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Children’s acquisition of language is an amazing feat. Children master the syntax, the sentence structure of their language, through exposure and interaction with caregivers and others but, notably, with no formal tuition. How children come to be in command of the syntax of their language has been a topic of vigorous debate since Chomsky argued against Skinner’s claim that language is ‘verbal behavior.’ Chomsky argued that knowledge of language cannot be learned through experience alone but is guided by a genetic component. This language component, known as ‘Universal Grammar,’ is composed of abstract linguistic knowledge and a computational system that is special to language. The computational mechanisms of Universal Grammar give even young children the capacity to form hierarchical syntactic representations for the sentences they hear and produce. The abstract knowledge of language guides children’s hypotheses as they interact with the language input in their environment, ensuring they progress toward the adult grammar. An alternative school of thought denies the existence of a dedicated language component, arguing that knowledge of syntax is learned entirely through interactions with speakers of the language. Such ‘usage-based’ linguistic theories assume that language learning employs the same learning mechanisms that are used by other cognitive systems. Usage-based accounts of language development view children’s earliest productions as rote-learned phrases that lack internal structure. Knowledge of linguistic structure emerges gradually and in a piecemeal fashion, with frequency playing a large role in the order of emergence for different syntactic structures.
Haihua Pan and Yuli Feng
Cross-linguistic data can add new insights to the development of semantic theories or even induce the shift of the research paradigm. The major topics in semantic studies such as bare noun denotation, quantification, degree semantics, polarity items, donkey anaphora and binding principles, long-distance reflexives, negation, tense and aspects, eventuality are all discussed by semanticists working on the Chinese language. The issues which are of particular interest include and are not limited to: (i) the denotation of Chinese bare nouns; (ii) categorization and quantificational mapping strategies of Chinese quantifier expressions (i.e., whether the behaviors of Chinese quantifier expressions fit into the dichotomy of A-Quantification and D-quantification); (iii) multiple uses of quantifier expressions (e.g., dou) and their implication on the inter-relation of semantic concepts like distributivity, scalarity, exclusiveness, exhaustivity, maximality, etc.; (iv) the interaction among universal adverbials and that between universal adverbials and various types of noun phrases, which may pose a challenge to the Principle of Compositionality; (v) the semantics of degree expressions in Chinese; (vi) the non-interrogative uses of wh-phrases in Chinese and their influence on the theories of polarity items, free choice items, and epistemic indefinites; (vii) how the concepts of E-type pronouns and D-type pronouns are manifested in the Chinese language and whether such pronoun interpretations correspond to specific sentence types; (viii) what devices Chinese adopts to locate time (i.e., does tense interpretation correspond to certain syntactic projections or it is solely determined by semantic information and pragmatic reasoning); (ix) how the interpretation of Chinese aspect markers can be captured by event structures, possible world semantics, and quantification; (x) how the long-distance binding of Chinese ziji ‘self’ and the blocking effect by first and second person pronouns can be accounted for by the existing theories of beliefs, attitude reports, and logophoricity; (xi) the distribution of various negation markers and their correspondence to the semantic properties of predicates with which they are combined; and (xii) whether Chinese topic-comment structures are constrained by both semantic and pragmatic factors or syntactic factors only.
Clinical linguistics is the branch of linguistics that applies linguistic concepts and theories to the study of language disorders. As the name suggests, clinical linguistics is a dual-facing discipline. Although the conceptual roots of this field are in linguistics, its domain of application is the vast array of clinical disorders that may compromise the use and understanding of language. Both dimensions of clinical linguistics can be addressed through an examination of specific linguistic deficits in individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, craniofacial anomalies, adult-onset neurological impairments, psychiatric disorders, and neurodegenerative disorders. Clinical linguists are interested in the full range of linguistic deficits in these conditions, including phonetic deficits of children with cleft lip and palate, morphosyntactic errors in children with specific language impairment, and pragmatic language impairments in adults with schizophrenia.
Like many applied disciplines in linguistics, clinical linguistics sits at the intersection of a number of areas. The relationship of clinical linguistics to the study of communication disorders and to speech-language pathology (speech and language therapy in the United Kingdom) are two particularly important points of intersection. Speech-language pathology is the area of clinical practice that assesses and treats children and adults with communication disorders. All language disorders restrict an individual’s ability to communicate freely with others in a range of contexts and settings. So language disorders are first and foremost communication disorders. To understand language disorders, it is useful to think of them in terms of points of breakdown on a communication cycle that tracks the progress of a linguistic utterance from its conception in the mind of a speaker to its comprehension by a hearer. This cycle permits the introduction of a number of important distinctions in language pathology, such as the distinction between a receptive and an expressive language disorder, and between a developmental and an acquired language disorder. The cycle is also a useful model with which to conceptualize a range of communication disorders other than language disorders. These other disorders, which include hearing, voice, and fluency disorders, are also relevant to clinical linguistics.
