Archive for the 'Talks' Category

Language revitalization talk: Megan Lukaniec

There will a talk on language revitalization Tuesday cosponsored by Linguistics and the Office of First Nations and Inuit Education, DISE. The talk will take place Tuesday September 12th at 4:15pm in Education room 233, and will be preceded by coffee and snacks in Education room 203A at 3:45. All are invited!
Speaker: Megan Lukaniec (Huron-Wendat Nation, UC Santa Barbara Linguistics)

With the number of dormant languages steadily increasing, archival materials are becoming indispensable tools for linguistic research and revitalization. Absent the invaluable opportunity to consult a native speaker, reclamation in dormant language communities must follow a different trajectory: transform documentation into accessible and culturally relevant language teaching.

The Wendat language, also known as Huron or Huron-Wendat, is one such example of a dormant language undergoing revitalization. Although it lost its last fluent speakers in the mid-19th century, Wendat (Iroquoian) was documented extensively by missionaries in the 17th and 18th centuries. For the past decade, Wendat community members have been leading efforts to reawaken their language. These revitalization efforts, based out of the reserve of Wendake, Québec, have led to adult evening courses, workshops for children at the tribal elementary school, lessons at the tribal daycare center as well as the creation of an online, open access trilingual dictionary, Wendat-French-English (

So, how does one repurpose historical documentation for language reclamation? How does one use linguistics in order to repatriate linguistic and cultural knowledge? Using Wendat as a case study, this paper will examine the broader processes of language reclamation and revitalization, including the historical-comparative reconstruction of linguistic data, transforming such data into materials for teacher training and language courses, and reintroducing language into a dormant language community. Finally, I will offer observations about the social and cultural effects of language reclamation, including its effects on community healing and individual well-being.

Afternoon Bantu Workshop, May 3rd

Please join us for an afternoon Bantu Workshop, to celebrate the end of this semester’s Bobangi Field Methods class. There will be presentations by some of the undergraduate and graduate students, our Bobangi consultant Mpoke Mimpongo (UQAM), and invited speaker Jenneke van der Wal (Harvard). All talks will take place in McGill Education Building, room 216. The schedule is below–all are welcome!

12:30–12:45 – Jiaer Tao, A Study on object asymmetry in Bobangi

12:45–1:00 – Benjamine Oldham, Object marking in Bobangi: A pronominal incorporation analysis

1:00–1:15 – Renata Masucci, Tone in Bobangi

1:15–1:30 – Paulina Elias, Object asymmetry in Bobangi

1:30–1:45 – BREAK

1:45–2:00 – Sara Carrier-Bordeleau, Verbal reduplication in Bobangi

2:00–2:15 – Jasmine Zhang, Vowel sandhi in Bobangi

2:15–2:30 – Emily Kellison-Linn, Intonation of polar questions and declarative statements in Bobangi

2:30–2:45 – Yeong Park, High boundary tone in Bobangi

2:45–3:00 – Rosie Barnes, Agent nominalizations in Bobangi

3:00–3:15 – BREAK

3:15–3:45 – Mpoke Mimpongo (UQAM), TBA

3:45–4:45 – Invited Speaker – Jenneke van der Wal (Harvard University)

Title: Investigating focus marking in Luganda and Lingala

Abstract: While it is admittedly difficult to investigate information structure in an unfamiliar language, in this talk I hope to show that there are some manageable diagnostics for focus that can be applied in elicitation. Based on data from Luganda and Lingala I show why the discoveries about focus marking in Bantu languages are crucial for understanding both the synchronic analysis and the diachronic development of focus. (full abstract)

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.

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.

Two Talks by Mats Rooth and Dorit Abusch on October 11

Mats Rooth and Dorit Abusch will give two semantics taks on Tuesday October 11th (from 12:30 to 2:30 in room 002.) The title of the talks are:
Dorit Abusch, “A dynamic semantics for indexing in pictorial narratives.”
Mats Rooth, “Picture descriptions, centered content, and finite state intensional semantics.”
Everybody is invited.

Yosef Grodzinsky talk, 9/16

Yosef Grodzinsky (Hebrew University Jerusalem) will be giving a talk this Friday, 3:30-5 in EDUC 434. Title and abstract below. All are welcome!

