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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


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.

Departmental talk, 2/12 – Michelle Yuan

Please join us for a talk by Michelle Yuan (University of Chicago).
Coordinates: Tuesday 2/12 at 3:30pm in Wilson Hall WPRoom (room 118)
Title: Pronoun movement and doubling in Inuktitut (and beyond)

A key working hypothesis in generative linguistic research is that the syntax of natural language is organized by a finite set of abstract principles with a constrained space for potential variation. A natural consequence of this view is that linguistic phenomena that appear unrelated on the surface may in fact be underlyingly linked—and, as such, are expected to interact in systematic ways. This talk offers a case study of this idea from Inuktitut (part of the Inuit dialect continuum), in which the underlying status of the object agreement morphemes predicts properties of seemingly independent aspects of the grammar, such as ergativity and the spell-out of movement copies.
I begin by establishing that the object agreement morphemes in Inuktitut are morphologically reduced pronouns doubling full DPs, rather than exponents of phi-agreement, and that the pronominal nature of these morphemes interacts fundamentally with other properties of Inuktitut syntax. First, I show that this idea may be subsumed within previously-noticed differences in the distribution of ergative case morphology across the Inuit dialect continuum (e.g. Johns 2001, Carrier 2017). From there, I present a novel analysis that links variation in ergative alignment in Inuit to variation in object movement. Second, the proposal that these object agreement forms are syntactically pronouns offers a new window into Cardinaletti & Starke’s (1994) strong vs. deficient pronoun distinction. I recast this well-known contrast as following from a small set of morphological conditions on chain pronunciation and copy spell-out (Landau 2006). As independent evidence for this approach, these conditions are shown in Inuktitut to both constrain the distribution of strong pronouns and extend straightforwardly to certain recalcitrant aspects of noun incorporation.

Departmental talk, 2/14 – Zheng Shen

Please join us for a talk by Zheng Shen (Goethe University Frankfurt).
Coordinates: Thursday 2/14 at 3:30pm in Peterson Hall, room 116
Title: What we can learn from Multi-valuation

Abstract: One of the major goals of syntax is to understand its basic building blocks and how they interact. Taking features to constitute one of these basic building blocks of syntax, I investigate how different agreement patterns can be derived from the nature of different types of features.

In this talk I use Multi-valuation as a tool to address such issues. Multi-valuation involves a probe acquiring multiple values. I will argue that multi-valued Ns can be observed in nominal Right Node Raising constructions (1), and multi-valued Ts in TP Right Node Raising constructions (2). In English, the noun valued by two singular features must be singular while the T head valued by two singular subjects can be singular or plural.
(1) This tall and that short student/*students are a couple.
(2) Sue’s proud that Bill, and Mary’s glad that John, has/have traveled to Cameroon.
A cross-linguistic survey reveals that three out of the four logically possible patterns of multi-valued Ns and Ts are attested as in (3), parallel to the Agreement Hierarchy observed for hybrid noun agreement (Corbett 1979). I argue that this pattern in Multi-valuation is also an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy.
a. Multi-valued Ns – singular, Multi-valued Ts – singular: Slovenian.
b. Multi-valued Ns – plural, Multi-valued Ts – plural: Russian.
c. Multi-valued Ns – singular, Multi-valued Ts – plural: English.
d. Multi-valued Ns – plural, Multi-valued Ts – singular: unattested.
Furthermore, I argue that the plural pattern in Multi-valuation results from agreeing with semantic features while the singular pattern results from agreeing with morphological features. I show that this mapping falls out naturally if we assume a referential index theory of semantic features (Grosz 2015). Multi-valuation thus motivates two types of number features with distinct properties, shedding light on the inventory of the basic building blocks of syntax.

Nico Baier at UofT

Postdoctoral researcher Nico Baier was at the University of Toronto last week where he gave an invited talk “Unifying anti-agreement and wh-agreement.”

