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Linguistics ARIA recipients to present research projects – 1/26

On January 26th, undergraduate recipients of Arts Research Internship Awards (ARIA) will present the results of their summer linguistics research projects. Four linguistics students will be presenting their work, listed below. More information and details for how to attend can be found on the ARIA website: https://www.mcgill.ca/arts-internships/events-0/annual-undergraduate-research-event

  • “The Status of Mid-Level Nuclear Accents in English” – Sijia Zhang (supervised by Francisco Torreira)
  • “The syntax and semantics of counting numerals: the comparison of Mandarin Chinese and Latin counting numerals” – Yingrui He (supervised by Gillon Brendan)
  • “A Computational Model of Phonotactics” – Scarlett Xu (supervised by Timothy O’donnell)
  • “Grammatical Criteria in Malagasy External Possession” – Tallis Clark (supervised by Jessica Coon)

Congratulations all!

Royer et al. in Tlalocan

A paper by Justin Royer, Pedro Mateo Pedro (U. Toronto), Elizabeth Carolan (BA ’14), Jessica Coon, and Magdalena Torres has been accepted for publication in Tlalocan, a journal that specializes on the documentation of texts and narratives from Indigenous languages of Mesoamerica. The paper is entitled “Atz’am k’ik’ atz’am: The story of Xuwan and a grammatical sketch of Chuj”, and is available on LingBuzz: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005630
Abstract: This article and text provide a new take on the San Mateo saltwater sources from the perspective of Xuwan, a San Mateo resident who for her entire life has been working in the extraction, production, and merchandising of atz’am k’ik’ atz’am ‘the black salt’, a culturally-valued good which forms a quintessential aspect of Chuj life and culture. In addition to recounting her experiences with black salt, Xuwan comments on several other aspects of Chuj life, both in the past and in the present. The article is introduced with a short grammar sketch of Chuj, which highlights the prominent grammatical features found in the text.

Coon and Royer in Nominalization volume

Jessica Coon and Justin Royer contributed a chapter to a recently-published Oxford University Press volume, Nominalization: 50 Years on from Chomsky’s Remarks, celebrating the 50-year anniversary of Chomsky’s “Remarks on Nominalization”. The title of their chapter is “Nominalization and Selection in Two Mayan Languages”.

Justin Royer at Going Romance 34

Justin Royer presented joint work with Aurore Gonzalez (Harvard) at Going Romance 34 (held virtually in Paris). Their work was entitled “Expletive negation” as a decomposed NPI in Québec French. 

Jessica Coon and Justin Royer in “Headless Relative Clauses in Mesoamerica”

Articles by Jessica Coon and Justin Royer appeared in the recently-published Oxford University Press volume, “Headless Relative Clauses in Mesoamerican Languages“, edited by Ivano Caponigro, Harold Torrence, and Roberto Zavala. The volume is the result of a series of workshops which took place in Chiapas Mexico in 2017 and 2018. The volume contains 15 chapters covering headless relative clauses in different languages of Mesoamerica; Justin’s article focuses on Chuj, and Jessica’s article, coauthored with Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez (CIMSUR-UNAM) focuses on Ch’ol. Details of the project can be found here: https://sites.google.com/view/mesoamerican.

McGill @ NELS 51

The 51st Annual Meeting of the Northeast Linguistics Society (NELS 51) took place virtually this past weekend, organized by the UQÀM. McGill presenters included:

  • Justin Royer – Subject or possessor? Binding and the ‘Low/High-ABS’ parameter in Mayan
  • Jonathan Palucci & Luis Alonso-Ovalle – Numeral any: In favor of viability

Full conference information can be found here: https://sites.grenadine.uqam.ca/sites/linguistique/en/nels51/

Congratulations Jeff Lamontagne!

Jeff Lamontagne successfully defended his thesis on Sept 25th. Jeff’s thesis is entitled “Interaction in Phonological Variation: Grammatical Insights from a Corpus-based Approach” and it was supervised by Heather Goad and Francisco Torreira. Congratulations Jeff!!
Jeff has already started a tenure-track position in the Department of French & Italian at Indiana University Bloomington. Colleagues, friends, and family gathered by Zoom afterwards to virtually celebrate.

Dissertation defence, 9/25 – Jeff Lamontagne

Jeff Lamontagne will be defending his PhD dissertation, “Interaction in Phonological Variation: Insights from a Corpus-based Approach” on Friday September 25th at 9:15am (following the pre-defence meeting at 9:00). The defence will be live streamed on YouTube at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUqXeDr0Rc1VgEB8IVpQ5TA

All are welcome to attend!

FestEval 2020

This year’s annual FestEval took place via Zoom. Masashi Harada, Jacob Hoover, Will Johnston, Esmail Moghiseh, Matthieu Paillé, Justin Royer, and Michaela Socolof all presented the results from their recent PhD evaluation papers. Congratulations all!



