Monthly Archive for February, 2014

Ling Tea, 2/26 – Richard Compton

Who: Richard Compton
When: Wednesday, February 26, 3-4 pm in Room 117
Title: Mood variance as evidence for genuine object agreement in Inuit


This paper argues that φ-indexing morphology in Inuit includes genuine cases of object agreement exponence, contra recent work (Preminger 2009, Woolford 2008, 2010, Arregi & Nevins 2008, Nevins 2011, and Kramer to appear) that has called into question the existence of object agreement cross-linguistically and recast apparent instances thereof as pronominal clitics (and thus clitic doubling when an object is present). Evidence for the status of Inuit object-agreement is drawn from mood-variance and portmanteau subject-object agreement morphemes.

In particular, it is shown that while tense-variance—proposed by Nevins (2011) as a diagnostic for differentiating agreement from clitics—is inadequate to diagnose the status of Inuit φ-indexing morphology, mood-variance can instead serve to distinguish real agreement. Finally, I propose that these facts obtain because C is the locus of agreement in Inuit—and not T as in other languages.

Open House for admitted graduate students:

Our open house for admitted graduate students is coming up this week, on Feb. 27 and 28. You can find more details on the schedule that’s been distributed by email. Here are some highlights of the event. In addition to these, admitted graduate students will be attending classes and a reading group meeting, having individual meetings with faculty members, taking a walk in the city or in the mountain, and perhaps staying up all night at Nuit Blanche.
Thursday, Feb. 27:
12:00 pm Lunch for admitted graduate students, with chair, GPD & admissions/funding director

4:00 pm Lab Tour

Evening Student Party

Friday, Feb. 28:

1:00 pm Research Lunch for admitted graduate students & current graduate students 3:30 pm Norvin Richards (MIT) Colloquium

Evening Party at Michael Wagner and Meghan Clayards’ house

Syntax-Phonology Reading Group, 2/28 – Emily Elfner

The Syntax-Phonology Reading Group will meet again this Friday, Feb. 28 from 11:30-1pm in room 117. Note that we are exceptionally meeting two weeks in a row due to reading week and coordination with the AGReading group.
This week we’ll take a break from reading and Emily Elfner will give a practice talk for a workshop she’ll be attending at Stockholm University. The title of the talk is “Experimental evidence for prosodic phrasing in Irish”.
After this meeting, we will reconvene on March 21 to hear from Mike Hamilton on Mi’gmaq. The discussion of Aissen (originally scheduled for this Friday) has been postponed until April 4.

Colloquium, 2/28 – Norvin Richards

We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2013-14 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Norvin Richards (MIT) on Friday, February 28th at 3:30 pm in the Education Building room 433.

The title of the talk is “Pied-piping and Selectional Contiguity”.

Cable (2007, 2010) argues, on the basis of data from Tlingit, that wh-questions involve three participants: an interrogative C, a wh-word, and a head Q, which is visible in Tlingit but invisible in English.  In Cable’s account, QP standardly dominates the wh-word, and wh-movement is always of QP.  The question of how much material pied-pipes under wh-movement, on Cable’s account, is essentially a question about the distribution of QP.  Cable offers several conditions and parameters governing the distribution of QP. I will try to derive Cable’s conditions on the distribution of QP from Contiguity Theory, a series of proposals about the interaction of syntax with phonology that I have been developing in recent work.

Special Workshop Presentation, 2/19 – Naoko Tomioka

Who: Naoko Tomioka (McGill PhD)
When: Wednesday, February 19 from 3-4 pm in Room 117
Title: Language, Linguistics, and the Voice of Customer Research


In this talk, I will discuss big data, and how large volumes of linguistic data have recently gotten the attention of many corporations. Numerous analyses of large volume linguistic data exist, and the choice of analytic approach depends on the questions one hopes to answer. I will share my personal experience working on linguistic data from online surveys; one of the research projects I conduct involves the use of gradable adjectives such as ‘easy’ and ‘difficult’ in free-text and how they relate to scales of usability.