Clinical linguistics draws on the conceptual resources of the full range of linguistic disciplines to describe and explain language disorders. These disciplines include phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, pragmatics, and discourse. Each of these linguistic disciplines contributes concepts and theories that can shed light on the nature of language disorder. A wide range of tools and approaches are used by clinical linguists and speech-language pathologists to assess, diagnose, and treat language disorders. They include the use of standardized and norm-referenced tests, communication checklists and profiles (some administered by clinicians, others by parents, teachers, and caregivers), and qualitative methods such as conversation analysis and discourse analysis. Finally, clinical linguists can contribute to debates about the nosology of language disorders. In order to do so, however, they must have an understanding of the place of language disorders in internationally recognized classification systems such as the 2013 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) of the American Psychiatric Association.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Coarticulation can be characterized as an articulatory effect exerted by one phonetic segment (the trigger) onto another (the target) in the speech chain, for example, anticipatory velar lowering during a vowel preceding a syllable-final nasal consonant (send) or tongue body raising and fronting during a schwa placed next to a palatal consonant (the shore, a shamed). Coarticulatory effects have been generally investigated with reference to a single articulator (e.g., velum, lips, tongue tip, tongue body, jaw, larynx) or a given acoustic parameter (e.g., second formant). It is then convenient to keep this concept separate from gestural coproduction, which refers to the spatiotemporal interaction among different articulatory structures during the realization of one or several successive phonetic segments.
Coarticulation may be measured in space and time. Thus, tongue body raising and fronting effects exerted by palatal consonants on an immediately preceding schwa are predicted to be larger and start earlier than those exerted by the same consonant type on a preceding low or mid-vowel. Moreover, the spatiotemporal effects in question may differ in direction—they may be anticipatory and thus proceed leftwards towards the preceding segment(s), or they may be carryover and thus proceed rightwards towards the following segment(s); it is commonly accepted that anticipatory effects reflect phonemic planning, while carryover effects are mainly associated with the physico-mechanical requirements of the articulatory structures. The magnitude, temporal extent, and direction of the co-articulatory effects are conditioned by the place and manner of articulation of the triggering and target consonants and/or vowels, as well as by the articulatory subsystem involved in closure or constriction formation. Depending on their articulatory characteristics, vowels and consonants may differ regarding coarticulation resistance and aggressiveness, namely, the degree to which they block coarticulatory effects from contextual segments (resistance) and modify the articulatory characteristics of other segments (aggressiveness); thus, in a CV sequence composed of a palatal consonant and a schwa, the palatal segment is more coarticulation resistant and aggressive than the schwa. Other factors affecting coarticulation are segmental position within the word and the utterance and, with respect to word and sentence stress, as well as sequence type (VCV, CC, and so on), speech rate, speaker, and language.
The study of coarticulation provides information about the spatiotemporal mechanisms used by speakers for the production of phonemic sequences, about phonemic planning strategies in speech, and about sound change patterns and assimilatory processes. It has been traditionally assumed that coarticulatory effects are phonetic and thus gradual, variable, and universal, while assimilations are phonological and thus categorical, systematic, and language-specific. Thus, for example, tongue body raising and fronting effects from a palatal consonant during a schwa occur to a greater or lesser extent in any speech production event (coarticulation), but may only be labeled assimilatory if giving rise to a higher and more frontal vowel, such as /e/ or /i/, in a subset of lexical items or across the lexicon of a given language (assimilation). Experimental evidence shows, however, that the division between coarticulation and assimilation is not so straightforward. Indeed, coarticulatory effects may exhibit language-dependent differences (e.g., languages may differ regarding the degree of anticipatory vowel nasalization triggered by a syllable-final nasal consonant), while processes that have been traditionally considered to be assimilatory are far from applying categorically and systematically (e.g., the extent to which /n/ assimilates in place of articulation to a following consonant in English or German may vary with the consonant itself, speaker, prosodic factors, and speech rate).
