Monthly Archive for November, 2012

David-Etienne Bouchard’s Ph.D. Oral Defense – Thursday 11/29

David-Etienne Bouchard
Department of Linguistics
McGill University
Thursday, November 29th, 2012
Leacock Building Rm. 738
3:00 pm
Long-distance degree quantification and the grammar of subjectivity
This thesis is concerned with two little known constructions at the syntax-semantics interface, namely a type of apparent long-distance degree quantification in Québec French called Intensification At a Distance (IAD), and a class of verbs that I simply refer to as opinion verbs and which include English to find and French trouver, for example.
I examine two competing analyses of IAD, namely one where the surface word order is derived by overt DegP movement and one where it is base-generated. The former approach is a natural extension of the view in degree semantics that degree operators need a QR-type of operation to be interpretable. If it is right, then nothing needs to be added to the semantic component, and IAD can be treated as a distributional argument in favour of this semantics. Furthermore, it can be used to examine various proposals in this field, since if this hypothesis is right, then we can read the scope of degree operators right off surface syntax in this dialect.
While this hypothesis is very successful at providing an interpretation to IAD sentences, it makes a number of incorrect syntactic predictions. I thus turn to an in situ analysis of IAD, which shares almost none of the syntactic problems of the movement analysis, but requires an entirely novel semantics to be interpretable. I thus suggest an interpretive mechanism for IAD sentences whereby the degree operator does not relate to any gradable predicate lower in the structure, but rather quantifies over degrees of appropriateness of its entire complement, in a manner very similar to how Morzycki (2011) analyses metalinguistic comparatives. The scale of the lower gradable adjective only comes to play a role in the pragmatics. I tentatively conclude in favour of the in situ analysis.
Concerning opinion verbs, I present some novel data that show that sentences in find contain much semantic material that is presupposed, and I propose to formalize this in the form of what I call the Subjective Contingency Presupposition. This approach gives us an adequate way of describing what is asserted and what is presupposed in such sentences, including in many problematic cases involving negation, and also gives us for free the fact that such verbs can only take subjective complements.
I also suggest that a careful examination of the syntactic and semantic properties of their complement clause argues in favour of Lasersohn (2005)’s proposal that subjectivity in grammar is represented by a judge index on the interpretation function, rather than by null pronouns in the syntax. This is exactly contrary to Saebø (2009)’s conclusions, who recently proposed one of the first analyses of the verb find. This conclusion follows from the way that various kinds of subjective and non-subjective constituents may be conjoined under find.
followed by a reception in the lounge
All are welcome!

Ergativity Lab – 11/29

This week we finished up talking about an ergative analysis of Tagalog, which hinges on giving actor-topic voice an antipassive analysis. This Thursday at 1:30 in room 117 we will be discussing Stiebel’s paper Agent Focus in Mayan. The paper provides a comprehensive typology of the agent focus construction, which is related to antipassive.

Algonquian reading group 11/ 30

When: Friday 11/30, 1 pm

Where: Room 117

What: This week we will read Bannister (2004) MA Thesis: A description of preverb and particle usage in Innu-Aimûn narrative. We will be focusing on 1.3-1.4 (pg 22-29) and maybe part 2 if there is time.

Colloquium: Martina Wiltschko (UBC) – 11/30

Speaker: Martina Wiltschko (UBC)
When: Friday, 11/30 at 3:30 pm
Where: Education 434
Title: The structure of universal categories: Towards a formal typology.

When it comes to the nature of categories within syntactic theory, we can identify two opposing positions:

i) The universalist position:
Categories are universal

ii) The variance position:
Languages differ in the morpho-syntactic categories they make use of

My goal for this talk is to develop a model of grammar which allows us to reconcile these seemingly contradictory positions. I first show that we want to maintain both positions. On the one hand I review some properties of functional categories that suggest that there is a universal set of hierarchically organized categories. On the other hand, I review properties of categories across different languages that suggest that they are indeed language-specific. In fact, I shall argue that categories defined based on word class (i.e., determiner), morphological type (i.e., inflection), or substantive content (i.e., tense) cannot be universal on principled grounds.

Instead I propose a model according to which universal categories are defined based on their core function: classification, anchoring, and discourse linking. I refer to this as the Universal-Spine-Hypothesis. Variance in the inventory of categories across languages arises via different strategies to map form and meaning onto the syntactic spine. This will allow us to formulate a formal typology for functional categories.

Erin Olson’s Visit to Memorial University

Earlier this month, Erin Olson [BA ’12] visited the Memorial University of Newfoundland to to help set up software and protocols for experiments in speech production, speech perception, and dialect variation being conducted by Sara Mackenzie and Paul De Decker. In addition she also gave a talk “Describing the Accent System of Listuguj Mi’gmaq” to the department as part of their Linguistics Seminar Series.

