The MPI for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig is hosting a workshop on Causality in the Language Sciences on April 13 – 15, 2015.
There is a call for talks and posters here (deadline January 10th, 2015).
Invited speakers include Balthasar Bickel, Claire Bowern, Morten Christiansen, Dan Dediu, Michael Dunn, T. Florian Jaeger, Gerhard Jaeger, Anne Kandler and Richard Sproat.
From the conference website:
Although the tenet of “correlation does not imply causation” is still an important guiding principle in language research, a number of techniques developed in the last few decades opened new scenarios where testing causal relations becomes possible. Recent advances in information theory, time series analysis, phylogenetics, stochastic processes, dynamical systems, graphical models and Bayesian inference (among many others) set the stage for a new and exciting chapter in the field.
In parallel, in the last few decades an unprecedented amount of data became available on a large number of language-related phenomena. We have massive matrices of voxel activation in the neural circuits involved in speech production and comprehension, several years of annotated conversations between young children and their caregivers, hundreds of hours of phonetic and anatomical measurements and multiple environmental, genetic, and demographic variables related to populations of speakers for a large number of the world’s languages.
The aim of this workshop is to address these two issues: how do we properly test causal relations in (eventually noisy, sparse or incomplete) data, and how can we infer or test the mechanisms underlying them?
Following a half a day school on cutting-edge methods for causal analysis, world class scientists will present their research on topics ranging from language history, writing systems, speech processing, typology, lexical semantics, and others.
We invite contributions from researchers facing specific problems in determining causality in language systems and also from researchers offering perspectives from the methodological and theoretical point of view of causal inference.
The idea is to take some real data, then throw away Occam’s razor and go after the most complicated explanation possible.
I foresee no problems.
This year’s Nacht van Kunst en Kennis Science Festival in Leiden features an experiment on language evolution. Come and take part in our interactive iterated learning experiment at the Museum Boerhaave from 19:30 on Saturday 20th September.
You can read more about the experiment at the Taal in de reageerbuis page.
Languages can use pitch to make lexical contrasts (so called tone languages) or to mark contrasts at the utterance level, usually called intonation, such as using rising pitch to indicate a question as opposed to a statement. In fact, a language can use pitch to do both by various means such as changes in pitch range. However, lexical tone and intonation are often seen as mechanisms that compete for pitch resources. Yip (2002) holds that “it is commonplace that many lexical tone languages avoid the potential conflicts between intonation and lexical tone by using a different mechanism altogether: the sentence-final particle.”
Can we see the evolutionary effects of this dependency in the typology of the world’s languages? (at the very least, the terminology is in competition! I’ll use ‘intonation’ to mean phrase-level pitch)
The ARC centre of excellence for the Dynamics of language is offering a number of PhD positions, including on the topic of language evolution. The positions are hosted at ANU in Canberra, the University of Melbourne and the University of Queensland. These are on top of the Wellsprings of Diversity positions.
From the website:
The Evolution program will engage with central questions about the evolution of language across scales that range from the whole span of human evolution to the adaptations that occur as speech capacities are lost in speech-impaired individuals. This program will explore what possible structures languages can develop, how learning and processing biases shape the direction of evolution, what is the role of the speech community in language evolution, and how insights from language evolution can help develop more flexible ways of robots learning speech.
Details can be found in the pdfs below.
Articles from the first edition of the Annual Review of Linguistics are appearing online this week. Bob Ladd, Dan Dediu and I wrote a review of correlations in linguistics.
We review a number of recent studies that have identified either correlations between different linguistic features (e.g., implicational universals) or correlations between linguistic features and nonlinguistic properties of speakers or their environment (e.g., effects of geography on vocabulary). We compare large-scale quantitative studies with more traditional theoretical and historical linguistic research and identify divergent assumptions and methods that have led linguists to be skeptical of correlational work. We also attempt to demystify statistical techniques and point out the importance of informed critiques of the validity of statistical approaches. Finally, we describe various methods used in recent correlational studies to deal with the fact that, because of contact and historical relatedness, individual languages in a sample rarely represent independent data points, and we show how these methods may allow us to explore linguistic prehistory to a greater time depth than is possible with orthodox comparative reconstruction. Whether researchers are for or against these new techniques, understanding them is becoming increasingly necessary to interface with discussions in the field.
