Colloquium, 12/4 – Elizabeth Allyn Smith

Speaker: Elizabeth Allyn Smith (UQAM)
Date & Time: Friday, December 4th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Just say ‘no’: Cross-linguistic differences in the felicity of disagreements over issues of taste and possibility

Semanticists, pragmaticists, philosophers, and others have recently been interested in disagreements arising from evaluative propositions (especially those containing so-called “predicates of personal taste”), as in (1), and their theoretical implications, especially the mechanism behind the difference between (1) and (2).

(1) A: This soup is tasty. B: No it isn’t.
(2) A: This soup is tasty, in my opinion. B: # No it isn’t

In this talk, I will present experimental data (in the form of offline felicity judgments) collected from English Catalan, French, and Spanish two-turn oral dialogues showing that there are differences with respect to (1) v. (2) and other similar judgments cross-linguistically that create a further puzzle. I will compare various explanations for these new data, drawing on ideas present in Stojanovic 2007, von Fintel & Gillies 2007, Bouchard 2012, Umbach 2012 and others. I will further discuss the interplay of various factors in these data, including comparison with another dialect of Spanish with known differences in cultural norms as compared to Iberian Spanish. Finally, I will propose an analysis in which different types of content affect the number and type of propositions attributed to a speaker’s discourse commitment set v. those being proposed for admission to the conversational common ground.

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron in Journal of Semantics

Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón’s article “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost” has been accepted for publication at the Journal of Semantics. Congratulations, Oriana!

Poschmann & Wagner in NLLT

Michael Wagner has a new paper out, with Claudia Poschmann, in Natural Language and Linguistic TheoryThe title is “Relative clause extraposition and prosody in German”

Whether a relative clause (RC) can be extraposed has been argued to depend both on contextual focus and on whether an RC is restrictive or appositive. However, no previous study has looked at the interaction between these two factors in restricting extraposition, despite the fact that different types of relative clauses are generally taken to differ in how they relate to focus. Furthermore, previous studies have not looked at the role of prosody in accounting for the effect of focus on extraposition, and have found contradictory results with respect to the prosodic differences between appositive and restrictive relative clauses. This paper presents the results of a production experiment on German which crosses the location of focus and the type of RC in order to explore how they interact in affecting prosody and extraposition.

Jessica Coon at NYU

Jessica Coon traveled to New York last week where she gave a colloquium talk at NYU, titled “Two types of ergative agreement and their implications for the representation of case”. This work is based on her paper recently accepted to the journal Syntax, available for download here.

Ling-Tea, 11/17 – Liz Smeets

Please join us this week for Ling-Tea at its usual time and place: Tuesday at 1:00 in Linguistics room 117.
Presenter: Liz Smeets
Title: Acquisition of object movement in Dutch

Studies of ultimate attainment in adult second-language (L2) acquisition report a disjunction between success in acquiring the syntax of the target language, on the one hand, and difficulties at the interfaces of syntax with other grammatical modules, e.g. Syntax-Discourse.
In this study I aim at investigating the acquisition of word order possibilities in Dutch and try to answer the question whether near-native speakers of Dutch are sensitive to the same restrictions on object movement as native speakers of Dutch.
To give one example of the type of sentences I look at, consider (1) and (2). We notice that an object is allowed to be moved to the first position as an answer to a question that asks about the object (see (1)), but not as an answer to a question of the What happened? type (see (2)).
(1) What did John buy?
Mangos heeft Jan gekocht
Mangos has John bought
`John bought mangos.’
(2) What happened?
#Mangos heeft Jan gekocht
Mangos has John bought
`John bought mangos.’
More specific questions I try answer are the following:
1. Do different kinds of movements show different kids of difficulties in acquisition (if any): I compare movement to A’-positions (prefield) with movement to A-positions (over adverbs in the middlefield).
2. Are difficulties in successful performance dependent on influence of the L1 of the language learners (I compare learners of Dutch with either German or English as an L1).
3. Is there a difference between object movement that affects truth conditions with object movement that affects felicity.
In December I will run this study in the Netherlands and I am working on the design. During this presentation I wish to share the design and discuss potential problems and considerations I have regarding the conditions that are tested and the way experimental stimuli is presented to the participants. All your comments are very welcome!

