Syntax/Semantics Reading Group: David-Étienne Bouchard on Degrees (Part II), 4/25

As mentioned before,  the Syntax/Semantics Reading Group  is having a series of informal tutorials on syntax/semantics topics that have not been taught in regular courses for a while. These mini ‘crash courses’ do not presuppose any background in syntax or semantics. Every curious person is welcome to attend.

On Friday April 25, David-Étienne Bouchard will present the second part of a tutorial on degree semantics.

The purpose of this tutorial will be to provide a semantics to sentences containing a degree operator, in particular the comparative morpheme ‘more¹. In order to do this we will introduce degrees in our semantic ontology and enrich the denotations of gradable adjectives like tall and heavy. Degree operators will be treated as quantifiers over degrees and shown to have some flexibility in scope, albeit in a limited manner.

Date Presentation Background reading(s)
Friday, April 25, 2014
3:00-4:30 pm
David-Étienne Bouchard on degrees (Part II) Kennedy (1999), Projecting the Adjective, chapter 1. Heim (2001). Degree Operators and Scope.

McGill at WSCLA

McGill linguists will be heading this week to the 19th Workshop on Structure and Constituency of Languages of the Americas (WSCLA), held this year at Memorial University Newfoundland. Talks will include:

  • Mike Hamilton (invited speaker)Implications of Prosody in Mi’gmaq”
  • Jessica Coon – “Little-v Agreement: Evidence from Mayan”
  • Richard Compton – “Discerning Genuine Object Agreement from Clitics in Inuit”

The full program can be found here. Bon voyage!

Shimoyama on the Size of Noun Modifiers

Junko Shimoyama’s article (“The Size of Noun Modifiers and Degree Quantifier Movement“) has just been published in the Journal of East Asian Linguistics. Congratulations, Junko!


Brian Buccola wins teaching award

Congratulations to PhD student Brian Buccola, who is a recipient of the 2014 Faculty of Arts Graduate Student Teaching Award. These awards recognize “outstanding teaching in the Faculty of Arts by graduate students”. Congratulations Brian!

Summer internships

Congratulations to Linguistics BA students Louisa Bielig and Douglas Gordon, who have received summer internship awards from the Faculty of Arts.

Louisa received an Arts Undergraduate Research Award (ARIA) to continue her work on Mayan languages with Jessica Coon. Louisa will travel to Guatemala this summer to collect and analyze data and contribute to a database. The work will form part of her Honours thesis next year.

Douglas received a Faculty of Arts Internship Award to carry out a summer internship at the Listuguj Education Directorate where he will assist in the documentation of Mi’gmaq language classes and the creation of online language-learning material.

Congratulations both!

Walter Petersen appears in Journal of Semantics

Congratulations to Walter Petersen, whose paper “A Scalar Analysis of Again-Ambiguities” has just appeared in Journal of Semantics. You can read the paper here.

SSHRC Insight Grant to Clayards and Wagner

Meghan Clayards and Michael Wagner (Co-Applicants) were awarded a 4-year SSHRC Insight Grant ($240,750): “Breaking into the Acoustic Stream: The role of allophonic patterns in processing language”. Congratulations!

SSHRC Connection Grant to Elfner and Wagner

Emily Elfner and Michael Wagner (Co-Applicants) were awarded a 1-year Connection Grant ($14,610) for the upcoming conference “Exploring the Interfaces 3:  Prosody and Constitutent Structure” (, co-organized by Jessica Coon and Lisa Travis, and a team of graduate students (Michael Hamilton, Henrison Hsieh, Yuliya Manyakina, Liz Smeets). The SSHRC funding will complement funding from the FQRSC team grant on linguistic interfaces. Congrats!

Walter Pedersen to UofT

Congratulations to PhD student Walter Pedersen, who will a visiting Assistant Professor in Semantics at the University of Toronto this coming fall!

Weekend conference roundup

Our McLing correspondents in Chicago and Toronto report successful presentations, mingling, and karaoke (not pictured) at CLS and TOM this weekend!