Even though the concept of multilingualism is well established in linguistics, it is problematic, especially in light of the actual ways in which repertoires are composed and used. The term “multilingualism” bears in itself the notion of several clearly discernable languages and suggests that regardless of the sociolinguistic setting, language ideologies, social history and context, a multilingual individual will be able to separate the various codes that constitute his or her communicative repertoire and use them deliberately in a reflected way. Such a perspective on language isn’t helpful in understanding any sociolinguistic setting and linguistic practice that is not a European one and that doesn’t correlate with ideologies and practices of a standardized, national language. This applies to the majority of people living on the planet and to most people who speak African languages. These speakers differ from the ideological concept of the “Western monolingual,” as they employ diverse practices and linguistic features on a daily basis and do so in a very flexible way. Which linguistic features a person uses thereby depends on factors such as socialization, placement, and personal interest, desires and preferences, which are all likely to change several times during a person’s life. Therefore, communicative repertoires are never stable, neither in their composition nor in the ways they are ideologically framed and evaluated. A more productive perspective on the phenomenon of complex communicative repertoires puts the concept of languaging in the center, which refers to communicative practices, dynamically operating between different practices and (multimodal) linguistic features. Individual speakers thereby perceive and evaluate ways of speaking according to the social meaning, emotional investment, and identity-constituting functions they can attribute to them. The fact that linguistic reflexivity to African speakers might almost always involve the negotiation of the self in a (post)colonial world invites us to consider a critical evaluation, based on approaches such as Southern Theory, of established concepts of “language” and “multilingualism”: languaging is also a postcolonial experience, and this experience often translates into how speakers single out specific ways of speaking as “more prestigious” or “more developed” than others. The inclusion of African metalinguistics and indigenuous knowledge consequently is an important task of linguists studying communicative repertoires in Africa or its diaspora.
Pius ten Hacken
Compounding is a word formation process based on the combination of lexical elements (words or stems). In the theoretical literature, compounding is discussed controversially, and the disagreement also concerns basic issues. In the study of compounding, the questions guiding research can be grouped into four main areas, labeled here as delimitation, classification, formation, and interpretation. Depending on the perspective taken in the research, some of these may be highlighted or backgrounded.
In the delimitation of compounding, one question is how important it is to be able to determine for each expression unambiguously whether it is a compound or not. Compounding borders on syntax and on affixation. In some theoretical frameworks, it is not a problem to have more typical and less typical instances, without a precise boundary between them. However, if, for instance, word formation and syntax are strictly separated and compounding is in word formation, it is crucial to draw this borderline precisely. Another question is which types of criteria should be used to distinguish compounding from other phenomena. Criteria based on form, on syntactic properties, and on meaning have been used. In all cases, it is also controversial whether such criteria should be applied crosslinguistically.
In the classification of compounds, the question of how important the distinction between the classes is for the theory in which they are used poses itself in much the same way as the corresponding question for the delimitation. A common classification uses headedness as a basis. Other criteria are based on the forms of the elements that are combined (e.g., stem vs. word) or on the semantic relationship between the components. Again, whether these criteria can and should be applied crosslinguistically is controversial.
The issue of the formation rules for compounds is particularly prominent in frameworks that emphasize form-based properties of compounding. Rewrite rules for compounding have been proposed, generalizations over the selection of the input form (stem or word) and of linking elements, and rules for stress assignment. Compounds are generally thought of as consisting of two components, although these components may consist of more than one element themselves. For some types of compounds with three or more components, for example copulative compounds, a nonbinary structure has been proposed.
The question of interpretation can be approached from two opposite perspectives. In a semasiological perspective, the meaning of a compound emerges from the interpretation of a given form. In an onomasiological perspective, the meaning precedes the formation in the sense that a form is selected to name a particular concept. The central question in the interpretation of compounds is how to determine the relationship between the two components. The range of possible interpretations can be constrained by the rules of compounding, by the semantics of the components, and by the context of use. A much-debated question concerns the relative importance of these factors.
Jane Chandlee and Jeffrey Heinz
Computational phonology studies the nature of the computations necessary and sufficient for characterizing phonological knowledge. As a field it is informed by the theories of computation and phonology.
