P* Reading Group, 11/20

P* Reading Group (Tuesday, 11 am)
This week, Bing’er will be leading a discussion on  Feldman et al.’s (2013) “A Role for the Developing Lexicon in Phonetic Category Acquisition”. P* Group will take place in room 002 of the Linguistics Building, from 11 am until noon. All are welcome to attend!

MCQLL Meeting Wednesday, 11/21

At this week’s MCQLL meeting, Bing’er Jiang will present Feldman et al.’s (2013) A Role for the Developing Lexicon in Phonetic Category Acquisition. Please find the abstract below:

Infants segment words from fluent speech during the same period when they are learning phonetic categories, yet accounts of phonetic category acquisition typically ignore information about the words in which sounds appear. We use a Bayesian model to illustrate how feedback from segmented words might constrain phonetic category learning by providing information about which sounds occur together in words. Simulations demonstrate that word-level information can successfully disambiguate overlapping English vowel categories. Learning patterns in the model are shown to parallel human behavior from artificial language learning tasks. These findings point to a central role for the developing lexicon in phonetic category acquisition and provide a framework for incorporating top-down constraints into models of category learning.


We will be meeting Wednesday November 21 at 5:00pm in room 117. Food will be provided. See you then!

Semantics Group, 11/23

In this week’s meeting, Francesco Gentile and Bernhard Schwarz will present their joint work on how many-questions. Below is the abstract of their Sinn und Bedeutung’s paper “A uniqueness puzzle: how many-questions and non-distributive predication.”

We discuss a novel observation about the meaning of how many-questions, viz. a uniqueness implication that arises in cases that feature non-distributive predicates, such as How many students solved this problem together?. We attempt an analysis of this effect in terms of Dayal’s (1996) Maximal Informativity Presupposition for questions. We observe that such an analysis must be reconciled with the unexpected absence of uniqueness implications in cases where the non-distributive predicate appears under a possibility modal. We explore two possible solutions: (i) the postulation of a scopally mobile maximality operator in degree questions of the sort proposed in Abrusán and Spector (2011); (ii) the proposal that the informativity to be maximized is based on pragmatic, contextual, entailment rather than semantic entailment. We explain why neither solution is satisfactory. We also observe that a Maximal Informativity Presupposition fails to capture uniqueness implications in how many-questions with predicates that are weakly distributive in the sense of Buccola and Spector (2016), such as How many students in the seminar have the same first name?. We conclude that uniqueness implications in how many-questions have must have a source that is independent of Dayal’s (1996) Maximal Informativity Presupposition.
As usual, we will meet on Friday in Room 117, starting at 3pm.

Boberg et al. Handbook of Dialectology

The Handbook of Dialectology, co-edited by Charles Boberg, John Nerbonne, and Dominic Watt was published by Wiley-Blackwell earlier this year.

Bernhard Schwarz at McGill Student Association of Cognitive Science

On November 13, Bernhard gave an invited presentation “How and why: a case study in meaning”  in the Cognitive Science speaker series,x organized by McGill’s Student Association of Cognitive Science. The presentation was based on joint work with Alexandra Simonenko (McGill PhD ’14).
Abstract: The body of literature on the semantics of questions, sparked by classic works from the 1970s and 1980s, is substantial, yet most of this literature focuses narrowly on questions about individuals (Who left?or degrees (How long is it?)In this talk, I will offer some remarks about how– and why-questions like How did you open the door? or Why did the lights go out?. I will discuss why investigating the semantics of such questions is hard, what types of evidence are available to probe their meanings, and I will report on some surprising differences in logical behaviour between different types of how– and why-questions

Bozic in Linguistic Inquiry

Congratulations to Jurij Božič, who has recently learned that his paper ‘Strictly Local Impoverishment: An Intervention Effect’ has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry. An earlier version of the paper can be found on Lingbuzz.

Michael Wagner in France

Michael is back from at talk at LINGUAE at ENS in Paris, and presenting a joint keynote at the Workshop on Prosody & Meaning and SemDial in Aix en Provence. The talks reported on joint work with Dan Goodhue on their project ‘Toward an Intonational Bestiary‘.

