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Jessica Coon at Leipzig and UCLA

Jessica Coon presented collaborative work with recent postdoctoral fellow, Nico Baier, and with Ted Levin at two invited talks recently: November 11th at Leipzig University, and November 20th at UCLA. The title and abstract are below. A manuscript version is available on LingBuzz: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004545.

“Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint”

Many languages of the Mayan family restrict the extraction of transitive (ergative) subjects for focus, wh-questions, and relativization (Ā-extraction). We follow Aissen (2017) in labelling this restriction the ergative extraction constraint (EEC). In this paper, we offer a unified account of the EEC within Mayan languages, as well as an analysis of the special construction known as Agent Focus (AF) used to circumvent it. Specifically, we propose that the EEC has a similar source across the subset of Mayan languages which exhibit it: intervention. The intervention problem is created when an object DP structurally intervenes between the Ā-probe on C and the ergative subject. Evidence that intervention by the object is the source of the problem comes from a handful of exceptional contexts which permit transitive subjects to extract in languages which normally ban this extraction. We argue specifically that the problem with Ā-extracting the ergative subject across the intervening object connects to the requirements of the Ā-probe on C: the probe on C is bundled to search simultaneously for [Ā] and [D] features. Adapting the proposal of Coon and Keine (to appear), we argue that in configurations in which a DP object intervenes between the probe on C and an Ā-subject, conflicting requirements on movement lead to a derivational crash. This paper both contributes to our understanding of parametric variation internal to the Mayan family, as well as to the discussion of variation in Ā-extraction asymmetries and syntactic ergativity cross-linguistically.

Colloquium, 11/20 — Emily Elfner

The next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Emily Elfner (York University) on Friday, November 20th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Evaluating evidence for recursive prosodic structure”.

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).

Abstract: In much recent work on the syntax-prosody interface, the question of whether recursion is present in prosodic structure has played a key role (for example, Wagner 2005, 2010; Selkirk 2009, 2011, among others). In particular, in theories of the syntax-prosody interface such as Match Theory (Selkirk 2009, 2011), which derive prosodic constituents directly from syntactic structure, prosodic structure is predicted to show by default a degree of recursion that arguably is comparable with the depth of the nested hierarchical structure found in syntax.

One major question which has surfaced is the extent to which the level of recursive prosodic structure predicted by syntactic structure is universal. For example, some languages have been argued to show overt phonological and phonetic reflexes of recursion, thus providing apparent empirical support for the recursive structures predicted by syntactic structure in a number of languages, such as Irish (Elfner 2012, 2015), Basque (Elordieta 2015), and Swedish (Myrberg 2013). However, other languages may not show such overt evidence, as it has long been assumed that the ways that languages mark prosodic phrase edges and heads is language-specific; for example, some of the predicted prosodic phrases may be marked overtly only on one edge (left or right), or not at all. Conversely, we cannot always assume that overt evidence of a prosodic boundary indicates the presence of a syntactic boundary.

Therefore, the question remains: if there is no overt evidence of the edges of certain prosodic constituents in a particular language, to what extent can we posit their existence based on theoretical predictions relating to hierarchical structure and syntax-prosody mapping alone? In this talk, I will explore this question in relation to a case study on the prosodic structure of Irish, which provides an apparent conflict between prosodic cues which provide evidence for hierarchal syntactic structure and domain juncture (Elfner 2012, 2016).

Colloquium, 10/16 — Peter Jenks

The next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley) on Friday, October 16th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Are indices syntactically represented?”. The abstract is below.

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).

Abstract: The status of indices in syntactic representations is unclear. While indices are frequently used for expository purposes, they have no syntactic status in the copy theory of movement (Corver & Nunes 2007) or Agree-based analyses binding phenomena (Reuland 2011, Vanden Wyngaerd 2011). In this talk I argue that the presence versus absence of indices explain language-internal splits in definiteness and pronouns in different languages, while the ability of names to violate condition C in Thai receives a natural explanation if we treat names in Thai but not English as contextually restricted indices. The resulting view is one where indices are a component of linguistic representations, but not all referential expressions contain them. This view is consistent with Tayna Reinhart’s approach to Conditions B and C (Grodzinsky & Reinhart 1993), and entails that indices should play a more important role in syntactic theory than they currently do.

