Author Archive for McLing

Jessica Coon at Silicon Valley Comic Con

Jessica is returning this week from San Jose, where she spent the weekend at Silicon Valley Comic Con. She gave a public lecture, “The Linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, Fieldwork, and Universal Grammar”, and participated on a panel for women in STEM. She also met some interesting characters:

Recently, she was featured on the BBC Radio 4’s “The Film Programme”. Up-to-date Arrival-related media is on her website.

McGill at Fourth Workshop on Sound Change

McGill linguists are attending the Fourth Workshop on Sound Change on 19-22 April, 2017, at the University of Edinburgh, to present their work:

  • Morgan Sonderegger, Michael McAuliffe, Hye-Young Bang: Segmental influences on F0: cross-linguistic and interspeaker variability of phonetic precursors
  • Hye-Young Bang, Morgan Sonderegger, Meghan Clayards: Speaker variability in cue weighting for laryngeal contrasts: the relationship to sound change

McGill at CLAUSE

The 2017 Canadian Linguistics Annual Undergraduate Symposium (CLAUSE̥) took place this past weekend at Concordia University. Talks by McGill linguists included:

  • Teresa Addo – Overcoming perceptual illusions: Ultimate attainment by Japanese-speaking learners of English
  • Sara Carrier-Bordeleau – Orphan prepositions as DP ellipsis
  • Sarah Mihuc – Effects of focus and word order in Kabyle
  • Victoria Poulton, Sarah Colby, Meghan Clayards – Investigating influences of working memory and inhibition on lexical frequency effects in older adults
  • Clea Stuart – Where the Malagasy adverbs are

McGill at CLAUSE: Sarah Mihuc, Sara Carrier-Bordeleau, Maya Keshev, Jacob Schermer, Helen Baer, Victoria Poulton, Clea Stuart

There were also two workshops, led by current and former McGill students Sonia Massi and Emilio Assuncao, as well as a plenary talk by McGill PhD (’08) Heather Newell (UQÀM).

Henrison Hsieh and Luis Alonso-Ovalle at AFLA

Henrison Hsieh presented collaborative work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle at the 24th meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 24), which took place this past weekend at the University of Washington in Seattle. The title of their talk was “Anchored implicatives: Tagalog ability/involuntary action“.

 

McGillians at AFLA: Ileana Paul (PhD ’00), Jozina vander Klok (PhD ’12), Tingchun Chen (BA ’10), Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (Post Doc ’14-15), Henrison Hsieh (current PhD)

 

 

Jessica Coon to UMass

Jessica travels to Amherst later this week to give a colloquium talk at UMass. The title of her talk is: “Building verbs in Chuj: Consequences for the nature of roots”.

 

Tim O’Donnell in Leiden

Tim O’Donnell was in Leiden last week for the The Comparative Biology of Language Learning workshop, held at the Lorentz Center April 3–7. He gave a talk Thursday, title and abstract below:

Bayesian Program Learning of Morphophonological Rules
Both children and linguists confront a similar problem of inference:
given utterances produced by speakers, together with aspects of the
meaning of those utterances, discover the grammatical principles that
relate form to meaning. We study this abstract computational problem
within the domain of morphophonology, contributing a computational
model that learns phenomena from many natural languages and
generalizes in humanlike ways from data used in behavioral studies of
artificial grammar learning.
Our work draws on two analogies. The child-as-linguist analogy holds
that both children and linguists must solve the same abstract
inductive reasoning problem, even though the nature of the input data
and underlying mental algorithms are surely different in precise
detail. Accordingly we isolate the problem of learning
morphophonological systems, and show that a single solution to this
problem can capture both linguistic analyses from natural languages
and infant rule learning of artificial languages. We adopt the
framework of “Bayesian Program learning” (BPL) – in which learning is
formulated a synthesizing a program which compactly describes the
input data. This learning-as-programming analogy lets us exploit
recent techniques from the field of program synthesis to induce
morphophonological rules from data. While child-as-linguist poses the
computational problem, learning-as-programming offers a solution.

