Alma Veenstra

Adventures of a psycholinguist

Call for abstracts

We are pleased to announce the 5th edition of

Utterance Interpretation and Cognitive Models (UICM5)

held at the UniversitĂ© Libre de Bruxelles, Brussels, Belgium, on 24 – 25 September 2015.
Submission deadline: April 1st, 2015
Notification of acceptance: June 1st, 2015

Invited Speakers:
Ton Dijkstra (Donders Institute/Radboud University Nijmegen)
Napoleon Katsos (University of Cambridge)
Istvan Kecskes (State University of New York)
Antonella Sorace (University of Edinburgh)

This edition focuses on the connection between bilingualism and semantics/pragmatics:

How does bilingualism influence utterance interpretation? Can we identify differences in semantic or pragmatic skills between monolinguals and bilinguals? How about bi-dialectals? What are the mechanisms leading to these differences? We welcome researchers from various backgrounds to share their work on cognition and interpretation and invite them to a lively discussion of views and results.

Abstracts are invited for oral presentations (20 min. presentation plus 10 min. for discussion) and poster presentations. Abstracts are restricted to one page A4 (including figures, tables, and references). Please leave out any identifying information from the abstract. The abstract should be submitted in pdf format to, with in the body of the email the title, author names, and affiliations. Please also indicate whether you want to be considered for an oral presentation, a poster presentation, or both. The deadline for submission is April 1st 2015. Abstracts will be reviewed by the scientific committee, and notifications of acceptance will be sent out around June 1st 2015.

We hope to see you in Brussels in September!

On behalf of the UICM5 Organizing committee,

Local organizers: Isabelle Lorge, Nicolas Ruytenbeek, Fanny Stercq, and Alma Veenstra

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We have a date!

Every other year, the ULB organizes a conference on Utterance Interpretation and Cognitive Models. The fifth edition will focus on the effects of bilingualism on utterance interpretation and semantic/pragmatic skills. We are very excited to have Antonella Sorace, Napoleon Katsos, Istvan Kecskes, and Ton Dijkstra as keynote speakers. UICM5 will take place in Brussels on 24 and 25 September 2015.

The daily organizing committee consists of Isabelle Lorge, Nicolas Ruytenbeek, Fanny Stercq, and Alma Veenstra. We are proud to announce that UICM5 will also have a poster session. A call for abstracts is expected to go out in January, so stay tuned!



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Keep it simple!

In many linguistic experiments, there is a rich variation in the words used. Agreement studies are no exception. Ofcourse, our daily language also contains a rich variation of words and structures. But if we want to study grammar, it is useful to limit the lexical variation to a minimum, so that we can get to the heart of the grammar.

In agreement studies, researchers have found that certain factors make it difficult to generate correct agreement. Remember the key to the cabinets are missing? We wanted to see if these patterns can still be found when the lexical variation in the items is reduced. Our sentences only contained four different words: circle, rectangle, triangle, and star.

We reproduced the standard finding (attraction when a singular head noun is combined with a plural local noun: the circle next to the stars are red), but also found a new finding (attraction when a plural head noun is combined with a singular local noun: the circles next to the star is red).

On top of that, we also designed a very cool new paradigm to test agreement: picture description. In contrast to more traditional agreement tasks, picture description does not involve reading or listening. I can’t wait to try this out in new populations!

Read the original article:

Veenstra, A., Acheson, D. J., & Meyer, A. S. (2014). Keeping it simple: Studying grammatical encoding with lexically-reduced item sets. Frontiers in Psychology (5): 783.


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Semantic integration

Researchers have long believed that subject-verb agreement is only affected by grammatical factors. One example is attraction, here the verb does not agree with number of  the head noun, but with the number of an intervening local noun: the key to the cabinets are missing. So instead of singular, the verb becomes plural, which we call an agreement error.

More and more studies are finding semantic factors in addition to the grammatical factors. One is brought about by semantic integration (not to be confused with semantic integration as often seen in EEG reading studies). The semantic integration I am discussing here concerns the conceptual link between two words in a phrase. For example, in the phrase the bowl with the stripes, the bowl and the stripes are conceptually tightly linked: the stripes are part of the bowl. In the bowl with the spoons the bowl and the spoons are less tightly linked. The tightness of this link influences the agreement process.

However, the exact effect of semantic integration is under debate. One account claims that a tight link makes the grammatical attraction effect stronger. Another account claims that a tight link makes the phrase “feel” singular, whereas a weak link makes the phrase “feel” plural. This means that a sort of semantic attraction can occur, which increases agreement error rates.

We looked at the effect of semantic integration in Dutch, and found support for the second, notional number account. So in addition to the grammatical attraction effect, we found that agreement was more difficult when a singular head noun was combined with a “plural feel”.

Read more:

Veenstra, A., Acheson, D. J., Bock, K., & Meyer, A. S. (2014). Effects of semantic integration on the production of subject-verb agreement: evidence from Dutch. Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, 29(3), 355-380.

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