Kotek, Sudo, and Hackl in Natural Language Semantics

Postdoc Hadas Kotek‘s paper “Experimental investigations of ambiguity: the case of most” just appeared online in Natural Language Semantics. The paper is joint work with Yasutada Sudo and Martin Hackl and can be found here.

Jessica Coon at MIT

Jessica Coon gave a colloquium talk at MIT last week. The title of her talk was “Two types of ergative agreement: Implications for Dependent Case Theory.” Abstract is below.

A range of literature has shown that agreement is sensitive to morphological case (e.g. Bobaljik 2008, et seq). While the dependence of agreement on case has been robustly demonstrated, the source of morphological case remains controversial. This talk focuses on the assignment of ergative case. Under one line of approach, ergative is an inherent case, assigned by a functional head to external arguments in their thematic position (Woolford 1997; Legate 2008). On another approach, ergative is the mirror image of accusative, assigned configurationally to the higher of two arguments in some local domain (Marantz 1991; Baker & Bobaljik to appear). Through an investigation of ergative agreement systems, I argue that a Dependent Case approach is not only unmotivated for a less-studied type of ergative agreement, but also runs the risk of over-generating.

I argue that ergative-absolutive agreement patterns have two different sources. Type 1: In languages like Hindi-Urdu, agreement comes from T; morphologically case-marked ergative subjects are inaccessible for agreement, resulting in an “ergative” agreement pattern (i.e. absolutive arguments agree; see Bobaljik 2008). Type 2: In languages like Chol and Halkomelem, transitive subjects (i.e. ergative arguments) agree, and the source of this agreement is low: v (Coon to appear; Wiltschko 2006).

This talk has two main goals. First, I provide morphophonological and syntactic evidence for the existence of the less-discussed Type 2 system; specifically, I argue that ergative agreement in Chol has a low source and is the result of a direct relationship between v and the ergative subject. Second, I argue that a Dependent Case analysis––while easily able to handle the Hindi-Urdu-type agreement system––faces problems with the Chol-type agreement system. Not only must the language keep track of two different types of null case, but we are left without a way to rule out languages with nominative-accusative case and ergative-absolutive agreement, a well-known typological gap.

While Dependent Case has achieved a range of empirical coverage (e.g. Baker & Vinokurova 2010; Levin & Preminger 2015; Baker & Bobaljik to appear), the end result is one in which the mechanism of ergative case assignment––inherent or dependent––must minimally be parameterized. Given that Type 2 ergative languages lack morphological case altogether, I suggest that this may not be a bad result.

Summer plans, round 2

McLing continues its end-of-year reporting on local linguists’ summer plans:

BA students

  • Second-year Linguistics major Stephanie Gervais will be interning this summer at the Technical University of Berlin as a research assistant in Cognitive Linguistics, while also learning German.
  • Cora Lesure received an ARIA summer research internship for her Honours Thesis work on Chol phonetics and prosody. She will travel to Chiapas, Mexico in July with supervisors Lauren Clemens and Jessica Coon.

Graduate students

  • Colin Brown heads to British Columbia where he’ll be doing fieldwork this summer on Gitskan, in preparation for his MA thesis.
  • In August, Francesco Gentile is planning to head to the European Summer School in Logic, Language and Information (ESSLLI 2015), held this year at his alma mater, the Universitat Pompeu Fabra
  • Donghyun Kim will be presenting at the Korean Society of Speech Sciences Conference and also at the Linguistic Society of Korea Conference during his summer visit to Korea.


Epistemic Indefinites

Epistemic IndefinitesEpistemic Indefinites: Exploring Modality Beyond the Verbal Domain, a collected volume edited by Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Paula Menéndez-Benito has just been published by Oxford University Press. Congratulations to all contributing authors and to the editors!


Louisa Bielig at Harvard

Louisa Bielig traveled to present her Honours thesis work at the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Colloquium last week. Her talk was titled “Resumptive classifiers in Chuj high topic constructions”. The full program is available here.

Erlewine and Kotek at CLS

Postdoctoral fellows Michael Erlewine and Hadas Kotek presented at the 51st meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society last week. The title of their joint talk was “Relative pronoun pied-piping, the structure of which informs the analysis of relative clauses”. The full program can be found here.

