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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 22 hours 58 min ago

LingTea, 1/19 – Jessica Coon

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 02:30

In this week’s LingTea, on Thursday (Jan. 19th) 12-1pm in room 117, Jessica Coon will give a talk with the title “The linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, fieldwork, and Universal Grammar“. This is a practice talk for an up-coming Arrival-related public lecture.


If aliens arrived, could we communicate with them? How would we do it? What are the tools linguists use to decipher unknown languages? How different can human languages be from one another? Do these differences have bigger consequences for how we see the world?

The recent science-fiction film Arrival touches on these and other real questions in the field of linguistics. In Arrival, linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the military to translate the language of the newly-arrived Heptapods in order to answer the question everyone wants to know: why are they here? Language, it turns out, is a crucial piece of the answer.

Jessica Coon, science consultant for the linguistics in Arrival, has never worked with an alien, but will discuss her own fieldwork on Mayan languages, and what these languages can tell us about linguistic diversity and Universal Grammar.

Semantics Research Group – 1/20

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 02:20

The semantics research group will be meeting January 20th at 15:00 in room 117. Bernhard Schwarz will be presenting on Wataru Uegaki’s dissertation:  Interpreting questions under attitudes.

WORDS Group – 1/20

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 02:20

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 20th January, at UQAM (room DS-3470) at 10-11.30.  The focus of this meeting will be on Head movement in syntax and morphology. In particular, two handouts from the Workshop on the Status of Head Movement in Linguistic Theory held at Stanford University (September 16-17, 2016) will be discussed:

  • Gribanova, V. & Harizanov, B. (2016): Whither Head Movement
  • Harley, H. (2016): What Hiaki stem forms are really telling us

Everyone is welcome to attend!

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting, 1/20 – Dative Tutorial

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 02:20

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 1/20, from 1-2pm in room 117.

This week’s meeting will be a tutorial on Dative, a linguistic fieldwork software program. Dative allows users to create a collaborative database on their language of study. Linguistic forms are stored in an online data base that can be accessed from each fieldworker’s computer. These forms are searchable, and can be exported directly to LaTex. We will walk through these features at the meeting. All are welcome!

Sepideh receives CRBLM stipend

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 01:50

McLing is happy to report that Sepideh Mortazavinia has just received a CRBLM graduate student stipend for her project “Second Language Acquisition of Presupposition”, supervised by Lydia White and Michael Wagner. Congratulations Sepideh!

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting, 1/13

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 02:20

This semester’s first meeting of the Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 1/13, from 1-2pm in room 117. The first part of the meeting will be organizational, so please come with suggestions for things that you would like to read, discuss, or present this semester. During the second part of the meeting, we Clint and Jessica will present a draft of a survey article they are working on. All are welcome!

P* Reading Group – Jan 10

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 02:10

In the winter 2017 semester, P* Reading Group will meet on Tuesdays 1-2 pm in Room 117. The first meeting of the semester will be on Tuesday 10th at 1-2 pm in Room 117. Don will lead a discussion of Mattys et al. (2014). Extrinsic cognitive load impairs low-level speech perception. Everyone is welcome!

7th Annual Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event – 1/17, 4:30-6:30 PM

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 02:10

The 7th Annual Faculty of Arts Undergraduate Research Event is on Tuesday, 1/17, from 4:30-6:30 in Leacock 232. The event features posters and presentations by students who received an Arts Undergraduate Research Internship Award in Summer 2017, including several projects involving linguistics students and faculty. The following linguistics-related posters will be showcased:

  • Eva Portelance, “Narrative Frameworks”, supervised by Andrew Piper (LLCU)
  • Lydia Felice, “Free State/Construct State Alternation in Kabyle”, supervised by Jessica Coon
  • Theodore Morely (Computer Science), “Web-Tools for Linguistic Research”, supervised by Morgan Sonderegger
  • Elias Stengel-Essen (Cognitive Science), “Linguistic Enrichment of Speech-Corpus Tools”, supervised by Morgan Sonderegger

Lydia Felice and Eva Portelance will also be speaking at the event.

All are welcome!

Jozina vander Klok to University of Oslo

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 01:50

McLing is happy to report that PhD alumna Jozina vander Klok (’12) has just accepted a 3-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Oslo, beginning this June. Jozina will be leaving UBC, where she has been a post-doctoral fellow since 2013. Congratulations Jozina!