One of the most fun parts of putting the paper together was drawing this diagram (below) of all the links that we discuss. It turns out that there are a lot of complicated links between linguistic and social variables! I’m currently working on methods to disentangle this web.
We also include three appendices as supplementary materials. First, a list of electronic databases relevant for cross-cultural statistical comparisons. Secondly, a very brief introduction to statistical hypothesis testing, which could be useful for linguists who are not familiar with statistical approaches. Thirdly, a discussion of robustness and validity in statistical approaches to linguistics.
Other reviews also look interesting, for example, Johansson on Language abilities of Neandertals, Fisher and Vernes on genetics and linguistics, de Vos on village sign languages and Kroll et al. on bilingualism.
Ladd, D. R., Roberts, S. G., and Dediu, D. (2015). Correlational studies in typological and historical linguistics. Annual Review of Linguistics, 1(1). preview
The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics is now available in electronic format. In the highest tradition of satire, this book gives a unique insight into the world of linguistics. It is crucial reading for any linguist who is trying to maintain a sense of perspective (or for those seeking the comfort of realising their own perspective is relatively grounded ).
There’s also a special discount for the readers of Replicated Typo! Follow this link for 16.8% off.
From the blurb:
The book is written for linguists, by linguists. It’s about Linguistics and Language, but it’s not a textbook. Rather, it takes a sidelong look at all that is humorous about the field. Containing over 150 articles, poems, cartoons, humorous ads and book announcements—plus a generous sprinkling of quotes, proverbs and other witticisms—the book discovers things to laugh about in most major subfields of Linguistics.
What people have been saying:
“Don’t wait for Jon Stewart or Louis C.K. to do something with linguistics
—Stephen Dodson, Languagehat
“[The Speculative Grammarian Essential Guide to Linguistics] will be a symbolic expression of your inner linguistic nerd.”
—Phaedra Royle, on Linguist List
“Complete with a choose-
—Sean Roberts, A Replicated Typo
And just in time for Christmas.
Abstract: Literary critics seek patterns, whether patterns in individual texts or patterns in large collections of texts. Valid patterns are taken as indices of causal mechanisms of one sort or another. Most abstractly, a pattern emerges or is enacted as some machine makes its way in an environment. An ecological niche is a pattern “traced” by an organism in its environment. Literary texts are themselves patterns traced by writers (and readers) through their life worlds. Patterns are frequently described through visualizations. The concept of pattern thus dissolves the apparent conflict between quantification and meaning, for quantification is but a means to describing a pattern. It is up to the critic to determine whether or not a pattern is meaningful by identifying the mechanism that produced the pattern. Examples from Shakespeare and Joseph Conrad.
Introduction: Patterns and Descriptions There is a sense, of course, in which I’ve been aware of and have been perceiving and thinking about patterns all my life. They are ubiquitous after all. But it wasn’t until I began studying cognitive science with the late David Hays that “pattern” became a term of art. Hays and his students were developing a network model of cognitive structure – such works became common in the 1970s. Such networks admit of two general kinds of computational process, path tracing and pattern recognition. Path tracing is computationally easy, while the pattern recognition is not. Human beings, however, are very good at perceiving and recognizing patterns.
What put the idea before me, though, as something demanding specific thought, are remarks Franco Moretti made in coming to grips with his work on the network analysis of plot structure. In Network Theory, Plot Analysis (Literary Lab Pamphlet 2, 2011, p. 11) he noted that he “did not need network theory; but I probably needed networks…. What I took from network theory were less concepts than visualization.” We then examine the visualizations to determine whether or not they indicate patterns that are worth further exploration. Continue reading
The BBC have got a new series on animal communication, so far they’ve covered mongooses, hippopotamuses, vervet monkeys, chimpanzees, dolphins and other animals but I haven’t actually watched it yet.
Someone’s uploaded the first episode to youtube here:
But of course you can watch it on iPlayer too if you’re in the UK.