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McGill at Ba-TOM 1

Students from the Winter 2022 Linguistic Field Methods class traveled to Toronto later this week to present their work on Kirundi at the first Toronto–Montreal Bantu Colloquium, Ba-TOM 1, hosted at the University of Toronto Scarborough May 27th and 28th.

Benilde Mizero, Katya Morgunova, Jessica Coon, Brandon Chaperon, Claire Henderson, Chase Boles, David Shanks, Juvénal Ndayiragije (UT Scarborough), Terrance Gatchalian, and Willie Myers

Presenters included Chase BolesBrandon ChaperonTerrance Gatchalian, Claire HendersonKatya Morgunova, Willie Myers, and David Shanks. They were joined by Kirundi language consultant Benilde Mizero.

James Crippen at UQAM

 James Crippen will be giving an invited talk at UQAM (in English) on Wednesday April 13, 2022 from 12:45 to 1:45 pm in DS-3470 (https://carte.uqam.ca/pavillon-ds). Area linguists are welcome!

Title: Space and time in Tlingit: Aspect, motion, and conjugation class

Abstract :
Tlingit verb inflection for aspect is conditioned by four conjugation classes that are identified by three prefixes (n-, g̱-, g-) and their absence (∅). These prefixes occur in a variety of contexts such as the imperative, habitual, consecutive, conditional, and some specialized imperfective forms. For the majority of state, activity, and achievement verbs the selection of prefix is unpredictable and so must be lexically specified. The conjugation prefixes and their corresponding lexically specified conjugation classes are traditionally said to be meaningless; this is a major problem for the compositional semantics and syntax of Tlingit verb morphology. But verbs of motion and handling show correlations between the conjugation classes and spatial orientation: n- is correlated with horizontal movement, g̱- with downward movement, and g- with upward movement. A small class of state verbs (e.g. ‘be distant’, ‘be deep’, ‘be extended’) show similar patterns. I argue that this is not accidental; the same spatial orientations permeate the lexically specified conjugation classes of state, activity, and achievement verbs. The conjugation prefixes also have a dedicated grammatical function beyond conjugation class: in the progressive aspect the n- prefix is used regardless of the verb’s conjugation class and likewise in the prospective aspect the g- prefix is used regardless of conjugation class. I propose that this dedicated use of the conjugation prefixes also reflects their spatial semantics via a metaphorical semantic mapping of time variables to spatial dimensions; it is thus a grammaticalized special case of the universal time → space conceptual metaphor which must fit into a compositional semantics. Finally, I note that there is an apparently distinct, semantically independent four-way contrast of spatial orientation in the nominal domain with determiners, demonstratives, and focus particles and I suggest this reflects a basic conceptual division between the spatial orientation of entities and the spatial orientation of events.

Colloquium, 04/08 – Christopher Potts

Please join us Friday, April 8th at 3:30pm for our next talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series. If you are planning to attend talks and have not yet registered, you can do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2022 year). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

SpeakerChristopher Potts (Stanford University)

Title: Inducing Interpretable Causal Structures in Neural Networks

Abstract: Early symbolic NLP models were designed to leverage valuable insights about language and cognition. These insights were expressed directly in hand-designed structures, and this ensured that model behaviors were systematic and interpretable. Unfortunately, these models tended also to be brittle and specialized. By contrast, present-day models are data-driven and can flexibly acquire complex behaviors, which has opened up many new avenues. However, the trade-offs are now evident: these models often find opaque, unsystematic solutions. In this talk, I’ll report on our ongoing efforts to combine the best aspects of the old and new using techniques from causal abstraction analysis. In this method, we define high-level causal models, usually in symbolic terms, and then train neural networks to conform to the structure of those models while also learning specific tasks. The central technical piece is interchange intervention training (IIT), in which we swap internal representations in the target neural model in a way that is guided by the input–output behavior of the causal model.  Where the IIT objective is minimized, the high-level model is an interpretable, faithful proxy for the underlying neural model. My talk will focus on how and why IIT works, since I am hoping this will help people identify new application areas for it, and I will also briefly review case studies applying IIT to natural language inference, grounded language understanding, and language model distillation.

