Colloquium, 2/17 – Boris Harizanov

Speaker:  Boris Harizanov (Stanford University)
Date & Time:  February 17th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  On the nature of syntactic head movement


In Harizanov and Gribanova 2017, we argue that head movement phenomena having to do with word formation (affixation, compounding, etc.) must be empirically distinguished from head movement phenomena having to do purely with the displacement of heads or fully formed words (verb initiality, verb-second, etc.). We suggest that the former, word-formation type should be implemented as post-syntactic amalgamation, while the latter, displacement-type should be implemented as regular syntactic movement.

In this talk, I take this result as a starting point for an investigation of the latter, syntactic type of head movement. I show in some detail that such movement has the properties of (Internal) Merge and that it always targets the root. In addition, I suggest that, once a head is merged with the root, there are two available options (traditionally assumed to be incompatible with one another or with other grammatical principles): either (i) the target of movement projects or (ii) the moved head projects. The former scenario yields head movement to a specifier position, while the latter yields head reprojection. I offer participle fronting in Bulgarian as a case study of head movement to a specifier position and show how this analysis explains the apparently dual X- and XP-movement properties of participle fronting in Bulgarian, without stipulating a structure-preservation constraint on movement. As a case study of head reprojection, I discuss free relativization in Bulgarian. A treatment of this phenomenon in terms of reprojection allows for an understanding of why an element that has the distribution of a relative complementizer C in Bulgarian free relatives looks like a determiner D morphologically.

This work brings together and reconciles two strands of research, usually viewed, at least to some degree, as incompatible: head movement to specifier position and head movement as reprojection. Such synthesis is afforded, in large part, by the exclusion of the word-formation type of head movement phenomena from the purview of syntactic head movement, as in Harizanov and Gribanova 2017.

McGill at DP60

Current and past McGill linguists gathered at MIT Saturday for a surprise workshop in honour of David Pesetsky’s 60th birthday. Attendees presented posters and attended panels, which can be found on the website.

Lauren Clemens, Bronwyn Bjorkman, Jessica Coon, Laura Kalin, Hadas Kotek, Aron Hirsch

Lauren Clemens, Bronwyn Bjorkman, Jessica Coon, Laura Kalin, Hadas Kotek, Aron Hirsch

Jessica Coon’s paper, “Two types of ergative agreement: Implications for case” appeared in the Festschrift volume (along with 59 other contributions, including by Bjorkman, Kotek, and Hirsch).


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.


Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting – 2/10

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 2/10, from 1-2pm in room 117 of the Linguistics Building.

Lisa Travis will be presenting Chapter 3 (Caseless Adjacency) of Levin’s (2015) MIT thesis Licensing without Case.

All are welcome!

P* Reading Group, 2/7

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Tuesday (Feb. 7) 1-2 pm in Room 117, Martha will lead a discussion of Gallagher (2015). Natural classes in cooccurrence constraints. Lingua, 166(Part A), 80–98. Everyone is welcome!

LingTea, 2/9 and 2/16 – Daniel Harasim

In this and next week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Feb. 9th and 16th) 12-1pm in room 117, Daniel Harasim will give talks with the title “Musical Syntax“.

Title: “Musical Syntax”.

Abstract: Musical structures can be formalized similar to the syntax of natural languages. The syntax of western music is based on a harmonic tension-resolution structure that is intuitively perceivable. In this talk, I will shortly explain musical syntax using music text book examples and Jazz standards. Then I will focus on the formalization of musical syntax using dependency structures in a generative framework. I will end by explaining core challenges of parsing musical structures and its implementation using a meta-rule formalism in a general parsing framework.


Semantics Research Group, 2/5

The semantics research group will be meeting next week, Friday, February 5th, at 15:00 in room 117.

Chris Bruno will be presenting a 2015 paper by Simons, Beaver, Roberts, and Tonhauser, on presupposition projection in factive predicates. Title and abstract below. It is relevant to some of what was talked about at our last colloquium with Jeremy Hartman.

Simons, Beaver, Roberts, Tonhauser (2015)

Title: The Best Question: Explaining the Projection Behaviour of Factives

Abstract: This paper deals with projection in factive sentences. The paper first challenges standard assumptions by presenting a series of detailedobservations about the interpretations of factive sentences in context,showing that what implication projects, if any, is quite variable and thatprojection is tightly constrained by prosodic and contextual information about the alternatives under consideration. The paper then proposes an account which accommodates the variability of the data and sensitivity to contextual alternatives. The account is formulated within a modified version of Roberts 1996/2012 question-based model of discourse.

McGill at BLS 43

McGill linguists are returning this week from the 43rd annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Lydia Felice and Sarah Mihuc presented posters based on their in-progress McGill honours theses. Justin Royer, incoming McGill PhD student and Chuj Lab member, presented a poster based on his recent Concordia BA thesis.

  • Lydia Felice: The Case for KP: An Analysis of the Free State and Construct State in Kabyle Berber
  • Sarah Mihuc: Effects of Focus on Word Order in Kabyle Berber
  • Justin Royer: Nominal and numeral classifiers in Chuj (Mayan)
Sarah, Justin, and Lydia at Berkeley

Sarah, Justin, and Lydia at Berkeley

LingTea, 2/2 – Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron

In this week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Feb. 2nd) 12-1pm in room 117, Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron will give a talk with the title “The role of speech production planning in shaping patterns of phonological variability“. This is a practice job talk.


Connected speech processes have played a major role in shaping theories about phonological organization, and how phonology interacts with other components of the grammar (Selkirk, 1974; Kiparsky, 1982; Kaisse, 1985; Nespor and Vogel, 1986, among others). External sandhi is subject to locality conditions, and it is more variable compared to processes applying word-internally. We suggest that an important part of understanding these two properties of external sandhi is the locality of speech production planning.

