Wednesday, April 21, 2010

6 New faculty hires in language sciences!

In addition to the historic snow storms that filled our winter, we also had an unprecedented number of job talks in different areas of language sciences. The outcome of this is that the University of Maryland made at least 6 new faculty hires in language-related areas! Given that this happened in the midst of a hiring freeze, this is another mark of the university’s strong support for language science. Fuller details of these exciting new hires will follow, but here is a quick summary:

Jordan Boyd-Graber will join the iSchool. Jordan’s research focuses on applying statistical models to natural language applications, with both engineering and cognitive focus. His PhD is from Princeton, and he is currently a postdoc at Maryland with Philip Resnik.

Hal Daume will join the Dept of Computer Science. Hal is an emerging leader in the area of multilingual NLP and machine learning. He has a PhD from USC and is currently on the faculty at the U of Utah.

Naomi Feldman will join the Dept of Linguistics. Naomi is an expert in computational psycholinguistics, and is attracting much attention for her work on modeling the learning of sound systems. She is completing her PhD at Brown U, and will be at Maryland starting in Spring ’11, when she will teach an IGERT-related course on computational modeling in language.

Ellen Lau will join the Dept of Linguistics. Ellen is an expert in the cognitive neuroscience of language, combining MEG, fMRI, ERP, and behavioral measures in her work on lexical and sentence comprehension. She received her PhD from Maryland in 2009 and is currently a postdoc at Tufts U and Harvard Medical School, where she is also investigating schizophrenia and dyslexia.

Elizabeth Redcay will be joining the Dept of Psychology. Liz is an expert in social cognitive neuroscience, with a focus on non-verbal communication, early language acquisition, and autism spectrum disorder. She has a PhD from UC San Diego and is currently a postdoc at MIT.

Bob Slevcwill be joining the Dept of Psychology and CASL. Bob’s will bring much-needed expertise in language production to our community, and his interests also include memory, aphasia, second language acquisition, and language/music relations. Bob has a PhD from UC San Diego and is currently a postdoc at Rice University.

IGERT-sponsored Symposium on learning at ISIC, Baltimore in March

Each year our IGERT program organizes an interdisciplinary symposium at a leading conference in an area related to the language sciences. By bringing researchers with different methodological and theoretical perspectives together, the symposium promotes the project’s vision of sustainable interdisciplinary collaboration in language science to a broader audience. This spring Jeff Lidz and Bill Idsardi led a symposium on Statistical Inference in Infant Language Acquisition at the Biennial International Conference on Infant Studies (ISIC) in Baltimore (March 10-14, 2010). Our own Amanda Woodward (Psychology) and Nathan Fox (Human Development) were program chairs for the entire conference. The unusual feature of this symposium is that it brought cross-linguistic and computational expertise together with infancy research to address fundamental issues in language learning.
Symposium line-up:

1. How to Learn Vowels: Computational Approaches to Language Diversity
William Idsardi, Brian Dillon, Ewan Dunbar (University of Maryland)
2. From Sounds to Words: A Bayesian Approach to Modeling Word Segmentation
Sharon Goldwater (University of Edinburgh)
3. Finding Rules and Words in the Speech Stream at Year 1
Luca Bonatti (University of Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona)
4. Statistical Syntactic Inference in Infancy
Jeffrey Lidz (University of Maryland)
5 Discussion
Jenny Saffran (University of Wisconsin)

Date for Everybody’s Diary: IGERT External Advisory Board, May 12-13

Please mark in your diaries that the first annual meeting of the external advisory board for our IGERT program in language science will take place on Weds May 12th (evening – students) and Thurs May 13th (all day – everybody). The aim of this meeting is to synthesize what we have done and what we hope to do, and to gain feedback for us and for the university administration on the program. Broad participation from faculty and students in the advisory board visit is important. More details of the schedule for the visit will follow shortly.

The external advisory board consists of 5 distinguished figures from different areas of the language sciences: Susan Gass (Mich State, SLA), Greg Hickok (UC Irvine, Cogn Neurosci), Mitch Marcus (UPenn, Comp Ling), Masha Polinsky (Harvard, theoretical linguistics), and Mabel Rice (Kansas, atypical language development).

