Monthly Archive for October, 2014

LingTea, 10/29 – Dan Goodhue & Michael Wagner

All are welcome to attend this week’s LingTea:

Who: Dan Goodhue and Michael Wagner

What: “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it: intonation, yes and no” (NELS practice talk)

When: Wednesday, Oct. 29, room 117 3-4pm 

Tokiko Okuma at SLRF2014

Tokiko Okuma just returned from the Second Language Research Forum (SLRF 2014) at the University of South Carolina, which took place October 23–25. She presented a paper titled ‘The OPC and task effect in interpreting Japanese pronouns.”

The full program can be found here.


Lisa Travis returns from McMaster

Lisa Travis was at McMaster last week, where she gave a talk as part of the Cognitive Science of Language Lecture Series. The title of her talk was “Macro- and micro-parameters within and across language families.”

Abstract: Languages vary in large and in small ways, and linguists can undertake macro-comparative work (e.g. comparing English and Mohawk) or micro-comparative work (e.g. comparing Northern Italian dialects). Often macro-comparative work is done across language families with the goal of uncovering macro-parameters while micro-comparative work is done within a language family with the goal of uncovering micro-parameters. In this research, I undertake micro-comparative work across language families (Austronesian and Mayan) to better understand a possible macro-parameter (VP-fronting). More specifically, I hypothesize that the co-occurrence of clefting wh-construction with V-initial languages can be explained through a macro-parameter of VP-fronting, explaining both V-initial word order and predicate fronting in clefting constructions. Within this macroparametric study, I investigate the status of clefting structure in an SVO language (Bahasa Indonesia) and micro-variation within the clefted structures comparing two dialects of Malagasy, an Austronesian language, to Kaqchikel, a Mayan language. The goal is to understand some of the details of these clefting structures that allow them to be reanalyzed leading to different setting in the macro-parameter. I argue that it is the status of the clefting particle that allows shifts in the syntactic interpretation of the structure leading to different choices in the macro-parameter.

McGill at the 46th Algonquian Conference

McGill students Douglas Gordon, Michael Hamilton, Yuliya Manyakina, and recent alumna Carol Little (BA ’12) traveled to Uncasville, Connecticut for the 46th Algonquian Conference (Oct. 23–26) which took place at the Mohegan Sun Casino in the Mohegan Tribal Nation.


They presented the following talks:

  • Douglas Gordon – The Distribution of me’ and gi’s in Mi’gmaq
  • Michael David Hamilton – An analysis of ditransitives and ”possessor raising” in Mi’gmaq 
  • Michael David Hamilton, Michael Wagner, Mary Ann Metallic, Janice Vicaire, and Elise McClay (BA ’12) – Focus in Mi’gmaq: Prosodic and syntactic reflexes
  • Carol Little – Negation in Mi’gmq

The full program can be found at the here. You can also read more about the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership in Douglas Gordon’s recent “notes from the field” article, which appeared in the McGill Reporter last week.

Erlewine paper to appear in NLLT

Congratulations to Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, whose paper “Anti-locality and optimality in Kaqchikel Agent Focus” has just been officially accepted to Natural Language and Linguistic Theory! A pre-final draft is available here.

Many Mayan languages show a syntactically ergative extraction asymmetry whereby the A-bar extraction of subjects of transitives requires special verbal morphology, known as Agent Focus. In this paper I investigate the syntax of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. I argue that this extraction asymmetry in Kaqchikel is the result of a particular anti-locality constraint which bans movement which is too close. Support for this claim comes from new data on the distribution of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel which show this locality-sensitivity. The distribution and realization of Agent Focus will then be modeled using a system of ranked, violable constraints operating over competing derivations. This theoretical choice will be supported by details in the pattern of agreement in Agent Focus.

