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

  • 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:
  • 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.

FRQSC Team Grant to Heather Goad and colleagues

Congratulations to Heather Goad (PI), Fred Genesee, Gigi Luk, Stefano Rezzonico, Phaedra Royle, Karsten Steinhauer, Elin Thordardottir and Lydia White who received a new FRQSC Team Grant entitled Plasticité cognitive et acquisition du langage : l’effet de l’environnement linguistique / Cognitive plasticity and language acquisition: The effects of linguistic environment.

SSHRC Insight Grant to Meghan Clayards

Congratulations to Meghan Clayards who received a new SSHRC Insight grant “What makes us flexible? The role of cognitive control and sensory representations in spoken word recognition”. Collaborators are Morgan Sonderegger, Ross Otto (Psychology), Shari Baum (SCSD) and Rachel Theodore (University of Connecticut).

Summary: One of the most important things we do every day is understand spoken language. We effortlessly handle variability in different talkers and contexts with more flexibility than any automatic speech recognition system. However, listeners are themselves variable. In the past 10 years there has been an explosion in interest in individual differences in speech perception. However, as this field is still in its infancy, research is fragmented. Some dimensions of individual variability have been identified but we don’t know what underlies them. The central goal of this project is to test proposals about how these dimensions or ‘speech perception profiles’ are supported by sensory abilities and cognitive control. In the first part of the project we will relate electrophysiological methods to behavioural methods in order to test the hypothesis that better ability to use acoustic information from speech is related to less noisy sensory processing. In the second part of the project we will conduct a large-scale replication of some key results on plasticity of perception and test whether plasticity is related to broader language knowledge and cognitive control. We will also deploy a larger scale test of pilot data suggesting that use of language knowledge and cognitive control may be directly related to each other.

SSHRC Insight Grant to Michael Wagner

Michael Wagner (PI) and Duane Watson (Vanderbilt University, collaborator) were awarded a new SSHRC Insight Grant. The project is titled ‘The incremental mind: Prosody as a window into the gradual formation of a sentence while speaking” –– congratulations!
Summary: This project proposes to use sentence prosody, i.e., the precise way a sentences are pronounced in real time, as a window into how the human mind processes language. Sentence prosody reflects how we break down complex messages into more manageable processing ‘chunks’ and gradually compose complex semantic meanings.  Looking at prosody allows us to better understand a crucial difference between natural language and formal languages: The linguistic detail of a complex sentence, such as “Ruby went climbing after she had finished her homework”, is arguably never represented as a whole in our minds at any given point in time. In order to process its meaning, our mind has to incrementally process the different chunks in this sentence. Language, therefore, is not just recursive (like, say, symbolic logic), but it is also  inherently incremental. Current linguistic theories, however, are generally static, and the time-flow of how sentences are assembled in real-time is sometimes explicitly excluded from study. The present research project, by contrast, assumes that we can learn more about how grammar works by looking at real-time plannning, since grammar is directly involved in the process of facilitating incremental structure building.

Congratulations student grant recipients!

McGill Linguistics graduate students had a successful round of funding applications! Students awarded grants include:

  • Emily Goodwin, supervised by Tim O’Donnell and Siva Reddy of McGill and Dzmitry Bahdanau of ElementAI received a MITACs grant for a 4-month internship this summer. This project explores systematic generalization in neural models for semantic parsing.
  • Jacob Hoover received a one-year Microsoft Research-Mila Collaboration grant supervised by Alessandro Sordoni and Tim O’Donnell.
  • Bing’er Jiang, Clint Parker, and Michaela Socolof each received FRQSC bourse au doctoral en recherche grants. Michaela’s project is titled “Modeling the relationship between syntax and semantics in non-compositional structures”, Clint’s is “Grammar of the Shughni Language: A Community-based approach”, and Bing’er’s is “Computational Cognitive Modelling of Phonological Assimilation”.

Other student grants are not yet officially announceable, but stay tuned. Congratulations to all!

End-of-year news

Paulina Elias (BA ’18) will begin the masters program in Speech Language Pathology at Western University.

Masashi Harada will present a poster at GLOW in Asia Xll in Seoul, South Korea. The poster about his first Eval paper will be titled “Contextual effects on case in Japanese copular constructions”. For this research trip, Masashi will be funded by the CRBLM.

Francesco Gentile and Bernhard Schwarz will be presenting their new joint work on how many questions at the Workshop “Exhaustivity in Questions and Answers – Experimental and theoretical approaches” in Tübingen, Germany. The  title of their talk is: “An argument that higher order wh-quantification is over existentials only“.

Vanier graduate fellowship to Mathieu Paillé

Congratulations to second-year PhD student Mathieu Paillé, who was recently awarded a Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship for his doctoral studies. He was featured, together with other fellowship recipients, in last week’s McGill Reporter. The full list of McGill Vanier scholars is here. Congrats Mathieu!


James Tanner to University of Glasgow

James Tanner has received a FRQNT Internship Award and will spend the Fall 2019 semester at the University of Glasgow. Under the supervision of Jane Stuart-Smith, James will continue his investigation into phonetic variability across English dialects. Congrats James!

Vanna Willerton to University of Edinburgh

Vanna Willerton received a Graduate Mobility Award which she will use to make a short visit in August to the University of Edinburgh to complete a computational morphology research project in collaboration with Professor Kenny Smith and the Centre for Language Evolution. Vanna also recently learned that she received CGSM graduate funding. Congratulations Vanna!

Justin Royer in Guatemala with McGill Graduate Mobility Award

Justin Royer is currently doing fieldwork in Yuxquen, a Chuj community located in Guatemala. While in Guatemala, Justin will be working on several projects, including a new project on the interface between syntax and prosody in Chuj, the focus of his second Eval paper. For this research trip, Justin is funded by a McGill Graduate Mobility Award.

Justin in Yuxquen with Yun and Elsa

Clint Parker receives American Councils award

Third year PhD student Clint Parker has been awarded a grant through American Councils for International Education to carry out a nine-month research project titled Effects of Language Contact on Spoken Shughni: Analysis through Documentation. He will complete this project in Khorugh, Tajikistan, a small town in the mountainous region where Shughni is spoken, from October 2019 to June 2020. This work will form the basis of his dissertation on Shughni. Congratulations Clint!

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