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Syntax-semantics reading group meetings

This semester’s Syntax-Semantics reading group meetings will take place on Fridays from 3:30-4:30pm (except when there is a colloquium talk). The first meeting will take place on January 28th. There will be more information about the first meeting as we approach the date. In the meantime, you can register for the meetings using the following link (you will only need to register once):

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. You can also, start signing up for presentation slots using the following link (under the Winter semester):

 

Finally, if you are not on the email list and would like to be added, please send Jonny an email (jonathan.palucci@mail.mcgill.ca) so you can be added to the mailing list. Future announcements will be made through that.

P* Group, 12/16 – Avleen and Heather

At this week’s P group meeting, Dec 16 1pm, Avleen and Heather will give a presentation on “Obstruent-approximant-vowel strings in Hindi”.

Abstract: In this paper, we examine the syllabification of obstruent-approximant-vowel (CAV) strings in Hindi. We propose four alternative representations for CAV: CA may form a complex onset; AV may form a light diphthong; A may simultaneously be part of a complex onset and light diphthong; or C and A may be separated by an empty nucleus. Evidence for the various alternatives comes from: phonotactic constraints that hold on sonority and place dimensions; the presence or absence of devoicing of A; the presence or absence of a pause between C and A; and the location of stress. We conclude that data from Hindi motivate an approach to syllabification that is both hierarchical and abstract.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 12/17 – Henry Davis

Our final presentation this semester will be Henry Davis and it will take place this Friday, December 17th at 2:30pm. Reminder that this week’s meeting will once again take place in a hybrid format, where the speaker and some of us will be in room 117, and others will be on Zoom as usual. We’d like to encourage students to come to the meeting in-person, there are still lots of spots available. Please email Jonny if you’d like to participate in the meeting in room 117. If it turns out that there are more than 12 people, priorities will be given to the 1st and 2nd year graduate students.
Edge asymmetries in V-initial systems – the view from Salish

Abstract: The Salish language family comprises (along with neighbouring families in the Pacific NW Sprachbund) one of the largest concentrations of V-initial systems in the world. Yet compared to better known V-initial families (e.g. Malayo-Polynesian, Mayan, or Celtic) it has had comparatively little influence on ongoing debates on the essential properties of such systems (or indeed, if such properties exist). I’m certainly not going to resolve those debates here, but I do want to bring some salient properties of Salish grammars to the table. I’ll be focusing on a fundamental asymmetry between the pre-predicative and post-predicative domains. The distribution of pre-predicative elements in many Salish languages is highly restricted – not surprisingly, given that such restrictions are constitutive of V-initial syntax – but in a rather particular way: it is the left edge which is restricted, not the pre-predicative domain in general. For example, a subject can occur pre-predicatively, but only if it is ‘shielded’ on its left edge by an auxiliary, leading to AUX-S-V-(O) order. I show that the shielding effect cannot be reduced to particular syntactic positions: both the shielded and the shielding element can be at different heights in the tree. Furthermore, left edge restrictions contrast with freedom on the right periphery: not only is post-predicative order flexible, but right-peripheral subjects can occupy positions at varying heights in the tree. I propose that specifiers can freely merge either to the left or right, but are independently restricted by the left edge constraint, accounting for the asymmetry. Finally, I speculate that the left edge constraint is fundamentally – though not necessarily directly – prosodic in nature: it can be violated just in case a left peripheral element constitutes its own intonation phrase.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 12/10 – No Meeting

There will be no syntax-semantics reading group meeting this week. Our final presentation this semester will be Henry Davis and it will take place on December 17th at 2:30pm. That week’s meeting will once again take place in a hybrid format, where the speaker and some of us will be in room 117, and others will be on Zoom as usual. We’d like to encourage students to come to the meeting in-person. Please email Jonny if you’d like to participate in the meeting in room 117. If it turns out that there are more than 12 people, priorities will be given to the 1st and 2nd year graduate students.

Edge asymmetries in V-initial systems – the view from Salish

Abstract: The Salish language family comprises (along with neighbouring families in the Pacific NW Sprachbund) one of the largest concentrations of V-initial systems in the world. Yet compared to better known V-initial families (e.g. Malayo-Polynesian, Mayan, or Celtic) it has had comparatively little influence on ongoing debates on the essential properties of such systems (or indeed, if such properties exist). I’m certainly not going to resolve those debates here, but I do want to bring some salient properties of Salish grammars to the table. I’ll be focusing on a fundamental asymmetry between the pre-predicative and post-predicative domains. The distribution of pre-predicative elements in many Salish languages is highly restricted – not surprisingly, given that such restrictions are constitutive of V-initial syntax – but in a rather particular way: it is the left edge which is restricted, not the pre-predicative domain in general. For example, a subject can occur pre-predicatively, but only if it is ‘shielded’ on its left edge by an auxiliary, leading to AUX-S-V-(O) order. I show that the shielding effect cannot be reduced to particular syntactic positions: both the shielded and the shielding element can be at different heights in the tree. Furthermore, left edge restrictions contrast with freedom on the right periphery: not only is post-predicative order flexible, but right-peripheral subjects can occupy positions at varying heights in the tree. I propose that specifiers can freely merge either to the left or right, but are independently restricted by the left edge constraint, accounting for the asymmetry. Finally, I speculate that the left edge constraint is fundamentally – though not necessarily directly – prosodic in nature: it can be violated just in case a left peripheral element constitutes its own intonation phrase.

