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Colloquium, 10/12 – Jane Stuart-Smith

Jane Stuart-Smith from the University of Glasgow will be giving the first colloquium talk of the semester, titled “Sound perspectives? Speech and speaker dynamics over a century of Scottish English” on Friday, October 12th, at 3:30pm in Education Bldg. rm. 211. All are welcome to attend!


As in many disciplines, in linguistics too, perspective matters. Structured variability in language occurs at all linguistic levels and is governed by a large range of diverse factors. Viewed through a synchronic lens, such variation informs our understanding of linguistic and social-cognitive constraints on language at particular points in time; a diachronic lens expands the focus across time. And, as Weinreich et al (1968) pointed out, structured variability is integral to linguistic description and explanation as a whole, by being at once both the stuff of the present, the reflexes of the past, and the potential for changes in the future. There is a further dimension which is often not explicit, the role of analytical perspective on linguistic phenomena.

This paper considers a particular kind of structured variability, phonetic and phonological variation, within the sociolinguistic context of the recorded history of Glaswegian vernacular across the 20th century. Two aspects of perspective frame my key research questions:

1. What are the ‘things’ which we observe? How do different analytical perspectives on phonetic variation affect how we interpret that variation? Specifically, how do different kinds of observation — within segment/across a phonological contrast/even beyond segments — auditory/acoustic/articulatory phonetic — shape our interpretations?

2. How are these ‘things’ embedded in time and social space? Specifically, how is this variation linked to contextual perspective, shifts in social events and spaces over the history of the city of Glasgow? How do we know whether, or when, these ‘things’ might be sound changes (following Milroy 2003)?

I consider these questions by reviewing a series of studies (including some ongoing and still unpublished) on two segments in Glaswegian English, the first thought to be stable and not undergoing sound change (/s/), the second thought to be changing (postvocalic /r/).

Sepideh Mortazavinia’s Thesis Defence

Congratulations to Sepideh Mortazavinia for a successful thesis defence on Friday June 1st 2018! Below find the abstract from her thesis.


One of the differences between first language (L1) acquisition, which is always successful, and second language (L2) acquisition, where convergence on target-like representations is not always possible, is that L2 learners are already equipped with the fully established system of their L1. In fact, a great body of literature has shown that L2 learners demonstrate systematic errors in the L2 which can be attributed to the properties of their L1. The present study contributes to this area of research on the role of L1 transfer by investigating the L2 acquisition of semantic properties related to the word even across English and Persian. In particular, focus will be on the additive presupposition of even and how it is manifested in the two languages. The study will consider two learning directions: L1 Persian L2 English and L1 English L2 Persian. These two languages differ in the ways the additive presupposition is encoded: In English, the additive presupposition of even is triggered only when even is used in prenominal syntactic position. I assume that this presupposition is covertly expressed because it is not encoded in an overt lexical item and is constrained by syntax. Besides, the expression of this presupposition is indirect, because it is a secondary function of even, assuming that this particle is used to express surprise, unexpectedness, or unlikelihood primarily. Therefore, the assumption will be that L1 English L2 learners of Persian start off by a covert and indirect system of encoding the additive presupposition from their L1. L1 Persian L2 learners of English, on the other hand, start off by an overt and direct system of encoding additivity: the additive presupposition is lexicalized on an additive operator ham which overtly and directly triggers this presupposition.

