Colloquium, 2/8 – Stefan Keine

Speaker: Stefan Keine (UMass Amherst)

When: Monday February 8, 3:30pm

Where: Arts Building, 145

Title: Selective Opacity


In this talk, I develop a systematic account of selective opacity effects, wherein one and the same constituent is opaque for one operation but transparent for another. Classical observations of selective opacity lie in the realm of movement. Finite clauses, for instance, are opaque for A-movement but transparent for A’-movement. This pattern generalizes above and beyond the A/A’-distinction. Recent research has shown that locality mismatches between movement types are not arbitrary, but subject to systematic restrictions (Williams 2003, 2011, Abels 2007, 2012, Müller 2014). For example, recent research has argued that the locality of a movement type is related to the height of its landing site in the clausal spine: Movement that targets a structurally high position (like A’-movement) is able to escape more domains that movement that lands in a structurally low position (like A-movement).
I propose an account of selective opacity that not only allows for locality mismatches, but also derives restrictions on these mismatches. First, based on a case study of selective opacity in Hindi/Urdu, I show that the phenomenon is not restricted to movement, but also encompasses phi-agreement and in-situ wh-licensing. Second, I conclude from this insight that selective opacity involves a restriction in the operation Agree, not movement itself. In particular, I propose that Agree-probes differ in what constituents they may or may not search into. Third, I show how this account derives various restrictions on locality mismatches. For example, it derives in a principled way the connection between a probe’s structural height and its locality profile.
In this way, the account unifies, in a systematic and novel way, selective opacity across operations and constructions, mismatches between the locality of movement and agreement, and intricate interactions between movement types and agreement.

Ergativity Lab, 2/9

The Ergativity Lab is starting weekly meetings this semester on Tuesdays at 11-12 in room 002.

This week we will be discussing Baker and Bobaljik (2015) On Inherent and Dependent Theories of Ergative Case.

You can keep up to date on Ergativity Lab happenings at If you would like to be on the ergativity mailing list, please write to

Guest lecture in Syntax 4, 2/10 – Bogal-Allbritten

This Wednesday (Feb 10), 2:35 – 3:25 pm (Room 117), there will be a guest lecturer via Skype in Syntax 4/Seminar in Syntax. Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (postdoctoral researcher at Simon Fraser University) will report on recent fieldwork-findings on Navajo internally-headed relative clauses. All are welcome!

Word Structure Research Group, 2/11

The next meeting is on Thursday, 8th February, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM, Room DS-3470 (Please note room change; the new room is in the same building that hosts the département de linguistique)

Topic: Morpheme Order: Generalized U20 vs. Local Dislocation vs. ‘tucking in’
Koopman, H. 2015. A Note on Huave morpheme ordering: Local dislocation or (generalized) U20? Ms. UCLA, October 2015 (the second part of this paper will be discussed)
Koopman, Hilda. 2015. Generalized U20 and Morpheme Order. Ms. UCLA, October 2015 (fairly long read!)

Presenters: Lisa Travis and Máire Noonan

All are welcome!


McGill at BLS


McGill affiliates of past and present at BLS: Joe Pater (UMass Amherst; McGill PhD ’97), Matt Pearson (Reed College; McGill visiting scholar), Ileana Paul (Western Ontario; McGill PhD ’00), Maayan Adar (UCLA; McGill MA ’14), Joey Sabbagh (UT Arlington; McGill Postdoc ’05-’07), Henrison Hsieh (McGill), Lisa Travis (McGill)

Colloquium, 2/1 – Jim Wood

Speaker: Jim Wood (Yale)

When: Monday February 1, 3:30pm

Where: Arts 145

Title: What is Case?


Case marking, in languages that have it, is a bit of mystery. It straddles the line between the systematic and the idiosyncratic. It follows regular rules, but allows a wide array of exceptions to those rules. It is trying to tell us something—even many things—about how natural language works, but what exactly is it telling us?

Standard treatments of case would have us believe that case tells us something about where a DP ends up—its final, licensing position (prior to any A’-dependencies). I will argue, to the contrary, that case tells us more about where a DP comes from than where it ends up, and that this holds even for “structural” cases like accusative.

I will make this point by probing the peculiar properties of accusative subjects in Icelandic. Although accusative subjects are often thought to be among the most idiosyncratic patterns of case marking, I will show that the various dimensions of idiosyncrasy coalesce under the following conclusion: accusative subjects are the promoted objects of hidden transitives.

This conclusion explains a range of facts that span the syntax, semantics and morphology. But it should force us to come to grips with its corollary: case can’t be about where a DP ends up, in the standard, licensing sense. A structural accusative object can, in the right circumstances, move to the subject position. What needs to be explained is why this doesn’t happen more often, and I will propose that the answer stems from the locality of A-dependencies.

