Monthly Archive for May, 2013

CLA practice talks, today 5/27

Today, on Monday May 27th, we will have four practice presentations for the CLA conference in Victoria, BC next week. Presentations will take place in room 117 in the Linguistics building from 10:00–12:00. There will be two practice talks as well as two poster presentations:
Jessica Coon and Alan Bale – Person and Number in Mi’gmaq

Elise McClay, Carol Little, Hisako Noguchi, Erin Olson, Alan Bale, Jessica Coon, and Gina Cook – Using technology to bridge gaps between learners, speakers, and linguists (Poster for special session Reclaiming Canada’s Indigenous Languages)

Michael Hamilton – Wh-movement in Mi’gmaq
Gretchen McCulloch – Finals in Mi’gmaq Poster)
Please see the CLA website for a list of abstracts of the above presentations.

Bart Geurts’ Talk Cancelled.

The talk by Bart Geurts which was scheduled for Monday, May 27 (today) has
been canceled, due to the speaker no longer being able to come to Montreal.

Chen Qu successfully defends PhD dissertation

We are happy to report that Chen Qu successfully defended her PhD dissertation last Tuesday, May 21st. Her dissertation is titled “Representation and Acquisition of the Tonal System of Mandarin Chinese.” The abstract is below. Congratulations Chen!

This thesis examines the representation and acquisition of the Mandarin tonal system. The proposals raised in the thesis relate to three areas of phonological research: formal phonology, Mandarin phonology and the acquisition of phonology.

As far as formal phonology is concerned, the proposals are mainly three. First, concerning tone, the thesis supports the position of Yip (1980/1990) and Bao (1990/1999) that tones are internally structured. In particular, Bao’s (1999) model that contour and register are sister nodes is adopted. Departing from Bao (1999), however, it is suggested that a “register” node is not needed to express the internal structure of tones, due to the fact that there are only two registers across languages, H and L, and the two cannot be specified simultaneously. Second, the thesis supports the position that tone and stress can co-occur in tone languages, as the linguistic function of tone is to make lexical contrasts, while that of stress is rhythmic. Using evidence from stress in tone languages, it is argued that the uneven trochee should be recognized as one of the universal foot shapes, contrary to conventional views (e.g. Hayes 1995). Following discussion of the phonetic correlates of stress in different types of tone languages, it is shown that duration must serve as the principal phonetic correlate for stress in such languages because pitch is reserved for making lexical contrasts. Following from this, the uneven trochee, which is formed by a sequence of heavy/long and light/short syllables, arises as the optimal foot shape. Finally, the thesis identifies a relationship between stress and tone in contour tone languages as follows. There is a relation between rising tone and stress (prominence), and between level tone and lack of stress. A relation also holds between high register and stress, and between low register and lack of stress, as has previously been observed by Liberman (1975), Selkirk (1984, 1995), Goldsmith (1987) and de Lacy (1999, 2002, 2007) for register tone languages. The thesis proposes further that it is stress that determines the realization of tone, rather than the other way around: prosodic head (stressed) position makes tone high and rising; prosodic dependent (unstressed) position makes tone level.

Turning to Mandarin phonology more specifically, the proposals made in this thesis concern the formal representations of tones, prosodic structure and their interaction in tone sandhi processes. As far as the formal representations of tones are concerned, it is argued that Mandarin tones are underspecified: High register and rising contour are specified which, when embedded in a geometry where register (either H or L) and contour are sisters under the tonal node, results in the five-way tonal contrast of Mandarin, with T2 being the most marked/complex tone and T0 the least marked. Concerning the prosodic phonology of Mandarin, it is proposed that Mandarin is a weight-sensitive language and that a four-way weight distinction must be recognized: super-heavy (trimoraic), heavy (bimoraic), light (monomoraic) and weightless (moraless). Relatedly, it is argued that Mandarin strives to build uneven trochees, and that word-level stress falls on the leftmost heavy syllable in the domain of the phonological word. It is also proposed that phrasal stress in Mandarin respects End Rule Right. The overarching point made concerning Mandarin prosodic structure is that the language respects the prosodic hierarchy most commonly adopted for other languages (where moras are organized into syllables, syllables into feet, feet into phonological words, and phonological words into phonological phrases), in contrast to the position of many previous researchers working on the language (e.g. Yip 1980/1990, Duanmu 2007). As far as tone sandhi is concerned, this thesis provides a unified stress-based account for the three processes attested in the language: T2 sandhi, T3 sandhi and yi-bu-qi-ba sandhi. It is argued that T2 sandhi targets prosodic dependent position and changes the tone from more marked to less marked; T3 sandhi and yi-bu-qi-ba sandhi targets prosodic head position and changes the tone from less marked to more marked.

Turning to the acquisition of phonology, a hypothesis is formulated for children acquiring contour tone languages, which respects the Successive Division Algorithm (Dresher 2009) as well as Minimality and Monotonicity (Rice & Avery 1995, Rice 1996). This hypothesis leads to predictions for children’s tonal behavior at each stage in development, including the point at which tone sandhi should be acquired. It is predicted that children acquiring contour tone languages may vary at the onset of acquisition because Universal Grammar provides two possible launching points: “register” and “contour”. Subsequent stages in development are predicted to vary as well, if children acquire the tonal contrasts through repeated binary splits of the phonological space, as per the Successive Division Algorithm, and by adding one degree of complexity to representations at a time, following Minimality and Monotonicity.

