Biolinguistics Initiative Barcelona

Biolinguistics Initiative Barcelona: May 2013

Friday, May 24, 2013

Talk -- Peter McKenna

On Monday, June 17, at 18.00, Peter McKenna (Benito Menni Hospital) will give a talk on "Language in Schizophrenia".

The meeting place is the Aula Gabriel Oliver, -1 floor, Josep Carner building, UB. The talk is open to the public so feel free to join us and spread the word to anyone interested!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Talk -- Robert Freidin

On Friday, May 31, at 11.00, Robert Freidin (Princeton University) will give a talk on "Anaphoric interpretation under minimalist assumptions".

Abstract: The minimalist program in generative grammar, which has been investigated over the past two decades, has significant unexplored ramifications for the grammatical account of anaphoric interpretation. This talk reviews the major assumptions of the minimalist program and develops a rather different view (compared to current proposals under minimalism) of what they suggest for a grammatical account of anaphoric relations. On the empirical side, it will concern the interpretation of ellipsis constructions that involve anaphora as in (i)

(i) John loves his dog and Bill does too. 

where two distinct interpretations are possible. Ultimately this talk will consider uncoupling anaphoric relations from the concept of reference to which they have been tied since the beginnings of modern generative grammar.

The meeting place will be room 4.3, 4th floor, Josep Carner building, UB. The talk is open to the public so feel free to attend and inform anyone interested!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Habemus website

Thanks to the hard work of BIB members Oriol Borrega and Celia Alba, BIB has a brand new website, which can be viewed here. More content will be added in the very near future, and we welcome any comment viewers might have.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Talk -- Juan Manuel Toro

On Thursday, May 23, at 16.00, Juan Manuel Toro (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) will give a talk on "When language is bad for you: Animals outperform humans in a rule learning task".

Abstract: Extensive research with human adults and infants suggests it is difficult to learn simple rules over consonants, but not over vowels. Nevertheless, the source of this difficulty is unknown. In a series of studies, we tested rats’ capacity to generalize rules implemented over vowels and consonants. In Experiment 1, rats were trained to discriminate CVCVCV nonsense words in which vowels followed an AAB structure in half of the words and an ABC structure in the other half, whereas consonants were combined randomly. In Experiment 2, rules were implemented over the consonants and vowels varied at random. In the test phase of both experiments eight new test words were presented. Following the presentation of each AAB or ABC word lever-pressing responses were registered and food was delivered. We found that rats could learn the rules and generalize them to new tokens over both vowels and consonants. Using exactly the same materials, humans only learned the rule over the vowels. Our results support the hypothesis that linguistic representations constrain the operation of rule learning mechanisms. Lacking such representations, animals easily learn rules that are difficult for humans.

The meeting place will be the Sala de Professors, 5th floor, Edifici Josep Carner, UB. Feel free to spread the word to anyone interested!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Upcoming MA Course -- Boeckx, Hinzen

Course Description: Advanced Issues in Cognitive Science and Linguistics (May 2013)

Part I: Issues in Biolinguistics
Cedric Boeckx
Description: This lecture/seminar series is meant to provide an introduction to current (fundamental) issues in "biolinguistics", giving you a sense of what biolinguistics is, how it came about, and what it intends to achieve. Although clearly related to, and often conflated with generative linguistics, biolinguistics requires -- or so I will argue -- a significant rethinking of the practice of theoretical linguistics, but also its conceptual foundation; a necessary step, I believe, to move from a cognitive science to a cognitive bioscience.

I will take for granted some of the major concepts of modern linguistics, those discussed in the first two parts of my 2010 Language in Cognition book (Wiley). I will also assume basic familiarity with concepts like "FLN", "FLB", "three factors of language design", "I-language", etc. If you are not familiar at all with these, please read up before the lectures. If you are very motivated, you may want to read classics like Lenneberg's (1967) Biological Foundations of Language, Piattelli-Palmarini's (1980) Language and Learning, and Chomsky's (1980) Rules and Representations before class.

Topics to be discussed include:
-the characterization of the "language-ready brain"
-genetic regulation of the language capacity
-(deep and surface) variation within the language faculty
-language, thought, and externalization
-potential critiques of the enterprise

Assessment: class participation and a 5-page essay on a topic to be discussed at the beginning of the first meeting.

Part II: Form and meaning in grammar
Wolfram Hinzen

Description: Starting from Chapter 4, paragraph 1 of Chomsky's Aspects (1965), we will revisit and redraw the boundaries of syntax and semantics. This will be in line with recent work on an 'Un-'-Cartesian linguistics, which challenges traditional Cartesian conceptions of the interface between language and thought. On the view I will develop over these five lectures/seminars, the central principles of sapiens-specific thought fall out from the organisation of grammar, and we heuristically assume that everything in grammar is interpretable, crucially including Case and phi-features.


1.What is (Un-) Cartesian Linguistics?
2.The grammar of nominal and clausal reference
3.The interpretability of Person
4.The interpretability of Case
5.Language and reality

Preliminary readings:

Chomsky (1965), Aspects, ch.4, par.1.
Chomsky (1966), Cartesian Linguistics, chs. 1-2 (background)
Hinzen (2012), Language and thought, in Boeckx (ed.), Handbook of Linguistic Minimalism, OUP.
Examination: A number of sample questions will be posted on which short essays can then be written.

The meeting place for Monday-Thursday is the Aula Gabriel Oliver, floor -1, Josep Carner building. For Friday, the meeting place is the Sala de Professors, 5th floor, Josep Carner building. More information about the time of the course is available here.