Kyle Gorman Visit

Kyle Gorman from Google AI and CUNY will be visiting the Department the week of November 12th. He will be giving a talk at 15:30 – 17:00 on Monday in Room 117 1085 Dr. Penfield (title and abstract will be sent out soon), and a Tutorial on Pynini, a Python library he developed for weighted finite-state grammar compilation, on Wednesday 12:00-15:00 in Ferrier room 230.

(Talk, Monday)
Grammar engineering in text-to-speech synthesis
Many speech and language applications, including speech recognition and speech synthesis, require mappings between “written” and “spoken” representations of language. Despite substantial progress in applied machine learning, it is still the case that real-world industrial text-to-speech (TTS) synthesis systems largely depend on language-specific hand-written rules for these conversions. These may require a great deal of development effort and linguistic sophistication, and as such represent substantial barriers for quality control and internationalization. 
I first consider the case of number names, where the goal is to map written forms like 328 to three hundred twenty eight. I propose two computational models for learning this mapping. The first uses end-to-end recurrent neural networks. The second, inspired by prior literature on cross-linguistic variation in number naming, uses an induction strategy based on finite-state transducers. While both models achieve near-perform performance, the latter model is trained using several orders of magnitude less data, making it particularly useful for low-resource languages. The latter model is being used at Google to produce number grammars for dozens of languages and locales. 
I then consider the case of grapheme-to-phoneme conversion, where the task is to map written words onto their phonemic transcriptions. I describe a model in which the grammar engineering is performed by providing input and output vocabularies; in Spanish for instance, the input vocabulary includes digraphs like ll and rr, which denote single phonemes, and for Japanese kana, the output vocabulary includes entire syllables. This grammatical information, incorporated into a finite-state generative model, results in a significant improvement over a baseline system which lacks direct access to such information.
(Tutorial, Wednesday)
Pynini: Finite-state grammar development in Python
Finite-state transducers are abstract computational models of relations between sets of strings, widely used in speech and language technologies and studied as computational models of morphophonology. In this tutorial, I will introduce the finite-state transducer formalism and Pynini (Gorman 2016; http://pynini.opengrm.org), a Python library for compiling and processing finitestate grammars. In the first part of the tutorial, we will cover the finite-state formalism in detail. In the second part, we will install the Pynini library and survey its basic functionality. In the third, we will tackle case studies including Finnish vowel harmony rules and decoding ambiguous text messages. Participants are assumed to be familiar with the Python programming language, but I do not assume any experience with finite-state methods or natural language processing. Note to participants: You are encouraged to bring a working laptop. We will reserve some time to install the necessary libraries so that you can follow along and participate in a few select exercises. This software has been tested on Linux, Mac OS X (with an up-to-date version of XCode), and Windows 10 (with the Ubuntu flavor of Windows Subsystem for Linux). In case you wish to get a head start, installation instructions are available here: http://wellformedness.com/courses/PyniniTutorial/installation-instructions.html  

Word Structure Research Group, 11/12

The next meeting of the Word Structure Research Group will take place Monday, 12 November, 3:30-5 PM at UQAM, room DS-3470, Pavillon J.-A.-DeSève, 320 Sainte-Catherine East.

Topic:  Subsyllabic morphemes in Mandarin: Demonstratives zhei and nei, presented by Isabelle Boyer.

P* Reading Group, 11/13

P* Reading Group (Tuesday, 11 am)
This week, Bing’er will be leading a discussion on  Feldman et al.’s (2013) A Role for the Developing Lexicon in Phonetic Category Acquisition. P* Group will take place in room 002 of the Linguistics Building, from 11 am until noon. All are welcome to attend!

Semantics Group

This Friday, Jason Borga will be leading a discussion on Rudin’s (2018) “Head-Based Syntactic Identity in Sluicing”. As usual, the meeting will take place in Room 117, from 3pm to 4:30pm. All are welcome to attend!

Congratulations Lisa Travis!

Congratulations to Lisa Travis, who will be retiring at the end of this year. Last week, current and former students and colleagues gathered for a surprise party in Lisa’s honour. McGill alums Laura Kalin, Ileana Paul and Jozina Vander Klok presented Lisa with a book of 44 papers written on the occasion of her retirement entitled Heading in the right direction: Linguistic treats for Lisa Travis, which was published by McGill Working Papers in Linguistics and will be available online shortly.