Sonderegger presents at UBC

Morgan Sonderegger will be traveling to the University of British Columbia this week, where he will give a colloquium titled “Phonetic and phonological dynamics on reality television”.

Ling-Lunch 11/21- Omer Preminger

When: Wednesday 11/21 12:35–1:35 in room 117

Who: Omer Preminger (Syracuse U)

What: The directionality of agreement: Evidence from partial agreement

Abstract: Recent times have seen a (re)enlivening of the debate regarding the directionality of morphosyntactic agreement relations (Baker 2008, 2011; Bejar & Rezac 2009; Carstens 2012; Koopman 2006; Pesetsky & Torrego 2007; Preminger 2012; Wurmbrand in prep.; Zeijlstra 2012; inter alia). The issue, broadly speaking, concerns whether the element contributing the valued (“meaningful”) features in an agreement relation should be structurally higher, or structurally lower, than the element to which these values are contributed.

Partial agreement refers to configurations in which agreement in the full set of phi-features (person, number, gender/noun-class) is impossible, and only agreement in a subset of these features goes through. Classic examples include the Person Case Constraint (a.k.a. the “me-lui” constraint), but also the cross-linguistically common effects of subject-verb inversion on agreement (e.g. in Romance and Semitic languages).

I will show that the distribution and behavior of partial agreement provide an argument in favor of the more established conception of agreement — where the contributor of values must be located below the recipient of values — rather than the inverted model proposed in more recent work (Wurmbrand in prep.; Zeijlstra 2012; see also Koopman 2006). Data from Basque, Icelandic, Hebrew, Nahuatl, and other languages will be brought to bear on this issue.

Schedule for the rest of the semester*:


*Contact us at if you’d like to present.

Syntax-Phonology Research Group

When: Thursday November 22, 11:40-12:55 in room 117

Topic: Chapters 2-3 of Universals in Comparative Morphology by Jonathan Bobaljik

Máire Noonan will lead the discussion.

Ergativity Lab 11/22

ErgLab will be meeting this Thursday at 1:30 in room 117. Last week we discussed the first half of a recent paper by Edith Aldridge arguing that Tagalog is ergatively aligned. This week we will review her arguments, then go over the technical details of the account.

Syntax-Semantics Research Group – 11/23

The next syntax-semantics research group meets on Friday 11/23 at 3:00 pm in room 117.

Speaker: Walter Pedersen

Title: Faultless disagreement and semantic relativity

Info: Walter will summarize the main issues of the paper he is currently working on (follow the link above).
Background reading: sections 1 through 5 of Lasersohn, Peter. 2005. “Context Dependence, Disagreement, and Predicates of Personal Taste”, L&P 28:6 , 643–686.

Welcome new McLing editor: Morgan Sonderegger

McLing is happy to announce the addition of a new faculty member of the editorial staff, Morgan Sonderegger. Jessica Coon will be taking a break from McLing as she gets ready for maternity leave next month. As always, you are welcome to email your news, events, and announcements to any one of the editors, or to the group at

Welcome aboard Morgan!

