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Conference Information

Full Title: What is in a Morpheme? Theory, Experiments, Computational Approaches to the Relation of Meaning and Form in Morphology

Location: Zurich, Switzerland
Start Date: 10-Sep-2017 - 13-Sep-2017
Contact: Stela Manova
Meeting Email: click here to access email
Meeting Description: What is in a morpheme? Theoretical, experimental and computational approaches to the relation of meaning and form in morphology

The full text of the call is available at:

There are enough examples in science that obvious things are the most difficult to explain: issues such as how inorganic matter turns into organic or how a child learns to understand language. There is a similar problem in morphology. It is well known that morphemes consist of phonemes but only the former can be associated with meaning (systematically) and it is a non-trivial question how exactly this association happens.

There are three possible ways to approach the relation of meaning and form:

A. Form and meaning emerge simultaneously
B. The association is from meaning to form
C. The association is from form to meaning.

The most important difference between these scenarios consists in the fact that in scenarios B and C meaning may be assigned at the level of word, i.e. one may claim that morphemes do not have meaning of their own or even that there are no morphemes at all (in scenario B). (Information (syntactic/morphological/morphosyntactic) that does not refer to (phonological) form is called ‘meaning’ in this proposal.)

Theoretical, experimental and computational linguistics approach word structure from different perspectives and seem to diverge with respect to which is the ''right'' scenario. Theoretical linguistics is interested in generalizations over meaning (features) (scenarios A and B), both within languages and typologically: e.g., only a language with plural can have dual or no language makes more gender distinctions in the non-singular than in the singular (Greenberg 1963). Experimental linguistics researches perception, parsing, processing and production of word structure; computational linguistics is focused on parsing and distribution of word structure. Consequently, both experimental and computational linguistics follow scenario C and their findings seem to contradict theoretical linguistics (see the full CFP). Nevertheless, theoretical linguists (seem to) agree that speakers have somewhat reliable intuitions about n-gram frequency over sub-word units. Thus, the goals of this workshop are threefold: to encourage interdisciplinary discussion, to clarify and unify assumptions, and to pave the way for collaboration.

The three scenarios are exemplified in the full CFP.

As an alternative, non-linguistic source of inspiration, we would like to turn your attention to the following video on how computers learn to understand pictures: (the speaker, Fei-Fei Li, is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University). Computer vision is one of the most important areas of research in machine learning and many striking analogies with linguistic analyses can be made.


Stela Manova (University of Vienna)
Harald Hammarström (Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena)
Itamar Kastner (Humboldt University, Berlin)
Linguistic Subfield: Cognitive Science; Computational Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Morphology; Psycholinguistics
LL Issue: 27.4645

This is a session of the following meeting:
50th Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea

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