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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 4 hours 31 min ago

Ergativity Lab: 3/25 – Kevin Tuite (Université de Montréal)

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 02:20
This week in the Ergativity Lab, there will be a talk by Kevin Tuite of The University of Montreal, Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. Title and abstract below: Alignment and orientation in Kartvelian (South Caucasian) I will present an overview of case assignment and person/number marking in the Kartvelian languages, and the extent to which they correspond to a recognizable alignment type (ergative-absolutive, or split-intransitive). If time permits, I will also present a hypothesis concerning the morphosyntactic characteristics of Proto-Kartvelian.

Postdoctoral fellowship for Michael Hamilton

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 01:50

Fifth-year PhD student Michael Hamilton has recently accepted a 2-year Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Cornell University, which he is set to take up later this year. At Cornell, Mike will continue his research into the syntax and prosody of Mi’gmaq and other Algonquian languages. Congratulations Mike!

McGill at MOTH

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 01:50
The Montréal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton Syntax Workshop (MOTH 2015) Syntax Workshop is taking place at the University of Ottawa on March 28th and 29th. Yuliya Manyakina will present “Two Types of “Incorporation” in Mi’gmaq” and Jiajia Su will present “On the ‘Numeral Classifier de Noun’ Construction in Mandarin Chinese.” Jessica Coon will be the keynote speaker. The full program is available at https://2015moth.wordpress.com/programme/

Syntax Group, 3/18 – Shobhana Chelliah (U. North Texas)

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 02:42

Please join us for a special edition of Syntax Group/Ergativity Lab, this Wednesday at 2pm in room 117. All are welcome!

Speaker:  Shobhana L. Chelliah (University of North Texas)

Title: The Source of Variability in Case and Semantic Role Marking in Tibeto-Burman

The predominant case marking pattern observed for Tibeto-Burman is non-obligatory morphological marking of A (transitive subject) and of S (intransitive subject) under various pragmatic and discourse conditions which cast A or S as as acontrastive or an otherwise foregrounded NP.  In one Tibeto-Burman language,Meitei, agent, patient, associative, and locative semantic role markers all have developed secondary pragmatic meanings associated with speaker expectations.  The same is true to some extent with other Tibeto-Burman languages as well. Additionally, when surveying recent descriptions of ergative languages, we see A/S marking curiously parallel in distribution to that found in Tibeto-Burman, with pragmatics or discourse structure determining the distribution of A/S marking.

It has been argued that case systems with pragmatic or discourse motivated marking have evolved from one of the known case-marking types and that this change has been  due to language contact or obsolescence. Given the examples of A/S case marking developing contrastive topic readings even with robust languages that have undergone little contact, it would appear that some other factor is at work.  I will argue that these case systems have developed through a process of language change by which certain grammatical categories increasingly reflect speaker perspective.


LingTea, 3/18 – Guilherme Garcia

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 02:40

Who: Guilherme Garcia

When: Wednesday, Mar. 183:00-4:00 in room 117

What: “Stress and Gradient Weight in Portuguese” (WCCFL practice talk)


Coon, Mateo Pedro, and Preminger in Linguistic Variation

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 01:50

Jessica Coon’s collaborative paper with Pedro Mateo Pedro (Universidad del Valle de Guatemala) and Omer Preminger (Maryland) just appeared in the journal Linguistic VariationThe title is “The Role of Case in A-Bar Extraction Asymmetries: Evidence from Mayan.”

Many morphologically ergative languages display asymmetries in the extraction of core arguments: while absolutive arguments (transitive objects and intransitive subjects) extract freely, ergative arguments (transitive subjects) cannot. This falls under the label “syntactic ergativity” (see, e.g. Dixon 1972, 1994; Manning 1996; Polinsky to appear(b)). These extraction asymmetries are found in many languages of the Mayan family, where in order to extract transitive subjects (for focus, questions, or relativization), a special construction known as the “Agent Focus” (AF) must be used. These AF constructions have been described as syntactically and semantically transitive because they contain two non-oblique DP arguments, but morphologically intransitive because the verb appears with only a single agreement marker and takes an intransitive status suffix (Aissen 1999; Stiebels 2006). In this paper we offer a proposal for (i) why some morphologically ergative languages exhibit extraction asymmetries, while others do not; and (ii) how the AF construction in Q’anjob’al circumvents this problem. We adopt recent accounts which argue that ergative languages vary in the locus of absolutive case assignment (Aldridge 2004, 2008a; Legate 2002, 2008), and propose that this variation is present within the Mayan family. Based primarily on comparative data from Q’anjob’al and Chol, we argue that the inability to extract ergative arguments does not reflect a problem with properties of the ergative subject itself, but rather reflects locality properties of absolutive case assignment in the clause. We show how the AF morpheme -on circumvents this problem in Q’anjob’al by assigning case to internal arguments.

