Monthly Archive for January, 2012

LaTeX workshop

Brian Buccola and Alanah McKillen will hold a workshop on LaTeX.

When: Thursday, Feb. 2, 3:00 – 5:00(?) PM
Where: room 117 (unless too crowded, in which case 002)

Notes: The plan is to have a friendly, introductory workshop, starting from the basics. A handout will be provided with all the basic commands to get you started, and Alanah and Brian will also hook up their laptops to the projector to show you how to do things. Attendees are highly encouraged to bring their laptops (with LaTeX already installed) in order to play along; however, feel free also to just sit back and watch.

Ling-tea, 2/1 – phonology: Sonderegger

In this week’s Ling-tea Sepideh Mortazavinia and Michael McCliment will present…

Morgan Sonderegger. 2011. Testing for frequency and structural effects in an english stress shift. Berkeley Linguistic Society.
Where: 1085 Dr. Penfield, 117
When: Wednesday 2/1, 3–4pm

Also please note this will be the last Ling-tea in the phonology series––to sign up to present your work in Ling-tea, please contact Galit Agmon or Rachel Borden.


Jozina Vander Klok to present in Toronto

Jozina Vander Klok will be presenting at the Syntax Reading Group at the University of Toronto this Friday, February 3, 2012. The title of Jozina’s talk is “Exploring Predicate-Fronting in an SVO Austronesian language”.

Phonology search – Michael Becker, 1/30

Speaker: Michael Becker
When: Monday, January 30th, 3:00–5:00
Where: Education Building, room 216
Title: Universal Grammar Protects Initial Syllables

In English, voicing alternations (e.g. knife ~ knives) impact mostly monosyllables, while polysyllables are rarely impacted. The opposite is true of French: most monosyllables that end in [al] keep their base faithful under affixation (e.g. bal ~ bal ‘ball(s)’), while most polysyllables tolerate a stem change  (bokal ~ boko  ‘jar(s)’). In this talk, I examine the two types of languages, and show that the symmetry is only superficial. The French trend is accessible to the grammar and extends readily to novel words, whereas English speakers treat novel words the same regardless of size. In other words, English speakers fail to find the generalization (the surfeit of the stimulus, Becker et al. 2011).

Positional faithfulness, and in particular, initial syllable faithfulness explains this asymmetry: the [al] in bal is protected by initial syllable faithfulness and by general faithfulness, while the [al] in bokal is protected by general faithfulness only. English goes against the Universal bias, requiring monosyllables to be less faithful than polysyllables. But with general faithfulness highly ranked, the ranking of initial syllable faithfulness is irrelevant, and the speakers are blocked from forming the required generalization.

Having established the asymmetry in the novel word tasks, we press English speakers further and ask them to learn unfamiliar morphophonological alternations (e.g. mi:~ mi:b-ni). Unencumbered by the counter-typological nature of actual English, speakers revert to Universal Grammar, and exhibit the French pattern.

This line of investigation, which goes from real words to novel words and from novel words to novel alternations, allows us to trace the biases that humans use in the phonological organization of their lexicon, and allows us to expose behavior that roundly contradicts the ambient language, yet conforms to the trends we see in the world’s languages.

Phonology search – Morgan Sonderegger, 2/3

Speaker: Morgan Sonderegger
When: Friday, February 3rd, 3:00–5:00
Where: Education Building, room 434
Title: Longitudinal phonetic and phonological dynamics on reality television

There has been much recent interest in to what extent an individual’s phonetics and phonology changes over time, from two perspectives. In short-term= laboratory settings, aspects of one’s speech shift in response to the speech of others; such ‘convergence’ effects are mediated by social and linguistic factors, and are well-attested (Goldinger, 1997; Pardo, 2006; Nielsen, 2008; Babel, 2009). It has been hypothesized that an accumulation of such shifts over time is an important source of accent change in individuals and sound change in communities (Pardo, 2006; Delvaux & Soquet, 2007). However, studies where phonetic or phonological variables are remeasured for individuals at times years apart have found huge variability: there is often no evidence for any change for a majority of individuals, while a minority change significantly (Harrington, 2006; Evans & Iverson, 2007; Sankoff & Blondeau, 2007; Siegel, 2010). What is the link between the different patterns seen in short-term convergence and long-term dynamics?