The hypothesis for children’s acquisition of contour tone languages is tested against naturalistic longitudinal data collected from two children in northern China: GY and LL. The two children acquire the tonal system differently: GY focuses on “register” earlier than “contour”, whereas LL focuses on “contour” earlier than “register”. The children’s tonal behavior over time is also different, including the points at which they acquire tone sandhi processes. The cross-subject variation observed at the initial and subsequent stages of acquisition is shown to largely conform to the predictions.

McGill at New Sounds: International Symposium on the Acquisition of Second Language Speech

Several current and former McGillians presented at New Sounds at Concordia this past weekend: Walcir Cardoso, Guilherme Garcia, Heather Goad, Dan Goodhue, Hyekyung Hwang, Takako Kawasaki, Moti Lieberman, John Matthews, Jeffrey Steele, and Lydia White were involved in the presentations below:

  • Guilherme Garcia – How can differences in syllabic structure and stress patterns help predict accuracy levels: The acquisition of derived words in English by Brazilian Portuguese speakers
  • John Matthews & Takako Kawasaki – Decay or not decay: The loss of fine-grained perceptual sensitivity in the course of speech processing
  • Laura Colantoni, Olivia Marasco, Jeffrey Steele, and Simona Sunara – Acquiring prosodic prominence in L2 French and Spanish
  • Moti Lieberman – The moderation of L2 morphological comprehension by transferred prosodic structures
  • Paul John & Walcir Cardoso – On the prosodic representation of word-final stops in the interlanguage of BrazilianPortuguese EFL learners
  • Heather Goad, Dan Goodhue, Hyekyung Hwang, Moti Lieberman & Lydia White – The availability of prosodic cues in resolving L2 attachment ambiguities

Mi’gmaq Research Project members present in Nova Scotia

Last week, members of the Mi’gmaq Research Project traveled to St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia to attend the L’nui’sultinej Conference. The name of the conference translates to “Let’s speak Mi’gmaq” and is a conference for Mi’gmaq language speakers, educators, and learners from all around Eastern Canada. Recent McGill graduates Carol Little and Elise McClay are shown below presenting with Listuguj Community Member and recent high school graduate, Mary Beth Wysote. The title of the group’s talk was “Student Perspectives on Mi’gmaq Language Learning through Multi-Modal Teaching: A Community-Linguistics Partnership.”


Friendly Reminder: ETI 2 Semantics/Pragmatics Workshop

On May 23-25, the McGill Syntactic Interfaces Research Group (McSIRG) will hold an international workshop exploring the semantics/pragmatics interface. The workshop is entitled Exploring the Interfaces 2: Implicatures, Alternatives, and the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface (ETI 2) and will take place at The Thomson House, located on the McGill University campus.

ETI 2 is the second of three international workshops exploring the interfaces that McSIRG is organizing. McSIRG and the workshops are funded by grants from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and Quebec’s Fonds de Recherche Société et Culture (FQRSC).


The following researchers will participate in ETI 2:

* Alan Bale (Concordia University)
* Emmanuel Chemla (Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris)
* Luka Crnič (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
* Bart Geurts (University of Nijmegen)
* Brendan Gillon (McGill University)
* Uli Sauerland (Zentrum für Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin)
* Bernhard Schwarz (McGill University)
* Raj Singh (Carleton University)
* Michael Wagner (McGill University)


More information about ETI 2, including the program, abstracts, and background reading, can be found at the ETI 2 website.


There is no fee for attending ETI 2, but we do ask that you register if you plan to attend. The registration page can be found here.


In addition, there will be two extra talks taking place before and after the workshop. On May 22 at 2pm, Emmanuel Chemla will present his work on processing free choice. On May 27 at 10am, Bart Geurts will present his work on framing and embedded implicatures. Both talks will take place in room 117 of the McGill Linguistics Building, 1085 Dr-Penfield. All are invited.

May 22, 2pm: Chemla on Free Choice; May 27, 10am: Geurts on Framing and Embedded Implicatures

As we mentioned before, on May 22 at 2pm, Emmanuel Chemla will present his work on processing free choice, and on May 27 at 10am, Bart Geurts will present his work on framing and embedded implicatures. Both talks will take place in room 117 of the McGill Linguistics Building, 1085 Dr-Penfield. All are invited.

Maayan Adar at AFLA 20

Maayan has just returned from the 20th meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association, held at the University of Arlington Texas from May 17–19. He presented a talked, titled “Individual and Event Existentials in Tagalog.”

Professor Diane Massam (University of Toronto) and Maayan, after a lunch of tacos.

Professor Diane Massam (University of Toronto) and Maayan, after a lunch of tacos.