Jessica Coon at Harvard

Jessica Coon gave a colloquium talk titled “Constraining Agree” at Harvard last Friday, presenting collaborative work with Stefan Keine (UCLA). The abstract is below:

This talk illustrates how a constrained probe mechanism for Agree combined with the feature gluttony system laid out in Coon & Keine 2021 can account for a wide range of complex phenomena, including: (i) hierarchy effects in agreement; (ii) PCC effects involving clitics; and (iii) patterns in which A’-movement is restricted to targeting the closest DP.  All of these patterns appear to involve defective intervention, in which an element that is not an eligible target for an operation nonetheless blocks that operation from crossing it. We show that a feature gluttony analysis allows us to understand these patterns without appeal to defective intervention. Instead, problems arise not because agreement fails, but rather because Agree is successful with more than one goal. A probe which has participated in Agree with more than one goal may then create problems down the line for the morphology or syntax. We further show that attested patterns of variation in the systems listed above can be handled without appeal to parametric variation in the basic Agree mechanism (e.g. Multiple Agree, Contiguous Agree, Dynamic Interaction). While the core insights of a feature gluttony system are in principle compatible with any of these types of Agree, we aim to derive attested variation not from the mechanics of Agree, but from independent properties in the languages in question. The result is a more constrained syntax, which makes testable predictions about cross-linguistic variation.

Colloquium, 03/18 – Jessamyn Schertz

The next talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be held on Friday, March 18th at 3:30pm. The talk will be given by Jessamyn Schertz (University of Toronto).
Title: Underpinnings of phonetic imitation
Abstract: Phonetic imitation is a complex behavior, requiring accurate perception, identification, and (re-)production of relevant features. In this talk, I will present data from the initial stages of a project designed to explore the linguistic and cognitive processes governing accent imitation. Using a paradigm designed to examine both explicit imitation and perception of artificial “accents” differing in a single feature (voice onset time), we test the relative roles of perceptual and articulatory sub-components in predicting individual variability in imitative ability. In addition, we explore factors that may constrain imitation, including the presence of talker variability and the linguistic status of the relevant feature. Finally, we give examples of how the paradigm is currently being used for systematic comparisons of imitation across different linguistic features (e.g. aspiration vs. prevoicing vs. vowel quality) and populations (e.g. teens vs adults; different language backgrounds), as a step toward a fuller understanding of imitation and the factors that facilitate and constrain it.
As usual, if you haven’t registered for the colloquium series you can do so here.

Colloquium, 2/18 – Gillian Ramchand

Please join us Friday, February 18th at 3:30pm for our next talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series. If you are planning to attend talks and have not yet registered, you can do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2022 year). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Speaker: Gillian Ramchand (University of Tromsø)

Title: Verbal Symbols and Demonstrations Across Modalities


The evidence from syntax and morphology suggests that the extended projection of the verb is divided into typologically robustly attested zones (see Ramchand and Svenonius 2014).  The lowest part of each extended projection (whether nominal or verbal) is associated with open class lexical items, and the meanings of those items are notoriously hard to define and integrate into a compositional treatment of meaning without rampant allosemy.  In this talk I will argue that the truth conditional, or denotational view of lexical contents is misguided and that we should move to a more mentalistic view of the semantic content of open class lexical items. This will involve reifying the symbol and the demonstrative act of reference as a way of mediating between mentalistic contents and assertions which have worldly truthmakers. I show that the neo-quotational view of compositional semantics (as I will call it),allows for a more satisfying account of iconic and gestural meaning, and gives a new perspective on indexical shift.

