Monthly Archive for September, 2014

LingTea, 10/1 – Lisa Travis, Maire Noonan, Heather Newell & Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron

Last week’s LingTea has been rescheduled to this week.

Who:  Lisa Travis, Maire Noonan, Heather Newell & Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron

What: “Phonological Domains vs. Root Suppletion”
When/Where: Wednesday, room 117, 3:30-4:30

There are still spaces available for LingTea! If you are interested in presenting at LingTea this semester, please email Gui or Yuliya to reserve a slot.

Colloquium, 10/3 – Benjamin Bruening

We are pleased to announce that the next speaker in our 2014-15 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series:
Speaker: Benjamin Bruening (University of Delaware)
Date & Time: Friday, October 3 , 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: “Subject-Verb Inversion as Generalized Alignment”
I suggest that the driving force behind subject-verb inversion, which takes place in questions in many languages, is the need for phonological alignment, as in the theory of Generalized Alignment in phonology and morphology.  Specifically, I propose that many languages have a version of the following constraint:Align V-C:
Align(C(x), L/R, V(tense), L/R)

This constraint says that the left/right edge of some projection of C must be aligned with the left/right edge of the tensed verb.  In the relevant context, say questions, this constraint holds.  If the subject is in between the relevant projection of C and the tensed verb, they have to invert or the constraint is violated.  The specifics of the inversion will vary from language to language and even from context to context within a language.  For instance, in English the inversion is sometimes head movement, sometimes phrasal movement.  In the Romance languages it is generally phrasal movement.  I show that variation in how the constraint is stated in each language and how the language responds to meet it can account for an array of facts both within a single language and across languages.  Languages vary in exactly the way this theory predicts they should, and a variety of seemingly obscure adjacency constraints simply falls out.

Heather Goad at Romance Turn VI

Heather Goad just got back from Romance Turn VI in Mallorca where she presented Superset and subset grammars in second language acquisition: “The role of sonority in the representation of sC clusters.” The full program can be found here.

Syntax reading group, 9/24 – Lauren Clemens on Niuean

The syntax reading group (ergativity lab) meets every Wednesday at 10am, in room 215.
This week Lauren will give an overview of different approaches to argument licensing in Niuean. A useful reading is Massam (2013) “Nuclear complex predicates in Niuean.”
At next week’s meeting, we will discuss the ergativity questionnaire project.

LingTea, 9/24 – Lisa Travis, Maire Noonan, Heather Newell & Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron

There will be a LingTea this week:

Who:  Lisa Travis, Maire Noonan, Heather Newell & Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron
What: “Phonological Domains vs. Root Suppletion”
When/Where: Wednesday, room 002, 3:30-4:30

There are still spaces available for LingTea! If you are interested in presenting at LingTea this semester, please email Gui or Yuliya to reserve a slot.

P* Reading Group Meeting, 9/25 – Donghyun Kim

 P* Reading Group will meet this Thursday, September 25, from 2-3 in the student lounge.
Donghyun Kim will lead the discussion on Holt & Lotto (2006). All are welcome!
(Full citation: Holt, L. L., & Lotto, A. J. (2006). Cue weighting in auditory categorization: Implications for first and second language acquisition. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 119(5), 3059–3071. doi:10.1121/1.2188377)

Colloquium, 9/26 – Kristine Onishi

We are pleased to announce that the next speaker in our 2014-15 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series:

Speaker: Kristine Onishi (McGill University)
Date & Time: Friday, September 26, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: “Infants’ Understanding of Communicative Intention”


Language is a tool that allows us to convey information quickly and efficiently. For example, to let you know where I left your keys, saying “your keys are on the table” is often more efficient than grunting and waving my arms. Even when we do not understand a language, as adults we infer that speakers of that unknown language can use it to convey information. When observing interactions between two people, what types of behavior do infants think can be used to convey information and what types of information do they think can be conveyed? I will describe some recent experiments demonstrating that infants, even before speaking much, understand that speech can be used to convey information, suggesting that realize that speech can be a tool for gathering knowledge.

Guilherme Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo at Phonology 2014

Gui Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo each presented papers at Phonology 2014 at MIT this past weekend (Sept. 19-21). Gui presented on Weight Gradience in Portuguese  and Natália presented The prosodization of noun-preposition-noun compounds in Brazilian Portuguese—a paper based on her dissertation. This event is an annual meeting on phonology, hosted by different universities (last year hosted by UMass). Congrats Gui and Natália!



Research Group on the Structure of Words at the Interfaces: meeting schedule

This term, the research group on the structure of words at the interfaces will be meeting at UQAM, on Tuesdays 2:15-4 PM in DS-3459. The reading and research group investigates phenomena at the syntax/morphology-phonology and -semantics interfaces. (Please see here for past and future meetings.) All are welcome!

