Monthly Archive for October, 2017

Linguistics at Open House

McGill Linguistics had a table at McGill’s Open House this past Sunday.  Thanks to Claire Bautista, Shannon Fiedler, Fiona Higgins, Hayley Ostrega, Alele Rangel, Nicole Ryan (pictured left), Vicky Svaikovsky and Tea Vincic (pictured right) who volunteered at the event — it was a great success!

Prosody Reading Group, 10/30

On Monday, October 30, Ruveneko Ferdinand-Peterkin will lead the discussion about Goldrick et al. (2016): Automatic analysis of slips of the tongue…, and a related production experiment (Monday Oct 30, 12-1pm, Room 117, note shorter time due to Aron Hirsch’s minicourse).

Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting, 10/31

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Oct 31 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Arlie Coles will be presenting on her work implementing a neural network model for the Montreal Forced Aligner. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP if not on the lab mailing list.

P* Reading Group,

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Nov. 1), 11am-12pm in Room 117, Gasper Begus, a PhD student visiting from Harvard University, will present a talk entitled, “What can unnatural processes tell us about typology?
” The abstract is below. Everyone is welcome!

One of the most contested debates in phonology concerns identifying factors that affect typology. Two lines of thought emerge in this discussion: Analytical Bias (AB) and Channel Bias (CB) approach. Disambiguating between Analytic and Channel Bias influences on typology is complicated by the fact that several proposals assume learning biases (AB) crucially influence the frequency and directionality of sound change (CB). In this talk, I argue that this “duplication problem” is substantially reduced in the case of unnatural alternations. I present a model that estimates CB influences on typology based on a statistical technique non-parametric bootstrap called Bootstrapping Sound Changes (BSC). For any synchronic alternation, the BSC technique estimates the probability that the alternation arises based on the number of sound changes it requires and their respective probabilities. With the BSC technique, we can compare Historical Probabilities of attested and unattested alternations and perform inferential statistics on the comparison, predict (un)attestedness in a given sample for any alternation, and derive quantitative outputs for a typological framework that models both Channel Bias and Analytical Bias influences together. The BSC technique also identifies several mismatches in typological predictions of Analytic and Channel Bias approach. By comparing these mismatches with the observed typology, the paper attempts to quantitatively evaluate the distinct contributions of diachronic and synchronic factors on phonological typology.

Syntax reading group, 11/03

Join us this Friday at 10am for our Syntax meeting in room 117 of the Linguistics building. Jessica Coon will be presenting joint work with Stefan Keine in their paper “Feature Gluttony and Hierarchy Effects”.


This paper offers a new take on a family of hierarchy-effect inducing configurations, including (i) PCC effects (Anagnostopoulou 2005; Nevins 2007), (ii) dative-nominative configurations (Sigurdsson & Holmberg 2008), and (iii) certain copula constructions (Coon, Keine, & Wagner, to appear). Following previous work, we take these configurations to arise in contexts in which two accessible DPs are in the same domain as a single agreeing probe (Béjar & Rezac 2003; Anagnostopoulou 2005). Standard accounts of these hierarchy effects attribute them to failures of nominal licensing, in particular, a Person Licensing Condition (Béjar & Rezac 2003; Preminger 2017). We argue instead that these effects are better understood as arising from properties of probes. We offer a new account which captures commonalities and differences across these constructions, both in terms of the types and specifications of the features involved, as well as in the result of hierarchy violations and their possible repairs.

All are welcome!

McGill at NELS

A sizeable contingent of McGill related linguistics attended the 48th Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 48) this past weekend. For the first time, the conference took place outside North America, viz. at the University of Iceland, Reykjavík. As the organizers emphasized, Iceland now easily holds the record as the smallest host country for NELS in terms of both population size (previously: Canada) and land area (previously: USA).

McGill at CILLA

Justin Royer and Jessica Coon headed to the University of Texas at Austin last week for the 8th Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA). Justin’s talk was titled “Sistemas de clasificación nominal en chuj (maya)”. Jessica gave a plenary talk, presenting joint work with Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany, McGill postdoc 2014-15), titled “Verb initial word order in Mayan: Causes and consequences.”   Robert Henderson (McGill postdoc 2013-13) also presented.

