Alumni Dissertations

 

Alumni Dissertations

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  • A CORPUS-BASED SOCIOLINGUISTIC STUDY OF SUBJECT PRONOUN PLACEMENT IN SPANISH IN NEW YORK

    Author:
    ROCIO RANA-RISSO
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    RICARDO OTHEGUY
    Abstract:

    This dissertation presents a variationist sociolinguistic study of the variable placement of subject personal pronouns before or after verbs in Spanish in New York City (e.g. ella canta; canta ella, both `she sings'). It pursues a line of inquiry that partially replicates recent work by Otheguy & Zentella (2012). The research addresses, on the basis of a different morphosyntactic phenomenon, the same question of whether bilingualism in NYC is giving rise to language contact phenomena under which patterns of English usage are affecting the use of Spanish. In addition, this project expands the original database extracted from the Otheguy - Zentella corpus to include not only finite verbs but also non-finites, and it expands as well the tools of the analysis by introducing additional linguistic predictor variables. This project will demonstrate that, with respect to the feature under study, there are indeed two distinct groups of newcomers entering the City, those from the Caribbean and those from the Latin American Mainland. It will also show that while continuity with Latin American ways of speaking remains the strongest force shaping Spanish in NYC, changes in the internal grammar of the speakers begin with slight force in the first generation and continue in the second. On the basis of extensive internal evidence, this project advances our knowledge of variables conditioning the placement of subject pronouns. It is shown that the influencing variables for Mainlanders coincide for the most part with those for Caribbeans; that the speech of Caribbeans is not as rigidly set on an SVO word order as it has been claimed in the literature; and that the speech of Mainlanders is more set on an SVO order as well, rather than on the required VSO word order claimed by several authors in the literature. Lastly, the study demonstrates that the linguistic variables constraining pronoun placement in the speech of newcomers begin to change in significance and hierarchy in the first generation with more exposure to the City, and become insignificant for the second generation of speakers.

  • Echolocation: Using Word-Burst Analysis to Rescore Keyword Search Candidates in Low-Resource Languages

    Author:
    Justin Richards
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Andrew Rosenberg
    Abstract:

    State of the art technologies for speech recognition are very accurate for heavily studied languages like English. They perform poorly, though, for languages wherein the recorded archives of speech data available to researchers are relatively scant. In the context of these low-resource languages, the task of keyword search within recorded speech is formidable. We demonstrate a method that generates more accurate keyword search results on low-resource languages by studying a pattern not exploited by the speech recognizer. The word-burst, or burstiness, pattern is the tendency for word utterances to appear together in bursts as conversational topics fluctuate. We give evidence that the burstiness phenomenon exhibits itself across varied languages. Using burstiness features to train a machine-learning algorithm, we are able to assess the likelihood that a hypothesized keyword location is correct and adjust its confidence score accordingly, yielding improvements in the efficacy of keyword search in low-resource languages.

  • Attachment Ambiguities in Hebrew Complex Nominals: Prosody and Parsing

    Author:
    Amit Shaked
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the prosody-syntax interface in two Hebrew complex nominals. Their meaning is identical but their syntax and phonology differ. The free state (FS) nominal is similar to English (e.g., the coach of the wrestler). The construct state (CS) nominal lacks the preposition, has stress on the second noun, and the construction constitutes one phonological word despite its internal syntactic structure. When followed by a relative clause (RC) the two constructions (1a,b) are syntactically/semantically ambiguous in the same way; but they contrast prosodically because one of the phrasing patterns permitted for FS (a boundary between the two nouns) is inhibited for CS. (1) a. FS: ha-me'amen shel ha-mit'agref she-parash le'axar ha-taxarut b. CS: me'amen ha-mit'agref she-parash le'axar ha-taxarut (the-)coach of the-wrestler who-retired after the-fight Research on the relative clause attachment ambiguity has shown that different languages and constructions vary in attachment preferences; it is important to investigate factors that may contribute to attachment decisions, because this variation threatens the universality and innateness of the human sentence processing routines. In recent years, much research has focused on a prosodic explanation: The Implicit Prosody Hypothesis (Fodor, 2002) proposes that attachment choices in silent reading are affected by implicit prosody mentally projected onto the sentence by readers, on the basis of language-specific phonological rules. Since implicit prosody cannot be directly observed, it is investigated by studying overt prosody in speaking and listening. This dissertation thus provides data on prosodic phrasing in Hebrew and its relation to the processing of the RC-attachment construction. Three experiments are reported: a production experiment studied speakers' preferred prosodic patterns for each construction; a listening study examined how the preferred interpretation differed for different prosodic contours; a silent reading experiment investigated the interpretation when no overt prosody was provided. For the FS sentences the results of the three experiments concurred, indicating that RC-attachment is sensitive to prosody, both explicit and implicit. For the CS, prosody was also found to play a role but some other factor(s) intrinsic to the construction resulted in consistently higher RC-attachment.

