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Oriana Kilbourn-Ceroen in Journal of Semantics

Congratulations to Oriana Kilbourn-Ceroen, whose paper “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost” just appeared in Journal of Semantics!

Hadas Kotek’s paper to appear in Glossa

Hadas Kotek‘s paper “Covert partial wh-movement and the nature of derivations” has just been accepted for publication with Glossa: Special Issue on Syntactic Computation. Here is a link to the latest version on Lingbuzz: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/002541/. Congratulations Hadas!

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership publication

A paper documenting the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership––a collaborative language partnership involving the Listuguj Education Directorate and McGill and Concordia linguists––was just published in the Journal of Language Documentation and ConservationAuthors include McGill BA alums Carol-Rose Little (Cornell) and Elise McClay (UBC), Listuguj community member Travis Wysote, and project PI Jessica Coon.

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron in Journal of Semantics

Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón’s article “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost” has been accepted for publication at the Journal of Semantics. Congratulations, Oriana!

Poschmann & Wagner in NLLT

Michael Wagner has a new paper out, with Claudia Poschmann, in Natural Language and Linguistic TheoryThe title is “Relative clause extraposition and prosody in German”

Whether a relative clause (RC) can be extraposed has been argued to depend both on contextual focus and on whether an RC is restrictive or appositive. However, no previous study has looked at the interaction between these two factors in restricting extraposition, despite the fact that different types of relative clauses are generally taken to differ in how they relate to focus. Furthermore, previous studies have not looked at the role of prosody in accounting for the effect of focus on extraposition, and have found contradictory results with respect to the prosodic differences between appositive and restrictive relative clauses. This paper presents the results of a production experiment on German which crosses the location of focus and the type of RC in order to explore how they interact in affecting prosody and extraposition.

Stuart-Smith, Sonderegger et al. in Laboratory Phonology

An article co-authored by Morgan Sonderegger has appeared in Laboratory Phonology — congratulations!

Stuart-Smith, Jane, Morgan Sonderegger, Tamara Rathcke, and Rachel Macdonald. (2015) “The private life of stops: VOT in a real-time corpus of spontaneous Glaswegian.” Laboratory Phonology 6(3-4): 505–549.

While voice onset time (VOT) is known to be sensitive to a range of phonetic and linguistic factors, much less is known about VOT in spontaneous speech, since most studies consider stops in single words, in sentences, and/or in read speech. Scottish English is typically said to show less aspirated voiceless stops than other varieties of English, but there is also variation, ranging from unaspirated stops in vernacular speakers to more aspirated stops in Scottish Standard English; change in the vernacular has also been suggested. This paper presents results from a study which used a fast, semi-automated procedure for analyzing positive VOT, and applied it to stressed syllable-initial stops from a real- and apparent-time corpus of naturally-occurring spontaneous Glaswegian vernacular speech. We confirm significant effects on VOT for place of articulation and local speaking rate, and trends for vowel height and lexical frequency. With respect to time, our results are not consistent with previous work reporting generally shorter VOT in elderly speakers, since our results from models which control for local speech rate show lengthening over real-time in the elderly speakers in our sample. Overall, our findings suggest that VOT in both voiceless and voiced stops is lengthening over the course of the twentieth century in this variety of Scottish English. They also support observations from other studies, both from Scotland and beyond, indicating that gradient shifts along the VOT continuum reflect subtle sociolinguistic control.


Simonenko in Journal of Semantics

Recent McGill PhD Sasha Simonenko’s paper “Semantics of DP Islands: The Case of Questions” has just appeared online in Journal of Semantics, and can be found here. This work grew out of her dissertation, defended in 2014. Congratulations, Sasha!

