Monthly Archive for March, 2015

PhD Oral Defense, 4/1 – Tokiko Okuma

Please join us Wednesday April 1st at 12:00pm in Education Building in Room 434 for Tokiko Okuma’s PhD Oral Defense. A reception will follow at 2:00pm in the Linguistics Department lounge.

Title:  Overt Pronoun Constraint effects in second language Japanese


This dissertation investigates the applicability of the Full Transfer/Full Access hypothesis (FT/FA) (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1994, 1996) by investigating the interpretation of the Japanese pronoun (kare ‘he’) by adult English and Spanish speaking learners of Japanese.The Japanese, Spanish, and English languages differ with respect to interpretive properties of pronouns.

In Japanese and Spanish, overt pronouns disallow a bound variable interpretation in subject and object positions. By contrast, In English, overt pronouns may have a bound variable interpretation in these positions. This is called the Overt Pronoun Constraint (OPC) (Montalbetti, 1984).

The FT/FA model suggests that the initial state of L2 grammar is the end state of L1 grammar and that the restructuring of L2 grammar occurs with L2 input. This hypothesis predicts that L1 English speakers of L2 Japanese would initially allow a bound variable interpretation of Japanese pronouns in subject and object positions, transferring from their L1s. Nevertheless, they will successfully come to disallow a bound variable interpretation as their proficiency improves. In contrast, L1 Spanish speakers of L2 Japanese would correctly disallow a bound variable interpretation of Japanese pronouns in subject and object positions from the beginning.

In order to test these predictions, L1 English and L1 Spanish speakers of L2 Japanese at intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency were compared with native Japanese speakers in their interpretations of pronouns with quantified antecedents in two tasks. To make the comparison, the interpretation of pronouns with referential antecedents, which do not obey the constraint, was also investigated. The results support the FT/FA hypothesis in two respects. First, the intermediate English group accepted a bound variable interpretation of subject pronouns more often than the native Japanese speakers while the intermediate Spanish group did not. Moreover, the intermediate English group was not sensitive to the referential/quantified antecedent asymmetry in interpreting subject pronouns while the intermediate Spanish group showed sensitivity. These differences are attributable to their L1s, English, which does not demonstrate the OPC effects, and Spanish, which does, just like Japanese. Second, the advanced English group as well as the advanced Spanish group showed evidence of a target-like grammar, suggesting the OPC effects in their grammars. Given that the OPC effects are underdetermined in input, these results suggest that Universal Grammar (UG) is operative in L2 acquisition.

LingTea, 4/1 – Michelle Sheehan (University of Cambridge)

This week we’d like to welcome a special guest from overseas for our LingTea:

Who: Michelle Sheehan (University of Cambridge)

When: Wednesday, Apr. 13:05-4:05 in room 117

What: Ergative alignment in Romance causatives


In this talk I consider the parallels between the Romance faire-infinitif construction in (1) and ergative-absolutive alignment, as exemplified in (2):

(1)        a.         Jean l’              a          fait       manger.                        [French]
Jean 3s.acc     has       made    eat.inf
‘Jean made her eat.’

b.         Jean le              lui         a          fait       manger.
Jean 3s.acc     3s.dat    has       made    eat.inf
‘Jean made her eat it.’

(2)           a.         Qusngiq          ner’-uq.                                             [Yup’ik]
reindeer.abs   eat-intr.3sg
‘The reindeer is eating.’

b.         Angute-m       qusngiq                       ner-aa.
man-erg          reindeer.abs                 eat-tr.3sg/3sg
‘The man is eating (the) reindeer.’

In both cases, the external argument surfaces with a morphologically marked case sensitive to transitivity (in the languages in question). I show variation across Romance varieties parallels quite closely variation amongst ergative systems, and that a unified inherent-case account of both in terms of a parameter hierarchy seems promising. For example, Spanish dialects which extend the dative to the subjects of unergatives parallel Basque, which extends ergative to these contexts. Obligatory clitic climbing in French, Italian and European Portuguese can be attributed to the presence of an additional short movement of the object to spec ApplP in these languages, which parallels the trigger for syntactic ergativity in languages like Chamorro and Trumai. I also discuss some challenges for the inherent case approach, notably the fact that some Spanish dialects also extend the dative to the subjects of unaccusative verbs.