Colloquium, 9/18 – Laura Dilley

The first talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Laura Dilley (Michigan State University) this Friday, September 18 at 3:30 pm.

If you are planning to attend talks, we would like you to register in advance with the following link (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series): https://mcgill.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJUrdumvrD8iH9IjXu6ziqP0IjxFkciJxwj9.

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Title:  “Language and social brains: Toward understanding mechanisms and typologies of prosody and tone”

Abstract: The past ~70 years of linguistic research have seen dramatic changes in the way researchers frame and conceptualize language as a human capacity and activity. In this talk I will present a synthesis of key insights from these past decades which leads to a view that language structure and meaning is grounded in social dynamics of perception, action, and cognition within ecological niches. Language perception does not entail, as some have argued, mere recovery of abstract linguistic units; rather, the very process of what those units are understood to be depends on social and ecological contexts. Framed in this way, innate brain mechanisms tuned to extraction of information over language-relevant timescales, together with the history of short- and long-term experiences over a lifetime, give rise to emergent understandings of meaning, as well as the apprehension of linguistic form and content. I will present the case of prosody, long held to be a mere overlay on the implicitly more foundational segmental underpinning, and challenge some long-held assumptions about the structure of prosody and how it contributes to meaning. With the benefit of insights of original thinkers who have come before, as well as the principle of Ockham’s Razor, I will argue that viewing human linguistic capacities as grounded in inherent temporal dynamics of social brains and bodies fosters novel connections among linguistic sub-disciplines and brings new questions into focus. Viewed through this lens, I assert that is possible to make headway toward understanding some of the most challenging domains of linguistic inquiry, namely typology, meaning and structure of tone and prosody. 

2020–2021 Colloquium Series

McLing is pleased to announce this year’s colloquium series. As always, colloquium talks will take place Fridays at 3:30. This year, all talks will take place on Zoom due to the suspension of campus activities. Details about each talk, and pre- and post-colloquium events will be announced closer to the events. 

1. Laura Dilley (Michigan State) – Sept 18
2. Peter Jenks (UC Berkeley) – Oct 16
3. Emily Elfner (York University)  – Nov 20
4. Viola Schmitt (University Graz) – Feb 26
5. Yael Sharvit (UCLA) – Mar 26
6. Lisa Matthewson (UBC) – Apr 16
7. Duane Watson (Vanderbilt) –  Apr 23

2020/2021 Linguistics Colloquium Series

Here is our colloquium schedule for the upcoming academic year. As always, talks will take place Fridays at 3:30 (room/Zoom url TBA). Mark your calendars!

– September 18: Laura Dilley (http://speechlab.cas.msu.edu)

Colloquium, 3/13 — Laura Dilley

We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2019-20 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Laura Dilley (Michigan State University) on Friday, March 13 at 3:30 pm in the Education Building room 433.

The title of the talk is TBA. We will make an updated announcement shortly with the updated title and abstract. All are welcome to attend.

Colloquium, 2/28 — Andrés Salanova

We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2019-20 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Andrés Salanova (University of Ottawa) on Friday, February 28 at 3:30 pm in Wilson Hall WP Room.

The title of the talk is TBA – we will make another announcement shortly with the updated title and abstract shortly. All are welcome to attend.

Colloquium, 2/14 — Juhani Järvikivi

The next talk in the Linguistics colloquium series will be presented by Juhani Järvikivi (University of Alberta) on Friday, February 14th at 3:30 pm in Wilson Hall WP Room. The talk is entitled: Personality and Political Ideology in Language Comprehension.

