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Lamontagne and Goad in Glossa

Jeff Lamontagne (PhD 2020) and Heather Goad‘s article “Weight sensitivity and prominence in Laurentian French” will appear in the journal Glossa. The full abstract appears below:

Main prominence is conventionally described as being assigned to the final syllable of phrases in French, but previous quantitative and qualitative work has shown that this is not always the case. Using corpus data from Laurentian French (Saguenay, Quebec), we test the hypothesis that prominence is preferentially assigned to heavy syllables. Our results demonstrate that this is indeed the case, with both codas and heavy vowels attracting prominence away from final syllables, particularly when the final syllable is open. We infer two distinct types of prominence: lexical and phrasal. Lexical prominence, which is marked using duration and amplitude, variably attracts phrasal prominence, which is marked using pitch. We interpret these findings as indicating that the location of phrasal prominence is sensitive to syllable weight and that this prominence is best formally expressed as a pitch accent due to its attraction to lexically prominent syllables.

AFLA 28 proceedings

The proceedings of the 28th annual meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 28), co-hosted by McGill University and National University of Singapore, were published in June and can be found herehttps://ir.lib.uwo.ca/afla/aflaxxviii/. The proceeding volume was co-edited by Tallis Clark (BA), Jacob Dussere (BA ’22) and Connie Ting. Presentations included:
  • Vololona Razafimbelo. “On the other side of the linguist fence — The Consultant World”
  • Dan Brodkin & Justin Royer. “Two constraints on ergative anaphors”
  • Connie Ting. “Malagasy N-bonding: A licensing approach”
The full program is available at: https://lingconf.com/afla28/program/

Li and Goad in Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism

Ying Li (post-doc 2018-2020) and Heather Goad‘s paper, “Naïve English-speaking learners’ use of indirect positive evidence: The case of Mandarin plural marking” appeared in Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism. The full abstract is below.

When second language learners are faced with acquiring a grammar that is a subset of their native language grammar, direct positive evidence is unavailable. We question whether learners can instead use indirect positive evidence: evidence drawn from errors in the learner’s L1 made by native speakers of the learner’s L2. We examine if naïve English-speaking learners of Mandarin can determine from plural omission errors in Mandarin speakers’ English productions that Mandarin marks plural in a subset of conditions under which English does. Participants were exposed to indirect positive evidence via an English-medium dialogue where a native Mandarin-speaking interlocutor produced all contextually plural nouns as singulars. Subsequently, participants learnt 12 Mandarin-like nouns in singular contexts, after which their word learning was tested using both singular and plural pictures as prompts. Forty percent of participants correctly deduced that strings to which they had assigned singular interpretations were also appropriate in plural contexts. Follow-up questions revealed that they noticed the errors in the dialogue and used these to inform their understanding of plural marking in Mandarin. This result suggests that indirect positive evidence may be an effective tool for real language learners to acquire a grammar that is a subset of their native grammar.

James Crippen in Linguistics Vanguard

James Crippen has a new article coauthored with Amanda Cardoso and Gloria Mellesmoen, both at the University of British Columbia. The article, published in Linguistics Vanguard, is titled “Cross-dialectal synchronic variation of a diachronic conditioned merger in Tlingit”. It discusses a very rare type of sound change – a reductive primary split-merger – which has been predicted but is not otherwise known in the historical linguistics literature. Some Tlingit dialects did not undergo the sound change and others today show partial remnants of the original sounds, confirming the existence of the sound change and the reconstructed system that preceded the sound change. The article also discusses the importance of attending to sociolinguistic variation in underdocumented languages. The full abstract is below:

Crosslinguistically rare sounds may be uncommon as a result of being phonologically marked (Trubetzkoy 1939) or due to articulatory or perceptual biases (Maddieson 1998). Certain types of sound changes are often argued to have roots in articulatory and perceptual biases (Blevins 2004). But in cases where there is limited data available, such as with understudied languages, it may be difficult to find evidence for the roots of sound changes. Synchronic variation can be used to provide evidence for diachronic sound changes (Blevins 2004Lindblom 1990Ohala 1993), which is particularly useful when historical data is limited. In this investigation we discuss phonetic biases, including acoustic and perceptual factors, that contribute to a set of sound changes in Tlingit, a critically endangered Indigenous language of Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon, that resulted in a primary split-merger (Blust 2012). This investigation provides further support for including explicit discussion of synchronic variation as part of the description of understudied languages. We propose that there should be a stronger emphasis on documenting and analyzing variation within understudied languages because excluding variation potentially masks significant intralinguistic and crosslinguistic phenomena.