We address this question by investigating ‘medium term’ phonetic and phonological variation in a British reality television show where speakers live in an isolated house for three months, subject to constant recording. The house is a socially and linguistically closed system, making it possible to trace the dynamics of phonetic and phonological variables in contestants’ speech, and to test hypotheses about their sources. We consider three variables — two phonetic (VOT, vowel formants) and one phonological (t/d deletion) — in 8 hours of speech from 12 speakers. We analyze each variable’s dynamics over the course of the season after controlling for linguistic factors. Different speakers show extremely different dynamics for particular variables: some do not change at all over time, some show significant short-term fluctuations without long-term trends, and some show long-term trends. The most common pattern is for a speaker’s use of a variable to fluctuate between recording sessions on different days, in part due to shifts in the topic of conversation. There are also some possible effects of social interaction on observed dynamics. Our findings suggest that short-term shifts in individuals’ speech (days) are common, but only accumulate into longer-term change for some speakers.

Phonology search – Andries Coetzee, 1/27

Speaker: Andries Coetzee
When: Friday, January 27th, 3:00–5:00
Where: Education Building, room 433
Title: Grammar, Frequency, and Speech Rate in Phonological Variation

Over the past two decades, variation has been promoted from the margins of phonological theory to its center. The success of a phonological model is now measured, inter alia, by how well it accounts for phonological variation. Much progress has been made, and there are currently multiple competing models of phonology, any of which can account for variation with seemingly great success (Anttila 1997, Boersma & Hayes 2001, Coetzee 2006, Kimper 2011, etc.).

In this presentation, however, I will argue that the success of these models is only apparent. All of these models are exclusively grammatical – they do not allow for factors other than grammar to influence the realization of phonological variation. Although phonological grammar undoubtedly contributes to variation, there are many other factors that also influence how variation is realized. In a model where grammar alone accounts perfectly for variation, grammar is therefore doing more than its fair share of the work. Rather than an example of a successful model, this would be an example of a model with a too powerful a grammar.

I will propose an augmented version of the noisy Harmonic Grammar model of phonological variation (Coetzee & Pater 2011). In this augmented version, both grammatical and non-grammatical factors are incorporated, and co-determine how variation is realized. I will rely on two non-grammatical influences on variation as examples: usage frequency and speech rate.

Usage freque ncy. Many variable phonological processes apply more often to frequent than infrequent words. The variable deletion of word-final t/d from consonant clusters in English, for instance, applies more often to frequent just than infrequent jest. The traditional grammatical models of phonological variation do not differentiate between words based on their frequency, and would predict the same deletion rate for both just and jest. The graph to the left serves as an illustration. It plots the t/d-deletion rate in phrase-final position in the Buckeye Corpus (Pitt et al. 2007) against the log frequency of words as measured in CELEX (Baayen et al. 1995). The dotted line marks the prediction of a classic, non-augmented Harmonic Grammar model, and the solid line the prediction of the proposed frequency-augmented model. The augmented model accounts better for the actual deletion rates observed for individual words. 

Speech rate. Some variable processes, such as English schwa deletion, apply more frequently at faster than slower speech rates. The word potato is more likely to be realized as p_tato at faster than slower speech rates (Patterson et al. 2003). I will show that listeners use this correlation between speech rate and deletion during speech perception. They are more likely to “perceive” an absent schwa (i.e. to identify p_tato as an utterance of potato) when listening to faster than slower speech. I then develop a model of the listener’s perceptual grammar in the same augmented version of noisy Harmonic Grammar used above, showing how this augmented model accounts better for listeners’ actual performance than a classic non-augmented model.

Given the data sources (speech corpora, data collected in the phonology laboratory, etc.) that we currently have at our disposal, we have access to more realistic information on actual linguistic behavior. The mathematically and computationally sophisticated theories of grammar currently available also enable us to develop more realistic models of grammar. We are at an exciting nexus in the development of linguistic theorizing where we can start integrating traditional generative/competence models with actual production data.

Ling-Tea 1/25 – Phonology: Coetzee, Becker

In this week’s special two-hour Ling-Tea we will discuss work by Andries Coetzee and Michael Becker

Where: 1085 Dr. Penfield, 117
When: Wednesday 1/25, 3–5

Syntax-Phonology/Algonquian Research Group, 1/26


When: Thursday January 26, 10–11:30 a.m.
Where: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117

Welcome Emily Elfner!

