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Syntax/Semantics reading group, 09/24 – Alex Göbel

The first syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday February 24 at 1:30pm. Please register in advance at the following link in order to join meetings: https://mcgill.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMsc-uupzMiGNDqNbAYrfn2b0ffCR0GDMJ2?fbclid=IwAR2XsoMQrLoYaaw9iejJJvfGrykVWSAPPegdGF-iiIKT51Yo7dz1eWxPXmM

For our fist meeting, postdoc Alex Göbel will present work entitled On the role of Focus-sensitivity for a typology of presupposition triggers. We will also set up the schedule for the Semester, so feel free to come with ideas!
Abstract: Presupposition triggers have been noted to make up a heterogeneous set that varies along multiple dimensions. In this presentation, I investigate the role of Focus-sensitivity for such a typology of presupposition triggers. The hypothesis I will be testing is that triggers differ in the mental representations they access depending on whether they are Focus-sensitive or not. For triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity, such as `again’, I hypothesize that their presupposition needs to be entailed by the Common Ground, in line with the classic treatment by Stalnaker. In contrast, Focus-sensitive triggers like `also’ require a linguistic antecedent in the discourse model. I present experimental data evaluating two predictions of this hypothesis. The first prediction is that the salience of the linguistic material satisfying a given presupposition should matter for Focus-sensitive triggers, analogous to how salience affects pronoun processing. In contrast, triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity should not be sensitive to salience in the same way, with a possible analogy being the way in which the order of premises is relevant to the validity of a conclusion in a syllogism. The second prediction is that Focus-sensitive triggers will be harder to globally accommodate than triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity, on the assumption that the Common Ground is subject to cooperative principles that render accommodation a standard practice of communication, whereas constructing the linguistic material required for an antecedent is not subject to those principles. I conclude with some discussion of the broader theoretical implications of the experimental results.

McGill at SULA 2020

Current and former McGill linguists attended the 11th Semantics of Under-represented Languages of the Americas (SULA 11), hosted virtually by El Colegio de México and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, August 4–7, 2020.
Justin Royer gave an invited talk, presenting collaborative work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle, titled “Modal effects in the nominal domain: Lessons from Chuj” based on joint work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle.
Postdoc Carol-Rose Little presented co-authored work with Justin Royer and Mary Moroney (Cornell) entitled “Two types of numeral classifiers: Evidence from Ch’ol, Shan, and Chuj”. 

Tanner, Sonderegger, and Stuart-Smith in Journal of the Acoustical Society of America

An article co-authored by James Tanner, Morgan Sonderegger, and Jane Stuart-Smith has just been published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, available here: https://asa.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1121/10.0001734.

Title: “Structured speaker variability in Japanese stops: Relationships within versus across cues to stop voicing”

Abstract: A number of recent studies have observed that phonetic variability is constrained across speakers, where speakers exhibit limited variation in the signalling of phonological contrasts in spite of overall differences between speakers. This previous work focused predominantly on controlled laboratory speech and on contrasts in English and German, leaving unclear how such speaker variability is structured in spontaneous speech and in phonological contrasts that make substantial use of more than one acoustic cue. This study attempts to both address these empirical gaps and expand the empirical scope of research investigating structured variability by examining how speakers vary in the use of positive voice onset time and voicing during closure in marking the stop voicing contrast in Japanese spontaneous speech. Strong covarying relationships within each cue across speakers are observed, while between-cue relationships across speakers are much weaker, suggesting that structured variability is constrained by the language-specific phonetic implementation of linguistic contrasts.

Congrats all!

Welcome new postdoc Carol-Rose Little!

Carol-Rose Little is joining the McGill Department of Linguistics as a postdoctoral researcher, supervised by Jessica Coon and Lisa Travis. She recently graduated from Cornell University with a Ph.D. in linguistics and two minors in American Indian and Indigenous Studies and Cognitive Science.

Carol-Rose’s research program brings together syntax, semantics and morphology, rooted in a strong commitment to fieldwork and language documentation. She investigates possible structural variations crosslinguistically and how these structures interface with semantic computation. Her theoretical analyses draw on data collected from fieldwork with understudied languages, namely Ch’ol (Mayan: Chiapas, Mexico) and Mi’gmaq (Algonquian: Quebec, Canada). Topics she has recently worked on include subextraction, (in)definiteness, verb-initial word order, and the inclusive/exclusive distinction. When she is not working, she enjoys running and dancing.

Welcome aboard Carol-Rose!

Goad, Guzzo, and White in Studies in Second Language Acquisition

Heather Goad, Natália Guzzo and Lydia White’s paper, “Parsing Ambiguous Relative Clauses in L2 English: Learner Sensitivity to Prosodic Cues” has been accepted for publication in Studies in Second Language Acquisition. Congrats all!

