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MCQLL Presenting at ICLR and ACL

Several members of the Montreal Computational and Quantitative Linguistics Laboratory (MCQLL) have had papers accepted at major conferences.

Benjamin LeBrun, Alessandro Sordoni and Timothy J. O’Donnell’s paper titled Evaluating Distributional Distortion in Neural Language Modeling has been accepted for to appear at the International Conference on Learning Representations (ICLR). The paper investigates whether neural language models accurately approximate the heavy-tail of rare sequences characteristic of distributions in natural language.

Emily Goodwin, Siva Reddy, Timothy J. O’Donnell, and Dzmitry Bahdanau’s paper entitled Compositional Generalization in Dependency Parsing has been accepted to appear at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. This paper introduces CFQ-DEP, a compositional generalization challenge for dependency parsing, and shows that a state-of-the-art dependency parser struggles with more compositionally challenging generalizations.

Michaela Socolof, Jackie CK Cheung, Michael Wagner, and Timothy J. O’Donnell’s paper entitled Characterizing Idioms: Conventionality and Contingency has been accepted to appear at the 2022 Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. The paper defines two cognitively-motivated measures that together characterize idioms, providing evidence that linguistic theories requiring special machinery for idioms may be unwarranted.


P* Group, 2/23 – Wei Zhang

At this week’s P group meeting, Feb 23 12 pm,  Wei will lead a discussion on the paper “Individual empathy levels affect gradual intonation-meaning mapping: The case of biased questions in Salerno Italian” (Orrico & D’Imperio, 2020).

Abstract: The paper investigates the interplay between intonational cues and individual variability in the perceptual assessment of speakers’ epistemic bias in Salerno Italian yes-no questions. We present a perception experiment in which we manipulated pitch span within the nuclear configuration (both nuclear accent and boundary tone) to predict degree of perceived positive bias (i.e., expected positive answer) to yes-no question stimuli. Our results show that a wider pitch span within the nuclear region predicts a higher degree of perceived positive bias, while negative bias is predicted by narrow pitch span. Crucially, though, two interacting sources of listener variability were uncovered, i.e., prolonged exposure to a non-native dialect as well as degree of empathy (i.e., Empathy Quotient, EQ). Exposure to non-native phonological systems was found to affect the way pitch span is mapped onto perceived epistemic bias, through category interference, though mediated by EQ levels. Specifically, high-empathy listeners were more affected by degree of non-native dialect exposure. EQ scores were hence found to have an effect on gradual span manipulation by interacting with the dialect exposure effect. These results advance our understanding of the intonation-meaning mapping by taking into account both the impact of gradual phonetic cues on meaning processing as well as uncovering sources of cognitive variability at the perceiver’s level

MCQLL, 02/22 – Amanda Doucette

At this week’s MCQLL meeting on February 22 at 3:00-4:00PM, Amanda Doucette will be giving a talk on Software Engineering Practices for Research Code. If you’d like to attend, please register for the Zoom meeting here if you haven’t already.

Abstract: Writing clean, readable, working code for research projects isn’t easy. Because clear requirements can’t be defined in advance, typical industry software engineering practices (Agile, Waterfall, etc.) can’t apply directly to writing research code. Furthermore, many academics don’t receive formal training in software engineering. In this talk, I’ll discuss how some software engineering principles can apply to writing better research code – including testing, reproducibility, and documentation. While this talk will be focused on the basics of writing better code, I strongly encourage more experienced programmers to attend as well and share your advice!

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.

MCQLL, 10/14 — Alain Tapp

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, October 14th, 1:30-2:30pm), we will hear from Alain Tapp, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Operations Research (DIRO) at the Université de Montréal. Professor Tapp is a multidisciplinary researcher with contributions to quantum mechanics, computational complexity, cryptography, information theory, algorithms, ethics of algorithm, machine learning, and recently computational linguistics. He is a member of the Centre de Recherche Mathématique and an associate member of MILA. Abstract below.
If you would like to attend and have not already signed up for the MCQLL mailing list, please fill out this google form to do so.
Talk: In this lecture I will present some recent breakthroughs in discrete word representation based on language models. I will show that using an appropriate cost function minimization in deep learning, one can learn word embedding with discrete features that have impressive semantic relevance.

