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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).


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.

P* Group, 10/07 – Connie Ting

At this week’s P group meeting, Oct 7 1pm,  Connie will lead a discussion on the paper “Tonogenesis” (Michaud and Sands, 2020).


Tonogenesis is the development of distinctive tone from earlier non-tonal contrasts. A well-understood case is that of Vietnamese (similar in its essentials to that of Chinese and many languages of the Tai-Kadai and Hmong-Mien language families), where the loss of final laryngeal consonants led to the creation of three tones, and the tones later multiplied as voicing oppositions on initial consonants waned. This is by no means the only attested diachronic scenario, however. There is tonogenetic potential in various series of phonemes: glottalized vs. plain consonants, unvoiced vs. voiced, aspirated vs. unaspirated, geminates vs. simple (and, more generally, tense vs. lax), and even among vowels, whose intrinsic fundamental frequency can transphonologize to tone. But the way in which these common phonetic precursors to tone play out in a given language depends on phonological factors, as well as on other dimensions of a language’s structure and on patterns of language contact, resulting in a great diversity of evolutionary paths in tone systems. In some language families (such as Niger-Congo and Khoe), recent tonal developments are increasingly well-understood, but working out the origin of the earliest tonal contrasts (which are likely to date back thousands of years earlier than tonogenesis among Sino-Tibetan languages, for instance) remains a mid- to long-term research goal for comparative-historical research.

If you want to come and haven’t registered, you can do it here.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 10/8 – Zoë Belk

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, October 8th at 2:30pm. Zoë Belk will be presenting joint work with Kriszta Eszter Szendrői, “Word order in Contemporary Hasidic Yiddish”.


Abstract: Yiddish has been variously argued to be an OV language with innovative VO effects, a VO language with remnants of OV characteristics, and even as a mixed VO-OV language where the verb has the ability to govern its nominal object in both directions. Based on novel Contemporary Hasidic Yiddish data, we propose that, whatever the correct analysis of historical varieties of the language, Contemporary Hasidic Yiddish is unequivocally VO. We enumerate the remnant OV characteristics and provide an analysis for them that is compatible with an underlying VO syntax of the VP. Specifically, we show that, unlike historical varieties of the language, Contemporary Hasidic Yiddish does not allow true scrambling while retaining A-bar scrambling for contrastive topicalised or focused constituents; complex predicate formation remains verb final while the VP itself is head initial; and weak pronominal objects are restricted to a position right adjacent to the finite verb, a fact which is orthogonal to the issue of word order in the VP itself.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 10/1 – Michael Wagner

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, October 1st at 2:30pm. Michael Wagner will be presenting his work, “Projecting and Operating over Syntactic Alternatives”.

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.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, 9/24 – Alex Göbel

The first syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, September 24th at 2:30pm. Alex Göbel will be presenting his work, “Accommodation, Global and Local: Experimental Data from English & Vietnamese“. We will also set up the schedule for the semester.


The ability of (some) presuppositions to be accommodated – either relative to the global context when they are not satisfied or locally when embedded under a semantic operator in order to prevent a clash – constitutes an important aspect of semantic theorizing but is empirically not well understood. In this collaborative project with Thuy Bui (Nguyen Tat Thanh University, Vietnam), we were interested in assessing whether global and local accommodation difficulty pattern together across a range of presupposition trigger types – following up on an impressionistic overlap of prior classifications – and if as a result the two accommodation types should be viewed as being rooted in the same underlying mechanism or not. I will present data from three experiments comparing English and Vietnamese to address this issue, additionally contributing an extension to an understudied language and a cross-linguistic perspective.

Please remember to register in advance at the following link: https://mcgill.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZArduGorzMsH9YD9vzVXNnLxjWRfiB6ZLqk. You can also sign up for slots here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1WHtIRQVvHXipoVKlh-0xhHYKuCh55b5CwPqA4n3ueBM/edit#gid=0. Finally, if you did not receive an email from Jonny last Friday (through the group mailing list) and wish to be added to the list, please email him. (jonathan.palucci@mail.mcgill.ca)

P* Reading Group

The time of the P* group meeting will be 1-2 pm on Thursdays. The first meeting will be on Sept 23 (1: 00 pm). To attend the meeting, please first register here: https://mcgill.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZUofu6oqzwvGNcO_blbZvGfDVIeVp2G71mb.  The meeting link will be sent to you after the registration. You only need to register for the first meeting. If you would like to be added to the PGROUP Mailing List, please email Wei with your contact information. 

P* Reading Group Scheduling

We’re scheduling a time that works best for the weekly P* group meeting for this semester. If you are interested in attending, please mark down all time slots that work for you in this poll:


Email Wei (wei.zhang16@mail.mcgill.ca) with any questions.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group Meetings

Syntax-Semantics group meetings will take place on Fridays from 14:30-15:30. Our first meeting will take place on September 24th. There will be more information about the first meeting when the date comes closer. In the meantime, you can register in advance for the meetings using this 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 slots using this link (note that the first two slots are already taken).

Email Jonny Palucci for any questions.

Syntax/semantics reading group scheduling

Syntax/semantics reading group will start off virtually this year. If you’re interested in joining, please fill out the scheduling poll here by September 6th. If you are not a member of the McGill linguistcs department, please also email Jonathan Palucci with your contact information.

P* Reading Group, 4/12 — Alex Zhai

This Monday at 12:30pm, Alex (Z.) will present on her project titled “Acoustic characteristics of vowel reduction in advanced Spanish-English bilinguals”. All are welcome! To join the meeting, please use the information in the confirmation email that you received following registration. If you haven’t registered, please do so here.

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