Archive for the 'Classes' Category

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)

Kabyle Mini Workshop

This year’s Field Methods class wrapped up with a successful Kabyle Mini Workshop. A subset of the class is pictured below, along with invited speaker Karim Achab and language consultant Karima Ouazar.


back row: Michaela Socolof, Karim Achab, Daniel Biggs, Dejan Milacic, Morgan Sonderegger, Jeffrey LaMontagne
front row: Jessica Coon, Lydia Felice, Sarah Mihuc, Inés Patiño Anaya, Alex Elias, Karima Ouazar


Guest lecture in Syntax 4, 2/10 – Bogal-Allbritten

This Wednesday (Feb 10), 2:35 – 3:25 pm (Room 117), there will be a guest lecturer via Skype in Syntax 4/Seminar in Syntax. Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (postdoctoral researcher at Simon Fraser University) will report on recent fieldwork-findings on Navajo internally-headed relative clauses. All are welcome!

Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

Phonology 4, LING 635 /

Seminar in Phonology, LING 735

Winter 2016, Morgan Sonderegger

TR 9:05-10:25 am, 1085 Dr. Penfield Rm 117
This year’s LING 635/735 will again address phenomena where physical implementation (“phonetics”) and symbolic patterning (“phonology”) of sounds are intertwined — the “phonetics/phonology interface”.  The course has two goals: to gain familiarity with core theoretical issues and phenomena in this domain, and to carry out a cross-linguistic research project as a class investigating them using data from speech corpora.
After reading core background literature, we will move on to 3-4 unsettled theoretical questions, such as:
  • What feature set should be used to describe laryngeal contrasts cross-linguistically?
  • Is contrast neutralization best described in terms of prosodic position (e.g. “devoicing in coda”) or acoustic cues (e.g. “devoicing where burst cues are not available”)?
where the cross-linguistic empirical facts are not clear.
For each question:
  1. we will read core theoretical/experimental papers
  2. each student will gather relevant data from their language (using Speech Corpus Tools, currently under development by Michael McAuliffe in our department, plus scouring previous work), and visualize patterns in this data
  3. we will use the resulting cross-linguistic typology to (hopefully) shed light on the theoretical question.
Each student will work with a single speech corpus from one language over the whole semester (with each student taking a different language).

Course announcement: Syntax 4 / Seminar in Syntax

Syntax 4, LING 675 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 775

Winter 2016, Junko Shimoyama

MW 2:35-3:55 pm, 1085 Dr. Penfield Rm 117
This course explores current cross-linguistic issues in syntax and its interfaces. Through in-depth investigations of particular issues, students will learn skills necessary to do independent research, such as (i) constructing arguments by carefully following logical steps, (ii) formulating hypotheses and exploring their consequences, (iii) finding empirical puzzles and developing them into research questions for a project.
This year, we will explore selected topics in understudied corners of various types of relativization phenomena cross-linguistically. Specific topics include: relativization and nominalization, special case-marking in relative clauses, internally-headed relative clauses and their relations (if any) to pseudo-relatives in Romance.


Course announcement: Semantics 4 / Seminar in Semantics

Semantics 4, LING 665 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 765

Winter 2016, Bernhard Schwarz

MW 11:35-12:55, 1085 Penfield, R. 117 

This year’s edition of Semantics 4/Seminar in Semantics will focus on presupposition, a phenomenon of at the interface of semantics and pragmatics. “Presupposition” refers to linguistically marked content that is understood as taken for granted by a speaker at the outset of a speech act (such as an assertion), and in some sense as not belonging to the main semantic content of that speech act. We will read some recent works on foundational issues in presupposition, including so-called presupposition projection. We will also investigate the meaning contributions of particular presupposition triggers (i.e. expressions whose use gives rise to  presuppositions) and we will study the role of presupposition in patterns of perceived unacceptability (such as polarity sensitivity effects and and island effects).  Some useful resources for students who would like to get a head start:

  • Beaver, David I., and Bart Geurts. 2014. Presupposition. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. Winter 2014 edition.
  • Sudo, Yasutada. 2014. Presupposition. In Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics, ed. Mark Aronoff. Oxford University Press.



Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

Phonology 4, LING 635 /

Seminar in Phonology, LING 735

“The phonetics/phonology interface: laryngeal contrasts”  

This year’s LING 635/735 will focus on sound structure phenomena where physical implementation (phonetics) and symbolic patterning (phonology) are particularly intertwined, such as:

  • Incomplete neutralization (how can languages with “final devoicing” such as German have no final voicing contrast, yet final voiced and voiceless stops are pronounced differently?)
  • Sources of sound change (why is final devoicing so common cross-linguistically, while final voicing isn’t?)
  • Tonogenesis (how and why do languages often develop tone from laryngeal contrasts?)
  • Typology of contrasts (how can we account for the vast cross-linguistic variation in how voicing contrasts are realized, and which positions they are neutralized in?)

