Monthly Archive for November, 2011

Colloquium 12/2 – Sharon Unsworth

Speaker: Sharon Unsworth (Utrech/Harvard)
Title: “What, where and why: on the role of input in bilingual language acquisition”
Date/time: Friday, December 2nd at 3:30PM.
Place: Leacock 110.


One of the salient characteristics of bilingual language acquisition is variability. Bilingual children often vary in their rate of acquisition and in the proficiency level which they ultimately attain. Considerable variability also exists in bilingual children’s language environment: this may differ significantly within and across children in terms of both quantity and quality. In this talk I evaluate the impact of a number of ‘quantity-oriented’ and ‘quality-oriented’ exposure variables (following Paradis 2011 and Place and Hoff 2011, a.o.) to determine WHAT aspects of bilingual children’s input may be relevant. The ‘quantity-oriented’ variables include language at home, language at school, cumulative length of exposure and child’s output, and the ‘quality-oriented’ are richness, proportion of native exposure, no. of monolingual and variety of conversational partners. I examine WHERE in the system, i.e., which linguistic domain, input effects are observed, and whether ‘profile effects’, as predicted by Oller et al. (2007), are attested. Finally, I consider WHY (quantitative and/or qualitative) differences in the input should affect bilingual language development, exploring the constructivist and generative answers to this question by drawing on work by Gathercole (2007) and Yang (2002, 2007).

Algonquian reading group 12/1 – Glyne Piggott

This week’s Algonquian reading group will be a continuation of the discussion last week (though if you didn’t make it, you can still join!)

Speaker: Glyne Piggott
Title: Wordhood in Ojibwe: What’s in a word?
Time: 12:00–1:30
Place: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117


Call for papers: TOM 5

The call for papers for TOM 5 (the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Workshop on Semantics) is out. Check it out. This is an ideal venue for students (usually graduates, but sometimes undergrads, too) to present their ongoing work.

Colloquium 12/1 – Rick Nouwen

Speaker: Rick Nouwen (Utrecht/MIT)
Title: An outstanding theory of wh-exclamatives
Date/time: Thursday, December 1, 2011, at 3:30 pm
(Note the unusual day: Thursday, not Friday.)
Place: Rutherford Physics Building, room 114


In this talk, I discuss joint work with Anna Chernilovskaya (Utrecht) on the semantics of wh‐exclamatives. It is often thought that wh‐exclamatives like (1) involve a mechanism of degree intensification (here involving the gradable adjective “nice”):

(1) What a nice house!

Such theories need an additional mechanism to account for cases that lack gradable material, such as:

(2) What a house!

For instance, the theory of Rett (2011) accounts for (2) by allowing the covert insertion of measure relations at LF. Similarly, Zanuttini and Portner (2003) assume that the domain of quantification comes with a contextual ordering, which can be used by the intensification mechanism. We point out that there is a kind of wh‐exclamatives for which these approaches do not provide the expected semantics and we put forward a distinctive and crucially much simpler proposal: exclamatives directly express a noteworthiness evaluation. For instance, on our approach (2) conveys that the house referred to is considered noteworthy, where noteworthiness is defined as having intrinsic properties that “stand out”. Crucially, our approach is simpler in that we do not need to assume covert measure relations, nor contextual orderings. A key motivation for our approach comes from our observation that, cross‐linguistically, wh‐exclamatives come in two kinds: (i) those wh‐exclamatives that only involve an evaluation of the referent of the wh‐phrase (examples include English “what (a)”‐exclamatives and Dutch “wat (een)”‐exclamatives) and (ii) those wh‐exclamatives that involve the evaluation of the open proposition (examples include “who”‐exclamatives in Dutch, German and Russian).

Ottawa Conference on Sources of Individual Linguistic Differences

Charles Boberg is an invited speaker at the Conference on Sources of Individual Linguistic Differences, which will take place at the University of Ottawa March 2–4, 2012. Though the call for abstracts for presentations has passed, poster abstracts are still being accepted.

Buccola, Hamilton, and Schwarz paper accepted

A collaborative paper by Brian Buccola, Mike Hamilton, and Bernhard Schwarz, titled “Two Types of Class B Numeral Modifiers: a Reply to Nouwen 2010”, was just accepted for publication in Semantics and Pragmatics. Congratulations!

