Monthly Archive for November, 2017

MLML Meeting, 11/28

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Nov 28 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Wilfred Yau will discuss the surprise exam paradox and its relation to game theory, as well as a brief overview of how game theory is applied in linguistics, especially pragmatics. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP to if not on the lab mailing list.

P* Reading Group, 11/29

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Nov. 29) 11am-12pm in Room 117, Sarah and Donghyun will give practice talks for their upcoming ASA presentations, entitled “Inhibitory and Lexical Frequency Effects in Younger and Older Adults’ Spoken Word Recognition” and “Individual differences in perceptual adaptation to phonetic categories: Categorization gradiency and cognitive abilities.” Their abstracts are below. Everyone is welcome!

Inhibitory and Lexical Frequency Effects in Younger and Older Adults’ Spoken Word Recognition
Sarah Colby
Older adults are known to have more difficulty recognizing words with dense phonological neighbourhoods (Sommers & Danielson, 1999), suggesting an increased role of inhibition in older adults’ spoken word recognition. Revill & Spieler (2012) found that older adults are particularly susceptible to frequency effects, and will look more to high frequency items compared to younger adults. We aim to replicate and extend the findings of Revill & Spieler (2012) by investigating the role of inhibition along with frequency for resolving lexical competition in both older and younger adults. Older (n=16) and younger (n=18) adults completed a visual word paradigm eyetracking task that used high and low frequency targets paired with competitors of opposing frequency, and a Simon task as a measure of inhibition. We find that older adults with poorer inhibition are more distracted by competitors than those with better inhibition and younger adults. This effect is larger for high frequency competitors compared to low. These results have implications for the changing role of inhibition in resolving lexical competition across the adult lifespan and support the idea that decreased inhibition in older adults contributes to increased lexical competition and stronger frequency effects in word recognition.

Individual differences in perceptual adaptation to phonetic categories: Categorization gradiency and cognitive abilities
Donghyun Kim
We examine whether listeners flexibly adapt to unfamiliar speech patterns such as those encountered in foreign-accented English vowels. In these cases, the relative informativity of acoustic dimensions (spectral quality vs. duration) can be changed such that the most informative dimension (spectral quality) is no longer informative, but the role of the secondary cue (duration) is enhanced. We further test whether listeners’ adaptive strategies are related to individual differences in utilizations of secondary cues (measured by categorization gradiency) and cognitive abilities. Native English listeners (N=36) listened to continuum of vowels /ɛ/ and /æ/ (as in head and had) varying spectral and duration values to complete a perceptual adaptation task, a visual analogue scaling (VAS) task, and were given cognitive ability tasks examining executive function capacities. Results showed that listeners mostly used spectral quality to signal vowel category at baseline, but rapidly adapted by up-weighting reliance on duration when spectral quality was no longer informative. The VAS task showed substantial individual differences in categorization gradiency with more gradient listeners using a secondary cue more, but gradiency was not linked to degree of adaptation. Finally, results of cognitive ability tasks revealed that individual differences in inhibitory control, but not the other cognitive abilities, correlated with the amount of perceptual adaptation.

Colloquium, 12/01 – Lucie Ménard

Lucie Ménard (UQÀM) will be giving a talk at 3:30pm on Friday, December 1st. The talk abstract is forthcoming. Please note that the talk will be in Arts Bldg. W-20 instead of the normal room.

We look forward to seeing you there!

SSHRC Insight Grants Awarded

SSHRC recently released the official announcement of this year’s Insight Grants competition, and two McGill linguists were successful.

Jessica Coon received funding for her project titled “Agreement and anti-agreement” across languages.
Morgan Sonderegger was funded for “Uncovering the structure and sources of speech variability through large-scale studies”. Meghan Clayards and Tim O’Donnell are team members on this project.

Paulina Elias and Justin Royer at TOMILLA

BA student Paulina Elias and PhD student Justin Royer traveled to Toronto to present their work on Chuj at the first Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Indigenous Languages of Latin America (TOMILLA) workshop at the University of Toronto. Paulina’s talk was “Positionals and directionals in Chuj” and Justin’s was “Noun classifiers, (in)definiteness, and pronouns in Chuj”.

Kim, Clayards, and Goad to be published in the Journal of Phonetics

Congratulations to Donghyun Kim, Meghan Clayards, and Heather Goad for the acceptance of their paper “A longitudinal study of individual differences in the acquisition of new vowel contrasts” by the Journal of Phonetics.

Prosody & Meaning Reading Group, 11/20

This Monday, we will discuss the paper by Ladd and Morton (1997). The paper is about whether there is a categorically different ‘contrastive’ accent in English, or whether apparent differences are just due to degrees of inference.

Ladd, D. R. and Morton, R. (1997). The perception of intonational emphasis: continuous or categorical? Journal of Phonetics, 25(3):313–342.