Abstract:

The last couple of decades of psycholinguistics have uncovered many ways in which context (broadly-understood, linguistic and non-linguistic) constrains and modulates real-time language comprehension. In this talk, I will review some of the recent work in our lab looking at affective and social aspects pertaining to reader/listener and speaker identity in language processing. I will discuss recent data from experiments investigating the extent to which affect (valence, dominance), gender, and participants’ socio-political views modulate the processing of sentences with so-called implicit causality verbs (John feared/frightened Jill, because he/she…). Second, I will discuss work investigating the effects of individual personality traits (Big 5, Disgust) on the processing of spoken sentences with three types of violations/deviations/clashes: morpho-syntactic, semantic, and socialcultural/-pragmatic. These studies take the consideration of ‘context’ a step further, if you will, by asking how real-time language understanding is affected by individual comprehender-inherent factors as well as the social and cultural environment in which language processing (necessarily) takes place.

Winter 2020 colloquium schedule

Please save the data for the upcoming colloquium talks this semester:

Colloquiua take place Friday afternoons at 3:30––more details will be announced before each talk. Please contact organizers Francisco, Masashi, and Yeong with any questions.

Colloquium, 12/6 – Jason Brenier

The next talk in the Linguistics colloquium series will be by Jason Brenier (Georgian Partners) on Friday, December 6th at 3:30 pm in ARTS W-20. Title and abstract to come!

Heather Goad at University of Vienna

Heather Goad gave two colloquia at the University of Vienna this past week: “An unexpected source of footing in Québec French” (in collaboration with Gui Garcia (PhD 2017) and Natália Guzzo (post-doc until 2019)) and “How many types of s are there?”

LING/DISE Indigenous Languages search invited speaker, 11/19 – Kari Chew

Please join us for the first of three talks in connection with the LING/DISE search in Indigenous Languages.

Speaker: Dr. Kari Chew (University of Victoria)

Coordinates: November 19th, 3:00–4:30 in EDUC 624 (to be followed by a reception)

Title: Weaving Words: Situating linguistics, education, and language reclamation within a culturally-significant metaphor

Abstract: 

Drawing on a five-year study with Chickasaw language learners and speakers, I consider the metaphors used to talk about language reclamation, which involves the work of linguists and educators. As a Chickasaw, I understand language as the vehicle for our original instructions from Aba’ Bínni’li’, the Creator, to be in good relation with people, land, plants, animals, and spirits. Within dominant discourses about Indigenous languages, metaphors of endangerment, loss, and extinction pervade. I conceptualize Chickasaw language reclamation within the culturally-significant metaphor of tanni—the art of finger weaving belts for ceremonial attire. I identify strands of the weaving as themes emerging from research with my community and personal experience as a language learner, including a critical consciousness of cultural identity rooted in language, a holistic understanding of language as cultural practice, and a view of language reclamation as an intergenerational endeavor in which younger generations are especially valued. I argue that by situating language reclamation within metaphors envisioned by Indigenous peoples, communities can exercise linguistic and educational sovereignty to enact language continuance in alignment with their own aspirations.

Colloquium talk, 11/15 – John Alderete

The first talk in our 2019-2020 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by John Alderete (Simon Fraser University) on Friday, November 15th at 3:30 pm in BIRKS 111.

The title of the talk is “Speech errors and phonological patterns: Integrating insights from psycholinguistic and linguistic theory”. All are welcome to attend.

Abstract:  In large collections of speech errors, phonological patterns emerge. Speech errors are shaped by phonotactic constraints, cross-linguistic markedness, frequency, and phonological representations of prosodic and segmental structure. While insights from both linguistic theory and psycholinguistic models have been brought to bear on these patterns, research on phonological patterns in speech errors rarely attempts to compare and contrast analyses from these different perspectives, much less integrate them as a coherent whole. This talk investigates the phonological patterns in the SFU Speech Error Database (SFUSED) with the goal of combining both processing and linguistic assumptions in an integrated model of speech production. In particular, it examines the impact of language particular phonotactics on speech errors, competing explanations from markedness and frequency, and the role of linguistic representations for syllables and tone. The empirical findings support a model that includes both production processing impacted by frequency and explicit representations of tone and syllables from phonological theory.
For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website (http://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/events).

