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McGill @ LSA 2022

McGill linguists presented at this year’s meeting of the Linguistics Society of America, held this past weekend in hybrid format in Washington DC. The full program is available at: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/node/36129/schedule.

Talks:

Posters:

James Crippen interviewed by CBC

James Crippen was interviewed by CBC News in a piece about the lack of updates to the Canadian English Dictionary, emphasizing that it isn’t just English that suffers from a lack of documentation in Canada. You can read the full story here: https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/canadian-english-dictionary-two-decades-1.6291089

Martinović to appear in NLLT

A paper by Martina Martinović titled “Reversibility in specificational copular sentences and pseudoclefts” has been accepted for publication in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. The abstract is below, and a link to the pre-published version is here: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003198. Congrats Martina!

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.

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”.

McGill at TOMILLA 3

McGill linguists traveled to the University of Ottawa last week for the 3rd Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Indigenous Languages of Latin America (TOMILLA 3) workshop December 3rd and 4th. McGill talks included:

  • Willie Myers – “High, low, and no absolutive Mayan syntax: effects of object raising in heritage Mam” (based on work with McGill BA student Ix Jimenez-Haham)
  • Justin Royer & Jessica Coon – “Object raising bleeds binding: a new correlate of high-absolutive syntax in Mayan”

Justin Royer, Willie Myers, Ix Jimenez-Haham, Jessica Coon, and collaborator Pedro Mateo Pedro (UofT)

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
Abstract:
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.

Royer and Coon at FAMLi VI

Justin Royer and Jessica Coon presented collaborative work at the 6th meeting of Form and Analysis in Maya Linguistics (FAMLi VI), which took place in a hybrid format at CIMSUR-UNAM in Chiapas, Mexico November 12th and 13th. The title of their talk was: “Extracción del objeto y el parámetro absolutivo bajo/alto”.

Goad and Travis in The Linguistic Review

Heather Goad and Lisa Travis’s paper ‘Phonological evidence for morpho-syntactic structure in Athapaskan’ has just been published in a special issue of The Linguistic Review on Phonological solutions to morphological problems. The link to the paper is here: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/tlr-2021-2070/html

McGill at BUCLD

McGill was well represented at the 46th annual Boston University Conference on Language Development (Nov 4-7). The following poster presentations were given by current and former McGillians:

  • Unlearning L1 options and incomplete acquisition: The case of CLLD in Italian and Romanian. Liz Smeets (PhD 2020)
  • Can indirect positive evidence be used in the domain of inflectional morphology? Native English-speaking learners’ understanding of Mandarin plural marking. Ying Li (post-doc 2018-2020) & Heather Goad
  • L2 acquisition of singular/plural interpretation of Japanese bare nouns. Tokiko Okuma (PhD 2015)
  • Does using ‘babytalk’ predict more talking with infants? Infant-directed prosody in the TalkBank LENA corpus. Henny Yeung, Elise McClay (BA Hon 2012) & Emma Hutchinson

McGill @ NELS

McGill linguists will be presenting their work at the upcoming 52nd meeting of the Northeast Linguistics Society (NELS 52), hosted virtually by Rutgers University October 29–31. More information and the full program are available here: https://sites.rutgers.edu/nels-52/.

Talks:

Posters:

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.

McGill @ AMP 2021

McGill Linguistics was represented at the Annual Meeting on Phonology 2021, held Oct. 1-3 (virtually) in Toronto:
  • Morgan Sonderegger gave an invited talk, “Corpus studies of variation in obstruent ‘voicing’ across languages and speakers: phonetic variation and implications for phonology”
  • Jeff Lamontagne (PhD ’20, now at Indiana University) gave a talk: “Contrasting Community and Individual Grammars in Laurentian French Laxing”

Montreal Underdocumented Languages Linguistics Lab (MULL-Lab) launched

We are happy to report that the former McGill Fieldwork Lab has been reconfigured into the Montreal Underdocumented Languages and Linguistics Lab (MULL-Lab), led by McGill faculty members Jessica CoonJames Crippen, and Martina Martinović, together with Lisa Travis, Richard Compton (UQAM) and Sigwan Thivierge (Concordia).

