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McGill @ LSA 2022

McGill linguists presented at this year’s meeting of the Linguistics Society of America, held this past weekend in hybrid format in Washington DC. The full program is available at: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/node/36129/schedule.



Mathieu Paillé at Göttingen

Mathieu Paillé gave an invited talk on December 21, 2021, online at the University of Göttingen. The talk was entitled “On the strengthening of non-scalar predicates and the syntactic distribution of exhaustivity.”

McGill at TOMILLA 3

McGill linguists traveled to the University of Ottawa last week for the 3rd Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Indigenous Languages of Latin America (TOMILLA 3) workshop December 3rd and 4th. McGill talks included:

  • Willie Myers – “High, low, and no absolutive Mayan syntax: effects of object raising in heritage Mam” (based on work with McGill BA student Ix Jimenez-Haham)
  • Justin Royer & Jessica Coon – “Object raising bleeds binding: a new correlate of high-absolutive syntax in Mayan”

Justin Royer, Willie Myers, Ix Jimenez-Haham, Jessica Coon, and collaborator Pedro Mateo Pedro (UofT)

Mathieu Paillé at Humboldt University of Berlin

Linguistics PhD student Mathieu Paillé gave an invited talk online at Humboldt University of Berlin on November 9th, entitled “Derivational morphemes exhaustify roots: a hypothesis on the relationship between language and concepts.”
Abstract: Non-scalar content vocabulary taken from a particular conceptual domain is usually interpreted as mutually exclusive, as seen in examples like #This comedy is a tragedy or #Some animated films are live-action (Paillé 2020; cf. Cann 2011). This has been variously dealt with as a fact about the structure of the lexicon (de Saussure 1916) or of conceptual space (Gärdenfors 2000). I begin by showing that the mutual exclusivity is in fact a product of grammar; indeed, it can be removed through conjunction or additive particles. As such, I speculate that it is the effect of a grammatical Exh(aust) operator (Chierchia et al. 2012). If this account is accepted, it comes with the consequence that the Exh found with these predicates displays novel behaviour. Not only is it obligatory (cf. e.g. Magri 2009), but it also, at first approximation, necessarily has the predicate in its immediate scope. To understand these requirements on Exh, I turn to another linguistic phenomenon that has the same twin properties of being obligatory with, and always local to, content vocabulary. This is derivational morphology. As discussed by Boeckx (2011), derivational morphemes take concepts (qua roots) and make them mergeable — i.e., linguistically usable. My proposal is that Exh’s unusual behaviour with content words is due to these very morphemes not just selecting a root/concept, but also requiring an Exh operator in their immediate vicinity. I formalize this through an Agree relation between derivational morphemes and Exh; this explains both the obligatory nature of Exh and its locality requirement, assuming there is no upward Agree. Thus, in effect, derivational morphemes ‘clean up’ underlyingly messy conceptual spaces, hiding away any overlap between related concepts.

Royer and Coon at FAMLi VI

Justin Royer and Jessica Coon presented collaborative work at the 6th meeting of Form and Analysis in Maya Linguistics (FAMLi VI), which took place in a hybrid format at CIMSUR-UNAM in Chiapas, Mexico November 12th and 13th. The title of their talk was: “Extracción del objeto y el parámetro absolutivo bajo/alto”.

McGill linguists at EMNLP 2021

McGill linguists presented their work at the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing  (EMNLP 2021) November 7–11. Jacob Louis Hoover presented a poster (virtually) for a paper titled Linguistic Dependencies and Statistical Dependence.

here is Jacob presenting his poster

Siva Reddy was an author on Visually Grounded Reasoning across Languages and Cultures, which won the Best Long Paper award. Congrats Siva and team!

McGill @ NELS

McGill linguists will be presenting their work at the upcoming 52nd meeting of the Northeast Linguistics Society (NELS 52), hosted virtually by Rutgers University October 29–31. More information and the full program are available here: https://sites.rutgers.edu/nels-52/.



