McGill at DGfS 2018

Justin Royer traveled to the University of Stuttgart in Germany where he presented some of his research at the 40th annual conference of the German Linguistics Society (DGfS). His talk was titled Specificity, (in)definiteness, and noun classifiers in Chuj (Mayan). 

Justin Royer receives Mitacs Award

Justin Royer has received a Mitacs award to do fieldwork in Mexico this summer. He will be doing fieldwork on Chuj and will also spend some time at CIESAS (centro de investigaciones y estudios superiores en antropología social) with Prof. Roberto Zavala.


McGill at ConCALL 3

Clint Parker presented some of his recent research on alignment in Shughni at the third Conference on Central Asian Languages and Linguistics (ConCALL 3) at Indiana University March 2-4. His talk was titled Vestigial Ergativity in Shughni: Typology and Analysis.

McGill at Current Issues in Comparative Syntax

Jessica Coon presented a talk at the workshop Current Issues in Comparative Syntax, held last week at the National University Singapore. Her talk was titled “Feature Gluttony and the Syntax of Hierarchy Effects” (joint work with Stefan Keine). Other past McGill affiliates were also in attendance:

Mitcho Erlewine (former McGill post-doc), Jessica Coon, Mark Baker (former McGill faculty)

Colloquium: Susana Béjar, 23/02

Susana Béjar from the University of Toronto will giving a talk entitled “Person, Agree, and Derived Predicates” as part of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series on Friday, February 23th at 3:30pm in room 433 of the Education Building. All are welcome to attend! For the abstract and for any other colloquium information, please visit the Colloquium Series web page:

P* Reading Group, 2/22

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Thursday (Feb. 22) 11:30 am -12:30 pm in Room 117, Sarah will lead a discussion of Ingvalson et al. (2017). “Non-native speech learning in older adults”. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 148. Everyone is welcome!

McGill at BLS 44

Berkeley Linguistics Society Meeting 44 took place on 9-11th February 2018. McGill’s linguists of past and present attended and gave the following presentations:

  • Ileana Paul & Lisa Travis: Pronoun-Noun constructions in Malagasy: variation and change
  • Gabriel Daitzchman: The most specific person: Morphological decomposition and analysis of Hebrew π
  • Carol-Rose Little: A feature-based analysis of the Ch’ol (Mayan) person paradigm
  • Lauren Clemens: Verb-initial word order in Mayan languages: Causes and consequences

Gabe Daitzchman, Ileana Paul, Carol-Rose Little, Lauren Clemens, Lisa Travis, Martha Schwartz

WORDS Group, 2/13

The next meeting of the Word Structure Research Group will take place Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 12-1:30pm, in DS-3470 at UQAM ( We will be discussing Vogel (2009).

Everyone is welcome!

Daniel Goodhue defends dissertation

Congratulations to Daniel Goodhue, who defended his dissertations on 9th February 2018! Daniel’s dissertation, supervised by Michael Wagner and co-supervised by Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Bernhard Schwarz  is titled “On asking and answering biased polar questions.” Congratulations, Dan!

Luis Alonso-Ovalle, Bernhard Schwarz, Daniel Goodhue, Michael Wagner

Job talk by Suzi Lima, 2/5

This week, our department will be visited by a job candidate, Suzi Lima (UofT). Below, you can find the abstract for her talk, with details about location and time.

On the acquisition of object denoting nouns

Suzi Lima, University of Toronto, Wilson Hall WPRoom 3:30pm.

In classical theories of countability, the minimal elements in the extension of count nouns are atoms, and the material parts of these atoms are not themselves part of the extension of the nouns (cf. Link 1983, Chierchia 1998, 2010 among many others). According to these theories, grammatical atomicity (what counts as an atom for purposes of counting in language) is strongly associated with natural atomicity (what constitutes as an individual of the kind described by a noun). Against this view, Rothstein (2010) argues that natural atomicity is neither required nor necessary for grammatical counting. Rothstein (2010) argues that atoms can be contextually defined. That is, count nouns like fence, wall and bouquet denote “different sets of atoms depending on the context of interpretation”. For example, what counts as a wall-atom in a particular context (the four wall-sides of a castle that we can consider as ‘a wall’) might not count as a wall-atom in a different context (the north wall of a castle, which we can also name as ‘a wall’). Empirical facts across languages provide ample evidence that discrete individuals are not necessarily countable (see object mass nouns such as furniture in English) and that nouns that denote substances are not necessarily uncountable (cf. Mathieu 2012, Lima 2014 among many others). Such evidence suggests a strong dissociation between natural and semantic atomicity. Given this debate, the question we intend to address in this talk is whether the conceptual content of a noun and natural atomicity bias how units of individuation are determined. More specifically, we are investigating whether contextually determined individuals, more specifically, partitions of discrete individuals, can be considered as atoms.

