Monthly Archive for November, 2015

Colloquium, 12/4 – Elizabeth Allyn Smith

Speaker: Elizabeth Allyn Smith (UQAM)
Date & Time: Friday, December 4th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Just say ‘no’: Cross-linguistic differences in the felicity of disagreements over issues of taste and possibility

Semanticists, pragmaticists, philosophers, and others have recently been interested in disagreements arising from evaluative propositions (especially those containing so-called “predicates of personal taste”), as in (1), and their theoretical implications, especially the mechanism behind the difference between (1) and (2).

(1) A: This soup is tasty. B: No it isn’t.
(2) A: This soup is tasty, in my opinion. B: # No it isn’t

In this talk, I will present experimental data (in the form of offline felicity judgments) collected from English Catalan, French, and Spanish two-turn oral dialogues showing that there are differences with respect to (1) v. (2) and other similar judgments cross-linguistically that create a further puzzle. I will compare various explanations for these new data, drawing on ideas present in Stojanovic 2007, von Fintel & Gillies 2007, Bouchard 2012, Umbach 2012 and others. I will further discuss the interplay of various factors in these data, including comparison with another dialect of Spanish with known differences in cultural norms as compared to Iberian Spanish. Finally, I will propose an analysis in which different types of content affect the number and type of propositions attributed to a speaker’s discourse commitment set v. those being proposed for admission to the conversational common ground.

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron in Journal of Semantics

Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón’s article “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost” has been accepted for publication at the Journal of Semantics. Congratulations, Oriana!

Poschmann & Wagner in NLLT

Michael Wagner has a new paper out, with Claudia Poschmann, in Natural Language and Linguistic TheoryThe title is “Relative clause extraposition and prosody in German”

Whether a relative clause (RC) can be extraposed has been argued to depend both on contextual focus and on whether an RC is restrictive or appositive. However, no previous study has looked at the interaction between these two factors in restricting extraposition, despite the fact that different types of relative clauses are generally taken to differ in how they relate to focus. Furthermore, previous studies have not looked at the role of prosody in accounting for the effect of focus on extraposition, and have found contradictory results with respect to the prosodic differences between appositive and restrictive relative clauses. This paper presents the results of a production experiment on German which crosses the location of focus and the type of RC in order to explore how they interact in affecting prosody and extraposition.

Jessica Coon at NYU

Jessica Coon traveled to New York last week where she gave a colloquium talk at NYU, titled “Two types of ergative agreement and their implications for the representation of case”. This work is based on her paper recently accepted to the journal Syntax, available for download here.

Ling-Tea, 11/17 – Liz Smeets

Please join us this week for Ling-Tea at its usual time and place: Tuesday at 1:00 in Linguistics room 117.
Presenter: Liz Smeets
Title: Acquisition of object movement in Dutch

Studies of ultimate attainment in adult second-language (L2) acquisition report a disjunction between success in acquiring the syntax of the target language, on the one hand, and difficulties at the interfaces of syntax with other grammatical modules, e.g. Syntax-Discourse.
In this study I aim at investigating the acquisition of word order possibilities in Dutch and try to answer the question whether near-native speakers of Dutch are sensitive to the same restrictions on object movement as native speakers of Dutch.
To give one example of the type of sentences I look at, consider (1) and (2). We notice that an object is allowed to be moved to the first position as an answer to a question that asks about the object (see (1)), but not as an answer to a question of the What happened? type (see (2)).
(1) What did John buy?
Mangos heeft Jan gekocht
Mangos has John bought
`John bought mangos.’
(2) What happened?
#Mangos heeft Jan gekocht
Mangos has John bought
`John bought mangos.’
More specific questions I try answer are the following:
1. Do different kinds of movements show different kids of difficulties in acquisition (if any): I compare movement to A’-positions (prefield) with movement to A-positions (over adverbs in the middlefield).
2. Are difficulties in successful performance dependent on influence of the L1 of the language learners (I compare learners of Dutch with either German or English as an L1).
3. Is there a difference between object movement that affects truth conditions with object movement that affects felicity.
In December I will run this study in the Netherlands and I am working on the design. During this presentation I wish to share the design and discuss potential problems and considerations I have regarding the conditions that are tested and the way experimental stimuli is presented to the participants. All your comments are very welcome!

