It’s Not Always Sunny in Philadelphia

It rained today. All day. A lot.

Regardless, I didn’t let that stop me from having a good day. Unfortunately one of the bad things about having a chock-full-of-everything day every day for a week in a half is that it’s really taxing on your brain and eventually all you want to do is sleep. The fact that it was cold as crap in the lecture room today, dark, and raining outside did not help my drive to stay awake and pay attention to lecture. Nonetheless I did the best I could. At least we had a cereal breakfast today; I got to put chocolate syrup all over my oats and honey. Lectures!

Word learning and phonetic development in infancy
Danial Swingley

Dr. Swingley investigates infant language perception. Babbling begins at 7-9 months of age (usually), with the first words following between 9-13 months. Infants learn phonetic categories, word forms, phonetic patterns, etc. The way he figures this out is using eye tracking. Even before infants can produce speech, you can ask them to look at something specific on a screen or just mention a word like apple, and the infant will direct its gaze to the corresponding picture or object more than other objects. This occurs around six months of age. Initially when babies are born they have the ability to distinguish between all human speech sounds, even if they are only subtly different (aspirated /t/ versus unaspirated, etc.). However, we know that this ability is lost with time and that eventually we have a really hard time distinguishing sounds that are not present in our mother tongue. Dr. Swingley wanted to investigate when this happened, and found that infants began to lose the ability to distinguish sounds in other languages starting at 8 months of age. 
His theory is that children use distributional learning by seeing how sounds are clustered statistically under certain conditions to learn which words are possible in their language. At a very early age (again, 6-7 months), infants show a preference for words that are spoken in the language that they’ve been exposed to; and not only that, but words which are phonotactically impossible in their mother tongue do not have this same effect of preference. However, there are other ways in which infants might learn this skill, and no one is sure which one is right. An alternative would be that the infant pays attention to the mother’s clear speech, or might have a better set of dimensions for comparative analysis, or may learn from context. 

Definite descriptions and domain restrictions in online processing
Florian Schwarz

Dr. Schwarz is a formal semanticist. Formal semantics seeks to formally represent the meanings of words in an accessible way. Inherent in this is the idea of compositionality – the idea that meaning of complex expressions are related systematically to their parts and how they’re put together. Indexicals (words that have no meaning without context like pronouns) play an important role in semantics because they are difficult to represent and draw their meaning directly from context. 
Then we took my Semantics and Pragmatics class from a couple years ago over again and learned about implicatures, quantifiers, and all that other great stuff. Then he added a whole bunch of variables and it looked like he was doing algebra but with linguistics on the board and it’s been too long and now I can’t remember how to explain anything. Something about places having a value ‘s’…? 
Also, while processing language, there is a “Principle of Charity” in which if something isn’t entirely understandable, the brain will make its best approximation and understand the utterance in a way that may or may not be correct. 
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Next we got to take group photos and we all wore our T-shirts so we’d feel like a cohesive group.

We had a chance to go to two of four labs; Singley’s, Brainard’s, Schwarz’s, and Trueswell’s. I pick Singley and Schwarz because their work seemed more relevant to what I was studying and more cool. Both had eye tracking equipment, though Dr. Singley’s was much more sophisticated. It looked like this:

Specifically we got to see an experiment testing how the placement of prepositional phrases affected the way in which people categorized objects and meaning. Essentially, by hearing a prepositional phrase first instead of last, you will delineate a domain in your visual field for processing in a different way than when the prepositional phrase is not fronted. It’s hard to explain and I don’t have a powerpoint that I can just go through, so we’ll move on.

After the labs our scheduled social events was dinner at Dahlak, an Ethiopian restaurant. I’d never had Ethiopian food so I was really excited (and a little nervous). We walked up Market a few blocks from campus and walked into a musty old restaurant. It was dark and kind of dank, with a dilapidated piano stuck behind a wall and a bathroom with no soap or toilet paper, as well as a kitchen cut off by nothing but a towel hanging down from the door post. It took half an hour to get our waters, but in the end I think it was totally worth it. In case you’ve never had Ethiopian food, the setup is thus: there are wicker baskets which act as tables, and little stools situated around the baskets which are what you sit on. There are no napkins and no utensils. They give you a large plate of injera (a spongy crepe-like bread; it’s really flexible but not stretchy) which is what you use to eat with. The food comes in a large circular metal basin, and it somewhat resembles Indian food in that there are many spices, but there is not as much meat and no rice. There’s just a bunch of sauces with a little meat in some of them, vegetable curries, etc. The injera is used to pick up whatever food you want to eat, just like picking it up with your hands, and then you eat the injera with the dish inside it. If stuff gets on your fingers, you just lick the food off! It was a really weird new way of eating food.

Ethiopian food is a little expensive, but it’s definitely worth trying at least once. I was absolutely stuffed by the end of the meal and there was still food left (and we were sharing that dish between 5 people!), but a girl named Abigail from the IRCS group wanted to go to swing dance and convinced me to go along. We caught a bus downtown with minimal time for digestion, and because it was raining, we were pretty wet when we finally walked into the Ethical Center (not sure why it was being held there but whatever. Also, what’s an ethical center?), paid our dues, and went into the dance room. There were two instructors who were extremely enthusiastic about what they were doing, and that made the lesson a lot more fun. But as fun as it was, I couldn’t figure out how to move. I just don’t think I was born to make my feet do unusual things. The people I went with got it pretty well though!

For some reason we decided to walk home in the rain. So we walked 15 blocks or so back to campus, and we were all incredibly wet. My shoes were especially soaked, but luckily I’d packed 3 pairs of shoes. Muahahaha.

Luisa and I have decided to do a song for the talent show on Thursday. Sooooooooo Imma learn it on my uke and she’s going to sing and it’s going to be wonderful! Sleep time.

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