In this study, the Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (FRH) (Lardiere 2005, 2008, 2009, and subsequent work) was implemented as the theoretical standpoint to investigate the extent to which L2 learners in both languages fail and/or succeed at acquiring the semantic system of the L2s, as described above. This theory assumes a mapping stage in L2 acquisition where learners map their L1 feature specifications onto the L2, as well as a reassembly stage triggered by inconsistencies between the L2 input and the L1, where the L2 learners reconfigure their feature organizations onto those of the L2. Felicity judgment experiments were designed and administered on two proficiency learner groups, intermediate and advanced, in order to monitor L2 development in both stages of acquisition. The results indicated strong lingering L1 effects in both proficiency groups for both L2 learning directions which were identified as sources of difficulty in converging on target-like feature configuration. In particular, the L1 Persian L2 learners of English demonstrated that dissociating from an L1 feature which is overtly expressed in favour of acquiring an L2 covert system of encoding the same feature presents considerable challenge to the L2 learners. In addition, the L1 English L2 learners of Persian showed that it is not difficult to learn the absence of an L1 covert and indirect encoding system in the L2. It is, however, challenging to acquire the overt L2 system when the native language offers an indirect way of expressing the same feature.




WORDS Group, 05/29

The Word Structure Research Group will meet Tues May 29th with two CLA practice talks:

  • Richard Compton – Inuit φ-markers as the exponence of agree: Evidence from granularity, default forms
  • Johnatan Nascimento – The beginning of transformation: A nanosyntactic account for parasynthetic verbs in Brazilian Portuguese

Future meetings will be listed on the research group website here (https://wordstructure.org/meetings/) or if you want to receive announcement through email please write to lisa.travis@mcgill.ca. MEETINGS DURING THE SUMMER WILL BE TUES, 10:30-12, DS-3470 AT UQAM.

Sepideh (Marzieh) Mortazavinia’s Thesis Defence, June 1st

Sepideh (Marzieh) Mortazavinia is defending her Ph.D thesis on the “Second Language Acquisition of Focus-Sensitive Presupposition Triggers in English and Persian” on June 1 2018, at 2.30pm in the Ferrier Building, rm. 456. Come join the defence and the reception in the department after!

McLing Summer News, second edition

Graduate students

Henrison Hsieh attended two conference in Taiwan this May: the 25th meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA) in Taipei, and the 28th meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS) in Kaohsiung. At SEALS, Henrison presented a talk entitled “Wh-relative clauses in Tagalog”.



Michael Wagner will be co-teaching a class on the Phonology-Syntax Interface with Caroline Féry at the Second Crete Summer School of Linguistics. Our Ph.D. students Masashi Harada and Gouming Martens are attending the summer school as well.

Brendan Gillon has just returned from a one semester visit to National Chengchi University, in Taipei, Taiwan. On his return, he stopped in Bochum, Germany, to give a talk, entitled “Underspecification and the mass count distinction” at a workshop called “The Count-Mass Distinction: A Linguistic Misunderstanding”, held at Ruhr University on May 7th through 9th. At the beginning of July, he will give a talk entitled “Word complementation in Sanskrit treated by a modest generalization of categorial grammar” to the section “Computational Sanskrit & Digital Humanities” of the 2018 World Sanskrit Conference, to be held at the University of British Columbia.

McGill at ISPBAC

Lydia White has presenting a poster at the International Symposium on Bilingual and L2 Processing in Adults and Children in Braunschweig, Germany, May 24-25 (https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/anglistik/isbpac). The title of the paper is ‘How prosody affects L2 processing: Pronoun interpretation in L2 Italian‘, with the following  o-authors: Heather Goad, Natalia Brambatti Guzzo, Guiherme Garcia, Sepideh Mortazavinia, Liz Smeets and Jiajia Su.

John Matthews, Phaedra Royle, Shanley Allen, Lydia White, Makiko Hirakawa, Theres Grueter, Karsten Steinhauer.

Incoming Grad Class (Fall 2018)

McLing is pleased to announce the incoming class of graduate students. We’re looking forward to seeing you all in the fall!

