Monthly Archive for March, 2016

Ling-tea, 3/29 – Bing’er Jiang

This week at Ling-Tea, Bing’er Jiang will present work on Mandarin double object constructions, in preparation for the upcoming MOTH Syntax Workshop. As always, Ling-Tea will take place Tuesday at 1pm in room 117.

I propose that in Mandarin double object constructions (e.g. John sent Mary a letter), gei is an overt realization of Harley (2002)’s possessive PHAVE head, shown in (1). It raises to join the predicate to form the verb, regardless of whether the predicate is null or overt.

(1) [vP Agent [v’ cause/ø [PP Goal [P’ PHAVE (gei) [DP Theme]]]]]
A comparison with the dative construction (e.g. John sent a letter to Mary) provides evidence for this account. First, the double object construction  (DOC) does not allow inanimate Goal arguments (Oehrle 1976).  Second, idioms of the DOC lose the idiomatic reading in their dative construction counterpart. Third, there are subtle semantic differences between dative and double object constructions, which offer further support for this account. This proposal also gives a unified account of why gei sometimes appears to be a preposition (2) and sometimes a verb (3).
(2)  Guge  na     gei    Lailai   yi-ge  ping-guo.

       Guge  take PHAVE Lailai  one-CL  apple
       ‘Guge brings Lailai an apple.’
(3)  Guge gei   Lailai yi-ge     ping-guo.
       Guge give Lailai one-CL apple
       ‘Guge gives Lailai an apple.’

Dissertation defense, 3/31 – Alanah McKillen

All are welcome to attend Alanah McKillen’s PhD Dissertation Defense.

Title: On the interpretation of reflexive pronouns

When: Thursday, March 31st  at 10:00am

Where: Arts Buildling, room 230 (followed by a reception in the lounge)


This dissertation is concerned with the interpretation of reflexive pronouns and how their interpretation requirements affect the formulation of Condition A in binding theory. In Standard Binding Theory, reflexives are assumed to be interpreted as bound-variables only (Chomsky, 1981; Reinhart, 1983; Büring, 2005). This assumption is explicitly reflected in Condition A, which requires that reflexives must be locally bound-variables. In this dissertation I question how well motivated this assumption is.

To test the bound-variable-only assumption for reflexives, I investigate the readings that reflexives give rise to in VP-ellipsis and focus constructions. It has previously been observed that reflexives are ambiguous in VP-ellipsis, giving rise to both a strict and sloppy reading (Dahl, 1973; Sag, 1976; Hestvik, 1995; Fiengo and May, 1994). Rather than take this as evidence for both referentially interpreted and boundvariable reflexives, as is the case with ambiguities that arise with non-reflexive pronouns (Sag, 1976; Reinhart, 1983; Heim and Kratzer, 1998), previous accounts aim to derive strict readings of reflexives while maintaining the bound-variable-only assumption (Hestvik, 1995; Büring, 2005). However, I argue that these accounts run into problems which could be avoided if reflexives were able to be interpreted as coferential with their antecedents, and not just as bound-variables.

The readings of reflexives in focus constructions have received far less attention. Judgements are mixed, with reflexives being claimed to only be interpreted as sloppy, and the strict reading being unavailable or marginal (McCawley, 1967; Heim and Kratzer, 1998; Reinhart and Reuland, 1993), which would seem to support the bound variable-only assumption. Yet others – such as Dahl (1973), Büring (2005), Roelofsen (2008), and Ahn and Sportiche (2014) – claim both strict and sloppy readings are equally possible. I present experimental evidence in this dissertation which shows that strict reflexives in focus constructions are judged as acceptable to speakers, and argue that these readings cannot be accounted for with the assumption that reflexives are interpreted as bound-variables only; and that instead, a binding theory is needed in which reflexives can be coreferential with their antecedents.

With the need for coreferential reflexives established, the remainder of this dissertation is concerned with how Condition A can be formulated to incorporate this interpretation option, and how strict readings in VP-ellipsis and focus constructions will follow once it has been incorporated. I follow Sauerland (2013) in adopting a Condition A which is built into the compositional semantics as an argument identity presupposition, which will allow reflexives the option of coreference, and accounts for strict readings as instances of weakened presupposition projection. Compared to the option of modifying Standard Binding Theory, this presuppositional approach appears to be more insightful, but is not without complications. In order for weakened projection to occur, Sauerland (2013) assumes that a presupposition must be purely presuppositional. I present data which are problematic for this assumption and outline a new direction for the conditions under which weakened projection in focus alternatives may proceed, which is based on the relation the presuppositional element bears to the focus-marked phrase.

Semantics reading group, 4/1 – Liz Smeets and Michael Wagner

What: Semantics reading group
When/Where: this Friday, 4/1 at 3pm in room 117

Liz Smeets and Michael Wagner will present their project on the syntax of Only in Dutch and German. We use evidence from scope reconstruction to argue that focus-sensitive operators like only can form a constituent with a focus constituent. In addition, we present a two-place syntactic analysis of Only to capture the attested readings of sentences with Only. We would like to discuss this analysis with other people in the department as we would like to receive feedback on a compositional problem that our analysis may have.