P* Group, 12/09 – David Shanks

At this week’s P group meeting, Dec 9 1pm, David will give a presentation on “The sounds of Southern Tutchone”.

Abstract: Southern Tutchone is an understudied Dene (Athabaskan) language spoken in the Yukon. It has a privative tone system with two level and two contour tones, a large phonemic inventory, and highly complex morpho-phonological processes. This talk will frame these issues in a discussion of the possessive system, which has been my focus in this initial stage of work on the language.

P* Group, 12/2 – Tommy Liu

December 2nd at 1pm, Tommy will give a presentation on “Silent Heads and Pwd-Edges in Quebec French”. 

 

Abstract: In the first part of my talk, I present novel phonetic evidence from my corpus (Montreal metro annoucements) to support the theory of silent heads in French. With this theory, I will examine C-clusters at the edges of Pwds in Québec French, including words like [tabaʁnakl] > [tabaʁnak], [mnemɔnik], and the exceptional [sɛptʁ]. All data and analysis is completely novel, and not documented in any previous literature, therefore there is no reading for this talk.

The Word Structure Research Group, 12/3 – Richard Compton

The Word Structure Research Group/Groupe de recherche sur le mot (https://wordstructure.org/) will have a Zoom meeting Friday, December 3rd, 1:30-2:30. Richard Compton (UQAM) will give a talk: Les pronoms en inuktitut. Contact Lisa Travis (lisa.travis@mcgill.ca) if you are interested in attending.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 12/03 – No Meeting

There will be no syntax-semantics reading group meeting this week.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 11/26 – No Meeting

There will be no syntax-semantics reading group meeting this week. We will resume the following week.

P* Group, 11/25 – Rachel Soo

At this week’s P group meeting, Nov 25 1pm, Rachel Soo, a PhD student in University of British Columbia, will give a presentation on “Recognition and representation of Cantonese sound change variants in a bilingual lexicon”.

Abstract: Systematic phonetic variation within and across languages and dialects exposes listeners to different pronunciation variants. While previous research has shown that speech perception may be robust to phonetic variation, the effects on spoken word recognition do not necessarily follow suit. I present joint work with Molly Babel examining phonetic variation through the lens of an ongoing sound change in Cantonese involving word-initial [n] and [l] in two primed lexical decision tasks (Experiment 1: Immediate repetition priming task, Experiment 2: Long distance priming task). Our main question is: How are sound change pronunciation variants recognized and represented in a bilingual lexicon? The results of both experiments suggest that (1) [n]- and [l]-initial variants are processed equivalently in both short and long-term spoken word recognition, and (2) while the [n]-initial “prestige” variant may hold a preferential status, regular exposure to Cantonese endows bilingual listeners with the perceptual flexibility to dually-map pronunciation variants to a single lexical-representation.

The Word Structure Research Group, 11/19 – Lisa Travis

The Word Structure Research Group/Groupe de recherche sur le mot (https://wordstructure.org/) will be meeting Friday, November 19th, 1:30-2:30 at UQAM DS3470 (https://carte.uqam.ca/pavillon-ds). Lisa Travis (McGill) will give a talk on Prefixes as E-merged Adjuncts. Full vaccination is required to attend. Contact Lisa if you are interested in attending through Zoom or have any other questions.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 11/19 – Tessa Scott

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, November 19th at 2:30pm. Tessa Scott will be presenting her work “Object licensing in San Juan Atitán Mam”.

Abstract: In Mam, and a subset of other Mayan languages, ergative subjects are restricted from undergoing A-bar extraction. A camp of analyses attribute the inability of extracting ergative subjects to movement of the transitive object above the subject (Campana 1992, Ordóñez 1995, Coon et al. 2014, Coon et al. 2021). Coon et. al. (2014) tie this movement to the case licensing of the object by Infl. Crucially, languages which license objects low via Voice do not show the syntactic ergativity effects. New data from San Juan Atitán Mam requires us to think more about this correlation, as we see evidence that objects are licensed low by Voice but nonetheless move above subjects causing an ergative extraction restriction in the language. I propose that SJA Mam does not fit neatly into the “high-/low-abs” distinction, as it generally has “high” Set B morphemes, and restricts ergative argument extraction, yet licenses objects via Voice.

