Archive for the 'Faculty news' Category

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.

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 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.

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)



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