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Maria Polinsky (Quirk Fellow) Public Lecture

18 May 2017

Time: 4:30 - 6:00pm
Venue: David Sizer Lecture Theatre, Francis Bancroft BuildingBook now

Thanks to a generous donation from The Lord Quirk (CBE, FBA, former Vice-Chancellor of the University of London), the Randolph Quirk Fellowship has been established at QMUL. This year, we are delighted to announce that the first Randolph Quirk Fellow will be Professor Maria Polinsky, who will give a series of 3 workshops as well as a public lecture.

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Public Lecture:

Bilingual Grammars: a case for cascading structural reorganisation

The study of multilingualism has long been the intellectual property of linguistics subfields like sociolinguistics and language acquisition, and with good reason: we must understand the complexities of the multilingual experience before we can analyze its exponence in language users. In this talk I present the reasons for appropriating multilingualism inquiries into core domains of core linguistic theory: they offer novel evidence on ways lingusitic systems may be reorganized and undergo change. Taking this approach to multilingualism means that our research is no longer focused on the idiosyncrasies of bilingual/multilingual grammars, but also on the resources and pressures at play in the development and maintenance of grammar.

As a case in point, I will examine elliptical constructions in bilingual grammars. Ellipsis constructions are well known for having two readings: strict, and sloppy. For example, the sentence "The linguist blamed himself, and the logician did too”, is ambiguous between the strict reading (the linguist and the logician both blamed the linguist) and the sloppy reading (the logician blamed the logician, that is, himself). All factors being equal, English speakers show a strong preference for the sloppy reading in coordination contexts. Similar preference for sloppy readings is observed in a number of other languages (Dutch, German, Russian).  While the sloppy-reading preference under ellipsis is strong in monolingual Russian, it disappears in Heritage Russian: the Russian language spoken by unbalanced bilinguals who are dominant in English (better known as heritage speakers of Russian). The disappearance of the sloppy reading is particularly surprising given that both Russian and English favor that reading. I argue that the restructuring of Heritage Russian ellipsis follows from two changes in the heritage language: (a) reanalysis of the aspectual system and (b) changes in the inventory of null pronominals available to heritage speakers. As a result, what may appear to be unexpected change is actually well motivated by systematic restructuring in the heritage language. These results indicate that heritage speakers differ from the monolingual baseline in underlying representations, not in processing alone. 

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