Author Archive for McLing

P* Reading Group, 2/22

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Thursday (Feb. 22) 11:30 am -12:30 pm in Room 117, Sarah will lead a discussion of Ingvalson et al. (2017). “Non-native speech learning in older adults”. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 148. Everyone is welcome!

McGill at BLS 44

Berkeley Linguistics Society Meeting 44 took place on 9-11th February 2018. McGill’s linguists of past and present attended and gave the following presentations:

  • Ileana Paul & Lisa Travis: Pronoun-Noun constructions in Malagasy: variation and change
  • Gabriel Daitzchman: The most specific person: Morphological decomposition and analysis of Hebrew π
  • Carol-Rose Little: A feature-based analysis of the Ch’ol (Mayan) person paradigm
  • Lauren Clemens: Verb-initial word order in Mayan languages: Causes and consequences

Gabe Daitzchman, Ileana Paul, Carol-Rose Little, Lauren Clemens, Lisa Travis, Martha Schwartz

WORDS Group, 2/13

The next meeting of the Word Structure Research Group will take place Tuesday, February 13, 2018, 12-1:30pm, in DS-3470 at UQAM ( We will be discussing Vogel (2009).

Everyone is welcome!

Daniel Goodhue defends dissertation

Congratulations to Daniel Goodhue, who defended his dissertations on 9th February 2018! Daniel’s dissertation, supervised by Michael Wagner and co-supervised by Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Bernhard Schwarz  is titled “On asking and answering biased polar questions.” Congratulations, Dan!

Luis Alonso-Ovalle, Bernhard Schwarz, Daniel Goodhue, Michael Wagner

Job talk by Suzi Lima, 2/5

This week, our department will be visited by a job candidate, Suzi Lima (UofT). Below, you can find the abstract for her talk, with details about location and time.

On the acquisition of object denoting nouns

Suzi Lima, University of Toronto, Wilson Hall WPRoom 3:30pm.

In classical theories of countability, the minimal elements in the extension of count nouns are atoms, and the material parts of these atoms are not themselves part of the extension of the nouns (cf. Link 1983, Chierchia 1998, 2010 among many others). According to these theories, grammatical atomicity (what counts as an atom for purposes of counting in language) is strongly associated with natural atomicity (what constitutes as an individual of the kind described by a noun). Against this view, Rothstein (2010) argues that natural atomicity is neither required nor necessary for grammatical counting. Rothstein (2010) argues that atoms can be contextually defined. That is, count nouns like fence, wall and bouquet denote “different sets of atoms depending on the context of interpretation”. For example, what counts as a wall-atom in a particular context (the four wall-sides of a castle that we can consider as ‘a wall’) might not count as a wall-atom in a different context (the north wall of a castle, which we can also name as ‘a wall’). Empirical facts across languages provide ample evidence that discrete individuals are not necessarily countable (see object mass nouns such as furniture in English) and that nouns that denote substances are not necessarily uncountable (cf. Mathieu 2012, Lima 2014 among many others). Such evidence suggests a strong dissociation between natural and semantic atomicity. Given this debate, the question we intend to address in this talk is whether the conceptual content of a noun and natural atomicity bias how units of individuation are determined. More specifically, we are investigating whether contextually determined individuals, more specifically, partitions of discrete individuals, can be considered as atoms.

Acquisition of countability The debate about whether the conceptual content of a noun determines how atoms are determined in grammar is a topic of interest for both formal semantics and developmental psychology studies. A series of studies in developmental psychology suggests that although the lexical content of nouns plays a role in the identification of atoms in their extensions (Carey, 2009; Macnamara, 1986; Xu, 2007), natural atomicity is not required for grammatical counting. Acquisition studies suggest that until 7 years of age children count parts of individuals of a certain kind (e.g. pieces of forks) as if they were themselves individuals of that kind (e.g. individual forks; cf. Shipley and Shepperson 1990). Srinivasan et al. (2013) replicate these results and in addition have shown that children cease to treat parts of individuals as whole individuals once they recognize that (pseudo)partitive constructions (e.g. “piece of”) and measure phrases are more informative descriptions for parts of objects.