McGill at LSA/SSILA/ADS 2017

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 01:50

McGill linguists past and present attended the 91st Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, and the associated meeetings of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA) and the American Dialect Society(ADS), which took place 5–8 January 2017 in Austin, Texas. Their many presentations included:

  • George Aaron Broadwell, Lauren Eby Clemens (Postdoc ’14-’15): “Inflectional change in Copala Triqui”
  • Lauren Clemens (Postdoc ’14-’15), Jessica Coon, Carol-Rose Little (BA ’12), Morelia Vázquez Martínez: “Encoding focus in Ch’ol spontaneous speech”
  • Lauren Clemens (Postdoc ’14-’15): “Prosody, pseudo noun incorporation, and V1 syntax: VP-fronting or Vo-raising?”
  • Emily Elfner (Postdoc ’12-’14), Patricia A. Shaw: “Game-based methodology for the study of intonational contours in Kwak’wala”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (Postdoc ’14-’15), Theodore Levin: “On the unavailability of argument ellipsis in Kaqchikel”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (Postdoc ’14-’15): “C-T head-splitting: evidence from Toba Batak”
  • Guilherme Garcia: “Adapting inconsistent lexical patterns: a Bayesian approach to weight and stress”
  • Daniel Goodhue: “Biased polar questions: VERUM focus is semantic focus, high negation is a distinct phenomenon”
  • Natália Brambatti Guzzo, Heather Goad: “Overriding default interpretations through prosody: depictive predicates in Brazilian Portuguese”
  • Aron Hirsch (BA ’12): “Fragments, pseudo-clefts, and ellipsis”
  • Thomas Kettig (BA ’13): “One hundred years of stability: the case of the BAD-LAD split”
  • Hadas Kotek (Postdoc ’14-’16): “Movement and alternatives don’t mix: a new look at intervention effects”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne, Heather Goad, Morgan Sonderegger: “Penultimate prominence in Québec French: internal motivations or English influence?”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne and Gretchen McCulloch (MA ’13): “Wayyy longgg: orthotactics and phonology in lengthening on Twitter”
  • Cora Lesure (BA ’15): “Phonologically null morphemes and templatic morphology: the case of Chuj (Mayan)”
  • Moti Liberman and Gretchen McCulloch (MA ’13) organized a symposium entitled “Datablitz: Getting High School Students Into Linguistics”
  • Michael McAuliffe, Michaela Socolof (BA ’16), Sarah Mihuc, Michael Wagner, Morgan Sonderegger: “Montreal Forced Aligner: an accurate and trainable forced aligner using Kaldi”
  • Michaela Socolof (BA ’16): “The position of the negative particle ara and NPIs in Kabyle negation”
  • Morgan Sonderegger, Michael McAuliffeJurij BozicChristopher BrunoSeptember CowleyBing’er JiangJeffrey LamontagneMartha SchwarzJiajia Su: “Laryngeal timing across seven languages: phonetic data and their relationship to phonological features”
  • Lisa Travis: “A typology of VP-fronting”
  • Jozina Vander Klok (PhD ’12) and Vera Hohaus: “Building Blocks of Weak Necessity Modality: The View from Paciran Javanese”

Some current and past McGill affiliates gathered for a photo:


LingTea in Winter 2017

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 02:00

In the upcoming Winter 2017 term, LingTea will take place every Thursday from 12-1pm. The first session will be on January 12th. Below is a tentative list of available dates for LingTea presentations:

  • Jan: 12th, 19th, 26th
  • Feb: 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd
  • Mar: 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th
  • Apr: 6th, 13th.

Everyone is invited to sign up for a slot.

Coon and Carolan to appear in Glossa

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 01:50

Jessica Coon and Lizzie Carolan’s (BA ’14) paper “Nominalizations and the structure of the progressive in Chuj Mayan” will appear in the journal Glossa. A draft of the paper is available here. Congrats both!

Carrier-Bordeleau and Travis at ABLT-BWTL

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 01:50

McGill BA student Sara Carrier-Bordeleau and Lisa Travis represented McGill Linguistics at the Atelier bilingue en linguistique théorique -Bilingual Workshop in Theoretical Linguistics  (ABLT-BWTL) at Concordia University, which took place December 12th and 13th.  Their talks were Orphan prepositions as surface anaphora (Sara) and  Little words – big consequences (Lisa).

Gui Garcia to appear in Phonology, and workshop in Brazil

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 01:50

Guilherme Garcia‘s paper “Weight gradience and stress in Portuguese” has just been accepted for publication in the journal Phonology. A draft of the paper, based on his first Eval, can be found on LingBuzz. Congrats Gui!

Gui also recently taught a workshop on Bayesian data analysis using R at Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUC-RS), in Brazil.

Semantics Research Group – 12/9

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 02:20

The Semantics Research Group is meeting this Friday the 9th at 1 pm in room 117. Alan Bale will continue presenting on his work on “Sentential Oddities and the Mass-Count Distinction“. Note the time change, as we are meeting at 1 pm instead of the usual 3 pm.