Bethany Lochbihler’s Ph.D. Oral Defense – Monday 11/12

Bethany Lochbihler
Department of Linguistics
McGill University
Monday, November 12th, 2012
McLennan Library Building Rm. M5-37A
3:15 pm
Aspects of Argument Licensing
This thesis reexamines the distribution of arguments in different languages, proposing that Case itself is not universal, but a realization of an underlying principle of Argument Licensing. I claim that arguments must be syntactically licensed (i.e. by Agree) but that the features by which arguments are licensed can vary between languages. I discuss in detail the realization of Person Licensing in Ojibwe in the absence of Case, as well as in other languages showing Person Restrictions. Argument Licensing facilitates a deeper understanding of the principles that underlie arguments and their behaviour in the syntactic derivation, without being restricted by the exact realization of Case alone.
I first present a detailed analysis of Ojibwe verbal morphology, focusing on the infamous Algonquian Inverse System and verbal theme-sign suffixes that I claim encode the person (π) features of multiple arguments (see also Bloomfield 1957; Rhodes 1994; McGinnis 1999; Bruening 2001, 2009). I adopt the notion of Cyclic Agree of a π-probe on v with multiple arguments from Béjar & Rezac (2009), and posit morphosyntactic π-features (e.g. Harley & Ritter 2002) organized by entailment relations (see Cowper 2005). I revise the mechanics of Cyclic Agree to fully account for the Ojibwe data, including apparent intransitive morphology on a transitive verbal complex and the conjunct morphology found in embedded clauses. I claim that Person Restrictions (i.e. the Strong Person-Case Constraint, Bonet 1991) in Ojibwe ditransitives are accounted for by Cyclic Agree and the requirement of Person Licensing (i.e. π-features on arguments must enter an Agree relation). I argue that Person Restrictions are generally derived by a need for Person Licensing, and that similar restrictions in French, Spanish, Basque, Icelandic and other languages directly relate to the derivation of the Ojibwe Inverse System by Cyclic Agree with v (related approaches found in Anagnostopoulou 2003, 2005; Béjar & Rezac 2003; Adger & Harbour 2007; Heck & Richards 2010).
I further claim that Ojibwe is a caseless language, indicated by a lack of Case phenomena (see Ritter & Rosen 2005; see also related work in Ritter & Wiltschko 2004, 2007, 2010), and that Ojibwe arguments are subject to Person Licensing in the absence of Case. I claim that Case and Person Licensing are distinct realizations of the underlying principle of Argument Licensing (a generalized version of the Case Filter), and that Person Licensing is identified by a bundle of properties relating to the checking of π-features that are not shared with a standard view of Case. My view of licensing allows for a three-way typology where a language may license arguments by Case, Person, or by both as in Romance languages that have Case phenomena as well as Person Restrictions. I discuss a range of data that fall under my view of Person Licensing centered on v, including the Person Case Constraint, psych verb constructions and split-ergativity by person.
My main proposal is that Case itself is not a universal of human language but is instead a robust realization of an underlying universal of Argument Licensing. I claim that my approach to the distribution of arguments achieves better coverage of the data by allowing for greater cross-linguistic variation that is unified at a deeper level by the principle of Argument Licensing.
followed by a reception in the lounge
All are welcome!

Ling-Lunch 11/14 – Robert Henderson & Jessica Coon

When: Wednesday 11/15 12:35–1:35 in room 117

Who: Robert Henderson & Jessica Coon

What: Two binding puzzles in Mayan


This paper examines binding puzzles in two Mayan languages and proposes an analysis which unifies two otherwise different-looking constructions: the Chol applicative and the K’ichee’ agent focus (AF). In both the Chol applicative and the K’ichee’ AF, subjects are banned from binding object possessors. That is, the equivalents of English Maria bought her own tortillas or It was Juan who burned his own foot are impossible in the relevant constructions (though they are possible under a reading in which the subject and object’s possessor are not coreferential). Working within the minimal pronoun approach of Kratzer 2009, we propose that in both types of construction binding of the object’s possessor by the subject is blocked by an intervening v head. In the Chol (low) applicative, this is the head added to introduce the applied argument. In the K’ichee’ AF, this is the head needed to introduce the subject; we may think of this as a type of high applicative. In this paper we show that the similar binding restrictions in these two different languages are easily accounted for under a theory which ties the availability of binding to locality with domains defined by v heads.


Syntax-Phonology Reading Group 11/15

When: Thursday 11/15, 11:40–12:55 in room 117

What: Discussion of chapters 1–2 of Jonathan Bobaljik’s Universals in Comparative Morphology

Led by: Sasha Simonenko and Máire Noonan

Ergativity Lab 11/15

Today ErgLab discussed the first three sections of Legate’s 2008 paper “Morphological and Abstract Case”, digging into the idea that some ergative case systems are the result of default morphological case. This laid the groundwork for next week’s discussion of Aldridge’s 2011 piece “Antipassive and ergativity in Tagalog”. Robert will be presenting the work, while Maayan will be presenting his commentary in relation to Legate’s partition of ergative case systems into the ABS=DEF type and the ABS=NOM type. As always, ErgLab meets in 117 at 1:30.

