Word Structure Research Group, 9/17

The Word Structure Research Group will have its first meeting of the semester today (September 17th).

Where: UQAM DS-3470

When: Mondays 3:30-5

Everyone is welcome.  If you would like to receive regular group announcements, please contact Lisa Travis.

Welcome new postdocs!

Nico Baier recently received his PhD in Linguistics from UC Berkeley. At McGill this year he’ll be doing a post-doc with Jessica Coon working on agreement and anti-agreement in Kabyle, a Berber language of Algeria. His research interests are in theoretical syntax, morphology, and typology, with particular focus on agreement and extraction and their interaction.

Ying Li did her PhD degree in Linguistics at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and her research interests lie primarily in Second Language Acquisition, particularly in the acquisition of L2 phonology, phonetics, and morphology. Her postdoctoral research, supervised by Heather Goad, explores prosodic transfer in a case where the grammar of the language being learned is a subset of the native language grammar. This study is funded by China Scholarship Council.

Returning post-docs include Michael McAuliffe, Natalia Brambatti Guzzo, and Aron Hirsch.

Syntax Group, 7/12

This semester, Syntax Group is organized by Henrison and Nico and will meet Wednesdays from 1–2pm in Linguistics Room 117. All are welcome to attend!

On 9/12 Nico will lead discussion of chapter 2 of Coppe van Urk’s dissertation, which is an overview of the A vs A-bar distinction. The full dissertation may be found here:

The current schedule for meetings this semester can be found here.

McGill at Sinn und Bedeutung 23

McGill Linguists, past and present, attended Sinn und Bedeutung 23, hosted by the Centre de Lingüística Teòrica at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, on September 5-7, 2018. Presentations included:

  • Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Esmail Moghiseh – Contradiction-Free Strengthening and Alternative Discharge: Persian -i Indefinites
  • Amir Anvari, Brian Buccola (PhD McGill 2016) and Andreas Haida – Alternative questions in Farsi
  • Alan Bale (PhD McGill 2006) and Bernhard Schwarz – Reverse proportionality without context dependent standards.
  • Daniel Goodhue (PhD McGill 2018) – High negation questions and epistemic bias.

Brian, Luis, Dan, and Bernhard at SuB 23

Welcome back!

Welcome to the 2018–2019 academic year from McLing, your weekly McGill linguistics newsletter digest. This year’s faculty editors are Jessica and Tim, and Francesco is joining the team as graduate student editor. Throughout the year, don’t forget to send McLing your linguistics news and events!

Welcome 1st year graduate students!

Jacob Hoover is interested in formal linguistics and logic, and has an undergraduate background in mathematics. He is starting the graduate program at McGill after ten years of a career as a ballet dancer, and is also curious about the structure of nonlinguistic communication such as dance.

William Johnston‘s interests are in syntax, semantics, and the cognitive science of language. He completed a B.A. in linguistics at Carleton College.

Esmail Moghiseh‘s research interests lie primarily in semantics and pragmatics, and he is also interested in philosophy of language. He earned a master’s degree in engineering from Concordia University, and completed his second degree, B.A. in Linguistics, at McGill University

Michaela Socolof‘s main interests are in syntax, computational linguistics, and fieldwork. She completed her B.A. in Linguistics here at McGill, minoring in Italian, then spent a year as a Baggett Fellow in the University of Maryland’s linguistics department.

Ken Wickham is entering into a qualifying year at McGill having previously completed a BA in Near Eastern studies at the University of Washington. He is primarily focused on syntax, morphology, and typology as they relate to ergativity, but is also interested in syntax-semantics interface, language acquisition, and philosophy of language.

Vanna Willteron got her B.A. in Linguistics, minoring in Philosophy, at Carleton University and has just completed a Qualifying Year here at McGill. She spent the year developing math and programming skills and is finally ready to start her MA, with research interests primarily in computational linguistics.


Departmental summer news

McGill linguists did a lot of linguistics this summer! Here is a selection of summer news:

In early July, Amelia Bruno and Eva Portelance (BA McGill, now at Stanford) presented a poster at the “Learning Languages in Humans and Machines” conference in Paris, entitled “A Framework for Lexicalized Grammar Induction Using Variational Bayesian Inference”. This work was coauthored with Tim O’Donnell and Leon Bergen (UCSD).