The neural dynamics of Verification Procedures: neurological and linguistic implications

Yosef Grodzinsky HUJI, FZ Jülich

At the heart of this talk will be results from a set of complex, multi-modal, Reaction Time and fMRI experiments in healthy adult subjects and in patients with Broca’s aphasia, that deployed a verification task with quantificational sentences and quantity-containing scenarios. I will report recent work that had 2 goals:

1. to study the relation between linguistic and numerical processes in the brain (anatomical localization, and the neural dynamics of verification).

2. to distinguish between semantic analyses (theoretical adjudication). This was made possible as among other things, we studied the temporal and neural dynamics of the verification of comparatives, with the hope of distinguishing between different analyses of less-comparatives.

Relevant reading:

Deschamps, I, Agmon G, Loewenstein Y, Grodzinsky Y.  2015.  The Processing of Polar Quantifiers, and Numerosity Perception. Cognition. 143:115-128

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.

Kabyle Mini-Workshop, 4/13

This year’s Field Methods class is happy to announce a Kabyle Mini Workshop, which will take place this Wednesday, April 13th, in Education room 129. In addition to short 10-minute presentations by all class members, we will have an invited presentation by Karim Achab (U. Ottawa), from 1:10–2:10. The full program, along with Achab’s abstract, is below. Anyone is welcome to join for any portion of the workshop.

Kabyle Mini Workshop

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

Education Building, room 129


  • Lydia Felice: Feminine plural noun formation
  • Sarah Mihuc: Noun-initial a- and the Construct State
  • Francesco Gentile: On the morphosyntax of causatives in Kabyle
  • Alyssa Gold: Complements and adjuncts in Kabyle noun phrases

11:40–12:00 – Questions & Break


  • Becca Hoff: The role of sonority sequencing in Kabyle syllable formation
  • Martha Schwarz & Bing’er Jiang: The role of sonority in schwa epenthesis: Stem level and beyond

12:30–1:10 – Lunch (provided for class members)

1:10–2:10 – Karim Achab: Lexical roots, nouns and nominal aspect (abstract below) 


  • Anisa Amin: Methods of nonverbal negation in Kabyle
  • Michaela Socolof: Two functions of ara in Kabyle
  • Dejan Milacic: Aḏ and ara in irrealis and negation
  • Melanie Custo-Blanch: Questions and clitics in Kabyle 

2:50–3:10 – Questions & Break


  • Alex Elias: Kabyle “double” consonants: Long or strong?
  • Jeff LaMontagne: Motiver ses choixExamining variability in schwa placement and acoustics
  • Daniel Biggs: A question of word order in Kabyle: VSO vs. SVO
  • Ines Patino Anaya: ḏ as a copular particle

3:50–4:00 – Questions and wrap-up


Lexical roots, nouns, and nominal aspect – Karim Achab 

It has been widely accepted in Afroasiatic linguistics that verbs and nouns in Afroasiatic languages are derived from lexical roots, considered as the smallest building block in the lexicon[1]. A lexical root is traditionally defined as the basic entity that conveys the semantics of a word but which lack a category feature. For instance the Tamazight root mɣr conveys the meaning of ‘tall’, ‘big’, ‘elder’, etc. It may yield a noun (eg. amɣar ‘old man’) if associated with the category feature [n], or a verb (eg. imɣur ‘grow up’, if associated with the category feature [v]. Lexical roots consist of consonants only; they are later combined with thematic vowels to form the (word) stem. Much has been said in the literature as regards the thematic (or stem) vowels associated with verbs, which indicate inflection (tense/aspect and agreement), as well as the initial vowel of nouns, which results from incorporation into the noun of an old determiner[2]. However, analyses regarding the inner vowel of nouns are almost inexistent, except in the situations where this vowel alternates with respect to number, known as internal plurals in the literature[3]. In the example amɣar ‘old man’, the internal vowel is by no means associated with number as the plural imɣarn is derived by means of the suffix –n. In this presentation, I argue that the inner vowel is associated with perfective (bound, telic or accomplished) aspect. Nominal aspect is not as investigated as verbal aspect in the literature, but it has been the topic of a number of studies[4] which point out to some inherent aspectual properties of nouns. However, unlike the aspect investigated in such studies, which is often of the type mass/count distinction, the nominal aspect that is dealt with in the present study is of the perfective/imperfective type, which is more reminiscent of verbal lexical aspect (or aktionsart). An example of a perfective nominal aspect in English is provided by nouns derived from participles such as a grown-up or writing where the perfective and imperfective aspect is inherited from the past and present participle, respectively. However, even in English, this type of nominal aspect is not restricted to nouns derived from participles. They are for instance implicit in deverbal nominals derived by means of the suffix –ion such as constructioninspection, etc. Similarly, some basic nouns, no matter the language, refer to an entity that is inherently perfective or accomplished. For instance, if we say a ‘house’ or an ‘adult’, these words are understood in their accomplished state or aspect (perfective, bounded or telic). Exploring data from Tamazight, I argue that the primary property of the inner vowel of nouns is aspectual and that in the case of internal plural, this aspectual vowel is put into contribution to indicate number. I further demonstrate that aspect is an essential property of the internal structure of nouns, without which the nominal structure cannot be complete. Finally, I explore the ways in which aspect interacts with other nominal properties such as class and number along the nominal spine.