We will focus primarily on empirical cases involving laryngeal consonants, especially obstruent voicing contrasts. These sounds pattern in similar ways cross-linguistically, but vary vastly in how they are implemented phonetically (both within and across languages), making them a perfect lens through which to examine fundamental questions about the phonetics/phonology interface. We will read a mixture of experimental, theoretical, and computational work on languages such as English, German, Korean, and Vietnamese from the past few decades.


  • 635: class presentation(s), homework assignments, final project.
  • 735 (pass/fail): minimal assignments beyond participation and presentation(s) in class.


Course announcement – Syntax 4 / Topics in Syntax

Syntax 4, LING 675 /

Seminar in Syntax, LING 775

Winter 2015, Jessica Coon

Case and Agreement”  

This course examines topics in the syntax of case, agreement, and the interactions between the two. Broadly speaking, we are investigating the relationship between a predicate and its arguments, and how theoretical accounts of these relationships have developed over the past few decades. We will look at not only morphological reflexes of case (on nominals) and agreement (on predicates), but also the theoretical mechanisms which have been proposed to underly these phenomena, including argument licensing (“abstract Case”) and the relation Agree. We begin with foundational readings on case and agreement, and then see how these theories have developed to cover a wide range of empirical phenomena in languages such as Icelandic, Hindi-Urdu, Dinka, Kaqchikel, Tsez, Tagalog, Nez Perce, and Sakha. Specific topics will include: the relation between abstract and morphological case; theories of structural vs. dependent case; failed agreement and uninterpretable features; the Person Case Constraint and clitic doubling; different alignment types, including ergativity and split ergativity; long distance agreement; and partial agreement.  


LING 675: homework assignments, short class presentation, final paper

LING 775 (Pass/Fail): homework assignments, class presentation

Course announcement: Semantics 4

Semantics 4, LING 665 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 765

Winter 2015, Bernhard Schwarz

“Semantic disasters (in weak islands and elsewhere)”  

In this year’s edition of LING 665 (Semantics 4)/LING 765 (Seminar in Semantics), we will explore semantic explanations of apparent grammatical constraints, with a focus on wh-movement. The first part of the course will provide a hands-on introduction to classic approaches to the semantics of wh-questions, applying and extending the tools and notions introduced in Semantics 3. Building on this background, we will in the second part study recent ideas about so-called weak islands. “Weak island” is a cover term for a class of constraints illustrated by the contrast between How many children does Jones have? and *How many children doesn’t Jones have? (where negation is said to create a weak island for extraction of the how many-phrase). We will study various types of weak islands and various types of “semantic disasters” that have been held responsible for their existence. As a guide in this exploration, we will use Marta Abrusán’s 2014 book Weak Island Semantics. Our study of weak islands will also prepare us for examining semantic disasters in the analysis of other phenomena prominently discussed in recent literature (including work by several members of our department), such as semantic constraints on other cases of overt movement and so-called blocking effects.


LING 665: homework assignments, short class presentation, final paper

LING 765 (Pass/Fail): homework assignments, short class presentation

Main reference

Abrusán, Marta: 2014, Weak Island Semantics, Oxford University Press


LING 415 at Tibetan Bazar

Members of the LING 415 Field Methods class headed to the Montreal Tibetan Bazaar this weekend, where they watched a traditional yak dance, ate momos, and tested their ability to recognize stacked consonants during the calligraphy demonstration.

Fall course announcement: LING 721 “Questions, focus, and friends”

LING 721 Advanced Seminar 1
“Questions, focus, and friends”
Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine and Hadas Kotek

Monday & Wednesday, 1:30–3:00pm

In this seminar we will explore the syntax and semantics of questions and focus constructions. From a theoretical point of view, we will discuss in detail two technologies used for scope taking—(covert) movement and focus alternative computation—which are commonly employed in the analysis of both questions and focus constructions. From a more typological perspective, we will explore the shared overt morphosyntactic strategies some languages use in the expression of both kinds of constructions.

Phenomena to be discussed include in-situ and ex-situ wh-questions and Association with Focus constructions, pied-piping, movement asymmetries and islands, intervention effects, and alternative questions. Time permitting, we may discuss other phenomena for which both (covert) movement and alternative computation have been (or could be) employed, such as disjunction, NPIs, universal quantification, and head-internal relatives.

Requirements for registered students will include infrequent homework assignments and two language journals, which report on the investigation of wh-questions and focus constructions in a particular language, based on elicitation with a native speaker. We will assume some familiarity with properties of A’ (wh) movement and (extensional) compositional semantics as in Heim & Kratzer (1998), but important parts of the theory will be reviewed in class.