Jessica Coon returned from her six-month sabbatical stay in Mexico, then in August traveled to Guatemala where she gave a plenary talk (‘Construyendo verbos en chuj y ch’ol’) as well as a collaborative talk (‘Relativas libres en ch’ol y maya yucateco y la tipología de cláusulas relativas sin núcleo’ with Scott Anderbois, Oscar Chan Dzul, and Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez) at FAMLi 5.

McGill at FAMLi: Justin Royer, Cora Lesure (BA ’15), Paulina Elias (BA ’18), Robert Henderson (Postdoc ’14), Jessica Coon, Carol-Rose Little (BA ’12)

Brendan Gillon gave one talk entitled ‘Underspecification and the count mass distinction’ at a conference called The Count and Mass Distinction: a linguistic understanding?, held in May at Ruhr Univesität, in Bochum, Germany. Later in the summer, he gave a talk entitled ‘Complementation in Sanskrit treated by a modest generalization of categorial grammar’ in the Sanskrit Computational and Digital Humanities session of the 18th World Sanskrit Conference, held at the University of British Columbia.

Jacob Hoover, Michael Wagner, Masashi Harada, and Gouming Martens (from left to right in the photo below) attended the 2nd Crete Summer School of Linguistics in Rethymnon in July.

Henrison Hsieh published a paper in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory entitled Distinguishing nouns and verbs: A Tagalog case study. It is currently available online here.

Donghyun Kim successfully defended his thesis in August titled “Individual differences in plasticity in speech perception”. Don is off to a post doc at the University of Exeter working with Nicholas Dumay on research involving speech, memory, and sleep. Best of luck Don!

Defence committee from left: Heather Goad, Shari Baum (SCSD), Francisco Torreira, Donghyun Kim, Meghan Clayards, Morgan Sonderegger

Tim O’Donnell visited the Digital and Cognitive Musicology Laboratory at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne this summer to work with collaborators Martin Rohrmeier and Daniel Harasim on models of musical cognition.

Clint Parker attended CoLang 2018 (the Institute on Collaborative Language Research) at the University of Florida. During the first two weeks, he attended workshops focused on ethical considerations in fieldwork and collaboration between universities and Indigenous peoples in language revitalisation.  In the second three weeks, he participated in a practicum in which he helped compile materials and analyze the grammar of the dormant Timucua language, once spoken in northern Florida.  His CoLang work will feed into his second Evaluation Paper, which will connect to language revitalisation and the role of the university in supporting Indigenous languages.

Justin Royer did three months of research and fieldwork in Mexico, where he was supervised by Roberto Zavala at the Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS) in San Cristóbal de las Casas, funded by a MITACs travel grant. While in Mexico, he participated to the workshop on Headless Relatives Clauses in Mesoamerican Languages CIESAS. He also attended two conferences where he presented two talks, and one joint poster with Luis Alonso-Ovalle:
  • In May, at the Primer encuentro de estudios sobre el Chuj at the Universidad Autónoma de México he gave a talk entitled ‘La (in)definitud en chuj y los clasificadores nominales’.
  • In August, at Form and Analysis in Mayan Linguistics (FAMLi 5) in Antigua, Guatemala he gave a talk titled Configuraciones referenciales en chuj and a poster (with Luis Alonso-Ovalle) titled ‘La modalidad de decisión arbitraria en chuj: komon

Justin with Chuj consultant Magdalena Torres in Yolnhajab’, Guatemala

Liz Smeets travelled to Italy to test second language learners of Italian with Romanian or English as a first language for her dissertation research on Conditions on L1 transfer in L2 discourse-syntax mappings. Liz also published a paper entitled ‘The acquisition of object movement in Dutch: L1 transfer and near-native grammars at the syntax–discourse interface’ in Second Language Research. The paper can be found here.

