Monthly Archive for January, 2016

Colloquium, 1/25 – Timothy J. O’Donnell

Speaker: Timothy J. O’Donnell (MIT)

When: Monday January 25th, 3:30pm

Where: Arts 145

Title:  Productivity and Reuse in Language


A much-celebrated aspect of language is the way in which it allows us to express and comprehend an unbounded number of thoughts. This property is made possible because language consists of several combinatorial systems which can be used to productively build novel forms using a large inventory of stored, reusable parts: the lexicon.

For any given language, however, there are many more potentially storable units of structure than are actually used in practice — each giving rise to many ways of forming novel expressions. For example, English contains suffixes which are highly productive and generalizable (e.g., -ness; Lady-Gagaesqueness, pine-scentedness) and suffixes which can only be reused in specific words, and cannot be generalized (e.g., -th; truth, width, warmth). How are such differences in generalizability and reusability represented? What are the basic, stored building blocks at each level of linguistic structure? When is productive computation licensed and when is it not? How can the child acquire these systems of knowledge?

I will discuss a theoretical framework designed to address these questions. The approach is based on the idea that the problem of productivity and reuse can be solved by optimizing a tradeoff between a pressure to store fewer, more reusable lexical items and a pressure to account for each linguistic expression with as little computation as possible. I will show how this approach addresses a number of problems in English inflectional and derivational morphology, and briefly discuss it’s applications to other domains of linguistic structure.

Word Structure Research Group, 1/28

The next meeting is on Thursday, 28th January, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM, Room DS-3470 (Please note room change; the new room is in the same building that hosts the département de linguistique)

Reading: Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Directional asymmetries in the morphology and phonology of words, with special reference to Bantu. Linguistics 46–2: 309–350. DOI 10.1515/LING.2008.012 (Part 2)
Presenter: Glyne Piggott

All are welcome!

Word Structure Research Group, 1/21

The next meeting is on Thursday, 21st January, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM, Room A-1875

Reading: Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Directional asymmetries in the morphology and phonology of words, with special reference to Bantu. Linguistics 46–2: 309–350. DOI 10.1515/LING.2008.012  
: Glyne Piggott

All are welcome!

Note: A is the Hubert-Aquin building. If you’re coming in from the metro, go straight instead of turning down the hallway to De-Sève, and you will soon hit an escalator on your right that goes up into A. If you’re coming from outside, A is the building on the south-east corner of Ste. Catherine and St. Denis.

Colloquium, 1/21 – Claire Halpert

Speaker: Claire Halpert (University of Minnesota)

When: Thursday January 21st, 3:30pm

Where: MAASS 217 (801 Sherbrooke Ouest)

Title:  It takes a village to raise a subject


In this talk, I analyze cross-linguistic variation that arises in raising-to-subject constructions.  Many current theories of raising-to-subject are built around the English pattern shown below, where (1) and (2) are grammatical but (3) is not:

(1) It seems that Sipho made bread.
(2) Sipho seems to have made bread.
(3) *Sipho seems that made bread.

Certain varieties of Zulu, by contrast, show nearly the opposite pattern, a situation that is incompatible with current theoretical accounts.  I propose a unified account for the derivation of hyper-raising and standard raising. I argue that the presence or absence of these constructions in a given language can be determined by independent properties of CP and TP in the language, including: 1) whether CPs or infinitival phrases are phi-goals in the language and 2) the presence of an EPP effect on T and (and how it can be satisfied), and 3) how embedded clauses combine with matrix predicates. I show that variation in these factors can capture the different raising profiles found in Zulu, Makhuwa, and English, and Uyghur and gives us a new tool to investigate differences in this domain more generally.

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership publication

A paper documenting the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership––a collaborative language partnership involving the Listuguj Education Directorate and McGill and Concordia linguists––was just published in the Journal of Language Documentation and ConservationAuthors include McGill BA alums Carol-Rose Little (Cornell) and Elise McClay (UBC), Listuguj community member Travis Wysote, and project PI Jessica Coon.

Cora Lesure at Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event

Recent BA graduate Cora Lesure will be presenting work from her Summer 2015 ARIA award at this year’s Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event. The event takes place Tuesday January 19th at 4:30. This work formed part of her Honours thesis, which she completed this past semester co-supervised by Jessica Coon and recent postdoc, Lauren Clemens. Congrats Cora!

Sonderegger at Ohio State

Morgan Sonderegger was at The Ohio State University Jan 15-16 for their annual MLK Day Linguistics Symposium, whose topic this year was “Mathematical/Computational Modeling and Tools in and for Historical Linguistics”. He gave a plenary talk titled “The medium-term dynamics of accents on reality television”.

Words Group Meetings this Term

This term the Word Structure Research Group (WSRG) meets on Thursday 10:30 a.m. at UQAM. The group will continue with the topic of prefix-suffix asymmetries and will then pass on to the distinction between clitics and affixes (particularly prefixes).