Yosef Grodzinsky at University College London

Yosef Grodzinsky is giving a talk on Wednesday May 15at the Linguistics Department, University College London. The title of his talk is “The neural processing of positive and negative quantifiers”. You can read the abstract below:

Quantification is central to natural language in all its aspects. We have new clues about the mental operations involved, obtained through the use of multiple experimental methods (RT, fMRI, and error patterns in aphasia). In this talk, I will present new results and a dilemma: experimenting with quantifier Polarity contrasts, we found pronounced differences, but also important similarities, in the real-time processing of positive (upward entailing) and negative (downward entailing) proportion and degree quantifiers (more/less-than-half; many/few). I will also report preliminary results from neuroimaging and from patient work, suggesting that the same Polarity contrast activates parts of Broca’s region in fMRI, and leads to comprehension difficulties in aphasic patients, who have trouble with negative, but not positive quantifiers of the above types.

The resulting picture is rich and highly structured. It might help us refine our view of the role of the main language regions in the brain. This picture leads, moreover, to a theoretical dilemma: some of these results are naturally accounted for by an analysis based on Barwise & Cooper’s insight on the way generalized quantifiers are verified; and yet, other findings are better accommodated in a movement-based analysis of negative quantifiers, akin to the one commonly given to negative indefinites.

I will dwell on this dilemma, consider possible ways to resolve it, and discuss the potential significance of these new results and their interpretation to the relevant intellectual domains.

(based on work with Isabelle Deschamps, Galit Agmon, Yonatan Loewenstein, Lew Shapiro, Katrin Amunts, Stefan Heim, and others.)

Henderson and Alonso-Ovalle at SALT 23

McLingers were represented at the SALT 23, held at UCSC. Robert Henderson and Luis Alonso-Ovalle were part of a poster session. You can check Robert’s abstract (“Quantizing Scalar Change”) here and Luis’ (“Modal Determiners and Alternatives: Quantity and Ignorance Effects”) here.

We gratefully acknowledge the GPD (Admissions) for having complimented one of the presenters on his tan.

2012–2013 BA Honours thesis round-up

This term, 43 linguistics undergraduates––including honours, joint honours, majors, and minors––are graduating from McGill. We are happy to report on some of this year’s Honours Theses:
Olivia Ait-Bella – “Variation in the pronunciation of French place names by Montreal Anglophones”
David Fleischer – “Syntactic effects on phonological perception”
Douglas Herrick – “Imitation and accommodation: The effects of dialect contact in Montreal French”
Liwen Hou – “Agent Focus in Chuj reflexive constructions”
Thomas Kettig – “The Canadian Shift in a Montreal community: Change and variation in perception and production of the non-high short vowels”
Ruth Martinez –“The usage of lunfardo by Argentineans living in the provinces of Quebec and Buenos Aires”
Madeleine Revill –  “Speaking queerly: The search for acoustic correlates of perceived homosexuality”
Congratulations graduates!

Michael Wagner on Arts Research blog

Michael Wagner’s research and funding have been highlighted in a “Researcher Spotlight” post on the Arts Research blog, here.


Computational Field Workshop, May 27th and 28th

McGill will host a workshop on computational methods and fieldwork Monday and Tuesday, May 27th and 28th. Plenary speaker Alexis Palmer will give a talk and a hands-on workshop. The Computational Field Workshop will also feature talks by Montreal-based iLanguage Lab. A preliminary schedule can be found here. Registration is free, but please email Jessica Coon if you plan to attend so we can get a head-count for space and catering.

The Computational Field Workshop is co-sponsored by the Mi’gmaq Project and Ergativity Lab.

Michael Wagner in LA and Frankfurt

Michael Wagner is just back from the University of Southern California where we gave a colloquium talk titled “A Generalization of Hurford’s Constraint.” He will travel to Frankfurt next week where we will give a similar talk at the Generative Grammatik des Südens conference at the Goethe Universität in Frankfurt. You can (perhaps) read his abstract, in German, here.

McGill at GASLA

As we recently reported, a number of current and former McGill linguists presented at GASLA 12 (Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition) at the University of Florida in April. Here they are!

Back row: Moti Lieberman, Jeff Klassen, Larissa Nossalik (2009) Middle row: Joyce Bruhn de Garavito (1999), Theres Grueter (2006), Elena Valenzuela (2005), Silvina Montrul (1997), Lydia White, Öner Özçelik (2012), Guiherme Garcia Front row: Roumyana Slabakova (1997), Luisa Meroni (postdoc, 2006-2007)

Lisa Travis returns from Madagascar

Lisa Travis returned last week from three weeks of fieldwork and teaching in Madagascar. Lisa reports on 21 days, three cities (Diego, Mahajanga, Antananarivo), 44 hours of flying and 30 hours of overland bus travel. The research team consisted of two Canadian linguists (Lisa Travis and Ileana Paul), four Malagasy linguists (one from Diego, three from Tana), and ten students (four from the Diego group, and six from Tana group).  There were 7 days of classes, 4 days of methodology workshops, 2 days of direct elicitation.  Lots of great dialect data!

Mina Sugimura accepts position in Kyoto

Recent McGill PhD, Mina Sugimura, has recently begun a position as assistant professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at Kyoto Notre Dame University. Congratulations Mina!


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