LingTea, 3/25 – Yuliya Manyakina and Jiajia Su

This week there is a special LingTea session for MOTH practice talks:

Yuliya Manyakina will present “Two Types of ‘Incorporation’ in Mi’gmaq” and Jiajia Su will present “On the ‘Numeral Classifier de Noun’ Construction in Mandarin Chinese.”

When: Wednesday, Mar. 253:00-4:00 in room 117

Ergativity Lab: 3/25 – Kevin Tuite (Université de Montréal)

This week in the Ergativity Lab, there will be a talk by Kevin Tuite of The University of Montreal, Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. Title and abstract below:
Alignment and orientation in Kartvelian (South Caucasian)
I will present an overview of case assignment and person/number marking in the Kartvelian languages, and the extent to which they correspond to a recognizable alignment type (ergative-absolutive, or split-intransitive). If time permits, I will also present a hypothesis concerning the morphosyntactic characteristics of Proto-Kartvelian.

Postdoctoral fellowship for Michael Hamilton

Fifth-year PhD student Michael Hamilton has recently accepted a 2-year Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Cornell University, which he is set to take up later this year. At Cornell, Mike will continue his research into the syntax and prosody of Mi’gmaq and other Algonquian languages. Congratulations Mike!

McGill at MOTH

The Montréal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton Syntax Workshop (MOTH 2015) Syntax Workshop is taking place at the University of Ottawa on March 28th and 29th.
Yuliya Manyakina will present “Two Types of “Incorporation” in Mi’gmaq” and Jiajia Su will present “On the ‘Numeral Classifier de Noun’ Construction in Mandarin Chinese.” Jessica Coon will be the keynote speaker. The full program is available at

Syntax Group, 3/18 – Shobhana Chelliah (U. North Texas)

Please join us for a special edition of Syntax Group/Ergativity Lab, this Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. All are welcome!

Speaker:  Shobhana L. Chelliah (University of North Texas)

Title: The Source of Variability in Case and Semantic Role Marking in Tibeto-Burman

The predominant case marking pattern observed for Tibeto-Burman is non-obligatory morphological marking of A (transitive subject) and of S (intransitive subject) under various pragmatic and discourse conditions which cast A or S as as acontrastive or an otherwise foregrounded NP.  In one Tibeto-Burman language,Meitei, agent, patient, associative, and locative semantic role markers all have developed secondary pragmatic meanings associated with speaker expectations.  The same is true to some extent with other Tibeto-Burman languages as well. Additionally, when surveying recent descriptions of ergative languages, we see A/S marking curiously parallel in distribution to that found in Tibeto-Burman, with pragmatics or discourse structure determining the distribution of A/S marking.

It has been argued that case systems with pragmatic or discourse motivated marking have evolved from one of the known case-marking types and that this change has been  due to language contact or obsolescence. Given the examples of A/S case marking developing contrastive topic readings even with robust languages that have undergone little contact, it would appear that some other factor is at work.  I will argue that these case systems have developed through a process of language change by which certain grammatical categories increasingly reflect speaker perspective.


LingTea, 3/18 – Guilherme Garcia

Who: Guilherme Garcia

When: Wednesday, Mar. 183:00-4:00 in room 117

What: “Stress and Gradient Weight in Portuguese” (WCCFL practice talk)


Coon, Mateo Pedro, and Preminger in Linguistic Variation

Jessica Coon’s collaborative paper with Pedro Mateo Pedro (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala) and Omer Preminger (Maryland) just appeared in the journal Linguistic VariationThe title is “The Role of Case in A-Bar Extraction Asymmetries: Evidence from Mayan.”

