Archive for the 'Faculty news' Category

SSH Development Grant to Bernhard Schwarz

Bernhard Schwarz has been awarded a one-year internal Social Sciences and Humanities Development grant, for a project entitled “Games and probability: a new approach to antipresuppositions”, to be carried out in collaboration with Tim O’Donnell. Congrats!

Goodhue and Goodhue & Wagner papers to appear

Daniel Goodhue‘s paper “Must p is felicitous only if p is not known” has been accepted for publication in Semantics & Pragmatics. A draft of the paper is available here.

Daniel Goodhue and Michael Wagner‘s paper “Intonation, yes and no” has been accepted for publication in Glossa. A draft of the paper is available here.

Congrats both!

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.

Brendan Gillon to PhiLang 2017

Brendan Gillon will be a plenary speaker at The Fifth International Conference on Philosophy of Language and Linguistics (PhiLang 2017), to take place at the University of Lodz (Poland), 12-14 May 2017. The title of his  talk is: What is the object of semantics?

McGill at SALT 2017

McGill linguists will be heading to the University of Maryland later this week for the 27th Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT 27) meeting. Presentations include:

  • Chris Bruno – Contrastive negation and the theory of alternatives
  • Henrison Hsieh and Luis Alonso-Ovalle – Anchored implicatives: Tagalog ability/involuntary action
  • Bernhard Schwarz – Strength as entropy in questions: Evidence from uniqueness presuppositions

ACFAS Workshop May 12th

As part of the upcoming ACFAS (Association francophone pour le savoir), hosted May 8–12th at McGill, there will be a workshop: Le mot: syntaxe, morphologie, et phonologie. Talks by McGill linguists include:

  • Maire Noonan: Les prépositions de lieu complexes sous la loupe : une comparaison du français et de l’allemand
  • Lisa Travis and Heather Goad: Le rôle de la phonologie dans la violation du principe du miroir : le cas du navajo

Lisa Travis in Madagascar

Lisa Travis is currently doing fieldwork in three different cities in Madagascar – Tulear, Antananarivo, and Antsiranana – with Ileana Paul (Western).  They are meeting with linguists in all three cities and giving research protocol workshops to graduate students in Antanarivo and Antsiranana.

McGill at TOM Workshop on Semantics

McGill Linguistics was well represented at the 10th Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Workshop on Semantics, held this year at the University of Toronto on April 22nd. Presentations included:
  • Vincent Rouillard – Minimize Restrictors! Beyond Definite Descriptions
  • Francesco Gentile – A new presuppositional semantics for how many-questions
  • Chris Bruno – Contrastive negation and alternatives
  • Invited speaker: Prof. Junko Shimoyama – On Inverse Trace Conversion and the maximal informativeness analysis of Japanese internally-headed relative clauses (joint work with Keir Moulton, Simon Fraser University)
  • Invited speaker: Prof. Luis Alonso-Ovalle – Against the Odds: On the Modal Component of the Ability/Involuntary Action Verbal Inflection in Tagalog (joint work with Henrison Hsieh (McGill University)

Junko, Chris, Luis, Henrison, and Francesco at TOM

Meghan Clayards to London

Meghan will be traveling to London to give three presentations at the Workshop on Speech Perception and Production across the Lifespan, held at University College London April 26–27th. These include:

  • Sarah Colby, Meghan Clayards & Shari Baum: “Top-down and bottom-up perceptual learning for speech is maintained in older adults”
  • Elizabeth Wonnacott, Anastasia Giannakopoulou, Helen Brown & Meghan Clayards:  “High or Low? Comparing high- and low variability phonetic training in adult and child second-language learners”
  • Sarah Colby, Victoria Poulton & Meghan Clayards:  “Inhibition predicts lexical competition in older adults’ spoken word recognition”

The full program is available here.

Digging Into Data grant to Morgan Sonderegger

Morgan Sonderegger was part of one of 14 teams internationally receive funding through the Trans-Atlantic Platform Digging into Data Challenge. Charles Boberg and Michael Wagner are also also collaborators on the project. You can learn more about the project in the McGill Reporter:

The project, SPeech Across Dialects of English (SPADE): large-scale digital analysis of a spoken language across space and time, is led by an international team: Jane Stuart-Smith, University of Glasgow, Sonderegger, and Jeffrey Mielke, North Carolina State University, and will analyze 43 existing datasets of both Old World (British Isles) and New World (North American) English, including many private datasets held by “data guardians.”