LING/DISE Indigenous Languages search invited speaker – Kari Chew, 11/19

Please join us next week for the first of three talks in connection with the LING/DISE search in Indigenous Languages.

Speaker: Dr. Kari Chew (University of Victoria)

Coordinates: November 19th, 3:00–4:30 in EDUC 624 (to be followed by a reception)

Title: Weaving Words: Situating linguistics, education, and language reclamation within a culturally-significant metaphor

Abstract: 

Drawing on a five-year study with Chickasaw language learners and speakers, I consider the metaphors used to talk about language reclamation, which involves the work of linguists and educators. As a Chickasaw, I understand language as the vehicle for our original instructions from Aba’ Bínni’li’, the Creator, to be in good relation with people, land, plants, animals, and spirits. Within dominant discourses about Indigenous languages, metaphors of endangerment, loss, and extinction pervade. I conceptualize Chickasaw language reclamation within the culturally-significant metaphor of tanni—the art of finger weaving belts for ceremonial attire. I identify strands of the weaving as themes emerging from research with my community and personal experience as a language learner, including a critical consciousness of cultural identity rooted in language, a holistic understanding of language as cultural practice, and a view of language reclamation as an intergenerational endeavor in which younger generations are especially valued. I argue that by situating language reclamation within metaphors envisioned by Indigenous peoples, communities can exercise linguistic and educational sovereignty to enact language continuance in alignment with their own aspirations.

Michael Wagner at Northwestern

Michael Wagner gave a colloquium talk at Northwestern University last week, presenting collaborative work with McGill PhD alum Dan Goodhue (University of Maryland). The title and abstract are below.

Toward a Bestiary of the Intonational Tunes of English
What is the inventory of tunes of North American English? What do particular tunes contribute to the pragmatic and semantic import of an utterance? How reliably are certain conversational goals and intentions associated with the use of particular tunes? While English intonation is well-studied, the answers to these questions still remain preliminary. We present the results of scripted experiments that complement existing knowledge by providing some data on what tunes speakers use to accomplish particular conversational goals, and how likely particular choices are. This research complements studies of the meaning and form of individual contours, which often do not explore alternative prosodic and other means to achieve a certain conversational goal; and it complements more exploratory research based on speech corpora, which offer a rich field for exploring which contours are generally out there, but are limited in that the true intentions of the speaker are often underdetermined by the context.

Our studies focus on three types of conversational goals, the goal to contradict (‘Intended Contradiction’), the goal to imply something indirectly (‘Intended Implication’), or to express incredulity (‘Intended Incredulity’). We looked at these three intents since their expression has been linked in the prior literature with the use of three particular rising contours: the Contradiction Contour (Liberman & Sag, 1974;  Ladd, 1980;  Ward & Hirschberg, 1985; Goodhue & Wagner 2018), the Rise-Fall-rise Contour (Ward & Hirschberg, 1985; Constant, 2012; Wagner, 2012), and the incredulity contour (Hirschberg & Ward, 1992). The results show a large extent of consistency in which strategies speaker choose to enact certain intentions, but also interesting variation. Especially the act of contradicting offers a rich set of intonational choices, and the observed data raises several challenges to our current understanding of how intonation works.

2019–2020 colloquium schedule

Below is the colloquium schedule for the 2019–2020 academic year. As always, colloquia will take place Fridays at 3:30 (rooms TBA). Mark your calendars!