Montreal Underdocumented Languages Linguistics Lab (MULL-Lab) launched

We are happy to report that the former McGill Fieldwork Lab has been reconfigured into the Montreal Underdocumented Languages and Linguistics Lab (MULL-Lab), led by McGill faculty members Jessica CoonJames Crippen, and Martina Martinović, together with Lisa Travis, Richard Compton (UQAM) and Sigwan Thivierge (Concordia).

Learn more at the new website:

McGill @ Sinn und Bedeutung 26

Sinn und Bedeutung was hosted virtually last week by the Institute of German Language and Literature I and the Cologne Center of Language Sciences at the University of Cologne, and included a number of McGill presentations:

The full program is available here.

Welcome new Qualifying Year student, Willie Myers

McLing is happy to welcome incoming QY student, Willie Myers. Willie completed his BA in East Asian Studies at Princeton University and spent the last 7 years working in the public sector in East Africa. He is interested in syntax, fieldwork, and language documentation and is excited to explore more on the P-side as well. Outside of linguistics, he loves crossword puzzles, card games, and karaoke.

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.

Welcome new graduate students!

McLing is pleased to introduce you to this year’s new cohort of incoming graduate students! In alphabetical order…

Laurestine Bradford is interested in computational methods for exploring semantics, typology, sociolinguistics, and relationships between language and mathematics. She did her BSc in Mathematics and Philosophy and her MA in Linguistics both at the University of Toronto. She also really likes to dance and crochet.

Claire Henderson is interested in language variation and change, especially the diffusion of phonetic and lexical features around the Canada-U.S. border. She’s from Niagara Falls, Ontario and completed her B.A. in Linguistics at McGill. Outside of linguistics, Claire enjoys painting, plants, and pigeons.

Bernardas Jurevicius has worked on ellipsis phenomena in Lithuanian as well as computational perspectives on the syntax-semantics interface and has a keen interest in fieldwork. He has completed his undergraduate in English Language and Literature at the University of Edinburgh, and his Master’s in Linguistics at University Leipzig. Outside of linguistics, he has an interest in contemporary philosophy and Olympic weightlifting.

Guarav Kamath is interested in semantics, syntax, and pragmatics, as well as expressive and foul language more broadly. He completed a B.A. in Philosophy from Ashoka University, and hopes to also gain exposure to computational linguistics. Outside of academics, Gaurav likes to read fiction, listen to and play music, and work on his Sanskrit.

Massimo Lipari was born and raised in Montreal, and recently completed his B. A. in linguistics and philosophy at McGill. His main interests lie in syntax—especially at the interfaces with sematics and prosody—as well as with just about anything relating to Quebec French.

Katya Morgunova has a B.A. and an M.A. degree in Linguistics from Moscow State University. Her main interests are syntax and syntax-semantic interface. She has previously done a lot of fieldwork and also has some experience in experimental and computational linguistics. In her free time, she enjoys watching films, cycling, and swimming laps in a pool.

David Shanks focuses on semantics, phonology and Na-Dene languages. He finished his BA this year at McGill and grew up in Glasgow, Scotland. David also enjoys baking, knitting and spending time with his cat, Tommy.


Mpoke Mimpongo completes MA at UQÀM

Congratulations to Mpoke Mimpongo, who recently completed is MA in Linguistics at UQÀM, under the supervision of Heather Newell (McGill PhD ’08)  with a thesis entitled “Le statut phonologique des groupes NC en Bobangi/Mangala.”

Mpoke served as the language consultant for the Field Methods class co-taught by Jessica and Morgan in 2017, and continued working with McGill students after. Mpoke credits his experience as a language consultant with deepening his interest in studying Bantu linguistics.

Congratulations Mpoke!



McGill at Interspeech and Amlap 2021

McGill will be represented at two upcoming virtual conferences in early September, details and links below:

At  Amlap 2021 in Paris:

Congratulations Dr. Bing’er Jiang!