  • Attachment Ambiguities in Hebrew Complex Nominals: Prosody and Parsing

    Author:
    Amit Shaked
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Janet Fodor
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates the prosody-syntax interface in two Hebrew complex nominals. Their meaning is identical but their syntax and phonology differ. The free state (FS) nominal is similar to English (e.g., the coach of the wrestler). The construct state (CS) nominal lacks the preposition, has stress on the second noun, and the construction constitutes one phonological word despite its internal syntactic structure. When followed by a relative clause (RC) the two constructions (1a,b) are syntactically/semantically ambiguous in the same way; but they contrast prosodically because one of the phrasing patterns permitted for FS (a boundary between the two nouns) is inhibited for CS. (1) a. FS: ha-me'amen shel ha-mit'agref she-parash le'axar ha-taxarut b. CS: me'amen ha-mit'agref she-parash le'axar ha-taxarut (the-)coach of the-wrestler who-retired after the-fight Research on the relative clause attachment ambiguity has shown that different languages and constructions vary in attachment preferences; it is important to investigate factors that may contribute to attachment decisions, because this variation threatens the universality and innateness of the human sentence processing routines. In recent years, much research has focused on a prosodic explanation: The Implicit Prosody Hypothesis (Fodor, 2002) proposes that attachment choices in silent reading are affected by implicit prosody mentally projected onto the sentence by readers, on the basis of language-specific phonological rules. Since implicit prosody cannot be directly observed, it is investigated by studying overt prosody in speaking and listening. This dissertation thus provides data on prosodic phrasing in Hebrew and its relation to the processing of the RC-attachment construction. Three experiments are reported: a production experiment studied speakers' preferred prosodic patterns for each construction; a listening study examined how the preferred interpretation differed for different prosodic contours; a silent reading experiment investigated the interpretation when no overt prosody was provided. For the FS sentences the results of the three experiments concurred, indicating that RC-attachment is sensitive to prosody, both explicit and implicit. For the CS, prosody was also found to play a role but some other factor(s) intrinsic to the construction resulted in consistently higher RC-attachment.

  • Deriving Word Order in Code-switching: Feature Inheritance and Light Verbs

    Author:
    Ji Young Shim
    Year of Dissertation:
    2013
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Marcel den Dikken
    Abstract:

    This dissertation investigates code-switching (CS), the concurrent use of more than one language in conversation, commonly observed in bilingual speech. Assuming that code-switching is subject to universal principles, just like monolingual grammar, the dissertation provides a principled account of code-switching, with particular emphasis on OV~VO variation in two typologically similar language pairs, Korean-English and Japanese-English bilingual speech. Taking the view into consideration that linguistic variation is a result of variation in the domain of functional categories rather than lexical roots (e.g., Borer 1984; Chomsky 1995), the role of light verbs in word order in code-switching is further investigated and tested against Korean-English and Japanese-English bilingual speakers' introspective judgments of the code-switching patterns presented to them in the form of a questionnaire. The results provide strong evidence indicating that the distinction between lexical and functional or light verbs play a major role in deriving different word order, OV and VO in Korean-English and Japanese-English code-switching, respectively, supporting the hypothesis that parametric variation is attributed to differences in the features of a functional category in the lexicon. In particular, the explanation pursued in this dissertation is based on feature inheritance, proposed in recent developments the Minimalist Program. To account for OV~VO variation in Korean-English and Japanese-English code-switching, feature inheritance, primarily proposed for the C-T domain by Chomsky (2000, 2001, 2008), is extended to the v-ASP domain, thereby developing it into a full-fledged mechanism for the two phases, C and v, of the clause. Two principles of feature inheritance (feature selection and feature expiration) and three operational rules (earliness, economy, and multiple agree under antisymmetry) are proposed to show that feature inheritance is designed to make a derivation proceed economically and efficiently in the syntax. Based on this, the dissertation presents how head-initial structure in English (C-S-V-O) and head-final structure (S-O-V-C) in Korean and Japanese are derived, and argues that the OV-VO variation in Korean-English and Japanese-English code-switching is due to a result of object shift: if object shift occurs, OV is derived. On the other hand, if object shift fails, the underlying VO structure will surface.