LingTea, 10/22 – Henrison Hsieh

Please join us for this week’s LingTea:

Who: Henrison Hsieh

What: “Future-oriented Actuality Entailments: A Puzzle from Tagalog” (NELS practice talk)

When/Where: Wednesday, Oct. 22, room 117 3-4pm


Colloquium, 10/24 – Hadas Kotek

The next speaker in the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be:

Speaker: Hadas Kotek (McGill University)

Date & Time: Friday, Oct. 24, 3:30 pm

Place: Education Building, room 433

Title: “Covert wh-movement as covert scrambling”


Covert wh-movement is normally believed to be an unbounded, long-distance movement, similar to its overt counterpart. In the multiple question in (1a), the wh-phrase ‘which student’ is fronted out of an embedded clause, while the wh-phrase ‘which professor’ is pronounced in-situ, in its base-generated position. Much work has suggested that the (surface) in-situ wh-phrase in (1a) undergoes covert wh-movement, so that it occupies a position near the overtly fronted wh-phrase at LF (Karttunen 1977, Huang 1982, a.o.), (1b).
(1) a. Which student did Mary say that Sue introduced ___ to which professor?
    b. LF: [ which student ]1 [ which professor ]2 did Mary say that Sue introduced t1 to t2?
I will argue that covert wh-movement indeed occurs in questions like (1) but that it should be thought of as a more restricted, local operation, similar to scrambling in languages like German. The arguments come from online sentence processing and from the behavior of multiple wh-questions with syntactic islands. I show that covert wh-movement at the very least can, and sometimes must, be a short movement step targeting a position other than the one targeted by overt wh-movement in the same structure. Implications for cross-linguistic typology and for the acquisition of wh-questions will be discussed.

Introducing Tashi Wangyal

A belated welcome to Tashi Wangyal, who is working this semester as the language consultant for LING 415/610, Linguistic Field Methods. The class is studying the dialect of Tibetan spoken in Dharamsala, where Tashi grew up. Tashi can be found many days meeting with students outside of class on the third floor––if you see him around, please say hi!

My name is Tashi Wangyal and I am a Tibetan. I was born and raised in India.  I am married with two children, a boy and a girl, and my wife is also Tibetan, but she was born and raised in Canada. I immigrated to Canada in 1998. In 2012 I decided to pursue my passion in filmmaking, and I was fortunate to be accepted in Concordia’s film production program. Currently I am doing my final year and looking forward to graduating next year.


Syntax reading group, 10/15 – Legate (2008)

This week in the syntax reading group, we will discuss Legate (2008) on ergativity, with an eye towards diagnostics that can be used to understand the behavior of a possibly ergative language. This discussion will inform work on the ergativity questionnaire project. Please (re)read Legate (2008) and join us.
Wednesday 10am, room 215.

Lauren Clemens at UQAM, 10/15

Lauren Clemens will present at UQAM’s Wednesday afternoon talk series this week:

When: Wednesday, 10/15 at 12:45pm
Where: DS-3470 (320 Saint-Catherine East, 3rd floor)
Title: Têtes et compléments à l’interface prosodie/syntaxe

All are welcome to attend!

LingTea, 10/15 Michael Hamilton

Please join us for this week’s LingTea:

Who:  Michael Hamilton
What: Ditransitives and “possessor raising” in Mi’gmaq
When/Where: Wednesday, room 117, 3-4pm

Abstract: In Mi’gmaq (Eastern Algonquian) an ambiguity exists in (1) between a ditransitive (DTV) and “possessor raising” (PR) interpretation. This form has an applicative morpheme (-u) and the φ-features of the primary internal argument, the DTV goal or the possessor DP, are indexed on voice0 (-i 1st person).

(1)  gesistaqan-m-u-i-pn 
‘S/he washed it(AN) for me’; ‘S/he washed my thing(AN)’

The first puzzle is that animacy agreement on v0 appears in a default form (-m in (2)) even when DTV and PR have only animate (AN) internal arguments. This is unusual because this default form is usually appears in forms with an inanimate internal argument or a complement clause. The second puzzle is that the ambiguity in (2) does not arise in passive, reflexive or inverse forms, as only a benefactive interpretation is possible. 