Wagner & McAuliffe in Journal of Phonetics

A new paper has  just been published in the Journal of Phonetics:
Wagner, Michael & Michael McAuliffe (2019): The effect of focus prominence on phrasing. Journal of Phonetics 77https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wocn.2019.100930
Prosody simultaneously encodes different kinds of information about an utterance, including the type of speech act (which, in English, often affects the choice of intonational tune), the syntactic constituent structure (which mainly affects prosodic phrasing), and the location of semantic focus (which mainly affects the relative prosodic prominence between words). The syntactic and semantic functional dimensions (speech act, constituency, focus) are orthogonal to each other, but to which extent their prosodic correlates are remains controversial. This paper reports on a production experiment that crosses these three dimensions to look for interactions, concentrating on interactions between focus prominence and phrasing. The results provide evidence that interactions are more limited than many current theories of sentence prosody would predict, and support a theory that keeps different prosodic dimensions representationally separate.

McGill at Tübingen Exhaustivity Workshop

McGill linguists were at Workshop Exhaustivity in Questions and Answers – Experimental and theoretical approaches, June 13-14, 2019 at Tübingen University. Francesco Paolo Gentile and Bernhard Schwarz presented “An argument that higher order wh-quantification is over existential only” and Aron Hirsch and Bernhard Schwarz presented “Singular which, mention-some, and variable scope uniqueness.”

Punting on the Neckar

McGill at SALT 29

McGill linguists traveled to California last week for the 29th meeting of SALT (Semantics and Linguistic Theory), held May 17th–19th at UCLA. Talks and posters by McGill affiliates included:

  • Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Esmail Moghiseh – Neutralizing Free Choice Items via Domain Restriction: Farsi -i Indefinites
  • Aron Hirsch and Bernhard Schwarz – Singular “which”, mention-some, and variable scope uniqueness
  • Bernhard Schwarz, Alexandra Simonenko (PhD ’14), and David Oshima – Factive islands from necessary blocking

The full program can be found here. Some current and former McGill linguists gathered for a photo:

McGill @ SALT: Bernhard, Esmail, Luis, mitcho Erlewine (postdoc ’14–
’15), Aron, Maayan Adar (MA ’14)

Jessica Coon in Florida

Jessica Coon was at the University of Florida in Gainesville April 5-6 for the 5th Florida Linguistics Yearly Meeting (FLYM) where she gave a plenary talk, presenting collaborative work with Nico Baier and Ted Levin. The title of her talk was titled: “Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint”. A new manuscript of this work is available here.

Amazigh Workshop talks, 3/21 – Achab, Baier, Ouali, Fahloune

This Thursday and Friday McGill  will host a Workshop on Amazigh languages, featuring invited talks by Karim Achab (University of Ottawa), Hamid Ouali (University of Wisconsin, Madison), and Khokha Fahloune (UQAM), as well as short presentations on Kabyle by the students in this semester’s Field Methods course.
Thursday, the talks will be held in Leacock 738
All are welcome! Below, find the titles/times of the four long talks for the conference. For a detailed scheduled and abstracts for the talks, please visit the workshop website.
Thursday, March 21st (Leacock 738)
1:00 — 2:00:  Karim Achab (University of Ottawa) — Diachronic and Synchronic Account of Anti-Agreement in Amazigh Languages
2:00 — 3:00: Hamid Ouali (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) — On Tense and Aspect in Tamazight
3:30 — 4:30:  Khokha Fahloune (UQAM) — Retour sur les marqueurs sujet et objet en kabyle
4:30 — 5:30: Nico Baier (McGill University) — Person Case Constraint Effects in Kabyle

Please feel free to drop by for any of the talks.

McGill at LSA 2019

The Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America took place this past weekend in New York, and McGill linguists were there presenting. Presentations by current affiliates included:

  • Nico Baier – Anti-agreement in Selayarese
  • Aron Hirsch and Uli Sauerland (ZAS) – Adverbs in collective conjunctions
  • Jeffrey LaMontagne – Acoustic evidence of phonemicization: Lax high vowels in Quebec French

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.”

Welcome new postdocs!

Nico Baier recently received his PhD in Linguistics from UC Berkeley. At McGill this year he’ll be doing a post-doc with Jessica Coon working on agreement and anti-agreement in Kabyle, a Berber language of Algeria. His research interests are in theoretical syntax, morphology, and typology, with particular focus on agreement and extraction and their interaction.

Ying Li did her PhD degree in Linguistics at the University of Newcastle Upon Tyne and her research interests lie primarily in Second Language Acquisition, particularly in the acquisition of L2 phonology, phonetics, and morphology. Her postdoctoral research, supervised by Heather Goad, explores prosodic transfer in a case where the grammar of the language being learned is a subset of the native language grammar. This study is funded by China Scholarship Council.

Returning post-docs include Michael McAuliffe, Natalia Brambatti Guzzo, and Aron Hirsch.