[1] With the exception of Bohas (2000) who suggests the concept of etymon as an alternative.

[2] See Achab (2003, 2012) and references cited therein.

[3] There are three types of plurals in Tamazight: (i) internal, obtained by changing the internal vowel, (ii) external, obtained by means of the plural suffix –n and (iii) the mixt plurals, which is a combination of (i) and (ii).

[4] See among others Rijkhoff (1991, 2002), Nordlinger and Sadler’s (2004) and I Wayan Arka (2013) and references cited therin.

Dissertation defense, 3/31 – Alanah McKillen

All are welcome to attend Alanah McKillen’s PhD Dissertation Defense.

Title: On the interpretation of reflexive pronouns

When: Thursday, March 31st  at 10:00am

Where: Arts Buildling, room 230 (followed by a reception in the lounge)


This dissertation is concerned with the interpretation of reflexive pronouns and how their interpretation requirements affect the formulation of Condition A in binding theory. In Standard Binding Theory, reflexives are assumed to be interpreted as bound-variables only (Chomsky, 1981; Reinhart, 1983; Büring, 2005). This assumption is explicitly reflected in Condition A, which requires that reflexives must be locally bound-variables. In this dissertation I question how well motivated this assumption is.

To test the bound-variable-only assumption for reflexives, I investigate the readings that reflexives give rise to in VP-ellipsis and focus constructions. It has previously been observed that reflexives are ambiguous in VP-ellipsis, giving rise to both a strict and sloppy reading (Dahl, 1973; Sag, 1976; Hestvik, 1995; Fiengo and May, 1994). Rather than take this as evidence for both referentially interpreted and boundvariable reflexives, as is the case with ambiguities that arise with non-reflexive pronouns (Sag, 1976; Reinhart, 1983; Heim and Kratzer, 1998), previous accounts aim to derive strict readings of reflexives while maintaining the bound-variable-only assumption (Hestvik, 1995; Büring, 2005). However, I argue that these accounts run into problems which could be avoided if reflexives were able to be interpreted as coferential with their antecedents, and not just as bound-variables.

The readings of reflexives in focus constructions have received far less attention. Judgements are mixed, with reflexives being claimed to only be interpreted as sloppy, and the strict reading being unavailable or marginal (McCawley, 1967; Heim and Kratzer, 1998; Reinhart and Reuland, 1993), which would seem to support the bound variable-only assumption. Yet others – such as Dahl (1973), Büring (2005), Roelofsen (2008), and Ahn and Sportiche (2014) – claim both strict and sloppy readings are equally possible. I present experimental evidence in this dissertation which shows that strict reflexives in focus constructions are judged as acceptable to speakers, and argue that these readings cannot be accounted for with the assumption that reflexives are interpreted as bound-variables only; and that instead, a binding theory is needed in which reflexives can be coreferential with their antecedents.

With the need for coreferential reflexives established, the remainder of this dissertation is concerned with how Condition A can be formulated to incorporate this interpretation option, and how strict readings in VP-ellipsis and focus constructions will follow once it has been incorporated. I follow Sauerland (2013) in adopting a Condition A which is built into the compositional semantics as an argument identity presupposition, which will allow reflexives the option of coreference, and accounts for strict readings as instances of weakened presupposition projection. Compared to the option of modifying Standard Binding Theory, this presuppositional approach appears to be more insightful, but is not without complications. In order for weakened projection to occur, Sauerland (2013) assumes that a presupposition must be purely presuppositional. I present data which are problematic for this assumption and outline a new direction for the conditions under which weakened projection in focus alternatives may proceed, which is based on the relation the presuppositional element bears to the focus-marked phrase.