Colloquium, 11/20 – Meaghan Fowlie

Speaker: Meaghan Fowlie (McGill)
Date & Time: Friday, November 20th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Modelling and Learning Adjuncts

Adjuncts have among their properties optionality and iterability, which are usually accounted for with a grammar in which the presence or absence of an adjunct does not affect the state of the derivation. For example, in a phrase structure grammar with rules like NP -> AP NP, we have an NP whether or not we have an adjective. However, certain adjuncts like adverbs and adjectives are often quite strictly ordered, which cannot be accounted for with a model that treats a phrase the same regardless of the presence of another adjunct: whether or not a particular adjunct has adjoined affects whether or not another adjunct may adjoin. I present a minimalist model that can handle all of these properties.

In terms of learning, I cover three topics: language learning algorithms and how they handle optionality and repetition; an artificial language learning experiment about repetition, and, just for fun, the use of machine learning to analyse the song of the California Thrasher, showing that their unbounded repetition lends itself much better to a human-language-like grammar than simple transitional probabilities.

Colloquium, 11/6 – Mark Baker

Please join us for our next colloquium.

Speaker: Mark Baker (Rutgers), presenting joint work with Ruth Kramer  (Georgetown University)

Date & Time: Friday, November 6th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Doubling Clitics are Pronouns: Agree, Move, Reduce, and Interpret


Linguistic theory has had a remarkably difficult time arriving at any consensus about how to distinguish between clitic doubling and agreement in a way that is robust and applicable across languages. Familiar diagnostics disagree in some languages, and this uncertainly detracts seriously from our ability to discern theoretically significant typological patterns that concern agreement (for example). In this talk, we revisit this topic, beginning with a close look at “object markers” (OMs) in Amharic, like əw in (1)

(1) Ləmma (wɨʃʃa-w-ɨn) j-aj-(əw)-al.

Lemma dog-DEF-ACC 3mS-see-3mO-AUX(3mS)

‘Lemma sees it/the dog.’ (OK with əw or with ‘the dog’ or both)

These OMs turn out to be impossible with an interesting range of direct objects, including indefinite objects, quantified objects, anaphoric reflexive objects, and objects that contain a bound variable. We claim that these restrictions are quite mysterious if OMs are analyzed as manifestations of object agreement—even if the Agree-based theory is supplemented with a new feature like [+specificity] or if agreement is fed by Object Shift as known from Dutch and German. In contrast, the constraints can be derived from known principles of syntax (or the syntax-semantics interface) like the Weak Crossover Condition and the Binding theory if one assumes that the OMs are pronouns and interpreted as such at LF.

This leads us not only to a clitic-doubling analysis, but to a particular kind of clitic doubling derivation that has its own theoretical interest. We argue that v Agrees with the object and attracts the object to SpecvP. Then a novel process of Reduce applies in the syntax, to transform the moved DP into a bare D head. This D-head with its phi-features then counts as the pronoun at LF. This view can be contrasted with the m-merger of Matushansky (2006) and subsequent work, which has similar aspirations but crucially applies at PF, where it cannot feed LF conditions, and conflates Reduce with the attachment of the clitic to the verb. By way of extension, we show that Amharic also has an unusual kind of prepositional clitic, which is problematic for an Agree-approach, but can follow from our Move-and-Reduce approach.

We close with some preliminary typological results, claiming that the diagnostic implied by our analysis also works for familiar cases of clitic doubling in IE languages (Spanish, Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian). Object markers in Burushaski and Sambaa, however, clearly pattern as simple agreement markers by this test. In contrast, influential recent diagnostics by Preminger (2009) and Nevins (2011) say that OMs in these two languages are clitics. We claim that our diagnostic is the more significant one, because it is firmly grounded in established syntactic principles, and because gets at the heart of the conceptual difference between agreement and clitics—namely whether there is value added by saying that the morpheme in question is pronominal or not.

Gui Garcia presentations

Gui Garcia has presented at several conferences this semester in addition to NWAV 44 :

(2015) Garcia, G. D. The second language acquisition of weight and stress: Extrametricality and default stress. Second Language Research Forum (SLRF 34), Oct 29-31, Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA. (talk)

(2015) Garcia, G. D. Extrametricality and second language acquisition. Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP), Oct 9-11, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. (poster)

(2015) Garcia, G. D. A statistical approach to stress in Portuguese. Hispanic Linguistics Symposium (HLS), Sep 24-27, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, USA. (poster)


Blog authors are solely responsible for the content of the blogs listed in the directory. Neither the content of these blogs, nor the links to other web sites, are screened, approved, reviewed or endorsed by McGill University. The text and other material on these blogs are the opinion of the specific author and are not statements of advice, opinion, or information of McGill.