Welcome new postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo!

Natália Brambatti Guzzo who was previously already affiliated with our department became a post-doc here  on January 1st 2018.

Natália’s main interests are phonology, phonology-syntax interface, and L2 acquisition. Her research programme explores topics in prosodic phonology, such as (i) the ways in which prosodic domains can be identified based on phonological and phonetic evidence, and (ii) how second language learners and speakers in contexts of language contact deal with competing prosodic representations.

Welcome!

 

Aron Hirsch mini-course: Oct 30-Nov 9

Aron Hirsch (SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at McGill this year), will be giving a “mini-course” about his research on the syntax-semantics of “cross-categorial” operators, in five lectures stretching from October 30-November 9. See below for a course description and schedule. No advanced background in syntax or semantics is required. Mark your calendars, everyone is welcome to attend!
Cross-categorial operators
“Cross-categorial” operators — notably, the conjunction and and focus operator only — appear in a broad range of environments. And occurs, for instance, between full clauses in (1a) and DPs in (1b). Likewise, only occurs pre-vP in (2a) and pre-DP in (2b).
 
(1) a. John saw every student and Mary saw every professor.
b. John saw every student and every professor.
 
(2) a. John only learned oneF language.
b. John learned only oneF language.
 
Given their broad distribution, these operators seem to require a flexible semantics. In (1a), and operates on truth-values, like the & connective of propositional logic: (1a) is true iff both conjoined clauses are true. Yet, in (1b), and seems to have a different meaning which composes with quantifiers. A range of semantic mechanisms have been proposed to achieve the necessary flexibility (e.g. Keenan & Faltz 1978, 1985,
Gazdar 1980, Partee & Rooth 1983, Jacobson 1999, 2015). One approach draws on type-shifting rules: and is stored in the lexicon as &, but type-shifted to compose with quantifiers in (1b). Only receives a similar analysis, through type-shifting (Rooth 1985).
 
The aim in this mini-course is to challenge the idea that these operators have a flexible semantics, pursuing instead the Semantic Inflexibility Hypothesis (‘SIH’). Under the SIH, and always operates on truthvalues (following Schein 2017), and only again patterns in kind. The viability of the SIH for data like (1b)
and (2b) depends on covert syntax: the underlying structure must be richer than it appears from the surface string so that it includes a truth-value denoting scope site for the operator. The course will build a case the SIH. First: we will see that semantic flexibility approaches have overgeneration problems, providing initial motivation for the SIH. Second: we will diffuse some counterarguments to covert syntax with and from the prior literature (e.g. Partee 1970). And, third: we will provide a range of novel evidence that covert syntax is in fact present with both and and only in a fragment of data. The SIH, if successful, leads us to constrain the availability of type-shifting, and the expressive power of the semantic grammar more generally (cf. Heim 2015).
Class 1: The Semantic Inflexibility Hypothesis
October 30, Monday, 10:30-12:00 – Room 117
Class 2: Apparent DP conjunction
November 2, Thursday, 11:30-13:00 – LEACOCK 14
Class 3: November 3, Friday, 15:00-16:30 – Room 117
Apparent NP conjunction
Class 4: November 6, Monday, 10:30-12:00 – Room 117
Focus operators
 
Class 5: November 9, Thursday, 11:30-13:00 – LEACOCK 14
Consequences for the grammar

McGill at MIT Workshop on Simplicity

McGill linguists presented at the MIT Workshop on Simplicity in Grammar Learning on Sep 23:

  • Richard Futrell and Tim O’Donnell: “A generative model of phonotactics”
  • Kevin Ellis and Tim O’Donnell: “Inducing phonological rules: Perspectives from Bayesian program learning”
  • Aron Hirsch (postdoc) and Ezer Rasin: “An evolutionary effect of simplicity bias on the typology of logical operators”

 

 

 

McLing summer news

What did McGill linguists do this summer? Some answers can be found below. If you didn’t get your post in on time, email the editors for round two.

Luis Alonso-Ovalle  presented work at SALT.

Chris Bruno presented work relating to his first evaluation paper at SALT, held at the University of Maryland, College Park. The title was “Contrastive negation and the theory of alternatives”.

Jessica Coon traveled to Beijing in May to present a public lecture on Arrival at the 2017 Global Machine Intelligence Summit. Then in June she headed to Guatemala to meet up with current and past McGill students in connection with the University of Maryland’s Guatemala Field Station. For the first two weeks the students took Kaqchikel immersion classes, and and spent the second two weeks conducting research on Mayan languages.

Jessica and Lisa Travis are happy to report that the Oxford Handbook of Ergativity was published over the summer, co-edited by Jessica Coon, Diane Massam (U. Toronto), and Lisa Travis.