Public lecture: Anne H. Charity Hudley, “A Model for Linguistic Reparations”, 2/11

On Friday February 11th at 3:30pm Anne H. Charity Hudley (Stanford University) will give a public lecture as part of the McGill Linguistics colloquium series titled “A model for linguistic reparations.” The pre-registration link is here.  This event is co-sponsored by the Department of Linguistics, the Faculty of Arts, the Arts Undergraduate Society, and the Society for Linguistics Undergraduates at McGill, and is part of wider Black History Month events in the Faculty of Arts. Read the McGill Reporter piece here.

Abstract: This current time of pandemic and protest is a visceral and constant reminder that the racial and economic legacies of the enslavement of Black people were not only unresolved but continue to determine the courses of the daily lives of Black people across the world. Diversity and inclusion alone will not repair hundreds of years of injustice. Colleges and universities need to have frank and explicit conversations about Anti-Black racism and create plans for educational reparations.

As part of a model for educational reparations, Charity Hudley presents linguistic reparation work from the Talking College Project, a Black student and Black studies centered community-based research project that was designed to document the particular linguistic choices of Black students for Black students. The Project is explicitly focused on empowering Black students to be proud of their cultural and linguistic heritage.

Bio: Anne Harper Charity Hudley is Professor of Education, African American Studies, and Linguistics at Stanford University. Her research and publications address the relationship between language variation and Pre-Kindergarten-higher education educational practices and policies and high-impact practices for students who are underrepresented as faculty in higher education.


Colloquium, 01/21 – Maribel Romero

The next talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be held on Friday, January 21st at 3:30pm. The talk will be given by Maribel Romero (University of Konstanz).
The title of the talk is “A unified semantic analysis of the Q-Particle in Sinhala across interrogative types“. The abstract is below.
    In a wide variety of languages, Q(uestion)-particles are –optionally or mandatorily– used in the formation of some interrogative clause types(see e.g. Kamali 2015 for Turkish mI; Rudin et al. 1999 for Macedonian li; Hagstrom 1998 for Japanese ka; Kishimoto 2005, Cable 2010 and Slade 2011 for Sinhala də). The present talk concentrates on Sinhala, in which the Qparticle də appears in wh-questions (WhQs), alternative questions (AltQs) and polar questions (PolQs), as illustrated in (1)-(3):
                    (1)  Chitra monəwa gatte                                          WhQ
                           Chitra what        bought.E
                         `What did Chitra buy?’                                             [Slade 2011: (2) p. 19]
                   (2) oyaa maalu. mas. kanne?                                 AltQ
                          you fish.       meat. eat.E
                        `Did you eat meat or fish?’                                       [Weerasooriya 2019: (36) p. 12]
                    (3) Chitra [ee potə]F kieuwe?                                  PolQ- narrow
                          Chitra that book    read.E
                         `Was it that book that Chitra read?’                      [Kishimoto 2005: (21a) p. 11]
    A prominent line of analysis, developed by Cable (2010) for WhQs and by Slade (2011) for AltQs and PolQs, posits that the Q-particle də introduces a choice function variable coindexed with the question operator in all three interrogative clause types.
    Against this background, the goal of our talk is two-fold. First, we present novel data on the distribution of the Q-particle də in interrogatives containing islands which challenge the Cable-Slade choice function analysis. We will see that, while də in AltQs patterns like də in WhQs in being sensitive to islands, də is PolQs is island-insensitive. Second, we develop a first unified semantic analysis of the Q-particle də that accounts for its distribution in all three question types and for the disparity in island-(in)sensitivity between WhQs/AltQs and PolQs.
If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2022 year).
If you would like to meet with Maribel before the talk on Friday, please email Jing with your availability so that we can schedule accordingly. Thank you!

Shimoyama at UMass Amherst

Junko Shimoyama gave a colloquium talk last Friday at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (virtually) on joint work with Daniel Goodhue (PhD 2018). The title of the talk was “Two types of non-canonical negation in Japanese: reducing one to the other and learning about embedding strategies along the way”.