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!

Colloquium, 10/2 – Matt Goldrick

The next talk in our 2015-16 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be a CRBLM Distinguished Lecture by Matt Goldrick (Northwestern University) on Friday, Oct 2nd at 1:30 in the Goodman Cancer Research Centre (1160 av des Pins ouest). Note unusual time and place! There will be a reception in the evening following the colloquium, hosted by Morgan Sonderegger (additional details to follow).

Title: Phonetic echoes of cognitive processing


For many years, theories of language production assumed a strict functional separation between peripheral phonetic encoding processes and more central cognitive processes. The output of lexical access—the processes mapping intended messages to utterance plans—was assumed to yield a plan that was simply executed by more peripheral processes. Recent work has challenged such proposals, showing that on-line disruptions to lexical access can affect gradient phonetic properties (e.g., phonological speech errors influence the phonetic properties of speech sounds; Goldrick & Blumstein, 2006). I’ll discuss two sets of projects from my lab that extend this work. Large data sets, enabled by machine-learning based techniques for automated phonetic analysis, provide new insights into the consequences of cognitive disruptions for monolingual speech. I’ll then discuss how cognitive disruptions modulate cross-language interactions in multilingual speakers.

Additionally, there will be a workshop session preceding the lecture: Please register for the workshop portion if interested!

Arcos Lopez, Bale, and Coon, Numeral classifiers in Ch’ol – 8/31

Nicolás Arcos López, Alan Bale, and Jessica Coon will give an informal presentation on numeral classifiers in Ch’ol (Mayan), today from 1–2:30pm in Linguistics 117. This is in preparation for a talk at the Gender, Class, and Determination workshop at University of Ottawa next month.

Ergativity Lab: 3/25 – Kevin Tuite (Université de Montréal)

This week in the Ergativity Lab, there will be a talk by Kevin Tuite of The University of Montreal, Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. Title and abstract below:
Alignment and orientation in Kartvelian (South Caucasian)
I will present an overview of case assignment and person/number marking in the Kartvelian languages, and the extent to which they correspond to a recognizable alignment type (ergative-absolutive, or split-intransitive). If time permits, I will also present a hypothesis concerning the morphosyntactic characteristics of Proto-Kartvelian.

Syntax Group, 3/18 – Shobhana Chelliah (U. North Texas)

Please join us for a special edition of Syntax Group/Ergativity Lab, this Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. All are welcome!

Speaker:  Shobhana L. Chelliah (University of North Texas)

Title: The Source of Variability in Case and Semantic Role Marking in Tibeto-Burman

The predominant case marking pattern observed for Tibeto-Burman is non-obligatory morphological marking of A (transitive subject) and of S (intransitive subject) under various pragmatic and discourse conditions which cast A or S as as acontrastive or an otherwise foregrounded NP.  In one Tibeto-Burman language,Meitei, agent, patient, associative, and locative semantic role markers all have developed secondary pragmatic meanings associated with speaker expectations.  The same is true to some extent with other Tibeto-Burman languages as well. Additionally, when surveying recent descriptions of ergative languages, we see A/S marking curiously parallel in distribution to that found in Tibeto-Burman, with pragmatics or discourse structure determining the distribution of A/S marking.

It has been argued that case systems with pragmatic or discourse motivated marking have evolved from one of the known case-marking types and that this change has been  due to language contact or obsolescence. Given the examples of A/S case marking developing contrastive topic readings even with robust languages that have undergone little contact, it would appear that some other factor is at work.  I will argue that these case systems have developed through a process of language change by which certain grammatical categories increasingly reflect speaker perspective.


