Monthly Archive for December, 2015

President’s Award for McGill alum Yvan Rose

Former McGill graduate, Yvan Rose (PhD 2000), has received the President’s Award for Outstanding Research at Memorial University. Details can be found here: Congratulations Yvan!


Liz Smeets to the Netherlands

This week Liz Smeets will be travelling to the Netherlands to collect data for her study on the second language acquisition of object movement in Dutch, which is part of her second Evaluation paper. She will also provide a guest lecture in Second Language Acquisition at Utrecht University for an undergraduate course for linguistics and language majors, invited by Prof. Martin Everaert. Best of luck Liz!

Ling-Tea Winter 2016 Dates

Ling-Tea Winter 2016 dates announced!

Where: Room 117
When: Tuesdays 1-2PM.
Who: You!

Ling-Tea is a good place to present ongoing research in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. It’s also a perfect venue for dry runs of forthcoming conference talks. Anyone is welcome to give a Ling-Tea talk!

If you are interested in presenting, email Colin at

LingTea Winter 2016:
January 12, 19
February  16, 23
March 8, 15, 22, 29
April 5, 12, 19, 26

Ling-Tea, 12/8 – Colin Brown and Cora Lesure

Join us this Tuesday for a special 90 minute Lingtea: SSILA practice talk edition, featuring talks by Cora Lesure and Colin Brown.

Time: 1:00 – 2:30
Location: Ling 117
Who and what:
Colin Brown – Person marking in Gitksan: ABS=NOM?
I discuss Gitksan’s complex person marking processes, and claim that despite initial appearances, absolutive pronouns can be analysed as being licensed by finite T.
Cora Lesure – Prosodic Boundary Marking in Ch’ol: Acoustic Indicators and Their Applications
I discuss language specific acoustic correlates of prosodic phrasing in Ch’ol and their application in a study at the morphology-phonology interface. This study uses H1-H2 and intensity to delimit the domain of the phonological word in morphologically complex constructions. This prosodic information is then used to supplement ambiguous morphological data pertaining to the behavior of affixes and clitics in Ch’ol.

Jeffrey Klassen’s dissertation defence, 12/9

McGill University

Department of Linguistics

Jeffrey Klassen

Ph.D. Oral Defence


Second Language Acquisition of Focus Prosody in English and Spanish

on Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

at 1:00 pm

in the Ferrier Bldg. Rm. 456

followed by a reception in the lounge

The first goal of this thesis is to properly characterize prosodic focus in (L1) English and (L1) Spanish, and to establish to best to way to characterize the differences between the two. We provide data that help choose between two prevailing accounts of prominence, the first which attributes prosodic reduction to low-level activation (Accessibility Theory, e.g. Arnold and Watson 2015), and the second which attributes it to a syntactic operator that requires an antecedent, much like a pronoun (Anaphoric Theory, Rooth 1992, Wagner and Klassen 2015). Our English production data show that native English speakers shift prominence in the sentence according to the contrast that speakers intend to convey, using additional adverbs which are only compatible with certain choices in antecedents. We argue that this can only be accounted for by the Anaphoric Theory. With respect to the differences in prosodic focus marking between English and Spanish (and, tentatively, Germanic and Romance more generally), we show that the crosslinguistic differences can be explained by a syntactic-semantic account: the scope of the focus domain in Spanish must be wide, encompassing the entire speech act, while in English it can scope over smaller constituents (the Spanish pattern of narrow scope has also been found for French (vander Klok et al. 2014)). Additionally, the observation in Ladd (2008) that focus in Spanish must be correctional in nature may indeed be correct, meaning that the interpretation of the focus operator in Romance is also restricted in addition to its scope. What is more, the data show that the differences between English and Spanish focus marking cannot be explained by phonological constraints on phrasing (contra Féry 2013).

Using our L1 hypotheses about the crosslinguistic variation of prosodic focus as a starting point, we form a hypothesis regarding the L2 acquisition of prosodic focus, based on standard assumptions about the availability of evidence in L2 (White 2003). We suggest that English speakers have issues with Spanish prosodic stress shift because its use is constrained to a narrow set of con- texts. Therefore, in order to acquire the specific restrictions (i.e. only corrective contexts), learners must integrate two separate pieces of evidence, or else they may simply posit the existence of two grammars, resulting in optionality. Our production data support this hypothesis. After this, we examine the online processing of English cataphoric prosodic focus by Spanish native speakers–the nature of L2 processing being a debated issue (Kaan 2014). We show that L1 transfer plays a role in L2 processing of prosodic focus; however, beyond the effect of the L1, we do not find evidence for different processing strategies.

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