Syntax-Phonology Reading Group – 2/21

The Syntax-Phonology Reading Group will meet this Friday, Feb. 21 from 11:30-1pm in room 117. We will read Joey Sabbagh’s paper “Word order and prosodic structure constraints in Tagalog”, to appear in Syntax. Henrison and Lisa will lead the discussion. All are welcome!

Colloquium, 2/21 – Marc Brunelle (U Ottawa)

We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2013-14 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Marc Brunelle (University of Ottawa) this Friday, February 21st at 3:30 pm in the Education Building room 433. There will also be a reception following the colloquium, details to follow. 
Title: An incipient tone sandhi in Northern Vietnamese?

Speaker: Marc Brunelle (in collaboration with Hạ Kiều Phương and Martine Grice (University of Cologne))

Synchronic tone sandhis are well attested and described, but their development is largely a matter of speculation.  In this study, we look at an instance of apparent tone sandhi in progress and examine the interplay between coarticulation, reduction and perception in its formation.

In Northern Vietnamese (NVN), the low rising tone (sắc) often loses its rise in non-final position, making it perceptually very similar to the low falling tone (huyền). This gradient change does not normally result in contrast neutralization, as the rise is recoverable from a strong progressive coarticulation on the following tone.  However, over the past decade, the authors have noticed that many speakers neutralize the rising tone and the low falling tone before the high level tone (ngang), an observation confirmed by native speaking linguists.  This is characteristic of young female Hanoians, but seems more and more common among other gender and age groups, as well as outside Hanoi.

We conducted an acoustic investigation of this incipient sandhi in six young female NVN speakers.  They were recorded while completing a map task designed to obtain targets words controlled for tone and microprosody in semi-spontaneous speech.  Our results show that although none of our speakers exhibits full neutralization, they all show some degree of tone change.  Based on these results and those of previous studies, we infer phonetic scenarios that could account for the initial development of the tone change.  We then highlight similarities between this incipient sandhi and more established cases in Chinese and Hmong.

Ling Tea, 2/12 – Jeffrey Klassen

Who: Jeffrey Klassen
When: Wednesday, February 12, 3-4 pm in Room 117
What: Second language acquisition of English focus prosody: Evidence from Spanish native speakers


In wh-question-answer pairs, Spanish has a pattern of syntactic movement (subject-verb inversion) while English solely makes use of acoustic prominence. Previous work has revealed that adult learners of Spanish show difficulty with focus movement in Spanish, even at advanced levels (Lozano 2006). This was cited as evidence that focus was part of a domain unavailable to L2 learners, referred to as the C-domain by Platzak (2001), and the external interface by Sorace (2011). The current study examines the acquisition of English focus prosody by Spanish speakers. As it also constitutes an external interface phenomenon by Sorace’s definition, and its properties in the L2 (English) differ from the L1 (Spanish), it makes another test case for the theory. Participants heard sentences with correct and incorrect prosodic focus and rated them as to how natural they sounded. Contrary to Sorace’s hypothesis, the adult learners were successful in interpreting prosodic focus.

Graduate Student Travel Award to Oriana

Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón has been awarded a $1000 Arts Graduate Student Travel Award to fund her trip to L.A. to present her first evaluation paper at WCCFL 32.

Congratulations again, Oriana!

Welcome, Meg Grant

We are happy to extend a late welcome to Meg Grant, who in December took up a one-year postdoctoral position in our department. Meg is interested in sentence processing at the syntactic and semantic levels, and using experimental research to inform syntactic and semantic theory. Her dissertation (UMass Amherst) examined the processing of comparatives, mainly using eye tracking during reading. After receiving her Ph.D. she worked in 2013 for the Laboratoire d’Excellence ‘Empirical Foundations of Linguistics’ in France, where she developed a further interest in sentence production. At McGill, Meg is working under the supervision of Yosef Grodzinsky, Michael Wagner, and Bernhard Schwarz. This Winter term, she is teaching LING 390 Neuroscience of Language. Welcome, Meg!

