Monthly Archive for September, 2015

Ling-Tea, 9/29 – Lisa Travis

Lisa Travis will be presenting at Ling-Tea this week.

Coordinates: Tuesday 9/29, 1:00pm–2:00pm in Linguistics 117

Title: Using morphophonological evidence to determine the position of aspectual related heads

In this talk I explore the possibility that morpho-phonological data can be used to determine the syntactic height at which a  morpheme is added.  I look particularly at a morpheme used in Tagalog and Malagasy to introduce actuality entailment to an otherwise non-culminating accomplishment.  There is morphological data from Tagalog and phonological data from Malagasy suggesting that this morpheme is within the argument structure of the clause.  I start an investigation of a similar morpheme in St’at’imcets, raising questions both about the morpho-phonological and the semantic effects of this morpheme.

Colloquium, 10/2 – Matt Goldrick

The next talk in our 2015-16 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be a CRBLM Distinguished Lecture by Matt Goldrick (Northwestern University) on Friday, Oct 2nd at 1:30 in the Goodman Cancer Research Centre (1160 av des Pins ouest). Note unusual time and place! There will be a reception in the evening following the colloquium, hosted by Morgan Sonderegger (additional details to follow).

Title: Phonetic echoes of cognitive processing


For many years, theories of language production assumed a strict functional separation between peripheral phonetic encoding processes and more central cognitive processes. The output of lexical access—the processes mapping intended messages to utterance plans—was assumed to yield a plan that was simply executed by more peripheral processes. Recent work has challenged such proposals, showing that on-line disruptions to lexical access can affect gradient phonetic properties (e.g., phonological speech errors influence the phonetic properties of speech sounds; Goldrick & Blumstein, 2006). I’ll discuss two sets of projects from my lab that extend this work. Large data sets, enabled by machine-learning based techniques for automated phonetic analysis, provide new insights into the consequences of cognitive disruptions for monolingual speech. I’ll then discuss how cognitive disruptions modulate cross-language interactions in multilingual speakers.

Additionally, there will be a workshop session preceding the lecture: Please register for the workshop portion if interested!

The Meaning Group, 10/2

The Meaning Group is meeting this Friday, October 2nd at 3:15 pm in room 117. Bernhard Schwarz will present joint work with Sasha Simonenko (McGill PhD, ’14) in preparation for a presentation at CSSP in Paris the following week. The topic will be factive island effects in questions. Please see the abstract and a link to a paper below. All are welcome to attend!
We explicate and compare two semantic-pragmatic approaches to so-called factive island effects: the contradiction analysis (Abrusán 2011, 2014), which excludes factive island questions by virtue of assigning them contradictory presuppositions; and the triviality account (Oshima 2007; Simonenko, in press), under which factive island cases are bad by virtue of lacking informative semantic answers relative to any context where they are otherwise felicitous. We present new evidence to argue that the triviality account is superior to the contradiction account.
Background reading:
Abrusán, Márta. 2011. Presuppositional and negative islands: a semantic account. Natural Language Semantics 19:257–321.

The Meaning Group, 9/21

All are invited to join a reading group this semester related to meaning in natural language. The first meeting is Monday the 21st from 2:30 to 4:00 pm in room 117. Dan Goodhue will present on Tue Trinh’s paper “How to ask the obvious: A presuppositional account of evidential bias in English yes/no questions” (2014). Abstract below.
In general, the group will meet on Fridays from 3 to 4:30 pm in room 117 when there is no colloquium scheduled. The second meeting will feature a presentation related to implicatures that is TBD. If you are interested in presenting some work (yours or someone else’s) on semantics/pragmatics and their interfaces, please get in touch with Dan Goodhue.
English can express the basic meaning of a yes/no question in several ways, for example with or without sentential negation, and with or without subject auxiliary inversion. In this paper, we discuss how the presence of contextual clues with respect to one or the other answer to a yes/no question determines which formal variants of the question are felicitous. We then derive these syntax-pragmatics interactions from Heim’s principle of Maximize Presupposition, Stalnaker’s Bridge Principle and Grice’s Maxim of Manner, each formulated in a particular way, together with the assumption that the lexicon of English contains a silent evidential marker which exhibits familiar syntactic and semantic properties.

Words Group meeting, 9/25

The next Words Group meeting will be Friday, September 25th, at 12 p.m. in room 117.

Máire Noonan will present ‘Antisymmetry and Morphology. Prefixes and Suffixes‘ by Richard Kayne.

Photos from McGill at Sinn & Bedeutung

Here are some photos from Sinn und Bedeutung 20 at the University of Tübingen, Germany, previously announced here. Polina Berezovskaya (Graduate Research Trainee 2010-11) was part of the hard-working organizing team.