McGill will also host a workshop on parameters in honour of Lisa’s retirement this May. See details and a call for papers here.

Syntax Reading Group, 11/7

This week, Mathieu Paillé will be presenting some data and a puzzle relating to his ongoing work on an expletive subject usage of Malay “-nya”. There is no reading for this week.
As usual, we will meet Wednesday 1-2pm in Linguistics room 117. All are welcome!

Semantics Group, 11/9

In this week’s meeting, Jessica Coon will be giving a talk titled “Headless relative clauses and (possible?) free-choice free relatives in Ch’ol”. Jessica will present new work on Ch’ol headless relatives (collaborative with Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez, CIMSUR-UNAM), arguing that maximal and existential free relatives share an identical core structure, and receive different interpretations based on the environments in which they appear. Jessica will also present some puzzling data on a possible free-choice morpheme. As usual, the meeting will take place in Room 117 from 3pm to 4:30pm. All are welcome to attend!

Junko Shimoyama at Ottawa

Junko Shimoyama gave a colloquium talk on Friday, Nov. 2 at the University of Ottawa, on positively biased negative polar questions in Japanese and their embeddability. This is joint work with Dan Goodhue (PhD 2018) and Mako Hirotani at Carleton University.

P* Reading Group, 10/30

P* Reading Group (Tuesday, 11 am)
This week, Natalia will be leading a discussion on Bosworth’s (2017) “High vowel distribution and trochaic markedness in Québécois”. P* Group will take place in room 002 of the Linguistics Building, from 11 am until noon. All are welcome to attend!

Syntax Reading Group, 10/31

This week, Matthew Schuurman (UQÀM) will be leading a discussion on coordination in Inuktitut. Suggested background reading is Chapter 2 of Zhang 2009.
As usual, we will meet Wednesday 1-2pm in Linguistics room 117.
Reference for reading:
Zhang, Niina Ning. Coordination in Syntax. Cambridge Studies in Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511770746.

Fieldwork Lab meeting, 11/1

The Fieldwork Lab will meet this Thursday from 4:00–5:30 in Linguistics room 117. This week we will hear short presentations on data elicitation and data gathering puzzles, with presentations by Natalia Brambatti Guzzo, Henrison Hsieh, Matthew Schuurman (UQÀM), Michaela Socolof, Simon Theriault (UdeM).

Semantics Group, 11/2

This week the Semantics Group won’t meet at the usual time on Friday, because the department’s colloquium is taking place at the same time. However, we just started a reading group on Keenan’s book “Logical Properties of Natural Language: Eliminating the Universe”. We shall be meeting on Friday at 2pm (Room: TBC). We will discuss Chapter 3. All are welcome to join the reading group! For more details, email Brendan, Justin or Francesco.

Colloquium, 11/2 – Nico Baier

Speaker:  Nico Baier
Date & Time: November 2, 3:30pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 211
Title:  Unifying anti-agreement and wh-agreement


In this talk, I investigate the sensitivity of φ-agreement to features typically associated with Ā- extraction, including those related to wh-questioning, relativization, focus and topicalization. This phenomenon has been referred to as anti-agreement (Ouhalla 1993) or wh-agreement (Chung and Georgopoulos 1988; Georgopoulos 1991; Chung 1994) in the literature. While anti-agreement is commonly held to result from constraints on the Ā-movement of agreeing DPs, I argue that it reduces to an instance of wh-agreement, or the appearance of particular morphological forms in the presence of Ā-features. I develop a unified account of these Ā-sensitive φ-agreement effects in which they arise from the ability of φ-probes to copy both φ-features and Ā-features in the syntax. In the morphological component, partial or total impoverishment may apply to feature bundles containing both φ- and Ā-features, deleting some or all of the φ-features. Impoverishment blocks insertion of an otherwise appropriate, more highly specified agreement exponent. I present case studies of the effect of Ā-features on φ-agreement in three languages: the West Caucasian language Abaza (O’Herin 2002); the Berber language Tarifit (Ouhalla 1993; El Hankari 2010); and the Northern Italian dialect Fiorentino (Brandi and Cordin 1989; Suñer 1992). I show that in all three languages, the agreement exponents that appear in the context of Ā-features are systematically underspecified.

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