The course will be graded Pass/fail.

Course Announcement –– LING 460: Semantics 2

A course announcement from Brendan Gillon:


Fall 2014: MWF 10h30–11h30
Course prerequisite: LING 360 or permission of instructor
This course can be taken for graduate credit by linguistics graduate students, provided they register for it under a graduate level course number.

Course Description:

The aim of the course (LING 460: Semantics 2) is to introduce students to the two most fundamental tools in semantic theory, namely, Lambek calculus and the Lambda calculus, a thorough understanding of which is necessary for advanced work in semantic theory. The Lambek calculus, due to Jim Lambek, professor emeritus of McGill University’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics, is a generalization of the propositional calculus and it has applications in a variety of domains in mathematics, and perhaps surprisingly, in linguistics too, where it provides the mathematics of syntactic categories. In other words,
viewed in the right way, the propositional calculus can be used to formalize the syntactic categories of natural language expressions. The Lambda calculus is a notation developed by Alonzo Church to represent all functions in mathematics. It is widely used by natural language semanticists to express the values which can be associated with the expressions of a natural language. It turns out that there is a deep and elegant connection between the Lambek calculus and the Lambda calculus, which natural language semanticists find very useful to exploit. This connection is known as the Curry-Howard isomorphism.

Making all this clear as well as showing how these tools apply in an enlightening way to a variety of natural language expressions, including those involving coordination, quantificational expressions and comparative expressions, is what the course aims to do.

The course presupposes nothing other than what is covered in the introductory logic course (PHIL 210). Anyone with this much preparation is welcome to enrol.

Success in the course requires that one is at ease with, and not at all a whiz at, elementary logic and that one has the self discipline to work regularly at studying the material. Assessment is based on problem sets and class participation only.

Last year, a student who was an undergraduate major in English at McGill University and had taken only the introductory logic course (PHIL 210), took this course and did extremely well. The same student, who has gone on to graduate studies in linguistics at Oxford University, reports that he is `ahead of the game’ as a result of this when he started his studies there.

This fall will be the third time the course is offered. I shall be joined by Dr. Eliot Michaelson in teaching the course. Dr. Michaelson graduated from UCLA with a doctorate in philosophy and works in the area of philosophy of language. He is a Mellon post doctoral fellow in the Department of Philosophy.

The course will continue to use Bob Carpenter’s textbook, Type logical semantics. This book, though it is an introductory textbook, is a little on the steep side. To ease the gradient, I have written notes designed to reduce the slope in going from the level of introductory logic to the Carpenter textbook.

Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

LING 635/735
Current topics in phonology: a computational approach
Tuesday, 2:35-5:25

Instructor: Morgan Sonderegger

Course description
This course will address several topics of current interest in phonology, united by the theme of variability in sound systems, using a hands-on approach.  Students will first learn to program in Python, with a focus on tools needed to extract information from corpora which can be used to test research questions about phonological variability — though these tools are useful for experimental and theoretical studies more generally.*  We will then cover several topics related to variability, for two weeks each, including (preliminary list):

  • Sources of variability
    Explanations which have been proposed for the structure of phonologicalvariability, such as Steriade’s influential P-map hypothesis, which links the perceptibility of phonological contrasts to their likelihood of being used in a language.
  • Variability in the lexicon
    Within a given language, some unattested/attested sound sequences are judged worse/better than others by native speakers, and certain sound sequences are heavily overrepresented across the lexicon (the most famous example being co-occurrence asymmetries among consonants in Arabic).  Much recent work explores how to account for such “probabilistic phonotactics”  in terms of some type(s) of similarity between segments (e.g. perceptual distinctiveness, number of shared features).
  • Variability in realization
    Phonological variation — any situation where the same underlying morpheme can be realized as different surface forms in a given environment — has gained extensive attention in phonological theory over the past 15 years. Phenomena such as English t/d deletion (e.g. realization of “went” with or without the final [t]) are increasingly, though not uncontroversially, seen as part of phonology proper, rather than simply “phonetic implementation”.
  • Variability in grammar:
    Classic optimality theory (OT) can only account for categorical phonologicalpatterns.  The increasing interest in gradient patterns (such as probabilistic phonotactics and phonological variation) in phonology has gone hand-in-hand with the adoption of theoretical frameworks which can account for both categorical and gradient patterns, most notably Maximum Entropy grammars and Stochastic OT.

For each topic, we will alternate theoretical and practical weeks: in the first week we will discuss 1-2 key papers and formulate research questions which build on them; in the second week (and a subsequent homework assignment),  we will write and deploy Python scripts to test these questions, by extracting relevant data from corpora or running simulations.  For example, after reading Frisch et al.’s influential paper on gradient consonant co-occurrence patterns in Arabic, which explains them in terms of similarity between segments, we might write scripts to extract consonant co-occurrence data from a pronunciation lexicon of a different language, and see whether Frisch et al’s account works for it as well.