Hadas Kotek in Amsterdam and Leiden

Hadas Kotek spent last week as a guest of the Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation (ILLC) at the University of Amsterdam. This week she is visiting the University of Leiden, where she will be giving a colloquium talk titled “Pervasive intervention and the architecture of grammar”.

CRBLM Graduate Travel Funding award for Donghyun Kim

Donghyun Kim was recently granted CRBLM Graduate Travel Funding to attend the Second Language Research Forum (SLRF) 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia in October. The title of his paper for the conference is “A longitudinal study of individual differences in the acquisition of novel vowel contrasts”, which is a joint work with Meghan Clayards and Heather Goad. Congratulations Don!

Jessica Coon at Gender, Class, and Determination conference in Ottawa

Jessica Coon is just returning from Ottawa where she presented collaborative work with Alan Bale (Concordia, McGill PhD) at Gender, Class, and Determination: A Conference on the Nominal Spine. The title of their talk was “Counting banana trees: Cross-linguistic consequences for the syntax and semantics of classifiers”. The abstract can be found here.

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron awarded CRBLM Graduate Scholar Stipend

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron has been awarded a CRBLM Graduate Scholar Stipend of $6,000, based on her research proposal on “The effect of boundaries and locality on phonological variability in speech production”, supervised by Morgan Sonderegger and Michael Wagner. Congratulations, Oriana!


Colloquium, 9/11 – Kie Zuraw

McLing is pleased to announce the first colloquium of the Fall 2015 semester.

Kie Zuraw (UCLA)

Coordinates: Friday, 9/11 at 3:30pm, EDUC 338

Title: Polarized variation


The normal distribution–the bell curve–is common in all kinds of data, and is often expected when the quantity being measured results from multiple independent factors. The distribution of phonologically varying words, however, is sharply non-normal in the cases examined in this talk (from English, French, Hungarian,Tagalog, and Samoan). Instead of most words’ showing some medial rate of variation (say, 50% of a word’s tokens are regular and 50% irregular), with smaller numbers of words having extreme behavior, words cluster at the extremes of behavior. That is, a histogram of variant rates is shaped like a U (or sometimes J) rather than a bell.  The U shape cannot be accounted for by positing a binary distinction with some amount of noise over tokens, because some items (though the minority) clearly are variable, even speaker-internally. In some cases (e.g., French “aspirated” words) there is a diachronic explanation: sound change caused some words to become exceptional, so that the starting point for today’s situation was already U-shaped. But in other cases, such an explanation is not available, and items seem to be attracted towards extreme behavior.

Two mechanisms for deriving U-shaped distributions will be discussed, with speculation as to why some distributions of variation are U-shaped and others bell-shaped.

Departmental Picnic: Laurier edition

McGill linguists made the most of a hot and sunny late summer day to mark the beginning of the Fall term, with good and plentiful food and conversation, at the department’s annual picnic.  The picnic was held in the picturesque Parc Laurier in Le Plateau.  Some pictures:

McGill Linguistics summer news, part 2

Here is Part 2 of the McLing summer news round-up…

BA student Hannah Cohen was a Speech Science Intern at Nuance Communications, Inc. in their Montreal office. There, she worked on iOS application development and tool creation for voice biometric systems analysis. Hannah also acted as Ambassador and Event Director for WearHacks Montreal 2015 (to take place October 2-4, 2015).

Recent BA graduate Symon Stevens-Guille also attended the LSA Institute 2015 at UChicago. He took courses in psycholinguistics, computational minimalism, learnability theory, and categorial grammar and is beginning his MA in Linguistics at University of Toronto this fall.

BA students Alexina Hicks and Victoria Rahardjo worked under recent postdoc Lauren Clemens‘ guidance on Indonesian data this summer. Victoria collected data from multiple Indonesian speakers and Alexina used the McGill ProsodyLab aligner to transcribe text to sound files. There is now a large bank of data that can be used to analyze phonetic/phonological aspects of the language.

Alexina also worked 6 months as lab coordinator at the Infant Speech Perception Lab for Dr. Polka. She learned many things,  including how to test young babies and afterwards code the data. Here’s a McGill article describing the project.

Claudia Poschmann (Goethe University Frankfurt) and Michael Wagner‘s paper, “Relative Clause Extraposition and Prosody in German” was accepted for NLLT and Michael’s review on information structure and production planning planning is now in press, to appear in The Handbook of Information Structure, published by Oxford University Press.

Word Structure Research Group, organizational meeting – 9/11

The research group on the structure of words at the interfaces will continue this semester. This reading and research group investigates phenomena at the syntax/morphology-phonology and-semanticsInterfaces. (See here for past meetings.)  The topics this term will focus on asymmetries between prefixes versus suffixes, from structural, phonological, and interpretive points of view.    