Linguists grow mustaches for Movember

As part of Movember, McGill linguists are growing mustaches to raise money for prostate cancer research. The McGill Linguistics Movember team consists of Alan Bale, David-Etienne Bouchard, Brian Buccola, Jamie Findlay, David Fleischer, Dan Goodhue, Michael Hamilton, Stephane Hurtubise, Moti Lieberman, Jenny Loughran (fund-raising), Tobin Skinner, and Lance Williams. So far the team has raised $600, ranking 12th of 24 teams at McGill––an especially good achievement considering the relatively small size of our department.

The team would like to thank everyone who has donated so far, and encourage those who haven’t yet to check out their team page to donate electronically (plus you can see their excellent mustaches), or see any team member to donate in person.

The team will be having an end-of-Movember event on Thursday evening after Rick Nouwen’s talk (5:30ish, location TBD). And stay tuned to next week’s McLing for a possible team photo!

This year’s colloquia

The schedule for the remaining upcoming colloquia this academic year is below. Titles and abstract for the talks will be announced here later. For further information, please contact Junko Shimoyama or Luis Alonso-Ovalle.

  • SpeakerRick Nouwen (Utrecht/MIT)
    Date & Time: Thursday, December 1 at 3:30 pm
    Place: Rutherford Physics Building, room 114
  • SpeakerSharon Unsworth (Utrecht/Harvard)
    Date & Time: Friday, December 2 at 3:30 pm
    Place: Leacock Building, room 110

Winter 2012

  • SpeakerJason Merchant (Chicago)
    Date & Time: Friday, March 30 at 3:30 pm
    Place: Education Building, room 433
  • Speaker: Ian Roberts (Cambridge)
    Date & Time: Friday, April 13 at 3:30 pm
    Place: Arts Building, room 150

Sasha Simonenko awarded Arts fieldwork travel grant

Sasha Simonkenko––who is spending this semester as a visiting student at the Univesity of Tromsø––was just awarded an Arts Graduate Research Travel Grant to conduct fieldwork on three Finno-Ugric languages: Mari, Khanty, and Komi. A note from Sasha:

I’m going to do two rounds of field work on Finno-Ugric languages spoken in Russia for my dissertation. The first round is planned for this December 2011 (around 10 days), which would involve a trip to a village in the republic of Mari El (Russian Federation, about 850km East of Moscow). Mari is a Finno-Ugric language which makes use of a head-marking possessive suffix. Mari uses its possessive suffixes to mark what seems to be definiteness. I’m going to try to find out whether we can talk about a separate D category there by looking at the contexts where it can and cannot be used in its “definite” function, and also at the properties of possessive uses proper. The second round is planned for the summer 2012 (around 30 days) and is hopefully going to be done in a village in the Khanty-Mansi Okrug (2760km East of Moscow) on the Finno-Ugric languages of Khanty and Komi. The behaviour of possessive, plural, and cases suffixes is similar, but also different enough from Mari to make this a promising object for a micro-variation study.

Congrats Sasha, and good luck!

Syntax-semantics research group 11/25 – Brian Buccola

Speaker: Brian Buccola
Title: On Cummins and Katsos 2010: “Comparative and Superlative Quantifiers: Pragmatic Effects of Comparison Type”
Location: room 117, linguistics building, 1085 Dr. Penfield
Time: Friday, 25 November 2011, 3:00 – 4:30 PM

Some background reading:

Büring, Daniel. 2008. The least at least can do. In Charles B. Chang & Hannah J. Haynie (eds.), Proceedings of the 26th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, 114–120. Somerville, MA: Cascadilla Proceedings Project.

Geurts, Bart, Napoleon Katsos, Chris Cummins, Jonas Moons, and Leo Noordman. 2010. Scalar quantifiers: Logic, acquisition, and processing. Language and Cognitive Processes 25:130–148.

Geurts, Bart, and Rick Nouwen. 2007. At least et al.: The semantics of scalar modifiers. Language 83:533–559.

SLUM & CLSA together for the first time!

This past Thursday, November 17, SLUM and CLSA (Concordia Linguistics Student Association) met up for the first time ever at Brutopia to get to know each other over some brews. Members of both student societies mixed and mingled, discussing topics of linguistic interest, comparing academic programs, and just generally having a merry time. It was a fantastic opportunity to see what each society was up to and brainstorm ideas for upcoming events and opportunities for undergraduate McGill Linguistics.

We look forward to more SLUM & CLSA mixers in the future!