McGillian WCCFLers

March will be upon us soon and, with it, the 32nd edition of WCCFL to be held at the University of Southern California.

This year, McGill will be well represented: Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón is giving a talk based on her first evaluation paper (“Almost: Scope and Covert Exhaustification”), Sasha Simonenko is presenting a poster, based on her dissertation (“A Structural Account of the Loss of Direct Referntiality”), and Richard Compton is an alternate, also presenting a poster (“Mood Variance as Evidence for Genuine Object Agreement in Inuit”.)

As usual, acceptance rates have been very competitive (12.7% for talks and 20.8% for both talks and posters.)

Congratulations McGillian WCCFLers!

You can check the WCCFL 32 program at:

McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates (McCCLU)

March 14-16, 2014

SLUM is still looking for undergraduate speakers for the upcoming McCCLU – a three-day conference held in the spring each year. Undergraduate Linguistics students will be coming from all over the Northeastern U.S., Ontario, and Quebec to give talks about their research.

For more information, please see our post on the Linguist List: More Information

To submit an abstract, please see the following link: Abstract Submission

All are welcome to attend McCCLU!

Digging into Data grant to Bale, Coon, and Polinsky

A research collaboration among Alan Bale (Concordia University), Jessica Coon (McGill) and Maria Polinsky (Harvard University) was among the 14 Digging Into Data Challenge winners this year. The COULD Project (Cleaning, Organizing, and Uniting Linguistic Databases) seeks to create a universal format for existing linguistic databases and automate the detection of errors and inconsistencies. The project hopes to make these databases more reliable and accessible to both researchers and the general public.

This is the second Digging into Data Grant with a McGill linguistics connection: Michael Wagner‘s collaborative project was awarded in the first round of Digging into Data in 2009.

Glyne Piggott in Paris

Professor Emeritus Glyne Piggott just gave and invited talk, “Words as the exponents of complex syntactic heads: evidence from minimality” at the workshop on Theoretical issues in contemporary phonology, EHESS, in Paris. Welcome back Glyne!

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group: Meg Grant on 2/14, David-Étienne on 3/21.

The syntax-semantics research group meeting is an informal venue where people interested in syntax, semantics and pragmatics gather to present their work in progress, or discuss articles.

The group will continue meeting on Fridays, from 3:00 to 4:30 (room 117).

Mark your calendars: on February 14, Meg Grant will present work on processing subset comparatives.

Starting this semester, we will also have a series of informal tutorials on semantic/pragmatic topics that have not been taught in regular courses for a while. These mini ‘crash courses’ do not presuppose any background in semantics. Every curious person is welcome to attend.

Our very own David-Étienne Bouchard will be in charge of the first of our tutorials. He will be introducing us to the use of degrees in semantics:

The purpose of this tutorial will be to provide a semantics to sentences containing a degree operator, in particular the comparative morpheme ‘more¹. In order to do this we will introduce degrees in our semantic ontology and enrich the denotations of gradable adjectives like tall and heavy. Degree operators will be treated as quantifiers over degrees and shown to have some flexibility in scope, albeit in a limited manner.

Date Presentation Background reading(s)
Friday, March 21, 2014
3:00-4:30 pm
David-Étienne Bouchard on degrees. Kennedy (1999), Projecting the Adjective, chapter 1. Heim (2001). Degree Operators and Scope.

Ling Tea, 2/5 – Yusuke Imanishi

When: Wednesday, February 5, 3-4 pm in room 117
Who: Yusuke Imanishi (MIT)
What: Default ergative: A view from Mayan

