Archive for the 'Faculty news' Category

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)

Welcome Tim O’Donnell

McLing would like to (belatedly) welcome Tim O’Donnell, who  joined the McGill Linguistics faculty this January.

Tim O’Donnell develops mathematical and computational models of language  learning, processing, and generalization. One area of special interest is how language users strike a balance between the ability to creatively express new meanings, on one hand, and conservatively reuse existing words, idioms, and other constructions, on the other. His research draws on experimental methods from psychology, formal modeling techniques from natural language processing and computational linguistics, theoretical tools from linguistics, and problems from all three domains. Recent projects include work on lexicon learning from speech input, morphological productivity, phonotactics, syntactic structure building, and the meaning of verbs.


McGill at LSA/SSILA/ADS 2017

McGill linguists past and present attended the 91st Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, and the associated meeetings of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) and the American Dialect Society(ADS), which took place 5–8 January 2017 in Austin, Texas. Their many presentations included:

  • George Aaron Broadwell, Lauren Eby Clemens (Postdoc ’14-’15): “Inflectional change in Copala Triqui”
  • Lauren Clemens (Postdoc ’14-’15), Jessica Coon, Carol-Rose Little (BA ’12), Morelia Vázquez Martínez: “Encoding focus in Ch’ol spontaneous speech”
  • Lauren Clemens (Postdoc ’14-’15): “Prosody, pseudo noun incorporation, and V1 syntax: VP-fronting or Vo-raising?”
  • Emily Elfner (Postdoc ’12-’14), Patricia A. Shaw: “Game-based methodology for the study of intonational contours in Kwak’wala”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (Postdoc ’14-’15), Theodore Levin: “On the unavailability of argument ellipsis in Kaqchikel”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (Postdoc ’14-’15): “C-T head-splitting: evidence from Toba Batak”
  • Guilherme Garcia: “Adapting inconsistent lexical patterns: a Bayesian approach to weight and stress”
  • Daniel Goodhue: “Biased polar questions: VERUM focus is semantic focus, high negation is a distinct phenomenon”
  • Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Heather Goad: “Overriding default interpretations through prosody: depictive predicates in Brazilian Portuguese”
  • Aron Hirsch (BA ’12): “Fragments, pseudo-clefts, and ellipsis”
  • Thomas Kettig (BA ’13): “One hundred years of stability: the case of the BAD-LAD split”
  • Hadas Kotek (Postdoc ’14-’16): “Movement and alternatives don’t mix: a new look at intervention effects”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne, Heather Goad, Morgan Sonderegger: “Penultimate prominence in Québec French: internal motivations or English influence?”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne and Gretchen McCulloch (MA ’13): “Wayyy longgg: orthotactics and phonology in lengthening on Twitter”
  • Cora Lesure (BA ’15): “Phonologically null morphemes and templatic morphology: the case of Chuj (Mayan)”
  • Moti Liberman and Gretchen McCulloch (MA ’13) organized a symposium entitled “Datablitz: Getting High School Students Into Linguistics”
  • Michael McAuliffe, Michaela Socolof (BA ’16), Sarah Mihuc, Michael Wagner, Morgan Sonderegger: “Montreal Forced Aligner: an accurate and trainable forced aligner using Kaldi”
  • Michaela Socolof (BA ’16): “The position of the negative particle ara and NPIs in Kabyle negation”
  • Morgan Sonderegger, Michael McAuliffeJurij BozicChristopher BrunoSeptember CowleyBing’er JiangJeffrey LamontagneMartha SchwarzJiajia Su: “Laryngeal timing across seven languages: phonetic data and their relationship to phonological features”
  • Lisa Travis: “A typology of VP-fronting”
  • Jozina Vander Klok (PhD ’12) and Vera Hohaus: “Building Blocks of Weak Necessity Modality: The View from Paciran Javanese”

Some current and past McGill affiliates gathered for a photo:



Coon and Carolan to appear in Glossa

Jessica Coon and Lizzie Carolan’s (BA ’14) paper “Nominalizations and the structure of the progressive in Chuj Mayan” will appear in the journal Glossa. A draft of the paper is available here. Congrats both!

Carrier-Bordeleau and Travis at ABLT-BWTL

McGill BA student Sara Carrier-Bordeleau and Lisa Travis represented McGill Linguistics at the Atelier bilingue en linguistique théorique -Bilingual Workshop in Theoretical Linguistics  (ABLT-BWTL) at Concordia University, which took place December 12th and 13th.  Their talks were Orphan prepositions as surface anaphora (Sara) and  Little words – big consequences (Lisa).

