Author Archive for McLing

Clayards at UMass Amherst

Meghan Clayards gave a colloquium talk at UMass Amherst Linguistics on April 18, entitled “Flexibility and individual differences in speech perception”.


Semantics reading group, May 4 : Bruno, Gentile, Goodwin

At the Semantics Research Group on May 4, Chris Bruno, Francesco Gentile, and Emily Goodwin will be presenting on some ongoing research on compositional semantics and monotonicity in neural network models.

The meeting is at 3 PM in room 117.


McGill at WCCFL 36

McGill linguists past and present gathered at UCLA this past weekend to present their research at the 36th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL).

McGill linguists past and present gathered at UCLA this past weekend to present their research at the 36th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL).


Matthew Barros & Hadas Kotek (McGill postdoc 2014-16): “Some Issues with Sluicing as Anaphora to Issues“
Mathieu Paillé & Bernhard Schwarz: “Knowing whether and ignorance inferences“


Aron Hirsch: “Epistemically-sensitive ‘only’ ”
Maayan Abenina-Adar (McGill MA 2014): “Surprising”
Guilherme D. Garcia (McGill PhD 2017) and Heather Goad: “Can you have stress without feet?”
Jeffrey Lamontagne: “Acoustic Evidence of Phonemicization: Laxing Coarticulation in Canadian French”

Photo, from left to right: Mathieu, Maayan, Heather, Aron, Bernhard

Left to right: Mathieu, Maayan, Heather, Aron, Bernhard


Jobs for linguists outside academia: 4/18 3-5:30

This Wednesday there will be a special session of the McGill Linguistics Graduate Seminar:

Jobs for linguists outside academia

For everyone who is curious what might be some options outside of academia if you’re a linguist.

Wednesday, April 18 2018, time: 3-5.30pm
Location: Arts Room W-20 (basement of Leacock Building)


Gretchen McCulloch (All things linguistics)
Moti Lieberman (Lingspace)
Madeleine Mees & Marc Fabiani (Nuance)
Fred Mailhot (Ask Media Group)

Please RVSP for better planning here

Clayards Phonetica paper Editor’s Choice

Meghan Clayards’ Phonetica paper, “Individual Talker and Token Covariation in the Production of Multiple Cues to Stop Voicing” (December 2017), has been selected as an Editor’s Choice paper. It was also the most-read article in this journal last month.


Daniel Pape colloquium: April 13

Daniel Pape (McMaster University) will be giving a talk entitled “Linking speech production to speech perception: A cross-linguistic comparison of the phonological voicing contrast and its phonetic realization”. The talk with take place in room 433 of the Education Building at 3:30 pm on Friday, April 13th. The abstract, along with information about other colloquia in the department, is available on the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series website (

Sonderegger at Boston University

Morgan Sonderegger gave a colloquium talk at Boston University on April 30, entitled “Towards large(r) scale cross-linguistic study of speech: case studies of segmental influences on pitch and duration compression effects”. Details are here.

Bang et al. in Journal of Phonetics

A paper by Hye-Young Bang and co-authors (Morgan Sonderegger, Yoonjung Kang, Meghan Clayards, Taejin Yoon), “The emergence, progress, and impact of sound change in progress in Seoul Korean: Implications for mechanisms of tonogenesis”, has just appeared in Journal of Phonetics. Congratulations!

This study examines the origin, progression, and impact of a sound change in Seoul Korean where the primary cue to a stop contrast in phrase-initial position is shifting from VOT to f0. Because it shares similarities with the initial phase of tonogenesis, investigating this “quasi-tonogenetic” sound change provides insight into the nature of the emergence of contrastive f0 in “tonogenetic” sound changes more generally. Using a dataset from a large apparent-time corpus of Seoul Korean, we built mixed-effects regression models of VOT and f0 to examine the time-course of change, focusing on word frequency and vowel height effects. We found that both VOT contrast reduction and f0 contrast enhancement are more advanced in high-frequency words and in stops before non-high vowels, indicating that the change is spreading across words and phonetic contexts in parallel. Furthermore, speakers suppress non-contrastive variation in f0 as f0 emerges as a primary cue. Our findings suggest that one impetus for tonogenetic change is production bias coupled with an adaptive link between the cues. We further discuss the role of Korean intonational phonology on f0 which may help explain why the phonetic precondition leads to change in Seoul Korean but not in other languages.


