LINGUIST712: Perception of Linguistic Form

  • Who Brian Dillon
  • When Tuesday / Thursday 10-11:15AM
  • Where ILC N470

Course overview: This course is about prediction. Over the last decade or two, the claim that language comprehension relies on predictive processing has gone from a controversial claim to something of a central tenet in psycholinguistics. On this view, language comprehension is facilitated by predictive processing that plays out at multiple different levels of representation, from preactivation of semantic features to detailed preactivation of syntactic structures right down to the prediction of specific linguistic forms. The reason we are such skilled, rapid sentence processors, on this view, is in good part because we are skilled at generating expectations about upcoming linguistic events. In view of this general hypothesis about sentence comprehension, the course has two twin goals.

The first goal is theoretical/empirical. We will attempt to understand our work as psycholinguists in light of this broad hypothesis. We will ask whether (or perhaps, to what degree) fine-grained linguistic representations and constraints guide online predictive processing. We will cover broad issues, and review key findings and controverises. We will do a deep dive on two specific subareas where predictive processing matters: managing expectations at the level of the discourse, and actively predicting syntactic structure. Along the way, we will also engage with recent empirical debates over how reliable key findings in this literature are, and reflect on these issues as they impact the work we will engage with in this class.

The second goal is methodological: we will attempt to get the ERP lab in our department up and running for sentence comprehension experiments. Approximately one-third of in-class time over the semester will be devoted to learning the ERP methodology, and enrolled students will be expected to spend class time (and out of class time!) in the ERP lab working on coding experiments, setting up lab protocols, learning to run participants, and collecting pilot data. The reason for this methodological focus will become evident over the course of the semester: in discussions about the predictability of linguistic features and form, the event-related potentials (ERP) paradigm inevitably takes a leading role, with the beloved N400 in center stage.

Course requirements

Enrolled students will be expected to:

  • Attend biweekly class meetings, read assigned readings, and come ready to discuss. The course will be less “lecture” style, and more “discussion” style: you shouldn’t expect too much in the way of formal lectures, but rather, in-depth discussion of our readings.
  • Collaborate on the construction of Google doc discussion summaries to summarize highlights of our class discussion, with the goal of identifying areas of interesting/fruitful future research through discussion.
  • Give two presentations throughout the semester. One presentation will be of a paper that bridges the students’ individual interests and the theme of the class: this need not come from the planned readings. The other presentation will be a tutorial session on one aspect of running an ERP experiment (e.g. how to code an experiment, how to run a participant, how to visualize data using the software tools in the lab).
  • Collaborate with the class participants as a group to design and pilot a class ERP experiment.
  • Write a final term paper on a topic of the students’ own choosing, under the broad rubric of prediction, and present the result of their research at the end of the semester. Students will be especially encouraged to find common ground between predictive comprehension and their current research interests outside of this class; come meet me early on to discuss this.

Course schedule

ERP-based studies are marked with *

Date Topic Readings Presenter
Tu 122 Comprehension through prediction (1) Kuperberg & Jaeger (2016), Pickering & Gambi (2018)
Th 124 Comprehension through prediction (2) Kutas et al. (2012), Delong et al (2005)*; Optional: Wicha et al. (2004)*
Tu 129 Primary literature preface: Issues of replicability + reliability Nieuwland (in press); especially pp. 1-47, Nieuwland et al (2018)*; Optional: Mante’s blogpost on RetractionWatch
Th 131 Lexical predictability , Carolyn’s handout Staub (2015), Smith & Levy (2013), Staub et al. (2015) Carolyn presents Staub et al (2015)
Tu 25 Phonological predictability, Katie’s handout Hall et al (2018) Katie presents Hall et al. (2018)
Th 27 Phonological predictability Cohen-Priva (2017) Max presents Cohen-Priva (2017)
Tu 212 Prediction and discourse management (presuppositions) Shetreet et al. (2019)* Alex presents Shetreet et al. (2019)
Th 214 Prediction and discourse management (presuppositions/implicature) Xiang & Kuperberg (2015)* Erika presents Xiang & Kuperberg
Tu 219 NO CLASS -
Tu 221 Prediction and discourse management (discourse relations) Scholman et al (2017), van Bergen & Bosker (2018)
Th 226 Prediction and syntactic analysis (fillers & gaps) Atkinson et al. (2018)
Th 228 Prediction and syntactic analysis: dependency length and resumption) Wagers & Phillips (2014), Chow & Zhou (2018)
Tu 35 Prediction and syntactic analysis (gaps & resumption) Chacon (submitted)
Tu 318 Prediction and syntactic analysis (argument structure) Omaki et al. (2015), Staub (2007)
Th 321 Event-related potentials: What are they good for? Van Petten & Luka (2012)*
Tu 326 Uncertainty and prediction in phonological processing Gwilliams et al (2018) Bethany presents Gwilliams et al. 2018
Th 44 9AM - 11:15 P300 & Oddball paradigm: Lab Session #1, Erika & Brian Luck, 2014; Chapter 1,Net Station Acquisition, Technical Manual (2003) Chapter 1 Erika presents Luck, Chap. 1
Th 411 9AM - 11:15 P300 & Oddball paradigm: Lab Session #2, Max & Carolyn Luck, 2014; Chapter 2,Net Station Acquisition, Technical Manual (2003) Chapter 1 Max & Carolyn present Luck, Chap. 2
Th 418 9AM - 11:15 P300 & Oddball paradigm: Lab Session #3, Bethany & Katie Luck, 2014; Chapter 3,Net Station Acquisition, Technical Manual (2003) Chapter 1 Bethany & Katie present Chap. 3
Th 425 Baselines + Filters Tanner et al. (2015)*; Tanner et al. (2016)*
Tu 430 Student presentations
Th 52 Student presentations
Brian Dillon
Associate Professor

I am a psycholinguist who studies syntax, semantics, working memory, and sentence comprehension.