Jozina Vander Klok’s Ph.D. Oral Defense – Friday 11/16

Jozina Vander Klok
Department of Linguistics
McGill University
Friday, November 16th, 2012
Arts Building Rm. 160
2:30 pm
TAM markers in Paciran Javanese
This dissertation provides both a description and formal explanation of syntactic and semantic aspects of the full set of TAM (tense-aspect-modal) markers in the dialect of Paciran Javanese (Western Malayo-Polynesian, Austronesian), spoken in East Java, Indonesia.
First, I identify the inventory of TAM markers in Paciran Javanese and determine their grammatical category. Specifically, I show that there is a set of adverbs (koyoke, ketoke, jekene ‘direct.evidential’, watake, bonake‘indirect.evidential’, mesthine epist.should’, kudune ‘ought’, paleng ‘maybe’, mesthi epist.must’) as well as a set of auxiliaries (kudu deont.must’, lagek prog’, ape fut’, wes perf’, tau exp.perf’, oleh ‘allow’, iso ‘can’). Furthermore, I establish that TAM markers individually observe a strict relative order in Paciran Javanese beyond the observation that TAM adverbs > auxiliaries, maintaining the proposal for a universal hierarchy of TAM projections as in Cinque (1999). Investigating the order in Paciran Javanese provides insight in particular into the syntactic position of root modal projections, left open in Cinque (1999): the necessity root modal projection must be separated from the possibility projection by a low aspectual projection.
Second, I concentrate on the formal analysis of two different aspects regarding the set of TAM markers in Paciran Javanese, one syntactic and one semantic. Concerning syntax, I suggest that Paciran Javanese provides evidence not only for the existence of an intermediate comp-like projection serving as a phase edge similar to e.g. Aldridge (2010) within the Minimalist framework (Chomsky 1995), but also the specific position of such a projection. The location of the intermediate comp-like projection is indicated by the partition of two sets of TAM auxiliaries in Paciran Javanese, found to hold in three different constructions: auxiliary fronting in yes-no questions, VP-topicalization and subject-auxiliary answers to yes-no questions.
Concerning semantics, I establish the modal system in Paciran Javanese based on results from a variety of fieldwork methods such as a modal questionnaire, storyboards (, elicitation and interviews. I propose a formal analysis of the possibility and necessity modals in Paciran Javanese within the classic framework of Kratzer (1977, 1981). This analysis captures the fact that modals in Paciran Javanese typically lexically specify for both the modal force (possibility vs. necessity) and the type of modality (e.g.epistemic, based on the available evidence; deontic, based on a body of rules and regulations; etc.). As well, I suggest an analysis within this system for one modal which behaves differently in Paciran Javanese, as it only lexically specifies for the modal force, but not for the type of modality.
followed by a reception in the lounge
All are welcome!

Algonquian reading group 11/16

When: Friday 11/16, 1:00pm in room 117

What: Mike Hamilton will present Vivian Lin‘s paper “Competing Approaches to Weak Cross-Over in Algonquian Languages”

White, Goad and Goodhue Present Poster at BUCLD 37

Left to Right: Daniel Goodhue, Lydia White, Heather Goad

Professors Lydia White and Heather Goad, and PhD student Daniel Goodhue presented a poster at the 37th Boston University Conference on Language Development. The poster, coauthored by Lydia White, Heather Goad, Daniel Goodhue, Hyekyung Hwang and Moti Lieberman, is titled “Syntactic ambiguity resolution in L2 parsing: Effects of prosodic boundaries and constituent length”. Congratulations All!

Ling Lunch 11/7 – Matthew Masapollo (McGill)

Speaker: Matthew Masapollo (McGill)

When: Wednesday 11/7 from 12:35 to 1:25

Title: Infants’ processing of vowels with infant vocal tract parameters

Abstract: Speech communication requires the ability to perceive phonetic categories among discriminably different phones. Prior research shows that infants can recognize phonetic equivalence among vowels produced by and adult men, women, and children. It is unknown whether this ability extends to infant vowel productions, which have unique properties due to the size and geometry of the infant vocal tract. The present study was undertaken to determine whether infants can recognize infant vowel productions as phonetically equivalent to vowels produced by adults and children. Infants (4-6 months) used were tested in a look-to-listen procedure using isolated vowels, /i/ and /a/, synthesized to simulate productions by adult men, women, children and a 6-month-old. On each trial repetitions of the same vowel were played when the infant fixated a checkerboard. Infants were first habituated to productions of /i/ produced by adult male, female and child speakers and were then presented infant productions of /i/ (familiar) and novel /a/ (novel) in four test trials. A novelty effect (novel > familiar) was observed showing that infants recognized the infant /i/ to be similar to the habituation vowel. Infants also looked longer on the first test trial compared to the last habituation trial, demonstrating that they noticed the change in vocal tracts. A preference for infant over adult vowels was confirmed in a second experiment. The findings will be discussed in terms of the emergence of perceptual constancy in the development of vowel perception, raising issues about how and when such knowledge is acquired in relation to the infant’s own productions.

Schedule for the rest of the semester*:

November 14: Robert Henderson & Jessica Coon (McGill), Agent focus in Mayan
November 21: Omer Preminger (Syracuse U), Topic TBA

*Contact us at if you’d like to present.

Ergativity Lab 11/8

This week Ergativity Lab will be digging deeper into particular theories of ergativity by reading Julie Legate’s 2008 paper “Morphological and abstract case” and thinking about what this particular approach to ergativity can tell us about our target languages and language families. As always, we will be meeting in 117 at 1:30 on Thursday.

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