P* Group, 11/18 – Alex Zhai

At this week’s P group meeting, Nov 18 at 1pm, Alex will present the paper “English /r/-/l/ category assimilation by Japanese adults: Individual differences and the link to identification accuracy” (Kota Hattori and Paul Iverson).

Abstract:

Native speakers of Japanese often have difficulty identifying English /r/ and /l/, and it has been thought that second-language (L2) learning difficulties like this are caused by how L2 phonemes are assimilated into ones native phonological system. This study took an individual difference approach to examining this relationship by testing the category assimilation of Japanese speakers with a wide range of English /r/-/l/ identification abilities. All Japanese subjects were assessed in terms of (1) their accuracy in identifying English /r/ and /l/, (2) their assimilation of /r/ and /l/ into their Japanese flap category, (3) their production of /r/ and /l/, and (4) their best-exemplar locations for /r/, /l/, and Japanese flap in a five-dimensional set of synthetic stimuli (F1, F2, F3, closure duration, and transition duration). The results demonstrated that Japanese speakers assimilate /l/ into their flap category more strongly than they assimilate /r/. However, there was little evidence that category assimilation was predictive of English /r/-/l/ perception and production. Japanese speakers had three distinct best exemplars for /r/, /l/, and flap, and only their representation of F3 in /r/ and /l/ was predictive of identification ability.

P* Group, 11/11 – Irene Smith

At this week’s P group meeting, Nov 11 1pm, Irene will lead a discussion on the paper “Uniformity in phonetic realization: Evidence from sibilant place of articulation in American English” (Eleanor Chodroff and Colin Wilson).

Abstract: Phonetic realization is highly variable and highly structured within and across talkers. We examine three constraints that could structure the phonetic space of related speech sounds: target, contrast, and pattern uniformity. Target uniformity requires a uniform mapping from distinctive features to their corresponding phonetic targets within a talker; contrast uniformity requires a consistent difference in the phonetic targets that realize featural contrasts across talkers; and pattern uniformity requires a uniform template of phonetic targets across talkers. Focusing on American English sibilant fricatives, we measure and compare each constraint’s influence on the phonetic targets corresponding to place of articulation. We find that target uniformity is the strongest constraint: each talker realizes a given distinctive feature value in highly similar ways across related sounds. Together with similar findings for other sound classes, this result reveals fine-grained systematicity in the mapping from phonology to phonetics and has implications for theories of speech production and speech perception.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 11/12 – Christopher Davis

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, November 12th at 2:30pm. Christopher Davis will be presenting joint work with Rajesh Bhatt, “Number and Honor in Hindi-Urdu”. This week’s meeting will take place in a hybrid format, where the speaker and some of us will be in room 117, and others will be on Zoom as usual. We’d like to encourage students to come to the meeting in-person. Please email Junko (junko.shimoyama@mcgill.ca) if you’d like to participate in the meeting in room 117. If it turns out that there are more than 12 people, priorities will be given to the 1st and 2nd year graduate students.
Abstract: In many languages (in particular, those from the Indo-European family), the second person plural pronoun can be used with a singular referent, in which case the plural feature is not interpreted for number, but instead signals politeness, formality, or some similar sociopragmatic relationship between the speaker and addressee. In Hindi, this kind of “honorific plural” is found in third person as well as second person nominals. In this talk, we first show how honorific third person subjects trigger plural agreement in Hindi, while requiring the honored head noun itself to appear with singular inflection. After giving an analysis of third person cases, we turn to second person pronouns with singular reference, which show a three-way distinction between rude, neutral, and honorific forms. Of these forms, only the “rude” form is formally singular, while the neutral and honorific forms are both formally plural, triggering plural agreement, despite having singular reference. We show that the formal plural feature of the neutral second person singular pronoun is “more defective” than that of the honorific second person singular pronoun, in that it only triggers plural agreement in cases where number agreement morphology is a portmanteau with other agreement morphology. We present a preliminary analysis of the system, arguing that Hindi has two distinct kinds of “pseudo-plural” feature. One of these is associated with honorific semantics and triggers regular agreement, while the other is an atavistic feature with no synchronic semantic correlate, and is more defective in its ability to trigger plural agreement. We point to a number of remaining issues whose analysis we are currently working on, including the question of how the semantics of the system should be modeled and integrated with the morphosyntax.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 11/05 – Michael Wagner

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, November 5th at 2:30pm. Michael Wagner will be presenting his work “Projecting and Operating over Syntactic Alternatives”. This is a continuation of his previous talk.

