Monthly Archive for February, 2016

Ling-Tea, 2/23 – Jessica Coon

Presenter: Jessica Coon

When: 2/23 1pm-2pm in Linguistics 117

Title: Unergatives, antipassives, and roots in Chuj

The suffix -w in Chuj (Mayan) is found in two contexts: (i) attached to transitive roots to form what have been labelled “incorporation antipassives” and (ii) attached to nominal and positional roots to form unergatives. In both contexts, the result is an intransitive verb form with a single, agentive external argument. In this paper I provide a unified analysis of these constructions in which -w is a Voice head that attaches to a category-neutral root, introducing an external argument but not assigning case. This has important implications for the status of antipassives—or at least certain types of constructions which have been described as antipassives. In Chuj, I argue that the incorporation antipassive formed with -w does not convert a transitive verb into an intransitive verb (as antipassives are frequently described; see Polinsky, to appear). Instead, both transitive and “antipassive” stems are formed directly from an under-specified root.

I contrast stem-forming morphology like -w with other valence-altering morphology in Chuj, arguing for a distinction between (i) morphemes which attach directly to bare roots, and serve to specify the argument structure properties of the stem, and (ii) morphemes which attach to already-formed stems, and may alter the argument structure of a stem. Interestingly, the latter type permit the reintroduction of “demoted”. arguments via oblique phrases (i.e. the antipassive patient and the passive agent), while the former do not. I suggest this is a direct consequence of their level of attachment.

Admitted students open house, 2/25–2/26

We’re having an open house for admitted graduate students later this week on Feb. 25-26. Admitted graduate students will attend classes, a lab tour, and a campus tour; have individual meetings with faculty members; learn about our current graduate students’ research, as well as the faculty members’ research; enjoy a party afterwards, socialize with our current graduate students, etc. etc. You can find more details on the final schedule that has been sent out by email. Meanwhile, if you see any new faces wandering the halls, please say hello!

Ling-tea, 2/16 – Garcia, McAuliffe, Cohen

Ling-tea returns this week with three presentations from the P-labs:
Who: Guilherme Garcia, Michael McAuliffe, and Hannah Cohen
When: Tuesday, February 16th from 1:00 – 2:00
Where: Ling 117
Guilherme Garcia: Computing segmental and suprasegmental information in lexical decision
Several studies on word recognition have shown that lexical/segmental information significantly affect speakers’ reaction time (RT) when deciding whether a word is real or not (e.g., Cutler & Butterfield 1992, Vitevitch & Luce 1998). Another known effect is neighbourhood density, in that words with more competitors tend to result in longer RT (cf. Vitevitch and Rodríguez 2004). The location of word stress has also been shown to impact lexical access: Vitevitch et al. 1997 show that word-initial stress tend to result in faster RTs for English speakers. However, given the positional bias for word-initial stress in the English lexicon (Cutler and Carter 1987, Cutler and Norris 1987) and the fact that information near the left edge of words makes it a better cue for word recognition (Horowitz et al. 1968, 1969), it is not possible to accurately determine the reason why earlier stress correlates with faster RTs in English. For that, one needs a language with no bias towards word-initial stress.

The present paper investigates how stress affects lexical decision time in Portuguese, a language where, like English, three stress positions are available: antepenult (APU), penult U). In Portuguese, however, antepenult stress is the least frequent pattern, followed by final and penult stress (Bisol 1994, Wetzels 2007). If more frequent stress patterns correlate with faster lexical decision (mirroring word frequency effects), words with APU should yield longer RTs than words with PU and U stress. In this paper, I show that the opposite is true, and propose an alternative explanation for the effects of stress on lexical decision. The explanation stems from the point at which one computes segmental and suprasegmental information.

Michael McAuliffe: Annotating VOT in seven large speech corpora using Speech Corpus Tools

I present a brief overview of the methodology and some preliminary results from the class project of Phonology 4.  Students in the class are each annotating VOT (voicing during closure and burst/aspiration) in a language from the GlobalPhone corpus.  Annotation is done through a graphical interface in Speech Corpus Tools, which automatically saves changes to a centralized database.  In addition to a walkthrough of the interface, I will present some preliminary cross linguistic findings from the first mini project of the class.
Hannah Cohen: TBA
Come on by! Cookies will be provided.
If you want to present at Lingtea, whether it be to work through a difficult problem in your research, to prepare for a conference, or just to update the department on what you’ve been working on, email Colin at Only four slots remain for Winter 2016:
March 22nd, 29th
April 19th, 26th

Ergativity Lab, 2/16

The Ergativity Lab meets on Tuesdays at 11-12 in room 002.