  • The Semantics of Adjectives of Quantity

    Author:
    Stephanie Solt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    This work investigates the semantics of the adjectives of quantity (Q-adjectives) many, few, much and little, with the goal of providing a unified semantic analysis of this class, and in doing so exploring the semantics of quantity and degree more broadly. My central claim is that Q-adjectives must be analyzed as degree predicates - gradable predicates of scalar intervals - with much of the semantic content traditionally ascribed to these words instead contributed by a set of null functional elements and operations. This proposal allows a compositional analysis of Q-adjectives across the wide range of syntactic positions in which they occur, including quantificational (many dogs bark), predicative (John's friends are few), attributive (the little rice that remains), and especially differential (many fewer than 100 students), the latter of which is problematic for theories that take Q-adjectives to be either quantifying determiners or cardinality predicates. The same mechanism also accounts for the operator-like behavior of few and little and the availability of much as a dummy element (much-support), and allows quantification over individuals to be analyzed via simple Existential Closure, without giving rise to spurious `at least' readings for few/little. I further show that patterns in the interpretation and distribution of Q-adjectives can be related to properties of the scales of whose intervals they are predicated. The vagueness of Q-adjectives and their apparent cardinal/proportional ambiguity can be accommodated via the manipulation of two elements in the scalar representation, the structure of the scale (bounded vs. unbounded) and the location of the standard of comparison, with no need to posit multiple lexical entries. Aspects of scale structure are also responsible for contrasts in distribution among individual Q-adjectives (e.g. a few vs. *a many; the problems were many vs. *the difficulty was much). This thesis thus argues for the relevance of degrees and scales to the analysis of natural language meaning, while adding to recent work investigating subtle syntactic and semantic differences between superficially similar quantificational expressions, and developing compositional analyses of complex expressions of quantity. It further supports a view of nominal syntax in which functional elements contribute semantic content.

  • The Semantics of Adjectives of Quantity

    Author:
    Stephanie Solt
    Year of Dissertation:
    2009
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    William McClure
    Abstract:

    This work investigates the semantics of the adjectives of quantity (Q-adjectives) many, few, much and little, with the goal of providing a unified semantic analysis of this class, and in doing so exploring the semantics of quantity and degree more broadly. My central claim is that Q-adjectives must be analyzed as degree predicates - gradable predicates of scalar intervals - with much of the semantic content traditionally ascribed to these words instead contributed by a set of null functional elements and operations. This proposal allows a compositional analysis of Q-adjectives across the wide range of syntactic positions in which they occur, including quantificational (many dogs bark), predicative (John's friends are few), attributive (the little rice that remains), and especially differential (many fewer than 100 students), the latter of which is problematic for theories that take Q-adjectives to be either quantifying determiners or cardinality predicates. The same mechanism also accounts for the operator-like behavior of few and little and the availability of much as a dummy element (much-support), and allows quantification over individuals to be analyzed via simple Existential Closure, without giving rise to spurious `at least' readings for few/little. I further show that patterns in the interpretation and distribution of Q-adjectives can be related to properties of the scales of whose intervals they are predicated. The vagueness of Q-adjectives and their apparent cardinal/proportional ambiguity can be accommodated via the manipulation of two elements in the scalar representation, the structure of the scale (bounded vs. unbounded) and the location of the standard of comparison, with no need to posit multiple lexical entries. Aspects of scale structure are also responsible for contrasts in distribution among individual Q-adjectives (e.g. a few vs. *a many; the problems were many vs. *the difficulty was much). This thesis thus argues for the relevance of degrees and scales to the analysis of natural language meaning, while adding to recent work investigating subtle syntactic and semantic differences between superficially similar quantificational expressions, and developing compositional analyses of complex expressions of quantity. It further supports a view of nominal syntax in which functional elements contribute semantic content.

  • Some complexities in English article use and acquisition

    Author:
    Victoria Somogyi
    Year of Dissertation:
    2014
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Gita Martohardjono
    Abstract:

    Along with preposition use, native-like article use is one of the greatest difficulties for learners of English, particularly for those learners whose first languages do not have articles. And unlike many other areas involved in the mastery of the language, articles continue to present a challenge for advanced learners. A significant number of article usages are complex in that they are neither simple to explain (in that the does not encode definiteness or contextual uniqueness) nor strictly idiomatic. This paper a) provides an overview and critique of the scholarship on articles and their acquisition, b) takes a detailed look at several of the complex usages (noun phrases with genitive phrases, modified by the adjective "wrong," or with a possible generic reading), and c) examines article acceptability judgments by English language learners with article-less L1s and by native speakers, both college students and adults.

