As previously announced, David-Etienne Bouchard has won this year’s award for the best McGill dissertation in the social sciences. Here he is with award in hand:
Taken during April 23 Faculty of Arts meeting, where awards were presented. Congratulations, David-Etienne!
Who: Alan Bale
When: Friday 4/26, 3 pm
Where: room 117
What: Some differences between ignorance and scalar implicatures.
Background reading: Chierchia, Fox & Spector (2013)
A number of McLingers have just presented their work at the University of Chicago.
Morgan Sonderegger presented a joint poster with James Kirby (Edinburgh), ‘A model of population dynamic in phonetic change’, and was also one of the invited discussants for the workshop at a workshop on sound change.
Emily Elfner (post-doc) presented ‘Locality conditions on syntax-prosody matching (in Conamara Irish)’, and Erica Yoon (CogSci honours) presented her joint paper with Junko Shimoyama, ‘Testing the two-grammar hypothesis for Korean: scopal interaction of object QPs and negation’ at CLS 49.
Current U1 BA student Joyce Xiao just received an Arts Undergraduate Research Internship Award (ARIA). Joyce will spend her summer working with Professor Jessica Coon on verbal morphology in Chuj Mayan. You can learn more about the ARIA awards here. Congratulations Joyce!
Invited Lecture organized by the GRIPP Group of CRBLM
Monday, April 15th 2013 at 3pm.
Room 501, Goodman Cancer Research Centre, McGill University, 1160 Pine Ave. West
Language for communication: Language comprehension and the communicative basis of word order
Ted Gibson, Ph.D.
Professor of Cognitive Sciences,
Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT
Perhaps the most obvious hypothesis for the function of human language is for use in communication. Chomsky has famously argued that this is a flawed hypothesis, because of the existence of such phenomena as ambiguity. Furthermore, he argues that the kinds of things that people tend to say are not short and simple, as would be predicted by communication theory. Contrary to Chomsky, my group applies information theory and communication theory from Shannon (1948) in order to attempt to explain the typical usage of language in comprehension and production, together with the structure of languages themselves.
First, we show that ambiguity out of context is not only not a problem for an information-theoretic approach to language, it is a feature.
Second, we show that language comprehension appears to function as a noisy channel process, in line with communication theory. Given si, the intended sentence, and sp, the perceived sentence we propose that people maximize P(si | sp ), which is equivalent to maximizing the product of the prior P(si) and the likely noise processes P(si → sp ). We show that several predictions of this way of thinking of language are true: (1) the more noise that is needed to edit from one alternative to another leads to lower likelihood that the alternative will be considered; (2) in the noise process, deletions are more likely than insertions; (3) increasing the noise increases the reliance on the prior (semantics); and (4) increasing the likelihood of implausible events decreases the reliance on the prior.
Third, we show that this way of thinking about language leads to a simple re-thinking of the P600 from the ERP literature. The P600 wave was originally proposed to be due to people’s sensitivity to syntactic violations, but there have been many instances of problematic data in the literature for this interpretation. We show that the P600 can best be interpreted as sensitivity to an edit in the signal, in order to make it more easily interpretable.
Finally, we discuss how thinking of language as communication can explain aspects of the origin of word order. Some recent evidence suggests that subject-object-verb (SOV) may be the default word order for human language. For example, SOV is the preferred word order in a task where participants gesture event meanings (Goldin-Meadow et al. 2008). Critically, SOV gesture production occurs not only for speakers of SOV languages, but also for speakers of SVO languages, such as English, Chinese, Spanish (Goldin-Meadow et al. 2008) and Italian (Langus & Nespor, 2010). The gesture-production task therefore plausibly reflects default word order independent of native language. However, this leaves open the question of why there are so many SVO languages (41.2% of languages; Dryer, 2005). We propose that the high percentage of SVO languages cross-linguistically is due to communication pressures over a noisy channel. We provide several gesture experiments consistent with this hypothesis, and we speculate how a noisy channel approach might explain several typical word order patterns that occur in the world’s languages.
Who: Michael Wagner
When: 04/19 at 3 pm.
Where: room 117.
