Author Archive for McLing

McGill at AMP 2017

McGill Linguists past and present presented at the 2017 Annual Meeting on Phonology last month at NYU:

  • Jeffrey Lamontagne, Heather Goad & Morgan Sonderegger: “Variability in French prominence: Evidence for weight sensitivity”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne & Francisco Torreira: “Production planning and directionality in external sandhi”
  • Martha Schwarz (MA 2017), Morgan Sonderegger, & Heather Goad: “Representing a four-way contrast: Nepali, voiced aspirates and laryngeal realism”
  • Öner Özçelik (PhD 2012): “Phonological markedness and extraprosodicity as predictors of morphological errors in SLI”

Paulina Elias at SEURA symposium

Linguistics undergrad Paulina Elias was one of the first SEURA (Social Equity Undergraduate Research Award) recipients during this award’s first year at McGill. Paulina’s research project this past summer focused on the documentation of Chuj, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala and by speakers here in Montreal, and was supervised by Jessica Coon. Last week they attended the SEURA Symposium, where they participated in a discussion panel that centred around social equity in research.

McGill at MIT Workshop on Simplicity

McGill linguists presented at the MIT Workshop on Simplicity in Grammar Learning on Sep 23:

  • Richard Futrell and Tim O’Donnell: “A generative model of phonotactics”
  • Kevin Ellis and Tim O’Donnell: “Inducing phonological rules: Perspectives from Bayesian program learning”
  • Aron Hirsch (postdoc) and Ezer Rasin: “An evolutionary effect of simplicity bias on the typology of logical operators”




McGill Ling at Montreal AI Symposium

McGill linguists past and present presented at the Montreal AI Symposium on Sep 26:

Chris Bruno, Eva Portelance (BHons ’17), Tim O’Donnell: “Unsupervised induction of natural-language dependency structures”

Elias Stengel-Eskin, Emily Kellison-Linn, Tim O’Donnell: “Variational Inference for Unsupervised Lexicon Learning”

McGill at Manitoba Workshop on Person

McGill linguists presented last week at the Manitoba Workshop on Person in Winnipeg. Jessica Coon and Michael Wagner presented joint work with Stefan Keine (USC), “Hierarchy effects in copular constructions: The PCC corner of German”, and Lisa Travis presented joint work with Ileana Paul (Western), “Augmented pronouns in Malagasy”.

L to R: Bronwyn Bjorkman (BA 2006), Ileana Paul (BA 1990, PhD 2000), Elizabeth Cowper (BA 1972), Jessica Coon, Richard Compton (postdoc 2014-2014), Lisa Travis, Michael Wagner.

Sonderegger, Bane, Graff in Language

A paper by Morgan Sonderegger, Max Bane, and Peter Graff, “The medium-term dynamics of accents on reality television”, has been published in the September 2017 issue of Language. The article can be found here (+ supplementary material), and is the subject of press releases by the LSA and McGill. and the abstract is below:
How flexible is an individual’s accent during adulthood, and how does this flexibility relate to longer-term change? Previous work has found that accents are remarkably flexible in conversational interaction, but predominantly stable over years, leading to very different views of the role of individuals in community-level sound change. This article examines medium-term accent dynamics (days to months) by taking advantage of a ‘natural experiment’: a reality television show where contestants live in an isolated house for three months and are constantly recorded, forming a closed system where it is possible to both determine the dynamics of contestants’ speech from day to day and reason about the sources of any observed changes. We build statistical models to examine time dependence in five phonetic variables within individuals, in 14.5 hours of spontaneous speech from twelve English-speaking contestants. We find that time dependence in pronunciation is ubiquitous over the medium term: large daily fluctuations in pronunciation are the norm, while longer-term change over weeks to months occurs in a minority of cases. These patterns mirror the conflicting findings of previous work and suggest a possible bridge between the two. We argue that time dependence in phonetic variables is influenced by contrast between sounds, as well as systematic differences between speakers in how malleable their accents are over time; however, we find only limited evidence for convergence in individuals’ accents. Our results have implications for theories of the role of individuals in sound change, and suggest that medium-term pronunciation dynamics are a fruitful direction for future work.

Buccola to Ecole Normale Supérieure

Brian Buccola (McGill PhD 2015) has just taken up a position as a postdoctoral researcher at the Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, at CNRS lab, at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Brian is moving to Paris from Jerusalem, where he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Language, Logic, and Cognition Center of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Congratulations, Brian!