Colloquium, 11/26 – Ewan Dunbar

Please join us Friday, November 26th at 3:30pm for our next talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series. If you are planning to attend talks and have not yet registered, you can do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2022 year). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Speaker: Ewan Dunbar (University of Toronto)

Title: Probing state-of-the-art speech representation models using experimental speech perception data from human listeners


The strong performance of neural network natural language processing has led to an explosion of research probing systems’ linguistic knowledge (whether language models implicitly learn syntactic hierarchy, whether word embeddings understand quantifiers, and so on), in order to understand if the data-crunching power of these models can be harnessed as the basis for serious, theoretically-grounded models of grammatical learning and processing. Much of this “(psycho)linguistics for robots” work has focussed on textual models. Here, I show how we have applied this same approach to phonetics. In particular, we probe state-of-the-art unsupervised speech processing models and compare their behaviour to humans’ in order to shed light on the traditionally hazy and ad hoc construct of “acoustic distance.”

On the basis of a series of simple, broad-coverage speech perception experiments run on English- and French-speaking participants, I compare human listeners’ behaviour (how well they discriminate sounds in the experiment) to the “behaviour” of representations (how well they separate those same stimuli) which come from models trained with the express purpose of building better representations to be used in automatic speech recognition. For example, Facebook AI’s recent wav2vec 2.0 model takes large amounts of unlabelled speech as training data, and learns to extract a representation of the audio that is highly predictive of the surrounding context; it has now proven extraordinarily useful for replacing off-the-shelf audio features, to the point that some of the best-performing speech recognition systems today have switched to using these representations, which has substantially reduced the amount of labelled data needed to train high-quality speech recognizers.

We use the comparison with human behaviour to show that, for this and related systems, contrary to what many researchers may have *thought* these systems are doing, they are not really “learning representations of the sound inventory” of the training language, so much as learning good representations of the acoustics of speech – so good that they are very good models of “auditory distance” in human speech processing, but, notably, they lack the categorical effects on speech perception which are pervasive in human listening experiments, and they only show very weak effects of the language on which they are trained, unlike our human listeners. As well, I present new evidence that “speech is special” in human auditory processing, by comparing learned representations trained on speech data to the same models, trained on non-speech data. We show that representations trained on non-speech are very (very) poor predictors of human speech perception behaviour in experiments.

Martina Martinović at UQAM

Martina Martinović will give a colloquium talk this Wednesday 11/24 from 12:45-1:45 at UQAM. The talk will be in the De-Sève building, room DS-3470. Note that proof of vaccination is required to attend.
Title: Reversibility in specificational copular sentences and pseudoclefts: Evidence from Wolof
Specificational sentences have long been attracting the attention of researchers, due to their syntactic, semantic and pragmatic characteristics. In this talk I address one property that is claimed to be the hallmark of both specificational copular sentences (“His most important quality is his honesty”) and specificational pseudoclefts (“What is most important about him is his honesty”) – the surface reversibility of their two constituents around the copula.  In the literature, this reversibility is not taken to necessarily indicate syntactic identity between this type of copular sentences and pseudoclefts. Specifically, while the raising of an underlying predicate to the structural subject position is nowadays the standard analysis of specificational copular sentences (e.g. Moro 1997, Mikkelsen 2005, den Dikken 2006), den Dikken et al. (2000) argue that pseudoclefts with the two constituent orders (wh-clause > NP vs. NP > wh-clause) are not derivationally related.