Colloquium, 11/20 – Meaghan Fowlie

Speaker: Meaghan Fowlie (McGill)
Date & Time: Friday, November 20th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Modelling and Learning Adjuncts

Adjuncts have among their properties optionality and iterability, which are usually accounted for with a grammar in which the presence or absence of an adjunct does not affect the state of the derivation. For example, in a phrase structure grammar with rules like NP -> AP NP, we have an NP whether or not we have an adjective. However, certain adjuncts like adverbs and adjectives are often quite strictly ordered, which cannot be accounted for with a model that treats a phrase the same regardless of the presence of another adjunct: whether or not a particular adjunct has adjoined affects whether or not another adjunct may adjoin. I present a minimalist model that can handle all of these properties.

In terms of learning, I cover three topics: language learning algorithms and how they handle optionality and repetition; an artificial language learning experiment about repetition, and, just for fun, the use of machine learning to analyse the song of the California Thrasher, showing that their unbounded repetition lends itself much better to a human-language-like grammar than simple transitional probabilities.

Colloquium, 11/6 – Mark Baker

Please join us for our next colloquium.

Speaker: Mark Baker (Rutgers), presenting joint work with Ruth Kramer  (Georgetown University)

Date & Time: Friday, November 6th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Doubling Clitics are Pronouns: Agree, Move, Reduce, and Interpret


Linguistic theory has had a remarkably difficult time arriving at any consensus about how to distinguish between clitic doubling and agreement in a way that is robust and applicable across languages. Familiar diagnostics disagree in some languages, and this uncertainly detracts seriously from our ability to discern theoretically significant typological patterns that concern agreement (for example). In this talk, we revisit this topic, beginning with a close look at “object markers” (OMs) in Amharic, like əw in (1)

(1) Ləmma (wɨʃʃa-w-ɨn) j-aj-(əw)-al.

Lemma dog-DEF-ACC 3mS-see-3mO-AUX(3mS)

‘Lemma sees it/the dog.’ (OK with əw or with ‘the dog’ or both)

These OMs turn out to be impossible with an interesting range of direct objects, including indefinite objects, quantified objects, anaphoric reflexive objects, and objects that contain a bound variable. We claim that these restrictions are quite mysterious if OMs are analyzed as manifestations of object agreement—even if the Agree-based theory is supplemented with a new feature like [+specificity] or if agreement is fed by Object Shift as known from Dutch and German. In contrast, the constraints can be derived from known principles of syntax (or the syntax-semantics interface) like the Weak Crossover Condition and the Binding theory if one assumes that the OMs are pronouns and interpreted as such at LF.

This leads us not only to a clitic-doubling analysis, but to a particular kind of clitic doubling derivation that has its own theoretical interest. We argue that v Agrees with the object and attracts the object to SpecvP. Then a novel process of Reduce applies in the syntax, to transform the moved DP into a bare D head. This D-head with its phi-features then counts as the pronoun at LF. This view can be contrasted with the m-merger of Matushansky (2006) and subsequent work, which has similar aspirations but crucially applies at PF, where it cannot feed LF conditions, and conflates Reduce with the attachment of the clitic to the verb. By way of extension, we show that Amharic also has an unusual kind of prepositional clitic, which is problematic for an Agree-approach, but can follow from our Move-and-Reduce approach.

We close with some preliminary typological results, claiming that the diagnostic implied by our analysis also works for familiar cases of clitic doubling in IE languages (Spanish, Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian). Object markers in Burushaski and Sambaa, however, clearly pattern as simple agreement markers by this test. In contrast, influential recent diagnostics by Preminger (2009) and Nevins (2011) say that OMs in these two languages are clitics. We claim that our diagnostic is the more significant one, because it is firmly grounded in established syntactic principles, and because gets at the heart of the conceptual difference between agreement and clitics—namely whether there is value added by saying that the morpheme in question is pronominal or not.

Gui Garcia presentations

Gui Garcia has presented at several conferences this semester in addition to NWAV 44 :

(2015) Garcia, G. D. The second language acquisition of weight and stress: Extrametricality and default stress. Second Language Research Forum (SLRF 34), Oct 29-31, Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA. (talk)

(2015) Garcia, G. D. Extrametricality and second language acquisition. Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP), Oct 9-11, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. (poster)

(2015) Garcia, G. D. A statistical approach to stress in Portuguese. Hispanic Linguistics Symposium (HLS), Sep 24-27, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, USA. (poster)


