LINGUIST List 24.2110

Sun May 19 2013

Review: Neuroling.; Semantics; Syntax: Stolterfoht & Featherston (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 20-Mar-2013
From: Darcy Sperlich <>
Subject: Empirical Approaches to Linguistic Theory
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Book announced at

EDITOR: Britta StolterfohtEDITOR: Sam FeatherstonTITLE: Empirical Approaches to Linguistic TheorySUBTITLE: Studies in Meaning and StructureSERIES TITLE: Studies in Generative Grammar [SGG] 111PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Darcy Sperlich, University of Auckland

SUMMARYThis volume brings together a number of articles dedicated to empiricalresearch informing linguistic theory. The book is divided into three distinctsections, ‘Methods and analysis’, ‘Applications to linguistic theory’ and‘Cognitive and neurological basis of language’. The editors in their forewordbriefly cover the trends of linguistic empirical research and its advantagesfor linguistic theorizing. They then provide a concise summary of each paper.

The first paper, ‘Incremental truth value judgments’ by Oliver Bott and FabianSchlotterbeck, introduces a new methodology in the elicitation of datasurrounding scope ambiguity. The method is dubbed ‘Incremental truth valuejudgment task’ (ITVJ). It differs from a normal TVJT in that instead of simplyproviding a truth-value statement about a certain context, the statement isintroduced incrementally; the participants allow the sentence to continue (bycomputer) until they stop it at the point where it does not match the context.The authors collected reaction times of the participants allowing the sentenceto continue, per part (in German). They find that their ITVJ provides cleardata on distinguishing between judgments made online and those that areaccessible post-interpretively (among other findings and theoreticalimplications), which is directly attributed to the success of the ITVJ.

‘Measuring Syntactic Priming in Dialogue Corpora’ by Christian Pietsch, ArminBuch, Stefan Kopp and Jan de Ruiter investigates lexical syntactic primingfrom a corpus perspective. After reviewing the literature on syntacticpriming, they move on to the methodology used in their corpus analysis. Theirapproach uses simple analytical measures when compared to previousexperiments, nevertheless providing clear results; being that repeatingsyntactic structures points to priming.

‘How structure-sensitive is the parser? Evidence from Mandarin Chinese’ byZhong Chen, Lena Jäger and Shravan Vasishth presents a study on Principle A ofBinding Theory in Mandarin Chinese. Specifically, they review an approach toreflexives which does not appeal to phi-features of person, gender and numberin the search for antecedents, which they disagree with. Furthermore, theypoint to problems with studies that have low statistical power; that is theeffects observed may in fact be due to an insignificant sample size whichleads to null results. Their experiment involves the interpretation of ‘ziji’(self) by native Chinese speakers, between interfering and non-interferingsubjects. Their results suggest that non-structural cues also play a part inthe resolution of ‘ziji’.

Antje Müller, Claudia Roch, Tobias Stadtfeld and Tibor Kiss in ‘The annotationof preposition senses in German’ investigate polysemy of prepositions inGerman. They concentrate on the senses of prepositions and how they map toprepositional lexemes, limiting their corpus study to preposition-noun forms.After establishing the senses studied in the corpus and the experimentalmethodology, they cover spatial and temporal senses found within their corpus,providing detailed trees. Finally, the authors give special attention to‘ohne’ (without) as it often occurs in preposition-noun constructions ratherthan prepositional phrases, e.g. ‘Eine Mofalenkerin, die ohne Helm unterwegswar...’.

In ‘Evidence about evidentials: Where fieldwork meets theory’, Lisa Matthewsonargues that evidentials and epistemic modals are one and the same category,drawing data from an endangered language, St’át’imcets (Lillooet Salish).Matthewson reviews research showing similarities between evidentials andepistemic modals. She focuses on the evidential ‘lákw7a’ and how it appears tobelong to both categories, discussing tests which try to differentiate betweenmodals and non-modals, and she discusses these in comparison to otherlanguages. She concludes however, that it cannot be proved that allevidentials are modals, but shows problems with tests that are supposed todistinguish between the two.