More Arrival news

McGill Linguistics continues to make headlines with the recent release of ArrivalJessica Coon and Morgan Sonderegger both appeared on CTV National News last week, and Jessica was interviewed on CBC’s The Current last Friday. A full list of recent press, along with resources by McGill MA alum and internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch, can be found here.

Arrival arrives

Arrival, the new sci-fi movie with a world-saving linguist protagonist, premiered Friday. The Washington Post recently said it’s made linguistics look “almost cool,” and Science Magazine adds that this will our field’s “chance to set the record straight” about linguistics as a science.

Filmed in Montreal and directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival filmmakers worked with McGill linguists Jessica Coon, Morgan Sonderegger, and Lisa Travis. A group of Montreal-based linguists got to attend a special pre-release screening in downtown Montreal last Wednesday:

Linguists at Arrival

Linguists at Arrival

Jessica spent the last couple of weeks doing a lot of press interviews. You can read about some of them in the The Wall Street Journal, The New York ObserverThe Montreal Gazette, Wired, PCMag, Metro News, and McGill’s Alumni Magazine.

Jessica also wrote a piece for Museum of the Moving Image on aliens, fieldwork, and Universal Grammar.

You’ll notice an uncanny resemblance between Lisa’s office and the office of Dr. Louise Banks, documented on LanguageLog.

The Banks/Travis office

The Banks/Travis office

And you’ll see Morgan’s spectograms and Heptapod sounds throughout the film.


Ling-Tea, 11/4 – Francisco Torreira

Join us this week for Ling-Tea at its regular time, 12–1 in room 117.

Speaker: Francisco Torreira
Title: “Melodic constructions in Spanish and their implication for intonational phonology”


In this presentation I will explore the structure of intonation, arguing for the existence of melodic constructions, which I define as meaningful sequences of tonal targets with association properties that may be melody-specific and dependent on the metrical structure utterance. Following a qualitative description of several melodic constructions in English, Catalan, and Spanish, I provide data from two imitation-and-completion experiments, each carried out on a Spanish melodic construction: the low-rise-fall and the circumflex contour. I show that a high tonal target in each of these melodies is realized either at the right edge of the phrase (i.e. with a delimitative function) in phrases of one prosodic word (e.g. Manolo), or on a stressed syllable (i.e. with a culminative function) in longer phrases (e.g. El hermano de Manolo ‘Manolo’s brother’). To account for this alternation in contour shape, I argue for a stricter separation between tonal targets and metrical structure in intonational phonology, allowing melodic constructions in the intonational lexicon-grammar of a language to have tonal targets without an intrinsic culminative function (i.e. as pitch accents)  or delimitative function (i.e. as edge tones). More generally, the data support the existence of meaningful intonational units larger than those traditionally discussed in the intonational phonology literature (e.g. pitch accents, edge tones, prenuclear and nuclear contours).”

Michael Wagner in Tromsø

Michael Wagner recently returned from giving an invited lecture at the Workshop on Hierarchical Structures in Phonology, Morphology and Syntax which took place October 27–38th at UiT in Tromsø, Norway.
The title of his talk was: “Allophonic variation and the locality of production planning”, which reported on joint work with Meghan Clayards, Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, Morgan Sonderegger and James Tanner.  The abstract can be found here.

McGill at NELS 47

McGill linguists presented at the 47th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 47), which was hosted at the University of Massachusetts Amherst October 14–16. Presentations by current McGill affiliates included:

McGill affiliates of past and present gathered for a photo at the dinner:

Gui Garcia, Laura Kalin, Michael Wagner, Jessica Coon, Aron Hirsch, Cora Lesure, Bernhard Schwarz, Hadas Kotek

Gui Garcia, Laura Kalin, Michael Wagner, Jessica Coon, Aron Hirsch, Cora Lesure, Bernhard Schwarz, Hadas Kotek

Mah, Goad, Steinhauer in Frontiers in Psychology

Jen Mah (PhD 2011), Heather Goad and Karsten Steinhauer’s paper ‘Using event-related brain brain potentials to assess perceptibility: The case of French speakers and English [h]’ will appear shortly in Frontiers in Psychology.  Congratulations!