Learn more at the new website:

Alonso-Ovalle at SENSUS 2

Luis Alonso-Ovalle presented collaborative work with Paula Menéndez-Benito (U. Tübingen) and Aynat Rubinstein (Hebrew University Jerusalem) last week at the 2nd meeting of SENSUS Constructing Meaning in Romance, hosted virtually by UMass Amherst. The title of their talk was “Subeventive Modal Projection: The Case of Spanish Subjunctive Relative Clauses” (abstract).

McGill @ Sinn und Bedeutung 26

Sinn und Bedeutung was hosted virtually last week by the Institute of German Language and Literature I and the Cologne Center of Language Sciences at the University of Cologne, and included a number of McGill presentations:

The full program is available here.

Summer news round-up, part II

Here is Part 2 of what McGill linguists did this summer:
  • Heather Goad and Lisa Travis‘s paper Phonological evidence for morpho-syntactic structure in Athapaskan appears on-line first in The Linguistic Review. Abstract available at: https://www.degruyter.com/journal/key/tlir/0/0/html
  • Ruth Martinez (BA Hon 2013), Heather Goad and Michael Dow’s paper L1 phonological effects on L2 (non-)naïve perception: A cross-language investigation of the oral-nasal vowel contrast in Brazilian Portuguese was accepted for publication in Second Language Research. The abstract appears here:
Feature-based approaches to acquisition principally focus on second language (L2) learners’ ability to perceive non-native consonants when the features required are either contrastively present or entirely absent from the first language (L1) grammar. As features may function contrastively or allophonically in the consonant and/or vowel systems of a language, we expand the scope of this research to address whether features that function contrastively in the L1 vowel system can be recombined to yield new vowels in the L2; whether features that play a contrastive role in the L1 consonant system can be reassigned to build new vowels in the L2; and whether L1 allophonic features can be ‘elevated’ to contrastive status in the L2. We examine perception of the oral-nasal contrast in Brazilian Portuguese listeners from French, English, Caribbean Spanish, and non-Caribbean Spanish backgrounds, languages that differ in the status assigned to [nasal] in their vowel systems. An AXB discrimination task revealed that, although all language groups succeeded in perceiving the non-naïve contrast /e/-/ẽ/ due to their previous exposure to Quebec French while living in Montreal, Canada, only French and Caribbean Spanish speakers succeeded in discriminating the naïve contrast /i/-/ĩ/. These findings suggest that feature redeployment at first exposure is only possible if the feature is contrastive in the L1 vowel system (French) or if the feature is allophonic but variably occurs in contrastive contexts in the L1 vowel system (Caribbean Spanish). With more exposure to a non-native contrast, however, feature redeployment from consonant to vowel systems was also supported, as was the possibility that allophonic features may be elevated to contrastive status in the L2.
  • BA student Jack Ryan did a summer ARIA internship with Jessica Coon, focused on hierarchy effects and omnivorous number agreement in Onondaga.
 

 

Summer news round-up, part 1

Here is part 1 of our summer news round-up. It’s not too late to send McLing your summer news for inclusion in next week’s digest! Please email your news to mcling.linguistics@mcgill.ca.