 

Alex Göbel to Princeton

Alex Göbel wrapped up a postdoc with Michael Wagner at McGill this past year, and is starting a new postdoc at Princeton this fall. Congratulations Alex!

Earlier this summer, he had a paper entitled “On the Role of Focus-sensitivity for a Typology of Presupposition Triggers” accepted for publication at Journal of Semantics. The paper argues based on experimental evidence that Focus-sensitivity is an important factor when analyzing presupposition triggers and should be distinguished from anaphoricity.

Charles Boberg’s new book published

A new book by Charles BobergAccent in North American Film and Television A Sociophonetic Analysis, has just been published by Cambridge University Press. Congrats Charles!

Drawing on data from well-known actors in popular films and TV shows, this reference guide surveys the representation of accent in North American film and TV over eight decades. It analyzes the speech of 180 film and television performances from the 1930s to today, looking at how that speech has changed; how it reflects the regional backgrounds, gender, and ethnic ancestry of the actors; and how phonetic variation and change in the ‘real world’ have been both portrayed in, and possibly influenced by, film and television speech. It also clearly explains the technical concepts necessary for understanding the phonetic analysis of accents. Providing new insights into the role of language in the expression of North American cultural identity, this is essential reading for researchers and advanced students in linguistics, film, television and media studies, and North American studies, as well as the larger community interested in film and television.

Alonso-Ovalle and Royer AND Bale, Schwarz, and Shanks in Journal of Semantics

The most recent issue of Journal of Semantics (volume 38, issue 4) contains two new articles by McGill linguists, both collaborations between students and faculty members:

Congrats all!

 

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.

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

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.

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.

Martinez, Goad, and Dow accepted in Second Language Research

Ruth Martinez (BA 2013), Heather Goad & 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” has been accepted for publication in Second Language Research.

Abstract: 

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.

Wagner to appear in Psychological Review

Michael Wagner‘s paper ‘Two-dimensional parsing of the acoustic stream explains the iambic-trochaic law’ has been accepted for publication at Psychological Review. A preprint is available at https://osf.io/rwbyh/files/ 

Abstract: In a sequence of otherwise equal sounds, listeners tend to hear a series of trochees (groups of two sounds with an initial beat) when every other sound is louder; they tend to hear a series of iambs (groups of two sounds with a final beat) when every other sound is longer. The paper presents evidence that this so-called ‘Iambic-Trochaic Law’ (ITL) is a consequence of the way listeners parse the signal along two orthogonal dimensions, grouping (Which tone is first/last?) and prominence (Which tone is prominent?). A production experiment shows that in speech, intensity and duration correlate when encoding prominence, but anticorrelate when encoding grouping. A model of the production data shows that the ITL emerges from the cue distribution based on a listener’s predicted decisions about prominence and grouping respectively. This, and further predictions derived from the model, are then tested in speech and tone perception. The results show that intensity and duration are excellent cues for grouping and prominence, but poor cues for the distinction between iamb and trochee per se. Overall, the findings illustrate how the ITL derives from the way listeners recover two orthogonal perceptual dimensions, grouping and prominence, from a single acoustic stream.

Guzzo and Garcia in Glossa

Postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo and Guilherme D. Garcia (PhD ’17) just had an article accepted for publication at Glossa: a journal of general linguistics. The title of the paper is ‘Gradience in prosodic representation: Vowel reduction and neoclassical elements in Brazilian Portuguese’. The preprint is available for download on Open Science Framework: 10.31219/osf.io/548gv.

Bale, Schwarz, and Shanks to appear in Journal of Semantics

Alan Bale (PhD ’06), Bernhard Schwarz, and David Shanks (incoming MA student) recemtly learned that their paper “Monotonicity revisited: mass nouns and comparisons of purity” has been accepted for publication in Journal of Semantics. A prepublished version of the paper is available at: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005928. Congratulations all!