Congratulations to Bing’er Jiang, who successfully defended her PhD thesis, “Computational and behavioural approaches to understanding perception of speech variability”, in August.
Bing’er is currently doing an internship at Tencent AI, then will be starting a postdoc at KTH in Stockholm.

Two Prosodylab papers accepted at Interspeech

Two papers from prosodylab have been accepted at Interspeech:
Wagner, Michael, Iturralde Zurita, Alvaro, and Zhang, Sijjia (in press). Parsing speech for grouping and prominence, and the typology of rhythm. Proceedings of Insterspeech in Brno, Czechia. [paper]

You can try out a version of the experiment yourself at the new prosodylab field station.

Humans appear to be wired to perceive acoustic events rhythmically. English speakers, for example,  tend to perceive alternating short and long sounds as  a series of binary groups with a final beat (iambs), and alternating soft and loud sounds as a series of trochees. This generalization, often called the ‘Iambic-trochaic Law’ (ITL), although viewed as an auditory universal by some, has been argued to be shaped by language experience. Earlier work on the ITL had a crucial limitation, in that it did not tease apart the percepts of grouping and prominence, which the notions of iamb and trochee inherently confound. We explore how intensity and duration relate to percepts of prominence and grouping in six languages (English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish). The results show that the ITL is not universal, and that  cue interpretation is shaped by language experience. However, there are also invariances: Duration appears relatively robust across languages as a cue to prominence (longer syllables are perceived as stressed), and intensity for grouping (louder syllables are perceived as initial). The results show the beginnings of a rhythmic typology based on how the dimensions of grouping and prominence are cued.
A paper about the  *prosoBeast* annotation tool:

Gerazov Branislav and Michael Wagner (in press). ProsoBeast Prosody Annotation Tool. Proceedings of Insterspeech in Brno, Czechia. ArXiv e-prints. [paper][git]

The labelling of speech corpora is a laborious and time-consuming process. The ProsoBeast Annotation Tool seeks to ease and accelerate this process by providing an interactive 2D representation of the prosodic landscape of the data, in which contours are distributed based on their similarity. This interactive map allows the user to inspect and label the utterances. The tool integrates several state-of-the-art methods for dimensionality reduction and feature embedding, including variational autoencoders. The user can use these to find a good representation for their data. In addition, as most of these methods are stochastic, each can be used to generate an unlimited number of different prosodic maps. The web app then allows the user to seamlessly switch between these alternative representations in the annotation process. Experiments with a sample prosodically rich dataset have shown that the tool manages to find good representations of varied data and is helpful both for annotation and label correction. The tool is released as free software for use by the community.

2021 student awards

McLing is pleased to announce this year’s Linguistics Student Award winners. More information about the awards, as well as previous award winners, can be found on the webpage. Congratulations all!

Graduate award:

  • Lara Riente Memorial Prize in Linguistics: Justin Royer 

Undergraduate awards:

  • Cremona Memorial Prize in Linguistics: Aliza Ellner 
  • Award for Excellence in Research: Sijia Zhang 
  • Award for Academic Leadership: Clara Saliba 
  • Award for Department Citizenship: Sarah Denomy 
  • U2 Academic Achievement Award: Amanda Alicandro & Emily Mayes 

McGill @ AFLA 28

The 28th annual meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 28) took place virtually last week, hosted by McGill University and National University of Singapore. The McGill-based portion of the organizing team included (in alphabetical order) Tallis Clark, Jessica Coon, Jacob Duserre, Mathieu Paillé, Connie Ting, and Sijia Zhang, led by Lisa Travis. Presentations by current McGill affiliates included a plenary talk by Malagasy language consultant, Vololona Razafimbelo, titled “On the other side of the linguist fence – The Consultant World”. Also presenting were:

  • 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/

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.



LING 215 ‘Languages of the World’ final projects video

For Carol Rose Little‘s Winter 2021 LING 215 “Languages of the World” course, each student picked a language to work with throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, they created final projects on an aspect of their language. You can take a look at some previews of their final projects here:


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