 

Abstract: Many grammatical phenomena have been analyzed based on the assumption that constituents can introduce semantic alternatives, and that these alternatives can project in a pointwise fashion, following Hamblin’s 1973 analysis of questions. Katzir (2007) argued that at least sometimes, alternatives are structural. This presentation provides new arguments compatible with this view, which suggest that expressions can introduce syntactic alternatives, that these alternatives can “project” in a pointwise fashion, and that grammar can operate over sets of linguistic expressions. The evidence, some of which from online experiments, comes from data involving disjunction, coordination, and focus.  If true, this raises interesting questions about the architecture of grammar.

The Word Structure Research Group, 11/05 – Audrey Laurin and Heather Newell

The Word Structure Research Group (Groupe de recherche sur le mot), co-organized by Lisa Travis, will be meeting this semester at UQAM every other Friday from 1:30-2:30 in DS3470 (https://carte.uqam.ca/pavillon-ds).

This week (Nov 5th) Audrey Laurin (UQAM) and Heather Newell (UQAM) will be presenting their work on the morphosyntax and phonology of pronouns. Full vaccination is required to attend. For more information on the history of this group see https://wordstructure.org/. Please contact Lisa if you are interested in attending through zoom.

For any questions, contact Lisa at lisa.travis@mcgill.ca.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 10/29 – No Meeting

There will be no syntax-semantics reading group meeting this week. Since NELS is taking place this Friday (and continuing throughout the weekend), everyone is encouraged to attend that instead and listen to some interesting talks! We will resume meeting on Friday, November 5th at 2:30pm.

P* Group, 10/21 – Wei Zhang

At this week’s P group meeting, Oct 21 1pm,  Wei will lead a discussion on the paper “A non-contrastive cue in spontaneous imitation: Comparing mono- and bilingual imitators” (Kwon, 2021).

Abstract: This study tests the hypothesis that imitators of different native languages imitate the same targets in distinct ways predicted by their native phonology, by investigating the role of a non-contrastive phonetic property in spontaneous imitation of English voiceless stops by English monolingual and Seoul Korean-English bilingual imitators. The primarily contrastive phonetic property for English voiceless stops is voice onset time (VOT), with the fundamental frequency (f0) of the post-stop vowel being non-contrastive but still informative for the voicing contrast. On the other hand, in Seoul Korean, stop VOT is a non-primary cue, but it is necessary to maintain the full three-way laryngeal contrast in the language. Post-stop f0 is the primary cue for the Seoul Korean aspirated stops. Seoul Korean speakers have been reported to imitate aspirated stops with longer VOT by raising their post-stop f0 (Kwon, 2019). In this study, English monolingual speakers and Seoul Korean-English bilingual speakers heard and shadowed model speech containing English voiceless stops manipulated by either raising post-stop f0 or lengthening VOT. Their imitation was assessed with two acoustic measurements, stop VOT and post-onset f0, of the voiceless stops, before and after the imitators heard the model speech with the two manipulations. A separate discrimination test confirmed that both manipulations were reliably perceived by both the monolingual and the bilingual imitators. English monolingual speakers’ imitation data suggest that their shadowing productions reflect the phonological significance of the two phonetic properties, and only the imitative changes induced by a contrastive cue last beyond the immediate shadowing targets. In addition, Seoul Korean-English bilingual speakers, when performing the spontaneous imitation tasks in English, do not draw on their native (Seoul Korean) phonology. Implications of these findings on the role of phonology in the spontaneous imitation of bilingual and monolingual speakers are discussed.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 10/15 – Jonny Palucci

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, October 15th at 2:30pm. Jonny Palucci will be discussing the paper “Affected Experiencers” by Bosse et al. The paper can be downloaded here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11049-012-9177-1.

Abstract: Numerous languages permit an NP that is not selected by the verb to be added to a clause, with several different possible interpretations. We divide such non-selected arguments into possessor, benefactive, attitude holder, and affected experiencer categories, on the basis of syntactic and semantic differences between them. We propose a formal analysis of the affected experiencer construction. In our account, a syntactic head Aff(ect) introduces the experiencer argument, and adds a conventional implicature to the effect that any event of the type denoted by its syntactic sister is the source of the experiencer’s psychological experience. Hence, our proposal involves two tiers of meaning: the at-issue meaning of the sentence, and some not-at-issue meaning (an implicature). A syntactic head can introduce material on both tiers. Additionally, we allow two parameters of variation: (i) the height of the attachment of Aff, and (ii) how much of the semantics is at-issue and how much is an implicature. We show that these two parameters account for the attested variation across our sample of languages, as well as the significant commonalities among them. Our analysis also accounts for significant differences between affected experiencers and the other types of non-selected arguments, and we also note a generalization to the effect that purely not-at-issue non-selected arguments can only be weak or clitic pronouns.

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