Many morphologically ergative languages display asymmetries in the extraction of core arguments: while absolutive arguments (transitive objects and intransitive subjects) extract freely, ergative arguments (transitive subjects) cannot. This falls under the label “syntactic ergativity” (see, e.g. Dixon 1972, 1994; Manning 1996; Polinsky to appear(b)). These extraction asymmetries are found in many languages of the Mayan family, where in order to extract transitive subjects (for focus, questions, or relativization), a special construction known as the “Agent Focus” (AF) must be used. These AF constructions have been described as syntactically and semantically transitive because they contain two non-oblique DP arguments, but morphologically intransitive because the verb appears with only a single agreement marker and takes an intransitive status suffix (Aissen 1999; Stiebels 2006). In this paper we offer a proposal for (i) why some morphologically ergative languages exhibit extraction asymmetries, while others do not; and (ii) how the AF construction in Q’anjob’al circumvents this problem. We adopt recent accounts which argue that ergative languages vary in the locus of absolutive case assignment (Aldridge 2004, 2008a; Legate 2002, 2008), and propose that this variation is present within the Mayan family. Based primarily on comparative data from Q’anjob’al and Chol, we argue that the inability to extract ergative arguments does not reflect a problem with properties of the ergative subject itself, but rather reflects locality properties of absolutive case assignment in the clause. We show how the AF morpheme -on circumvents this problem in Q’anjob’al by assigning case to internal arguments.

Morgan Sonderegger at Carleton

Morgan Sonderegger gave a colloquium talk in the School of Linguistics and Language Studies last week, entitled “The structure of variability in spontaneous speech: evidence from voice onset time”.

McGill at MOLT 2015

McGill Linguistics was well represented at this year’s Montreal-Ottawa-Laval-Toronto Phonology Workshop (MOLT), which took place this past weekend at the University of Toronto. There were talks by graduate students, undergraduate students, alumni, and faculty (subset pictured below). The full program can be found here.


Lydia White in Turkey

Lydia White spent part of March break in Turkey where she gave two talks. She presented a talk titled “Implications of linguistic theory and generative L2 research for language pedagogy” as a Plenary talk at the Language in Focus Conference, in Cappadocia. She also presented “L2 pronoun interpretation: problems of representation or processing?” as an invited speaker at Boğaziçi University, in Istanbul. (She was invited by McGill graduate Ayse Gürel, who has recently been promoted to Full Professor.)

Lydia did not spend her entire break giving presentations. You can see what she was up to while not doing linguistics in the following photo:


McLing Special Issue – McCCLU Conference Saturday March 14th at New Residence Hall


This year’s McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergrads–McCCLU–will take place Saturday March 14th at New Residence Hall. The program is below, and the full conference booklet is here: McCCLU 2015 Program. In addition to talks by our very own Liam Rogers Bassford and Louisa Bielig, there will be a keynote talk by postdoctoral fellow Hadas Kotek. Hope you can make it!

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Ling-Tea, Bronwyn Bjorkman – 4/11, plus upcoming schedule

Please joins us for the next LingTea of the semester:

Who: Bronwyn Bjorkman (University of Toronto)
When: Wednesday, Mar. 113-4pm in room 117
What: “Not All Fake Pasts Are Real”

There are at least two domains where it has been proposed that past inflection is “uninterpretable” or “fake”, because it does not contribute its ordinary back-shifted interpretation: sequence of tense and counterfactuals. Though they have only occasionally been directly compared, both have been analyzed as cases where T bears a formally uninterpretable tense feature that must be licensed by a higher counterpart. This talk, however, focuses on differences between the two phenomena, particularly in their interaction with situation and viewpoint aspect, and argues that these differences suggest that sequence of tense and counterfactuals cannot both be analyzed in terms of feature licensing. I conclude that of the two, only counterfactuals involve real “fake” past (i.e. a licensed [uPAST] feature), and (finally) that this sheds light on differences between the interpretation of particular inflectional forms, and their formal representation in terms of features, which in turn helps account for crosslinguistic differences in what inflectional forms are possible in counterfactual contexts.