Justin Royer, Lauren Clemens (post-doc 2014–2015), Jessica Coon, Robert Henderson (post-doc 2012–2013)

Prosody & Meaning Reading group: Oct 23 and Oct 30

On Monday, the Prosody & Meaning Reading group will meet to discuss Judith Tonhauser’s recent paper on “Prosodic cues to presupposition projection“. Aron Hirsch will lead the discussion (Monday Oct 23rd, 11.30-1pm, Room 117). The following week, we’ll likely talk about Goldrick et al. (2016): Automatic analysis of slips of the tongue… (Monday Oct 30, 12-1pm, Room 117).

Aron Hirsch mini-course: Oct 30-Nov 9

Aron Hirsch (SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at McGill this year), will be giving a “mini-course” about his research on the syntax-semantics of “cross-categorial” operators, in five lectures stretching from October 30-November 9. See below for a course description and schedule. No advanced background in syntax or semantics is required. Mark your calendars, everyone is welcome to attend!
Cross-categorial operators
“Cross-categorial” operators — notably, the conjunction and and focus operator only — appear in a broad range of environments. And occurs, for instance, between full clauses in (1a) and DPs in (1b). Likewise, only occurs pre-vP in (2a) and pre-DP in (2b).
(1) a. John saw every student and Mary saw every professor.
b. John saw every student and every professor.
(2) a. John only learned oneF language.
b. John learned only oneF language.
Given their broad distribution, these operators seem to require a flexible semantics. In (1a), and operates on truth-values, like the & connective of propositional logic: (1a) is true iff both conjoined clauses are true. Yet, in (1b), and seems to have a different meaning which composes with quantifiers. A range of semantic mechanisms have been proposed to achieve the necessary flexibility (e.g. Keenan & Faltz 1978, 1985,
Gazdar 1980, Partee & Rooth 1983, Jacobson 1999, 2015). One approach draws on type-shifting rules: and is stored in the lexicon as &, but type-shifted to compose with quantifiers in (1b). Only receives a similar analysis, through type-shifting (Rooth 1985).
The aim in this mini-course is to challenge the idea that these operators have a flexible semantics, pursuing instead the Semantic Inflexibility Hypothesis (‘SIH’). Under the SIH, and always operates on truthvalues (following Schein 2017), and only again patterns in kind. The viability of the SIH for data like (1b)
and (2b) depends on covert syntax: the underlying structure must be richer than it appears from the surface string so that it includes a truth-value denoting scope site for the operator. The course will build a case the SIH. First: we will see that semantic flexibility approaches have overgeneration problems, providing initial motivation for the SIH. Second: we will diffuse some counterarguments to covert syntax with and from the prior literature (e.g. Partee 1970). And, third: we will provide a range of novel evidence that covert syntax is in fact present with both and and only in a fragment of data. The SIH, if successful, leads us to constrain the availability of type-shifting, and the expressive power of the semantic grammar more generally (cf. Heim 2015).
Class 1: The Semantic Inflexibility Hypothesis
October 30, Monday, 10:30-12:00 – Room 117
Class 2: Apparent DP conjunction
November 2, Thursday, 11:30-13:00 – LEACOCK 14
Class 3: November 3, Friday, 15:00-16:30 – Room 117
Apparent NP conjunction
Class 4: November 6, Monday, 10:30-12:00 – Room 117
Focus operators
Class 5: November 9, Thursday, 11:30-13:00 – LEACOCK 14
Consequences for the grammar

MLML Lab Meeting, 10/24

The Montreal Language Modeling Lab is holding weekly meetings starting this semester to discuss topics related to computational and quantitative linguistics. Meetings are held on Tuesday evenings 5:30pm-7:30pm in Room 117, and light food is provided. Email Emily ( to be added to the mailing list. In this week’s meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 24), Bing’er will present the 10-minute version of her first eval paper on the perception of tonal register contrast in Chinese Wu dialects, followed by a discussion of Kleinschmidt et al. (2011), “A Bayesian belief updating model of phonetic recalibration and selective adaptation,” Association for Computational Linguistics. All are welcome, but please RSVP if not on the mailing list.