The meeting slot this term is Friday 12:00-1:30 PM. The first organizational meeting will take place this Friday, the 11th, room TBA. If you would like to receive notices of future meetings, please email Maire Noonan to be added to the list.

Welcome new graduate students and postdoctoral fellows

McLing is pleased to introduce this year’s new graduate students, QY students, graduate research trainees, and postdoctoral fellows. Welcome to McGill!

Graduate students

Jurij Bozic‘s main research interest is in the interface between phonology, morphology and syntax (the ‘PF’-interface). He completed an M.A. in linguistics at the University of British Columbia.

Chris Bruno’s main interests lie in formal semantics and syntax, and he is also interested in other areas like pragmatics, logic, and computation. He completed his B.Sc. at the University of Toronto in Linguistics and Computer Science.

Ariel Chan is interested in heritage language acquisition, and language change and variation. She completed her B.A. at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and her M.A. at University of Hong Kong.

September Cowley is interested mainly in semantics (especially model theoretic semantics) and pragmatics, although she is also interested in neurolinguistics and philosophy of language. September did the first half of her degree at Langara College in Vancouver, and then completed her degree at McGill.

Anouk Dieuleveut just completed her undergraduate studies in linguistics and cognitive sciences at the ENS in Paris. She has a background in experimental psychology and is mostly interested in experimental semantics and pragmatics: her master’s thesis dealt with scalar implicatures and the distinction between primary and secondary implicatures. While at McGill, she will also be a course lecturer at the French department, but hopes nonetheless to have time to discover the hiking paths of Canada… Recommendations are welcome!

Bing’er Jiang’s research interests lie in phonetics and phonology, particularly in phonation and tone languages. She has just finished her undergraduate studies at Shanghai International Studies University.

Amanda Rizun is interested in semantics and pragmatics, especially as related to first and second language acquisition. She completed her B.A. at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Martha Schwarz is particularly interested in phonology and in fieldwork on understudied languages.  She completed her B.A. in linguistics at Brandeis University in Boston.  

Qin Xi (Kevin) is interested in syntax, semantics, syntax/semantics interface and syntax and prosody. In particular, he is fascinated and indeed puzzled by the use of determiners in English as well as across languages.


Christopher, Ariel, Bing’er, Martha, Anouk, September, Xi, Amanda, Jurij

Postdoctoral fellows

Meaghan Fowlie

Meaghan is just finishing her PhD at UCLA. She did her undergrad right here at McGill, and is delighted to be back. Her primary interests lie in mathematical approaches to syntax, but has a very broad range of interests, from ergativity to field work to music and language to learnability to sociolinguistics and yes, even phonetics and phonology. Her dissertation is about adjunction, from mathematical and experimental perspectives. For fun, Meaghan does linguistics. Kidding. Really. She also likes comics and novels, films and series, cooking and baking, and travelling and wilderness.


 Michael McAuliffe

Michael recently received his PhD in Linguistics from the University of British Columbia with a thesis titled “Attention and salience in lexically-guided perceptual learning”.  At McGill, he is doing a post-doc with Morgan Sonderegger and Michael Wagner to create tools and software for asking phonetic and phonological questions about speech corpora across languages and for forced alignment across languages. His main research interests are computational phonetics, speech perception and corpus linguistics. In his free time, he enjoys long distance running, hiking and playing card, board and video games.




McGill at Sinn und Bedeutung 20

McGill is well-represented at Sinn und Bedeutung (SuB) 20 at the University of Tübingen, Germany, this week (Sept. 9-12, 2015).
  • Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (UMass, postdoc-to-be with Junko Shimoyama and Keir Moulton (SFU, former postdoc)): Constructing beliefs and desires (talk)
  • Brian Buccola: Severing maximality from ‘fewer than’: evidence from genericity (talk)
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (NUS, recent postdoc) and Hadas Kotek : Relative pronoun pied-piping, the structure of which informs the analysis of relative clauses (talk)
  • Aron Hirsch (MIT, McGill BA) : A compositional semantics for wh-ever free relatives (poster)
  • Edwin Howard (MIT, McGill BA) : The pragmatics of verb-initial conditional antecedents in English (poster)
  • Anna Howell (Tübingen, McGill BA) : A Hamblin semantics for alternative questions in Yoruba (poster)
  • Hadas Kotek : On the semantics of wh-questions (poster)
  • Junko Shimoyama: Syntactic and semantic connectivity in afterthought right dislocation, sluicing and fragments (invited talk) joint work with Alex Drummond (Queen Mary Univ. of London, recent postdoc), Bernhard Schwarz and Michael Wagner
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