Emily just finished her Ph.D. on “Syntax-prosody interactions in Irish” at UMass Amherst, and is now starting a SSHRC-funded postdoc here at McGill with Michael Wagner. She’ll be presenting part of her thesis research this week at OCP (Old World Conference in Phonology) in Berlin, and then spend some time in Ireland to collect data, before returning to Montreal. Please join us in welcoming her to the department!

Phonology search – Peter Graff, 1/23

Speaker: Peter Graff
When: Monday, January 23rd, 3:00–5:00
Where: Education Building, room 431
Title: Perceptual Dispersion in the Lexicon

It has often been noted that the phoneme inventories of human language are subject to considerations of distinctness (e.g., Martinet 1955, Liljencrants and Lindblom 1972, Flemming 2002). In this talk, I show that it is not only inventories of phonemes but also a language’s inventory of words (i.e., the lexicon) that is subject to the very same perceptual pressures. Words, just like phonemes, preferentially rely on highly perceptible contrasts for distinctness. I present evidence for this from the cross-linguistic distribution of minimal pairs.

Using a corpus of phonetically transcribed dictionaries of 61 different languages from 25 major language families, I show that the number of words disambiguated solely by place contrasts in intervocalic (a[p]end:a[t]end; V_V), prevocalic (s[p]y:s[t]y; C_V), postvocalic (swee[p]s:swee[t]s; V_C), and interconsonantal (cor[p]se:cour[t]s; C_C) context decreases as a function of the perceptibility of cues to place in those contexts (Repp 1978, Fujimura et al. 1978, Ohala 1990, Wright 1996, Kochetov 2004). Using log-linear mixed-effects models, I show that these asymmetries go beyond what is expected from the frequency and relative distribution of individual sounds in different languages.

In a second study I show that analogous results obtain for laryngeal contrasts in different languages. There are more minimal pairs like a[p]ace:a[b]ase (V_V) than pairs like dis[p]erse:dis[b]urse (C_V) than pairs like sta[p]le:sta[b]le (V_C) than pairs like am[p]le:am[b]le (C_C), mirroring the availability of cues to voicing (Raphael 1981, Slis 1986, Lisker 1986). Again, I show that results hold while controlling for sound-specific distributions.

A third study finds that the number of minimal pairs based on consonantal differences in English increases significantly with the perceptual distinctness of the consonants distinguishing them. There are more pairs like pop:shop relying on the highly distinct /p/:/ʃ/ contrast, than pairs like thought:fought relying on highly similar /θ/:/f/ in the English lexicon.

I argue that these results have important implications for theories of the kind of knowledge speakers have access to in learning and using their language (cf Hayes and Steriade 2004 and Blevins 2004 for differing views). While many cross-linguistic patterns in phoneme inventories are amenable to explanations in terms of what Ohala (1990) refers to as innocent misapprehension, dispersion of words is not. If speakers simply misperceived certain contrasts more, then these contrasts should drop out regardless of whether they distinguish among words or not. For the patterns identified above to arise, language usage or learning must be sensitive to the perceptual similarity of words.

Call for undergraduate papers

SLUM is starting a McGill undergraduate Linguistics journal: Cellar Door!

We are seeking submissions for the inaugural volume of Cellar Door. Please submit papers concerning any topic in linguistics: syntax, semantics, phonetics, phonology, historical, socio-, etc.

Papers must be at least 8 pages long, and must have, if submitted for a class, have received an A- or an A. Please send your submissions to by February 6th.

Syntax-semantics research group, 1/16 – Alanah McKillen and Galit Agmon

Speakers: Alanah McKillen and Galit Agmon
Title: Hackl, et al. (2012): Quantification and ACD: evidence from real-time sentence processing
Location: room 117, linguistics building, 1085 Dr. Penfield
Time: Monday, 16 January 2012, 3:00 – 4:30 PM

Ling-tea, 1/18 – phonology: Graff

This week’s Ling-Tea will be a discussion of work by upcoming job candidate, Peter Graff.