Colloquium, 2/4 – Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)

When: Thursday February 4, 3:30pm

Where: MAASS Building, room 217

Title:  A case for conjunction reduction


And can apparently conjoin constituents of any syntactic category.  This distribution seems at odds with a possible hypothesis about the semantics of and: that and has a parallel semantics to the connective ‘&’ of propositional logic and composes with arguments denoting truth-values (type t). Given this hypothesis, examples where and appears to conjoin constituents not of type t are puzzling.  I focus on examples like (1), where and apparently conjoins object DPs.

(1) John saw [every student] and [every professor].

I provide new evidence that the grammar makes available a mechanism of conjunction reduction (‘CR’; e.g. Ross 1967, Schein 2014) by which and may conjoin constituents of type t, even when it appears to conjoin constituents not of type t.  CR is supported empirically: the extra structure associated with CR is required to host adverbs, derive scope readings, and license ellipsis.  CR is also supported theoretically: CR is a predicted epiphenomenon of independently needed syntactic mechanisms.

After arguing that CR is available, I discuss data which are most straightforwardly understood if (1) must be parsed with CR, i.e. consistent with the semantic hypothesis, every student and every professor cannot be directly conjoined.  This result has implications for a broad set of constructions, as I illustrate in the final part of the talk with clefts and right node raising.

Michael Hamilton to Florida Atlantic University

Congratulations to recent McGill PhD Michael Hamilton, who has just accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Linguistics Department at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. Mike finished his PhD in 2015 and is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. Nice work Mike!

McGill at BLS 42

Henrison Hsieh and Lisa Travis will head to Berkeley later this week for the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Henrison’s talk is titled “Distinguishing nouns and verbs: Against the nominalist hypothesis for Tagalog” and Lisa will present “The position of Out of Control morphemes in Malagasy and Tagalog.”

Colloquium, 1/25 – Timothy J. O’Donnell

Speaker: Timothy J. O’Donnell (MIT)

When: Monday January 25th, 3:30pm

Where: Arts 145

Title:  Productivity and Reuse in Language


A much-celebrated aspect of language is the way in which it allows us to express and comprehend an unbounded number of thoughts. This property is made possible because language consists of several combinatorial systems which can be used to productively build novel forms using a large inventory of stored, reusable parts: the lexicon.

For any given language, however, there are many more potentially storable units of structure than are actually used in practice — each giving rise to many ways of forming novel expressions. For example, English contains suffixes which are highly productive and generalizable (e.g., -ness; Lady-Gagaesqueness, pine-scentedness) and suffixes which can only be reused in specific words, and cannot be generalized (e.g., -th; truth, width, warmth). How are such differences in generalizability and reusability represented? What are the basic, stored building blocks at each level of linguistic structure? When is productive computation licensed and when is it not? How can the child acquire these systems of knowledge?

I will discuss a theoretical framework designed to address these questions. The approach is based on the idea that the problem of productivity and reuse can be solved by optimizing a tradeoff between a pressure to store fewer, more reusable lexical items and a pressure to account for each linguistic expression with as little computation as possible. I will show how this approach addresses a number of problems in English inflectional and derivational morphology, and briefly discuss it’s applications to other domains of linguistic structure.

Word Structure Research Group, 1/28

The next meeting is on Thursday, 28th January, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM, Room DS-3470 (Please note room change; the new room is in the same building that hosts the département de linguistique)

Reading: Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Directional asymmetries in the morphology and phonology of words, with special reference to Bantu. Linguistics 46–2: 309–350. DOI 10.1515/LING.2008.012 (Part 2)
Presenter: Glyne Piggott

All are welcome!

Word Structure Research Group, 1/21

The next meeting is on Thursday, 21st January, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM, Room A-1875

Reading: Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Directional asymmetries in the morphology and phonology of words, with special reference to Bantu. Linguistics 46–2: 309–350. DOI 10.1515/LING.2008.012  
: Glyne Piggott

All are welcome!

Note: A is the Hubert-Aquin building. If you’re coming in from the metro, go straight instead of turning down the hallway to De-Sève, and you will soon hit an escalator on your right that goes up into A. If you’re coming from outside, A is the building on the south-east corner of Ste. Catherine and St. Denis.

Colloquium, 1/21 – Claire Halpert

Speaker: Claire Halpert (University of Minnesota)

When: Thursday January 21st, 3:30pm

Where: MAASS 217 (801 Sherbrooke Ouest)

Title:  It takes a village to raise a subject


In this talk, I analyze cross-linguistic variation that arises in raising-to-subject constructions.  Many current theories of raising-to-subject are built around the English pattern shown below, where (1) and (2) are grammatical but (3) is not:

(1) It seems that Sipho made bread.
(2) Sipho seems to have made bread.
(3) *Sipho seems that made bread.