Liz Smeets talks semantics at TOM

photo (1)

Jessica, Mike, and Elise post in Hyde Park


Brian Buccola in conversation at TOM

Ling Tea, 4/9 – TOM Practice Talks

This week’s Ling-Tea will feature three practice talks from our graduate students for their presentations at the upcoming TOM 7 workshop at the University of Toronto this coming Saturday.

When: Wednesday, April 9, 3:00 – 4:00 pm
Where: Room 117


  • Brian Buccola – A Blocking Solution to van Benthem’s Problem
  • Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron – Almost: Scope and Covert Exhaustification
  • Liz Smeets – The structure of the Italian Pseudo Relative: What we learn from constraints on island extraction

See you there!

Meg Grant at UQAM, 4/9

Post-doc Meg Grant will be speaking at UQAM this Wednesday at a Mercredi moins niaiseux. The talk will be in room DS-3470 from 12:40–1:45 and is titled ”Donner à une belette un œuf frais, ou donner un œuf frais à une belette? Le rôle du caractère animé dans le choix de l’ordre des constituants.” All are welcome!

Sasha Simonenko’s Dissertation Party

Sasha Simonenko successfully defended her dissertation on Friday 4. A party was held at Bernhard and Junko’s place to celebrate the event and, as usual, McLing reporters were in attendance to bring you some pictures.

Congratulations, Sasha!

McGill at CLS 50

A group of McGill linguists will travel later this week to Chicago for the 50th meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society.

Talks include Elise McClay and Michael Wagner ”Accented Unambiguous Pronouns: The Effect of Topicality and Focus”, as well as Michael Hamilton and Brandon Fry (Ottawa): “Long-Distance Agreement in Algonquian: Accounting for Syntactic Variation”. Jessica Coon will give an invited talk, “Little-v Agreement: Evidence from Mayan”.

The full program is here.

Richard Compton at GLOW 37

Post-doc Richard Compton returned this week from the 37th GLOW conference, held this year in Brussels. Richard’s poster was titled “An argument for genuine object phi-agreement in Inuit: Evidence from mood variance“. The full program can be found here.

ETI 3: Prosody and Constituent Structure

We are pleased to announce that Exploring the Interfaces (ETI) 3: Prosody and Constituent Structure will take place on McGill campus from May 8-10, 2014. The website with information about the conference, including the preliminary program, can be found here:

We are asking interested participants to register using the online form by April 25 so that we have accurate numbers for catering. The registration fee is payable in cash on the day of the conference, and will be waived for McGill students (the dinner fee is separate).
We hope to see you there!

Syntax-Phonology Reading group, 4/4

The Syntax-Phonology reading group will meet this Friday, April 4 from 11:30-1pm in room 117 for our last scheduled meeting of the semester. We will be reading two papers by Judith Aissen in preparation for ETI3. Jessica will present Aissen 1992 “Topic and focus in Mayan” and Michael will present Aissen 2000 “Prosodic conditions on anaphora and clitics in Jakeltek”. All are welcome!

Dissertation defense, 4/4 – Sasha Simonenko

Sasha Simonenko will be defending her PhD dissertation this week, details are below. All are invited to the defense.

Title:  Grammatical ingredients of definiteness

Time: Friday, April 4th at 3:00pm

Location: Education building, room 338


This dissertation presents arguments in favour of explicit Logical Form representation of components responsible for direct referentiality and domain restriction in definites, with focus on Autro-Bavarian German, Standard Swedish, and Standard Canadian English. It provides a semantico-pragmatic analysis of the ban on wh-subextraction out of DPs with the “strong” articles in Austro-Bavarian and demonstratives in English which assumes their direct referentiality. The ungrammaticality of question formation is proposed to result from the pathological uninformativeness of possible answers. The ban on wh-subextraction thus emerges as a new testing tool for direct referentiality.

I further propose an analysis of the cases where strong articles and demonstratives do not to behave directly referentially. Assuming structural decomposition of strong articles and demonstratives into a determiner head and a relational head, I propose that directly referential interpretation results from a silent individual pronoun occupying the specifier of the relational head, whereas covarying interpretations arise as a result of either a restrictive relative clause occupying this position, or else a relational noun functioning as the relational component itself. I proceed to extend this approach to account for the distribution of strong and weak definite articles in DPs with restrictive relative clauses.