Linguistics at Open House

McGill Linguistics had a table at McGill’s Open House this past Sunday.  Thanks to Claire Bautista, Shannon Fiedler, Fiona Higgins, Hayley Ostrega, Alele Rangel, Nicole Ryan (pictured left), Vicky Svaikovsky and Tea Vincic (pictured right) who volunteered at the event — it was a great success!

McGill at NELS

A sizeable contingent of McGill related linguistics attended the 48th Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 48) this past weekend. For the first time, the conference took place outside North America, viz. at the University of Iceland, Reykjavík. As the organizers emphasized, Iceland now easily holds the record as the smallest host country for NELS in terms of both population size (previously: Canada) and land area (previously: USA).

McGill at CILLA

Justin Royer and Jessica Coon headed to the University of Texas at Austin last week for the 8th Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA). Justin’s talk was titled “Sistemas de clasificación nominal en chuj (maya)”. Jessica gave a plenary talk, presenting joint work with Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany, McGill postdoc 2014-15), titled “Verb initial word order in Mayan: Causes and consequences.”   Robert Henderson (McGill postdoc 2013-13) also presented.

Justin Royer, Lauren Clemens (post-doc 2014–2015), Jessica Coon, Robert Henderson (post-doc 2012–2013)

Prosody & Meaning Reading group: Oct 23 and Oct 30

On Monday, the Prosody & Meaning Reading group will meet to discuss Judith Tonhauser’s recent paper on “Prosodic cues to presupposition projection“. Aron Hirsch will lead the discussion (Monday Oct 23rd, 11.30-1pm, Room 117). The following week, we’ll likely talk about Goldrick et al. (2016): Automatic analysis of slips of the tongue… (Monday Oct 30, 12-1pm, Room 117).

Aron Hirsch mini-course: Oct 30-Nov 9

Aron Hirsch (SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at McGill this year), will be giving a “mini-course” about his research on the syntax-semantics of “cross-categorial” operators, in five lectures stretching from October 30-November 9. See below for a course description and schedule. No advanced background in syntax or semantics is required. Mark your calendars, everyone is welcome to attend!
Cross-categorial operators
“Cross-categorial” operators — notably, the conjunction and and focus operator only — appear in a broad range of environments. And occurs, for instance, between full clauses in (1a) and DPs in (1b). Likewise, only occurs pre-vP in (2a) and pre-DP in (2b).
(1) a. John saw every student and Mary saw every professor.
b. John saw every student and every professor.
(2) a. John only learned oneF language.
b. John learned only oneF language.
Given their broad distribution, these operators seem to require a flexible semantics. In (1a), and operates on truth-values, like the & connective of propositional logic: (1a) is true iff both conjoined clauses are true. Yet, in (1b), and seems to have a different meaning which composes with quantifiers. A range of semantic mechanisms have been proposed to achieve the necessary flexibility (e.g. Keenan & Faltz 1978, 1985,
Gazdar 1980, Partee & Rooth 1983, Jacobson 1999, 2015). One approach draws on type-shifting rules: and is stored in the lexicon as &, but type-shifted to compose with quantifiers in (1b). Only receives a similar analysis, through type-shifting (Rooth 1985).
The aim in this mini-course is to challenge the idea that these operators have a flexible semantics, pursuing instead the Semantic Inflexibility Hypothesis (‘SIH’). Under the SIH, and always operates on truthvalues (following Schein 2017), and only again patterns in kind. The viability of the SIH for data like (1b)
and (2b) depends on covert syntax: the underlying structure must be richer than it appears from the surface string so that it includes a truth-value denoting scope site for the operator. The course will build a case the SIH. First: we will see that semantic flexibility approaches have overgeneration problems, providing initial motivation for the SIH. Second: we will diffuse some counterarguments to covert syntax with and from the prior literature (e.g. Partee 1970). And, third: we will provide a range of novel evidence that covert syntax is in fact present with both and and only in a fragment of data. The SIH, if successful, leads us to constrain the availability of type-shifting, and the expressive power of the semantic grammar more generally (cf. Heim 2015).
Class 1: The Semantic Inflexibility Hypothesis
October 30, Monday, 10:30-12:00 – Room 117
Class 2: Apparent DP conjunction
November 2, Thursday, 11:30-13:00 – LEACOCK 14
Class 3: November 3, Friday, 15:00-16:30 – Room 117
Apparent NP conjunction
Class 4: November 6, Monday, 10:30-12:00 – Room 117
Focus operators
Class 5: November 9, Thursday, 11:30-13:00 – LEACOCK 14
Consequences for the grammar

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!
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