ProsodyLab at DGFS Summer School

This summer, McGill’s prosodylab will be represented at the DGFS summer school in Tübingen on Mapping Meaning: Theory – Cognition – Variation, which is held August 15th – 26th, 2016 in Tübingen/Germany. Early bird registration is open until June 1st.




The course is titled Prosody and Incremental Processing, an abstract is posted here.


McGill at MOTH 2016

This year’s Montréal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton Syntax Workshop (MOTH) will take place April 15th and 16th at the University of Toronto Mississauga. There will be three presentations from McGill students:

The rest of the program is available here:

Faculty of Arts Graduate Student Teaching Award to Dan Goodhue

McLing is pleased to announce that the Committee on Graduate Studies has selected Daniel Goodhue as one of the three recipients for the 2016 Faculty of Arts Graduate Student Teaching Award. These awards are designed to recognize outstanding teaching in the Faculty by graduate students. The award will be formally announced at the April 12 Faculty of Arts meeting, held at 3pm in Leacock 232.  All are invited!

Schwartz and Goad in Language Acquisition

Misha Schwartz (BA 2014) and Heather Goad’s paper Indirect positive evidence in the acquisition of a subset grammar has just been accepted for publication in Language Acquisition. The abstract appears below:
This paper proposes that second language learners can use indirect positive evidence (IPE) to acquire a phonological grammar that is a subset of their L1 grammar. IPE is evidence from errors in the learner’s L1 made by native speakers of the learner’s L2. It has been assumed that subset grammars may be acquired using direct or indirect negative evidence or, in certain L1–L2 combinations, using positive evidence. The utility of IPE is tested by providing native speakers of English with indirect evidence of the phonotactic constraints holding of word-initial clusters in Brazilian Portuguese (BP), which are a subset of those in English. Participants were tested on the well-formedness of BP-like words and the results indicate that approximately one-third were able to use the IPE to make appropriate BP-like judgements. This suggests that IPE may be another source of evidence that learners can use to build a grammar that is a subset of their own L1 grammar.

McGill at MOLT

McGill Linguistics was well represented at this year’s Montreal-Ottawa-Laval-Toronto Phonology Workshop (MOLT), which took place this past weekend at Carleton University. There were talks by graduate students, lecturers, postdocs, alumni, and faculty. The full program can be found here.

  • Guilherme Garcia & Natália Brambatti Guzzo – Second language acquisition of word-level prominence in English by Canadian French speakers
  • Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, Michael Wagner, Meghan Clayards – The effect of production planning locality on external sandhi: a study in /t/
  • Donghyun Kim, Meghan Clayards, Heather Goad – Patterns of individual differences in second language vowel perception
  • Jeff Lamontagne – Mid-Vowel Features and Allophony in Laurentian French
  • Michael McAuliffe, Morgan Sonderegger, Michael Wagner – A system for unified corpus analysis, applied to polysyllabic shortening across 12 languages
  • Peter Milne – The variable pronunciations of word-final consonant clusters in a force aligned corpus of spoken French
  • Heather Newell (PhD 2004) – The pathology of level-specific morpho-phonology


Sasha Simonenko to take up postdoc at University of Ghent

This month Alexandra (Sasha) Simonenko (McGill PhD 2014) is finishing a 17-month postdoc at Labex EFL in Paris on quantitative methods in Medieval French morphosyntax and taking up a 3-year postdoc at the University of Ghent under the supervision of Liliane Haegeman. The Ghent postdoc is funded by the Flemish Research Council and will focus on the comparative semantics and morphosyntax of the DP in several Finno-Ugric languages spoken in Russia. Congratulations Sasha!

Ling-Tea, 3/15 – Kim, Kilbourn-Ceron, Lamontagne

Please join us this week for Ling-Tea at its usual time and place: Tuesday at 1:00 in Linguistics room 117.

This week we have three MOLT practice talks:

Donghyun Kim, Meghan Clayards, Heather Goad – Patterns of individual differences in second language vowel perception

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, Michael Wagner, Meghan Clayards – The effect of production planning locality on external sandhi: A study in /t/

Jeff Lamontagne – Mid-Vowel Features and Allophony in Laurentian French

Colloquium, 3/18 – Lisa Pearl

Speaker: Lisa Pearl (UC Irvine)
Date & Time: Friday, March 18th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: How to know what’s necessary: Using computational modeling to specify Universal Grammar

One explicit motivation for Universal Grammar (UG) is that it’s what allows children to acquire language as effectively and as rapidly as they do. Proposals for the contents of UG typically come from characterizing a learning problem precisely and identifying a potential solution to that problem. One benefit of computational modeling is to see if that solution works when it’s embedded in a learning strategy used during the acquisition process. This includes specifying (i) what the child knows already, (ii) what data the child is learning from, (iii) how long the child has to learn, and (iv) what the child needs to learn along the way.
When we identify successful learning strategies this way, we can then examine their components to see if any are necessarily both innate and domain-specific (and so part of UG). I have previously used this approach to propose new UG components (and remove the necessity of others) for learning both syntactic islands and English anaphoric one. In this talk, I investigate what’s been called the Linking Problem, which concerns where event participants appear syntactically. I’ll discuss some initial findings about when prior (and likely UG) knowledge, such as the Uniformity of Theta Assignment Hypothesis (UTAH), is helpful for learning useful information about the Linking Problem.