This article provides a semantic–pragmatic answer to the question of why some definite DPs are islands for wh-subextraction while others are not. While it was suggested as early as in Chomsky (1973) that the key to the problem are differences between determiners involved, there has been no analysis which would be based on independently attested properties of the determiners. This article focuses on the contrast in wh-subextraction between DPs with two kinds of definite articles, the so-called weak and strong ones, in Austro-Bavarian German, recorded in Brugger and Prinzhorn (1996). The analysis I offer makes use of the recent works showing that weak and strong definite articles can have different semantics. In particular, to account for the use and distribution of German strong articles, Schwarz (2009) assumes a semantics which routinely results in directly referential readings of the DPs headed by such articles. I show that, assuming a classic Hamblin/Karttunen semantics for questions, cases of wh-subextraction out of directly referential DPs would result in a trivial question which presupposes the asserted content of its possible answers. More broadly, this work aligns with a series of semantic–pragmatic analyses of constraints on island formation (Szabolcsi & Zwarts 1993; Fox & Hackl 2006; Oshima 2007; Abrusán 2008; Abrusán & Spector 2011; B. Schwarz & Shimoyama 2011; Mayr 2013).


Epistemic Indefinites

Epistemic IndefinitesEpistemic Indefinites: Exploring Modality Beyond the Verbal Domain, a collected volume edited by Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Paula Menéndez-Benito has just been published by Oxford University Press. Congratulations to all contributing authors and to the editors!


Coon, Mateo Pedro, and Preminger in Linguistic Variation

Jessica Coon’s collaborative paper with Pedro Mateo Pedro (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala) and Omer Preminger (Maryland) just appeared in the journal Linguistic VariationThe title is “The Role of Case in A-Bar Extraction Asymmetries: Evidence from Mayan.”

Many morphologically ergative languages display asymmetries in the extraction of core arguments: while absolutive arguments (transitive objects and intransitive subjects) extract freely, ergative arguments (transitive subjects) cannot. This falls under the label “syntactic ergativity” (see, e.g. Dixon 1972, 1994; Manning 1996; Polinsky to appear(b)). These extraction asymmetries are found in many languages of the Mayan family, where in order to extract transitive subjects (for focus, questions, or relativization), a special construction known as the “Agent Focus” (AF) must be used. These AF constructions have been described as syntactically and semantically transitive because they contain two non-oblique DP arguments, but morphologically intransitive because the verb appears with only a single agreement marker and takes an intransitive status suffix (Aissen 1999; Stiebels 2006). In this paper we offer a proposal for (i) why some morphologically ergative languages exhibit extraction asymmetries, while others do not; and (ii) how the AF construction in Q’anjob’al circumvents this problem. We adopt recent accounts which argue that ergative languages vary in the locus of absolutive case assignment (Aldridge 2004, 2008a; Legate 2002, 2008), and propose that this variation is present within the Mayan family. Based primarily on comparative data from Q’anjob’al and Chol, we argue that the inability to extract ergative arguments does not reflect a problem with properties of the ergative subject itself, but rather reflects locality properties of absolutive case assignment in the clause. We show how the AF morpheme -on circumvents this problem in Q’anjob’al by assigning case to internal arguments.

Sasha Simonenko in Journal of Semantics

Recent PhD graduate Sasha Simonenko, currently a Postdoc at LaTTiCe (CNRS, ENS, Paris 3), just learned that her manuscript “Semantics of DP islands: The case of questions” has been accepted for publication in Journal of Semantics. Congratulations Sasha!

Call for Papers for McGWPL

Dear Students,

We are preparing an issue of McGWPL featuring Evaluation and MA papers from students in the department, and as such we are inviting students to submit their completed Evaluation and MA work to be published in McGWPL. Published work in the Department’s working papers provides an excellent opportunity to showcase your research both within and beyond the McGill linguistics community. As Evaluation and MA research papers have already been reviewed by the department for quality, no major revisions are required for submissions.

Submissions can be in Word or LaTeX format and must follow the formatting guidelines outlined in the McGWPL templates. Templates for LaTeX and Word submissions are available to download from our website (http://www.mcgill.ca/mcgwpl/submissions).

Below are the details for submission:
Deadline: November 20th 2014
Page Limit: No explicit page limit; please endeavour to keep submissions below ~70 pages
Format: LaTeX, Word
Bibliography: If you are submitting using LaTeX, please send the corresponding BibTeX file with submission
Further formatting details are available in the submission templatesPlease email your submission file to: mcgwpl.linguistics@mcgill.ca

We’re looking forward to receiving your submissions!

The McGWPL Team

Clayards et al. paper in Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics

Congratulations to Meghan Clayards, whose article “The time course of auditory and language-specific mechanisms in compensation for sibilant assimilation” will appear in Attention, Perception and Psychophysics. The online version is available here.