Morgan Sonderegger at Carleton

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 01:50

Morgan Sonderegger gave a colloquium talk in the School of Linguistics and Language Studies last week, entitled “The structure of variability in spontaneous speech: evidence from voice onset time”.

McGill at MOLT 2015

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 01:50

McGill Linguistics was well represented at this year’s Montreal-Ottawa-Laval-Toronto Phonology Workshop (MOLT), which took place this past weekend at the University of Toronto. There were talks by graduate students, undergraduate students, alumni, and faculty (subset pictured below). The full program can be found here.

Lydia White in Turkey

Mon, 03/16/2015 - 01:50

Lydia White spent part of March break in Turkey where she gave two talks. She presented a talk titled “Implications of linguistic theory and generative L2 research for language pedagogy” as a Plenary talk at the Language in Focus Conference, in Cappadocia. She also presented “L2 pronoun interpretation: problems of representation or processing?” as an invited speaker at Boğaziçi University, in Istanbul. (She was invited by McGill graduate Ayse Gürel, who has recently been promoted to Full Professor.)

Lydia did not spend her entire break giving presentations. You can see what she was up to while not doing linguistics in the following photo:

McLing Special Issue – McCCLU Conference Saturday March 14th at New Residence Hall

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 15:55


This year’s McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergrads–McCCLU–will take place Saturday March 14th at New Residence Hall. The program is below, and the full conference booklet is here: McCCLU 2015 Program. In addition to talks by our very own Liam Rogers Bassford and Louisa Bielig, there will be a keynote talk by postdoctoral fellow Hadas Kotek. Hope you can make it!

Ling-Tea, Bronwyn Bjorkman – 4/11, plus upcoming schedule

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 02:40

Please joins us for the next LingTea of the semester:

Who: Bronwyn Bjorkman (University of Toronto)
When: Wednesday, Mar. 113-4pm in room 117
What: “Not All Fake Pasts Are Real”

There are at least two domains where it has been proposed that past inflection is “uninterpretable” or “fake”, because it does not contribute its ordinary back-shifted interpretation: sequence of tense and counterfactuals. Though they have only occasionally been directly compared, both have been analyzed as cases where T bears a formally uninterpretable tense feature that must be licensed by a higher counterpart. This talk, however, focuses on differences between the two phenomena, particularly in their interaction with situation and viewpoint aspect, and argues that these differences suggest that sequence of tense and counterfactuals cannot both be analyzed in terms of feature licensing. I conclude that of the two, only counterfactuals involve real “fake” past (i.e. a licensed [uPAST] feature), and (finally) that this sheds light on differences between the interpretation of particular inflectional forms, and their formal representation in terms of features, which in turn helps account for crosslinguistic differences in what inflectional forms are possible in counterfactual contexts.


Other upcoming presentations:

March 18: Gui Guilherme, “Stress and gradient weight in Portuguese” (WCCFL practice talk)
March 25: Jiajia Su – “On the ‘Numeral Classifier de Noun’ construction in Mandarin Chinese” / Yuliya Manyakina – “Two Types of ‘Incorporation’ in Mi’gmaq” (MOTH practice talks)
April 8: Hadas Kotek, TBA (GLOW practice talk)


A reminder! If you are interested in presenting a paper or getting some feedback on work in progress please email Gui (guilherme.garcia@mail.mcgill.ca) or Yuliya (yuliya.manyakina@mail.mcgill.ca). The following dates are still available for this semester’s LingTea:
April: 1, 15, 22, 29