Colloquium, 5/1 – Ming Xiang

McLing is pleased to announce a special colloquium talk this week. Please take note that the talk will be in the Arts building instead of the usual Education building.
Speaker: Ming Xiang (University of Chicago)
Date: May 1, 2015
Time: 3:30 - 5pm
Location: Arts West 120
Title: The parsing mechanism of non-local covert dependencies
Abstract: While modeling the cross-linguistic structural variation, linguistic analysis often postulates abstract “covert” representations that do not have any morpho-phonological reflexes in the surface word string. Little is known as to whether such representations are actually constructed in language comprehension and production. In this talk, I will examine the processing of Mandarin wh-in-situ questions, which share the same word order with regular declarative sentences but have a semantics identical to their English counterpart wh-questions. Drawing on data from production, eyetracking-reading, and speed-accuracy tradeoff paradigms, I will address two questions: (i) Does the parser construct a covert non-local syntactic dependency in processing? (ii) What are the parsing mechanisms that support such covert dependencies? How similar/different are they from the processing of overt non-local dependencies?
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The talk will be followed by a reception outside Arts West 120. This event is sponsored by the Mellon Foundation.

Sonderegger presents at Cornell

Morgan Sonderegger visited Cornell University last week, where he gave two talks: “The dynamics of sounds and contrasts on reality television”, as a department colloquium, and “Population dynamics in the actuation of sound change”, in the Phonetics and Phonology Reading Group.

Summer plans, round 1

McLing is collecting news about what members of the McGill Linguistics community––students, graduates, faculty, etc.––are up to this summer. Please send us your news!

BA students

  • Barbara Coelho plans to dive in to learning Scottish Gaelic this summer. Besides that, she will be researching her plan to apply to a Speech Pathology MA.
  • Emily Goodwin will be volunteering this summer in the MIDC (McGill Infant Development Centre) and taking a CompSci course.
  • Hannah Cohen, Maggie Labelle, and Madeleine Mees will be working as summer interns at Nuance here in Montreal. Maggie and Madeleine will be part of the User Interface Design team, and Hannah will be part of the Speech Science team.

Graduate students

  • Hye-Young Bang will be attending the LSA Summer Institute in Chicago, and presenting at the International Conference on Korean Linguistics in Chicago and the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences (ICPhS) in Glasgow.
  • Gui Garcia will be finishing a book chapter on the prosody of English acquisition of Quebec French with Natália B. Guzzo; teaching an intro course on R to a research group at UFRGS in Brazil; and doing some fieldwork in the the Italian Immigration Area in southern Brazil. From there, he heads to the second session of the LSA Summer Institute.
  • Daniel Goodhue is also heading to Chicago for the LSA Summer Institute.
  • Oriana Kilbourn will also be attending the LSA Summer Institute, and presenting at ICPhS in Glasgow as well.
  • Jeffrey Klassen is going to the Discourse Expectation Conference (DETEC 2015) in Edmonton, Alberta (June 17-19) to present a talk, joint with Annie Tremblay: “Anticipatory focus: Processing, transfer, and grammatical architecture in L2″.

Welcome incoming graduate students!

McLing is pleased to announce the incoming class of graduate students. We’re looking forward to seeing you all in the fall!

Jurij Bozic (UBC)
Christopher Bruno (U of Toronto)
September Cowley (McGill U)
Bing’er Jiang (Shanghai Int’l Studies U)
Xi Qin (Simon Fraser U)
Amanda Rizun (U of Massachusetts Amherst)
Martha Schwarz (Brandeis U)

Louisa Bielig at GLEEFUL

BA Honours student Louisa Bielig traveled to Michigan for GLEEFUL, the Great Lakes Expo on Experimental and Formal Undergraduate Linguistics. Louisa’s talk, “Resumptive Classifiers in Chuj High Topic Constructions”, is part of her Honours Thesis project, supervised by Jessica Coon. The full program can be found here.

Louisa, front left, with the other GLEEFUL presenters

Louisa, front left, with the other GLEEFUL presenters

Lisa Travis at “In Her Own Words”

Last week, Lisa Travis was part of a panel for McGill’s “In Her Own Words: Stories from Distinguished Research Careers”. The panel members shared experiences and advice for women interested in advancing careers in academia and university administration. Nice work Lisa!

Dr. Rosie Goldstein; Prof. Lisa Travis; Prof Suzanne Fortier; Dr. Luda Diatchenko;  Ms. Jacquie Rourke

Dr. Rosie Goldstein; Prof. Lisa Travis; Prof Suzanne Fortier; Dr. Luda Diatchenko;
Ms. Jacquie Rourke




McGill at GLOW

PhD student Michael Hamilton and postdoc Hadas Kotek are returning from presenting work at the 38th Generative Linguistics in the Old World (GLOW) conference, held April 15–18th in Paris. Hadas gave a talk titled “Inervention Everywhere!”, and Mike presented a poster, “Feature Inheritance in Clausal and Verbal Domains: Evidence from Mi’gmaq”. Welcome back!

Hadas and Mike

Hadas and Mike, GLOWing

Lauren Clemens in Toronto

Postdoc Lauren Clemens was at the University of Toronto last week where she gave an invited talk titled “The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure: A look at Chol and Niuean”. The abstract can be found here.