  • The acquisition of consonant clusters by Japanese learners of English: Interactions of speech perception and production

    Author:
    Mieko Sperbeck
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Winifred Strange
    Abstract:

    The primary aim of this dissertation was to investigate the relationship between speech perception and speech production difficulties among Japanese second language (L2) learners of English, in their learning complex syllable structures. Japanese L2 learners and American English controls were tested in a categorial ABX discrimination task of nonsense words sequences (e.g., /spani/ vs /sepani/) and included /sp, sk, pl, kl, bl, gl, spl, skl/ clusters. In the second study, production data on these same contrasts were collected by employing the delayed imitation task where speakers were asked to produce the target words in a short sentence. Productions were evaluated by American English listeners. In addition, the Versant test, a short test of English fluency by phone, was administered to see how Japanese participants' present English fluency level would correlate with their performance on the current experiments. Results of the perception experiment showed that overall accuracy by the Japanese group was significantly poorer than for Americans (Median = 71 % and 100% correct, respectively). Certain clusters were harder than others for Japanese listeners. Specifically, overall accuracy in the /bl/ clusters was significantly low (Median = 63% correct). The production experiment demonstrated that, as was the case with the perception experiment, the American group showed a ceiling effect for all types of consonantal sequences. In contrast, the Japanese group's performance was consistently lower (Mean = 64% correct). Specifically, Japanese participants had difficulty producing the voiced stops + schwa + liquid tokens (e.g., /belani/) accurately. Interestingly, the major errors in these clusters were deletion of schwas. Corelational analyses between perception and production performance were conducted. Overall, the Japanese group's perception and production was correlated (rho = +7.82, p < 0.01, one-tailed). Additionally, overall Versant test score was correlated with perception performance (rho = + 0.470, p < 0.01) and production performance (rho = + 0.633, p < 0.01). These results suggest that there is a link between L2 perception and L2 production at phonotactic level of acquisition. However, a picture of such link is much more complicated, as suggested by great variability among Japanese participants' performance. That is, the current study suggests that inaccuracy in L2 production is a product of interactions among inaccurate L2 perception, motor constraints of unfamiliar sequences of phonemes, and learners' individual differences in English fluency skills.

  • The acquisition of consonant clusters by Japanese learners of English: Interactions of speech perception and production

    Author:
    Mieko Sperbeck
    Year of Dissertation:
    2010
    Program:
    Linguistics
    Advisor:
    Winifred Strange
    Abstract:

    The primary aim of this dissertation was to investigate the relationship between speech perception and speech production difficulties among Japanese second language (L2) learners of English, in their learning complex syllable structures. Japanese L2 learners and American English controls were tested in a categorial ABX discrimination task of nonsense words sequences (e.g., /spani/ vs /sepani/) and included /sp, sk, pl, kl, bl, gl, spl, skl/ clusters. In the second study, production data on these same contrasts were collected by employing the delayed imitation task where speakers were asked to produce the target words in a short sentence. Productions were evaluated by American English listeners. In addition, the Versant test, a short test of English fluency by phone, was administered to see how Japanese participants' present English fluency level would correlate with their performance on the current experiments. Results of the perception experiment showed that overall accuracy by the Japanese group was significantly poorer than for Americans (Median = 71 % and 100% correct, respectively). Certain clusters were harder than others for Japanese listeners. Specifically, overall accuracy in the /bl/ clusters was significantly low (Median = 63% correct). The production experiment demonstrated that, as was the case with the perception experiment, the American group showed a ceiling effect for all types of consonantal sequences. In contrast, the Japanese group's performance was consistently lower (Mean = 64% correct). Specifically, Japanese participants had difficulty producing the voiced stops + schwa + liquid tokens (e.g., /belani/) accurately. Interestingly, the major errors in these clusters were deletion of schwas. Corelational analyses between perception and production performance were conducted. Overall, the Japanese group's perception and production was correlated (rho = +7.82, p < 0.01, one-tailed). Additionally, overall Versant test score was correlated with perception performance (rho = + 0.470, p < 0.01) and production performance (rho = + 0.633, p < 0.01). These results suggest that there is a link between L2 perception and L2 production at phonotactic level of acquisition. However, a picture of such link is much more complicated, as suggested by great variability among Japanese participants' performance. That is, the current study suggests that inaccuracy in L2 production is a product of interactions among inaccurate L2 perception, motor constraints of unfamiliar sequences of phonemes, and learners' individual differences in English fluency skills.