MLML Meeting, 11/21

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Nov 21 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Vanna Willerton will give an overview of Charles Yang’s model of linguistic productivity called the Tolerance Principle, from Yang’s book The Price of Linguistic Productivity. Those who are familiar with Tim’s work will be particularly interested as his Fragment Grammars model and the Tolerance Principle are alternative theories of productivity. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP to if not on the lab mailing list.

P* Reading Group, 11/22

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Nov. 22) 11am-12pm in Room 117, Donghyun will lead a discussion of Franken et al. (2017). Individual variability as a window on production-perception interactions in speech motor control. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 142(4), 2007–2018. Everyone is welcome!

Syntax/Fieldwork meeting, 11/24

Join us this Friday at 10 am in room 117 of the Linguistics building for a talk by our speaker of the week, Clint Parker.

All are welcome!

McGill at MoMOT 2

MoMOT 2 (the second Morphology in Montreal Ottawa and Toronto meeting) was hosted at UQAM this year, on November 18-19. McGill’s linguists gave the following presentations:

The program can be viewed here.

MLML meeting, 11/14

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Nov 14 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Emily Mulhall will present her replication of the Rational Speech Act model of language understanding in Goodman & Stuhlmuller (2013). “Knowledge and Implicature: Modeling Language Understanding as Social Cognition.” Topics in Cognitive Science, 5(1):173-184. She will also review the RSA framework in general and alternatives to it. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP to if not on the lab mailing list.

WORDS Group, 11/17

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 17th November, at McGill, Dr. Penfield Ave. 1085 (room 117) at 1pm-2.30pm. Tim O’Donnell will present “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 its applications to other domains of linguistic structure.

Syntax group meeting, 11/17

Join us this Friday at 10am in room 117 of the Linguistics building for our meeting where Nico Baier will be presenting his paper on “Anti-agreement in non-local contexts.” All are welcome!

Prosody & Meaning Reading Group, 11/06

The Prosody & Meaning Reading group will discuss Cristian DiCanio’s “The phonetics of information structure in Yoloxóchitl Mixtec” on Monday, Nov 6 (12-1pm, Room 117).

MLML meeting, 11/07

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Nov 7 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Chris Bruno will present work on the generalized parser project, a general framework capable of parsing many different grammar formalisms. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP if not on the lab mailing list.

P* Reading Group, 11/08

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Nov. 8) 11am-12pm in Room 117, Yeong will lead a discussion of DiCanio et al. (2015). Vowel variability in elicited versus spontaneous speech: evidence from Mixtec. Journal of Phonetics, 48, 45-59. This discussion is especially relevant because Christian DiCanio will be the colloquium speaker on Friday. Everyone is welcome!

Colloquium: Christian DiCanio, 11/10

Christian DiCanio from the University at Buffalo will giving a talk entitled “Phonetic variation and the construction of a Mixtec spoken language corpus” as part of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series on Friday, November 10th at 3:30pm in room 433 of the Education Building. All are welcome to attend! For the abstract and for any other colloquium information, please visit the Colloquium Series web page:

Synt-ex Reading Group, 11/14

The Synt-ex reading group (experimental syntax reading group) is an interdisciplinary reading group that meets up every two weeks. Our next meeting will be  November 14th, 3-4pm at the Rabinovitch House (3640 rue de la Montagne). There will be snacks provided by CRBLM. Anyone interested is welcome to join, if you want to be added to the list send an e-mail to or check out the website

Bang et al. in Journal of Phonetics

A paper by Hye-Young Bang and co-authors (Morgan Sonderegger, Yoonjung Kang, Meghan Clayards, Taejin Yoon), “The emergence, progress, and impact of sound change in progress in Seoul Korean: Implications for mechanisms of tonogenesis”, has just appeared in Journal of Phonetics. Congratulations!

This study examines the origin, progression, and impact of a sound change in Seoul Korean where the primary cue to a stop contrast in phrase-initial position is shifting from VOT to f0. Because it shares similarities with the initial phase of tonogenesis, investigating this “quasi-tonogenetic” sound change provides insight into the nature of the emergence of contrastive f0 in “tonogenetic” sound changes more generally. Using a dataset from a large apparent-time corpus of Seoul Korean, we built mixed-effects regression models of VOT and f0 to examine the time-course of change, focusing on word frequency and vowel height effects. We found that both VOT contrast reduction and f0 contrast enhancement are more advanced in high-frequency words and in stops before non-high vowels, indicating that the change is spreading across words and phonetic contexts in parallel. Furthermore, speakers suppress non-contrastive variation in f0 as f0 emerges as a primary cue. Our findings suggest that one impetus for tonogenetic change is production bias coupled with an adaptive link between the cues. We further discuss the role of Korean intonational phonology on f0 which may help explain why the phonetic precondition leads to change in Seoul Korean but not in other languages.


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