Lydia Felice at ACAL

BA Honours student Lydia Felice presented a poster at the 48th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL 48), which took place March 31-April 2 at Indiana University Bloomington. Her poster, based on her Honours thesis work, was titled “On the State Distinction and Case in Kabyle Berber”.

Coon and Carolan article in Glossa

This issue of the journal Glossa includes an article by Jessica Coon and Lizzie Carolan (BA ’14): ‘Nominalization and the structure of the progressives in Chuj Mayan’. The full article is available on the Glossa page.

CLAUSE 2017 at Concordia

The 2017 Canadian Linguistics Annual Undergraduate Symposium (CLAUSE̥) is coming up this weekend, April 7th–9th, at Concordia University. Though the full program is still TBA, several McGill students will be presenting. We’ll report back with more info next week, or check the website for program updates.

Kilbourn-Cerón’s article in Journal of Semantics

Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón’s article “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost”  is one of the most read articles in Journal of Semantics, according to the journal webpage. Congratulations, Oriana!

Michael Wagner to Amsterdam

Michael served as an ‘opponent’ on Matthijs Westera‘s thesis defense in Amsterdam last week at the  Institute for Logic, Language and Computation  Universiteit van Amsterdam. The thesis is titled “Exhaustivity and Intonation. A Uni fed Theory“. While there, Michael also presented a paper on “Prosodically marking focus and givenness: What a purely pragmatic account needs to account for” in a satellite workshop to the event.

Emily Elfner to York University

McLing is pleased to report that Emily Elfner (McGill post-doc 2012–2014) has recently accepted a job as Asssistant Professor in Phonetics and Phonology at York University. Congratulations Emily!

Leon Bergen mini-course this week

Leon Bergen will be visiting McGill this week, and will be giving a mini-course on the Rational Speech Act model, and its applications. One session will take place during the regular Semantics Reading Group meeting time. The full schedule is below, all are welcome to attend:

Monday March 20, 4-5.30 (Education Building, Room 434)
Tuesday March  21, 4-5.30 (Linguistics Building, Room 117)
Thursday March 23, 12-1 (Room 117, regular lingtea time slot)
Friday March 24, 3-4.30 (Room 117, regular semantics reading group slot)

Martha Schwarz at FASAL

Martha Schwarz presented a poster on “Case Assignment in Nepali” at the Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages conference at MIT, March 4-5th. This poster grew out of her summer fieldwork in India, funded by a MITACs travel grant.

Jessica at Public Astro Night

Jessica will be giving a public lecture this week as part of the Astrophysics & Cosmology Public Astro Nights series. The talk will be Thursday, March 17th at 7pm in McIntyre Medical room 522. Weather-permitting, the talk will be followed by night-sky observations.

The Linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, Fieldwork, and Universal Grammar

If aliens arrived, could we communicate with them? How would we do it? What are the tools linguists use to decipher unknown languages? How different can human languages be from one another? Do these differences have bigger consequences for how we see the world?

The recent science-fiction film Arrival touches on these and other real questions in the field of linguistics. In Arrival, linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to translate the language of the newly-arrived Heptapods in order to answer the question everyone wants to know: why are they here? Language, it turns out, is a crucial piece of the answer.

Jessica Coon, science consultant for the linguistics in Arrival, has never worked with an alien, but will discuss her own fieldwork on Mayan languages, and what these languages can tell us about linguistic diversity and Universal Grammar.

Colloquium, 3/17 – Stephanie Shih

Please join us for the next talk in our 2016–2017 colloquium series:

Speaker: 
 Stephanie Shih (University of California Merced)
Date & Time: March 17th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  A multilevel approach to lexically-conditioned phonology

Abstract:

Lexical classes often exhibit different phonological behaviours, in alternations or phonotactics. This talk takes up two interrelated issues for lexically-conditioned phonological patterns: (1) how the grammar captures the range of phonological variation that stems from lexical conditioning, and (2) whether the relevant lexical classes needed by the grammar can be learned from surface patterns. Previous approaches to lexically-sensitive phonology have focused largely on constraining it; however, only a limited understanding currently exists of the quantitative space of variation possible (i.e., entropy) within a coherent grammar.