Language revitalization talk: Megan Lukaniec

There will a talk on language revitalization Tuesday cosponsored by Linguistics and the Office of First Nations and Inuit Education, DISE. The talk will take place Tuesday September 12th at 4:15pm in Education room 233, and will be preceded by coffee and snacks in Education room 203A at 3:45. All are invited!
Speaker: Megan Lukaniec (Huron-Wendat Nation, UC Santa Barbara Linguistics)

With the number of dormant languages steadily increasing, archival materials are becoming indispensable tools for linguistic research and revitalization. Absent the invaluable opportunity to consult a native speaker, reclamation in dormant language communities must follow a different trajectory: transform documentation into accessible and culturally relevant language teaching.

The Wendat language, also known as Huron or Huron-Wendat, is one such example of a dormant language undergoing revitalization. Although it lost its last fluent speakers in the mid-19th century, Wendat (Iroquoian) was documented extensively by missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. For the past decade, Wendat community members have been leading efforts to reawaken their language. These revitalization efforts, based out of the reserve of Wendake, Québec, have led to adult evening courses, workshops for children at the tribal elementary school, lessons at the tribal daycare center as well as the creation of an online, open access trilingual dictionary, Wendat-French-English (

So, how does one repurpose historical documentation for language reclamation? How does one use linguistics in order to repatriate linguistic and cultural knowledge? Using Wendat as a case study, this paper will examine the broader processes of language reclamation and revitalization, including the historical-comparative reconstruction of linguistic data, transforming such data into materials for teacher training and language courses, and reintroducing language into a dormant language community. Finally, I will offer observations about the social and cultural effects of language reclamation, including its effects on community healing and individual well-being.

Summer 2017 PhD defenses

Congratulations to Guilherme Garcia and Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, who defended their dissertations this summer!

Gui’s dissertation, supervised by Heather Goad and defended August 2, is titled “Weight effects on stress: lexicon and grammar.” Gui is currently a lecturer in the Department of Education at Concordia University. In the winter he will be joining the Department of English at Ball State University as an assistant professor (tenure-track) in phonology/phonetics. Congratulations, Gui!

Gui (third from left), supervisor Heather Goad (fourth from left), and oral defense committee.

Oriana’s dissertation, supervised by Morgan Sonderegger and Michael Wagner July 21, is titled “Speech production planning affects variation in external sandhi.”  Oriana is currently a lecturer in the Department of Linguistics at Concordia University. Congratulations, Oriana!

Oriana with supervisors

Welcome new graduate students!

Welcome to this year’s incoming class of graduate students and QY student!

Jason Borga is primarily interested (so far!) in syntax, syntax-semantics interface, and language acquisition. He completed his B.A. in Cognitive Science at the University of Connecticut.

Masashi Harada completed his M.A. in linguistics at the University of Kansas. His primary research interests currently lie in the theory of syntax, semantics, and the interface of syntax with other modules of grammar.

Filiz Mutlu

Mathieu Paillé has research interests including syntax, biolinguistics, and Algonquian languages. He completed his B.A. in linguistics at the University of Winnipeg.

Justin Royeis interested in syntax, semantics, fieldwork and Mayan languages, and has conducted research on classifier systems and (in)definiteness. He completed his B.A. in Linguistics at Concordia University.

Vanna Willerton wants to get into the field of computational linguistics and, to this end, will spend the qualifying year developing her math and programming skills. She completed her B.A. in Linguistics, minoring in Philosophy, at Carleton University.

Wilfred Yau is interested modelling natural languages using computational and mathematical tools, such as lexical semantics, probabilistic programming and Bayesian Models of Language Processing. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto with a double major in Economics and Linguistics.


McLing summer news

What did McGill linguists do this summer? Some answers can be found below. If you didn’t get your post in on time, email the editors for round two.

Luis Alonso-Ovalle  presented work at SALT.

Chris Bruno presented work relating to his first evaluation paper at SALT, held at the University of Maryland, College Park. The title was “Contrastive negation and the theory of alternatives”.

Jessica Coon traveled to Beijing in May to present a public lecture on Arrival at the 2017 Global Machine Intelligence Summit. Then in June she headed to Guatemala to meet up with current and past McGill students in connection with the University of Maryland’s Guatemala Field Station. For the first two weeks the students took Kaqchikel immersion classes, and and spent the second two weeks conducting research on Mayan languages.

Jessica and Lisa Travis are happy to report that the Oxford Handbook of Ergativity was published over the summer, co-edited by Jessica Coon, Diane Massam (U. Toronto), and Lisa Travis.

Henrison Hsieh presented ongoing work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle entitled “Overcoming the Unexpected: The Tagalog Ability/Involuntary Action Form” at WCCFL and SALT, among other venues. Later in the summer, he attended the 2017 LSA Institute in Lexington KY before going to Southeast Asia to attend the Workshop on Quirks of Subject Extraction at the National University of Singapore and do some data collection in the Philippines.