The computational nature of phonological knowledge is important because at a fundamental level it is about the psychological nature of memory as it pertains to phonological knowledge. Different types of phonological knowledge can be characterized as computational problems, and the solutions to these problems reveal their computational nature. In contrast to syntactic knowledge, there is clear evidence that phonological knowledge is computationally bounded to the so-called regular classes of sets and relations. These classes have multiple mathematical characterizations in terms of logic, automata, and algebra with significant implications for the nature of memory. In fact, there is evidence that phonological knowledge is bounded by particular subregular classes, with more restrictive logical, automata-theoretic, and algebraic characterizations, and thus by weaker models of memory.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. Please check back later for the full article.
Computational semantics performs automatic meaning analysis of natural language. Research in computational semantics designs meaning representations and develops mechanisms for automatically assigning those representations and reasoning over them. Computational semantics is not a single monolithic task but consists of many subtasks, including word sense disambiguation, multi-word expression analysis, semantic role labeling, the construction of sentence semantic structure, coreference resolution, and the automatic induction of semantic information from data.
The development of manually constructed resources has been vastly important in driving the field forward. Examples include WordNet, PropBank, FrameNet, VerbNet, and TimeBank. These resources specify the linguistic structures to be targeted in automatic analysis, and they provide high quality human-generated data that can be used to train machine learning systems. Supervised machine learning based on manually constructed resources is a widely used technique.
A second core strand has been the induction of lexical knowledge from text data. For example, words can be represented through the contexts in which they appear (called distributional vectors or embeddings), such that semantically similar words have similar representations. Or semantic relations between words can be inferred from patterns of words that link them. Wide-coverage semantic analysis always needs more data, both lexical knowledge and world knowledge, and automatic induction at least alleviates the problem.
Compositionality is a third core theme: the systematic construction of structural meaning representations of larger expressions from the meaning representations of their parts. The representations typically use logics of varying expressivity, which makes them well suited to performing automatic inferences with theorem provers.
Manual specification and automatic acquisition of knowledge are closely intertwined. Manually created resources are automatically extended or merged. The automatic induction of semantic information is guided and constrained by manually specified information, which is much more reliable. And for restricted domains, the construction of logical representations is learned from data.
It is at the intersection of manual specification and machine learning that some of the current larger questions of computational semantics are located. For instance, should we build general-purpose semantic representations, or is lexical knowledge simply too domain-specific, and would we be better off learning task-specific representations every time? When performing inference, is it more beneficial to have the solid ground of a human-generated ontology, or is it better to reason directly with text snippets for more fine-grained and gradual inference? Do we obtain a better and deeper semantic analysis as we use better and deeper manually specified linguistic knowledge, or is the future in powerful learning paradigms that learn to carry out an entire task from natural language input and output alone, without pre-specified linguistic knowledge?
The Word and Paradigm approach to morphology associates lexemes with tables of surface forms for different morphosyntactic property sets. Researchers express their realizational theories, which show how to derive these surface forms, using formalisms such as Network Morphology and Paradigm Function Morphology. The tables of surface forms also lend themselves to a study of the implicative theories, which infer the realizations in some cells of the inflectional system from the realizations of other cells.
There is an art to building realizational theories. First, the theories should be correct, that is, they should generate the right surface forms. Second, they should be elegant, which is much harder to capture, but includes the desiderata of simplicity and expressiveness. Without software to test a realizational theory, it is easy to sacrifice correctness for elegance. Therefore, software that takes a realizational theory and generates surface forms is an essential part of any theorist’s toolbox.
Discovering implicative rules that connect the cells in an inflectional system is often quite difficult. Some rules are immediately apparent, but others can be subtle. Software that automatically analyzes an entire table of surface forms for many lexemes can help automate the discovery process.
Researchers can use Web-based computerized tools to test their realizational theories and to discover implicative rules.
Connectionism is an important theoretical framework for the study of human cognition and behavior. Also known as Parallel Distributed Processing (PDP) or Artificial Neural Networks (ANN), connectionism advocates that learning, representation, and processing of information in mind are parallel, distributed, and interactive in nature. It argues for the emergence of human cognition as the outcome of large networks of interactive processing units operating simultaneously. Inspired by findings from neural science and artificial intelligence, connectionism is a powerful computational tool, and it has had profound impact on many areas of research, including linguistics. Since the beginning of connectionism, many connectionist models have been developed to account for a wide range of important linguistic phenomena observed in monolingual research, such as speech perception, speech production, semantic representation, and early lexical development in children. Recently, the application of connectionism to bilingual research has also gathered momentum. Connectionist models are often precise in the specification of modeling parameters and flexible in the manipulation of relevant variables in the model to address relevant theoretical questions, therefore they can provide significant advantages in testing mechanisms underlying language processes.