In this talk, I present an approach that models lexically-conditioned phonological patterns as a multilevel grammar: each lexical class is a cophonology subgrammar of indexed constraint weight adjustments (i.e., varying slopes) in a multilevel Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar. This approach leverages the structure of multilevel statistical models to quantify the space of lexically-conditioned variation in natural language data. Moreover, the approach allows for the deployment of information-theoretic model comparison to assess competing hypotheses of what the phonologically-relevant lexical classes are. I’ll show that under this approach, the relevant lexical classes need not be a priori assumed but can instead be induced from noisy surface input via feature discovery.

Two case studies are examined: part of speech-conditioned tone patterns in Mende and content versus function word prosodification in English. Both case studies bring to bear new quantitative evidence on classic category-sensitive phenomena. The results illustrate how the multilevel approach proposed here can capture the probabilistic heterogeneity and learnability of lexical conditioning in a phonological system, with potential ramifications for understanding the structure of the developing lexicon in grammar acquisition.

Henderson and Coon in NLLT

McLing is pleased to report that Jessica Coon’s paper with Robert Henderson (Post-doc ’12-’13), “Adverbs and Variability in Kaqchikel Agent Focus: A Reply to Erlewine (2016)”, has been accepted for publication in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.

The paper is available here.

In many languages with ergative morphology, transitive subjects (i.e. ergatives) are unable to undergo A’-extraction. This extraction asymmetry is a common hallmark of “syntactic ergativity,” and is found in a range of typologically diverse languages (see e.g. Deal 2016; Polinsky to appear, and works cited there). In Kaqchikel, the A’-extraction of transitive subjects requires a special verb form, known in Mayanist literature as Agent Focus (AF). In a recent paper, Erlewine (2016) argues the restriction on A’-extracting transitive subjects in Kaqchikel is the result of an Anti-Locality effect: transitive subjects are not permitted to extract because they are too close to C. This analysis relies crucially on Erlewine’s proposal that transitive subjects undergo movement to Spec,IP while intransitive subjects remain low. For Erlewine, this derives the fact that transitive (ergative) subjects, but not intransitive (absolutive) subjects are subject to extraction restrictions. Furthermore, it makes the strong prediction that phrasal material intervening between IP and CP should obviate the need for AF in clauses with subject extraction. In this paper, we argue against the Anti-Locality analysis of ergative A’-extraction restrictions along two lines. First, we raise concerns with the proposal that transitive, but not intransitive subjects, move to Spec,IP. Our second, and main focus, is to show that there is variation in whether AF is observed in configurations intervening phrasal material, with a primary focus on intervening adverbs. We propose an alternative account for the variation in whether AF is observed in the presence of adverbs and discuss consequences for accounts of ergative extraction asymmetries more generally.

McGill at MOTH5

McGill BA student Clea Stuart will be presenting at this year’s MOTH syntax workshop, held at McMaster University April 8th. The title of her talk is “Where the Malagasy Adverbs Are”. The full MOTH program can be found here.

Admitted students open house, 2/23–2/24

We’re having an open house for admitted graduate students later this week on Feb. 23-24. Admitted graduate students will attend classes, a lab tour, and a campus tour; have individual meetings with faculty members; learn about our current graduate students’ research, as well as the faculty members’ research; enjoy a party afterwards, socialize with our current graduate students, etc. Department members can find more details on the final schedule that has been sent out by email. Meanwhile, if you see any new faces wandering the halls, please say hello!

Jessica Coon at UQAM’s “Midis autochtones”

Jessica will present this Wednesday at Midis autochtones, Organized by the Association modulaire étudiante de linguistique at UQAM and the Département de linguistique at UQAM.

February 22, 2017
12:45-1:45
room DS-1950 at UQAM (http://carte.uqam.ca/pavillon-ds)
coffee and snacks provided
 
Abstract: This talk will discuss the Mayan language family, a family of thirty languages currently spoken by more than six million people in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Topics will include the socio-political context in which the languages are spoken, grammatical properties of the languages, as well as language endangerment and revitalization efforts.
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