Proposal First, we argue that a proper semantic analysis of aforementioned acquisition facts require the adoption of a theory of countability in which not only natural atoms but also their material parts belong to the extension of count nouns. To illustrate, both a whole banana and a piece of a banana belong to the extension of the noun “banana”. Secondly, we argue in favor of a blocking mechanism that prevents speakers to refer to parts of individuals using an unmodified count noun when pseudopartitive constructions or measure phrases are available to refer to these parts. Evidence for this mechanism will be based on three experimental studies with speakers of Yudja, a Tupi language spoken in Brazil that has low frequency (pseudo)partitive constructions and no measure phrases.

WORDS Group Meeting, 2/6

The next meeting of the Word Research Group will take place on Tuesday, February 6th, 12-1:30pm, in room 002 of the Department of Linguistics at McGill (1085 Dr. Penfield). We will be discussing Booij (1996).

Booij, G. (1996). Cliticization as prosodic integration: The case of Dutch. The Linguistic Review 13. 219-242.

P* Reading Group, 2/8

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Thursday (Feb. 8) 11:30 am -12:30 pm in Room 117, Yeong will lead a discussion of Garellek, M., Ritchart, A., & Kuang, J. (2016). “Breathy voice during nasality: A cross-linguistic study”. Journal of Phonetics, , 59, 110-121. Everyone is welcome!

Daniel Goodhue’s dissertation defence, 2/9

McGill University

Department of Linguistics

Daniel Goodhue

Ph.D. Oral Defence


On asking and answering biased polar questions

Friday, February 9th, 2018

at 3:00 pm

in the Arts Bldg. Rm. 160

followed by a reception in the lounge (rm. 212)

WORDS Group, 1/30

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Tuesday 30th January, 12-2pm, in DS-3470 at UQAM ( This week, we will be discussing Nespor and Vogel (1986, chap.5).

Everyone is welcome!

Welcome new postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo!

Natália Brambatti Guzzo who was previously already affiliated with our department became a post-doc here  on January 1st 2018.

Natália’s main interests are phonology, phonology-syntax interface, and L2 acquisition. Her research programme explores topics in prosodic phonology, such as (i) the ways in which prosodic domains can be identified based on phonological and phonetic evidence, and (ii) how second language learners and speakers in contexts of language contact deal with competing prosodic representations.



Two job talks this week

This week, our department will be visited by two job candidates, Athulya Aravind (MIT) and Stefan Keine (USC). Below, you can find the abstracts for their talks, with details about location and time.

The next candidates will give their talks on the following dates (details to follow):

  • Suzi Lima (University of Toronto): Monday February 5
  • Keir Moulton (Simon Fraser): Monday February 12
  • Shota Momma (UCSD): Monday February 19

All talks will be at 3:30pm in Wilson Hall WP Room.


Athulya Aravind, MIT, Monday January 29, 3:30pm, Wilson Hall WP Room

Principles of presupposition: The view from child language

To presuppose something is to take that information for granted in a way that contrasts with asserting it. The proper characterization of presupposition–the way it enters into the compositional semantics and the way it fits into the exchange of information in communicative situations–has been at the center of long-standing debate. One class of theories treat presuppositions as categorically imposing restrictions on the conversational common ground: presuppositions must signal information that is already mutually known by all conversation participants. While principled and elegant, these theories are often empirically inadequate, as the common ground requirement is not always met in everyday conversation. A second class of theories, therefore, adopt weaker and less categorical approaches to the phenomenon that are a better fit to the empirical facts. In this talk, I present arguments from child language for the categorical treatment of presuppositions advocated by the common ground theories. Children initially adopt a view of presuppositions as uniformly placing restrictions on the conversational common ground, even in situations where these requirements may be bent. Moreover, children initially lack the ability to use presuppositions in ways that violate the common ground requirement. The developmental patterns, therefore, vindicate some of the theoretical idealizations, whose empirical validity is often masked in part due to the pragmatic sophistication of adult language users.