Acquisition of countability The debate about whether the conceptual content of a noun determines how atoms are determined in grammar is a topic of interest for both formal semantics and developmental psychology studies. A series of studies in developmental psychology suggests that although the lexical content of nouns plays a role in the identification of atoms in their extensions (Carey, 2009; Macnamara, 1986; Xu, 2007), natural atomicity is not required for grammatical counting. Acquisition studies suggest that until 7 years of age children count parts of individuals of a certain kind (e.g. pieces of forks) as if they were themselves individuals of that kind (e.g. individual forks; cf. Shipley and Shepperson 1990). Srinivasan et al. (2013) replicate these results and in addition have shown that children cease to treat parts of individuals as whole individuals once they recognize that (pseudo)partitive constructions (e.g. “piece of”) and measure phrases are more informative descriptions for parts of objects.

Proposal First, we argue that a proper semantic analysis of aforementioned acquisition facts require the adoption of a theory of countability in which not only natural atoms but also their material parts belong to the extension of count nouns. To illustrate, both a whole banana and a piece of a banana belong to the extension of the noun “banana”. Secondly, we argue in favor of a blocking mechanism that prevents speakers to refer to parts of individuals using an unmodified count noun when pseudopartitive constructions or measure phrases are available to refer to these parts. Evidence for this mechanism will be based on three experimental studies with speakers of Yudja, a Tupi language spoken in Brazil that has low frequency (pseudo)partitive constructions and no measure phrases.

WORDS Group Meeting, 2/6

The next meeting of the Word Research Group will take place on Tuesday, February 6th, 12-1:30pm, in room 002 of the Department of Linguistics at McGill (1085 Dr. Penfield). We will be discussing Booij (1996).

Booij, G. (1996). Cliticization as prosodic integration: The case of Dutch. The Linguistic Review 13. 219-242.

P* Reading Group, 2/8

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Thursday (Feb. 8) 11:30 am -12:30 pm in Room 117, Yeong will lead a discussion of Garellek, M., Ritchart, A., & Kuang, J. (2016). “Breathy voice during nasality: A cross-linguistic study”. Journal of Phonetics, , 59, 110-121. Everyone is welcome!

Daniel Goodhue’s dissertation defence, 2/9

McGill University

Department of Linguistics

Daniel Goodhue

Ph.D. Oral Defence


On asking and answering biased polar questions

Friday, February 9th, 2018

at 3:00 pm

in the Arts Bldg. Rm. 160

followed by a reception in the lounge (rm. 212)

WORDS Group, 1/30

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Tuesday 30th January, 12-2pm, in DS-3470 at UQAM ( This week, we will be discussing Nespor and Vogel (1986, chap.5).

Everyone is welcome!

Welcome new postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo!

Natália Brambatti Guzzo who was previously already affiliated with our department became a post-doc here  on January 1st 2018.

Natália’s main interests are phonology, phonology-syntax interface, and L2 acquisition. Her research programme explores topics in prosodic phonology, such as (i) the ways in which prosodic domains can be identified based on phonological and phonetic evidence, and (ii) how second language learners and speakers in contexts of language contact deal with competing prosodic representations.



Goodhue published in Semantics & Pragmatics, and Goodhue & Wagner published in Glossa

Daniel Goodhue’s paper “Must p is felicitous only if p is not known” has recently been published in Semantics & Pragmatics.
Daniel Goodhue and Michael Wagner’s paper “Intonation, yes and no” has recently been published in Glossa. Both papers are open access.
Congratulations to both!

Jessica Coon Receives National Geographic Explorers Grant

Jessica Coon received a National Geographic Explorers Grant to fund research and documentation on Ch’ol (Mayan) during her time in Mexico this year. The title of her project is “Documenting word order variation in Mayan languages: A collection of Ch’ol narratives.” The project will involve training workshops on language documentation in several Ch’ol communities in collaboration with Ch’ol-speaking linguists; recording, transcription and publication of Ch’ol narratives; and analysis of word order variation.