Junko Shimoyama at Ottawa

Junko Shimoyama gave a colloquium talk on Friday, Nov. 2 at the University of Ottawa, on positively biased negative polar questions in Japanese and their embeddability. This is joint work with Dan Goodhue (PhD 2018) and Mako Hirotani at Carleton University.

Colloquium, 11/2 – Nico Baier

Speaker:  Nico Baier
Date & Time: November 2, 3:30pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 211
Title:  Unifying anti-agreement and wh-agreement


In this talk, I investigate the sensitivity of φ-agreement to features typically associated with Ā- extraction, including those related to wh-questioning, relativization, focus and topicalization. This phenomenon has been referred to as anti-agreement (Ouhalla 1993) or wh-agreement (Chung and Georgopoulos 1988; Georgopoulos 1991; Chung 1994) in the literature. While anti-agreement is commonly held to result from constraints on the Ā-movement of agreeing DPs, I argue that it reduces to an instance of wh-agreement, or the appearance of particular morphological forms in the presence of Ā-features. I develop a unified account of these Ā-sensitive φ-agreement effects in which they arise from the ability of φ-probes to copy both φ-features and Ā-features in the syntax. In the morphological component, partial or total impoverishment may apply to feature bundles containing both φ- and Ā-features, deleting some or all of the φ-features. Impoverishment blocks insertion of an otherwise appropriate, more highly specified agreement exponent. I present case studies of the effect of Ā-features on φ-agreement in three languages: the West Caucasian language Abaza (O’Herin 2002); the Berber language Tarifit (Ouhalla 1993; El Hankari 2010); and the Northern Italian dialect Fiorentino (Brandi and Cordin 1989; Suñer 1992). I show that in all three languages, the agreement exponents that appear in the context of Ā-features are systematically underspecified.

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/).

2018–2019 colloquia

We are happy to share our colloquium schedule for the upcoming academic year. As always, colloquia will take place Fridays at 3:30, rooms TBA. Mark your calendars!

Jane Stuart-Smith (University of Glasgow) – October 12
Nico Baier (McGill) – November 2
Susi Wurmbrand (University of Connecticut) – March 22
Scott AnderBois (Brown University) – April 12

Daniel Pape colloquium: April 13

Daniel Pape (McMaster University) will be giving a talk entitled “Linking speech production to speech perception: A cross-linguistic comparison of the phonological voicing contrast and its phonetic realization”. The talk with take place in room 433 of the Education Building at 3:30 pm on Friday, April 13th. The abstract, along with information about other colloquia in the department, is available on the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series website (https://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/events/colloquium-series).

Colloquium on 1/26 postponed

This is to announce that Karen Jesney will not be giving a colloquium talk on 26th January as originally planned. The talk has been postponed. More details on the rescheduling are to be announced soon.

Colloquium: Sharon Goldwater, 01/12

Sharon Goldwater from the University of Edinburgh will be giving a talk entitled Bootstrapping Language Acquisition as part of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series on Friday, January 12th 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 clear here to visit the Colloquium Series web page.

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!

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: https://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/events/colloquium-series.

Colloquium Series 2017-18

In the year 2017-18, the following colloquia will take place throughout Fall 2017 and Winter 2018:

  • Aaron Hirsch – October 6
  • Christian DiCanio – November 10
  • Lucie Ménard – December 1
  • Sharon Goldwater – January 12
  • Karen Jesney – January 26
  • Susana Béjar – February 23
  • Elizabeth Coppock – March 23
  • Daniel Pape – April 13

Colloquia typically take place on Fridays at 3.30-5pm. Rooms are to be announced.

Jessica Coon to UMass

Jessica travels to Amherst later this week to give a colloquium talk at UMass. The title of her talk is: “Building verbs in Chuj: Consequences for the nature of roots”.


