University of San Diego (USA) – Premier séminaire le 07 septembre 2016

Professor Robert Kluender from University of San Diego / California (USA) is our invited professor in september in the frame of the EFL International Chair 2016.

You will find hereafter the detail of his lectures that will take place at University Paris-Diderot – Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges as from the 07th september 2016.





The Role of Working Memory in Syntactic Representation and Processing

Lecture 1: Wednesday, 07/09, 14-16, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges, Salle 166

The current consensus across cognitive domains is that working memory may be a mere epiphenomenon arising from the attention system acting upon long-term memory representations. This idea has serious consequences for both the nature of the human lexicon as well for the nature of syntactic representation. Likewise, the psychological reality of storage and/or maintenance functions (including capacity limitations), long considered a primary explanandum of the verbal working memory literature, has more recently been challenged and subjected to re-evaluation. This in turn has direct consequences for the way in which we conceive of sentence processing. By way of introduction, this session will present an overview of a variety of theoretical proposals regarding the nature of working memory, both more generally psychological as well as more specifically psycholinguistic, classic as well as contemporary, in order to provide a framework in which to situate subsequent lectures.

Lecture 2: Monday, 12/09, 14-16, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges, Salle 166

This session focus more narrowly on investigating the event-related brain potential literature on long-distance syntactic dependencies. From its inception, this literature (a) has assumed that sustained potentials index verbal working memory processes, specifically maintenance or storage operations, which have more recently been called into question in favor of an emphasis on encoding and retrieval, and (b) has for the most part been based on capacity-constrained models of verbal working memory, now largely falsified. We will consider the extent to which these original ERP data can be successfully recast in terms of encoding and retrieval to the exclusion of storage operations – and will see that here the evidence actually looks quite favorable. On a side historical note, it turns out that the results of early cross-modal priming studies of long-distance syntactic dependencies were ironically quite compatible with current models of verbal working memory, despite the disfavor this methodology fell into in the 1990s.

Lecture 3: Monday, 19/09, 14-16, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges, Salle 166

This session changes gears to focus on recent research in the visual working memory literature, which in many ways complements and presents intriguing parallels to advances in verbal working memory research. Here there appear to be two rather divergent, seemingly opposing strains of investigation. One, based primarily on fMRI studies of humans, aims to demonstrate the illusory nature of presumed maintenance functions (at least in terms of neural activation) and to buttress the case for the purported working memory system being nothing more than the interaction of the attention and long-term memory systems. The other is based primarily on ERP studies of humans, and appears to assume both a storage function (similar to the verbal working memory ERP literature, based on the presence of sustained potentials during delay periods) and a visual working memory component of some undetermined sort, but redefines capacity limits in terms of the ability of attentional processes to filter out irrelevant information from the purported storage component. Monkey single-unit recording data in visual working memory tasks have cut both ways: while early studies were compatible with an active storage function, more recent studies show neural activation only during encoding and retrieval phases, and none during delay periods.

Lecture 4: Monday, 26/09, 14-16, Bâtiment Olympe de Gouges, Salle 166

The session returns to the implications of results from both the verbal and visual working memory literatures for the nature of the human lexicon and syntactic representation. There are at least two main issues. First, if working memory truly reduces to the focus of attention operating over long-term memory representations, then what is the exact nature of the linguistic representations in long-term memory over which the attentional system operates in sentence processing? Various aspects of the working memory literature make reference to “chunks” and “chunking.” On certain theoretical accounts, there is no limit placed on the number of elements that can make up a chunk when it is compiled on the basis of information stored in long-term memory, while chunks that are not pre-existing but formed rapidly on the basis of new associations are limited to four (or, on some accounts, fewer) elements, due to constraints on how many items can simultaneously remain in the focus of attention. What does this imply about the nature of lexical entries in long-term memory and how they are assembled on line into syntactic representations? Second, there is ubiquitous reference in the working memory literature to featural representations (since much of it is based on evidence from visual working memory paradigms), and evidence from similarity-based interference paradigms in the verbal working memory literature likewise suggests that retrieval is primarily feature-driven. If this is true, what constraints does this fact impose on syntactic representations? To what extent do existing syntactic theories satisfy these constraints, and can we use such constraints as metrics to differentiate and possibly evaluate theories of syntactic representation against each other?