McCCLU, 3/18–3/19

The Society of Linguistics Undergraduates at McGill is proud to announce the 10th edition of McCCLU, the McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates. This year McCCLU will run on March 18-19 and will include a Wine & Cheese event in Arts 160 (Arts Building) on the 18thand a full day of presentations on the 19th at New Rez, 3625 Parc. We are hosting speakers from several universities in Canada and the US, our very own Hannah Cohen and Douglas Gordon, and Professor Lisa Travis of McGill as a keynote speaker.

Check out the schedule below and visit our website

We hope to see you at McCCLU!


McGill at WSCLA in Montreal

This year’s Workshop on the Structure and Constituency of Languages of the Americas (WSCLA) will take place at UQÀM, April 1st–3rd. In addition to a number of McGill alums and former affiliates, presentations with current McGill linguists include:

  • Colin Brown – Revisiting ergativity in Gitksan
  • Lauren Clemens and Jessica Coon – Deriving Mayan V1: A Fresh Look at Ch’ol
  • Heather Newell, Glyne Piggott and Lisa Travis – The Possessive Structure of Ojibwe: Support from Cupeño
  • Hadas Kotek and Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine – Non-interrogative wh-constructions in Chuj

WSCLA is organized by Heather Newell (PhD ’09) and Richard Compton (former McGill post-doc). The rest of the program is available here, and if you’d like to attend you can register here:

Lydia White at FLing

Lydia White was at Florida International University last week (March 10 and 11), giving plenaries at two meetings which have been combined into one, called Miami FLing 2016.The titles of her talks are:

1. How Applied Should Linguistics Be? From Theory to Practice. Barbara Gordon Memorial Lecture.
2. Is there a DPBE in L2 acquisition and, if so, why?

Ling-Tea, 3/8 – Hadas Kotek

Hadas Kotek will present in this week’s Ling-Tea, Tuesday 3/8 from 1pm–2:30 in room 117. Note that this will be an extended 90 minute Ling-Tea for a practice talk.
Title: Most: architecture, evidence, and variation
Abstract: Formal semantic analyses often take words to be minimal building blocks for the purposes of meaning composition. However, work on syntax and morphology has converged on the view that the unit of the “word” should not receive a special status. In this talk, I argue for the same conclusion for the compositional semantics of superlatives, concentrating in particular on the superlative quantifier most. I present a series of experimental studies supporting the conclusion that most is decomposed into a gradable predicate many and a superlative morpheme –est, and uncover a previously unnoticed micro-variation among English speakers in their interpretation of most. I argue that these findings lend support to the unified analysis of “most (of the)” as in Mary climbed most of the mountains and “the most” as in Mary climbed the most mountains in Heim (1999) and Hackl (2009). More broadly, I discuss questions of modularity and methodology in linguistics, and conclude that investigating the interaction between the meaning, structure, and real-time use of language can illuminate underlying theoretical primitives in the architecture of grammar.
**This is a practice job talk, all are welcome!**

Jessica Coon at Minnesota and Concordia

Jessica Coon spent the last few days of break in Minneapolis, where she gave a colloquium talk, “Unergatives, antipassives, and Roots in Chuj” at the University of Minnesota. This Friday she will present joint work with Alan Bale at a colloquium at Concordia University. The title of their talk is “Counting banana trees in Ch’ol: Crosslinguistic consequences for the syntax and semantics of classifiers.” Stay tuned for a Ling-Mont announcement with details.

Brendan Gillon at Ohio State

On March 2nd Brendan Gillon was at The Ohio State University where he gave a talk entitled “Polyvalence, Polyadicity and Permutation”.

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceroen in Journal of Semantics

Congratulations to Oriana Kilbourn-Ceroen, whose paper “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost” just appeared in Journal of Semantics!

Sepideh and Liz at Pscychoshorts

Sepideh Mortazavinia and Liz Smeets presented their work at Psychoshorts 2016, which took place in Ottawa February 27th. Sepideh presented a poster related to her thesis work entitled “Second language acquisition of Even”, and Liz gave a talk on Ultimate Attainment at the syntax-discourse interface, using evidence from L2 acquisition of object movement in Dutch.
Liz, Sepideh, and recent McGill post-doc Meg Grant at Psychoshorts

Liz, Sepideh, and recent McGill post-doc Meg Grant at Psychoshorts

Welcome new faculty member Francisco Torreira

McLing is very happy to welcome Francisco Torreira, who will be joining the department as a new permanent faculty member in Fall 2016. Francisco will be arriving from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, where he was a research staff member. He is interested in the sound structures of human languages, with a focus on their mapping onto physical utterances under naturalistic conditions of language use (e.g. conversation, communicative tasks). His work touches aspects of phonetics and phonology, psycholinguistics, corpus linguistics and interaction studies.
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