  • Jacob Hoover (MA, coming from Harvard)
  • Will Johnston (PhD, Carleton College)
  • Esmail Moghiseh (MA, McGill)
  • Michaela Socolof (PhD, McGill)
  • Vanna Willerton (MA, Carleton U./McGill)
  • Kenneth Wickham (Qualifying Year, U. Washington)

McGill students win awards

The following graduate and undergraduate students are the recipients of the stated awards:


  • Óscar Costa – Academic Leadership Award
  • Gabriel Daitzschman – Cremona Memorial Prize
  • Maya Keshav – Department Citizenship Award
  • Yunxiao (Vera) Xia – Award for Excellence in Research
  • Being Wang – U2 Academic Achievement Award


  • Kim Donghyun – Lara Riente Memorial Prize


Invited speaker (Alexandre Cremers) at the Semantics Research Group – May 23rd & 25th

Alexandre Cremers will be visiting and is giving two talks in the semantics research group. They will take place on May 23rd and 25th at 3pm in 117. Details below. All are welcome!


Wednesday, May 23, Title: Testing the QUD sensitivity of modified numerals

Abstract: Modified numerals, such as “at least 3” or “less than 5”, tend to trigger ignorance inferences. Geurts&Nouwen (2007) famously argued that these ignorance inferences are stronger with superlative “at least” than with comparative “more than”, and proposed a modal denotation for “at least” which semantically encoded the ignorance inference. Since then, competing accounts have been proposed which aim to derive all ignorance inferences as implicatures, keeping very simple denotations for “at least” and “more than”. In this talk, I will first present experimental work showing that (a) there is indeed a difference between “at least” and “more than”, but (b) against the predictions of a purely semantic account, the ignorance inference of “at least” is not so strong, and is affected by QUD. Along the way, we also show a contrast between “at least/more than” on the one hand, and “at most/fewer than” on the other hand, as well as some interesting results with bare numerals. No current theory can fully account for the results, but a few are very promising.


Friday, May 25, Title: The Exhaustivity of Embedded question: Experimental investigations and theoretical consequences

Abstract: Verbs such as ‘know’ can relate an agent to a question, as in “Mary knows who dances”. The meaning of such sentences has been strongly debated with proponents of a ‘weak exhaustive’ reading (Karttunen, 1977, Berman, 1991), or of a ‘strong exhaustive’ reading (Groenendijk&Stokhof, 1982). To further complicate the matter, an ‘intermediate exhaustive’ reading has also been proposed (Spector, 2005).

In this talk, I will present experimental evidence from adult and children understanding of embedded questions showing that all three readings are possible, but suggesting that the weak exhaustive reading is “basic” while the other two are derived by a strengthening mechanism similar to implicatures (exhaustification). I will then discuss what an exhaustification theory for embedded questions should look like and address several challenges that have been raised against such approaches.


Word Structure Research Group in Summer 2018

The Word Structure Research Group will be having meetings at McGill, Tuesdays at 10:30am during the summer (room TBA). There will be no meeting this week but Tues May 29th we will have two CLA practice talks, Richard Compton – Inuit φ-markers as the exponence of agree: Evidence from granularity, default forms and Johnatan Nascimento – The beginning of transformation: A nanosyntactic account for parasynthetic verbs in Brazilian Portuguese. Future meetings will be listed on the research group website here (https://wordstructure.org/meetings/) or if you want to receive announcement through email please write to lisa.travis@mcgill.ca.

McGill at SALT 28

Former and current McGill linguist gathered at MIT this past weekend for Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 28 (https://salt28mit.org/). Their talks included:

  • Maayan Abenina-Adar (McGill MA 2014) and Yael Sharvit: “Domain uniformity in questions”

While the following gave poster presentations:

  • Keely New and Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (McGill postdoc 2014-15): “The expression of exhaustivity and scalarity in Burmese”
  • Bernhard Schwarz and Alexandra Simonenko (McGill PhD 2014): “Ways and reasons: probing the semantics of how- and why-questions”
  • Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Aron Hirsch: “Keep only strong”

Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, Maayan Abenina-Adar, Aron Hirsch, Bernhard Schwarz, Luis Alonso-Ovalle