In the second part I analyze the pattern of the free-standing article omission in Swedish. I identify the omission with the use of a covert restrictor-less definite article, which accounts for why it is easily available with context-sensitive modifiers whose semantics has to make reference to a domain restrictor, but is limited to the cases of “global uniqueness” with context-insensitive ones. Thus Swedish, I propose, illustrates the case of a “rudimentary” article which, if the only one available, would make the problem of incomplete descriptions unsurmountable. This conclusion relies on, and thus provides evidence for, the unavailability of either domain restriction at the NP-level or implicit global restriction of the domain of individuals as means of modelling the behaviour of Swedish definites.

McGill at TOM 7

The 7th Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal (TOM) workshop will take place this year on Saturday April 12 at the University of Toronto.

Three of our students have been accepted: Brian Buccola (“A Blocking Solution to van Benthem’s Problem”), Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón (“Almost: Scope and Covert Exhaustification”), and Liz Smeets (“The Structure of Italian Pseudo Relatives: What We Learn from Scope Judgments”, poster session.) Congratulations to them!

You can read more about TOM 7 here:

Notice that the organizers have asked those attending the conference to register before April 1st.


Ling Tea, 3/26 – Jeesun Nam

After a brief hiatus, Ling Tea is back this week!

Who: Jeesun Nam (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies)
When: Wednesday, March 26, 3:00-4:00 pm, Rm. 117
Title: Linguistic Resource-based Approach to Automatic Annotation of Polarity-Shifted Expressions


Among a vast amount of work devoted to the analysis of subjective expressions that contain opinions, evaluations or sentiments, comparatively little work has been conducted in examining polarity shifting devices (PSDs) such as negation markers (Polanyi & Zaenen 2004, Kennedy & Inkpen 2006 and Li et al. 2010). PSDs make inappropriate the assumption that the sentimental orientation of the whole text depends on the simple sum of the prior polarities of content words. For example, in the sentence I was hardly satisfied that is comprised of a positive opinion word satisfied, the polarity of whole sentence is reversed because of a PSD hardly. PSDs should be taken into consideration to properly calculate the polarity of opinion sentences.

This study presents ongoing work on a linguistic resource-based approach to automatic annotation of polarity-shifted expressions. In the literature, given that lexicon- or rule-based approaches have shown serious shortcomings such as ‘performed-on-word-level’ problems or ‘poor-recall’ problems, statistical approaches have dominated the research in opinion classification and achieved the state-of-the-art performance. However, the latter approaches rely on the availability of a large amount of human-tagged training data, and the performance is hard to improve unless more reliable linguistic information is provided.

The linguistic resources I propose in this study essentially include two types: Korean electronic dictionary DECO (Nam 2010) conceptually corresponding to the French electronic dictionary DELA constructed in LADL at Paris 7 University, and local syntactic information represented by finite-state local graphs (i.e. Local Grammar Graphs (LGGs) (Gross 1997, 1999)). The lexicon DECO provides the information of inflectional classes, POS types, and morpho-semantic properties including polarity-orientation of opinion words. The LGGs graphically represent PSDs such as negation markers (e.g. ani ‘not’), polarity-reversing predicates (e.g. silphayha- ‘(to) fail’) or concessive connectors (e.g. –ciman ‘although’) occurring in online review texts. The lexicon DECO and LGGs are applied to the detection and automatic annotation of the polarity-shifted expressions through the multi-lingual text processing platform UNITEX, compatible with the above linguistic resources (Paumier 2003, University Paris-Est-Marne-la-Vallée:

In this talk, I will briefly introduce the organization of the electronic dictionary DECO as well as those of the DELA-French and DELA-English, and the LGG formalism by illustrating some examples of the LGGs on polarity-reversed expressions in Korean and in English. Finally, I will discuss how to recognize and annotate these expressions by applying the dictionaries and LGGs to online review corpora through a freeware platform UNITEX. If time permits, I will demonstrate how to process non-European languages such as Thai or Arabic by UNITEX.

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