The Biological Bases of Syntax-Semantics Interface in Natural Languages: Cognitive Modeling and Empirical Evidence. Evguenia Malaia Ronnie B. Wilbur SLHS Department, Purdue University [email protected] event structure. WORLD-to-LANGUAGE. events in real world
Ronnie B. Wilbur
SLHS Department, Purdue University
events in real world
parsed out and expressed in sentences
Each sentence centered around a predicate/verb
…and this is what we want to model
Human languages parse and formulate observable events in a logically restricted fashion
(e.g. Son and Cole, 2008, Borer 1994, Ritter and Rosen 1998, Davis and Demidarche 2000, van Hout 2000, Hale and Keyser 1993, Van Valin 2007)
four syntactically relevant semantic types of predicates:
sleep (for an hour)
walk (for an hour)
die (in an hour)
paint a portrait (in two weeks)
Telic transition to end state
Ramchand (2008) - Divide events into
- verbal morphology of individual languages can represent individuated elements of event structure…
- which allows use of a single verbal root in multiple event structures…
- to yield telic or atelic meanings.
Do we have empirical evidence that telicity affects the way human languages are processed?
complete analysis of all known languages of the world with respect to their event structure
evidence from psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic research
- O’Bryan (2003) - independent effects of telicity and transitivity
:word maze experiment with reduced relative clauses.
:reaction time advantage on the preposition “by” for sentences with telic verbs in the relative clause, as compared to those with atelic verbs;
:independent advantage for the second argument in sentences with obligatorily transitive verbs (both telic and atelic).
Friedmann, Taranto, Shapiro, and Swinney (2008)
priming effect for obligatorily intransitive telic verbs, but not for unergatives obligatorily intransitive atelics.
- Malaia, Wilbur, Weber-Fox (in press) ERP evidence for telicity effects on syntactic processing in garden-path sentences. Brain and Language.
The baby nursed/ burped by the mother rolled over.
The customer shaved / cheated by the barber left no tip.
The prisoner taught/ halted by the agent tried to escape.
processing of syntactic information interacts with the previous semantic context.
(cf. Yamada & Neville, 2007; Osterhout, Holcomb, Swinney, 1994)
New argument does not require re-assignment of thematic roles
New argument requiresthematic role re-assignment
grammatically relevant semantic features
Research on Signed languages:
Telic event signs
a. change of aperture b. orientation change c. setting change d. change of location
handshape change proximal/distal with contact
SEND HAPPEN POSTPONE HIT
Atelic event signs
(a) RUN [tracing: straight] (b) PLAY (tracing + TM) (c) READ (tracing + TM)
Telic and atelic predicates in signed languages
We already know that telicity plays a role in sign morphology:
:: production differences reflecting semantic distinction of event type
The Event Visibility Hypothesis (EVH) argues that the semantics of event structure (subevents) are visible in predicate sign formation.
Can see if an end state is intended by way sign movement comes to a stop:
- rapidly for end states
- regularly for no end state.
ASL signs representing telic events appear to contain ‘perceptually significant rapid deceleration to a stop’.
Signs representing telic events will have steeper deceleration slopes than those representing atelic events, because it will provide an end-marking to indicate the final State.
x 29 for telic = 116 cases for telics
x 21 for atelic = 84 cases for atelics.
e.g. Mean telic slope is 1.46 times steeper than mean atelic slope in isolation
Metric: the Slope from the velocity peak to the next velocity minimum, reflecting the deceleration to(ward) a stop.
Slope Atelic Telic Ratio Telic/Atelic
Isolation 1 * -.09 -.14 1.46
Isolation 2 * -.12 -.18 1.46
Carrier Phrase** -.12 -.23 1.97
Sentence 1 * -.14 -.23 1.62
Difference between atelic and telic slopes is significant at *p<.05 **p<.001
ASL productionstudies - left hemispheric activation of Broca’s area (cf. Corina et al. 1999, Horowitz et al. 2003, Emmorey 2002, 2003, 2004).
ASL comprehension studies - bilateral activation in Broca’s area (Levänen et al, 2001, Neville et al., 1998, etc)
- also typical for audiovisual stimuli comprehension in spoken languages (cf. Capek et al., 2004).
Broca’s area is activated during both syntactic and semantic processing in spoken languages - integrates syntactic and semantic information during sentence comprehension (Hagoort, 2005).
:: spoken and signed languages appear to be highly correlated in the use of Broca’s area in the left hemisphere for integration of structural and lexical linguistic information.
Telic predicates in ASL incorporate the end-state and internal argument
Atelic predicates do not simpler smaller load?
Hypothesis: ASL predicate signs with distinct types of event structure (telic vs. atelic) would elicit differentiated activation patterns in Broca’s area (BA 44/45) of left IFG.
Participants: 5 healthy adults - native ASL signers:
Subjects were presented with visual stimuli consisting of telic and atelic ASL signs in a block paradigm, with non-ASL gesture as a baseline condition.
Subtraction paradigm was used to compare differential activation during processing of telic vs. atelic predicates.
Fixed effects analysis of the pilot data from 5 subjects (p<.001, uncorrected for multiple comparisons) demonstrates activation clusters in Broca’s area (BA 44/45, cluster size 15 voxels), and V5/MT+, cluster size 5 voxels.
The way events are perceived and conceptualized is explicitly coded in syntax-semantics interface.
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We are grateful to Robin Shay, Gabriel Masters, Nicoletta Adamo-Villani, Greg Tamer, Javier Gonzalez-Castillo, and Purdue and Indianapolis sign language community for their ongoing support of Purdue Sign Language Lab research.
This work was supported by NSF Research in Disabilities Education grant, and by NIH grant DC00524 to R.B. Wilbur.