Colloquium, 3/17 – Stephanie Shih

Please join us for the next talk in our 2016–2017 colloquium series:

 Stephanie Shih (University of California Merced)
Date & Time: March 17th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  A multilevel approach to lexically-conditioned phonology


Lexical classes often exhibit different phonological behaviours, in alternations or phonotactics. This talk takes up two interrelated issues for lexically-conditioned phonological patterns: (1) how the grammar captures the range of phonological variation that stems from lexical conditioning, and (2) whether the relevant lexical classes needed by the grammar can be learned from surface patterns. Previous approaches to lexically-sensitive phonology have focused largely on constraining it; however, only a limited understanding currently exists of the quantitative space of variation possible (i.e., entropy) within a coherent grammar.

In this talk, I present an approach that models lexically-conditioned phonological patterns as a multilevel grammar: each lexical class is a cophonology subgrammar of indexed constraint weight adjustments (i.e., varying slopes) in a multilevel Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar. This approach leverages the structure of multilevel statistical models to quantify the space of lexically-conditioned variation in natural language data. Moreover, the approach allows for the deployment of information-theoretic model comparison to assess competing hypotheses of what the phonologically-relevant lexical classes are. I’ll show that under this approach, the relevant lexical classes need not be a priori assumed but can instead be induced from noisy surface input via feature discovery.

Two case studies are examined: part of speech-conditioned tone patterns in Mende and content versus function word prosodification in English. Both case studies bring to bear new quantitative evidence on classic category-sensitive phenomena. The results illustrate how the multilevel approach proposed here can capture the probabilistic heterogeneity and learnability of lexical conditioning in a phonological system, with potential ramifications for understanding the structure of the developing lexicon in grammar acquisition.

Colloquium, 2/17 – Boris Harizanov

Speaker:  Boris Harizanov (Stanford University)
Date & Time:  February 17th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  On the nature of syntactic head movement


In Harizanov and Gribanova 2017, we argue that head movement phenomena having to do with word formation (affixation, compounding, etc.) must be empirically distinguished from head movement phenomena having to do purely with the displacement of heads or fully formed words (verb initiality, verb-second, etc.). We suggest that the former, word-formation type should be implemented as post-syntactic amalgamation, while the latter, displacement-type should be implemented as regular syntactic movement.

In this talk, I take this result as a starting point for an investigation of the latter, syntactic type of head movement. I show in some detail that such movement has the properties of (Internal) Merge and that it always targets the root. In addition, I suggest that, once a head is merged with the root, there are two available options (traditionally assumed to be incompatible with one another or with other grammatical principles): either (i) the target of movement projects or (ii) the moved head projects. The former scenario yields head movement to a specifier position, while the latter yields head reprojection. I offer participle fronting in Bulgarian as a case study of head movement to a specifier position and show how this analysis explains the apparently dual X- and XP-movement properties of participle fronting in Bulgarian, without stipulating a structure-preservation constraint on movement. As a case study of head reprojection, I discuss free relativization in Bulgarian. A treatment of this phenomenon in terms of reprojection allows for an understanding of why an element that has the distribution of a relative complementizer C in Bulgarian free relatives looks like a determiner D morphologically.

This work brings together and reconciles two strands of research, usually viewed, at least to some degree, as incompatible: head movement to specifier position and head movement as reprojection. Such synthesis is afforded, in large part, by the exclusion of the word-formation type of head movement phenomena from the purview of syntactic head movement, as in Harizanov and Gribanova 2017.

Colloquium, 2/3 – Jeremy Hartman

Speaker:  Jeremy Hartman (UMass Amherst)
Date & Time: February 3rd at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  Negation and factivity in acquisition and beyond


In this talk, I present joint work with Magda Oiry on the interaction between negation and two types of factive predicates in acquisition. Following work by Léger (2008), we examine children’s understanding of sentences with the factive predicates know and be happy, in combination with negation–in the matrix clause, as well as in the embedded clause. In addition to an asymmetry in the understanding of know vs. be happy, we find a new and revealing pattern of errors across different sentence-types with know. We also show that a similar error pattern is found even with adult subjects. I discuss how these findings relate to recent work on the processing of negation.
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