Archive for the 'Job news' Category

Job talk by Suzi Lima, 2/5

This week, our department will be visited by a job candidate, Suzi Lima (UofT). Below, you can find the abstract for her talk, with details about location and time.

On the acquisition of object denoting nouns

Suzi Lima, University of Toronto, Wilson Hall WPRoom 3:30pm.

In classical theories of countability, the minimal elements in the extension of count nouns are atoms, and the material parts of these atoms are not themselves part of the extension of the nouns (cf. Link 1983, Chierchia 1998, 2010 among many others). According to these theories, grammatical atomicity (what counts as an atom for purposes of counting in language) is strongly associated with natural atomicity (what constitutes as an individual of the kind described by a noun). Against this view, Rothstein (2010) argues that natural atomicity is neither required nor necessary for grammatical counting. Rothstein (2010) argues that atoms can be contextually defined. That is, count nouns like fence, wall and bouquet denote “different sets of atoms depending on the context of interpretation”. For example, what counts as a wall-atom in a particular context (the four wall-sides of a castle that we can consider as ‘a wall’) might not count as a wall-atom in a different context (the north wall of a castle, which we can also name as ‘a wall’). Empirical facts across languages provide ample evidence that discrete individuals are not necessarily countable (see object mass nouns such as furniture in English) and that nouns that denote substances are not necessarily uncountable (cf. Mathieu 2012, Lima 2014 among many others). Such evidence suggests a strong dissociation between natural and semantic atomicity. Given this debate, the question we intend to address in this talk is whether the conceptual content of a noun and natural atomicity bias how units of individuation are determined. More specifically, we are investigating whether contextually determined individuals, more specifically, partitions of discrete individuals, can be considered as atoms.

Acquisition of countability The debate about whether the conceptual content of a noun determines how atoms are determined in grammar is a topic of interest for both formal semantics and developmental psychology studies. A series of studies in developmental psychology suggests that although the lexical content of nouns plays a role in the identification of atoms in their extensions (Carey, 2009; Macnamara, 1986; Xu, 2007), natural atomicity is not required for grammatical counting. Acquisition studies suggest that until 7 years of age children count parts of individuals of a certain kind (e.g. pieces of forks) as if they were themselves individuals of that kind (e.g. individual forks; cf. Shipley and Shepperson 1990). Srinivasan et al. (2013) replicate these results and in addition have shown that children cease to treat parts of individuals as whole individuals once they recognize that (pseudo)partitive constructions (e.g. “piece of”) and measure phrases are more informative descriptions for parts of objects.

Proposal First, we argue that a proper semantic analysis of aforementioned acquisition facts require the adoption of a theory of countability in which not only natural atoms but also their material parts belong to the extension of count nouns. To illustrate, both a whole banana and a piece of a banana belong to the extension of the noun “banana”. Secondly, we argue in favor of a blocking mechanism that prevents speakers to refer to parts of individuals using an unmodified count noun when pseudopartitive constructions or measure phrases are available to refer to these parts. Evidence for this mechanism will be based on three experimental studies with speakers of Yudja, a Tupi language spoken in Brazil that has low frequency (pseudo)partitive constructions and no measure phrases.

Two job talks this week

This week, our department will be visited by two job candidates, Athulya Aravind (MIT) and Stefan Keine (USC). Below, you can find the abstracts for their talks, with details about location and time.

The next candidates will give their talks on the following dates (details to follow):

  • Suzi Lima (University of Toronto): Monday February 5
  • Keir Moulton (Simon Fraser): Monday February 12
  • Shota Momma (UCSD): Monday February 19

All talks will be at 3:30pm in Wilson Hall WP Room.


Athulya Aravind, MIT, Monday January 29, 3:30pm, Wilson Hall WP Room

Principles of presupposition: The view from child language

To presuppose something is to take that information for granted in a way that contrasts with asserting it. The proper characterization of presupposition–the way it enters into the compositional semantics and the way it fits into the exchange of information in communicative situations–has been at the center of long-standing debate. One class of theories treat presuppositions as categorically imposing restrictions on the conversational common ground: presuppositions must signal information that is already mutually known by all conversation participants. While principled and elegant, these theories are often empirically inadequate, as the common ground requirement is not always met in everyday conversation. A second class of theories, therefore, adopt weaker and less categorical approaches to the phenomenon that are a better fit to the empirical facts. In this talk, I present arguments from child language for the categorical treatment of presuppositions advocated by the common ground theories. Children initially adopt a view of presuppositions as uniformly placing restrictions on the conversational common ground, even in situations where these requirements may be bent. Moreover, children initially lack the ability to use presuppositions in ways that violate the common ground requirement. The developmental patterns, therefore, vindicate some of the theoretical idealizations, whose empirical validity is often masked in part due to the pragmatic sophistication of adult language users.