Other upcoming presentations:

March 18: Guilherme Garcia, “Stress and gradient weight in Portuguese” (WCCFL practice talk)
March 25: Jiajia Su – “On the ‘Numeral Classifier de Noun’ construction in Mandarin Chinese” / Yuliya Manyakina – “Two Types of ‘Incorporation’ in Mi’gmaq” (MOTH practice talks)
April 8: Hadas Kotek, TBA (GLOW practice talk)


A reminder! If you are interested in presenting a paper or getting some feedback on work in progress please email Gui ( or Yuliya ( The following dates are still available for this semester’s LingTea:
April: 1, 15, 22, 29



Syntax reading group, 4/11 – Bjorkman

title: Upwards Agree and Long Distance Agreement
speaer: Bronwyn Bjorkman (joint work with Hedde Zeiljstra)
when/where: Wednesday, 2–3pm, Room 117
abstract: In Minimalist frameworks, the operation Agree establishes relationships between defective probes (unvalued or uninterpretable features) and non-defective goals (valued or interpretable). While the original definition of Agree required probes to search downward for goals (Chomsky 1995 et seq.), more recent work has suggested instead that probes search upwards(Wurmbrand 2012, Zeijlstra 2012, a.o.), or that the direction of Agree is variable (Baker 2008, Merchant 2011). These proposals have often drawn on different empirical domains (e.g. φ-agreement vs. verbal inflection or negative concord), raising the question of whether a single model of Agree can account for all syntactic feature relationships.
The most serious empirical issue for “Upwards Agree” models is the existence of long-distance agreement (LDA) patterns, cases where there is no point in the derivation where the goal DP c-commands the probing head. Such cases appear to be incompatible with Upwards Agree theories, as observed by Preminger (2014). This talk argues, however, that a slightly modified version of Upwards Agree not only can account for LDA, but may in fact provide a better account of the typology of LDA patterns. The main modification is to distinguish feature checking (accomplished by Agree) from feature valuation, but to restrict valuation to instances where two heads stand in some Agree (i.e. checking) relation, though potentially for a feature other than the one being valued. This predicts that LDA should be possible only when a DP stands in an independent Agree relationship with the agreeing head, whether for Case or information structural features. We illustrate how this version of Upwards Agree accounts for at least three subtypes of LDA: nominative object agreement in Icelandic, agreement into non-finite clauses in Hindi, and agreement into finite embedded clauses in Tsez.

Tokiko Okuma at GASLA 2015

Tokiko Okuma has just returned from presenting a paper at the 13th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference at Indiana University on March 4-6. The title of her talk was “Typology of pronouns and L2 acquisition of the OPC effect in Japanese”. The full program can be found here.

Okuma starts working as a full-time lecturer (one-year contract) at the University of Shizuoka, Japan, and a part-time lecturer (one-term contract) at Osaka University, Japan, from April 2015. Congrats!

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership at ICLDC 4

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership members Carolyn Anderson, Joel Dunham, Yuliya Manyakina, Madelaine Metallic, Conor Quinn and Lola Vicaire traveled to Honolulu, Hawai’i for the 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (Feb. 26-Mar. 1, 2015). The following talks were presented:

  • Douglas Gordon (McGill), Carol-Rose Little (Cornell), Yuliya Manyakina (McGill), Madelaine Metallic (Listuguj Education Directorate) and Lola Vicaire (Listuguj Education Directorate) Bringing a Community Closer: A report on the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Summer Workshops (poster)

    Right to Left: Metallic, Vicaire and Manyakina with poster

    Right to Left: Metallic, Vicaire and Manyakina with poster

  •  Joel Dunham (UBC), Jessica Coon (McGill) and Alan Bale  (Concordia University) LingSync: web-based software for language documentation
  • Conor Quinn (University of Maine/University of Southern Maine) Taking down the barriers: Accessibility by detechnicalization and minimalist presentation

The full schedule may be found here. Stay tuned at to read some blog posts about the travelers’ experiences.

McGill at upcoming GLOW and WCCFL

McGill linguists will travel to Vancouver for WCCFL 33 later this month, to be held at Simon Frasier University. Heather Goad will give a plenary talk titled “Phonotactic evidence from typology and acquisition for a coda+onset analysis of initial sC clusters“. PhD student Guilherme Duarte Garcia will give a talk “Stress and gradient weight in Portuguese.” Here is the rest of the program.

In April, PhD student Michael Hamilton and post-doctoral fellow Hadas Kotek will both head to Paris for GLOW. Mike’s talk will be “Feature Inheritance in clausal and verbal domains: Evidence from Mi’gmaq”, and Hadas’s is titled “Intervention everywhere“.  The full program can be found here.

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