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.
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
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.
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 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.
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!
Speaker: Boris Harizanov (Stanford University)
Date & Time: February 17th at 3:30 pm
Place: Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title: On the nature of syntactic head movement
In Harizanov and Gribanova 2017, we argue that head movement phenomena having to do with word formation (affixation, compounding, etc.) must be empirically distinguished from head movement phenomena having to do purely with the displacement of heads or fully formed words (verb initiality, verb-second, etc.). We suggest that the former, word-formation type should be implemented as post-syntactic amalgamation, while the latter, displacement-type should be implemented as regular syntactic movement.
In this talk, I take this result as a starting point for an investigation of the latter, syntactic type of head movement. I show in some detail that such movement has the properties of (Internal) Merge and that it always targets the root. In addition, I suggest that, once a head is merged with the root, there are two available options (traditionally assumed to be incompatible with one another or with other grammatical principles): either (i) the target of movement projects or (ii) the moved head projects. The former scenario yields head movement to a specifier position, while the latter yields head reprojection. I offer participle fronting in Bulgarian as a case study of head movement to a specifier position and show how this analysis explains the apparently dual X- and XP-movement properties of participle fronting in Bulgarian, without stipulating a structure-preservation constraint on movement. As a case study of head reprojection, I discuss free relativization in Bulgarian. A treatment of this phenomenon in terms of reprojection allows for an understanding of why an element that has the distribution of a relative complementizer C in Bulgarian free relatives looks like a determiner D morphologically.
This work brings together and reconciles two strands of research, usually viewed, at least to some degree, as incompatible: head movement to specifier position and head movement as reprojection. Such synthesis is afforded, in large part, by the exclusion of the word-formation type of head movement phenomena from the purview of syntactic head movement, as in Harizanov and Gribanova 2017.
Current and past McGill linguists gathered at MIT Saturday for a surprise workshop in honour of David Pesetsky’s 60th birthday. Attendees presented posters and attended panels, which can be found on the website.
Lauren Clemens, Bronwyn Bjorkman, Jessica Coon, Laura Kalin, Hadas Kotek, Aron Hirsch
Jessica Coon’s paper, “Two types of ergative agreement: Implications for case” appeared in the Festschrift volume (along with 59 other contributions, including by Bjorkman, Kotek, and Hirsch).
McLing would like to (belatedly) welcome Tim O’Donnell, who joined the McGill Linguistics faculty this January.
Tim O’Donnell develops mathematical and computational models of language learning, processing, and generalization. One area of special interest is how language users strike a balance between the ability to creatively express new meanings, on one hand, and conservatively reuse existing words, idioms, and other constructions, on the other. His research draws on experimental methods from psychology, formal modeling techniques from natural language processing and computational linguistics, theoretical tools from linguistics, and problems from all three domains. Recent projects include work on lexicon learning from speech input, morphological productivity, phonotactics, syntactic structure building, and the meaning of verbs.
McGill linguists are returning this week from the 43rd annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Lydia Felice and Sarah Mihuc presented posters based on their in-progress McGill honours theses. Justin Royer, incoming McGill PhD student and Chuj Lab member, presented a poster based on his recent Concordia BA thesis.
- Lydia Felice: The Case for KP: An Analysis of the Free State and Construct State in Kabyle Berber
- Sarah Mihuc: Effects of Focus on Word Order in Kabyle Berber
- Justin Royer: Nominal and numeral classifiers in Chuj (Mayan)
Sarah, Justin, and Lydia at Berkeley
Speaker: Dan Lassiter (Stanford University)
Date & Time: January 27th at 3:30pm
Place: Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title: Epistemic language in indicative and counterfactual conditionals
Abstract: In this talk I’ll report on a series of experiments which examine judgments about epistemic modals, both in unembedded contexts and in indicative and counterfactual conditionals. Building on these results and recent probabilistic theories of epistemic language, I propose a probabilistic version of Kratzer’s restrictor theory of conditionals that identifies the indicative/counterfactual distinction with Pearl’s distinction between conditioning and intervening in probabilistic graphical models. Combining this theory with recent accounts of must, we can also derive a theory of bare conditionals; I describe the predictions and consider their plausibility in light of the experimental data.
Undergraduate linguists presented their research the 7th Annual Arts Undergraduate Research Event last week (see post). Here they are with their posters:
Theodore Morely and Elias Stengel-Essen
- Lydia Felice
McLing is happy to report that Sepideh Mortazavinia has just received a CRBLM graduate student stipend for her project “Second Language Acquisition of Presupposition”, supervised by Lydia White and Michael Wagner. Congratulations Sepideh!
McLing is happy to report that PhD alumna Jozina vander Klok (’12) has just accepted a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oslo, beginning this June. Jozina will be leaving UBC, where she has been a post-doctoral fellow since 2013. Congratulations Jozina!
Jessica Coon and Lizzie Carolan’s (BA ’14) paper “Nominalizations and the structure of the progressive in Chuj Mayan” will appear in the journal Glossa. A draft of the paper is available here. Congrats both!
McGill BA student Sara Carrier-Bordeleau and Lisa Travis represented McGill Linguistics at the Atelier bilingue en linguistique théorique -Bilingual Workshop in Theoretical Linguistics (ABLT-BWTL) at Concordia University, which took place December 12th and 13th. Their talks were Orphan prepositions as surface anaphora (Sara) and Little words – big consequences (Lisa).
Guilherme Garcia‘s paper “Weight gradience and stress in Portuguese” has just been accepted for publication in the journal Phonology. A draft of the paper, based on his first Eval, can be found on LingBuzz. Congrats Gui!
Gui also recently taught a workshop on Bayesian data analysis using R at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), in Brazil.
Speaker: Jackie Cheung (McGill University)
Date & Time: December 2nd at 3:30 pm
Place: Education Bldg. rm. 624
Title: Generalized Natural Language Generation
In popular language generation tasks such as machine translation, automatic systems are typically given pairs of expected input and output (e.g., a sentence in some source language and its translation in the target language). A single task-specific model is then learned from these samples using statistical techniques. However, such training data exists in sufficient quantity and quality for only a small number of high-profile, standardized generation tasks. In this talk, I argue for the need for generic tools in natural language generation, and discuss my lab’s work on developing generic generation tasks and methods to solve them. First, I discuss progress on defining a task in sentence aggregation, which involves predicting whether units of semantic content can be meaningfully expressed in the same sentence. Then, I present a system for predicting noun phrase definiteness, and show that an artificial neural network model achieves state-of-the-art performance on this task, learning relevant syntactic and semantic constraints.
McGill Linguistics continues to make headlines with the recent release of Arrival. Jessica Coon and Morgan Sonderegger both appeared on CTV National News last week, and Jessica was interviewed on CBC’s The Current last Friday. A full list of recent press, along with resources by McGill MA alum and internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch, can be found here.