The paper ‘Crosslinguistic variation in comparison: evidence from childlanguage acquisition’ by Sonja Tiemann, Vera Hohaus and Sigrid Beck discussesthe acquisition of comparative constructions in English and German, drawingdata from CHILDES. They start with semantic theory in relation tocomparatives, and then apply it to comparison constructionscrosslinguistically; testing the prediction of a semantic theory (called B17)relating to child language acquisition. They found that the theorysuccessfully predicts the acquisitional path, and crosslinguistic comparisonof pronominal measure constructions yields interesting results.

The next article ‘Restricting quantifier scope in Dutch: Evidence from childlanguage comprehension and production’ by Petra Hendriks, Ruth Koops van’tJagt and John Hoeks investigates quantifier scope in children’s Dutch comparedto adults. They begin with a review of syntactic, semantic and pragmaticexplanations for the differences between the two age groups, wherein theyfocus on Optimality Theory. Their experiment sets out to answer which theorybest predicts the production and interpretation in both groups. They found inboth tasks that results differed from each other, showing that the pragmatictheory accounts for the comprehension data, while the Optimality Theory doesbetter at both data types.

Janneke Huitink in ‘McGee’s counterexample to Modus Ponens in context’ startsby backgrounding Modus Ponens (If p, then q. P. Therefore q.) and McGee’sfamous counterexample -- ‘If a Republican wins the election, then if it’s notReagan who wins it will be Anderson. A Republican will win the election. Ifit’s not Reagan who wins, it will be Anderson.’ In 1980, Reagan had acommanding lead, with Carter trailing behind, and Anderson coming a distantthird -- there is little reason to believe that Anderson could win. Huitinkpresents an experiment of the construct of McGee-like examples, in order toshow the psychological reality of the Ramsey test. The experimental resultsshow that context certainly can affect the Modus Ponens inferences. Finally,Huitink enters a philosophical discussion on the validity of the Modus Ponens.

‘Interpreting adjectival passives: Evidence for the activation of contrastingstates’ by Berry Claus and Olga Kriukova discusses the interpretation ofadjectives and adjectival passives in German. After reviewing the relevantliterature and the characteristics of adjectival passives, they focus on asuggestion that processing adjectival passives contrasts the current (target)state to a past state (e.g. an open window to a closed one), whereasadjectives do not go through such processing. This distinction should bemeasurable by observing time latencies, and the authors specifically test thisproposal using picture verification tasks. Their experiment supports thedistinction postulated.

‘Focus projection between theory and evidence’ by Kordula De Kuthy and DetmarMeurers investigates the part played by syntax and pragmatics in focusconstructions, through corpus evidence in comparison to the reviewedexperimental evidence. For example, ‘John rented a bicycle’, said in responseto ‘What did John rent?’, ‘a bicycle’ is the new information, receivingstress. Two possible explanations for this are syntactic (in terms of thefocus projection) or purely pragmatic. The experimental evidence reviewedshows that pragmatics has difficulty explaining the large data variation,whereas the focus projection rule does a better job. The authors add to theevidence via their own corpus study (in German, through two corpora), showingthat neither approach adequately capture the data completely.

The paper ‘Locative Inversion in English: Implications of a Rating Study’, bySara Holler and Jutta M. Hartmann investigates locative inversion (LI) inEnglish, ‘Into the room walked John’, in a variety of questions, focusing onthe unaccusative and unergative verbs affecting LI. Their experimental resultsshow that LI occurs with both unaccusative and unergative verbs with heavyinversion, but also with light inversion with unergative verbs (which is notpredicted theoretically). They review an alternative theory (that unergativeverbs derive from the movement of verbs) to solve this problem, and alsosuggest a Phonetic Form movement alternative. They conclude that it is nottransitivity that affects LI, but the information structure of LI (e.g. to seta scene).

The first paper of the final section, ‘Word- vs. sentence-based simulationeffects in language comprehension’ by Barbara Kaup, Jana Lüdtke and IlonaSteiner, explores cognitive simulations created by sentences and words, askingspecifically whether or not individual words in a sentence affect thesimulation (regardless of syntax), or the sentence as a whole. Through threeexperiments they find that word effects explain the data better than sentenceeffects, however the authors conclude that sentence-based processes cannot beruled out at present.

