Monthly Archive for January, 2015

LingTea, 1/28 – Hadas Kotek

Who: Hadas Kotek

When: Wednesday, Jan. 283:30-4:30 in room 117

What: “On the semantics of wh-questions”

This is a practice talk in semantics, but feedback from non-semanticists will be very much appreciated.

Mike Hamilton at WSCLA

Michael Hamilton is returning from the 2015 meeting of the Workshop on the Structure and Constituency of Languages of the Americas (WSCLA), held this year at the University of Arizona in Tucson. The title of Mike’s talk was “Flavors of Voice in Mi’gmaq”. The rest of the program can be found here.

Louisa Bielig at Arts Research Fair

McGill BA student Louisa Bielig presented at the Arts Undergraduate Research on January 14th. Her presentation, “Possession in Mayan Languages – An analysis of Kaqchikel, Chuj, and Tzotzil,” grew out of her ARIA-sponsored summer research project with Jessica Coon. She is continuing her work on Mayan this year for her Honours thesis on Chuj nominal classifiers and their interaction with A-bar extraction asymmetries.

Colloquium, 2/2 – Holger Mitterer

We are pleased to announce the next talk in our 2014-15 colloquium series:

Speaker: Holger Mitterer (University of Malta)
When: Monday, Feb 2, 3:30
Place: Education Building, room 627

Title: “When is a phone a phoneme?”

The glottal stop is viewed as a phoneme in some languages (e.g., Maltese) but as an optional prosodic boundary marker in others (e.g., Dutch). German is an intermediate case, in which the glottal stop is assumed to form the onset of “vowel-initial” words canonically (in contrast to in Dutch). Nevertheless, most phonological analyses agree that the phonotactic restrictions for the glottal stop—mostly restricted to morpheme-initial position—make it unnecessary to view it as a phoneme in German (in contrast to Maltese). Such assumptions are critical for our understanding of what is “lexical”, “phonological”, and “phonetic”. In this talk, I will present several production and perception studies in Maltese, German, and Dutch investigating this issue. The production experiments showed that glottalization of vowel-initial words functions similarly in German and Dutch, contrasting with the view that glottal stops are canonical in German and optional in Dutch. The perception experiments then tested the consequences of deleting an initial glottal stop or an initial /h/. The comparison with /h/ is motivated by the fact that /h/ is considered a phoneme in German, despite similar phonotactic restrictions as for the glottal stop. The results showed that deleting the Dutch glottal stop, the German glottal stop, the Maltese glottal stop, and German /h/ have very similar consequences in perception. These results thus favour the assumption that the glottal stop is part of the lexical representation of words in these three languages rather than lexically represented in Maltese and post-lexically inserted in the Germanic languages.


Reminder: Kirby colloquium – 1/19

A reminder that James Kirby’s colloquium is Jan 19 at 3:30 in Educ 627, as previously described here.

LingTea, 1/21 – Mike Hamilton

Please join us for the first LingTea of the semester:

Who: Mike Hamilton

When: Wednesday, Jan. 213:00-4:00 in room 117

What: “Flavours of Voice in Mi’gmaq”

Colloquium, 1/23 – Christopher Carignan

We are pleased to announce the next talk in our 2014-15 colloquium series:

Speaker: Christopher Carignan (North Carolina State University)
When: Friday, Jan 23, 3:30
Place: Education Building, room 433

Title: An oral articulatory approach to vowel nasalization: Searching for the “oral” in “nasal”

Vowel nasalization, by definition, is characterized by some degree of coupling of the nasal cavity to the oral cavity via an opening of the velo-pharyngeal (VP) port, otherwise referred to as VP coupling, a lowering of the velum or, more generally, “nasalization”. In acoustic studies of vowel nasalization, it is sometimes assumed that the primary articulatory difference between an oral vowel and a nasal(ized) vowel is VP coupling and, thus, observed acoustic changes are customarily attributed to the effect of nasalization itself on the acoustic signal. The work presented in this talk takes the assumption that the production of vowel nasalization may also involve changes to the shape of the oral tract. Inferring these oral articulatory changes from the acoustic signal may be an intractable problem due to the conflation of the respective acoustic transfer functions associated with the nasal and oral tracts. Because of this issue, I explore the oral articulation of vowel nasalization by studying the shape of the oral tract itself. The findings from four such studies are presented in this talk—two studies on phonemic vowel nasalization (European French) and two studies on phonetic vowel nasalization (American English). The results suggest that—without being deterministic—the effect of nasalization on a vowel’s acoustic output creates a condition where misapprehension of the articulatory source is possible and, as a result, modification of the oral tract is likely. In this framework, explanations for diachronic patterns of nasal vowel systems can be reasoned, understanding of synchronic effects of nasalization on vowel production and perception can be enlightened, and plausible predictions for nasal vowel systems can be made.