Charles Boberg on NPR in LA

Charles Boberg was was recently interviewed about current trends in American English dialects by Larry Mantle on the show Airtalk, on KPCC, an NPR-affiliate in Pasadena, CA, broadcasting to greater Los Angeles. The segment aired April 17th and can be heard here: http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2015/04/17/42443/vowels-shift-regional-accents-recede-what-american/

Schwarz in “Semantics and Pragmatics”

“Consistency preservation in Quantity implicature: the case of at least“, a new paper by Bernhard Schwarz has been accepted for publication in Semantics & Pragmatics. Congratulations, Bernhard!

Michael Wagner at UMass

Michael Wagner gave a colloquium talk at the University of Massachusetts Amherst last Friday. The title of his talk was “Additivity and the syntax of ‘even’”. The abstract is here.


LingTea, 4/15 – Michael Wagner

Our last LingTea of the semester will be this week:

Who: Michael Wagner
When: Wednesday, Apr. 153:00-4:00 in room 117
What: “Additivity and the syntax of ‘even’ ”

Beaver & Clark (2003, 2010) observe that certain focus operators such as ‘only’ and ‘even’ differ in various ways from focus sensitive operators such as ‘always’. This talk presents analysis that derives at least some of these differences from a difference in their syntax: ‘only’ takes two syntactic arguments, a focus constituent which can be of any type,  and a second argument, which has to compose with the first to form a proposition (following similar syntactic proposals in Rooth 1985, Mccawley 1995, Krifka 1996). The distribution of ‘only’ is further constrained by a constraint that assures that the size of the focus constituent must minimized (potentially motivated semantically, as proposed in Wagner 2006). Adverbs like ‘always’, by contrast, operate over a single argument.

A challenges to this view is the syntax of ‘even’, which seem to place it between the two categories of focus operators. We can get a better understanding of the syntax of ‘even’ once we control for whether ‘even’ is used additively or not. Whether ‘even’ carries an additive presupposition remains controversial. While Horn (1969), Karttunen and Peters (1979), Wilkinson (1996) and many others have argued that it does, Stechow (1991), Krifka (1992) and Rullmann (1997) reached the opposite conclusion. This talk identifi es a new syntactic generalization about when ‘even’ triggers an additive presupposition, which provides further evidence for the analysis of the syntax of focus operators advocated here. It also reconciles the contradictory findings about additivity in the earlier literature.  The analysis offers a new perspective on syntactic constraints on the distribution of related focus operators in German noted in Jacobs (1983) and Büring & Hartmann (2001).

LingTea, 4/8 – Hadas Kotek

Who: Hadas Kotek

When: Wednesday, Apr. 83:00-4:00 in room 117

What: “Intervention everywhere!” (GLOW practice talk)

Colloquium, 4/10 – Lisa Matthewson

This week we welcome the next speaker in our 2015 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series:
Speaker: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)
Date & Time: Friday, April 10, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: “Adventures with discourse management in Gitksan”

Discourse particles such as German ja or doch have a rich tradition of investigation (see Zimmermann 2011, Grosz 2014 for recent overviews), and continue to intrigue researchers due to the analytical challenges they pose. While discourse particles are common cross-linguistically, they are notoriously difficult even to describe accurately – let alone analyze – in a language the researcher does not speak natively. Consequently, they often remain in the ‘too difficult basket’ long after a language has undergone extensive semantic analysis. In this talk I attempt to shrink the ‘too difficult basket’ by analyzing two discourse particles in Gitksan, an endangered Tsimshianic language spoken in British Columbia, Canada.

The particles under investigation, k’ap and ist, both convey a pre-theoretic notion of ‘emphasis’. K’ap is glossed as ‘certainly, indeed, for sure’ by Rigsby (1986) and as ‘must, have to, absolutely, simply, really, no getting out of it, no two ways about it, no choice about it’ by Tarpent (1987) (in the closely related Nisga’a). Ist is glossed as ‘interact’ by Rigsby and as ‘affirmative’ by Tarpent. I argue that k’ap p is licensed when ¬p is in the Projected Set (the set of potential future common grounds at the time of utterance, Farkas and Bruce 2010). Ist p, on the other hand, conveys that the speaker wishes to downdate the current Question Under Discussion by asserting p (following Gutzmann and Castroviejo Miró’s 2011 analysis of verum focus). I show that these analyses correctly account for the distribution of the particles across a range of discourse contexts and speech act types. Several questions for future research remain, including how to account for the effect of the particles in imperatives. Larger questions are also raised about how we can account for subtle differences between k’ap and ist and similar elements (particles, verum focus) in German and English.

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