Syntax reading group, 4/11 – Bjorkman

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 02:39
title: Upwards Agree and Long Distance Agreement speaer: Bronwyn Bjorkman (joint work with Hedde Zeiljstra) when/where: Wednesday, 2–3pm, Room 117 abstract: In Minimalist frameworks, the operation Agree establishes relationships between defective probes (unvalued or uninterpretable features) and non-defective goals (valued or interpretable). While the original definition of Agree required probes to search downward for goals (Chomsky 1995 et seq.), more recent work has suggested instead that probes search upwards(Wurmbrand 2012, Zeijlstra 2012, a.o.), or that the direction of Agree is variable (Baker 2008, Merchant 2011). These proposals have often drawn on different empirical domains (e.g. φ-agreement vs. verbal inflection or negative concord), raising the question of whether a single model of Agree can account for all syntactic feature relationships. The most serious empirical issue for “Upwards Agree” models is the existence of long-distance agreement (LDA) patterns, cases where there is no point in the derivation where the goal DP c-commands the probing head. Such cases appear to be incompatible with Upwards Agree theories, as observed by Preminger (2014). This talk argues, however, that a slightly modified version of Upwards Agree not only can account for LDA, but may in fact provide a better account of the typology of LDA patterns. The main modification is to distinguish feature checking (accomplished by Agree) from feature valuation, but to restrict valuation to instances where two heads stand in some Agree (i.e. checking) relation, though potentially for a feature other than the one being valued. This predicts that LDA should be possible only when a DP stands in an independent Agree relationship with the agreeing head, whether for Case or information structural features. We illustrate how this version of Upwards Agree accounts for at least three subtypes of LDA: nominative object agreement in Icelandic, agreement into non-finite clauses in Hindi, and agreement into finite embedded clauses in Tsez.

Tokiko Okuma at GASLA 2015

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 02:01

Tokiko Okuma has just returned from presenting a paper at the 13th Generative Approaches to Second Language Acquisition Conference at Indiana University on March 4-6. The title of her talk was “Typology of pronouns and L2 acquisition of the OPC effect in Japanese”. The full program can be found here.

Okuma starts working as a full-time lecturer (one-year contract) at the University of Shizuoka, Japan, and a part-time lecturer (one-term contract) at Osaka University, Japan, from April 2015. Congrats!

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership at ICLDC 4

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 02:00

Mi’gmaq Research Partnership members Carolyn Anderson, Joel Dunham, Yuliya Manyakina, Madelaine Metallic, Conor Quinn and Lola Vicaire traveled to Honolulu, Hawai’i for the 4th International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (Feb. 26-Mar. 1, 2015). The following talks were presented:

  • Douglas Gordon (McGill), Carol-Rose Little (Cornell), Yuliya Manyakina (McGill), Madelaine Metallic (Listuguj Education Directorate) and Lola Vicaire (Listuguj Education Directorate) - Bringing a Community Closer: A report on the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Summer Workshops (poster)

    Right to Left: Metallic, Vicaire and Manyakina with poster

  •  Joel Dunham (UBC), Jessica Coon (McGill) and Alan Bale  (Concordia University) - LingSync: web-based software for language documentation
  • Conor Quinn (University of Maine/University of Southern Maine) - Taking down the barriers: Accessibility by detechnicalization and minimalist presentation

The full schedule may be found here. Stay tuned at migmaq.org to read some blog posts about the travelers’ experiences.

McGill at upcoming GLOW and WCCFL

Mon, 03/09/2015 - 01:50

McGill linguists will travel to Vancouver for WCCFL 33 later this month, to be held at Simon Frasier University. Heather Goad will give a plenary talk titled “Phonotactic evidence from typology and acquisition for a coda+onset analysis of initial sC clusters“. PhD student Guilherme Duarte Garcia will give a talk “Stress and gradient weight in Portuguese.” Here is the rest of the program.

In April, PhD student Michael Hamilton and post-doctoral fellow Hadas Kotek will both head to Paris for GLOW. Mike’s talk will be “Feature Inheritance in clausal and verbal domains: Evidence from Mi’gmaq”, and Hadas’s is titled “Intervention everywhere“.  The full program can be found here.

McGill at GALANA 2015

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 02:00

McGill linguists, psychologists and speech-language pathologists traveled to University of Maryland to present at the 6th bi-annual Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition – North America (GALANA), held on February 19-21. Presenters included:

  • Misha Schwartz (McGill) & Heather Goad (McGill): Indirect Positive Evidence in the Acquisition of a Subset Grammar in Phonology
  • Erica Yoon (Stanford), Heather Goad (McGill), Jennifer McManus (McGill), Elisa Bucurel (McGill) & Kristine Onishi (McGill): Use of allophonic cues to detect word-medial syllable boundaries
  • Tokiko Okuma: L1 transfer in bound variable use of L2 Japanese demonstrative pronouns

Full program may be found here.

Sasha Simonenko in Journal of Semantics

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 01:50

Recent PhD graduate Sasha Simonenko, currently a Postdoc at LaTTiCe (CNRS, ENS, Paris 3), just learned that her manuscript “Semantics of DP islands: The case of questions” has been accepted for publication in Journal of Semantics. Congratulations Sasha!