In July, Lisa Travis gave a joint paper at the International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics (ICAL) with Ileana Paul, held at the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar.  She stayed on ten days to work with students and professors at the university (see attached photo) collecting data for a paper co-authored with Baholisoa Ralalaoherivony and Jeannot Fils Ranaivoson on dialect variation in Malagasy focus constructions.

The Montréal Computational and Quantitative Linguistics Laboratory (MCQLL) hosted two local workshops. From June 11-15, MCQLL held a workshop on models of morphological productivity which included visitor Mika Braginsky from MIT. From August 15-17, MCQLL hosted a workshop on computational minimalist grammars and parsing which included Eva Portelance, visiting from Stanford, and Leon Bergen, visiting from UCSD.

Finally, a number of other publications involving current and former McGill authors came out this summer! These include:

Clemens, Lauren and Jessica Coon. (2018) Deriving verb-initial word order in Mayan. Language 94(2): 237–380 doi:10.1353/lan.2018.0017

Hamlaoui,FatimaMarzena Żygis, Jonas Engelmann, and Michael Wagner (2018). Acoustic correlates of focus marking in Czech and Polish. Language and Speech, 1(20):44pp DOI: 10.1177/0023830918773536

Mackenzie, SaraErin Olson, Meghan Clayards, and Michael Wagner (2018). North American /l/ both darkens and lightens depending on prosodic context. Laboratory Phonology, 9(1)(13) DOI: 10.5334/labphon.104

Santi, AndreaNino Grillo, Emilia Molimpakis & Michael Wagner (2018) Processing relative clauses across comprehension and production: similarities and differences, Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1080/23273798.2018.1513539

Smeets, Liz and Michael Wagner (2018). Reconstructing the syntax of focus operators. Semantics & Pragmatics, 11(6):1–27. DOI: 10.3765/sp.11.6

Vander Klok, JozinaHeather Goad, and Michael Wagner (2018). Prosodic Focus in English vs. French: A Scope Account.Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 3(1): 71. 1-47 DOI: 10.5334/gjgl.172

McGill Linguistics FestEval

On Friday, September 7, 3–5pm (Room TBA) our annual FestEval will take place.  The following grad students will present their recent evaluation papers:
3.00pm Jurij Bozic: Tense Deficiency and Scope Inversion: Implications for Control and Case
3.30pm Amy Bruno: Minimalist Grammar Induction using Variational Bayesian Inference
4.00pm Gouming Martens: Frozen by Context: Focus Effects on Syntactic Freezing
4.30pm Clinton Parker: Agreement, clitic doubling, and vestigial ergativity in Shughni

2018–2019 colloquia

We are happy to share our colloquium schedule for the upcoming academic year. As always, colloquia will take place Fridays at 3:30, rooms TBA. Mark your calendars!

Jane Stuart-Smith (University of Glasgow) – October 12
Nico Baier (McGill) – November 2
Susi Wurmbrand (University of Connecticut) – March 22
Scott AnderBois (Brown University) – April 12

Symposium in Honour of Lydia White

The department hosted a reunion of some of Lydia White’s students at Thomson House, August 31stSeptember 1st. Lydia officially retired August 31st but will still continue doing research. Congratulations Lydia!

NSERC Discovery grants to Wagner and O’Donnell

Two faculty have been awarded NSERC Discovery grants for 2018-2023:

Tim O’Donnell: “Towards Robust Unsupervised Language Learning”

Michael Wagner:  “Three dimensions of sentence prosody”




Sepideh Mortazavinia’s Thesis Defence

Congratulations to Sepideh Mortazavinia for a successful thesis defence on Friday June 1st 2018! Below find the abstract from her thesis.