Justin Royer’s paper to appear in NLLT

Congratulations to Justin Royer, whose paper “Prosody as syntactic evidence: The view from Mayan” has been accepted for publication in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory! The paper is based on Justin’s second PhD Evaluation paper, supervised by Michael Wagner and Jessica Coon. Congratulations Justin!

Abstract: A subset of Mayan languages feature “prosodic allomorphy”, a phenomenon involving morphological alternations at certain prosodic boundaries. In previous work, Henderson (2012) proposes that prosodic allomorphs in K’iche’ provide evidence for non-isomorphisms in the correspondence between syntax and prosody. In this paper, I argue against this view by building on a related extraposition analysis in Aissen 1992. I contribute novel data from prosodic allomorphy from two Mayan languages, Chuj and K’iche’, and show that upon further inspection, there is strong evidence for a syntactic analysis different from the one assumed in Henderson 2012. The new syntax leads to several predictions that are borne out, and crucially, does not force us to posit mismatches, allowing for a one-to-one correspondence between syntax and prosody. By taking apparent instances of mismatches as suggestive that the syntactic analysis must be revisited, the proposal aligns with work such as Steedman 1991, Wagner 2005, 2010, and Hirsch and Wagner 2015. Finally, I discuss how the proposal could be restated within phase theoretic approaches to the interface between syntax and phonology, concluding that Mayan prosodic allomorphy poses an interesting challenge for such accounts.

Congratulations Dr. Henrison Hsieh!

Congratulations to Henrison Hsieh, who successfully defended his doctoral dissertation “Beyond nominative: A broader view of A’-dependencies in Tagalog” last week. Photos of the Zoom defense and post-defense virtual celebration are below.

during the defense

post-defense celebration

Dissertation defense, Henrison Hsieh – 9/4

Our graduate student Henrison Hsieh is defending his PhD thesis online at 10 am this Friday, September 4, 2020. His thesis title is: “Beyond Nominative: A Broader View of A’-dependencies in Tagalog”. Relevant links and more details will be sent to the department mailing list as soon as they become available. See you there!

Xia, White, and Guzzo in Second Language Research

Vera Yunxiao Xia (BA ’18), Lydia White and Natália Brambatti Guzzo’s article “Intervention in relative clauses: Effects of relativized minimality on L2 representation and processing” was accepted for publication in Second Language Research.

Welcome incoming graduate students!

McLing is happy to welcome a new cohort of graduate students to the Department of Linguistics!

Xuanda Chen is interested in phonetics, speech science and modelling speech flow using mathematical and computational tools. He completed M.A. at Institute of Linguistics, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. In his spare time, Xuanda enjoys anime, fiction, and music.
Alex Cucinelli who you may have seen around the department before the pandemic, is interested in language development, especially child phonology and L2 phonological acquisition. He previously attended Memorial University of Newfoundland for his BA and MA in linguistics.
Amanda Doucette is interested in computational phonology and how machine learning can be used to model  how language is represented in the brain. They spent the past three years as a software engineer in New York City, and have a B.A. in Linguistics and a B.S. in Computer Science from University of Massachusetts Amherst. Outside of linguistics, they spend a lot of time cooking, baking, and taking care of house plants.
Terrance Gatchalian has a B.A. in Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. His linguistic interests are in syntax, semantics, and fieldwork, and he has been working with Ktunaxa speakers for the last four years. Outside of linguistics, Terrance also enjoys hiking and photography.
Jing Ji’s current interests lie in the interface between cognition and perception, particularly the interaction between syntax, semantics, and prosody. She wants to apply computational methods to formalizing linguistic processes, understanding speech properties, and making predictions. She has research experience in psycholinguistics, corpus linguistics, mathematical linguistics as well as work experience in NLP.
Irene Smith is from Austin, Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned bachelor’s degrees in linguistics and electrical engineering. Her academic interests include phonetics, phonology, and computational linguistics. In her free time, Irene enjoys weaving textiles, tending her herb garden, and backpacking in the wilderness. 
Alex Zhai’s main interests are in speech perception and second language acquisition. She completed her B.A. in Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Carleton College.


McGill at MOTH 2020

McGill linguists attended and presented at the 2020 Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton (MOTH) Syntax Workshop, hosted virtually by the University of Toronto, August 17-18, 2020. Madelaine O’Reilly-Brown presented “Restructuring and clause structure in Hindi-Urdu”, Connie Ting  presented “Capturing ‘exempt’ anaphors with local binding”, and Beini Wang presented “Split intransitivity in Mandarin Chinese”. Martina Martinović was this year’s invited speaker.

Two new papers from Speech Prosody conference

Two new papers by McGill Linguistics coauthors were published in the proceedings of this years Speech Prosody Conference, held May 25 to August 31, 2020. Videos from the talks can still be found on the conference website.