Ling-lunch 11/23 – Tom Leu

Speaker: Tom Leu (UQAM)
Title: German oblique case morphology: A contextual allomorphy approach to a syncretism pattern
Time: Wednesday 11/23, 12:00–1:00
Where: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117

German dative and genitive case morphology exhibits an interesting syncretism pattern with the three morphs `s, m, r’ each filling two paradigm slots. Intriguingly, a close look at their syntax reveals that each of these morphs has a different syntactic distribution within the noun phrase, with `s’ higher than `m’ higher than `r’. I discuss a way to relate these observations, concluding that the three morphs are contextual allomorphs of a single morpheme. The conclusion has exciting consequences, which – time permitting – I will address.

Indefinites and Beyond

Bernhard Schwarz and Luis Alonso-Ovalle will be presenting at the upcoming workshop “Indefinites and Beyond”, which will be held at the University of Göttingen.

The title of Bernhard’s talk, which reports joint work with Brian Buccola and Michael Hamilton, is “Two Types of Class B Modifiers.” You can read a short abstract here.

Luis will report joint work with Paula Menéndez-Benito on Spanish un NP cualquiera.

Welcome Jonathan Howell!

Jonathan Howell, who just finished his thesis “Meaning and Prosody: On the Web, in the Lab and from the Theorist’s Armchair” at Cornell University under supervision of Mats Rooth, has recently started a postdoc at McGill, funded by the Digging into Data grant  to Mats Rooth and Michael Wagner. He’ll be working on various projects that aim at understanding how prosody is used to convey meaning, both based on corpus evidence and experimental data.

Algonquian reading group 11/17 – Bethany Lochbihler

Speaker: Bethany Lochbihler
Title: Complex Person Encoding in Cyclic Agree
Location: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117
Time: Thursday 11/17, 12:00–1:30

 This paper accounts for the full Inverse System paradigm in Ojibwe (Central Algonquian), unifying it with morphology from other verbal paradigms using the notion of Cyclic Agree (Béjar & Rezac 2009) to license Person (π) features. I present a detailed π-feature organization, represented in a geometry defined by entailment present as a complex probe on v to encode Person Hierarchy effects. I revise Béjar & Rezac (2009) to obviate certain empirical and mechanical issues and better account for the data. Further, I account for a mismatch between syntactic transitivity and intransitive marking in Ojibwe, and Person restrictions on Theme arguments in ditransitives, which directly extends to Person restrictions in unrelated languages (e.g. Romance, Chinook, Icelandic). This proposal gives a new view on feature organization and valuation in the syntactic derivation, without impoverishing the morphosyntactic features.

Colloquium 11/18 – Jeff Mielke

Speaker: Jeff Mielke
Title: Emergent Phonology on Small and Large Scales
Time: Friday 11/18, 3:30PM
Place: Education 624

In this talk I illustrate the emergence of phonological patterns on a micro scale, through individual variation in the distribution of categorically different tongue postures for /r/ in North American English and rhotic vowels in Canadian French.  Second, I will show how the typology of speaker-level /r/ allophony patterns is phonetically constrained and how it parallels the typology of language-level /l/ allophony patterns.  I will conclude by showing how some other typological observations (e.g. distinctive feature effects and crosslinguistic phoneme frequencies) can be accounted for through the role of phonetics in the emergence of sound patterns.

Department Picnic

This academic year got started with a potluck picnic at Parc La Fontaine in early September. There was excellent food to sample, and, of course, great company.

A McLing photographer who was sent to cover the event has just sent some pictures which he was busy developing following an ancient technique that takes months. Enjoy!



McGill at NELS 41

McGill was represented at NELS 42, which took place this past weekend at the University of Toronto. Fourth year PhD student Sasha Simonenko presented a poster When uniqueness is “guaranteed”: DEN-omission in Swedish. This work is based on Sasha’s second Eval paper.

Deadline for Application to Ph.D. and M.A. Program: December 15

The deadline for applying to our graduate programs is earlier than in previous years: applications are due on December 15, which is approaching fast. Note that applications have to be sent in hard copy. For more information, visit our admissions page.

Ling-lunch 11/16 – Meghan Clayards

Speaker: Meghan Clayards
Title: Phonetic cues to morphological structure
Location: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117
Time: 12:00–1:00

an eye-tracking study looking at how listeners may make use of subtle phonetic cues to morphological structure in real-time

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