One of the differences between first language (L1) acquisition, which is always successful, and second language (L2) acquisition, where convergence on target-like representations is not always possible, is that L2 learners are already equipped with the fully established system of their L1. In fact, a great body of literature has shown that L2 learners demonstrate systematic errors in the L2 which can be attributed to the properties of their L1. The present study contributes to this area of research on the role of L1 transfer by investigating the L2 acquisition of semantic properties related to the word even across English and Persian. In particular, focus will be on the additive presupposition of even and how it is manifested in the two languages. The study will consider two learning directions: L1 Persian L2 English and L1 English L2 Persian. These two languages differ in the ways the additive presupposition is encoded: In English, the additive presupposition of even is triggered only when even is used in prenominal syntactic position. I assume that this presupposition is covertly expressed because it is not encoded in an overt lexical item and is constrained by syntax. Besides, the expression of this presupposition is indirect, because it is a secondary function of even, assuming that this particle is used to express surprise, unexpectedness, or unlikelihood primarily. Therefore, the assumption will be that L1 English L2 learners of Persian start off by a covert and indirect system of encoding the additive presupposition from their L1. L1 Persian L2 learners of English, on the other hand, start off by an overt and direct system of encoding additivity: the additive presupposition is lexicalized on an additive operator ham which overtly and directly triggers this presupposition.

In this study, the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (FRH) (Lardiere 2005, 2008, 2009, and subsequent work) was implemented as the theoretical standpoint to investigate the extent to which L2 learners in both languages fail and/or succeed at acquiring the semantic system of the L2s, as described above. This theory assumes a mapping stage in L2 acquisition where learners map their L1 feature specifications onto the L2, as well as a reassembly stage triggered by inconsistencies between the L2 input and the L1, where the L2 learners reconfigure their feature organizations onto those of the L2. Felicity judgment experiments were designed and administered on two proficiency learner groups, intermediate and advanced, in order to monitor L2 development in both stages of acquisition. The results indicated strong lingering L1 effects in both proficiency groups for both L2 learning directions which were identified as sources of difficulty in converging on target-like feature configuration. In particular, the L1 Persian L2 learners of English demonstrated that dissociating from an L1 feature which is overtly expressed in favour of acquiring an L2 covert system of encoding the same feature presents considerable challenge to the L2 learners. In addition, the L1 English L2 learners of Persian showed that it is not difficult to learn the absence of an L1 covert and indirect encoding system in the L2. It is, however, challenging to acquire the overt L2 system when the native language offers an indirect way of expressing the same feature.




Symposium on Second Language Acquisition in Honour of Lydia White

We are pleased to announce that the Department of Linguistics will be hosting the Symposium on Second Language Acquisition in Honour of Lydia White, August 31–September 1, 2018. The program is attached. Everyone is invited to attend. You can find the program here.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our McGill sponsors: Provost’s Research Fund, Dean of Arts’ Development Fund, as well as the Department of Linguistics.

WORDS Group, 05/29

The Word Structure Research Group will meet Tues May 29th with two CLA practice talks:

  • Richard Compton – Inuit φ-markers as the exponence of agree: Evidence from granularity, default forms
  • Johnatan Nascimento – The beginning of transformation: A nanosyntactic account for parasynthetic verbs in Brazilian Portuguese

Future meetings will be listed on the research group website here (https://wordstructure.org/meetings/) or if you want to receive announcement through email please write to lisa.travis@mcgill.ca. MEETINGS DURING THE SUMMER WILL BE TUES, 10:30-12, DS-3470 AT UQAM.

Sepideh (Marzieh) Mortazavinia’s Thesis Defence, June 1st

Sepideh (Marzieh) Mortazavinia is defending her Ph.D thesis on the “Second Language Acquisition of Focus-Sensitive Presupposition Triggers in English and Persian” on June 1 2018, at 2.30pm in the Ferrier Building, rm. 456. Come join the defence and the reception in the department after!

McLing Summer News, second edition

Graduate students

Henrison Hsieh attended two conference in Taiwan this May: the 25th meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA) in Taipei, and the 28th meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS) in Kaohsiung. At SEALS, Henrison presented a talk entitled “Wh-relative clauses in Tagalog”.



Michael Wagner will be co-teaching a class on the Phonology-Syntax Interface with Caroline Féry at the Second Crete Summer School of Linguistics. Our Ph.D. students Masashi Harada and Gouming Martens are attending the summer school as well.