More summer news?

If you have any additional conferences/publications/any other exciting news, it’s not too late! Please share it with McLing, at mcling.linguistics@mcgill.ca. We’re excited to hear what you’ve been up to! 

MCQLL meeting, 5/13 — Bing’er Jiang 

The next meeting of the Montreal Computational and Quantitative Linguistics Lab will take place on Wednesday May 13th, at 2:30, via Zoom. Bing’er will present on Modelling Perceptual Effects of Phonology with Automatic Speech Recognition Systems. If you would like to participate but are not on the MCQLL or computational linguistics emailing list, contact emily.goodwin@mail.mcgill.ca for the Zoom link.

MCQLL meeting, 4/8– Emi Baylor and Nathan Drezner

The next meeting of the Montreal Computational and Qualitative Linguistics Lab will take place on Wednesday April 1st, at 1:00, via Zoom.
At this week’s MCQLL meeting, Emi Baylor and Nathan Drezner will present their ongoing work investigating German plural system and theories of linguistic productivity. They will present recent findings on how relative word frequency effects models of morphological productivity.

O’Donnell Published in Science

In a study published in the journal Science, Tim O’Donnell together with an international team of researchers led by Sam Mehr at Harvard,  examined the universality of diversity of human song across societies. Amongst other results, the paper showed that all of the cultures studied used song in four similar behavioral contexts: dance, love, healing, and infant care. What’s more, no matter where in the world one goes, songs used in each of those ways were found to share certain musical features, including tone, pitch, and rhythm. The paper can be found below.

Universality and diversity in human song. Mehr SA, Singh M, Knox D, Ketter DM, Pickens-Jones D, Atwood S, Lucas C, Jacoby N, Egner AA, Hopkins EJ, Howard RM, Hartshorne JK, Jennings MV, Simson J, Bainbridge CM, Pinker S, O’Donnell TJ, Krasnow MM, Glowacki L. Science. 2019 Nov 22;366(6468). [Interactive figures]

The article has been covered in Le Monde, Reuters, Newsweek, Scientific American, Nature, The Wall Street Journal, El País, Forbes, Popular Science, The Times of London, Radio Nacional de España, Ha’aretz, Le Scienze, National Geographic, The Daily Star (India), CBC Radio (Canada), CBS News Radio, BBC Radio, Deutschlandfunk, Big Think, ABC Radio (Australia), Psychology Today, and other venues.

PhD Dissertation Defense, 12/9 — Francesco Gentile

Please join us for the PhD Oral Defense of Francesco Gentile, Monday, December 9th, 2019 at 2:30 pm in the Ferrier Bldg. Rm. 456. The dissertation is titled: “Modal Adjectives and the Grammar of Non-local Modification”. The defence will be followed by a reception in the Linguistics lounge (room 212).

P* Reading Group, 9/16 — Beini Wang

Beini will lead a discussion of Zellou’s (2018) “Individual differences in the production of nasal coarticulation and perceptual compensation”, on Monday (Sep. 16) from 2:45 to 3:45pm in room 117 of the Linguistics Department. The article can be found in the reading group’s folder at bit.ly/PReadingGroup. All are welcome to attend!

Linguistics/CS Seminar, 3/20 – Frank Mollica


SpeakerFrank Mollica
Date & Time: Wednesday, March 20, 2019 9:30am  
Place: WILSON 105
Title: The Human Learning Machine: Computational Models of Lexical Acquisition


Language allows us to face novel concepts and situations by building structured mental representations of the world. The primary goal of my research program is to use computational models and behavioral experiments to understand how we construct and update these rich mental models both from experience (i.e., language acquisition) and from language (i.e., language processing). In this talk, I draw on methods in computational linguistics and computational cognitive science to propose a model of lexical acquisition formalized as logical program induction. First, I’ll illustrate how the model explains the systematic patterns of behavior observed in children as they acquire kinship words. Then, I will present a large cross-cultural data analysis model that infers how children use data from the timing of their lexical acquisition. Lastly, I will use children’s acquisition of exact number words as a case study to demonstrate how both of these models can be combined to learn about the universal and culturally-specific processes of the human learning machine. Taken together, this body of work provides the first computational model for how children learn relational word meanings, the first large-scale cross-linguistic model of children’s data usage during early word learning and an innovative computational toolbox for leveraging large datasets and discipline knowledge to draw theoretical insights in child development.

