LING 492 - Topics in Linguistics
Fall 2021, Section 001 - Verbs: Theoretical and Experimental Approaches
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: Linguistics (LING)
Department: LSA Linguistics
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Waitlist Capacity:
May be repeated for a maximum of 18 credit(s). May be elected more than once in the same term.
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Verbs are central to the meaning and structure of sentences, but they make for very quirky main characters. Consider the everyday verb "break" which you might find in a sentence like (1), or like (2):

  1. The teapot broke.
  2. The cat broke the teapot.

      These two sentences could describe the same event, but only one explicitly implicates the cat. Notice that the whole shape of the sentence changes between (1) and (2), such that the broken object is the subject in (1), but the object in (2). It also has been argued that there is extra "causative" meaning in (2) that is absent from (1). Yet the verb suspiciously looks identical (in English). This shape-shifting ability is known as "verb alternation," and there many kinds of verb alternations which can be found across different unrelated languages. The alternations that a verb can participate in seem to relate to its meaning, but semantically defining the classes of verb alternations has proven challenging to pin down. In some cases, the verb's form also changes across alternations, so that it bears certain affixes in one of the alternating forms. The relationships between the verb's meaning, its form, its alternations, and the sentential contexts it is compatible with build the complex web of questions we'll be exploring in this class.

      In this class, we'll learn about the foundations of verb representations, and then explore different ways of answering the many open questions relating to verb meaning, event structure, and argument structure. We will investigate how experimental work specifically might be brought to bear on questions that have traditionally been explored through linguistic judgments and corpus work. Can behavioral or neurolinguistic experiments really tell us about verb representations, or is it impossible to separate these linguistic features from more general frequency-based processing mechanisms like prediction and surprisal? Can more quantitative and experimentally-controlled semantic judgment studies provide new insight into these questions? What experimental designs are most likely to contribute to our understanding of linguistically active verb meaning? What aspects of verb meaning are most likely to be fruitfully informed by experimental data?

      Students will have input into the topics covered, but these may include the optionality of arguments (e.g., subjects and objects), verb alternations, cross-linguistic and cross-modality variation, markedness, aspectual interpretation, verb root ontology (e.g., manner vs. result types), and the relationship between verb form/morphology and meaning.

      Course Requirements:

      The beginning of the course will include some lecture to establish a common background on verb representation, but the class will shift to a discussion-based seminar format as students gain familiarity with the topic. Readings will mostly be primary research literature. Students will work throughout the semester on designing and planning an experiment, as well as writing up a literature review that establishes the background for that experiment. Group work will be strongly encouraged to share the work of developing experimental design and materials, but will not be required.

      Intended Audience:

      Undergraduate and graduate students who ideally have some background in linguistics and have taken at least one course in semantics, syntax, or psycholinguistics/neurolinguistics. Contact the instructor if you are not sure whether you have adequate preparation.


LING 492 - Topics in Linguistics
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
TuTh 11:30AM - 1:00PM
002 (SEM)
 In Person
Tu 1:00PM - 4:00PM
003 (SEM)
 In Person
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM

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