McGill at the Primer Encuentro de Estudios sobre el Chuj

The McGill Chuj group was at the Universidad Autónoma de México last week for the Primer Encuentro de Estudios sobre el Chuj, May 17th and 18th. Their presentations were:

  • Robert Henderson, Paulina Elias, Justin Royer, and Jessica Coon – La composición de la estatividad en chuj
  • Justin Royer – La (in)definitud en Chuj y su relación con los clasificadores nominales
  • Jessica Coon – Distinguiendo adjetivos y cláusulas relativas en chuj (con la ayuda del ch’ol)

Robert Henderson (post-doc ’12–’13), Paulina Elias (BA ’18), Jessica Coon, Justin Royer


Workshop group at Teotihuacán

McGill Summer News

Undergraduate news

Elias Stengel-Eskin (CogSci) will be starting the PhD program in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins University in the fall.

Arlie Coles (CogSci) will be working on the Speech Across Dialects of English project in the department this summer, then starting the Professional Masters in Machine Learning at MILA (Université de Montréal) in the fall.

Michael Goodale (CogSci) will be working on the Speech Across Dialects of English project in the department this summer as an ARIA intern.

Madelaine O’Reilly-Brown is conducting research this summer on Urdu syntax as part of the ARIA internship program (supervisor Lisa Travis). She will specifically be looking at the interaction of agreement, scrambling, and extraposition in Urdu/Hindi, testing the notions of phases (Chomsky) and horizons (Keine).


Graduate news

Emily Kellison-Linn will be presnting at LabPhon 16 in Lisbon.

Masashi Harada will attend the Crete summer school from 7/15 – 7/28.


Faculty news

Morgan Sonderegger will mostly be leading the McGill arm of the the Speech Across Dialects of English project. He’ll also be traveling to Chicago (Northwestern) and Tel Aviv (Bar-Ilan University) to give talks and work with collaborators. He is an author on several presentations at LabPhon 16.

Meghan Clayards will be at LabPhon 16 this summer along with Bing’er Jiang, Jia-er Tao and Francisco Torreira. Jiaer and Francisco will also be at Speech Prosody in Poland.

Lydia White will be presenting a poster at the International Symposium on Bilingual and L2 Processing in Adults and Children in Braunschweig, Germany, May 24-25 (https://www.tu-braunschweig.de/anglistik/isbpac). Title of the paper is ‘How prosody affects L2 processing: Pronoun interpretation in L2 Italian’. Co-authors: Heather Goad, Natalia Brambatti Guzzo, Guiherme Garcia, Sepideh Mortazavinia, Liz Smeets and Jiajia Su.

Jessica Coon returns to Montreal from her sabbatical in Mexico this summer and is looking forward to seeing everyone again. She’ll head back south briefly in August for the 5th Form and Analysis in Mayan Linguistics (FAMLi V), to be held in Antigua.

Lisa Travis will be presenting a co-authored paper with Ileana Paul (McGill, PhD 2000) at the International Conference of Austronesian Linguistics (ICAL) in Antananarivo, Madagascar (paper title: Augmented pronoun constructions across time and space) in July, and then will stay another week for research purposes.

Heather Goad and Lisa Travis will be giving a joint presentation at the MfM fringe workshop, Phonological Solutions To Morphological Problems, at the University of Manchester, UK on May 23rd. The title of their paper is A phonological solution to a morpho-syntactic problem in Athabaskan.



McGill at AFLA 25

This past weekend, some current and former McGill linguists participated in AFLA 25 (the Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association) at Academia Sinica, Taiwan. Their presentations were:

  • Kie Zuraw (Invited speaker, UCLA, McGill BA ’94): Frequency and Predictability: How and Why do They Influence Phonological Rules
  • Tingchun (TC) Chen (MIT, McGill BA): Multiple case assignment and case-stacking in Amis
  • Cheryl Lim & Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore, McGill postdoc ’14-’15): Agent extraction and topicalization in Bikol
  • Carol-Rose Little (Cornell, McGill BA) & Ekarina Winarto: Kinds, classifiers and definiteness in Indonesian: Two grammars in one
  • Michaela Socolof (McGill BA ’16, incoming PhD student) & Junko Shimoyama: The Distribution of the Māori Genitive Relative Construction

