How do we wade through hissing or silence to tell consonants apart? Which cues do we grab onto to get us on top of these sound waves? In this episode, we take a look at obstruent acoustics: how they differ from vowels or other sonorous sounds, how the way we make fricatives influences the way they sound to us, and how we latch onto lightning-quick changes to tell us what stop we just heard.
Topic 69: Lambda Calculus
How can we capture the meanings of transitive sentences? How do we match our syntax trees to our semantics? In this episode, we talk about lambda calculus: why we need it to explain what our other semantic machinery can't, how to work out its math, and what it can show us about how words move around in sentences.
Topic 68: Taboo Language and Euphemisms
What kinds of words are off-limits in different languages? How deeply does profanity affect us? In this episode, we talk about taboo language and euphemisms: how they work, when we're allowed to use what, how psychologically deep they go, and why we can't run on the same euphemisms forever.
Topic 67: The Arbitrariness of the Sign and Onomatopoeia
How much meaning is there just in sounds? How much are words alike across languages? In this episode, we talk about the arbitrariness of the sign: how our sounds don't have to connect to the meanings they do, how much cases like onomatopoeia serve as a counter to the random matching of words, and whether individual sounds or syllables carry their own semantic punch.
Topic 66: Syntactic Islands
How do we know what questions we can ask? What keeps us from moving words around into whatever order we want? In this episode, we talk about syntactic islands: what they are, what rules can allow us to move some words across long distances in a sentence and not others, and what evidence we have from different languages to back these rules up.
Topic 65: Performative Language
How does our speech affect the world around us? How can we measure the changes that our words make? In this episode, we take a look at performative language: what you need for your words to work their magic, what different parts make up our speech acts, and how our word choices can change the way we perceive and remember events.
Topic 64: Grammatical Conservatism
What kinds of mistakes do kids make in their sentences? Why do we see them leaving things out so much more often than putting things in wrong? In this episode, we talk about grammatical conservatism: what it means, some ways it shows up, and what it can tell us about language and how kids use it.
Topic 63: The Chomsky Hierarchy
How can we describe the complexity of linguistic systems? Where does natural language fit in? In this episode, we talk about the Chomsky hierarchy: what it captures, what characterizes different kinds of grammars on the hierarchy, and whether we can find grammars that sit higher on the scale than human language.
Topic 62: Generalized Quantifiers
How can we tell what words like "few" and "many" do in our sentences? What's the right way to represent these words in our minds? In this episode, we talk about generalized quantifier theory: what the math for quantifiers should look like, what properties natural language quantifiers seem to all share, and what that means for how kids can learn them.
Topic 61: Relevance Theory
How can we tell what's relevant when we try to work out what other people mean? What can experiments tell us about how much we'll consider when puzzling out meaning? In this episode, we talk about relevance theory: how it can help us more scientifically approach relevance in our discussions, how it interacts with the rest of our understanding of the rules of conversations, and how we can play with relevance in experiments to make people more or less likely to behave in logical ways.