Monthly Archive for February, 2012

Mark your calendars: McCCLU March 9–11

In just under two weeks we will host McCCLU: the McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates, March 9–11. The program includes both local presenters, as well as many who will travel to Montréal for the event. New faculty additions (and McLing editors) Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Jessica Coon will give invited talks. Please mark your calendars, everyone is encouraged to attend. Program details will be available on the website soon.

Phonology-Syntax Reading Group, 3/1

When: Thursday 1 March
Where: Linguistics, Room 117
Presenter:  Lisa Travis (on joint work with Shu-ing Shyu of National Sun Yat-sen University)
Relevant Construction: Predicate doubling in Mandarin

Zhangsan lai shi lai le, *(danshi bu shuo yijuhua).
Zhangsan come SHI come Asp but not speak one-CL.-word
‘Although Zhangsan came, he didn’t speak a word.’

Question:  Is this construction created by movement leaving a copy or reduplication feeding syntactic movement?

Larger issue:
 Ordering of phonology and syntax and post spell-out movement

Alonso-Ovalle and Menéndez-Benito on Spanish Algunos

Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Paula Menéndez-Benito. (2012) Indefinites, Dependent Plurality, and the Viability Requirement on Scalar Alternatives. Journal of Semantics.Published online on February 20 2012. doi: 10.1093/jos/ffr013

Miles Shang creates a syntax tree generator

Undergraduate Miles Shang has written a syntax tree generator, which can be found here: The app is designed to be easy to use, and it even supports basic movement lines. As it is still a work-in-progress, you’re encouraged to submit any suggestions or bug reports directly to Miles. (Note that it will only work on relatively recent browsers.)

Miles is pursuing a B.S. in mathematics and B.A. in linguistics, with joint honors. His honors thesis for linguistics is on equivalent models for computation, under the supervision of Prof. Brendan Gillon. On the math side, Miles is doing a completely separate project in computer graphics.

Great work, Miles!

Syntax-Semantics Research Group, 2/27 – David-Étienne Bouchard

David-Étienne Bouchard will continue discussion in this week’s Syntax-Semantics Research Group:

When: Monday 2/27, 3:00–4:30
Where: Linguistics, 117
What: Part 2 on the syntax and semantics of opinion verbs
Background reading: Saebo, Kjell Johan. 2009. Judgment ascriptions. Linguistics and Philosophy 32:327-352.

Reading room book donation

Friday morning, boxes of books were removed from our old reading room and sent to Cebu Normal University in the Philippines. After attempting to find a library in Montreal that would be interested in the books, the department contacted Institut Fidal, a charitable organization providing international aid and development to teaching institutions and institutions of learning. The charity focuses on programs such as literacy, education, training, research and bursaries.  Special thanks go to Brendan Gillon for putting us in touch with Institut Fidal, Lauren Mak for coordinating the donation, Lydia White for contributing towards the cost of the shipment of the books, and Connie’s daughter Leeza and a student from UQAM for doing the packing job.  It’s been a long process but finally all the hard work paid off!

Happy reading week!

McLing wishes everyone a productive and relaxing reading week. Please send us any news you have from the break, we’ll be back online next week.

Montreal ranked among top student cities

Montreal was rated the best city for students in Canada, and tenth world-wide. The survey, conducted by the British firm QS, is reported in the Montreal Gazette. The full ratings can be seen on the QS website. Montreal (together with Boston) is one of only two cities in North America to make the top ten and received one of the highest scores for quality of life.

Syntax/Semantics Research Group

The schedule for the next meetings of the Syntax/Semantics Research group looks as follows:

Monday, February 20, 2012, 2:00-3:30 pm [Note different time]
David-Étienne Bouchard: The syntax and semantics of opinion verbs
Background reading: Saebo, Kjell Johan. 2009. Judgment ascriptions. Linguistics and Philosophy 32:327-352.