John Alderete (SFU) – Nov 15
Jason Brenier (Georgian Partners) – Dec 6
Andrés Salanova (Ottawa) – Feb 28
Laura Dilley (Michigan State) – March 13
Yael Sharvit (UCLA) – April 3

If you have any questions, you can contact colloquium organizers Francisco, Masashi, and Yeong.

Colloquium, 4/12 – Scott AnderBois

The last talk in our 2018-2019 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Scott AnderBois (Brown University) on Friday, April 12th at 3:30 pm in room 434 of the Education Building. 

At-issueness in direct quotation: the case of Mayan quotatives

In addition to verba dicendi, languages have a bunch of different other grammatical devices for encoding reported speech. While not common in Indo-European languages, two of the most common such elements cross-linguistically are reportative evidentials and quotatives. Quotatives have been much less discussed then either verba dicendi or reportatives, both in descriptive/typological literature and especially in formal semantic work. While quotatives haven’t been formally analyzed in detail previously to my knowledge, several recent works on reported speech constructions in general have suggested in passing that they pattern either with verba dicendi or with reportatives. Drawing on data from Yucatec Maya, I argue that they differ from both since they present direct quotation (like verba dicendi) but make a conventional at-issueness distinction (like reportatives). To account for these facts, I develop an account of quotatives by combining an extended Farkas & Bruce 2010-style discourse scoreboard with bicontextualism (building on Eckardt 2014’s work on Free Indirect Discourse).

Colloquium, 3/22 – Susi Wurmbrand

SpeakerSusi Wurmbrand (Universität Wien)
Date & Time: March 22, 2019
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 334
Title: Proper and improper A-dependencies

Abstract:

This talk provides an overview of case and agreement dependencies that are established across clause-boundaries, such as raising to subject or object and cross-clausal agreement. We will see that cross-clausal A-dependencies (CCADs) in several languages can apply not only across non-finite but also across finite clause boundaries. Furthermore, it will be shown that the DP entering a CCAD is situated in the specifier of the embedded CP. This poses a challenge for the traditional ‘truncation’ approach to CCADs according to which CCADs are restricted to reduced (CP-less) complements. It also poses a challenge for the view that A-dependencies cannot follow A’-dependencies involving the same element. Lastly, we can observe that a clause across which a CCAD applies functions as true, non-deficient, A’-CP for other purposes. The direction proposed to bring the observed properties together is to maintain a universal improper A-after-A′ constraint, but allow certain positions in certain CPs to qualify as A-positions from which further A-dependencies can be established.

Linguistics/CRBLM joint talk, 3/15 – Mara Breen

The linguistics Department at McGill and the CRBLM jointly invite you to a talk by Prof. Mara Breen (Psychology, Holyoke College). There’s be a social dinner in the evening, please let me know in case you’re interested in attending!
Title: Hierarchical linguistic metric structure in speaking, listening, and reading
Friday, March 15, 3:30-5:00pm
Location: McGill College 2001, Room 461
ABSTRACT: In this talk, I will describe results from three experiments exploring how hierarchical timing regularities in language are realized by speakers, listeners, and readers. First, using a corpus of productions of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat—a metrically and phonologically regular children’s book, we show that speakers’ word durations and intensities are accurately predicted by models of linguistic and musical meter, respectively, demonstrating that listeners to these texts receive consistent acoustic cues to hierarchical metric structure. In a second experiment, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) as participants listened to an isochronous, non-intensity-varying text-to-speech rendition of The Cat in the Hat. Pilot ERP results reveal electrophysiological indices of metric processing, demonstrating top-down realization of metric structure even in the absence of explicit prosodic cues. In a third experiment, we recorded ERPs while participants silently read metrically regular rhyming couplets where the final word sometimes mismatched the metric or prosodic context. These mismatches elicited ERP patterns similar to neurocognitive responses observed in listening experiments. In sum, these results demonstrate similarities in perceived and simulated hierarchical timing processes in listening and reading and help explain the processes by which listeners use predictable metric structure to facilitate speech segmentation and comprehension.
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