Gibson, Emma, Francisco Torreira, and Michael Wagner. (2020). The high-fall contour in North American English: A case study in imperatives. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020.
Abstract: Imperatives are often uttered with a standard declarative falling contour. However, there are several claims that they can be pronounced with different tunes, leading to different illocutionary as well as attitudinal import. In this paper, we investigate one such tune, which we categorize as the “high-fall contour” and can be described as a nuclear high accent that is often scaled higher (or ‘upstepped’) compared to earlier accents. We show that it is used in the context of “weak” (suggestion-like) and “repeated” or “redundant” imperatives. The “weak” usage of the high-fall seems contradictory in pragmatic flavour to its use in repetitions, which usually sound like definite commands and not suggestions. We test for whether these uses may be distinguishable based on prenuclear patterns, as has been suggested in prior literature, and ultimately do not find evidence to suggest the tunes are distinct. We also observe that, surprisingly, imperative repetition leads to a lengthening of duration.
Martens, Gouming, Francisco Torreira, and Michael Wagner. (2020). Hat contour in Dutch: Form and function. In Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Speech Prosody 2020.
Abstract: The hat contour is an intonation pattern which starts with a rise and ends in a fall. Although most researchers agree that it consists of a rise and fall, there is little consensus about the actual phonological form of this contour. Consequently, theories about the meaning of the hat pattern are very diverse as well.

The current research attempts at gaining a better understanding of the relationship between the form and meaning of one specific hat contour in Dutch: Something we will refer to as the early-fall hat contour. We will test the hypothesis that an early fall encodes the presupposition that there are true alternatives to the asserted proposition.An online rating experiment was set up in which stimuli were manipulated for the timing of the fall (early fall vs. late fall) and the availability of alternative propositions. The results show that as predicted, an early-fall is less acceptable when all alternatives are ruled out than a late fall. Moreover, an early fall is preferred when there are true alternatives, which interprets as an effect of Maximize Presupposition. The effects are very small however, suggesting that more research is needed to understand these effects better. Index Terms: alternative propositions, hat contour, intonational meaning, maximize presupposition.

Jiang, Clayards, and Sonderegger in Laboratory Phonology

Binger Jiang and co-authors Meghan Clayards and Morgan Sonderegger published a paper in Laboratory Phonology, titled: “Individual and dialect differences in perceiving multiple cues: A tonal register contrast in two Chinese Wu dialects.”


McGill at LabPhon 17

LabPhon 17 was virtually held in Vancouver, July 6-8. There were several presentations by current and recent McGillians:

  • Heather Goad (invited speaker) – Marginal phonological structure: Prosodic constituency that you cannot ‘hear’ in Québec French
  • Jane Stuart-Smith, Morgan Sonderegger, Jeff Mielke, James Tanner, Vanna Willerton – The SPADE Consortium (talk) Desperately seeking English sibilants: Discovering dialect norms and speaker variability for /s ʃ/ from large-scale multi-dialect analysis
  • Meghan Clayards, Claire Suh and Ross Otto (poster) – Individual differences in top-down lexical processing linked to cognitive inhibition
  • Heather Goad and Natália Brambatti Guzzo (poster)– Prosodic structure affects processing: The case of English past inflection (poster)
  • Michael Wagner, Josiane Lachapelle and Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron (poster) – Liaison and the locality of production planning

The full program can be found here: https://labphon.org/labphon17/detailed-programme

McGill at SALT 30

McGill Linguistics was well represented at the recent Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT 30), held online from August 17–20, and hosted by Cornell University.

Our own Bernhard Schwarz was a keynote speaker, presenting joint work with Aron Hirsch (McGill postdoc 2017-19) and Michaela Socolof (“Severing uniqueness from answerhood”), and a number of former and current McGill affiliates were featured in the program:

  • Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Esmail Moghiseh: “Numeral Any: the view from Farsi”
  • Brian Buccola (McGill PhD 2015) and Andreas Haida: “Numeral modifiers revisited: Ignorance as a consequence of obligatory (ir)relevance”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (McGill postdoc 2014-15) and Meghan Lim: “Anti-uniqueness without articles”
  • Filipe Hisao Kobayashi and Vincent Rouillard (McGill BA 2017): “High and low exhaustification in singular which-questions”
  • Mathieu Paillé: “The distribution of local-only exhaustivity”

McGill at AFLA 27

Mathieu Paillé gave a talk at AFLA 27 called “Tucking-in and nominative-third word order.”

Ileana Paul (undergraduate and graduate alum) presented joint work with Diane Massam: “A recipe for null arguments”

Lauren Clemens (former postdoc) presented an invited talk: “Absolutive movement in Polynesian: Syntactic ergativity and postverbal word order variation”

They are pictured below, with Jozina Vander Klok, Michael Erlewine, and Henrison Hsiehalso in attendance.


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