Archive for Psycholinguistics

Waste bin misnegation

I saw a sticker on the lid of a pedal-operated hospital waste bin that said this:


THIS SACK HOLDER IS SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO BE FOOT OPERATED ONLY. THE LID MUST NOT BE HAND OPERATED AND PUSHED PAST THE POINT WHERE IT WILL NOT AUTOMATICALLY RETURN TO THE CLOSED POSITION.

Everyone who uses the bin sees this notice; maybe some even read it and try to respect it; but perhaps only Language Log readers will notice that it contains a misnegation — another sign that the number of negations within a sentence that our poor monkey brains can successfully handle averages out at little more than 1.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

The neural basis of Chinese morphological processing

In "Chinese characters and the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis " (1/7/16), we read about experimental results debunking " a myth that Chinese languages were predominantly processed by the right hemisphere, compared with alphabetic languages processed by the left hemisphere…."

Now, a team of scientists from Zaozhuang University, Beijing Normal University, and the University of Illinois have published the results of an experiment that offers additional evidence in favor of these findings:

Lijuan Zou, Jerome L. Packard, Zhichao Xia, Youyi Liu, and Hua Shu, "Neural Correlates of Morphological Processing: Evidence from Chinese", Front. Hum. Neurosci., 19 January 2016.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (3)

Chinese characters and the left-brain vs. right-brain hypothesis

Report of the results of a study that I've been long awaiting:

"Different languages spark same brain activity: study"

by Chen Wei-han Taipei Times (1/6/16)

TOPIC OF DEBATE:
  An NTNU [National Taiwan Normal University] psychology professor said the results debunk a myth that Chinese and alphabetic languages are processed by different sides of the brain

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Lexical limits

C. C. Cheng, emeritus professor of computational linguistics at the University of Illinois, estimates that the human lexicon has a de facto storage limit of 8,000 lexical items (referred to in n. 12 on p. 301 of Jerry Packard's The Morphology of Chinese: A Linguistic and Cognitive Approach [Cambridge University Press, 2000]).

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (28)

Brain imaging and spelling champions

Spelling bees have been a staple of discussion at Language Log:

"Spelling bees and character amnesia" (8/7/13)

"Spelling bee champs" (6/1/14)

"Of toads, modernization, and simplified characters" (8/16/13)

"Il ne parle pas français" (7/23/15)

One of the major subthemes of our debates on this topic has been the dominance of individuals of South Asian (Indian) descent in the spelling bees.  Many possible explanations for their superior performance were proposed (memorization techniques, tradition, family pressure and support, social and cultural models, etc.), but nothing approaching empirical evidence was adduced.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (4)

Bathroom ambiguity

Any self-respecting copywriter has a decent mastery of ambiguity. It’s a staple of advertising, but it takes some skill. It’s not that ambiguous language is difficult to find or construct—on the contrary, it would be no easy task to avoid using language that contains potential ambiguity. The trick is to use ambiguous language in such a way that a) the audience becomes aware of the ambiguity, perhaps at a specific, crucial moment in viewing the ad, and b) the two meanings rub against each other in a stimulating manner.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)

I've forgotten more Czech than Barbara Partee has learned

One of the most memorable trips of my life took place in 1994 and involved traveling as a graduate student to Prague in the company of some of the most formidable linguists of North America and Europe. It was my first return to the country of my birth since I’d left Czechoslovakia as a small child in 1969—given that my family had emigrated illegally, virtually Sound of Music style, a visit back wasn’t possible until after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Barbara Partee, who had spent a good deal of time in Prague, served as our tour guide. I was impressed with her fluency in Czech and charmed by her accent. I’d never heard Czech spoken with an American accent before, but it sounded exactly as I would have imagined it. My own Czech was in ruins. Like many immigrants, I’d learned my heritage language as a child within rather constrained domestic spheres and had never used it to negotiate cab fare or discuss existential concerns, let alone describe my professional activities. But the first time I shyly dusted it off and uttered a few sentences, protesting that I had forgotten the entire language, Barbara turned to me with perhaps a tinge of envy and exclaimed, “You’ve probably forgotten more Czech than I’ve spent years learning! And, there’s still a lot left.”

As it turns out, a language is rarely truly forgotten, merely submerged.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (36)

Tones and the brain

People are always trying to exoticize things Chinese.  Now comes this article with the sensationalistic and patently suspect headline:

"If you speak Mandarin, your brain is different" (2/24/15)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (25)