Eleonore Schwilling, Karen Lidzba, Andreas Konietzko, Susanne Winkler andIngebord Krägeloh-Mann in ‘Language skills in patients with reorganizedlanguage (RL)’ present a clinical study focused on patients with lefthemispheric brain damage, who have reorganised their (German) language intotheir right hemisphere. They test language comprehension and productionbetween them and normal speakers. This includes children, adolescents andyoung adults, using a variety of linguistic tasks and functional neuroimaging.Their results show that differences lie in complex structures (in German),e.g. with sentences with noncanonical word order. They conclude that thehypothesis of the right hemisphere fully taking over from the left hemispherecannot adequately account for their findings.

The final paper, ‘Predicting speech imitation ability biometrically’ bySusanne Reiterer, Nandini C. Singh and Susanne Winkler, investigatesindividual differences in speech imitation. Using neuroimaging and modulationspectrum analysis, they aim to show where talented and untalented speechimitators differ. Using fMRI, they scanned (German-speaking) participantspronouncing an unfamiliar language (Hindi), and producing English-accentedGerman. fMRI scans show less talented speakers use their speech productionareas more than talented speakers, and that less talented speakers have asmaller articulation space.

EVALUATIONBeginning the appraisal with the first section of the book, Bott andSchlotterbeck’s introduction of a new methodology to disentangle scopeambiguity readings is a welcome step, as it shows the challenge certainsemantic theories face to adequately describe their results. The next paper byPietsch, Buch, Kopp and Ruiter is short but precise to the point: this is thenew methodology developed, here is its use and the results produced. Chen,Jäger and Vasishth’s study on Chinese ‘ziji’ is well thought out, and theyhave recruited a large participant base to back up their findings. The authorsmake a valid point about being cautious in how to interpret null results, asit may simply be a result of the experiment having low statistical power. Thecorpus study by Müller, Roch, Stadtfeld and Kiss shows the amount of time theauthors put into developing an annotational scheme of German prepositionalsenses which will undoubtedly be of great use in further research of otherGermans prepositional senses, not to mention the possibility of extending itto other languages.

Reviewing the second section, Matthewson’s research on an endangered languagebrings an added perspective that data from languages like German and Englishcannot provide. Specifically, although her proposal that all evidentials aremodals failed, it nonetheless casts doubts upon the tests used to distinguishbetween the two, leaving the area open for further inquiry. The article oncomparatives by Tiemann, Hohaus and Beck does well to show that the B17 theoryis in accordance with the child language data, and also in teasing apart thedifferences between pronominal measure constructions (PMP) and overt directmeasure phrases (MP) and their crosslinguistic implications. It is here that Idisagree with a piece of data supposedly showing that Mandarin Chinese doesnot allow MPs; the authors give this as ungrammatical ‘*Yuehan shi yi mi qigao’ (Yuehan be one meter seven tall), which is an MP. Not allowing thisconstruction in Mandarin Chinese is taken to show that the language does nothave MPs but this is an incorrect conclusion. If one drops ‘shi’, the sentenceis perfectly acceptable, as in ‘Yuehan yi mi qi gao’, and just to confirmthis, I consulted 10 native speakers of Northern Mandarin, all finding thissentence to be normal. Therefore, in light of this, Mandarin does have MP(along with PMP as the authors note), putting it inline with the languages theauthors discuss, p. 139. The child acquisition article by Hendriks, Jagt andHoeks challenges the pragmatic account given by Philip (e.g. 2011), and whilethey find similar data for comprehension, the authors provide extra evidencein production to support their conclusion -- which provides a better-roundedpicture than just studying comprehension alone. Huitink’s experiment anddiscussion on the Modus Ponens is a fascinating read, as the article goes togreat lengths to show experimentally how the Modus Ponens lives up to thegathered data, and its consequences for philosophy. Claus and Kriukova’sexperiment is well designed and detailed, and takes into account a variety offeatures. Importantly, their contribution to contrasting states in adjectivalpassives is a first, and gives further credence to the semantic and pragmatictheories that predict this. The corpus study by Kuthy and Meurers offers anextensive review of the evidential literature, and they are able to drawstrong conclusions combining their own natural corpus evidence withexperiments, and in a nutshell their findings suggest to pursue both asyntactic and pragmatic path towards focus constructions. Also, it is goodthat they offer audio links but the website provided on p. 229 doesn’t work(however Google gives a close enough website). Holler and Hartmann’sexperiment on locative inversion provides good evidence on the supposedrestrictions of locative inversion, finding that what was theorised previouslyis not supported by their data, forcing rethinking of the issue. I note anissue in using a scale of 1-7 which only explains what 1 and 7 means (fromwhat was described in the experiment); it would be better to label allnumerical categories to allow consistent treatment (but see Dienes 2008).Also, having a mid-point can also be troublesome at times, for a participantmight use it to represent an ‘I don’t know’ category (Sorace 1988), i.e. whencomparing it to 7 ‘natural and highly acceptable’, 4 could mean ‘natural andacceptable’, both which are not dissimilar. Moreover, the means found wereroughly between 3-4, which may show participants view 4 as the ‘natural’ mark.