Stefan Keine, USC, Wednesday January 31, 3:30pm, Wilson Hall WP Room

The ups and downs of agreement (joint work with Bhamati Dash)

Agreement phenomena (e.g., subject-verb agreement) have been a central topic in the syntactic literature over the past twenty-five or so years. Recently, much interest has been paid to the question of what structural relationship must hold for agreement to arise, in particular whether agreement is upward-oriented, downward-oriented, or bidirectional. In this talk, I will present novel evidence from Hindi-Urdu that contributes to this debate about agreement. Verb agreement in Hindi normally exhibits a top-down preference: agreement is controlled by the structurally highest accessible DP. However, under the right circumstances, this directionality flips to a bottom-up preference: agreement is then preferentially established with a structurally lower element. I will argue that this pattern can be given a principled explanation if (i) a head can agree both downward and upward and if (ii) downward agreement takes derivational precedence. Taken together, these conclusions provide novel evidence for cyclic Agree (Rezac 2003). Furthermore, there is a striking locality difference between the two directions of agreement: Agreement with a lower goal can be long-distance, but agreement with a higher goal is confined to Spec-head. This indicates that Agree is not genuinely bidirectional, but that apparent upward agreement has some other source. We propose that the syntactic operation Agree is strictly downward looking (as originally in Chomsky 2000), but that probes may project (Rezac 2003). Descriptive instances of upward agreement can then be unified with downward agreement. One broader implication is that comparing the directionality of agreement with that of other dependencies, like negative concord, suggests that not all long-distance dependencies involve Agree. We furthermore show that the account proposed here affords a new view on well-known differences between A- and A’-movement with respect to agreement.

Colloquium on 1/26 postponed

This is to announce that Karen Jesney will not be giving a colloquium talk on 26th January as originally planned. The talk has been postponed. More details on the rescheduling are to be announced soon.

McGill at the 2018 LSA Annual Meeting

McGill linguists past and present attended the annual meeting of the Linguistics Society of America and its Sister Societies that took place 4-7 January 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. Presentations from currently affiliated linguists included:

  • Charles Boberg: “A closer look at the short front vowel shift in Canada”
  • Natália Brambatti Guzzo: “Language contact determines prosodic representation and variation”
  • Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Heather Goad, Guilherme Garcia: “What motivates high vowel deletion in Québec French: foot structure or tonal profile?”
  • Henrison Hsieh and Yining Nie: “Clausal arguments in Tagalog”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne, Heather Goad, Morgan Sonderegger: “Morphological and phonological motivations for prominence shifts in French”
  • Michel Paradis: “Implicit and explicit learning of natural language”

Some (but not all) of the current and past McGill affiliates gathered for a photo:

(Front (L-R): Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Hadas Kotek, Carolyn Anderson, Gretchen McCulloch) (Back (L-R): Jeffrey Lamontagne, Henrison Hsieh, Frederick Gietz, Nico Baier)

WORDS Group, 1/16

The next meeting of the Word Research Group will take place on Tuesday, January 16th, 12-2pm, in DS-3470 at UQAM ( Timothy O’Donnell will be giving a talk on his research.

Everyone is welcome!

Synt-ex Reading Group, 1/16

We are starting up our experimental syntax reading group for the winter semester! Our first meeting is this Tuesday, the 16th at the Linguistics building, room 117 at 12pm. There will be snacks, and feel free to bring your lunch. In addition to outlining our plan for the semester, we will discuss this short Scientific American article:

For inspiration, here are some topics we have thought we would like to include: artificial grammar, syntax in songbirds, L2 syntax acquisition, prosody and syntax, computational models, syntax in sign language.

We hope to see you at the first brainstorming meeting !