Jonathan Bobaljik “Dependent Case and Case-Dependent Agreement” workshop, 1/29

McLing is pleased to announce that Jonathan Bobaljik will be visiting Montreal next week, sponsored by the Concordia LSA and McSIRG.

What: Mini workshop: “Dependent Case and Case-dependent Agreement” (presenting in part joint work with Mark Baker)

Coordinates: Thursday January 29th, 5:30–7pm in Linguistics 117; to be followed by a dinner reception in the Linguistics Lounge

In this tutorial/workshop, we’ll work through some of the evidence for treating case on an NPs as primarily reflecting syntactic configuration (transitivity / whether there is another NP in the same domain, Marantz 1991, Baker to appear) rather than by a relationship to a designated functional head (as in Chomsky 1981 et seq). Time and audience interest permitting, we will look at some of the following:

    •  critical examination of arguments that ergative case is ‘inherent’ (tied to a theta-role assigning head)

    • arguments that case and agreement are not ‘two sides of the same coin’ but are distinct grammatical operations

    • arguments that agreement depends (imperfectly) on case (Bobaljik 2008, Baker 2008), with attention to putative counter-examples

    • different distribution of ‘active’ patterns in case vs. agreement (and the implications of this for the questions above)

      Please RSVP to Jessica if you are interested in attending.

Information for the colloquium at Concordia is as follows:

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McCCLU call for papers

The McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates – McCCLU – will be held on March 13-15, 2015. It will be hosted at McGill by the Society of Linguistics Undergraduates of McGill (SLUM).

The aim of this conference is to encourage original endeavors into the world of research as well as to enrich the present academic undergraduate community within the field of linguistics. Although McCCLU remains a smaller-scale conference, it gives students from all subfields of linguistics the opportunity to present their theses and to have them reviewed, often for the first time. Each participant will have 20 minutes to present their research, followed by a 10 minute question period.

Call for Papers:

We are now calling for undergraduate students to submit abstracts for presentation at the conference on any subject matter within the domain of linguistics. Each abstract should detail material for a 20-minute presentation, with a 10-minute question period on issues raised afterward. Abstracts should be a maximum of one page in length (12 point font, 1 inch margins). The call deadline is February 2nd.

Please submit abstracts to

Welcome Fulbright Fellow Carolyn Anderson

McLing is pleased to welcome Carolyn Anderson, who is joining the McGill Linguistics department this semester. Carolyn is a Fulbright scholar researching the role of technology in language revitalization, and plans to work with Jessica Coon on the Mi’gmaq project. She graduated last spring with a B.A. in Linguistics from Swarthmore College, and spent the past semester as a visiting researcher at University of Victoria. She is optimistic that one day the snow will melt enough to play Ultimate Frisbee again.

Carolyn working with a Colonial Zapotec text in Oaxaca

Carolyn working with a Colonial Zapotec text in Oaxaca

LingTea Winter 2015

LingTea is resuming this month. If you’d like to present a paper, or if you’d like some feedback on work in progress, please email Gui ( or Yuliya ( Meetings will be on Wednesdays at 3:30, room 117. The following is a list of available Wednesday dates by month:

January: 14, 28 
February: 4, 11, 18, 25
March: 4, 11, 18, 25
April: 1, 8, 15, 22, 29


McGill at the LSA

Many McGill affiliates spent the first part of the new year in Portland, Oregon for the 89th Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America. 




Also in concurrent meetings…

American Dialect Society:

  • Charles Boberg: World War I and the consolidation of Canadian English

Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas:

  • Elizabeth Carolan  An exploration of tense in Chuj
  • Elizabeth Carolan & Jessica Coon – Negation in Chuj progressives
  • Lauren Eby Clemens & Jessica Coon – Deriving Mayan V1: A fresh look at Chol
  • Michael Erlewine – Restructuring and Agent Focus in Kaqchikel

The full LSA program can be found here:

Colloquium, 1/19 – James Kirby

We are pleased to announce the next talk in our 2014-15 colloquium series:

Speaker: James Kirby (University of Edinburgh)
When: Monday, Jan 19, 3:30
Place: Education Building, room 627