MCQLL, 3/20

At next week’s meeting, Emi will present on sections of chapters 3 (“The Tipping Point”) and 4 (“Signal and Noise”) of Charles Yang’s book The Price of Linguistic Productivity; How children learn to break the rules of language. The presentation will focus on the Tolerance Principle, Yang’s account of linguistic productivity. Specifically, she will highlight the principle’s recursive applications, particularly as they apply to the case of German plural nouns.

We will meet Wednesday 5:30pm in room 117. Food will be provided

P* Reading Group, 11/13

P* Reading Group (Tuesday, 11 am)
This week, Bing’er will be leading a discussion on  Feldman et al.’s (2013) A Role for the Developing Lexicon in Phonetic Category Acquisition. P* Group will take place in room 002 of the Linguistics Building, from 11 am until noon. All are welcome to attend!

Semantics Group

This Friday, Jason Borga will be leading a discussion on Rudin’s (2018) “Head-Based Syntactic Identity in Sluicing”. As usual, the meeting will take place in Room 117, from 3pm to 4:30pm. All are welcome to attend!

Symposium on Second Language Acquisition in Honour of Lydia White

We are pleased to announce that the Department of Linguistics will be hosting the Symposium on Second Language Acquisition in Honour of Lydia White, August 31–September 1, 2018. The program is attached. Everyone is invited to attend. You can find the program here.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our McGill sponsors: Provost’s Research Fund, Dean of Arts’ Development Fund, as well as the Department of Linguistics.

Alonso-Ovalle, Shimoyama,and Schwarz Awarded Insight Grant

Congratulations to Luis Alonso-Ovalle, Junko Shimoyama, and Bernhard Schwarz who have been awarded an SSHRC Insight grant for their application Modality across Categories: Modal Indefinites and the Projection of Possibilities!

Linguists at Arts Undergraduate Research Event

Linguistics undergraduates presented the results of their summer work at the Arts Annual Undergraduate Research Event, January 18th. The five students who won summer internships to conduct research with linguistics faculty members in 2017 were:

“Documentation and Revitalization of the Chuj Language”
Paulina Elias, Linguistics
Prof. Jessica Coon, Linguistics
PDF icon Paulina Elias [.pdf]

“Perceptual Discrimination of /s/ in Hearing Impaired Children”
Fiona Higgins, Linguistics
Prof. Heather Goad, Linguistics
PDF icon Fiona Higgins [.pdf]

“Understanding high adverbs in Malagasy and the nature of clefts”
Clea Stuart, Linguistics
Prof. Lisa Travis, Linguistics
PDF icon Clea Stuart [.pdf]

“How does structured variability help talker adaption?”
Claire Suh, Linguistics
Prof. Meghan Clayards, Linguistics
PDF icon Claire Suh [.pdf]

“Syntactic Representation and Processing in L2 Acquisition”
Yunxiao (Vera) Xia, Linguistics
Prof. Lydia White, Linguistics
PDF icon Yunxiao (Vera) Xia [.pdf]

Colloquium: Sharon Goldwater, 01/12

Sharon Goldwater from the University of Edinburgh will be giving a talk entitled Bootstrapping Language Acquisition as part of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series on Friday, January 12th at 3:30pm in room 433 of the Education Building. All are welcome to attend! For the abstract and for any other colloquium information, please clear here to visit the Colloquium Series web page.

Paulina Elias and Justin Royer at TOMILLA

BA student Paulina Elias and PhD student Justin Royer traveled to Toronto to present their work on Chuj at the first Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Indigenous Languages of Latin America (TOMILLA) workshop at the University of Toronto. Paulina’s talk was “Positionals and directionals in Chuj” and Justin’s was “Noun classifiers, (in)definiteness, and pronouns in Chuj”.

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