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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.

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.


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


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.

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