Please let Máire Noonan know if you would like to be added to the email list announcing the weekly meetings. Below is the tentative line-up for the next few weeks.

Upcoming schedule (tentative): 

September 16

Lisa Travis. Overview of Distributed Morphology.  Reading : Embick, D. and Noyer R. ‘Distributed Morphology and the Syntax/Morphology Interface.’ 2007. In G. Ramchand and C. Reiss eds., The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Interfaces, OUP.   (

September 23

Máire Noonan. Roots, part I.  Reading : Harley, H. 2013. On the identity of roots. To appear inTheoretical Linguistics. Available at lingbuzz/001527 .

September 30

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron. Allomorphy – domains/locality.  Reading : Merchant, J. 2014. ‘How much context is enough? Two cases of span-conditioned stem allomorphy. To appear in Linguistic Inquiry.’  (

October 7

Heather Newell. Roots part II (and little n; gender and number).  Reading : Lowenstamm, J. ‘Onlittle n, √, and types of nouns.’ (

October 14

Tom Leu. Roots part III. Reading : Arad, M. 2003. ‘Locality constraints on the interpretation of roots: The case of Hebrew denominal verbs’  Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 21:737–778.

Upcoming topics after these dates :

– Level 1–Level 2 phonology  (TBA)

– Discussion of T. A. Hall : The phonological word – a review  (TBA)

– Prefixes vs. suffixes  (Reading: Bobaljik, J. & Wurmbrand, S. 2001. Seven prefix-suffix asymmetries in Itelmen. CLS Proceedings)

– Clitics vs. Agreement affixes  (TBA)

– How much phonology is there in syntax, if any?  (Tom & Heather; Handout by R. Kayne)

McGill at NELS 45

McGill will be well represented at the 45th annual meeting of the North East Linguistics Society (NELS 45), to be held at MIT in late October. Presentations will include work by current graduate students, post-docs, and faculty:

  • Brian Buccola – “Global semantic constraints: The case of Van Benthem’s Problem”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine – “On the position of focus adverbs”
  • Daniel Goodhue & Michael Wagner – “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it:  Intonation, yes and no”
  • Michael Hamilton –  “Default agreement in Mi’gmaq possessor raising and ditransitive constructions”
  • Aron Hirsch & Michael Wagner – “Prosodic evidence that parentheticals are placed by rightward movement”
  • Henrison Hsieh – “Future-oriented actuality entailments: A puzzle from Tagalog”

This year’s NELS is also co-organized by current McGill Mellon Postdoc, Hadas Kotek. The full program can be viewed here.

Linguistics at Indigenous Awareness Week

This past week was McGill’s 4th Annual Indigenous Awareness Week. The week’s activities culminated in a Pow Wow Friday in McGill’s lower field. The Mi’gmaq Research Partnership had a booth at the Pow Wow, which included information on language endangerment and language revitalization in Canada, as well as some fun facts about Mi’gmaq. The booth was organized by undergraduates Douglas Gordon, Jacob Leon, and Madeleine Mees.

Madeleine, Jacob, and Douglas

Madeleine, Jacob, and Douglas

Learn about clusivity and see if you can figure out what the morpheme wenji means here.

McGill at Sinn und Bedeutung

First-year PhD student Dejan Milacic recently returned from Sinn und Bedeutung 19 in Göttingen, Germany. Together with his former supervisors at Carleton University, Raj Singh and Ida Toivonen, Dejan presented a talk entitled “Distance Distributivity and Skolemization“. McLing staff was at hand to capture the moment.

photo 2

The program also included a talk by McGill 2012 BA alum Erin Olson, now at MIT, co-authored with Martin Hackl and Ayaka Sugawara.

Erlewine at TEAL

Later this week, Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine will present at the 9th International Workshop on Theoretical East Asian Linguistics (TEAL-9), in Nantes, France.  His talk is “On the position of focus adverbs.”

At Last Two Days At Least

As previously announced, Bernhard Schwarz and Luis Alonso-Ovalle presented at the Two Days At Least workshop organised by the ERC funded ROSE project (Restriction and Obviation in Scalar Expressions) led by Rick Nouwen and his team at Utrecht University. The conference was held at the Kasteel de Hooge Vuursche to where McLing reporters were sent to provide the picture below.

2014-09-10 19.58.27

Tokiko Okuma at EuroSLA 24

Tokiko Okuma presented a paper L2 acquisition of bound variable interpretation of Japanese demonstrative pronouns at the 24th annual conference of the European Second Language Association (EuroSLA) at University of York, UK, on September 3-6. She received CRBLM Graduate Travel Grant for this talk. Former PhD students, Roumyana Slabakova (1997) and Mari Umeda (2008) also presented their recent works at this conference. Information about the conference, including all programs, is available here.