Clayards, M., Niebuhr, O., & Gaskell, M. G. (2014). The time course of auditory and language-specific mechanisms in compensation for sibilant assimilation. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 1-18.

Models of spoken-word recognition differ on whether compensation for assimilation is language-specific or depends on general auditory processing. English and French participants were taught words that began or ended with the sibilants /s/ and /∫/. Both languages exhibit some assimilation in sibilant sequences (e.g., /s/ becomes like [∫] in dress shop and classe chargée), but they differ in the strength and predominance of anticipatory versus carryover assimilation. After training, participants were presented with novel words embedded in sentences, some of which contained an assimilatory context either preceding or following. A continuum of target sounds ranging from [s] to [∫] was spliced into the novel words, representing a range of possible assimilation strengths. Listeners’ perceptions were examined using a visual-world eyetracking paradigm in which the listener clicked on pictures matching the novel words. We found two distinct language-general context effects: a contrastive effect when the assimilating context preceded the target, and flattening of the sibilant categorization function (increased ambiguity) when the assimilating context followed. Furthermore, we found that English but not French listeners were able to resolve the ambiguity created by the following assimilatory context, consistent with their greater experience with assimilation in this context. The combination of these mechanisms allows listeners to deal flexibly with variability in speech forms.



Erlewine paper to appear in NLLT

Congratulations to Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, whose paper “Anti-locality and optimality in Kaqchikel Agent Focus” has just been officially accepted to Natural Language and Linguistic Theory! A pre-final draft is available here.

Many Mayan languages show a syntactically ergative extraction asymmetry whereby the A-bar extraction of subjects of transitives requires special verbal morphology, known as Agent Focus. In this paper I investigate the syntax of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. I argue that this extraction asymmetry in Kaqchikel is the result of a particular anti-locality constraint which bans movement which is too close. Support for this claim comes from new data on the distribution of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel which show this locality-sensitivity. The distribution and realization of Agent Focus will then be modeled using a system of ranked, violable constraints operating over competing derivations. This theoretical choice will be supported by details in the pattern of agreement in Agent Focus.

Newell & Piggott appears in Lingua

Congratulations to Heather Newell and Glyne Piggott, whose paper “Interactions at the syntax-phonology interface: Evidence from Ojibwe” was just published by Lingua. You can download the full paper here.

This paper provides evidence that word-internal syntax can play a crucial role in the determination of phonological well-formedness. The focus is on an apparent paradox in Ojibwe; the language both avoids and tolerates vowels in hiatus. Adopting the theory of Distributed Morphology, we argue that VV sequences are avoided within domains that are realizations of syntactic phases, based on the theory of cyclic derivation proposed by Chomsky, 2001 and Chomsky, 2008 and others. In contrast, when a VV sequence spans the boundary between phases, it is tolerated. The apparent paradox is a consequence of the fact that the elements outside the spell-out of a phase cannot be evaluated to determine the well-formedness of prosodic entities like syllables, feet and prosodic words. Derivation by phase and Distributed Morphology also provide insights into two strategies for avoiding vowels in hiatus within a phase-domain; vowel loss applies to combinations of vocabulary items inserted in the same phase, while consonant epenthesis applies to items inserted in different phases but merged phonologically after insertion. The conditions under which consonant epenthesis occurs provide support for post-syntactic movement at the PF interface, triggered entirely by phonological factors.