Jessica Coon in Arezzo

Jessica Coon is just returning from Arezzo, Italy, where she gave an invited talk at the workshop: “What’s in a Label?”. The title of her presentation was “What’s in Pred? Functional categories and the parameterization of predication.’

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.

Meghan Clayards co-organized a satellite workshop at LabPhon 15 on “Higher-order structure in speech variability: phonetic/phonological covariation and talker adaptation”. She also presented a poster with Hye-Young Bang as the first author titled “Structured Variation across Sound Contrasts, Talkers, and Speech Styles”.

Many more McGill linguists presented at LabPhon, held this year at Cornell University, as seen below:
McGill faculty, students, alums at LabPhon 15 banquet

McGill faculty, students, alums at LabPhon 15 banquet

Jessica Coon spent two weeks in June at CoLang (the Institute on Collaborative Language Research) at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks and in July she participated in the ANVILS (A National Vision for Indigenous Languages Sustainability) workshop at the University of Alberta.
rainbow from UAF campus, taken at midnight

rainbow from UAF campus, taken at midnight

Guilherme Garcia gave two talks at the 24th Manchester Phonology Meeting (one of which he co-authored with Natália Guzzo and Heather Goad). He then attended a workshop on Bayesian Data Analysis at the University of St. Gallen in June, and presented a poster at LabPhon 15. He also wrote the second chapter of his dissertation, which proposes a probabilistic representation of weight effects on stress—he will be presenting this at NELS and AMP later this year. In addition, he worked with Heather Goad and Natália Guzzo on a project about footing and stress in Québec French, which will also be presented at AMP. Finally, he finished writing a proceedings paper (46th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages), and prepared a workshop on data analysis using R, which he will teach in September.
Brendan Gillon spent the first three weeks of May lecturing on semantics at the Nanjing University of Science and Technology. At the end of June, he participated in a workshop on Buddhist Logic (hetuvidyā / yinming / inmyō) and its Applications in East Asia sponsored by the Austrian Academy of Sciences’  Institute for the Cultural and Intellectual History of Asia.
Henrison Hsieh presented talks at the 26th Southeast Asian Linguistics Society and the 23rd Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association meetings entitled “An argument for the noun-verb distinction in Tagalog” and “Prosodic indicators of phrase structure in Tagalog transitive sentences”, respectively.
Henrison presenting at SEALS

Henrison presenting at SEALS

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, Donghyun Kim, and Jeff Lamontagne, and Michael McAuliffe also presented posters at LabPhon 15.
In July, Bernhard Schwarz visited the University of Tübingen (Collaborative Research Centre 833) and presented joint work with Sasha Simonenko (PhD McGill 2015); in August, he traveled to Tokyo to present joint work with Francesco Gentile at  “Theoretical Linguistics at Keio” (TaLK).
Junko Shimoyama gave an invited talk titled ‘Connectivity effects in dislocated phrases and fragments’ at TaLK 2016 (Theoretical Linguistics at Keio) in August in Tokyo. Her joint work with Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten and Keir Moulton (postdoc 2009-2011), ‘Stay inside: the interpretation of internally-headed relative clauses in Navajo’, was presented by the co-authors at the CLA meeting in Calgary. Her joint work with Alex Drummond (postdoc 2012-2014), ‘Complex degrees and an unexpected comparative interpretation’, will be presented by Alex at the annual meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB) this week. Earlier in the summer, Junko co-presented with Christopher Fuhrman (ÉTS) and Maria Orjuela-Laverde (McGill TLS) at the annual SALTISE conference, sharing her experience with a new activity in Syntax 2 last year, called ‘Would you publish it?’, where the students participated in a process modelled after journal article reviewing. Many thanks to the students for trying it out!
Liz Smeets presented at the EuroSLA conference in Jyvaskyla, Finland this August and in June she collected data on the acquisition of object movement on Dutch in The Netherlands. Her proceedings paper from WCCFL34 “The Syntax of Focus Association in Dutch and German; Evidence from Scope Reconstruction”, joint work with Michael Wagner, is now available online:
Liz's view from the conference dinner

Liz’s view from the conference dinner

Morgan Sonderegger went to Scotland, where he co-organized a workshop and gave talks at U. Glasgow and U. Edinburgh. He co-organized the BigPhon workshop (including with Michael McAuliffe) and gave a poster at LabPhon 15 at Cornell.
Michael Wagner presented a paper with Jeff Klassen (PhD ’16), Heather Goad, and Annie Tremblay — ‘Prominence Shifts in English and Spanish Parallel Constructions’ — at SemDial. (Proceedings here)