In Wolof (Niger-Congo) copular sentences, one constituent always A’-moves to Spec,CP, to the specifier of a complementizer that exhibits a subject/non-subject asymmetry. The other constituent is topicalized. The top-heaviness of copular sentences and the morphosyntactic properties of A’-movement in this language provide a window into the syntax of specificational sentences, especially with respect to reversibility. I argue that Wolof pseudoclefts do exhibit syntactic reversibility, in that either the NP or the wh-clause can raise to the structural subject position, contra den Dikken et al. (2000). Specificational copular sentences, on the other hand, do not show the same kind of reversibility. While I do not directly argue against a predicate inversion analysis for specificational copular sentences, I show that a non-inversion analysis can explain an otherwise puzzling pattern in this sentence type.

Colloquium, 11/05 – Heidi Harley

Please join us Friday, November 5th at 3:30pm for our next talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series. If you are planning to attend talks and have not yet registered, you can do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2022 year). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Speaker: Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)
Abstract: Hiaki (Yaqui) exhibits an interesting formal overlap between nominalizations which create relative-clause like structures and nominalizations which create event nominals. The same nominalizer which usually derives a subject relative nominal also, when applied to aargumentless predicate such aa weather verb or an impersonal passive, derives an event nominal. I argue that this is because the event argument IS the ‘subject’ of aargumentless predicate, the only accessible argument for the nominalizer to reify. In the process of proposing a uniform semantics for the relative nominalizers and the event nominalizer, a detailed analysis of both is provided. The nominalizers are argued to select aAspP complement. In entity-referring relative nominals, null operator movement is involved; in the event-referring event nominals, no operator is needed or possible. The syntax and morphology of the relative nominalizers is worked out in detail, with particular attention to the genitive-marked subjects of object, oblique and locative relative nominals.

Michael Wagner @ Michigan State

Michael Wagner gave a colloquium talk at Michigan State University October 14th titled “Projecting and operating over syntactic alternatives”. The handout is available here: https://osf.io/h9cxn/

Abstract: Many grammatical phenomena have been analyzed based on the assumption that constituents can introduce semantic alternatives, and that these alternatives can project by point-wise semantic composition, following Hamblin’s 1973 analysis of questions.  This talk presents arguments that linguistics expressions can also introduce syntactic alternatives, that these alternatives can “project” in a point-wise fashion to create larger linguistic expressions, and that grammar can operate over sets of linguistic expressions. This syntactic view of alternatives is compatible with Katzir’s 2007 independent arguments that alternatives are, at least sometimes, structural. The evidence comes from data involving prosodic focus, association with focus, disjunction, and coordination.

Colloquium, 9/17 – Siva Reddy

Please join us Friday, September 17th at 3:30pm for the first talk of the 2021-2022 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series. If you are planning to attend talks, we ask that you register in advance here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2022 year). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Speaker: Siva Reddy (McGill University)
Title: Universal Linguistic Representations
In this talk, I will present varying degrees of universal linguistic representations that can help us analyze and understand a language. These representations can serve two purposes: 1) one to answer scientific questions about a language, and 2) to build better language understanding applications like question answering systems. The varying degrees correspond to linguistic knowledge that is used to build the representations: from almost no linguistic knowledge (based on pure corpus co-occurrences) to syntax and semantics. We will try to develop representations that are widely applicable to many languages. In this process, I will also be proposing a new syntax-semantics interface to validate if universal syntax is descriptive enough to obtain universal semantics, specifically if universal dependency syntax can serve as a foundation to obtain semantic representations. If time permits, I will also connect these ideas to connectionist approaches which fundamentally challenge the entire linguistic tradition, a question that is inevitable given the enormous progress made by neural models of language. The talk also involves several demos.

2021/2022 Colloquium Series

Below is the schedule for this coming academic year’s Linguistics colloquium series. As usual, colloquium talks will take place Fridays at 3:30, with a mix of virtual and on-campus talks, with details announced closer to each event. Contact colloquium organizers Martina Martinović, Jing Ji, or Connie Ting with any questions.