Faculty highlight: Alexander Williams

Alexander Williams is a new Assistant Professor in the Departments of Linguistics and Philosophy. His research is mainly in verbal semantics and its relation to clausal syntax. His aim is to develop a theory of semantic composition in natural languages, and correspondingly a theory of semantic values for verbs, and his research has a strong cross-linguistic focus, in particular languages of the isolating type, including a number of different languages of China and Mongolia. Presently, Alexander is developing experiments that probe the semantic expectations of toddlers, in collaboration with Jeffrey Lidz. What relations between what a verb means and where it occurs does the infant acquiring language expect to find, if any? For example, are toddlers who hear a transitive verb X in "he X'ed it flat" predisposed to conclude that the referent of "it" gets "X'ed" (as English requires, but Igbo does not)? Alexander’s current courses include a graduate course in pragmatics, jointly with Valentine Hacquard.

Major SLA Conference at Maryland in October 14-17, 2010

University of Maryland, October 14-17

In concert with the theme Reconsidering SLA Research: Dimensions and Directions, SLRF 2010 will focus on the wide range of applied, theoretical, and experimental approaches that characterizes the current field of Second Language Acquisition. The aim of the conference is to bring together relevant theories and research methodology from various disciplines that deepen our understanding of SLA and its application to real world needs. To this end, we are soliciting colloquia, papers, and posters that investigate SLA from a variety of perspectives that add to our collective understanding of SLA in theory, research, and practice.

The plenary speakers are:

Dr. Kenneth Hyltenstam, Stockholm University
Near-native second language ultimate attainment – why not nativelike?

Dr. Judith Kroll, Pennsylvania State University
Bilinguals and second language learners: Juggling two languages in one mind and brain

Dr. Michael Long, University of Maryland
Towards a theory of instructed adult SLA

Dr. William O'Grady, University of Hawai'i
Language acquisition without an acquisition device

For more information about the conference please visit:

The IGERT program is financially supporting this conference.

IGERT supports remodeling of SLA computer lab

The IGERT program has contributed $8000 to improve a computer lab to be used for second language processing. The SLA lab is located on the basement floor of Jimenez Hall. It was renovated and expanded in the Spring and Fall of 2009 to accommodate the need of an increasing number of SLA students working on second language processing projects.

The space of the lab was doubled by including the storage room adjacent to the originally much smaller lab. The lab now consists of three enclosed testing areas, including a sound-proof booth, a waiting/meeting area, and a work area. There are four computers (two PCs and two Macs) in the three testing rooms for data collection purposes, and a computer in the work area for word processing and data analysis. All computers are connected to the Internet. There is also a printer, a couple of tables, a couple file cabinets, and plenty of chairs in the lab. E-Prime and DMDX are installed on the testing computers.

Several SLA faculty members and students use the lab on a regular basis. IGERT students interested in doing so are welcome. They should contact Nan Jiang or Kira Gor for potential times and reservations.

Student highlights: Dave Kush, research trip to Sweden

Dave Kush is a 2nd year graduate student in the Dept of Linguistics. Dave spent March at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden conducting experiments on syntactic constraints in Swedish, in collaboration with Prof. Elisabet Engdahl and Filippa Lindahl. Dave’s project is supported by Maryland’s NSF-IGERT program and by an NSF grant awarded to Norbert Hornstein, Howard Lasnik and Juan Uriagereka.

Dave’s motivation for going to Sweden was not the cool air or dark evenings. He wanted to understand a puzzle that has been troubling linguists for almost 30 years. Most languages have constructions that allow words and phrases to be displaced indefinitely far from their thematic position, e.g., “Who did the website say that the department sent __ to Sweden?”. But there are many constraints on these displacements, such as a ban on displacement out of relative clauses. For example, English speakers find the following example horrible: *How much pizza did you meet a man who ate __? Linguists refer to such constraints as “island constraints”, based on the notion that these are environments that one cannot escape from. Yet Swedish speakers are reported to be rather accepting of displacements from relative clauses, a fact that undermines universalist theories of language variation and language acquisition (and it is not currently well understood in any theory). Dave’s studies in Sweden built upon preliminary findings from his work at Maryland, which showed a number of restrictions on Swedes’ liberal acceptance of island violations, and suggested to him that what appears to be a cross-linguistic anomaly may in fact be a case of surface structure ambiguity. Look out for an upcoming IGERT Lunch talk for results from Dave’s work.