Linguists at Arts Undergraduate Research Event

Linguistics undergraduates presented the results of their summer work at the Arts Annual Undergraduate Research Event, January 18th. The five students who won summer internships to conduct research with linguistics faculty members in 2017 were:

“Documentation and Revitalization of the Chuj Language”
Paulina Elias, Linguistics
Prof. Jessica Coon, Linguistics
PDF icon Paulina Elias [.pdf]

“Perceptual Discrimination of /s/ in Hearing Impaired Children”
Fiona Higgins, Linguistics
Prof. Heather Goad, Linguistics
PDF icon Fiona Higgins [.pdf]

“Understanding high adverbs in Malagasy and the nature of clefts”
Clea Stuart, Linguistics
Prof. Lisa Travis, Linguistics
PDF icon Clea Stuart [.pdf]

“How does structured variability help talker adaption?”
Claire Suh, Linguistics
Prof. Meghan Clayards, Linguistics
PDF icon Claire Suh [.pdf]

“Syntactic Representation and Processing in L2 Acquisition”
Yunxiao (Vera) Xia, Linguistics
Prof. Lydia White, Linguistics
PDF icon Yunxiao (Vera) Xia [.pdf]

Two job talks this week

This week, our department will be visited by two job candidates, Athulya Aravind (MIT) and Stefan Keine (USC). Below, you can find the abstracts for their talks, with details about location and time.

The next candidates will give their talks on the following dates (details to follow):

  • Suzi Lima (University of Toronto): Monday February 5
  • Keir Moulton (Simon Fraser): Monday February 12
  • Shota Momma (UCSD): Monday February 19

All talks will be at 3:30pm in Wilson Hall WP Room.


Athulya Aravind, MIT, Monday January 29, 3:30pm, Wilson Hall WP Room

Principles of presupposition: The view from child language

To presuppose something is to take that information for granted in a way that contrasts with asserting it. The proper characterization of presupposition–the way it enters into the compositional semantics and the way it fits into the exchange of information in communicative situations–has been at the center of long-standing debate. One class of theories treat presuppositions as categorically imposing restrictions on the conversational common ground: presuppositions must signal information that is already mutually known by all conversation participants. While principled and elegant, these theories are often empirically inadequate, as the common ground requirement is not always met in everyday conversation. A second class of theories, therefore, adopt weaker and less categorical approaches to the phenomenon that are a better fit to the empirical facts. In this talk, I present arguments from child language for the categorical treatment of presuppositions advocated by the common ground theories. Children initially adopt a view of presuppositions as uniformly placing restrictions on the conversational common ground, even in situations where these requirements may be bent. Moreover, children initially lack the ability to use presuppositions in ways that violate the common ground requirement. The developmental patterns, therefore, vindicate some of the theoretical idealizations, whose empirical validity is often masked in part due to the pragmatic sophistication of adult language users.

Stefan Keine, USC, Wednesday January 31, 3:30pm, Wilson Hall WP Room

The ups and downs of agreement (joint work with Bhamati Dash)

Agreement phenomena (e.g., subject-verb agreement) have been a central topic in the syntactic literature over the past twenty-five or so years. Recently, much interest has been paid to the question of what structural relationship must hold for agreement to arise, in particular whether agreement is upward-oriented, downward-oriented, or bidirectional. In this talk, I will present novel evidence from Hindi-Urdu that contributes to this debate about agreement. Verb agreement in Hindi normally exhibits a top-down preference: agreement is controlled by the structurally highest accessible DP. However, under the right circumstances, this directionality flips to a bottom-up preference: agreement is then preferentially established with a structurally lower element. I will argue that this pattern can be given a principled explanation if (i) a head can agree both downward and upward and if (ii) downward agreement takes derivational precedence. Taken together, these conclusions provide novel evidence for cyclic Agree (Rezac 2003). Furthermore, there is a striking locality difference between the two directions of agreement: Agreement with a lower goal can be long-distance, but agreement with a higher goal is confined to Spec-head. This indicates that Agree is not genuinely bidirectional, but that apparent upward agreement has some other source. We propose that the syntactic operation Agree is strictly downward looking (as originally in Chomsky 2000), but that probes may project (Rezac 2003). Descriptive instances of upward agreement can then be unified with downward agreement. One broader implication is that comparing the directionality of agreement with that of other dependencies, like negative concord, suggests that not all long-distance dependencies involve Agree. We furthermore show that the account proposed here affords a new view on well-known differences between A- and A’-movement with respect to agreement.

Colloquium on 1/26 postponed

This is to announce that Karen Jesney will not be giving a colloquium talk on 26th January as originally planned. The talk has been postponed. More details on the rescheduling are to be announced soon.

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