1. Siva Reddy (McGill) – Sept 17
2. Heidi Harley (U. Arizona) – Nov 5
3. Ewan Dunbar (U. Toronto)  – Nov 26
4. Maribel Romero (U. Konstanz) – Jan 21
5. Anne Charity Hudley (UC Santa Barbara) – Feb 11
6. Gillian Ramchand (U. Tromsø) – Feb 18
7. Jessamyn Schertz (U. Toronto) – Mar 18
8. Chris Potts (Stanford) – Apr 8

Colloquium, 4/23 – Duane Watson

Please join us Friday April 23rd at 3:30pm for the final colloquium of the Winter 2021 semester.
Speaker: Duane Watson (Vanderbilt University)
Register here.
Title“Speaking for thinking: Understanding the link between cognition and speech”
One of the central debates in the language sciences is understanding whether linguistic representations can be divided into those that represent competence, i.e. linguistic knowledge, and those that represent performance, i.e. psychological processes that use that knowledge.  Prosody, which is the tone, rhythm, and intonation of speech, is perhaps unique among linguistic representations in that it conveys information about both linguistic structure and psychological processes.  In this talk, I will present work from my lab, as well as the language literature more generally, that suggests that prosody is used to optimize the speech signal for listeners as well as provide time for speakers to engage speech processes related to language production.  By studying prosody, language scientists can gain insight into language structure (e.g. syntax, semantics, and discourse), psychological processes (e.g. production and comprehension), and how the two interact.

Colloquium, 4/16 — Lisa Matthewson

Our next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia) on Friday, April 16th, at 3:30pm. The title and abstract are included below.

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2021 year). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website.

Evidential-temporal interactions do not (always) come for free

Lisa Matthewson (joint work with Yuto Hirayama)

Evidentials are usually assumed to encode the speaker’s source of evidence for their utterance. However, a growing body of research proposes that evidence source does not need to be hardwired into the lexical entry of the evidential morphemes; instead, evidential restrictions can be derived from temporal or aspectual information in the rest of the sentence (e.g., Chung 2007, Lee 2013 for Korean; Koev 2017 for Bulgarian; Bowler 2018 for Tatar; Speas 2021 for Matses).

In this talk we argue that the derivation of evidence source from temporal information is not always tenable. Drawing on data from five languages from four families, we argue that evidentials can lexically encode restrictions on the time the speaker acquired their evidence for the truth of the prejacent proposition (the Evidence Acquisition Time). Evidentials can do this independently of temporal marking elsewhere in the sentence, and they sometimes must encode both temporal and evidence source information.

In particular, we argue that English inferential apparently and seem, the Japanese indirect evidential yooda and reportative sooda, and the St’át’imcets (a.k.a. Lillooet; Salish) perceived-evidence inferential an’ all require that the earliest time their prejacent p becomes true, EARLIEST(p) (cf. Beaver and Condoravdi 2003) precedes or coincides with the Evidence Acquisition Time. Conversely, English epistemic should and the German epistemic modal sollte encode the opposite relation: EARLIEST(p) must follow the EAT. A third group of evidentials encode no temporal restrictions: the English epistemic modal must, St’át’imcets inferential k’a and reportative ku7, and Gitksan (Tsimshianic) inferential ima and reportative gat. Comparing temporal evidentials with non-temporal ones supports the view that a temporal component is hardwired into the lexical semantics of the former set. Finally, the fact that the temporal contributions cross-cut the evidential ones supports the proposal that one cannot be reduced to the other in these languages.