In this paper, I argue that the appearance of a default form on v arises due to “high” Appl0 blocking feature inheritance between voice0 and v0. Furthermore, I argue both constructions involve and Appl0 (-u/w), but differences arise in whether a DP is base-generated in Spec-ApplP (DTVs) or arrives there via movement (PR). I posit that PR is driven by δ-feature movement, and that both φ- and δ-feature driven movement possible in the verbal domain, in parallel with the clausal domain (Miyagawa, 2010). This fits the characterization of Mi’gmaq and Algonquian languages as discourse configurational, similar to Japanese. 

Jessica Coon to Maryland

Jessica Coon will give a colloquium talk at University of Maryland this Friday. The title of her talk is “The (apparent) inseparability of person and number in Mi’gmaq”; the abstract can be found here. This talk is based on joint work with Alan Bale.

LingTea, 10/8 – Mitcho Erlewine

Who:  Michael (Mitcho) Erlewine

What: “On the position of focus adverbs.”
When/Where: Wednesday, room 117, 3:00-4:00

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.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, David Nicolas (Institute Jean Nicod), 10/10

Friday, October 10, 2014 | 3:00 -4:30 pm

David Nicolas, (Institute Jean Nicod) “Plural logic and sensitivity to order” (joint work with Salvatore Florio KSU)

Sentences that exhibit sensitivity to order (e.g. John and Mary arrived at school in that order and Mary and John arrived at school in that order) present a challenge for the standard formulation of plural logic. In response, some authors have advocated new versions of plural logic based on more fine-grained notions of plural reference, such as serial reference (Hewitt 2012) and articulated reference (Ben-Yami 2013). The aim of this article is to show that sensitivity to order should be accounted for without altering the standard formulation of plural logic. In particular, sensitivity to order does not call for a more fine-grained notion of plural reference. We point out that the phenomenon in question is quite broad and that current proposals are not equipped to deal with the full range of cases in which order plays a role. Then we develop an alternative, unified account, which locates the phenomenon not in the way in which plural terms can refer, but in the meaning of special expressions such as in that order and respectively.

McGill heads to the LSA

McGill linguists will be heading to Portland, Oregon this winter for the Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America. Presenters include:

There will also be a tutorial:

…and McGill linguists presenting at the sub-session of the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA):

  • Elizabeth Carolan & Jessica Coon – Negation in Chuj progressives
  • Lauren Eby Clemens & Jessica Coon – Deriving Mayan V1: A fresh look at Chol

Jessica Coon returns from Yale

Jessica Coon returned from New Haven last week, where she gave a colloquium talk at Yale. The title of her talk was “Agreement, alignment, and templatic morphology in Mayan.”

Newell & Piggott appears in Lingua

Congratulations to Heather Newell and Glyne Piggott, whose paper “Interactions at the syntax-phonology interface: Evidence from Ojibwe” was just published by Lingua. You can download the full paper here.

This paper provides evidence that word-internal syntax can play a crucial role in the determination of phonological well-formedness. The focus is on an apparent paradox in Ojibwe; the language both avoids and tolerates vowels in hiatus. Adopting the theory of Distributed Morphology, we argue that VV sequences are avoided within domains that are realizations of syntactic phases, based on the theory of cyclic derivation proposed by Chomsky, 2001 and Chomsky, 2008 and others. In contrast, when a VV sequence spans the boundary between phases, it is tolerated. The apparent paradox is a consequence of the fact that the elements outside the spell-out of a phase cannot be evaluated to determine the well-formedness of prosodic entities like syllables, feet and prosodic words. Derivation by phase and Distributed Morphology also provide insights into two strategies for avoiding vowels in hiatus within a phase-domain; vowel loss applies to combinations of vocabulary items inserted in the same phase, while consonant epenthesis applies to items inserted in different phases but merged phonologically after insertion. The conditions under which consonant epenthesis occurs provide support for post-syntactic movement at the PF interface, triggered entirely by phonological factors.

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