Abstract: Comparatives with “more” plus mass noun, like “John has more milk than Bill”, are naturally analyzed as referencing measure functions, functions like volume or weight that map individuals to degrees. Although such measure functions vary with context as well as the choice of mass noun, there are well known grammatical limitations on this variation. In particular, Schwarzschild (2006) proposes that only monotonic measure functions can enter into the interpretation of comparatives with more plus mass noun. While this Monotonicity Constraint has strong empirical support, Bale and Barner (2009) have drawn attention to data that seemingly contradict it. For example, “There is more gold in the ring than in the bracelet” can be evaluated based on whether the ring is made from purer gold than the bracelet. This seems to suggest that comparatives with more plus mass noun can reference purity, yet purity is non-monotonic (Schwarzschild 2006, Wellwood 2015). Building on Solt (2018) and Bale and Schwarz (2019), we show here that comparisons of purity can be credited to monotonic proportional measure functions, thereby reconciling Bale and Barner’s observation with the Monotonicity Constraint. We provide independent support for this proposal, establishing that reference to the relevant monotonic proportional measure functions, but not to purity, yields meanings that accurately track speakers’ truth value judgments. Our analysis commits us to the assumption that the main clause and the comparative clause can invoke different measure functions. We propose that this is made possible by Skolemization and binding. That is, we posit function-denoting expressions which contain variables that have different binders in the two clauses.

 

 

Natália Guzzo in Journal of Child Language

Postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo’s article “Revisiting the Acquisition of Onset Complexity: Affrication in Québec French” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Child Language. The preprint is available on Open Science Framework: https://doi.org/10.31219/osf.io/m7xys. Congrats Natália!

Royer in Canadian Journal of Linguistics

A paper by Justin Royer has been accepted for publication at the Canadian Journal of Linguistics. The paper is entitled “Decomposing definiteness: Evidence from Chuj”. The paper is based on Justin’s first PhD evaluation paper, supervised by Jessica Coon and Aron Hirsch. A pre-published version is available here: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005828. Congrats Justin!

Abstract: This paper explores the realization of definiteness in Chuj, an underdocumented Mayan language. I show that Chuj provides support for recent theories that distinguish between weak and strong definite descriptions (e.g. Schwarz 2009, 2013; Arkoh and Matthewson 2013; Hanink 2018; Jenks 2018). A set of morphemes called “noun classifiers” contribute a uniqueness presupposition, composing directly with nominals to form weak definites. To form strong definites, I show that two pieces are required: (i) the noun classifier, which again contributes a uniqueness presupposition, and (ii) extra morphology that contributes an anaphoricity presupposition. Chuj strong definites thus provide explicit evidence for a decompositional account of weak and strong definites, as also advocated in Hanink 2018. I then extend this analysis to third person pronouns, which are realized in Chuj with bare classifiers, and which I propose come in two guises depending on their use. On the one hand, based on previous work (Postal 1966, Cooper 1979, Heim 1990), I argue that classifier pronouns can sometimes be E-type pronouns: weak definite determiners which combine with a covert index-introducing predicate. In such cases, classifier pronouns represent a strong definite description. On the other hand, I argue based on diagnostics established in Bi and Jenks 2019, that Chuj classifier pronouns sometimes arise as a result of NP ellipsis (Elbourne 2001, 2005). In such cases, classifier pronouns reflect a weak definite description.

Alonso-Ovalle and Hsieh in Journal of Semantics

Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Henrison Hsieh’s manuscript on the Tagalog Ability / Involuntary Action verbal form (“Causes and expectations: On the interpretation of the Tagalog Ability / Involuntary Action form”) has been accepted for publication at the Journal of Semantics.

Clint Parker in Iranian Studies

Clint Parker recently published a book review of The Routledge Handbook of Second Language Acquisition and Pedagogy of Persian, which was edited by Pouneh Shabani-Jadidi, senior lecturer of Persian in McGill’s Islamic Studies Department.  The review was published with the journal Iranian Studies and can be found here.

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