Smeets and Wagner WCCFL proceedings

Liz Smeets and Michael Wagner have posted their upcoming WCCFL proceedings ‘The Syntax of Focus Association in Dutch and German: Evidence from Scope Reconstruction’ on lingbuzz.
In this paper we present novel evidence for the availability of scope reconstruction of the German and Dutch equivalents constituents of the form [only + DP]. Adding to earlier arguments in Reis (2005) and Meyer & Sauerland (2009), this paper provides additional evidence against the analysis of the German equivalent of only in B uring & Hartmann (2001), which claims that it can exclusively adjoin to adverbial positions. We rely on evidence from the Prosodic Question Answer Congruence and data from the scopal interaction between exclusive operators and adverbs to support our claims. We also present a syntactic analysis which accounts for the reconstruction data, and provides an alternative explanation for some of the syntactic restrictions on its distribution for which the Adverbial Analysis was originally proposed. We conclude with a discussion of why it might be that scope reconstruction is always available from the pre field, whereas in the middle field only arguments seem to be able to reconstruct.


Klassen and Wagner in Journal of Memory and Language

An article by Jeff Klassen (PhD ’16) and Michael Wagner,  ‘Prosodic prominence shifts are anaphoric’, has appeared in the Journal of Memory and Linguistics. Congratulations!
This paper presents evidence that shifts in prosodic prominence are anaphoric and require a contextually salient antecedent, similar to pronouns. The argument is based on a series of experiments looking at prosodic optionality in dialogues in which there are multiple potential antecedents embedded in a contextually salient coordinated structure. By looking at the interaction with adverbs that restrict the choice of antecedent, we show that the observed prosodic variability reveals different anaphoric choices, and hence different speaker intentions. The results are incompatible with the hypothesis that prominence shifts can be explained purely in reference to low-level facilitation due to repetition of the linguistic structure or accessibility of it referent, and are not reducible to existing accounts of prominence in terms of predictability.



Jessica Coon wins Principal’s Prize

Jessica Coon  is one of three McGill faculty members to receive this year’s Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers. “The Principal’s Prize for Outstanding Emerging Researchers was first awarded in 2013 with the intention of celebrating and supporting the work of highly accomplished scholars still in the early stages of their careers.” Congratulations!

Charles Boberg in Canadian Accent Video

Charles Boberg is featured in a new video, “The Canadian English Accent“, made by Toronto independent documentary filmmaker, Jim DeLuca. The video focuses on regional variation in Canadian English, featuring ordinary Canadians from across Canada pronouncing words and an interview with Charles. Nice, eh?

Meghan Clayards at SCSD speaker series, 5/16

Meghan Clayards will give the first talk of the spring-summer SCSD speaker series, today May 16th

Coordinates: 2001 McGill College Ave, room 869, at 3:00pm

Title: Modulation of phonetic contrasts


When speaking, talkers modulate the signal they produce to balance the conflicting goals of conveying meaning and speaking fluently. How talkers manage this modulation is responsive to information content (e.g. focus prosody, predictability) as well as sociolinguistic factors (e.g. gender, dialect). It is clear that many global phonetic characteristics change consistently with this modulation (e.g. speaking rate, vowel dispersion/reduction,) which may affect how easily the listener can understand the message. A second question is whether talkers also modulate the precision of phonetic contrasts so that they are more/less clearly conveyed to the listener. This talk will investigate whether and under what circumstances phonetic contrasts are enhanced by talkers and provide evidence that modulation may not be as precisely targeted as has been assumed. I will then turn to the issue of individual differences between talkers and argue that many of the differences between talkers can be captured by where they fit on the spectrum of more or less clear articulation. Together these results can reduce the complexity of both the production and perception computations required by talkers and listeners.

McGill at SALT

SALT wrapped up this past weekend at the University of Texas at Austin, and McGill linguists were present. Poster presentations by current McGill affiliates included:

The full program is available here:

mitcho Erlewine (postdoc 2014–15), Robert Henderson (postdoc 2013–14), Hadas Kotek, Maayan Adar (MA ')

McGill past and present at SALT: mitcho Erlewine (postdoc ’14–15), Robert Henderson (’12–13), Hadas Kotek, Maayan Adar (MA ’14)

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