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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of Linguistics

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This series is automatically populated with publications deposited by UCLA Department of Linguistics researchers in accordance with the University of California’s open access policies. For more information see Open Access Policy Deposits and the UC Publication Management System.

Cover page of The puzzling nuanced status of who free relative clauses in English: a follow-up to Patterson and Caponigro (2015)

The puzzling nuanced status of who free relative clauses in English: a follow-up to Patterson and Caponigro (2015)


This squib challenges Patterson & Caponigro's (2015, this journal) claim that there are few acceptable free relative clauses with who. We show that free relatives with who are generally acceptable when they are ‘transparent’ free relatives or complements of a copula, and add further nuance to their findings concerning how the degree of acceptability of free relatives with who varies according to positional factors.

Eighteen-month-old infants represent nonlocal syntactic dependencies.


The human ability to produce and understand an indefinite number of sentences is driven by syntax, a cognitive system that can combine a finite number of primitive linguistic elements to build arbitrarily complex expressions. The expressive power of syntax comes in part from its ability to encode potentially unbounded dependencies over abstract structural configurations. How does such a system develop in human minds? We show that 18-mo-old infants are capable of representing abstract nonlocal dependencies, suggesting that a core property of syntax emerges early in development. Our test case is English wh-questions, in which a fronted wh-phrase can act as the argument of a verb at a distance (e.g., What did the chef burn?). Whereas prior work has focused on infants' interpretations of these questions, we introduce a test to probe their underlying syntactic representations, independent of meaning. We ask when infants know that an object wh-phrase and a local object of a verb cannot co-occur because they both express the same argument relation (e.g., * What did the chef burn the pizza ). We find that 1) 18 mo olds demonstrate awareness of this complementary distribution pattern and thus represent the nonlocal grammatical dependency between the wh-phrase and the verb, but 2) younger infants do not. These results suggest that the second year of life is a period of active syntactic development, during which the computational capacities for representing nonlocal syntactic dependencies become evident.

Cover page of Stem similarity modulates infants' acquisition of phonological alternations.

Stem similarity modulates infants' acquisition of phonological alternations.


Phonemes have variant pronunciations depending on context. For instance, in American English, the [t] in pat [pæt] and the [d] in pad [pæd] are both realized with a tap [ɾ] when the -ing suffix is attached, [pæɾɪŋ]. We show that despite greater distributional and acoustic support for the [t]-tap alternation, 12-month-olds successfully relate taps to stems with a perceptually-similar final [d], not the dissimilar final-[t]. Thus, distributional learning of phonological alternations is constrained by infants' preference for the alternation of perceptually-similar segments. Further, the ability to relate variant surface forms emerges between 8- and 12-months. Our findings of biased learning provide further empirical support for a role for perceptual similarity in the acquisition of linguistically-relevant categories. We discuss the implications of our findings for phonological theory, language acquisition and models of the mental lexicon.

Cover page of Against some approaches to long-distance agreement without AGREE

Against some approaches to long-distance agreement without AGREE


With the introduction of AGREE into Minimalism by Chomsky (2000), the relationship between the two elements in an agreement relationship went from being strictly local (Specifier-Head) to being unbounded (c-command with no intervening strong phase boundary) in order to accommodate long-distance agreement phenomena. Concern over the less restricted nature of the new approach led researchers to propose alternatives that eschewed the unbounded reach of AGREE, in the hope that a more restrictive theory might yet be salvaged. This chapter scrutinizes some of the most widely cited and fully developed of these alternative proposals (employing predicate inversion of expletives, restructuring, covert movement), applied to extensively studied spheres of data (English existentials, Icelandic agreement), and concludes that they are deeply, perhaps fatally, flawed. While Chomsky’s version of AGREE is far from providing a complete and satisfactory theory of agreement, it has yet to be shown that it can be eliminated.

Acceptability ratings cannot be taken at face value


This chapter addresses how linguists’ empirical (syntactic) claims should be tested with non-linguists. Recent experimental work attempts to measure rates of convergence between data presented in journal articles and the results of large surveys. Three follow-up experiments to one such study are presented. It is argued that the original method may underestimate the true rate of convergence because it leaves considerable room for naïve subjects to give ratings that do not reflect their true acceptability judgments of the relevant structures. To understand what can go wrong, the experiments were conducted in two parts. The first part had visually presented sentences rated on a computer, replicating previous work. The second part was an interview where the experimenter asked the participants about the ratings they gave to particular items, in order to determine what interpretation or parse they had assigned, whether they had missed any critical words, and so on.

Cover page of Effects of consonantal constrictions on voice quality.

Effects of consonantal constrictions on voice quality.


A speech production experiment with electroglottography investigated how voicing is affected by consonants of differing degrees of constriction. Measures of glottal contact [closed quotient (CQ)] and strength of voicing [strength of excitation (SoE)] were used in conditional inference tree analyses. Broadly, the results show that as the degree of constriction increases, both CQ and SoE values decrease, indicating breathier and weaker voicing. Similar changes in voicing quality are observed throughout the course of the production of a given segment. Implications of these results for a greater understanding of source-tract interactions and for the phonological notion of sonority are discussed.

Quantifying Sources of Variability in Infancy Research Using the Infant-Directed-Speech Preference


Psychological scientists have become increasingly concerned with issues related to methodology and replicability, and infancy researchers in particular face specific challenges related to replicability: For example, high-powered studies are difficult to conduct, testing conditions vary across labs, and different labs have access to different infant populations. Addressing these concerns, we report on a large-scale, multisite study aimed at (a) assessing the overall replicability of a single theoretically important phenomenon and (b) examining methodological, cultural, and developmental moderators. We focus on infants’ preference for infant-directed speech (IDS) over adult-directed speech (ADS). Stimuli of mothers speaking to their infants and to an adult in North American English were created using seminaturalistic laboratory-based audio recordings. Infants’ relative preference for IDS and ADS was assessed across 67 laboratories in North America, Europe, Australia, and Asia using the three common methods for measuring infants’ discrimination (head-turn preference, central fixation, and eye tracking). The overall meta-analytic effect size (Cohen’s d) was 0.35, 95% confidence interval = [0.29, 0.42], which was reliably above zero but smaller than the meta-analytic mean computed from previous literature (0.67). The IDS preference was significantly stronger in older children, in those children for whom the stimuli matched their native language and dialect, and in data from labs using the head-turn preference procedure. Together, these findings replicate the IDS preference but suggest that its magnitude is modulated by development, native-language experience, and testing procedure.

Cover page of Acoustic voice variation within and between speakers.

Acoustic voice variation within and between speakers.


Little is known about the nature or extent of everyday variability in voice quality. This paper describes a series of principal component analyses to explore within- and between-talker acoustic variation and the extent to which they conform to expectations derived from current models of voice perception. Based on studies of faces and cognitive models of speaker recognition, the authors hypothesized that a few measures would be important across speakers, but that much of within-speaker variability would be idiosyncratic. Analyses used multiple sentence productions from 50 female and 50 male speakers of English, recorded over three days. Twenty-six acoustic variables from a psychoacoustic model of voice quality were measured every 5 ms on vowels and approximants. Across speakers the balance between higher harmonic amplitudes and inharmonic energy in the voice accounted for the most variance (females = 20%, males = 22%). Formant frequencies and their variability accounted for an additional 12% of variance across speakers. Remaining variance appeared largely idiosyncratic, suggesting that the speaker-specific voice space is different for different people. Results further showed that voice spaces for individuals and for the population of talkers have very similar acoustic structures. Implications for prototype models of voice perception and recognition are discussed.