What: Constraints on Alternative Sets
Background reading: Luka Crnic. 2012. Focus particles and embedded exhaustification. Journal of Semantics.
Michael Hamilton has been awarded an LSA Summer Institute Fellowship. Congratulations, Michael!
Jessica Coon has been awarded a three-year FQRSC (Établissement de nouveaux professeurs-chercheurs) grant. The title of her project is “Personne et nombre dans les langues Mi’gmaq et Kaqchikel: Conséquences pour la concordance.”
McGill alum Alan Bale has also been awarded an FQRSC grant. The title of his three-year project is “L’accord sémantique en micmac: les conséquences pour la théorie linguistique et la révitalisation des langues.”
Congratulations Jessica and Alan!
Wednesday, April 10, 4-5:30 p.m. in room 117.
Presenter: Heather Newell
Topic: Domaines Phonologiques
All are welcome!
Mark your calendars! On May 23-25, the department will host a workshop on pragmatics as part of the McSIRG (the McGill Syntactic Interfaces Research Group) activities. The workshop is funded by the FQRSC team grant that supports McSIRG and a SSHRC Connection grant. You can read a short description of the workshop below.
Research on generative linguistics has traditionally assumed a modular organization of the basic levels of linguistic representation: syntactic representations reflect sentence structure, morphological representations deal with word internal structure, phonological representations with the properties of the sound system, and semantics with meanings. In recent years, the connection between these modules (the so-called grammatical interfaces) has been subject to intense scrutiny. The McGill Syntactic Interfaces Research Group (McSIRG) (Profs. Alonso-Ovalle, Newell, Piggott, Schwarz, Shimoyama, Travis, and
Wagner, in alphabetical order), funded by a grant from Quebec’s Fonds de Recherche Societé et Culture (FQRSC) (Programme Soutien aux Équipes de Recherche Grant 144646, principal investigator: Lisa Travis), has been actively engaged in the past years in the investigation of the properties of grammatical
The research activity of the McSIRG is organized around three axes: Axis I investigates the role of the representation of word structures at the interfaces, Axis II the role of sentence structure, and Axis III the role of semantic representations.
A central goal of Axis III is the investigation of the semantics/pragmatics interface: the relation between the grammatical modules responsible for the computation of literal (semantic) and non-literal (pragmatic) meanings. This topic has received great attention in the recent semantic literature through
the investigation of the computation of a particular type of non-literal meanings, the so-called conversational implicatures, inferences that are drawn on the basis of literal meanings together with the assumptions about the rational behavior of speakers. In recent years, research on the computation of conversational implicatures has widened its traditional empirical domain by considering new data that challenges established views on the semantics/pragmatic interfaces. Probing into this new data has pushed forward a methodological shift that favors adopting experimental research methods in the study of pragmatics. The overall goal of the second McSIRG workshop is to evaluate the justification for these
Six international leading researchers on the computation of implicatures and scalar particles have agreed to participate in the workshop: Emmanuel Chemla (Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris), Luka Crnic (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Bart Geurts (University of Nijmegen), Paula Menéndez-Benito
(University of Göttingen), Uli Sauerland (Zentrum fürAllgemeine Sprachwissenschaft, Berlin), and Raj Singh (Carleton University, Ottawa). They will be joined by two specialist from the Montréal linguistics community: Brendan Gillon (McGill) and Alan Bale (Concordia University.)
We are pleased to announce that the next talk in our 2012-13 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be by Colin Phillips (UMD) on Friday, April 12 at 3:30 pm in the Education Building room 433. This talk is also a CRBLM distinguished lecture, and it is jointly organized by CRBLM and the linguistics dept.
The title of the talk is “Generating expectations and meanings in language comprehension and production”.