Syntax reading group, 4/11 – Bjorkman

title: Upwards Agree and Long Distance Agreement
speaer: Bronwyn Bjorkman (joint work with Hedde Zeiljstra)
when/where: Wednesday, 2–3pm, Room 117
abstract: In Minimalist frameworks, the operation Agree establishes relationships between defective probes (unvalued or uninterpretable features) and non-defective goals (valued or interpretable). While the original definition of Agree required probes to search downward for goals (Chomsky 1995 et seq.), more recent work has suggested instead that probes search upwards(Wurmbrand 2012, Zeijlstra 2012, a.o.), or that the direction of Agree is variable (Baker 2008, Merchant 2011). These proposals have often drawn on different empirical domains (e.g. φ-agreement vs. verbal inflection or negative concord), raising the question of whether a single model of Agree can account for all syntactic feature relationships.
The most serious empirical issue for “Upwards Agree” models is the existence of long-distance agreement (LDA) patterns, cases where there is no point in the derivation where the goal DP c-commands the probing head. Such cases appear to be incompatible with Upwards Agree theories, as observed by Preminger (2014). This talk argues, however, that a slightly modified version of Upwards Agree not only can account for LDA, but may in fact provide a better account of the typology of LDA patterns. The main modification is to distinguish feature checking (accomplished by Agree) from feature valuation, but to restrict valuation to instances where two heads stand in some Agree (i.e. checking) relation, though potentially for a feature other than the one being valued. This predicts that LDA should be possible only when a DP stands in an independent Agree relationship with the agreeing head, whether for Case or information structural features. We illustrate how this version of Upwards Agree accounts for at least three subtypes of LDA: nominative object agreement in Icelandic, agreement into non-finite clauses in Hindi, and agreement into finite embedded clauses in Tsez.

Colloquium, 2/6 – Jessamyn Schertz

We are pleased to announce the next talk in our 2014-15 colloquium series:

Speaker: Jessamyn Schertz (University of Toronto)
When: Friday, Feb 6, 3:30
Place: Education Building, room 433

Title: Learning different things from the same input: How initial category structure shapes phonetic adaptation

Listeners are confronted with a large amount of redundancy in the language input. On the level of phonetic categories, sound contrasts often covary systematically on multiple dimensions, providing listeners with options of what to pay attention to (and what to ignore), in principle allowing for different individual “grammars.” In this talk, I present a series of experiments demonstrating the different choices made by native Korean listeners when categorizing the (L2) English stop voicing contrast. Korean speakers used both pitch and VOT to distinguish the contrast, showing relatively homogenous use of the two cues in production. However, perceptual patterns varied widely, with some listeners using pitch as a primary cue, some using VOT, and some using a combination of the two. These different choices were stable across sessions and determined how listeners modified their phonetic categories when confronted with a novel accent.  The fact that individual differences in phonetic structure predict categorically different adaptation patterns highlights the importance of integrating initial listener biases into models of distributional learning and phonetic adaptation.


Reminder: Mitterer colloquium – 1/19

A reminder that Holger Mitterer’s colloquium is Feb 2 at 3:30 in Educ 627, as previously described here.

McGill at at VocUM 2014

McGill linguists presented last week at Université de Montréal’s VocUM 2014, a “colloque multidisciplinaire en traduction, linguistique, littératures et langues modernes.”

  • Lizzie Carolan (BA ’14, currently working as an RA) gave a talk titled “An exploration of tense in Chuj”.
  • Heather Goad was a plenary speaker. Her talk was titled “Patterns in the second language acquisition of s-initial clusters: Is learning a subset grammar as hard as it seems?”

The full program is available here.

Ergativity Lab: 11/12 – Theodore Levin (MIT)

This week in the Ergativity Lab, there will be a talk by Theodore Levin (MIT).
Toward a unified analysis of antipassive and pseudo noun incorporation constructions 
In pseudo noun incorporation (PNI) constructions, an NP, usually the internal argument (IA), is merged in place of a DP. This choice triggers syntactic and semantic ramifications: (i) case alignment changes, (ii) object agreement disappears, (iii) IAs take narrow scope, (iv) IAs display number neutrality (e.g. Baker 2012; Dayal 2011; Massam 2001). I posit that antipassive (AP) constructions, which display similar effects (see also Aldridge 2012 on Tagalog; Campbell 2000 on Ki’che’; Dryer 1990 on Dyirbal; Kozinsky et al. 1988 on Chukchi; Rude 1988 on Nez Perce), also arise via NP-merger not variation in functional heads, as proposed by e.g. Spreng (2006), Aldridge (2012).
Wednesday at 10am, room 215.

Lauren Clemens at UQAM, 10/15

Lauren Clemens will present at UQAM’s Wednesday afternoon talk series this week:

When: Wednesday, 10/15 at 12:45pm
Where: DS-3470 (320 Saint-Catherine East, 3rd floor)
Title: Têtes et compléments à l’interface prosodie/syntaxe

All are welcome to attend!

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