P* Reading Group, 10/25

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Oct. 25), 11am-12pm in Room 117, Bing’er will lead a discussion of Richter et al. (in press). “Evaluating Low-Level Speech Features Against Human Perceptual Data”. Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics. Everyone is welcome!

WORDS Group, 10/27

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 27th October, at McGill, Dr. Penfield Ave. 1085 (room 117) at 1pm-2.30pm. This session will take place in the shape of a Mini Workshop on Person, where we will discuss various examples of morphologically complex pronouns that we have come across.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

McGill to present at NELS 48

McGill’s linguists will present at NELS 48 on 27-29th October 2017, which is hosted by the University of Iceland, in Reykjavík, Iceland. Here is a list of their presentations:

  • Bernhard SchwarzOn the locus of question exhaustification.
  • Daniel GoodhueA minimal theory of verum focus and context dependent bias in questions.

The program can be found here.

P* Reading Group, 10/18

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Oct. 18) 11 am -12 pm in Room 117, Emily will lead a discussion of Dmitrieva et al. (2015). ”Phonological status, not voice onset time, determines the acoustic realization of onset f0 as a secondary voicing cue in Spanish and English”. Journal of Phonetics,49, 77-95.
Everyone is welcome!

Syntax reading group, 10/20

The Syntax reading group is meeting this Friday, October 20th at 10am in room 117 of the Linguistics building. Our speaker of the week is Justin Royer with a talk titled “Towards a unified account of noun classifiers in Chuj (Maya).”

All are welcome!

WORDS Group, 10/20

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 20th October, at McGill, Dr. Penfield Ave. 1085 (room 117) at 1pm-2.30pm. Gabe Daitzchman will present the first three chapters of Harbour (2016) and also data on Hebrew and Nama.

Reading: Harbour, Daniel. (2016). Impossible Persons. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

Semantics Research Group, 10/20

The Semantics Research Group will be meeting Friday, October 20th in room 117 from 15h-16h30. Bernhard Schwarz will be presenting a talk in preparation for NELS, titled “On the locus of question exhaustification”. The abstract and some suggested reading is below.

Heim (1994) argued that wh-questions are systematically ambiguous between non-exhaustive (Hamblin 1973, Karttunen 1977) and exhaustive (Groenendijk and Stokhof 1984) readings. Question exhaustivity has been credited to a syntactically represented operator, with two different views regarding its position: (i) “high exhaustification” applies to the question meaning as a whole (Heim 1994, Beck and Rullmann 1999); (ii) “low exhaustification” applies in the wh-question nucleus, below the wh-phrase (Guerzoni & Sharvit 2014, Nicolae 2015). I will offer an argument that only high exhaustification exists.

Suggested reading: Nicolae , Andreea: 2015. Questions with NPIs. Natural Language Semantics, Volume 23, Issue 1, pp 21–76

P* Reading Group, 10/11

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Oct. 11) 11 am -12 pm in Room 117, Jiaer will lead a discussion of Kim et al. (2012). ”How does context play a part in splitting words apart? Production and perception of word boundaries in casual speech “. Journal of Memory and Language,66/(4).
Everyone is welcome!

Fieldwork lab, 10/13

We’re having our next Fieldwork meeting at 10am this upcoming Friday October 13th in room 117 of the Linguistics building, where graduate student Masashi Harada will be leading our discussion.

Everyone is welcome!

WORDS Group, 10/13

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 13th October, at McGill, Dr. Penfield Ave. 1085 (room 117) at 1pm-2.30pm. Gabe Daitzchman will present on Ackema & Neeleman (2013):

  • Ackema, Peter, and Neeleman, Ad. (2013). Person features and syncretism. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 31(4). 901-950.

Everyone is welcome to attend!

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