First meeting: Thursday, 14th January, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM (
room TBA)   

Reading: Abels, K. and A. Neeleman. 2012. Linear Asymmetries and the LCA. Syntax 15.1:25-74. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9612.2011.00163.x 
: Richard Compton and Tom Leu

Upcoming topics

-Phonological asymmetries: 
Hyman, Larry M. 2008. Directional asymmetries in the morphology and phonology of words, with special reference to Bantu. Linguistics 46–2: 309–350. DOI 10.1515/LING.2008.012  

– Morpheme Order: Generalized U20 or Local Dislocation? 
Koopman, H. 2015. A Note on Huave morpheme ordering: Local dislocation or (generalized) U20?Ms. UCLA, October 2015
Koopman, Hilda. 2015. Generalized U20 and Morpheme Order. Ms. UCLA, October 2015

Articles not electronically accessible will be posted in a shared dropbox folder.

All are welcome!

Welcome back!

Happy New Year from McLing and welcome to the Winter 2016 semester! As you enjoy your last days of break, please continue to send us your linguistics-related news (

Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

Phonology 4, LING 635 /

Seminar in Phonology, LING 735

Winter 2016, Morgan Sonderegger

TR 9:05-10:25 am, 1085 Dr. Penfield Rm 117
This year’s LING 635/735 will again address phenomena where physical implementation (“phonetics”) and symbolic patterning (“phonology”) of sounds are intertwined — the “phonetics/phonology interface”.  The course has two goals: to gain familiarity with core theoretical issues and phenomena in this domain, and to carry out a cross-linguistic research project as a class investigating them using data from speech corpora.
After reading core background literature, we will move on to 3-4 unsettled theoretical questions, such as:
  • What feature set should be used to describe laryngeal contrasts cross-linguistically?
  • Is contrast neutralization best described in terms of prosodic position (e.g. “devoicing in coda”) or acoustic cues (e.g. “devoicing where burst cues are not available”)?
where the cross-linguistic empirical facts are not clear.
For each question:
  1. we will read core theoretical/experimental papers
  2. each student will gather relevant data from their language (using Speech Corpus Tools, currently under development by Michael McAuliffe in our department, plus scouring previous work), and visualize patterns in this data
  3. we will use the resulting cross-linguistic typology to (hopefully) shed light on the theoretical question.
Each student will work with a single speech corpus from one language over the whole semester (with each student taking a different language).

Course announcement: Syntax 4 / Seminar in Syntax

Syntax 4, LING 675 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 775

Winter 2016, Junko Shimoyama

MW 2:35-3:55 pm, 1085 Dr. Penfield Rm 117
This course explores current cross-linguistic issues in syntax and its interfaces. Through in-depth investigations of particular issues, students will learn skills necessary to do independent research, such as (i) constructing arguments by carefully following logical steps, (ii) formulating hypotheses and exploring their consequences, (iii) finding empirical puzzles and developing them into research questions for a project.
This year, we will explore selected topics in understudied corners of various types of relativization phenomena cross-linguistically. Specific topics include: relativization and nominalization, special case-marking in relative clauses, internally-headed relative clauses and their relations (if any) to pseudo-relatives in Romance.


McGill at the LSA Annual Meeting

McGill linguists are in Washington DC for the 90th Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America which takes place January 7–10th. The LSA meeting also includes sessions of the American Dialect Society and the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of Latin America.

Presentations include…

  • Charles Boberg (McGill University): Newspaper dialectology: harnessing the power of mass media in collecting dialect data (ADS)
  • Colin Brown (McGill University): Genitive/ergative in Gitksan (SSILA)
  • Bing’er Jiang (McGill University), Jianjing Kuang (University of Pennsylvania): Consonant effects on tonal registers in Jiashan Wu
  • Hadas Kotek (McGill University), Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore): Unifying definite and indefinite free relatives: evidence from Mayan
  • Cora Lesure (McGill University), Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany): Prosodic boundary marking in Ch’ol: acoustic indicators and their applications (SSILA)

Course announcement: Semantics 4 / Seminar in Semantics

Semantics 4, LING 665 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 765

Winter 2016, Bernhard Schwarz

MW 11:35-12:55, 1085 Penfield, R. 117 

This year’s edition of Semantics 4/Seminar in Semantics will focus on presupposition, a phenomenon of at the interface of semantics and pragmatics. “Presupposition” refers to linguistically marked content that is understood as taken for granted by a speaker at the outset of a speech act (such as an assertion), and in some sense as not belonging to the main semantic content of that speech act. We will read some recent works on foundational issues in presupposition, including so-called presupposition projection. We will also investigate the meaning contributions of particular presupposition triggers (i.e. expressions whose use gives rise to  presuppositions) and we will study the role of presupposition in patterns of perceived unacceptability (such as polarity sensitivity effects and and island effects).  Some useful resources for students who would like to get a head start:

  • Beaver, David I., and Bart Geurts. 2014. Presupposition. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. Winter 2014 edition.
  • Sudo, Yasutada. 2014. Presupposition. In Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics, ed. Mark Aronoff. Oxford University Press.



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