Michael Wagner at UPenn

Michael gave a colloquium talk at UPenn on March 25, titled “Two dimensional parsing and the iambic-trochaic law”.
The ‘Iambic-Trochaic-Law’ of rhythmic perception holds that alternating long and short sounds are perceived as sequences of binary groups with final prominence; alternating soft and loud sounds as sequences of binary groups with initial prominence. This talk reports on experiments that illustrate how the ITL emerges from the way listeners parse the signal along two in principle orthogonal perceptual dimensions, grouping and prominence. Evidence from production experiments shows that intensity and duration correlate when cueing prominence (syllables carrying word stress or focal stress are loud and long) and anti-correlate when cueing phrasing (word-final and phrase-final syllables are soft and lengthened, word- and phrase-initial syllables are loud). Listeners exploit this cue relation when deciding what aspects of the signal to attribute to each dimension. Syllables that are excessively long are perceived as final and prominent (leading to the perception of iambs), syllables that are excessively loud as initial and prominent (leading to the perception of trochees), but these two cases (which the ITL is based on) are only a small part of the more general pattern, to which the notions of iamb and trochee are not central. The decisions about grouping and prominence are orthogonal in principle, but they compete for explaining overlapping cues, and they mutually constrain each other.  This perspective on prosodic parsing raises new questions about why exactly we often even perceive a rhythm when listening to sequences of acoustically identical tones or syllables (a phenomenon called ‘subjective rhythm’), as well as about rhythmic differences between languages.

Colloquium, 4/9 — James Crippen

Our next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by James Crippen (McGill University) on Friday, April 9th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Aspect and related phenomena in Tlingit: Looking down to composition”. The abstract can be found at the end of this message.

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 year). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website.

I present the basic parameters involved in aspect, tense, mood, and modality in Tlingit, searching for some possible avenues for a formal, compositional analysis that matches the morphosyntax. Na-Dene languages like Tlingit, Navajo, and Ahtna are famous for their “elaborate aspectual systems” (Mithun 1999: 166). The complexity of these systems is opacified by their peculiar descriptive terminology (Cook 1984: 120; Mithun 1999: 362) which evolved apart from mainstream temporal semantics. Given a Minimalist syntactic model of the Tlingit verbal system (Crippen 2019), we would like a semantic model that proceeds compositionally along the same structures. But a compositional approach to aspect is incompatible with the standard non-compositional analyses in the family (Cook 1984: 119; Leer 1991: ch. 8; Axelrod 1993: ch. 3; Smith 1997: 329 n. 7; Young 2000). This suggests that the system needs to be deconstructed and reanalyzed with compositionality in mind. Looming large in the morphosyntax of aspect is the conjugation class system that expresses spatial semantics and which seems to be extended to time in the grammar. In addition, the lexical aspect classes known as “verb theme categories” (Kari 1979; Leer 1991: ch. 7; Axelrod 1993: ch. 5) and their rich systems of derivation (Kari 1992) directly impinge on the realization of aspect and other temporal meanings. I suggest some directions for the analysis of aspect that take into account the spatial and lexical aspect categories and point toward the possibility if not the reality of a compositional semantics for aspect and related phenomena in Tlingit and other Na-Dene languages.

Axelrod, Melissa. 1993. The semantics of time: Aspectual categorization in Koyukon Athabaskan. Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press.
Cook, Eung-Do. 1984. A Sarcee grammar. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Crippen, James A. 2019. The syntax in Tlingit verbs. Vancouver: UBC, PhD diss.
Kari, James. 1979. Athabaskan verb theme categories: Ahtna. Fairbanks, AK: ANLC.
Kari, James. 1992. Some concepts in Ahtna Athabaskan word formation. In Morphology Now, M. Aronoff (ed.), pp. 107–131. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Leer, Jeff. 1991. The schetic categories of the Tlingit verb. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, PhD diss.
Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: CUP.
Smith, Carlota. 1997. The parameter of aspect. Dordrect: Kluwer Academic.
Young, Robert W. 2000. The Navajo verb system: An overview. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press.

Colloquium, 3/26 — Yael Sharvit

The next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Yael Sharvit (University of California, Los Angeles) on Friday, March 26th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Thoughts on disjunction in declarative and interrogative clauses”. 

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 year). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website.

Abstract: In this talk I discuss some problems regarding the composition of constituent and non-constituent questions. I show how some possible solutions to these problems are affected by “filtering” presuppositions in declarative as well as interrogative disjunctive clauses.

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