Title: “Dialect variation and phonetic change: Incipient tonogenesis in Khmer”

Unlike many languages of Southeast Asia, Khmer (Cambodian) is not a tone language, but an incipient tone contrast has been noted in several Khmer dialects for at least 50 years. While the process of tonogenesis is reasonably well-understood, the manner by which it seems to be taking place in Khmer – conditioned by loss of onset /r/ – has not been reported for any other language. In this talk, I will compare new acoustic and perceptual data on the emergence of tone in two varieties of Khmer: the colloquial speech of the capital Phnom Penh, and the dialect spoken in Kiên Giang province, Vietnam. I will show how this sound change may have been set in motion by devoicing of /r/, and sketch a statistical learning account of how differences in the perception of devoicing might help explain the observed differences between dialects. Finally, I will briefly discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of tonogenesis and phonetic change more generally.



Gillon to Taipei

Brendan Gillon leaves on Wednesday for Taipei to spend four months as a visiting professor at National Chengchi University (國立政治大學). He will be working there on classical Chinese text, investigating various properties of the Chinese of the 7th century CE.

Announcement: Wh-indefintes Reading Group

Time: Very short (30 min) organizational meeting TUESDAY AT 3PM, Room 215
About: This semester Hadas and mitcho will organize a reading group on the syntax, semantics, and typology of (bare) wh-indefinites.
In many languages, wh-words can be used as indefinite pronouns under certain conditions. This occurs in a number of languages which are spoken and studied in the department, and therefore came up as a potentially interesting topic in our fall semester seminar. The use of wh-words as indefinites is well known cross-linguistically, and there is some work looking specifically at wh-indefinites in a particular language, but there is relatively little work that combines formal theory with a broad, cross-linguistic empirical base.
We are expecting this to be a very hands-on “reading group,” combining reading of relevant literature with participants presenting relevant data on wh-indefinites in languages they speak and/or study. We hope and believe that there is a group paper that could come out of this.
Please come to the organizational meeting if you are interested in participating in any way. Please also let Hadas or mitcho know if you are interested but unable to make that time.

Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

Phonology 4, LING 635 /

Seminar in Phonology, LING 735

“The phonetics/phonology interface: laryngeal contrasts”  

This year’s LING 635/735 will focus on sound structure phenomena where physical implementation (phonetics) and symbolic patterning (phonology) are particularly intertwined, such as:

  • Incomplete neutralization (how can languages with “final devoicing” such as German have no final voicing contrast, yet final voiced and voiceless stops are pronounced differently?)
  • Sources of sound change (why is final devoicing so common cross-linguistically, while final voicing isn’t?)
  • Tonogenesis (how and why do languages often develop tone from laryngeal contrasts?)
  • Typology of contrasts (how can we account for the vast cross-linguistic variation in how voicing contrasts are realized, and which positions they are neutralized in?)

We will focus primarily on empirical cases involving laryngeal consonants, especially obstruent voicing contrasts. These sounds pattern in similar ways cross-linguistically, but vary vastly in how they are implemented phonetically (both within and across languages), making them a perfect lens through which to examine fundamental questions about the phonetics/phonology interface. We will read a mixture of experimental, theoretical, and computational work on languages such as English, German, Korean, and Vietnamese from the past few decades.


  • 635: class presentation(s), homework assignments, final project.
  • 735 (pass/fail): minimal assignments beyond participation and presentation(s) in class.


Announcement: P* Reading Group (reading papers by job candidates)

Starting this Thursday, P* Reading Group meetings will discuss a paper by one of the phonetics job candidates each week. The meeting will take place Thursdays 2-3pm in the linguistics lounge (any changes should be announced, especially on the meeting place). All students and faculty are welcome to attend, especially those whose main area of interest is outside of phonetics and phonology.
In this week’s meeting, the group will discuss a paper (link) by job candidate James Kirby (2014). “Incipient tonogenesis in Phnom Penh Khmer: Acoustic and perceptual studies. Journal of Phonetics, 43, 69–85.” 

Announcement: Word Structure Research Group

The Word Structure Research Group will be meeting on Tuesdays 10:30-12 this term. The main topic will be compounds. We will hold an organisational meeting on Tuesday January 13th, at McGill. Room to be announced.

If you would like to be added to the email list announcing readings, please send an email to (Those who were on the list last term don’t need to email, unless they want to be taken off the list.)  
All are welcome! 

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