This week Martha Schwarz will be presenting on Split ergativity in Nepali.

You can keep up to date on Ergativity Lab happenings at If you would like to be on the ergativity mailing list, please write to

Word Structure Research Group, 2/18

Next meeting: Thursday, 18th February, 10:30 a.m. at UQAM, Room DS-3470

Topic: Morpheme orders and phonological domains in Cupeño and Turkish: comparing approaches (first pass)

Reading: Newell, H. 2008. Aspects of the Morphology and Phonology of Phases. PhD dissertation, McGill University. Chapter 2.

Discussion leader: Heather Newell

Further background literature:

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

Koopman, H. 2015. A Note on Huave morpheme ordering: Local dislocation or (generalized) U20? Ms. UCLA, October 2015 (in dropbox folder; don’t cite without permission)

Koopman, Hilda. 2015. Generalized U20 and Morpheme Order. Ms. UCLA,
October 2015 (in dropbox folder; don’t cite without permission)

Noyer, R. 2013. A Generative Phonology of San Mateo Huave. International Journal of American Linguistics. Vol. 79, No., pp. 1-60

In this meeting and the ones that follow we will confront specific sets of data and compare accounts, in particular DM and phases, antisymmetry/generalised U20, and the approach of Abels & Neeleman.

All are welcome!

TOM 9 @ McGill: April 23

The Department of Linguistics at McGill University is hosting the 9th annual Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal workshop on semantics (TOM 9) on Saturday April 23, 2016.

Invited speakersMichela Ippolito (University of Toronto) and Guillaume Thomas (University of Toronto).

Call for papers: TOM is an ideal venue for graduate students to present their ongoing work and to get feedback from faculty and fellow students. As in previous years, TOM 9 accepts abstracts for talks and posters. Talks will be 20 minutes long with 10 minutes for questions. Abstracts should be maximum one-page in length, with at least one-inch margins and 12 point font (Times or equivalent), and should indicate whether they should be considered for a talk, a poster, or both.

Please submit your abstract to the contact person in your area:

Toronto/Hamilton: Michela Ippolito <

Bernhard Schwarz <

Ottawa: Raj Singh <>

Deadline for abstract submission: March 1, 2016

Notification of acceptance: by March 15.

Canada Research Chair to Jessica Coon

McLing is happy to announce that Jessica Coon is one of 25 new Canada Research Chairs awarded to McGill faculty members this year. Jessica is the Canada Research Chair of Syntax and Indigenous Languages, and in the linguistics department she joins Michael Wagner, Canada Research Research Chair in Speech and Language Processing.


Colloquium, 2/8 – Stefan Keine

Speaker: Stefan Keine (UMass Amherst)

When: Monday February 8, 3:30pm

Where: Arts Building, 145

Title: Selective Opacity


In this talk, I develop a systematic account of selective opacity effects, wherein one and the same constituent is opaque for one operation but transparent for another. Classical observations of selective opacity lie in the realm of movement. Finite clauses, for instance, are opaque for A-movement but transparent for A’-movement. This pattern generalizes above and beyond the A/A’-distinction. Recent research has shown that locality mismatches between movement types are not arbitrary, but subject to systematic restrictions (Williams 2003, 2011, Abels 2007, 2012, Müller 2014). For example, recent research has argued that the locality of a movement type is related to the height of its landing site in the clausal spine: Movement that targets a structurally high position (like A’-movement) is able to escape more domains that movement that lands in a structurally low position (like A-movement).
I propose an account of selective opacity that not only allows for locality mismatches, but also derives restrictions on these mismatches. First, based on a case study of selective opacity in Hindi/Urdu, I show that the phenomenon is not restricted to movement, but also encompasses phi-agreement and in-situ wh-licensing. Second, I conclude from this insight that selective opacity involves a restriction in the operation Agree, not movement itself. In particular, I propose that Agree-probes differ in what constituents they may or may not search into. Third, I show how this account derives various restrictions on locality mismatches. For example, it derives in a principled way the connection between a probe’s structural height and its locality profile.
In this way, the account unifies, in a systematic and novel way, selective opacity across operations and constructions, mismatches between the locality of movement and agreement, and intricate interactions between movement types and agreement.

Ergativity Lab, 2/9

The Ergativity Lab is starting weekly meetings this semester on Tuesdays at 11-12 in room 002.

This week we will be discussing Baker and Bobaljik (2015) On Inherent and Dependent Theories of Ergative Case.