WORDS Group – 12/9

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 02:20

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 9th December, at UQAM (room DS-3470). This will be an extended session (1pm – 5pm). The focus of this meeting will be on comparing different approaches to Phase Theory.

Everyone is welcome!

McGill at ASA 172

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 02:00

McGill’s linguists attended the 172nd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America (ASA), which took place on 28th November – 2nd December 2016 in Honolulu, Hawaii. Presentations of current McGill affiliates included:

  • Hye-Young Bang:
    (a) The acoustic counterpart to articulatory resistance and aggressiveness in locus equation metrics and vowel dispersion
    (b) The relationship of VOT and F0 contrasts across speakers and words in the German voicing contrast
  • Donghyun Kim: Individual differences in the relation between perception and production and the mechanisms of phonetic imitation
  • Bing’er Jiang: Cue weighting in the tonal register contrast of Jiashan Wu

McGill affiliates gathered for a photo:


(Left to right: Haruko Saito (McGill, SCSD), Linda Polka (McGill, SCSD), Hye-Young Bang, Donghyun Kim, Bing’er Jiang)

Colloquium, 12/1 – Jackie Cheung

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 02:20

Speaker:  Jackie Cheung (McGill University)
Date & Time: December 2nd at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 624
Title:  Generalized Natural Language Generation


In popular language generation tasks such as machine translation, automatic systems are typically given pairs of expected input and output (e.g., a sentence in some source language and its translation in the target language). A single task-specific model is then learned from these samples using statistical techniques. However, such training data exists in sufficient quantity and quality for only a small number of high-profile, standardized generation tasks. In this talk, I argue for the need for generic tools in natural language generation, and discuss my lab’s work on developing generic generation tasks and methods to solve them. First, I discuss progress on defining a task in sentence aggregation, which involves predicting whether units of semantic content can be meaningfully expressed in the same sentence. Then, I present a system for predicting noun phrase definiteness, and show that an artificial neural network model achieves state-of-the-art performance on this task, learning relevant syntactic and semantic constraints.

Clayards, Kilbourn-Ceron, Sonderegger, Tanner and Wagner – Colloquia at Princeton and Johns Hopkins University

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 02:00

Michael Wagner gave talks at colloquia at Princeton University (16th November) and Johns Hopkins University (17th November), in which he reported on his joint work with Meghan Clayards, Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron, Morgan Sonderegger and James Tanner with the title “Allophonic variation and the locality of production planning“. The abstract is given below.


The application of allophonic processes across word boundaries (processes such as flapping (cf. De Jong, 1998; Patterson and Connine, 2001) and sibilant assimilation (cf. Holst and Nolan, 1995) in English, or liaison in French (Durand and Lyche, 2008)) is known to be subject to locality conditions. The same processes are also known to be variable. While a correlation between the locality of cross word processes on the one hand and their inherent variability is often observed (e.g. Kaisse, 1985), existing theories of either aspect usually do not make any predictions about the other. In this paper we report on several projects that pursue the hypothesis that the locality and variability of cross-word allophonic processes are tightly linked, and can be both be understood as a consequence of the locality of production planning.

The basic idea is that flapping, sibilant assimilation, liaison and related processes are sensitive to the segmental environment in a following word, but the following segmental environment can only exert its effect of the relevant information is already available when the phonetic detail of the current word is being planned. Under this view, effects of syntax and prosody on the application of these processes are reducible to their indirect effects on production planning: For example, a speaker is less likely to plan ahead across a sentence boundary, and less likely to plan ahead across a prosodic juncture. This hypothesis makes specific predictions that all factors affecting planning should affect the likelihood of cross-word allophonic processes (such as the predictability of the following word, the # syllables of the following word, etc.). We report evidence from several experimental and corpus studies that test our hypothesis, which makes different predictions than accounts that tie allophonic processes to particular phonological domains. It also makes different predictions than accounts that try to explain sandhi processes as an effect of gestural overlap, or than currently popular accounts in terms of probabilistic reduction.

An account of the the locality of sandhi processes in terms of the locality of production planning removes some of the motivation for categorically distinct phonological domains as they are assumed in the theory of the prosodic hierarchy. It also makes new predictions about what types of processes will necessarily have to be local and variable, and also about the degree of locality/variability depending on which information their application relies on.

More Arrival news

Mon, 11/28/2016 - 01:50

McGill Linguistics continues to make headlines with the recent release of ArrivalJessica Coon and Morgan Sonderegger both appeared on CTV National News last week, and Jessica was interviewed on CBC’s The Current last Friday. A full list of recent press, along with resources by McGill MA alum and internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch, can be found here.