Abstract: In this talk, I will propose that ergative Case in certain cases is best analyzed as a syntactic default.  To support this analysis, I will address several Mayan languages.  First, I will discuss the unexpected emergence of the ergative in intransitive clauses of Ixil.   This occurs when an instrumental phrase is fronted to a clause-initial position (Ayres 1983, 199).  I will argue that the intransitive subject receives ergative Case as syntactic default Case because it would be otherwise Case-less.  It will be shown that a fronted instrumental phrase blocks the assignment of absolutive Case to the intransitive subject.  Furthermore, I will deal with an alignment puzzle found in the nominative-accusative side of ergative splits in Kaqchikel, Q’anjob’al and Chol.  In non-perfective clauses, the ergative (or a set A marker) is aligned with the transitive object in Kaqchikel,  whereas it is aligned with the subject in Q’anjob’al and Chol.  I will show that this contrastive alignment can be captured by the default view of the ergative.  To formulate these analyses, I will propose (i) a model of default ergative Case assignment and (ii) the Absolutive Case Parameter in Mayan (cf. Aldridge 2004, 2008; Legate 2008; Coon et al. 2012).


Louisa Bielig to present at Arts Undergraduate Research Event – 2/6

Linguistics undergraduate Louisa Bielig will present this Thursday at the 4th Annual Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event (4pm Leacock 232). Louisa will present the results of her Fall independent study course, co-supervised by Jessica Coon and Richard Compton. With the help of iLanguage Lab’s Gina Cook, Louisa used the collaborative database application LingSync to turn a copy of an Inuktitut bible into a searchable corpus. The corpus was used to investigate the distribution of ergative and antipassive patterns in the language. All are welcome to attend!

Syntax/Phonology Reading group, 2/7

The Syntax-Phonology Reading Group will meet this Friday, Feb. 7 from 11:30-1pm in room 117. We will read an excerpt on Tagalog from Norvin Richard’s (2010) book “Uttering Trees”. Maire Noonan has kindly agreed to lead the discussion.

The relevant excerpt is pp. 165-182. Note that the book is available as an ebook from the McGill library.

Colloquium, 2/7 – Jakob Leimgruber

We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2013-14 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Jakob R. E. Leimgruber (McGill) on Friday, February 7th at 3:30 pm in the Education Building room 433.

The title of the talk is “Language policy in multilingual cities: effects on the linguistic landscape of Singapore and Montreal“. There will also be a reception following the colloquium, details to follow.

Abstract: Language legislation in the city-state of Singapore is remarkably simple. The constitution bestows official status on four languages: Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English, in this particular order. There is no official languages act or further legislation that regulates the use of language at the national level. Reasonably successful government campaigns have been concerned with the promotion of Mandarin instead of other varieties of Chinese, and of Standard English instead of the local ‘Singlish’. A number of largely non-statutory policies exist, however, that disrupt the ostensible equality of status between the four co-official languages and put English, and to a lesser extent Mandarin, into a more powerful position. Thus, English is the only language of the courts, as well as the only medium of education in state schools. It is also often labelled the country’s ‘working language’ by decision-makers.

The situation in Quebec is radically different: for one, there is a distinction between official bilingualism in federal and some municipal institutions and official monolingualism in provincial institutions. Secondly, there is strong emphasis on the promotion of the language of the province’s majority population. Regulatory efforts are wide-ranging (as seen in the scope of the Charter of the French language and its twelve subordinate regulations). The status of French as the working language of the province and as the default medium of instruction is mandated by statutory legislation.

These different legislative approaches have interesting consequences on the linguistic landscape, i.e. the visual language in public space (road signs, billboards, advertising, shop names, etc.). In Quebec, a very clearly articulated legislative framework has had a lasting impact on the linguistic landscape, resulting in a high visibility of French. In Singapore, the absence of any kind of statutory linguistic landscape regulation has brought about a much more heterogeneous picture, which, however, tends to see English as the language common to most signs. A comparative approach shows the similar outcome of monolingual dominance in contexts characterized by rather divergent policies.

Michael Wagner presents in Israel

Michael Wagner is giving an invited talk today at a workshop called ‘Focus Sensitive Expressions from a Cross Linguistic Perspective’, organized by Yael Greenberg and Malte Zimmermann. The title of his talk is “Even and the Syntax of Focus Sensitivity.” You can see the full program here. Enjoy the warm weather, Michael!

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