Henrison Hsieh presented ongoing work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle entitled “Overcoming the Unexpected: The Tagalog Ability/Involuntary Action Form” at WCCFL and SALT, among other venues. Later in the summer, he attended the 2017 LSA Institute in Lexington KY before going to Southeast Asia to attend the Workshop on Quirks of Subject Extraction at the National University of Singapore and do some data collection in the Philippines.

Michael McAuliffe presented three co-authored papers at Interspeech 2017 in Stockholm, on Polyglot and Speech Corpus Tools , on the Montreal Forced Aligner, and on sentence prosody (with co-authors including Michael Wagner and Morgan Sonderegger).

Clint Parker spent most of his summer in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where he lived with a Tajik host family and studied the Tajik language (a dialect of Persian). While in Dushanbe, Clint was also able to study Shughni, an Eastern Iranian minority language of Tajikistan and Afghanistan, on which he hopes to focus much of his research. The summer helped him both to gain language skills necessary to do fieldwork on Shughni and to make contacts for future research in the country.

Bernhard Schwarz presented work at SALT.

Morgan Sonderegger presented two papers at Phonetics and Phonology in Europe (PaPE 2017).

A paper by James Tanner, Morgan Sonderegger, and Michael Wagner appeared in Laboratory Phonology (doi: 10.5334/labphon.96).

Lydia White attended two conferences in June: (i) the International Symposium on Bilingualism, University of Limerick, Ireland (https://isb11.com/); (ii) the Experimental Psycholinguistics Conference, Menorca (http://www.psycholinguistics.info/experimental/index.html). She presented papers on L2 Italian pronoun interpretation on behalf of the Second Language Acquisition Group (Heather Goad, Gui Garcia, Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Sepideh Mortazavinia, Liz Smeets, Jiajia Su, Lydia White). Lydia also made a keynote presentation in Menorca.

A paper on pronoun interpretation in L2 English by Roumyana Slabakova, Lydia White & Natália Brambatti Guzzo appeared in Frontiers in Psychology 8:1236 in July (doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01236).

 

Welcome new postdoc Aron Hirsch!

McLing would like to extend a warm welcome to a new postdoc, Aron Hirsch, who has jointed the department as a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow.  Aron is returning to the department, having completed a BA here in 2012. Welcome back, Aron!

Much of my research focuses on semantics, with the driving question being: how does semantics interact with other aspects of grammar and cognition, especially syntax and pragmatics, as well as prosody and language processing. Recent projects have pursued the idea that the semantics is less powerful than commonly thought, with labor re-distributed to interfacing modules. Topics I have worked on include: coordination, focus, questions, free relatives, and exceptive phrases. I am coming to McGill from MIT, where I recently finished my PhD. At McGill, I will be a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow, and will be co-teaching Semantics 4 in the second semester. I am looking forward to meeting those of you I don’t know, and learning about your work!

Emily Elfner to York University

McLing is pleased to report that Emily Elfner (McGill post-doc 2012–2014) has recently accepted a job as Asssistant Professor in Phonetics and Phonology at York University. Congratulations Emily!

Colloquium, 9/23 – Michael McAuliffe

We are pleased to announce that the first talk in our 2016-2017 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by our own Michael McAuliffe. For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website (http://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/events).

Who: Michael McAuliffe

When: Friday 9/23 at 3:30pm

Where: Education room 433

Title: “Dual nature of perceptual learning: Robustness and specificity”

Abstract: “In perceiving speech and language, listeners need to both perceive specific, highly variable utterances, and generalize to larger linguistic categories. One large source of the variability is in how individual speakers produce sounds, but another source of variation is the way in which speech and language are used in a particular task to accomplish a goal. Perceptual learning is a phenomenon in which listeners update their perceptual sound categories when exposed to a novel speaker. Perceptual learning is robust in the sense that most listeners show perceptual learning effects, most sound categories can be easily updated, and most tasks involving speech facilitate perceptual learning. In this talk, I focus more on the ways that perceptual learning can be task-specific. I present a series of perceptual learning experiments for exposing listeners to a novel talker through single words or longer sentences, varying tasks and the linguistic context. The instructions and goals of the task exert a size-able influence over the amount of perceptual learning that listeners exhibit. In general, listeners adapt less in the course of an experiment if they do not have to rely on the acoustic signal as much. For instance, if listeners are presented the orthography of the word along with the audio, they will not learn as much as if they had heard the audio alone. In sentence tasks, listeners matching pictures to a word at the end of a predictable sentence (i.e., A deep moat protected the old castle) will not learn as much from the final word as from an unpredictable sentence (i.e., He dreaded the long walk to the castle). However, the inverse is true for sentence transcription tasks, with larger perceptual learning effects from predictable sentences than unpredictable. Perceptual learning effects can generally be seen for all listeners and all tasks, but the size of the effects are dependent on the exposure task and how the linguistic system is engaged.”

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