Certain varieties of Zulu, by contrast, show nearly the opposite pattern, a situation that is incompatible with current theoretical accounts.  I propose a unified account for the derivation of hyper-raising and standard raising. I argue that the presence or absence of these constructions in a given language can be determined by independent properties of CP and TP in the language, including: 1) whether CPs or infinitival phrases are phi-goals in the language and 2) the presence of an EPP effect on T and (and how it can be satisfied), and 3) how embedded clauses combine with matrix predicates. I show that variation in these factors can capture the different raising profiles found in Zulu, Makhuwa, and English, and Uyghur and gives us a new tool to investigate differences in this domain more generally.

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership publication

A paper documenting the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership––a collaborative language partnership involving the Listuguj Education Directorate and McGill and Concordia linguists––was just published in the Journal of Language Documentation and ConservationAuthors include McGill BA alums Carol-Rose Little (Cornell) and Elise McClay (UBC), Listuguj community member Travis Wysote, and project PI Jessica Coon.

Cora Lesure at Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event

Recent BA graduate Cora Lesure will be presenting work from her Summer 2015 ARIA award at this year’s Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event. The event takes place Tuesday January 19th at 4:30. This work formed part of her Honours thesis, which she completed this past semester co-supervised by Jessica Coon and recent postdoc, Lauren Clemens. Congrats Cora!

Sonderegger at Ohio State

Morgan Sonderegger was at The Ohio State University Jan 15-16 for their annual MLK Day Linguistics Symposium, whose topic this year was “Mathematical/Computational Modeling and Tools in and for Historical Linguistics”. He gave a plenary talk titled “The medium-term dynamics of accents on reality television”.

Words Group Meetings this Term

This term the Word Structure Research Group (WSRG) meets on Thursday 10:30 a.m. at UQAM. The group will continue with the topic of prefix-suffix asymmetries and will then pass on to the distinction between clitics and affixes (particularly prefixes).

First meeting: Thursday, 14th January, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM (
room TBA)   

Reading: Abels, K. and A. Neeleman. 2012. Linear Asymmetries and the LCA. Syntax 15.1:25-74. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9612.2011.00163.x 
: Richard Compton and Tom Leu

Upcoming topics

-Phonological asymmetries: 
Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Directional asymmetries in the morphology and phonology of words, with special reference to Bantu. Linguistics 46–2: 309–350. DOI 10.1515/LING.2008.012  

- Morpheme Order: Generalized U20 or Local Dislocation? 
Koopman, H. 2015. A Note on Huave morpheme ordering: Local dislocation or (generalized) U20?Ms. UCLA, October 2015
Koopman, Hilda. 2015. Generalized U20 and Morpheme Order. Ms. UCLA, October 2015

Articles not electronically accessible will be posted in a shared dropbox folder.

All are welcome!

Welcome back!

Happy New Year from McLing and welcome to the Winter 2016 semester! As you enjoy your last days of break, please continue to send us your linguistics-related news (

Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

Phonology 4, LING 635 /

Seminar in Phonology, LING 735

Winter 2016, Morgan Sonderegger

TR 9:05-10:25 am, 1085 Dr. Penfield Rm 117
This year’s LING 635/735 will again address phenomena where physical implementation (“phonetics”) and symbolic patterning (“phonology”) of sounds are intertwined — the “phonetics/phonology interface”.  The course has two goals: to gain familiarity with core theoretical issues and phenomena in this domain, and to carry out a cross-linguistic research project as a class investigating them using data from speech corpora.
After reading core background literature, we will move on to 3-4 unsettled theoretical questions, such as:
  • What feature set should be used to describe laryngeal contrasts cross-linguistically?
  • Is contrast neutralization best described in terms of prosodic position (e.g. “devoicing in coda”) or acoustic cues (e.g. “devoicing where burst cues are not available”)?
where the cross-linguistic empirical facts are not clear.
For each question:
  1. we will read core theoretical/experimental papers
  2. each student will gather relevant data from their language (using Speech Corpus Tools, currently under development by Michael McAuliffe in our department, plus scouring previous work), and visualize patterns in this data
  3. we will use the resulting cross-linguistic typology to (hopefully) shed light on the theoretical question.
Each student will work with a single speech corpus from one language over the whole semester (with each student taking a different language).

Course announcement: Syntax 4 / Seminar in Syntax

Syntax 4, LING 675 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 775

Winter 2016, Junko Shimoyama

MW 2:35-3:55 pm, 1085 Dr. Penfield Rm 117
This course explores current cross-linguistic issues in syntax and its interfaces. Through in-depth investigations of particular issues, students will learn skills necessary to do independent research, such as (i) constructing arguments by carefully following logical steps, (ii) formulating hypotheses and exploring their consequences, (iii) finding empirical puzzles and developing them into research questions for a project.
This year, we will explore selected topics in understudied corners of various types of relativization phenomena cross-linguistically. Specific topics include: relativization and nominalization, special case-marking in relative clauses, internally-headed relative clauses and their relations (if any) to pseudo-relatives in Romance.


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