Monday, February 27, 2012, 3:00-4:30 pm

Monday, March 5, 2012, 3:00-4:30 pm
Yosef Grodzinsky and Bernhard Schwarz: On Breakstone, Micha, Alexandre Cremers, Danny Fox and Martin Hackl. to appear. On the analyisis of scope ambiguities in comparative constructions: converging evidence from real-time sentence processing and offline data, Proceedings of SALT 21, 2011.

Cellar Door: call for undergraduate papers & editors

SLUM is starting a new undergraduate journal for McGill Linguistics: Cellar Door. We are looking for undergraduate papers and editors for the inaugural volume. This is a fantastic opportunity for undergraduates to get your work published for FREE!


Please submit papers concerning any topic in linguistics: syntax, semantics, phonetics, historical, socio-, phonology, etc. Since this is the first ever issue, feel free to submit any papers you wrote in past years! Papers must be at least 8 pages long, and must have, if submitted for a class, have received a minimum grade of an A-.

Please send your submissions to by February 15.


Interested in joining the editorial board for Cellar Door? Please submit a writing sample to by February 15!

Ling-tea film screening – Âs Nutayuneân: We still live here

Please join us for a Ling-tea movie week!

What: As Nutayunean – We still live here (2010)
When: Wednesday 2/15, 3pm–4:30pm (film length: 82 mins)
Where: Linguistics, 117

“The story begins in 1994 when Jessie Little Doe, an intrepid, thirty-something Wampanoag social worker, began having recurring dreams: familiar-looking people from another time addressing her in an incomprehensible language. Jessie was perplexed and a little annoyed– why couldn’t they speak English? Later, she realized they were speaking Wampanoag, a language no one had used for more than a century. These events sent her and members of the Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanaog communities on an odyssey that would uncover hundreds of documents written in their language, lead Jessie to a Masters in Linguistics at MIT, and result in something that had never been done before – bringing a language alive again in an American Indian community after many generations with no Native speakers.”

Housing for McCCLU participants needed

McCCLU (the McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates) is less than a month away! This is a great opportunity to see some of the undergraduate research bring done int he field. In order to enable as many participants as possible, McCCLU is offering housing for presenters from other universities outside of Montreal.

If you would be willing to house a linguistics student (or a few) for the weekend of March 9-11, please email Olivia Ait-Bella (

David-Étienne Bouchard awarded SSHRC Post-Doctoral fellowship

Fifth-year graduate student David-Étienne Bouchard was awarded a 2-year SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship to work with Éric Mathieu at the University of Ottawa on a project titled “The Role of Context in Non-Canonical Quantification in Québec French”. According to the SSHRC there was a total of 986 applications for these fellowships, only 145 of which were successful––congratulations David-Étienne!

SLUM midterm review sessions

SLUM offers FREE review sessions for all undergraduate linguistics classes at McGill. Here is the schedule for this semester’s midterm season:

LING 200: Wednesday, Feb. 29; 4-6pm; rm. 117

LING 201: Monday, Feb. 27; 2:30-4pm; rm. 002

LING 320: Wednesday, Feb. 29; 4-6pm; ling lounge

LING 330: Friday, Mar. 2; 2-4pm; ling lounge

LING 350: Wednesday, Feb. 15; 2-4pm; ling lounge

LING 455: Friday, Mar. 2; 2-4pm; rm. 117

LING 521: Tuesday, Feb. 14; 4-6pm; ling lounge

All midterm review sessions take place in the linguistics building (1085 Dr. Penfield).

Bethany Lochbihler awarded SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Bethany Lochbihler has just been awarded a 2-year SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship to carry out research at the University of Edinburgh. She will work with Peter Ackema on a project titled “Variation in the distribution of subjects and objects across languages”. In case you didn’t have a chance to do the math from the previous post, these highly competitive fellowships were awarded to fewer than 15% of applicants–congratulations Bethany!

Jozina Vander Klok awarded SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Graduate student Jozina Vander Klok has just been awarded a 2-year SSHRC Post-Doctoral Fellowship for her project titled “Expressions of modality in Javanese and cross-linguistic implications”. She’ll carry out this project at UBC with Lisa Matthewson. Did we mention these fellowships are competitive? Congratulations Jozina!