We often have expectations about utterances before they are uttered. How we do this, in language production and comprehension alike, has implications for practical concerns and for theoretical questions about language architecture. The ability to generate reliable expectations may be a key enabler of robust language understanding in noisy environments. Understanding the (non-)parallels between the generative mechanisms engaged in comprehension and production is essential for any attempt to close the gap between grammatical ‘knowledge’ and language use systems. In this talk I explore how we generate expectations about word-level and sentence-level meanings. One set of studies uses behavioral interference paradigms to examine the time-course of verb generation when Japanese speakers plan their utterances. Two other series of studies focus on electrophysiological evidence for the generation of verb expectations in Chinese, Spanish, and English. Evidence for advance generation of verb meanings is found in comprehension and production alike. But we find that different types of linguistic information drive expectations on different time scales. In verb-final clauses, verb expectations are initially driven only by lexical associations, and effects of compositional interpretations are observed only after a delay. Similar mechanisms operate in production and comprehension, but they yield different outputs, depending on the information available to the language user in a specific task.
The Arts Committee on Graduate Students has awarded David-Etienne Bouchard the 2013 Arts Insight Dissertation Award, for the best McGill dissertation of 2012 in the social sciences. Congratulations, David-Etienne!
Michael Wagner has received the 2013 Arts Award for Distinction in Research. This award goes annually to a single McGill faculty member in the Faculty of Arts who has “made outstanding research contributions to their field.” The award will be officially presented at the April 23 Faculty of Arts meeting (3pm, Leacock 232).
Where: Green Lab, Apr 2 at 11 AM
This week in the Speech Learning Lab, Thea Knowles will discuss some new (and maybe surprising) data we’ve been collecting on the acoustic effects of prominence vs. reduction. We’ve found that while global measures like duration, intensity and f0 all increase with prominence, the acoustic distinctiveness of sibilants do not.
Wednesday, April 3, 4-5:30 p.m. in room 117.
Glyne Piggott will present:
Chains or Strata? The Case of Maltese by Paul Kiparsky (2011)
Who: Erica Yoon (Cog. Sci. Honors, ARIA)
What: Practice talk for CLS on “Testing the two grammar hypothesis for Korean: Scopal interaction of object QPs and negation”, joint work with Junko Shimoyama.
Where: Room 117
When: Friday, April 5th, 3:00 pm
Background Reading: Click here
More info on Syntax Semantics reading group
Jessica Coon’s two-part article entitled “TAM Split Ergativity” has just appeared in the March issue of the journal Language and Linguistics Compass. Congratulations Jessica!
To kick off SLUM’s Future Week 2013, we will be hosting a B&P at Gert’s tomorrow from 5-7pm, and all linguistics students are welcome! The rest of the schedule is posted below, but be sure to check the Facebook event (https://www.facebook.com/events/502167063178792/?fref=ts) for updates on all events throughout the week.
MONDAY, MARCH 25: B&P @ GERT’S
Come join us for beverages and pizza at Gert’s between 5:00 and 7:00pm. This is a great chance to mingle with some really cool linguistics people, and learn about upcoming Future Week events as well as how to get involved in SLUM for next year!
TUESDAY, MARCH 26: EVEN MORE BOBERG
An extension of Undergraduate Advisor Professor Boberg’s office hours from 2-5pm for academic advising.
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 27: SPEECH & SNACKS IN SSMU
Dr. Rosalee Shenker, a speech pathologist from the Montreal Fluency Center, will be giving a talk about her experience as a speech language pathologist, how she got to where she is today, and the day in the life of a SLP in Lev Bukhman (in SSMU) at 2:00pm. A reception will follow.
THURSDAY, MARCH 28: EXPERT PANEL & PEER ADVISING
Expert Panel: Young professionals with experience in the field of linguistics will be talking about how they chose their careers in the SSMU Lev Bukhman room at 2:30pm.
Peer Advising: Drop by the Linguistics Lounge (1085 Dr. Penfield, rm. 212) from 3:30-5:30pm for some peer advising as an exciting wrap-up to Future Week before the long weekend
The Sixth Toronto-Ottawa-Montréal Semantics Workshop was held this past Saturday at McGill. The event was well attended and offered the audience much food for thought.
As expected, our reporters risked their lives to immortalize the event. We are proud to offer you a sample of their work.
Sad as we are about TOM 6 coming to an end, we are very much looking forward to TOM 7, which will be held at the University of Toronto. Rumor has it that a new collection of TOM memorabilia could be made available to avid TOMers. Stay tuned.
Heather Newell will present :
Morpho-Phonological Doubling: a problem for Nanosyntax?