Thursday, May 31, 2007

Neighborhood silliness

Warning: Skip this if you hate neighborhood silliness. You may, however, find the following items amusing:

1. Someone in our neighborhood has complained on the neighborhood list-serv about a local police officer who is citing drivers for disobeying traffic laws.

2. Someone (else) in our neighborhood wants to privatize the neighborhood streets and have the neighborhood take responsibility for re-paving and maintaining the quality of the streets.

I have respect for each of these two people, but find their ideas ludicrous. Personally, I'm quite happy when police officers enforce traffic laws in order to keep our streets safe from drivers who would otherwise speed on streets with 25 mph limits and sail through stop signs. As for privatizing our streets: as if anyone in the neighborhood has the time (or competence, for that matter) to re-pave and maintain them. I think our time and efforts would be much better spent being productive and not complaining nearly as often.

In other neighborhood news: construction on the new Fourth Avenue underpass is scheduled to begin soon. The latest progress involves a new sign, as promised on the old sign. Such progress! In other street construction news, any day now, we're told, we should see conversion from one-way to two-way traffic on 6th Avenue and Stone Avenue begin sometime soon.

Preliminary morphological family size results

Although these results are only preliminary, and therefore to be interpreted with caution, it seems to be the case that the auditory lexical decision task recently run in Jerusalem shows the following:

1. there is a facilitatory effect of word frequency; that is, the more frequent a word in Hebrew, the faster its reaction time.

2. there is a facilitatory effect of related family size; that is, the more semantically-related morphological relatives a word has, the faster its reaction time.

3. there is an inhibitory effect of unrelated family size; that is, the more semantically-unrelated morphological relatives a word has, the slower its reaction time.

None of these results is *too* surprising, and in fact they replicate the identical effects found in the visual study on Hebrew done by Moscoso del Prado-Martin et al. 2005 in Journal of Memory and Language. However, never before have ANY of these effects been actually documented in Hebrew in spoken word recognition, and I am very proud to be the first to find such effects.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The best of Armory Park

Again, the title of the post may not be completely accurate - though let's see how this goes...there's been much excitement and to-do in the 'hood lately. One topic concerns our neighborhood association board, which seems to be working on becoming a more efficient machine. At the same time, there are definitely people on the board who are so wedded to "the way it's always been done" that it's hard to make much progress. It is such an interesting sociological phenomenon to observe - that is, in the moments when I am not so frustrated at certain incompetencies that remain a consistent problem. But lest you think all I do is sit and complain, I'll say that I am optimistic that good changes are afoot.

With respect to neighborhood projects, things may be about to get exciting around here, though as I write that, I think back to every time in the past few years that similar promises have been made. Here's a list of exciting things that are "supposed" to start in the next few months:

- construction of the new 4th Avenue underpass
- construction of several downtown housing projects, including The Post, an exciting project on Congress St
- renovation of the former Santa Rita hotel
- widening of the I-10 freeway

There are certainly others as well, but I don't want to prematurely raise anyone's expectations. If any of these things happen, I will be so happy, and at this point, many of us in the neighborhood are willing to settle for less, if it means progress of some form. Downtown Tucson is such an incredibly cool place, independent of any of these good things, so if they happen, they can only help, but there seems to be in place a critical mass of coolness to begin with, and this keeps me satisfied.

So, there's reason to expect this to be a busy summer in the downtown development department - let's hope it happens!

The best of utterology

Well, I am not sure the title of this post is actually quite so accurate, but after such a long lag since my previous post I have to attract attention from my readers somehow!

In utterology-related developments around here, there's been lots of progress on lots of work. Most exciting at the moment are about 23,000 data points on an experiment I've just finished running in Jerusalem, thanks to my very hard-working colleague there. In this study, we'll hopefully be able to gain some insight into the effects of morphological family size in spoken word recognition. By replicating an earlier study by a different group of researchers who found a facilitatory effect of "related family size", or how many semantically related morphological relatives a word has, I hope to discover whether, on the one hand, the effect is mirrored in auditory word recognition, or whether, on the other hand, as with neighborhood density, the effect is reversed in the auditory domain.

One of the most amazing things that I keep remarking as I do experimental work is the amount of effort that must be poured into any investigation. In this particular experiment, I was quite fortunate to be able to simply use the very same stimuli (albeit in auditory form) that the original study used - I will be eternally grateful to the authors of that paper for providing me with those, because essentially I got a pre-packaged set of items that varied with respect to the relevant independent variables (frequency, related family size, and unrelated family size) of interest.

Next step involved finding a native speaker of Hebrew to patiently sit in the sound booth in our phonetics lab and record the stimuli. This was followed by careful choosing of the best exemplars, and then measuring their duration and, thanks to my electronic corpus of Hebrew, determining each stimulus's uniqueness point, since measuring reaction time to auditory stimuli can be a tricky and sometimes risky business. A good example is the first experiment I did on Maltese a few years back, where we got prematurely excited at finding an effect when measuring reaction time from stimulus onset, only to quickly realize that the relevant factor was strictly correlated with stimulus length - and indeed, the effect disappeared when reaction time was measured from stimulus offset.

In the current study on Hebrew, we have an even more accurate place to measure from: the lexical uniqueness point of each word. So now it is just a matter of finessing the data files a bit more, though to get them in the right shape I've had to ask a professional computational linguist to translate data files into the appropriate format readable by statistics software (luckily, I live with such a linguist, and luckily I had an excellent RA able to do a lot of the item-related measurements).

I may have exciting results to report soon, if the experiment worked as planned. But overall, my point here is that I continue to have deep appreciation of the efforts required to carry out experimental work.