Congratulations team!

Jessica Coon at Silicon Valley Comic Con

Jessica is returning this week from San Jose, where she spent the weekend at Silicon Valley Comic Con. She gave a public lecture, “The Linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, Fieldwork, and Universal Grammar”, and participated on a panel for women in STEM. She also met some interesting characters:

Recently, she was featured on the BBC Radio 4’s “The Film Programme”. Up-to-date Arrival-related media is on her website.

Henrison Hsieh and Luis Alonso-Ovalle at AFLA

Henrison Hsieh presented collaborative work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle at the 24th meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 24), which took place this past weekend at the University of Washington in Seattle. The title of their talk was “Anchored implicatives: Tagalog ability/involuntary action“.


McGillians at AFLA: Ileana Paul (PhD ’00), Jozina vander Klok (PhD ’12), Tingchun Chen (BA ’10), Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (Post Doc ’14-15), Henrison Hsieh (current PhD)



Jessica Coon to UMass

Jessica travels to Amherst later this week to give a colloquium talk at UMass. The title of her talk is: “Building verbs in Chuj: Consequences for the nature of roots”.


Tim O’Donnell in Leiden

Tim O’Donnell was in Leiden last week for the The Comparative Biology of Language Learning workshop, held at the Lorentz Center April 3–7. He gave a talk Thursday, title and abstract below:

Bayesian Program Learning of Morphophonological Rules
Both children and linguists confront a similar problem of inference:
given utterances produced by speakers, together with aspects of the
meaning of those utterances, discover the grammatical principles that
relate form to meaning. We study this abstract computational problem
within the domain of morphophonology, contributing a computational
model that learns phenomena from many natural languages and
generalizes in humanlike ways from data used in behavioral studies of
artificial grammar learning.
Our work draws on two analogies. The child-as-linguist analogy holds
that both children and linguists must solve the same abstract
inductive reasoning problem, even though the nature of the input data
and underlying mental algorithms are surely different in precise
detail. Accordingly we isolate the problem of learning
morphophonological systems, and show that a single solution to this
problem can capture both linguistic analyses from natural languages
and infant rule learning of artificial languages. We adopt the
framework of “Bayesian Program learning” (BPL) – in which learning is
formulated a synthesizing a program which compactly describes the
input data. This learning-as-programming analogy lets us exploit
recent techniques from the field of program synthesis to induce
morphophonological rules from data. While child-as-linguist poses the
computational problem, learning-as-programming offers a solution.

Coon and Carolan article in Glossa

This issue of the journal Glossa includes an article by Jessica Coon and Lizzie Carolan (BA ’14): ‘Nominalization and the structure of the progressives in Chuj Mayan’. The full article is available on the Glossa page.

Michael Wagner to Amsterdam

Michael served as an ‘opponent’ on Matthijs Westera‘s thesis defense in Amsterdam last week at the  Institute for Logic, Language and Computation  Universiteit van Amsterdam. The thesis is titled “Exhaustivity and Intonation. A Uni fed Theory“. While there, Michael also presented a paper on “Prosodically marking focus and givenness: What a purely pragmatic account needs to account for” in a satellite workshop to the event.

Jessica at Public Astro Night

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.

Henderson and Coon in NLLT

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.

Jessica Coon at UQAM’s “Midis autochtones”

Jessica will present this Wednesday at Midis autochtones, Organized by the Association modulaire étudiante de linguistique at UQAM and the Département de linguistique at UQAM.

February 22, 2017
room DS-1950 at UQAM (
coffee and snacks provided
Abstract: This talk will discuss the Mayan language family, a family of thirty languages currently spoken by more than six million people in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. Topics will include the socio-political context in which the languages are spoken, grammatical properties of the languages, as well as language endangerment and revitalization efforts.

Presentations at Toronto Intonation workshop

McGill linguists will participate in the Second Intonation Workshop at the University of Toronto February 16-17, giving two papers:

“The continuation contour in French: Realisation and representation”
Jeffrey Lamontagne, Heather Goad & Morgan Sonderegger

“Melodic alternations in Spanish, and their implications for intonational phonology”
Francisco Torreira (McGill University and Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics) &
Martine Grice (University of Cologne)

Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.