Ling-Tea, 10/27 – Jessica Coon

Please join us this week for Ling-Tea at its usual time and place: Tuesday at 1:00 in Linguistics room 117.
Presenter: Jessica Coon
Title: Unergatives, antipassives, and the underspecification of roots: Evidence from Chuj (a practice talk for CILLA XII)
Abstract: The suffix -w in Chuj (Q’anjob’alan) is found in two different environments: (i) “incorporation antipassives”, and (ii) certain denominal intransitive verbs (unergatives). In both, the result is an intransitive verb stem. In this talk, I propose that these two uses of the suffix -w can be unified under an account in which -w is a verbal suffix (i.e. a Voice head) which combines with a root to form an intransitive verbal stem with a single agentive external argument. Crucially, this unification relies on the ability for -w to combine with apparently different types of roots: transitive verb roots which have incorporated bare NP objects, nominal roots, as well as “positional” roots. I argue that the most elegant account of these facts is one in which roots are underspecified for lexical category (see e.g. Halle and Marantz 1993; Arad 2003 in general, and Lois 2011 on Mayan). This analysis also has implications for the status of antipassives. Under this view, the Chuj antipassive is not derived from a transitive. Rather, both transitive and antipassive stems are formed directly from a root.

WSRG group, 10/30

The next WSRG meeting is on Friday, October 30th, at 12 p.m. in room 117.

Reading: Grandi, Nicola and Fabio Montermini. 2005.  Prefix-Suffix Neutrality In Evaluative Morphology In G. Booij, E. Guevara, A. Ralli, S. Sgroi & S. Scalise (eds.), Morphology and Linguistic Typology, On-line Proceedings of the Fourth Mediterranean Morphology Meeting (MMM4) Catania 21-23 September 2003, University of Bologna, 2005.

Presenter: Francesco Gentile

McGill at NWAV 44

McGill was well-represented in talks and posters presented at the 44th New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference held at the University of Toronto October 22-25:

  • Liam Bassford (BA ’15), Peter Milne, & Morgan Sonderegger : “Attentive speech and clear speech in Quebec French diphthongization”
  • Charles Boberg: “Internal relations among the short vowels of Canadian English”
  • Natalia Brambatti Guzzo & Guilherme Garcia: “When phonological variation tells us about prosody”
  • Thomas Kettig (BA ’13) and Bodo Winter: “The Canadian Shift in production and perception: New evidence from Montreal”
  • Donghyun Kim, Louisa Bielig (BA ’15), Amanda McConnell, Ryan Kazma (BA ’15): “Variation in /AE/ in Montreal and New Brunswick English: With reference to the Canadian Shift”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne & Jeff Mielke: “Perceptual salience of vowel rhoticity in Canadian French”
  • Morgan Sonderegger, Jane Stuart-Smith, Rachel Macdonald, Thea Knowles (BA ’12), & Tamara Rathcke : “Stability and change in Scottish stops: a real-time study of three acoustic cues in Glasgwegian vernacular”

Gretchen McCullouch (MA ’14) also led a Wikipedia Editathon.

Here are some of them, under the McGill crest (in the Great Hall of Hart House):


Jessica Coon and Cora Lesure at CILLA

Jessica Coon and BA Honours student Cora Lesure are at the University of Texas at Austin this week for the 7th Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA). The title of Jessica’s talk is “Inergativos, antipasivos y la categorización de raíces: Evidencia en Chuj.” Cora is presenting collaborative research with recent Postdoc Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany): “An investigation of the acoustic correlates of prosodic phrasing in Chol.”

Stuart-Smith, Sonderegger et al. in Laboratory Phonology

An article co-authored by Morgan Sonderegger has appeared in Laboratory Phonology — congratulations!

Stuart-Smith, Jane, Morgan Sonderegger, Tamara Rathcke, and Rachel Macdonald. (2015) “The private life of stops: VOT in a real-time corpus of spontaneous Glaswegian.” Laboratory Phonology 6(3-4): 505–549.

While voice onset time (VOT) is known to be sensitive to a range of phonetic and linguistic factors, much less is known about VOT in spontaneous speech, since most studies consider stops in single words, in sentences, and/or in read speech. Scottish English is typically said to show less aspirated voiceless stops than other varieties of English, but there is also variation, ranging from unaspirated stops in vernacular speakers to more aspirated stops in Scottish Standard English; change in the vernacular has also been suggested. This paper presents results from a study which used a fast, semi-automated procedure for analyzing positive VOT, and applied it to stressed syllable-initial stops from a real- and apparent-time corpus of naturally-occurring spontaneous Glaswegian vernacular speech. We confirm significant effects on VOT for place of articulation and local speaking rate, and trends for vowel height and lexical frequency. With respect to time, our results are not consistent with previous work reporting generally shorter VOT in elderly speakers, since our results from models which control for local speech rate show lengthening over real-time in the elderly speakers in our sample. Overall, our findings suggest that VOT in both voiceless and voiced stops is lengthening over the course of the twentieth century in this variety of Scottish English. They also support observations from other studies, both from Scotland and beyond, indicating that gradient shifts along the VOT continuum reflect subtle sociolinguistic control.


