Fall 2022: Modeling Rational Language Production

LIN 624SEM: Modeling Rational Language Production

Instructor Name: Dr. Cassandra Jacobs Class Day and Time: T 11:00-1:40PM Number of Credits: 1-3 units Email Address: cxjacobs@buffalo.edu Office Location: 614 Baldy Hall Office Hours: On Zoom by appointment

Theme: Modeling Rational Language Production

Language production is usually framed as the process of taking a message that one wishes to express and convert it into a physical signal, such as speech or sign. While many models of language production typically frame the process as a meaning-to-form and form-to-meaning mapping problem, more recent proposals in the field have focused on “rational” approaches, which typically frame linguistic choices, especially in the domain of referring expression production, as one of optimizing multiple cost functions. This course will focus on verbal and computational models including but not limited to Uniform Information Density, the Rational Speech Act Model, and classic models of language production. The course will also compare and contrast these models of production to more classical implementations (i.e., Levelt, 1989; Dell & Chang, 2014) with an eye toward the cognitive tractability of each theory.

Required Text and Materials

All reading materials will be made available on UBLearns as well as the course webpage and will consist primarily of journal articles or conference proceedings. In particular, we will be using the Scontras, Tessler, and Franke text for in-class modeling exercises.


SkillAssessment method
Become familiar with contemporary research on language production; be able to analyze and suggest improvements to behavioral studies and computational models; assess the correspondence between different levels of explanation and existing models of language productionClass discussion; final paper
Refine skills in scientific communicationClass presentation; class discussion; final paper presentation
Refine research problem formulation skillsFinal paper; weekly paper reviews (”peer” reviews)

Weekly class structure

Grade composition

Weekly paper reviews

As part of this course, you will be asked to provide a quick review of questions and comments you have about the papers you read as a whole that will be due the night before class (10pm on Mondays). What questions arose throughout the papers as you read them? Relate the papers together — discuss any apparent opposition or agreement between the approaches of each paper. The goal of these assignments is to encourage you to analyze research work from a scientific perspective. Do not be afraid if the task is challenging — it is expected that the quality of your reviews will improve over the course of the semester as you gain familiarity with the literature and obtain feedback on your reviews.

Reading Schedule

Week 5 (September 27): No class — schedule 1:1 meetings with CJ to find a final paper research topic

Week 13 (November 22): Peer review of final paper/project drafts

Accessibility Services and Student Resources:

If you have a disability and may require some type of instructional and/or examination accommodation, please inform me early in the semester so that we can coordinate the accommodations you may need.  If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Accessibility Services (formerly the Office of Disability Services) University at Buffalo, 60 Capen Hall, Buffalo, NY 14260-1632; email: stu-accessibility@buffalo.edu Phone: 716-645-2608 (voice); 716-645-2616 (TTY); Fax: 716-645-3116; and on the web at http://www.buffalo.edu/studentlife/who-we-are/departments/accessibility.html. All information and documentation is confidential.

The University at Buffalo and the Graduate School of Education are committed to ensuring equal opportunity for persons with special needs to participate in and benefit from all of its programs, services and activities.

Academic Integrity:

Academic integrity is critical to the learning process. It is your responsibility as a student to complete your work in an honest fashion, upholding the expectations your individual instructors have for you in this regard. The ultimate goal is to ensure that you learn the content in your courses in accordance with UB’s academic integrity principles, regardless of whether instruction is in-person or remote. Thank you for upholding your own personal integrity and ensuring UB’s tradition of academic excellence.

It is expected that you will behave in an honorable and respectful way as you learn and share ideas. Therefore, recycled papers, work submitted to other courses, and major assistance in preparation of assignments without identifying and acknowledging such assistance are not acceptable. All work for this class must be original for this class. Please be familiar with the University and the School policies regarding plagiarism. Read the Academic Integrity Policy and Procedure for more information. Visit The Graduate School Policies & Procedures page (http://grad.buffalo.edu/succeed/current-students/policy-library.html) for the latest information.

Course Evaluations:

You will have two opportunities to provide anonymous feedback about the course. In the middle of the semester, I will send you a brief questionnaire asking about what activities are contributing to your learning and what might be done to improve your learning. At the conclusion of the semester you will receive an email reminder requesting your participation in the Course Evaluation process. Please provide your honest feedback; it is important to the improvement and development of this course. Feedback received is anonymous and I do not receive copies of the Evaluations until after grades have been submitted for the semester.

Counseling Services:

As a student you may experience a range of issues that can cause barriers to learning or reduce your ability to participate in daily activities. These might include strained relationships, anxiety, high levels of stress, alcohol/drug problems, feeling down, health concerns, or unwanted sexual experiences. Counseling, Health Services and Health Promotion are here to help with these or other issues you may experience. You can learn more about these program and services by contacting:

Counseling Services

120 Richmond Quad (North Campus), 716-645-2720

202 Michael Hall (South Campus), 716-829-5900


Health Services

Michael Hall (South Campus), 716-829-3316


Office of Health Promotion

114 Student Union (North Campus), 716-645-2837


Sexual Harassment/Violence:

UB is committed to providing a safe learning environment free of all forms of discrimination and sexual harassment, including sexual assault, domestic and dating violence and stalking. If you have experienced gender-based violence (intimate partner violence, attempted or completed sexual assault, harassment, coercion, stalking, etc.), UB has resources to help. This includes academic accommodations, health and counseling services, housing accommodations, helping with legal protective orders, and assistance with reporting the incident to police or other UB officials if you so choose. Please contact UB’s Title IX Coordinator at 716-645-2266 for more information. For confidential assistance, you may also contact a Crisis Service Campus Advocate at 716-796-4399.

Please be aware UB faculty are mandated to report violence or harassment on the basis of sex or gender. This means that if you tell me about a situation, I will need to report it to the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. You will still have options about how the situation will be handled, including whether or not you wish to pursue a formal complaint. Please know that if you not wish to have UB proceed with an investigation, your request will be honored unless UB’s failure to act does not adequately mitigate the risk of harm to you or other members of the university community. You also have the option of speaking with trained counselors who can maintain confidentiality. UB’s Options for Confidentiality Disclosing Sexual Violence provides a full explanation of the resources available, as well as contact information. You may call UB’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at 716-645-2266 for more information, and you have the option of calling that office anonymously if you would prefer not to disclose your identity.

Technology Recommendations

To effectively participate in this course, regardless of mode of instruction, the university recommends you have access to a Windows or Mac computer with webcam and broadband. Your best opportunity for success in the blended UB course delivery environment (in-person, hybrid and remote) will require these minimum capabilities.

Public health compliance in a classroom setting

UB student Behavioral Requirements in all Campus Public Spaces include:

  1. Students are required to obtain and wear a high-quality, tight-fitting, high-filtration mask when aboard a UB bus or shuttle or in a clinical health care setting in accordance with current health and safety guidelines. Masks indoors and in other public campus settings are optional.
  1. Students who are regularly on campus and not fully vaccinated are required to participate in surveillance testing.
  1. Students are required to abide by New York State, federal and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) travel restrictions and precautionary quarantines.
  1. Students are required to stay home if they are sick.
  1. Students are required to follow campus and public health directives for isolation or quarantine.
  1. Should a student need to miss class due to illness, isolation or quarantine, they are required to notify their faculty to make arrangements to make up missed work.
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  1. Students dining at on-campus facilities are expected to follow posted information on any additional requirements specific to the dining environment.
  1. Students are responsible for following any additional directives in settings such as labs, clinical environments etc.