d like more details) is here.