You can keep up to date on Ergativity Lab happenings at If you would like to be on the ergativity mailing list, please write to

Guest lecture in Syntax 4, 2/10 – Bogal-Allbritten

This Wednesday (Feb 10), 2:35 – 3:25 pm (Room 117), there will be a guest lecturer via Skype in Syntax 4/Seminar in Syntax. Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (postdoctoral researcher at Simon Fraser University) will report on recent fieldwork-findings on Navajo internally-headed relative clauses. All are welcome!

Word Structure Research Group, 2/11

The next meeting is on Thursday, 8th February, 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)

Topic: Morpheme Order: Generalized U20 vs. Local Dislocation vs. ‘tucking in’
Koopman, H. 2015. A Note on Huave morpheme ordering: Local dislocation or (generalized) U20? Ms. UCLA, October 2015 (the second part of this paper will be discussed)
Koopman, Hilda. 2015. Generalized U20 and Morpheme Order. Ms. UCLA, October 2015 (fairly long read!)

Presenters: Lisa Travis and Máire Noonan

All are welcome!


McGill at BLS


McGill affiliates of past and present at BLS: Joe Pater (UMass Amherst; McGill PhD ’97), Matt Pearson (Reed College; McGill visiting scholar), Ileana Paul (Western Ontario; McGill PhD ’00), Maayan Adar (UCLA; McGill MA ’14), Joey Sabbagh (UT Arlington; McGill Postdoc ’05-’07), Henrison Hsieh (McGill), Lisa Travis (McGill)

Colloquium, 2/1 – Jim Wood

Speaker: Jim Wood (Yale)

When: Monday February 1, 3:30pm

Where: Arts 145

Title: What is Case?


Case marking, in languages that have it, is a bit of mystery. It straddles the line between the systematic and the idiosyncratic. It follows regular rules, but allows a wide array of exceptions to those rules. It is trying to tell us something—even many things—about how natural language works, but what exactly is it telling us?

Standard treatments of case would have us believe that case tells us something about where a DP ends up—its final, licensing position (prior to any A’-dependencies). I will argue, to the contrary, that case tells us more about where a DP comes from than where it ends up, and that this holds even for “structural” cases like accusative.

I will make this point by probing the peculiar properties of accusative subjects in Icelandic. Although accusative subjects are often thought to be among the most idiosyncratic patterns of case marking, I will show that the various dimensions of idiosyncrasy coalesce under the following conclusion: accusative subjects are the promoted objects of hidden transitives.

This conclusion explains a range of facts that span the syntax, semantics and morphology. But it should force us to come to grips with its corollary: case can’t be about where a DP ends up, in the standard, licensing sense. A structural accusative object can, in the right circumstances, move to the subject position. What needs to be explained is why this doesn’t happen more often, and I will propose that the answer stems from the locality of A-dependencies.

Colloquium, 2/4 – Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)

When: Thursday February 4, 3:30pm

Where: MAASS Building, room 217

Title:  A case for conjunction reduction


And can apparently conjoin constituents of any syntactic category.  This distribution seems at odds with a possible hypothesis about the semantics of and: that and has a parallel semantics to the connective ‘&’ of propositional logic and composes with arguments denoting truth-values (type t). Given this hypothesis, examples where and appears to conjoin constituents not of type t are puzzling.  I focus on examples like (1), where and apparently conjoins object DPs.

(1) John saw [every student] and [every professor].

I provide new evidence that the grammar makes available a mechanism of conjunction reduction (‘CR’; e.g. Ross 1967, Schein 2014) by which and may conjoin constituents of type t, even when it appears to conjoin constituents not of type t.  CR is supported empirically: the extra structure associated with CR is required to host adverbs, derive scope readings, and license ellipsis.  CR is also supported theoretically: CR is a predicted epiphenomenon of independently needed syntactic mechanisms.

After arguing that CR is available, I discuss data which are most straightforwardly understood if (1) must be parsed with CR, i.e. consistent with the semantic hypothesis, every student and every professor cannot be directly conjoined.  This result has implications for a broad set of constructions, as I illustrate in the final part of the talk with clefts and right node raising.

Michael Hamilton to Florida Atlantic University

Congratulations to recent McGill PhD Michael Hamilton, who has just accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Linguistics Department at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. Mike finished his PhD in 2015 and is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University. Nice work Mike!

McGill at BLS 42

Henrison Hsieh and Lisa Travis will head to Berkeley later this week for the 42nd Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Henrison’s talk is titled “Distinguishing nouns and verbs: Against the nominalist hypothesis for Tagalog” and Lisa will present “The position of Out of Control morphemes in Malagasy and Tagalog.”

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