Each year, our department invites a distinguished scholar to deliver a series of workshops culminating in a public lecture as the annual Randolph Quirk Fellow.
The late Lord Randolph Quirk CBE FBA was for many years one of the most eminent figures in English Linguistics, best known for his work in syntax and English linguistics, as well as linguistics application to education and social policy. Lord Randolph Quirk also worked closely with Queen Mary University of London in his role as Vice-Chancellor of the University of London (1981-1985). Through his generous donation to the university in 2015, Queen Mary University of London established the Randolph Quirk Fellowship in Linguistics.
Each year, the Fellowship enables one distinguished international researcher to spend a week in the Linguistics Department. During this time, each Fellow delivers a mini-course on their field of expertise as part of the Research Training Programme to which QMUL staff, graduate students and members of the wider Linguistics community are invited. They also offer a large public lecture on a topic of more general interest.
In recent years, the London Linguistics community has benefitted from the presence of an exceptional group of Randolph Quirk Fellows. You can read more about their visits below:
Public lecture abstract:
Towards an alternative syntax
Oddball phenomena - focus and coordination below the word level, metalinguistic uses of focus and disjunction, expletive insertion within words, echo questions (see Artstein 2002)—make sense if grammatical expressions operate over other expressions of the grammar (cf. Potts 2007), including over sets of alternatives. The tools that shed light on this grammatical fringe are useful to understanding issues at the grammatical core, such as the scope of disjunction or focus operators like only . They also raise questions about the architecture of grammar, in seemingly calling for a grammar in which structure is inserted early, before being associated with syntactic features or meaning.
The Value of Symbolic Abstraction for Compositionality
Although human language is the paradigmatic example of arbitrary symbols used to construct and communicate ideas, humans are also expert users of iconic depictions, which, like language, can be infinitely creative and precise. Given this, what is the value of having both systems? If we think in a symbolic Language of Thought, why do we also depict with icons? Conversely, given the creativity in iconic depiction, what’s the additional value of symbolic abstraction? Is it simply that some things are more imageable than others? I suggest that the difference is not just what we can(not) picture, but what we can ask and answer: iconic representations inherently do not lend themselves to supporting inferences over alternatives e.g. for negation, question formation, focus and implicature. This difference explains some puzzles as well as absences in compositionality between the symbolic and iconic in spoken language, sign language, and gesture, and ultimately makes the case for a multi-format framework for modelling meaning in cognitive science.
Why some well-formed English sentences are impossible for your brain to process
A ‘doubly center-embedded sentence’ has a clause inside a clause inside a main clause. Such sentences are grammatically well-formed but rarely uttered. When they are, they sound strange and are difficult to understand. Example: The pipes that the plumber that my dad trained fixed leaked. The same meaning with a different structure is easy enough: The plumber that my dad trained fixed the pipes that leaked. At CUNY we have discovered that the problem is rhythmic. With different phrase lengths and a different rhythm, the doubly center-embedding structure is no longer a problem: The rusty old pipes that the plumber my dad trained fixed continue to leak occasionally. This works even with silent reading. The question is why.
Relations between Language and Thought
A foundational aspect of human cognition is the ability to parse our constantly unfolding experience into meaningful representations and map these representations onto language to be able to communicate with others. Understanding the nature and development of the interface between cognition and language requires a multi-pronged approach to the following key questions: What is the form of pre-linguistic representations? How do such representations make contact with language in both novice (child) and experienced (adult) communicators? Does cross-linguistic variation affect the way we think about the world? In this talk, I explore these questions focusing on the domain of evidence and information sources. People can access information through different experiences (e.g., visual perception, communication, inference) that themselves vary in reliability. Furthermore, natural languages encode information access through different devices (e.g., in some languages, through verbs such as ‘look’/’see’, ‘tell’/’hear’, ‘infer’; in others, through evidential morphemes that encode related kinds of meaning). In a series of experiments, I show that linguistic systems encoding evidence map onto basic distinctions in terms of how evidence is cognitively represented. Furthermore, the way learners acquire evidential language supports the presence of deep homologies between linguistic and non-linguistic structure. Finally, children and adults from different linguistic communities represent and remember sources of information in similar ways, despite cross-linguistic variation in the encoding of information access. Together, these results highlight novel connections between abstract epistemic aspects of language and cognition and bear on theories about how thought is related to language.
Tense and Aspect in African American English
African American English (AAE) has been claimed to be aspect prominent. Although this view is one that often comes up in discussions of the linguistic system of AAE, it has not been really been thoroughly explored in the literature. The most articulated account of this claim is in DeBose and Faraclas (1993), in which the tense-aspect-modality and copula systems are considered as a means of elucidating shared properties between AAE African and Creole “substrate” languages. According to DeBose and Faraclas, standard treatments of AAE predicates and verbal constructions in which their main characteristics are described from an English perspective have led to awkward descriptions of the linguistic variety. In interactive discussion, I review the claims and data in DeBose and Faraclas (1993) and then move on to a description of morphological properties of verb forms and their relation to semantic interpretation and syntactic structure. Auxiliaries, such as DO and BE, and aspectual markers, such as beasp, BINasp, and dənasp, will be considered, especially in the discussion of syntactic categories T(ense) and Asp(ect). In addition, preverbal markers gon, stay, come, and steady, which have received less attention than other aspectual markers will also be considered.
Bilingual Grammars: A Case for Cascading Structural Reorganization
The study of multilingualism has long been the intellectual property of linguistics subfields like sociolinguistics and language acquisition, and with good reason: we must understand the complexities of the multilingual experience before we can analyze its exponence in language users. In this talk I present the reasons for appropriating multilingualism inquiries into core domains of core linguistic theory: they offer novel evidence on ways lingusitic systems may be reorganized and undergo change. Taking this approach to multilingualism means that our research is no longer focused on the idiosyncrasies of bilingual/multilingual grammars, but also on the resources and pressures at play in the development and maintenance of grammar.
As a case in point, I will examine elliptical constructions in bilingual grammars. Ellipsis constructions are well known for having two readings: strict, and sloppy. For example, the sentence "The linguist blamed himself, and the logician did too”, is ambiguous between the strict reading (the linguist and the logician both blamed the linguist) and the sloppy reading (the logician blamed the logician, that is, himself). All factors being equal, English speakers show a strong preference for the sloppy reading in coordination contexts. Similar preference for sloppy readings is observed in a number of other languages
(Dutch, German, Russian). While the sloppy-reading preference under ellipsis is strong in monolingual Russian, it disappears in Heritage Russian: the Russian language spoken by unbalanced bilinguals who are dominant in English (better known as heritage speakers of Russian). The disappearance of the sloppy reading is particularly surprising given that both Russian and English favor that reading. I argue that the restructuring of Heritage Russian ellipsis follows from two changes in the heritage language: (a) reanalysis of the aspectual system and (b) changes in the inventory of null pronominals available to heritage speakers. As a result, what may appear to be unexpected change is actually well motivated by systematic restructuring in the heritage language. These results indicate that heritage speakers differ from the monolingual baseline in underlying representations, not in processing alone.