Clemens et al published in NLLT

Lauren Clemens and Jessica Coon‘s paper––co-authored with Pedro Mateo Pedro, Adam Milton Morgan, Maria Polinsky, Gabrielle Tandet and Matt Wagers––has just been published by Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. The paper, titled “Ergativity and the complexity of extraction: A view from Mayan”, presents the results of a language processing experiment carried out on Q’anjob’al and Ch’ol when Jessica and Lauren were both at Harvard. You can download the paper here.


Researchers using different methods have converged on the result that subject relative clauses are easier to process than object relative clauses. Cross-linguistic evidence for the subject processing advantage (SPA) has come mostly from accusative languages, where the covariance of grammatical function and case prevents researchers from determining which of these two factors underlies the SPA. Languages with morphological ergativity allow for the separation of case and grammatical function, since the subject position is associated with two cases: absolutive (intransitive subjects) and ergative (transitive subjects). Prior experimental results on the processing of ergative languages suggest that grammatical function and surface case may be equally important in relative clause processing. On the one hand, as a syntactic subject, the ergative DP has a processing advantage over the absolutive object. On the other hand, the appearance of an ergative serves as a cue for the projection of the absolutive object, which gives processing preference to that object. This paper further tests these findings by examining the processing of relative clauses in Ch’ol and Q’anjob’al, two languages that mark ergativity via agreement on the predicate (head-marking). We address two main questions: (a) does the SPA hold in ergative languages? And (b) are case and agreement equally able to license grammatical functions, and if so, is this reflected in processing? With regard to (a), our results support the SPA, suggesting that it is present in both ergative and accusative languages. With respect to (b), we do not find evidence for a cueing effect associated with the ergative agreement marker. We conclude that dependent-marking is superior to head-marking in tracking grammatical function; in the absence of case cues, universal structural preferences such as the SPA become more pronounced. We also consider and reject a processing explanation for syntactic ergativity, according to which some languages categorically avoid A-bar movement of the ergative with a gap because it imposes a heavy processing load. Our results show that the processing of ergative gaps is not associated with greater cost than the processing of absolutive object gaps; this suggests that an explanation for syntactic ergativity should be sought outside processing.

Team McGill Linguistics and Friends at Terry Fox Run/Walk

11 McGill linguists and their friends participated in the Terry Fox Run/Walk for cancer research at the Old Port on Sunday, September 14, 2014. Special thanks to those who contributed very kindly to the $415 that the team has raised. The money goes to the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research. Here are some of the team members before and during the run. We had a great time!

Terry Fox Run 2014 (2) Terry Fox Run 2014 (2)

Syntax reading group – argument licensing, 9/10

Room 215 (mitcho & Hadas’ office)
This semester the reading group will explore topics in clause structure and argument licensing, which we hope will be of interest to many.
This Wednesday, in addition to some organizational discussion, mitcho will lead a discussion on Dinka —an understudied Nilotic language of South Sudan—based on a GLOW talk by Coppe van Urk.

Ling Tea, 9/10 – Gui Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo

Just a reminder that the first LingTea of the semester is this week:

Who: Gui Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo
What: “The status of neoclassical elements in Brazilian Portuguese: evidence from vowel reduction”
When/Where: room 117, 3:30-4:30

If you are interested in presenting at LingTea this semester, please email Gui or Yuliya to reserve a slot.

Colloquium, 9/12 – Anne-Michelle Tessier

Please join us for the first colloquium talk of our 2014/2015 series!

Speaker: Anne-Michelle Tessier (University of Alberta)
Date & Time: Friday, September 12, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: Lexical Avoidance and Sources of Complexity in Phonological Acquisition


This talk is about the phenomenon of lexical avoidance in children’s early linguistic development, whereby a child avoids producing words which contain some complex (or marked?) phonological structure (as discussed in Ferguson and Farwell, 1975; Menn 1976, 1983; Schwarz and Leonard, 1982, Schwartz et al, 1987; Storkel 2004, 2006; Adam and Bat-El, 2009; interalia). This research’s basic question is to what extent a child’s developing grammar is responsible for lexical avoidance, and more specifically what kinds of linguistic complexity can drive this avoidance. The increase in complexity I will focus on is the transition from one word to two word utterances – which might be either driven or delayed by a child’s phonology – and I will assess the nature of lexical avoidance related to this transition in two case studies: one taken from Donahue (1986), and another in a novel corpus analysis. The central claim will be that phonological grammar is indeed crucial to explaining the kinds of lexical avoidance which are attested and unattested, illustrated using OT constraint interaction to yield typologically-reasonable patterns, and I will discuss some of the predictions, implications and open questions that emerge from this approach.

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