WORDS Group meeting, 9/1

The first meeting of the Word Research Group will take place on Tuesday, January 9th, 12-2pm, in DS-3470 at UQAM (

The topic for this term is clitics and agreement, although from time to time group members will present on other topics related to words. We’ll be hoping to finalize a good chunk of the schedule for readings during this first meeting.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

Ph.D Oral Defence, 12/4 – Hye-Young Bang

Hye-Young Bang is defending her Ph.D. dissertation “The structure of multiple cues to stop categorization and its implications for sound change” on Monday, December 4th, 2017 at 1:00 pm in the Arts Bldg. (Rm. 160). The defence will be followed by a reception in the lounge (Rm. 212).

WORDS Group, 12/8

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 8th December, at McGill, Dr. Penfield Ave. 1085 (room 117) at 1pm-2.30pm. Tim O’Donnell will present “Inducing phonological rules: Perspectives from Bayesian program learning”, his joint work with Kevin Ellis (Kevin Ellis & Tim O’Donnell).

Everyone is welcome to attend!



MLML Meeting, 11/28

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Nov 28 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Wilfred Yau will discuss the surprise exam paradox and its relation to game theory, as well as a brief overview of how game theory is applied in linguistics, especially pragmatics. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP to if not on the lab mailing list.

P* Reading Group, 11/29

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Nov. 29) 11am-12pm in Room 117, Sarah and Donghyun will give practice talks for their upcoming ASA presentations, entitled “Inhibitory and Lexical Frequency Effects in Younger and Older Adults’ Spoken Word Recognition” and “Individual differences in perceptual adaptation to phonetic categories: Categorization gradiency and cognitive abilities.” Their abstracts are below. Everyone is welcome!

Inhibitory and Lexical Frequency Effects in Younger and Older Adults’ Spoken Word Recognition
Sarah Colby
Older adults are known to have more difficulty recognizing words with dense phonological neighbourhoods (Sommers & Danielson, 1999), suggesting an increased role of inhibition in older adults’ spoken word recognition. Revill & Spieler (2012) found that older adults are particularly susceptible to frequency effects, and will look more to high frequency items compared to younger adults. We aim to replicate and extend the findings of Revill & Spieler (2012) by investigating the role of inhibition along with frequency for resolving lexical competition in both older and younger adults. Older (n=16) and younger (n=18) adults completed a visual word paradigm eyetracking task that used high and low frequency targets paired with competitors of opposing frequency, and a Simon task as a measure of inhibition. We find that older adults with poorer inhibition are more distracted by competitors than those with better inhibition and younger adults. This effect is larger for high frequency competitors compared to low. These results have implications for the changing role of inhibition in resolving lexical competition across the adult lifespan and support the idea that decreased inhibition in older adults contributes to increased lexical competition and stronger frequency effects in word recognition.

Individual differences in perceptual adaptation to phonetic categories: Categorization gradiency and cognitive abilities
Donghyun Kim
We examine whether listeners flexibly adapt to unfamiliar speech patterns such as those encountered in foreign-accented English vowels. In these cases, the relative informativity of acoustic dimensions (spectral quality vs. duration) can be changed such that the most informative dimension (spectral quality) is no longer informative, but the role of the secondary cue (duration) is enhanced. We further test whether listeners’ adaptive strategies are related to individual differences in utilizations of secondary cues (measured by categorization gradiency) and cognitive abilities. Native English listeners (N=36) listened to continuum of vowels /ɛ/ and /æ/ (as in head and had) varying spectral and duration values to complete a perceptual adaptation task, a visual analogue scaling (VAS) task, and were given cognitive ability tasks examining executive function capacities. Results showed that listeners mostly used spectral quality to signal vowel category at baseline, but rapidly adapted by up-weighting reliance on duration when spectral quality was no longer informative. The VAS task showed substantial individual differences in categorization gradiency with more gradient listeners using a secondary cue more, but gradiency was not linked to degree of adaptation. Finally, results of cognitive ability tasks revealed that individual differences in inhibitory control, but not the other cognitive abilities, correlated with the amount of perceptual adaptation.

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