Change and Variation in Canada VI

The sixth annual Change and Variation in Canada (CVC VI) workshop will take place June 2-3, 2012, in Montreal, where it will be co-hosted by McGill University and the Université du Québec à Montréal. CVC brings together researchers working within a variationist framework on Canadian language varieties (English, French, or other), or at Canadian institutions, to discuss work in progress and exchange ideas in an informal setting.  Students are particularly encouraged to submit abstracts.

Presentations (in English or French) will be 20 minutes long, followed by a 10-minute question period. Abstracts should be no more than 300 words (not including title and references) and should be submitted to: by Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012.

Jessica Coon – colloquium talks

Jessica Coon presented her work on “Syntactic Ergativity in Q’anjob’al” this past Friday at Carleton University. She also presented this work earlier this year at UCLA, where they had recently had a Q’anjob’al field methods class. You can download the full paper on LingBuzz.

Abstract: Many morphologically ergative languages show asymmetries in the extraction of core arguments: while absolutive arguments (transitive objects and intransitive subjects) extract freely, ergative arguments (transitive subjects) cannot. This falls under the label “syntactic ergativity” (see e.g. Dixon 1972, 1994; Manning 1996). Extraction asymmetries are found in many languages of the Mayan family, where in order to extract transitive subjects (for focus, questions, or relativization), a special construction known as the “Agent Focus” (AF) must be used. These AF constructions have been described as syntactically transitive, because they contain two non-oblique DP arguments, but morphologically intransitive because the verb appears with only a single agreement marker and takes an intransitive status suffix (Aissen 1999; Stiebels 2006).

In this talk––which presents collaborative work with Pedro Mateo Pedro and Omer Preminger––I offer a proposal for (i) why some morphologically ergative languages exhibit extraction asymmetries, while others do not; and (ii) how the Mayan AF construction circumvents this problem. I adopt recent accounts which argue that ergative languages vary in the locus of absolutive Case assignment (Aldridge 2004, 2008a; Legate 2002, 2008), and propose that this variation is present within the Mayan family. Based primarily on comparative data from Q’anjob’al and Chol, I argue that the inability to extract ergative arguments does not reflect a problem with properties of the ergative subject, but rather reflects locality properties of absolutive Case assignment in the clause. I show how the AF morpheme -on circumvents this problem in Q’anjob’al by assigning case to internal arguments. Evidence will come from reflexive and extended reflexive constructions, incorporated objects, embedded clauses, as well as hierarchy effects in related K’ichean languages.

Upcoming workshops

The McGill Linguistics Department received SSHRC funding to organize two upcoming workshops:

  • The McGill Syntactic Interfaces Research Group (McSIRG) will hold an Exploring the Interfaces “Words” Workshop, which will take place this May here at McGill––exact dates and details coming soon.
  • SSHRC will also sponsor the first Corpus Approaches to Mayan Linguistics (CAML), to be held late this summer in the Kaqchikel-speaking city of Patzún, Guatemala, concurrently with Formal Approaches to Mayan Linguistics (FAMLi) 2. The organizing team includes Jessica Coon, Robert Henderson (UC Santa Cruz), Gretchen McCulloch, and current McGill visitor Juan Caicedo. Contact Jessica if you are interested in getting involved!

Postcard from the field

Fourth year PhD student Sasha Simonenko is back from her field trip to collect data on the Finno-Ugric language, Mari. McLing caught up with her to see how it went:

Together with Anna Volkova (Utrecht University), we spent 8 days in a Mari village of Starij Torjal. The hospitality of people there and the help we got from our consultants was amazing. We had about 4 consultant hours a day, and the rest of the time was spent analyzing the data we’d just got, preparing questions for the next day and buying chocolate truffles in a local store. Afterwards one of course realizes that one had to get more data and less truffles, but that’s a learning curve 🙂

Working with a Mari consultant in the local school building

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