Henrison, Mitcho, Michaela, TC, Junko, Kie

Marielle Côté-Gendreau wins two research prizes

Undergaduate student Marielle Côté-Gendreau  has won two research prizes in the value of $1000 (CAD) each, one for the project “Contribution onomastique à l’histoire sociale : Napoléon, son prénom et son mythe dans le Canada français du XIXe siècle“, and the other for having a promising profile as a researcher. Both prizes were awarded at the 86th ACFAS meeting. Marielle was congratulated, along with two other winners, by Rémi Quirion, Quebec’s scientifique en chef for their achievements, which can be viewed here.




McGill Symposium on the Role of the University in Supporting Indigenous Languages

The McGill Symposium on the Role of the University in Supporting Indigenous Languages will take place this Thursday and Friday, May 10th and 11th, on McGill Campus and in Kahnawà:ke. As noted on the Symposium website:

In response to Call to Action #34 of the Final Report of McGill’s Task Force on Indigenous Education and Indigenous Studies, on May 10th and 11th, the Department of Linguistics and the Office of First Nations and Inuit Education are jointly hosting a symposium examining the role of the university in Indigenous language maintenance and revitalization.

Organized with the support of the Kanien’keháka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa Language and Cultural Centre, McGill Faculties of Arts and Education, the McGill Indigenous Studies Program, and McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development, the purpose of this Symposium is to: (a) signal McGill’s commitment to Indigenous languages in this province and (b) examine more closely what role the University should play in supporting the health of Indigenous languages, locally and regionally.

The Symposium will involve both closed-door and public sessions with the goals of establishing a broad consultative body on this question and developing a concrete plan of action for McGill to pursue. Special invitees include Indigenous language teachers, scholars, and university program directors from across Canada.

More details, including information about invitees and panels, can be found on the symposium website.

Dan Goodhue to the University of Maryland

McLing is thrilled to report that PhD student Daniel Goodhue has just accepted a postdoctoral position in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Maryland. He will be working with Dr. Valentine Hacquard and Dr. Jeffrey Lidz at the intersection of semantics and language acquisition. The position begins in August 2018.

Congratulations Dan!

O’Donnell presents at Conference on Quantitative Approaches to Language Science

Tim O’Donnell gave a talk on May 5th at the Conference on Quantitative Approaches to Language Science hosted by the University of California Irvine. The title of his talk was Algorithmic program synthesis of morphophonological rules. The entire program ca be found here.

Smeets and Wagner in Semantics and Pragmatics

Liz Smeets and Michael Wagner have just published the paper Reconstructing the syntax of focus operators in Semantics and Pragmatics. The early access version can be found here.




This paper presents novel evidence that the exclusive operator alleen in Dutch (and nur in German) can directly attach to the focus constituent it associates with, and against an analysis like the one in Jacobs 1983 and Büring & Hartmann 2001 which analyzes all instances of alleen/nur as sentential adverbs that take a single syntactic argument that denotes a proposition. Instead, we argue that alleen/nur takes two syntactic arguments, which combine to denote a proposition. The evidence comes from novel data showing scope reconstruction of [alleen/nur + DP] sequences from the prefield in Dutch (and German), adding to earlier arguments in Reis 2005 and Meyer & Sauerland 2009.


Syntax Reading Group, 01/5

In the upcoming Syntax Reading Group meeting, Michaela Socolof (via Skype) and Junko Shimoyama will be giving a practice talk for AFLA as follows: “On the distribution of Maori genitive relative construction“. The meeting with take place on Tuesday, May 1, 12:30-1:30pm in Room 117 (1085 Dr. Penfield).

Everyone is welcome!

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