Brendan Gillon has just returned from a one semester visit to National Chengchi University, in Taipei, Taiwan. On his return, he stopped in Bochum, Germany, to give a talk, entitled “Underspecification and the mass count distinction” at a workshop called “The Count-Mass Distinction: A Linguistic Misunderstanding”, held at Ruhr University on May 7th through 9th. At the beginning of July, he will give a talk entitled “Word complementation in Sanskrit treated by a modest generalization of categorial grammar” to the section “Computational Sanskrit & Digital Humanities” of the 2018 World Sanskrit Conference, to be held at the University of British Columbia.

McGill at ISPBAC

Lydia White has presenting a poster at the International Symposium on Bilingual and L2 Processing in Adults and Children in Braunschweig, Germany, May 24-25 (https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/anglistik/isbpac). The title of the paper is ‘How prosody affects L2 processing: Pronoun interpretation in L2 Italian‘, with the following  o-authors: Heather Goad, Natalia Brambatti Guzzo, Guiherme Garcia, Sepideh Mortazavinia, Liz Smeets and Jiajia Su.

John Matthews, Phaedra Royle, Shanley Allen, Lydia White, Makiko Hirakawa, Theres Grueter, Karsten Steinhauer.

Incoming Grad Class (Fall 2018)

McLing is pleased to announce the incoming class of graduate students. We’re looking forward to seeing you all in the fall!

  • Jacob Hoover (MA, coming from Harvard)
  • Will Johnston (PhD, Carleton College)
  • Esmail Moghiseh (MA, McGill)
  • Michaela Socolof (PhD, McGill)
  • Vanna Willerton (MA, Carleton U./McGill)
  • Kenneth Wickham (Qualifying Year, U. Washington)

McGill students win awards

The following graduate and undergraduate students are the recipients of the stated awards:


  • Óscar Costa – Academic Leadership Award
  • Gabriel Daitzschman – Cremona Memorial Prize
  • Maya Keshav – Department Citizenship Award
  • Yunxiao (Vera) Xia – Award for Excellence in Research
  • Being Wang – U2 Academic Achievement Award


  • Kim Donghyun – Lara Riente Memorial Prize


Invited speaker (Alexandre Cremers) at the Semantics Research Group – May 23rd & 25th

Alexandre Cremers will be visiting and is giving two talks in the semantics research group. They will take place on May 23rd and 25th at 3pm in 117. Details below. All are welcome!


Wednesday, May 23, Title: Testing the QUD sensitivity of modified numerals

Abstract: Modified numerals, such as “at least 3” or “less than 5”, tend to trigger ignorance inferences. Geurts&Nouwen (2007) famously argued that these ignorance inferences are stronger with superlative “at least” than with comparative “more than”, and proposed a modal denotation for “at least” which semantically encoded the ignorance inference. Since then, competing accounts have been proposed which aim to derive all ignorance inferences as implicatures, keeping very simple denotations for “at least” and “more than”. In this talk, I will first present experimental work showing that (a) there is indeed a difference between “at least” and “more than”, but (b) against the predictions of a purely semantic account, the ignorance inference of “at least” is not so strong, and is affected by QUD. Along the way, we also show a contrast between “at least/more than” on the one hand, and “at most/fewer than” on the other hand, as well as some interesting results with bare numerals. No current theory can fully account for the results, but a few are very promising.


Friday, May 25, Title: The Exhaustivity of Embedded question: Experimental investigations and theoretical consequences

Abstract: Verbs such as ‘know’ can relate an agent to a question, as in “Mary knows who dances”. The meaning of such sentences has been strongly debated with proponents of a ‘weak exhaustive’ reading (Karttunen, 1977, Berman, 1991), or of a ‘strong exhaustive’ reading (Groenendijk&Stokhof, 1982). To further complicate the matter, an ‘intermediate exhaustive’ reading has also been proposed (Spector, 2005).

In this talk, I will present experimental evidence from adult and children understanding of embedded questions showing that all three readings are possible, but suggesting that the weak exhaustive reading is “basic” while the other two are derived by a strengthening mechanism similar to implicatures (exhaustification). I will then discuss what an exhaustification theory for embedded questions should look like and address several challenges that have been raised against such approaches.


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