Presenter: TBA
Paper:  Graff, Peter and T. Florian Jaeger. To appear. Locality and Feature Specificity in OCP Effects: Evidence from Aymara, Dutch, and Javanese. Proceedings of the Main Session of the 45th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society. Chicago, IL: CLS.
When: Wednesday 1/18, 3–4pm
Where: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117

Extended deadline for McCCLU abstract submissions

The deadline to submit an abstract for presentation at the 2012 McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates (McCCLU), which will take place March 9–11, has been extended to January 25th. Please see the McCCLU page for more information.

Phonology search – Anne Pycha, 1/20

Speaker: Anne Pycha
When: Friday, January 20th, 3:00–5:00
Where: Education Building, room 433
Title: “Phonological signatures in words: Evidence from production and perception of diphthongs”

This talk wrestles with two big problems that face phonology. First, non-local dependencies in phonology are not widely attested, despite the fact that they are common at other levels of linguistic analysis, such as syntax. Second, many phonological processes bear close resemblance to phonetic processes, suggesting that no real difference exists between abstract phonological structures and the physical events of articulation. In this talk, I pursue the hypothesis that phonologically contrastive processes exhibit acoustic “signatures” that are a) non-local and b) absent from otherwise similar phonetic processes. Experiment 1 demonstrates that English speakers produce non-local dependencies in order to maintain contrast between words such as bite vs. bide, but not in order to accomplish other tasks, such as changing speech rates or signaling phrasal positions. Experiments 2 & 3 demonstrate that English listeners can use these dependencies to perceptually distinguish between words like bite vs. bide, even in the absence of other cues. The upshot of these findings, which build on previous work that I have done in Hungarian, is that phonology does use non-local dependencies, and these dependencies crucially distinguish it from phonetics. I analyze non-locality in both languages as motivated by a need to target maximal segments, and I examine the implications of this analysis for cross-linguistic typology.

LaTeX workshop dates

Brian Buccola and Alanah McKillen will hold a LaTeX workshop on Thursday, February 2, 2012. LaTeX is a powerful typesetting program for producing high-quality technical documents.

The workshop will assume no knowledge of LaTeX; all the basics will be covered. A second, more advanced (and linguistics-specific) workshop is tentatively scheduled for the following Thursday, February 9, 2012.

All are welcome!

If you’re interested in receiving more information about the LaTeX workshops and have not yet already done so, please contact Brian or Alanah to be added to their email list.

PF/Algonquian Group, 1/19 – Travis

This semester the PF/Algonquian Reading group will meet Thursdays from 10–11:30 in room 117. This week’s group will discuss…

What: Chapter 6 of Lisa TravisInner Aspect: “L-Syntax and S-Syntax”
When: Thursday 1/19, 10–11:30
Where: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117

Ling-tea, 1/11 – phonology

Ling-Tea, fomerly known as Ling-Lunch, will take place this semester Wednesdays 3–4 in room 117. This first sessions of the semester will be devoted to reading and discussing papers by our phonology job candidates. Here are details of the first Ling-Tea, which will focus on work by Anne Pycha, will visit the department January 19th and 20th (details to come).

Date: Wednesday 1/11, 3–4pm
Location: 1085 Dr. Penfield, room 117
Paper: Pycha, Anne. 2010. A test case for the phonetics-phonology interface: Gemination restrictions in Hungarian. Phonology 27:119-152. [PDF]

Beginning 2/8, Ling-Tea will be open for regular, informal presentations and discussions of work and work in progress. Please email organizers Galit Agmon and Rachel Borden to sign up.



McGill at the LSA

McGill was represented at this year’s LSA Annual Meeting, held in Portland, Oregon this past weekend:

  • Charles Boberg presented “Regional variants of the continuous short-a system in Canada” in the American Dialect Society session
  • Jessica Coon was involved with members of Harvard’s Language Processing Lab in a special panel on Psycholinguistic Research on Less-Studied Languages
  • Post-doctoral fellow Jonathan Howell presented “Debunking focal determinism on the web: The case of adnominal emphatic reflexives” in the Pragmatics and Discourse Analysis session

McGillians at MIT Linguistics’ 50th Anniversary

Lisa Travis (center) at the reception with McGill alums (aSLUMs?) Edwin Howard, Bronwyn Bjorkman, Laura Kalin, and TC Chen










Jessica Coon takes questions in the Endangered Languages session

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