Presenting evidence from English flapping and French liaison, we argue that the effect of lexical frequency on variability can be understood as a consequence of the narrow window of phonological encoding during speech production planning. This proposal complements both abstract, symbolic and gestural overlap-based accounts of phonological alternations. By connecting the study of phonological alternations with the study of factors influencing speech production planning, we can derive novel predictions about patterns of variability in external sandhi, and better understand the data that drive the development of phonological theories.

Colloquium, 2/3 – Jeremy Hartman

Speaker:  Jeremy Hartman (UMass Amherst)
Date & Time: February 3rd at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Negation and factivity in acquisition and beyond


In this talk, I present joint work with Magda Oiry on the interaction between negation and two types of factive predicates in acquisition. Following work by Léger (2008), we examine children’s understanding of sentences with the factive predicates know and be happy, in combination with negation–in the matrix clause, as well as in the embedded clause. In addition to an asymmetry in the understanding of know vs. be happy, we find a new and revealing pattern of errors across different sentence-types with know. We also show that a similar error pattern is found even with adult subjects. I discuss how these findings relate to recent work on the processing of negation.

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting, 2/3 – Martha Schwarz

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 2/3, from 1-2pm in room 117.

Martha Schwarz will be presenting different ways of accounting for ergative marking that is determined by factors of the subject in the context of Nepali.

All are welcome!

WORDS Group – 2/3

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 3rd February at UQAM, 10h-11h30 (room tba). We will be discussing the following paper:

Harizanov, Boris and Gribanova, Vera. (2017). Whither Head Movement. MS.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

LingTea, 1/26 – Lydia Felice, Sarah Mihuc

In this week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Jan. 26th) 12-1pm in room 117, Lydia Felice and Sarah Mihuc will each present on their work on Kabyle Berber.

Speaker: Lydia Felice
Title: An Analysis of the State Alternation in Kabyle Berber

Abstract: In Kabyle, nominals may appear in the Free State or Construct State. Free State nominals are characterized by presence of the prefix a-. Construct State nominals lack this prefix. Nominals in the Free State appear as preverbal subjects, complements of certain prepositions, and objects of the verb. Nominals in the Construct State appear as postverbal subjects and complements of certain prepositions. I assume that the Free State morpheme is an intrinsic case marker occupying K0. Nominals in the Construct State are DPs that must be licensed structural case, while nominals in the Free State are KPs that receive case from the FS morpheme a-. I propose that treating the FS vowel as K0 accounts for the full distribution of Free State and Construct State nominals.


Speaker: Sarah Mihuc
Title: Effects of Focus on Word Order in Kabyle Berber

Abstract: A variety of word orders are attested in Kabyle Berber; changes in word order have previously been explained as related to focus and topic in Berber (Mettouchi 2008). In order to precisely test the relationship between focus and word order, I present an experiment based on Calhoun’s (2015) experiment on Samoan focus and word order. Speakers were shown illustrations of events, and were asked to answer questions about them. The questions have answers with six different types of focus. Thus, the answers to each question type show which word order is associated with which type(s) of focus in Kabyle Berber.

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting, 1/27 — BLS Practice Posters

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 1/27, from 1-2pm in room 117.

This week, three students will present their posters in preparation for the undergraduate poster session at the 43rd annual meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society.


Justin Royer – Numeral and Noun Classifiers in Chuj

Sarah Mihuc – The Effects of Focus on Word Order in Kabyle Berber

Lydia Felice – An Analysis of the State Alternation in Kabyle Berber

All are welcome!

Colloquium, 1/20 – Dan Lassiter

Speaker:  Dan Lassiter (Stanford University)
Date & Time: January 27th at 3:30pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433

Title:  Epistemic language in indicative and counterfactual conditionals

Abstract:  In this talk I’ll report on a series of experiments which examine judgments about epistemic modals, both in unembedded contexts and in indicative and counterfactual conditionals. Building on these results and recent probabilistic theories of epistemic language, I propose a probabilistic version of Kratzer’s restrictor theory of conditionals that identifies the indicative/counterfactual distinction with Pearl’s distinction between conditioning and intervening in probabilistic graphical models. Combining this theory with recent accounts of must, we can also derive a theory of bare conditionals; I describe the predictions and consider their plausibility in light of the experimental data.

Linguists at the Undergraduate Research Event

Undergraduate linguists presented their research the 7th Annual Arts Undergraduate Research Event last week (see post). Here they are with their posters:

Eva Portelance

Eva Portelance

Theodore Morely and Elias Stengel-Essen

Theodore Morely and Elias Stengel-Essen

Lydia Felice
Lydia Felice


LingTea, 1/19 – Jessica Coon

In this week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Jan. 19th) 12-1pm in room 117, Jessica Coon will give a talk with the title “The linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, fieldwork, and Universal Grammar“. This is a practice talk for an up-coming Arrival-related public lecture.


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.

Semantics Research Group – 1/20

The semantics research group will be meeting January 20th at 15:00 in room 117. Bernhard Schwarz will be presenting on Wataru Uegaki’s dissertation:  Interpreting questions under attitudes.

WORDS Group – 1/20

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 20th January, at UQAM (room DS-3470) at 10-11.30.  The focus of this meeting will be on Head movement in syntax and morphology. In particular, two handouts from the Workshop on the Status of Head Movement in Linguistic Theory held at Stanford University (September 16-17, 2016) will be discussed:

  • Gribanova, V. & Harizanov, B. (2016): Whither Head Movement
  • Harley, H. (2016): What Hiaki stem forms are really telling us

Everyone is welcome to attend!

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