Ling-Tea, 10/20 – Aron Hirsch

Aron Hirsch (MIT, McGill BA) will be presenting at Ling-Tea this week.

Coordinates: Tuesday 10/20, 1:00pm–2:00pm in Linguistics 117

Title: A compositional semantics for wh-ever free relatives

The abstract can be found here.

Colloquium, 10/23 – Danny Fox

Speaker: Danny Fox (MIT), presenting joint work with Kyle Johnson (UMass)
Date & Time: Friday, October 23rd at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Quantifier Raising as Restrictor Sharing – Evidence from Hydra and Extaposition with Split Antecedents


The goals of this talk are the following:

  • To provide an account of Hydra (Every boy and (every) girl who like each other should have a play date) and Extraposition with Split Antecedents (ESA, A boy came in and a girl left who like each other), along the lines of Zhang 2007.
  • To explain how the account argues for the following conclusions (Johnson 2011):

a.     Quantifier Raising involves movement not of a QP but of the quantifiers restrictor. More specifically:

1.     Quantifier words are covert and “late merged” in the QPs scope position

2.     Quantifier words are morphologically realized on lower heads in the QP.

b.     This should be embedded in a theory in which a moved constituent has more than one mother (multi-dominance).

  • To provide a semantics for the lower hosting head (inspired by Champollion 2015).

Simonenko in Journal of Semantics

Recent McGill PhD Sasha Simonenko’s paper “Semantics of DP Islands: The Case of Questions” has just appeared online in Journal of Semantics, and can be found here. This work grew out of her dissertation, defended in 2014. Congratulations, Sasha!

This article provides a semantic–pragmatic answer to the question of why some definite DPs are islands for wh-subextraction while others are not. While it was suggested as early as in Chomsky (1973) that the key to the problem are differences between determiners involved, there has been no analysis which would be based on independently attested properties of the determiners. This article focuses on the contrast in wh-subextraction between DPs with two kinds of definite articles, the so-called weak and strong ones, in Austro-Bavarian German, recorded in Brugger and Prinzhorn (1996). The analysis I offer makes use of the recent works showing that weak and strong definite articles can have different semantics. In particular, to account for the use and distribution of German strong articles, Schwarz (2009) assumes a semantics which routinely results in directly referential readings of the DPs headed by such articles. I show that, assuming a classic Hamblin/Karttunen semantics for questions, cases of wh-subextraction out of directly referential DPs would result in a trivial question which presupposes the asserted content of its possible answers. More broadly, this work aligns with a series of semantic–pragmatic analyses of constraints on island formation (Szabolcsi & Zwarts 1993; Fox & Hackl 2006; Oshima 2007; Abrusán 2008; Abrusán & Spector 2011; B. Schwarz & Shimoyama 2011; Mayr 2013).


Meaghan Fowlie at Workshop on Minimalist Parsing

Postdoctoral fellow Meaghan Fowlie gave an invited talk at Computation, Language, Biology: Workshop on Minimalist Parsing held at MIT October 10th and 11th. The title of her talk was “Parsing Adjuncts”, and the slides can be found on her website.

Ling-Tea, 10/13 – Dan Goodhue

Dan Goodhue will be presenting at Ling-Tea this week.

Coordinates: Tuesday 10/13, 1:00pm–2:00pm in Linguistics 117

Title: Epistemic must is not evidential, it’s epistemic

This paper discusses the felicity conditions that hold on must p utterances. von Fintel (2010) argue that must p entails p, and that intuitions that must p expresses a lack of confidence can be explained as an indirect evidential signal. I offer new empirical data that shows that evidentiality does not explain felicity judgments for epistemic must utterances. To account for the new data, I propose a different generalization which so far has not been systematically compared to the evidential account: must p is felicitous only if the speaker’s knowledge does not entail p. I suggest that this proposal paves the way for the felicity conditions of epistemic $must$ to be derived as a conversational

Hadas Kotek at IATL

This week postdoctoral fellow Hadas Kotek will be presenting a talk at the Israeli Association for Theoretical Linguistics (IATL). The title of her talk is: “On the semantics of wh-questions”.


Bernhard Schwarz at CSSP

Bernhard Schwarz was in Paris, presenting collaborative work with Sasha Simonenko (McGill PhD 2014) at CSSP, the Colloque de Syntaxe et Sémantique à Paris. The title of their presentation was “Two pragmatic accounts of factive islands” and the rest of the program can be found here.
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