Colloquium, 2/20 – T. Florian Jaeger

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 02:20
This week we welcome the next speaker in our 2015 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series: Speaker: T. Florian Jaeger (University of Rochester)
Date & Time: Friday, February 20, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: “The doubly-hierarchical structure of linguistic knowledge” Abstract: 

It is now broadly recognized that language understanding and production are probabilistic. For example, multiple instances of the same sound produced in the same context by the same speaker form a distribution over acoustic dimensions, rather than a single point. I discuss data from speech perception and language processing that suggests that the ideas of gradience and inference over noisy input, while an important step forward, do not go far enough in characterizing the cognitive architecture underlying language.

Much of the noise and variability in linguistic behavior is structured: part of the differences in speakers’ gradient preferences are systematically conditioned on social indexical variables (e.g., gender, age, dialects and accents). This structure variability contributes to what is known as the infamous ‘lack of invariance’ problem in speech perception.

Listeners overcome the lack of invariance by learning to represent environment-specific linguistics statistics (e.g., talker-specific pronunciation, lexical, and syntactic preferences). Specifically, I propose that comprehenders recognize previously encountered language environments (such as a familiar speaker) and adapt to the statistics of novel environments while generalizing based on similar previous experiences. In this view, grammatical knowledge is conditioned on hierarchically organized indexical structure that captures speaker-specificity as well as generalizations across groups of speakers (sociolects, dialects, etc.). These representations can be thought of as allowing the efficient parameterizations (in the stochastic sense) of grammars for different language environments.

For this talk I will first briefly summarize evidence from speech perception (Kleinschmidt and Jaeger, in press). Then I will focus on sentence processing to demonstrate rapid expectation adaptation during language understanding (Fine et al., 2010, 2013; Farmer et al., 2014). Finally, I’ll present evidence from implicit motor learning that we can indeed learn the indexical structure underlying varying statistics in our environment (Qian et al, submitted).

[This work is based on collaborations with Richard Aslin, Thomas Farmer, Alex Fine, Robbie Jacobs, Dave Kleinschmidt, and Ting Qian, and funded by an Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship, NSF CAREER IIS-1150028, and NIH R01 HD075797]

Selected relevant readings from the Human Language Processing Lab

  1. Kleinschmidt, D. and Jaeger, T. F. in press. Robust Speech Perception: Recognizing the familiar, Generalizing to the similar, and adapting to the novel. [pdf]
  2. Fine, A. B., Jaeger, T. F., Farmer, T., and Qian, T. 2013. Rapid expectation adaptation during syntactic comprehension. PLoS ONE 8(10), e77661. [pdf]
  3. Fine, A. B. and Jaeger, T. F. 2013. Evidence for implicit learning in syntactic comprehension. Cognitive Science 37(3), 578–591. [doi: 10.1111/cogs.12022]. [pdf]
  4. Jaeger, T. F. and Snider, N. 2013. Alignment as a consequence of expectation adaptation: syntactic priming is affected by the prime’s prediction error given both prior and recent experience. Cognition 127(1), 57–83. [doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.10.013]. [pdf]
  5. Qian, T., Jaeger, T. F., and Aslin, R. under revision. Implicit Learning of Bundles of Statistical Patterns in an Incremental Task.
  6. Qian, T., Jaeger, T. F., and Aslin, R. 2012. Learning to Represent a Multi-Context Environment: More than Detecting Changes. Frontiers in Psychology 3, 228. [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00228]. [pdf]

Tokiko Okuma to GALANA 2015

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 02:00

Tokiko Okuma heads to the University of Maryland this week to present a poster/alternate talk at the 6th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America (GALANA 2015) on February 19-21.

She has been awarded a GALANA travel grant. The title of her work is ‘L1 transfer in bound variable use of L2 Japanese demonstrative pronouns’. The full program can be found here.

Open House, 2/19–20

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 01:50

We’re having an open house for admitted graduate students on Feb. 19-20. Admitted graduate students will attend classes, a reading group meeting, a lab tour, and a campus tour; have individual meetings with faculty members; learn about our current graduate students’ research, listen to Florian Jaeger’s colloquium talk and enjoy a party afterwards; and also socialize with our current graduate students, etc. etc. You can find more details on the final schedule that will be sent out by email shortly. Meanwhile, if you see any new faces wandering the halls, please say hello!