Because of the hands-on nature of the course, most evaluation will be via frequent homework assignments, which will combine programming and brief write-ups. There may also be a short final paper for students in Phonology 4, which can either build on one of the homework assignments or continue an existing research project.

Course announcement: Syntax 4 / Seminar in syntax

LING 675 Syntax 4
LING 775 Seminar in Syntax
Monday 11:35-14:25, Prof. Junko Shimoyama
Course Description
The course explores current cross-linguistic issues in syntax and its interfaces. Through in-depth investigations of particular issues, students will learn skills necessary to do independent research, such as (i) constructing arguments by carefully following logical steps, (ii) formulating hypotheses and exploring their consequences, (iii) finding an empirical puzzle and developing it into research questions for a project.
This year, we will explore selected topics in the `peripheries’ in the DP and CP domains. In particular, we will examine language-internal and cross-linguistic variations in (i) modification structure within DP (e.g., externally vs. internally headed relatives, integrated vs. non-integrated appositives, modifier order and size) and (ii) expressions of evidentiality (possible connection to Luis’ course), after thought, and so forth in the CP domain.
All are welcome!

Semantics 4 & Seminar in Semantics, Winter 2014

LING 665 (Semantics 4) / LING 765 (Seminar in Semantics) will focus this year on the semantics of modality.

The class will consist of two parts. The first part will provide students with a gentle hands-on introduction to the classic analysis of modal auxiliaries and conditionals developed by Angelika Kratzer. We will start by surveying the limits of an extensional semantics of the type encountered in Semantics 3 and will then progressively introduce some basic tools to capture the meaning of modals and conditionals. In this part, we will familiarize ourselves with the analysis of modals as restricted quantifiers over possible worlds, the ranking of worlds in the domain of quantification, and the interaction between if-clauses and modals.

The second part of the course will survey some more recent developments in the semantics of modals. This part will focus on the interaction of modality and aspect and the semantic import of the syntactic distinction between `high’ (epistemic and some deontic) and `low’ (root) modals, as investigated in recent work by Valentine Hacquard. We will also survey recent work on the evidential component of epistemic modals by von Fintel and Gillies, and, time permitting, we will study two recent proposals by von Fintel and Iatridou on the interpretation of weak necessity modals and sufficiency constructions.


LING 665: homework assignments, class presentation, final paper.

LING 765 (Pass/Fail): homework assignments, class presentation.

Rajesh Bhatt’s visit

As we previously announced, Rajesh Bhatt visited the department to give a talk at the Syntax/Semantics Reading Group and a presentation in LING 417.  McLing reporters attended both events and brought with them some pictures to share with you.


Rajesh Bhatt talking about relatives in LING 417


Rajesh Bhatt talking to students about computational linguistics.


Rajesh Bhatt having dinner at an undisclosed location


Bhatt and Moulton: Guests Lectures and Syntax/Semantics Reading Group

Rajesh Bhatt will give today a guest lecture in LING 417:
Rajesh Bhatt (UMass, Amherst)
Monday, Nov. 4, 2:35-3:55
1085 Penfield, Room 002
“On Free relatives and correlatives”
(Guest lecture in LING 417 Topics at the interfaces)
Keir Moulton will give a presentation at the Syntax/Semantics Reading Group this Friday and also a guest lecture in LING 417 next Monday:
Keir Moulton (Simon Fraser University)
Friday Nov. 8, 3:00-4:30 
1085 Penfield, Room 002
“Separating crossover from cataphora, experimentally” (tentative title)
Monday, Nov. 11, 2:35-3:55
Guest lecture in LING 417 Topics at the interfaces
1085 Penfield Room 002
“On Pseudo-relatives and their relation to internally headed relatives”
(Guest lecture in LING 417 Topics at the interfaces)
Everybody is welcome to attend!

Field workers return from Listuguj

Field methods class travels to Listuguj

As this week’s McLing goes to press, a group of students from Jessica Coon and Michael Wagner‘s Field Methods class will be driving to meet up with the class’ language consultant––McGill Education PhD student Janine Metallic––in the Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation, on the Québec/New Brunswick border. They will spend Tuesday visiting Mi’gmaq language classes (taught by Janine’s mother, Mary Ann Metallic), meeting community members and language teachers, and presenting the work they have done during the course. The group includes graduate students Michael Hamilton, Jenny Loughran, Gretchen McCulloch, and Lance Williams, and undergrads Hyuna Ku, Carol LittleElise McClay, Di Mo, and Erin Olson.

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