  • Jessica Coon‘s paper with Nico Baier (post-doc ’18–’19) and Ted Levin was published in the June issue of the journal Language. The paper is titled “Mayan agent focus and the ergative extraction constraint: Facts and fictions revisited”, and is available here: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/794875.
  • Jessica’s term as Director of McGill’s Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative ends this month. As part of this work, this summer Jessica helped organize a summer speaker series, Owén:na Tewahthá:rahkw (Let’s Talk about Language) with the advanced Kanien’kéha learners’ group Ionkwahronkha’onhátie’. The series brought speakers in to talk about topics of interest relating to language learning and linguistics.
  • James Crippen has a forthcoming article “Cross-dialectal synchronic variation of a diachronic conditioned merger in Tlingit”, co-authored with Amanda Cardoso and Gloria Mellesmoen of UBC. It has been accepted for publication as part of a special issue in Linguistic Vanguard.
  • James is now settled in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory where he is working with the Yukon Native Language Centre on the documentation and revitalization of Yukon First Nations languages. As part of this collaboration, this fall he will be teaching an introduction to Tlingit grammar, supervising a Tlingit student doing an independent study on Tlingit narrative and discourse, and advising a group of advanced Tlingit language learners.
  • Terrance Gatchalian was awarded an Endangered Language Fund Language Legacies grant as the project manager for “Ktunaxa teaching materials development and printing”. This grant will fund the creation of digital and physical learning materials for the Ktunaxa language with Violet Birdstone and Elise McClay (McGill BA ’12).
  • Martina Martinović‘s paper “Feature geometry and head-splitting in the Wolof clausal periphery” was accepted for publication in Linguistic Inquiry. A pre-published version is available on LingBuzz.
  • Martina also received an SSH Development Grant, “Igala language: Documentation and Grammatical Analysis”.
  • Michael Wagner gave a Keynote talk at a workshop on information theory at University of Saarbrücken on July 15 2021, titled “Why predictability is not predictive without a linguistic theory and a theory of processing. The case of external sandhi.” This presentation  reported on joint work with PhD alum Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron and others.

McGill at Interspeech and Amlap 2021

McGill will be represented at two upcoming virtual conferences in early September, details and links below:

At  Amlap 2021 in Paris:

Michael Wagner in McGill Newsroom Q&A

McGill Newsroom covered Michael’s research on the iambic trochaic law that recently appeared in the Psychological Review, titled “Two-dimensional parsing of the acoustic stream explains the Iambic–Trochaic Law”. Read the full Q&A here.

Two Prosodylab papers accepted at Interspeech

Two papers from prosodylab have been accepted at Interspeech:
Wagner, Michael, Iturralde Zurita, Alvaro, and Zhang, Sijjia (in press). Parsing speech for grouping and prominence, and the typology of rhythm. Proceedings of Insterspeech in Brno, Czechia. [paper]

You can try out a version of the experiment yourself at the new prosodylab field station.

Abstract:
Humans appear to be wired to perceive acoustic events rhythmically. English speakers, for example,  tend to perceive alternating short and long sounds as  a series of binary groups with a final beat (iambs), and alternating soft and loud sounds as a series of trochees. This generalization, often called the ‘Iambic-trochaic Law’ (ITL), although viewed as an auditory universal by some, has been argued to be shaped by language experience. Earlier work on the ITL had a crucial limitation, in that it did not tease apart the percepts of grouping and prominence, which the notions of iamb and trochee inherently confound. We explore how intensity and duration relate to percepts of prominence and grouping in six languages (English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish). The results show that the ITL is not universal, and that  cue interpretation is shaped by language experience. However, there are also invariances: Duration appears relatively robust across languages as a cue to prominence (longer syllables are perceived as stressed), and intensity for grouping (louder syllables are perceived as initial). The results show the beginnings of a rhythmic typology based on how the dimensions of grouping and prominence are cued.
A paper about the  *prosoBeast* annotation tool:

Gerazov Branislav and Michael Wagner (in press). ProsoBeast Prosody Annotation Tool. Proceedings of Insterspeech in Brno, Czechia. ArXiv e-prints. [paper][git]

The labelling of speech corpora is a laborious and time-consuming process. The ProsoBeast Annotation Tool seeks to ease and accelerate this process by providing an interactive 2D representation of the prosodic landscape of the data, in which contours are distributed based on their similarity. This interactive map allows the user to inspect and label the utterances. The tool integrates several state-of-the-art methods for dimensionality reduction and feature embedding, including variational autoencoders. The user can use these to find a good representation for their data. In addition, as most of these methods are stochastic, each can be used to generate an unlimited number of different prosodic maps. The web app then allows the user to seamlessly switch between these alternative representations in the annotation process. Experiments with a sample prosodically rich dataset have shown that the tool manages to find good representations of varied data and is helpful both for annotation and label correction. The tool is released as free software for use by the community.
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