Prosody Lab publications

Michael Wagner’s Prosody Lab has had a prolific year, with publications including work by Elise McClay (McGill BA ’12) and current PhD student Jeff Klassen. Congratulations all!
McClay, Elise & Michael Wagner (in press). Accented Pronouns and Contrast. To appear in the Proceedings of the 50th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society in 2014. (PDF)
Abstract: Both the lack of accentuation on a referring expression and the choice of a pronoun over a full noun phrase have been tied to a higher accessibility of the referent. Why, then, would a pronoun ever be accented? We consider three perspectives: Kameyama’s (1999) Complementary Preference Hypothesis, Smyth’s (1994) Parallel Function view, and Rooth’s (1992) Alternatives Theory of Focus, and present experimental evidence in favour of the focus view. We conclude by noting issues with respect to the definition of contrast that arise when considering cases of multiple foci as in the data of our experiments. 
Wagner, Michael & Jeffrey Klassen (in press). Accessibility is no Alternative to Alternatives. To appear in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. (PDF)
Abstract:  Linguistic constituents that encode salient information are often prosodically reduced. Recent studies have presented evidence that higher contextual accessibility of referents results in lower prosodic prominence. Accounts of reduction in terms of accessibility  set out to explain a range of phenomena that include those that are in the domain of linguistic theories of focus and givenness. The tacit assumption is that more general and independently motivated accessibility factors will be able to supplant the more specialized grammatical accounts of prosodic prominence. This paper reviews previous results and finds that existing accessibility accounts cannot explain a range of data easily captured by the alternatives theory of focus, and that various experimental studies motivating the accessibility view actually fail to distinguish between the two accounts. New experimental data is presented that teases apart the effects of accessibility and linguistic focus.
Wagner, Michael 2015. Phonological Evidence in Syntax. Tibor Kiss and Artemis Alexiadou (Eds.): Syntax—Theory and Analysis. An International Handbook. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science. 42.1-3, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, to appear 2015. (PDF)
Abstract: Linear precedence is one of the key sources of evidence for the syntactic structure of complex expressions, but other aspects of the phonological representation of a sentence, such as its prosody, are often not considered when testing syntactic theories. This overview provides an introduction to the three main dimensions of sentence prosody, phrasing, prominence and intonational tune, focusing on how they can enter syntactic argumentation.

Carlson, Sonderegger, and Bane (2014) on phonological networks

An article co-authored by Morgan Sonderegger has appeared.  Congratulations!

Carlson, Matthew, Morgan Sonderegger, and Max Bane. (2014) “How children explore the phonological network in child-directed speech: A survival analysis of children’s first word productions.”  Journal of Memory and Language 75: 159–180.

We explored how phonological network structure influences the age of words’ first appearance in children’s (14–50 months) speech, using a large, longitudinal corpus of spontaneous child–caregiver interactions. We represent the caregiver lexicon as a network in which each word is connected to all of its phonological neighbors, and consider both words’ local neighborhood density (degree), and also their embeddedness among interconnected neighborhoods (clustering coefficient and coreness). The larger-scale structure reflected in the latter two measures is implicated in current theories of lexical development and processing, but its role in lexical development has not yet been explored. Multilevel discrete-time survival analysis revealed that children are more likely to produce new words whose network properties support lexical access for production: high degree, but low clustering coefficient and coreness. These effects appear to be strongest at earlier ages and largely absent from 30 months on. These results suggest that both a word’s local connectivity in the lexicon and its position in the lexicon as a whole influences when it is learned, and they underscore how general lexical processing mechanisms contribute to productive vocabulary development.


Shimoyama on the Size of Noun Modifiers

Junko Shimoyama’s article (“The Size of Noun Modifiers and Degree Quantifier Movement“) has just been published in the Journal of East Asian Linguistics. Congratulations, Junko!


TOM 6 Proceedings

The latest issue of McGWPL is now available online:


This volume, edited by Brian Buccola, Michael Hamilton, Alanah McKillen, and James Tanner, is a
collection of papers presented at the sixth Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal (TOM)
workshop in semantics, held at McGill University on March 23, 2013.

Congratulations to the contributors and the editors!

Grodzinsky in Science Magazine

A new study in Neurolinguistics–”Phonetic Feature Encoding in Human Superior Temporal Gyrus”–is featured as the lead article in this week’s Science Magazine (library link: http://www.sciencemag.org.proxy1.library.mcgill.ca/content/343/6174/1006).

Yosef Grodzinsky, together with Israel Nelken, has a Perspective paper on the article, titled “The Neural Code That Makes us Human” (http://www.sciencemag.org.proxy1.library.mcgill.ca/content/343/6174/978).
Congrats Yossi!

Bale and Coon to appear in Linguistic Inquiry

Alan Bale (Concordia) and Jessica Coon‘s paper “Classifiers are for numerals not for nouns: Consequences for the mass-count distinction” has been accepted for publication as a Linguistic Inquiry squib. You can find the paper, which discusses classifiers in Mi’gmaq and Chol, here.

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