Michael McAuliffe presented three co-authored papers at Interspeech 2017 in Stockholm, on Polyglot and Speech Corpus Tools , on the Montreal Forced Aligner, and on sentence prosody (with co-authors including Michael Wagner and Morgan Sonderegger).

Clint Parker spent most of his summer in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he lived with a Tajik host family and studied the Tajik language (a dialect of Persian). While in Dushanbe, Clint was also able to study Shughni, an Eastern Iranian minority language of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, on which he hopes to focus much of his research. The summer helped him both to gain language skills necessary to do fieldwork on Shughni and to make contacts for future research in the country.

Bernhard Schwarz presented work at SALT.

Morgan Sonderegger presented two papers at Phonetics and Phonology in Europe (PaPE 2017).

A paper by James Tanner, Morgan Sonderegger, and Michael Wagner appeared in Laboratory Phonology (doi: 10.5334/labphon.96).

Lydia White attended two conferences in June: (i) the International Symposium on Bilingualism, University of Limerick, Ireland (; (ii) the Experimental Psycholinguistics Conference, Menorca ( She presented papers on L2 Italian pronoun interpretation on behalf of the Second Language Acquisition Group (Heather Goad, Gui Garcia, Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Sepideh Mortazavinia, Liz Smeets, Jiajia Su, Lydia White). Lydia also made a keynote presentation in Menorca.

A paper on pronoun interpretation in L2 English by Roumyana Slabakova, Lydia White & Natália Brambatti Guzzo appeared in Frontiers in Psychology 8:1236 in July (doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01236).


Welcome back!

McLing hopes everyone had a great summer! As always, we invite you to send us your news: presentations, publications, fieldwork, courses, workshops, departmental events, student projects, jobs, etc., for presentation in upcoming newsletters. Know of a friend, colleague, or student who did something newsworthy? Send us a report and we will follow up.

Welcome new postdoc Aron Hirsch!

McLing would like to extend a warm welcome to a new postdoc, Aron Hirsch, who has jointed the department as a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow.  Aron is returning to the department, having completed a BA here in 2012. Welcome back, Aron!

Much of my research focuses on semantics, with the driving question being: how does semantics interact with other aspects of grammar and cognition, especially syntax and pragmatics, as well as prosody and language processing. Recent projects have pursued the idea that the semantics is less powerful than commonly thought, with labor re-distributed to interfacing modules. Topics I have worked on include: coordination, focus, questions, free relatives, and exceptive phrases. I am coming to McGill from MIT, where I recently finished my PhD. At McGill, I will be a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow, and will be co-teaching Semantics 4 in the second semester. I am looking forward to meeting those of you I don’t know, and learning about your work!

Welcome new lecturer Nico Baier!

McLing would like to welcome Nico Baier, who is joining the department this year as a Faculty Lecturer. Welcome, Nico!

Nico is just finishing his PhD at UC Berkeley. His primary interests are in syntax, morphology, and typology. His research focuses on the morphosyntax of A’-dependencies, including the interaction of phi-agreement and A’-movement and morphological reflexes of Ā-movement.

Kilbourn-Ceron and Sonderegger in NLLT

Natural Language and Linguistic Theory has just published an article by Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron and Morgan Sonderegger: ‘Boundary phenomena and variability in Japanese high vowel devoicing’. The full article is available here.


Devoicing of high vowels (HVD) in Tokyo Japanese applies in two environments—between voiceless consonants, and between a voiceless consonant and a “pause”—and applies variably as a function of a number of factors. The role and definition of “pause” in this process, in terms of a physical pause or prosodic position (word or phrase boundary), remains unclear, as does what is expected when these environments overlap, and why HVD appears to be categorical in some environments and variable in others. This paper addresses three outstanding issues about HVD—the role of “boundary phenomena” (prosodic position and physical pauses), the relationship between the two environments, and the sources of variability in HVD—by examining vowel devoicing in a large corpus of spontaneous Japanese. We use mixed-effects logistic regression to model how boundary phenomena affect the likelihood of devoicing and modulate the effects of other variables, controlling for other major factors, including a measure of gestural overlap. The results suggest that all boundary phenomena jointly affect devoicing rate, and that prosodic phrase boundaries play a key role: variability in HVD looks qualitatively different for phrase-internal and phrase-final vowels, which are affected differently by word frequency, speech rate, and pause duration. We argue the results support an account of HVD as the result of two overlapping vowel devoicing processes, each widely-attested cross-linguistically: devoicing between voiceless consonants, and devoicing before prosodic phrase boundaries. Variability in the application of these two processes can then be partially explained in terms of aspects of phonetic implementation and processing: gestural overlap (Beckman 1996), which often plays a role in reduction processes, and the locality of production planning (Wagner 2012), a recent explanation for variability in the application of external sandhi processes.

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