Stefan Keine, USC, Wednesday January 31, 3:30pm, Wilson Hall WP Room

The ups and downs of agreement (joint work with Bhamati Dash)

Agreement phenomena (e.g., subject-verb agreement) have been a central topic in the syntactic literature over the past twenty-five or so years. Recently, much interest has been paid to the question of what structural relationship must hold for agreement to arise, in particular whether agreement is upward-oriented, downward-oriented, or bidirectional. In this talk, I will present novel evidence from Hindi-Urdu that contributes to this debate about agreement. Verb agreement in Hindi normally exhibits a top-down preference: agreement is controlled by the structurally highest accessible DP. However, under the right circumstances, this directionality flips to a bottom-up preference: agreement is then preferentially established with a structurally lower element. I will argue that this pattern can be given a principled explanation if (i) a head can agree both downward and upward and if (ii) downward agreement takes derivational precedence. Taken together, these conclusions provide novel evidence for cyclic Agree (Rezac 2003). Furthermore, there is a striking locality difference between the two directions of agreement: Agreement with a lower goal can be long-distance, but agreement with a higher goal is confined to Spec-head. This indicates that Agree is not genuinely bidirectional, but that apparent upward agreement has some other source. We propose that the syntactic operation Agree is strictly downward looking (as originally in Chomsky 2000), but that probes may project (Rezac 2003). Descriptive instances of upward agreement can then be unified with downward agreement. One broader implication is that comparing the directionality of agreement with that of other dependencies, like negative concord, suggests that not all long-distance dependencies involve Agree. We furthermore show that the account proposed here affords a new view on well-known differences between A- and A’-movement with respect to agreement.

Gui Garcia to Ball State University

McLing is thrilled to report that PhD student Guilherme Garcia has just accepted a tenure-track position in phonology and phonetics in the Linguistics Department at Ball State University. The position begins in January 2018. Congratulations Gui!

Emily Elfner to York University

McLing is pleased to report that Emily Elfner (McGill post-doc 2012–2014) has recently accepted a job as Asssistant Professor in Phonetics and Phonology at York University. Congratulations Emily!

Jozina vander Klok to University of Oslo

McLing is happy to report that PhD alumna Jozina vander Klok (’12) has just accepted a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oslo, beginning this June. Jozina will be leaving UBC, where she has been a post-doctoral fellow since 2013. Congratulations Jozina!

Meaghan Fowlie to Saarbrücken

Congratulations to recent McGill research fellow (and ’07 BA alumna) Meaghan Fowlie, who has accepted a post-doctoral position this fall at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany. There she will continue her work on computational syntax and semantics with Professor Alexander Koller in the department of Computational Linguistics and Phonetics. Congratulations Meaghan!

Hadas Kotek to Yale

Congratulations to Hadas Kotek who has just accepted a lecturer position in Semantics at Yale, beginning in August. Hadas is finishing a two-year Mellon Post-doctoral fellowship at McGill, supervised by Junko Shimoyama. Best of luck Hadas!

Sasha Simonenko to take up postdoc at University of Ghent

This month Alexandra (Sasha) Simonenko (McGill PhD 2014) is finishing a 17-month postdoc at Labex EFL in Paris on quantitative methods in Medieval French morphosyntax and taking up a 3-year postdoc at the University of Ghent under the supervision of Liliane Haegeman. The Ghent postdoc is funded by the Flemish Research Council and will focus on the comparative semantics and morphosyntax of the DP in several Finno-Ugric languages spoken in Russia. Congratulations Sasha!

Michael Hamilton to Florida Atlantic University

Congratulations to recent McGill PhD Michael Hamilton, who has just accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Linguistics Department at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. Mike finished his PhD in 2015 and is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. Nice work Mike!

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