In the final part of the book, Kaup, Lüdtke and Steiner’s cognitive paperlooks at word versus sentence based effects, but their evidence is far fromconclusive. While they find support for lexical based effects, they could notrule out sentence effects. This does not show the failure of the experimentbut rather the great difficulty one has to tease apart the two effects (eventhough they considered many factors). The results shown by Schwilling, Lidzba,Konietzko, Winkler and Krägeloh-Mann have raised an important line of inquiry,that is, from their study one cannot assume that the right hemisphere fullytakes over the linguistic capabilities of the left hemisphere, given theirin-depth look at complex grammatical structures. The final paper by Reiterer,Singh and Winkler innovatively combines neurolinguistic and phonetic evidenceto distinguish between low and high imitation ability in speakers. Being ableto distinguish between these speakers opens a window as to why they differ somuch, with the authors suggesting that auditory working memory plays a largerole.

There are only minor criticisms to make. There appears to be some formattinginconsistency across chapters, e.g. at times after a colon the word beginswith a capital letter whilst others do not. There are some spelling mistakes,e.g. ‘experimetn’, p. 286, but overall these do little to detract from thequality of the articles. There are, on the other hand, numerous good pointsthat recommend this book. One of its strengths is the breadth of the articlesoffered; one can read about first language acquisition, endangered languagesto neurolinguistic studies, all in one volume. One comes away with a muchstronger understanding of work in the various subfields; regardless of one’sown linguistic orientation; there is something for everybody here. Secondly,the articles on experimentation give a taste of the theory under considerationand then present the linguistic evidence, allowing the reader to come to amore objective understanding of the issue. Finally, throughout all theexperiments described one will pick up pointers and suggestions onexperimental methodology (including new methodology), which is valuable foranyone wanting to see the latest experimental methodologies.

In sum, this volume is highly recommended for experimental researchers andnon-experimental linguists alike who are interested in pursuing the hard data.

REFERENCESDienes, Z. (2008). Subjective measures of unconscious knowledge. Progress inBrain Research 168, 49--64.

Philip, W. (2011). Acquiring Knowledge of Universal Quantification. In J. deVillers and T. Roeper (eds.), Handbook of Generative Approaches to LanguageAcquisition, 351--394. Dordrecht: Springer.

Sorace, A. (1988). Linguistic intuitions in language development: The problemof interdeterminacy. In J. Pankhurst, M. S. Smith and P. V. Buren (eds.),Learnability and second languages: A book of readings, 167--190. Dordrecht:Foris.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERDarcy Sperlich is currently a senior lecturer of ESOL in the School of Englishat the Manukau Institute of Technology, in Auckland, New Zealand. He is also aPhD candidate awaiting his final examination at the Department of AppliedLanguage Studies and Linguistics at the University of Auckland. His thesisinvestigates anaphoric interpretation in Chinese Mandarin by speakers of otherlanguages, and whether or not this suggests an anaphoric pragmatic/syntacticdivision of labour in the languages concerned, involving a combination ofpsycho- and theoretical linguistics, as well as SLA. His other researchinterests include Chinese comparative dialectology, especially as related tosyntax.

Page Updated: 19-May-2013