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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 5 hours 12 min ago

Louisa Bielig at GLEEFUL

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

BA Honours student Louisa Bielig traveled to Michigan for GLEEFUL, the Great Lakes Expo on Experimental and Formal Undergraduate Linguistics. Louisa’s talk, “Resumptive Classifiers in Chuj High Topic Constructions”, is part of her Honours Thesis project, supervised by Jessica Coon. The full program can be found here.

Louisa, front left, with the other GLEEFUL presenters

Lisa Travis at “In Her Own Words”

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

Last week, Lisa Travis was part of a panel for McGill’s “In Her Own Words: Stories from Distinguished Research Careers”. The panel members shared experiences and advice for women interested in advancing careers in academia and university administration. Nice work Lisa!

Dr. Rosie Goldstein; Prof. Lisa Travis; Prof Suzanne Fortier; Dr. Luda Diatchenko;
Ms. Jacquie Rourke




McGill at GLOW

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

PhD student Michael Hamilton and postdoc Hadas Kotek are returning from presenting work at the 38th Generative Linguistics in the Old World (GLOW) conference, held April 15–18th in Paris. Hadas gave a talk titled “Inervention Everywhere!”, and Mike presented a poster, “Feature Inheritance in Clausal and Verbal Domains: Evidence from Mi’gmaq”. Welcome back!

Hadas and Mike, GLOWing

Lauren Clemens in Toronto

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

Postdoc Lauren Clemens was at the University of Toronto last week where she gave an invited talk titled “The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure: A look at Chol and Niuean”. The abstract can be found here.

Charles Boberg on NPR in LA

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

Charles Boberg was was recently interviewed about current trends in American English dialects by Larry Mantle on the show Airtalk, on KPCC, an NPR-affiliate in Pasadena, CA, broadcasting to greater Los Angeles. The segment aired April 17th and can be heard here: http://www.scpr.org/programs/airtalk/2015/04/17/42443/vowels-shift-regional-accents-recede-what-american/

Schwarz in “Semantics and Pragmatics”

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

“Consistency preservation in Quantity implicature: the case of at least“, a new paper by Bernhard Schwarz has been accepted for publication in Semantics & Pragmatics. Congratulations, Bernhard!

Michael Wagner at UMass

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 01:50

Michael Wagner gave a colloquium talk at the University of Massachusetts Amherst last Friday. The title of his talk was “Additivity and the syntax of ‘even’”. The abstract is here.


LingTea, 4/15 – Michael Wagner

Mon, 04/13/2015 - 02:40

Our last LingTea of the semester will be this week:

Who: Michael Wagner
When: Wednesday, Apr. 153:00-4:00 in room 117
What: “Additivity and the syntax of ‘even’ ”

Beaver & Clark (2003, 2010) observe that certain focus operators such as ‘only’ and ‘even’ differ in various ways from focus sensitive operators such as ‘always’. This talk presents analysis that derives at least some of these differences from a difference in their syntax: ‘only’ takes two syntactic arguments, a focus constituent which can be of any type,  and a second argument, which has to compose with the first to form a proposition (following similar syntactic proposals in Rooth 1985, Mccawley 1995, Krifka 1996). The distribution of ‘only’ is further constrained by a constraint that assures that the size of the focus constituent must minimized (potentially motivated semantically, as proposed in Wagner 2006). Adverbs like ‘always’, by contrast, operate over a single argument.

A challenges to this view is the syntax of ‘even’, which seem to place it between the two categories of focus operators. We can get a better understanding of the syntax of ‘even’ once we control for whether ‘even’ is used additively or not. Whether ‘even’ carries an additive presupposition remains controversial. While Horn (1969), Karttunen and Peters (1979), Wilkinson (1996) and many others have argued that it does, Stechow (1991), Krifka (1992) and Rullmann (1997) reached the opposite conclusion. This talk identifi es a new syntactic generalization about when ‘even’ triggers an additive presupposition, which provides further evidence for the analysis of the syntax of focus operators advocated here. It also reconciles the contradictory findings about additivity in the earlier literature.  The analysis offers a new perspective on syntactic constraints on the distribution of related focus operators in German noted in Jacobs (1983) and Büring & Hartmann (2001).

TOM 8 at Carleton

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 02:00

The 8th Annual Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Workshop on Semantics is taking place on April 11 at Carleton. Our own Dan Goodhue and Henrison Hsieh are presenting.

You can check the program here:



Congratulations Toki!

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 01:50

Congratulations to Dr. Tokiko Okuma, who successfully defended her PhD dissertation last week. Toki will immediately take up a position as a full-time lecturer at the University of Shizuoka , and will also hold a part-time lecturer position this summer for an intensive summer course on L2 acquisition at Osaka University, School of Foreign Studies . Best of luck Toki!

Toki (right) with her supervisor, Lydia White (left)

Teaching award for Mike Hamilton

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 01:50

McLing is pleased to announce that PhD student Mike Hamilton was awarded a Faculty of Arts Graduate Student Teaching Award by the McGill Committee on Graduate Studies. The $500 award will be announced at the April 14 Faculty of Arts meeting. Congratulations Mike!

LingTea, 4/8 – Hadas Kotek

Sat, 04/04/2015 - 02:40

Who: Hadas Kotek

When: Wednesday, Apr. 83:00-4:00 in room 117

What: “Intervention everywhere!” (GLOW practice talk)

Colloquium, 4/10 – Lisa Matthewson

Sat, 04/04/2015 - 02:20
This week we welcome the next speaker in our 2015 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series: Speaker: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)
Date & Time: Friday, April 10, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: “Adventures with discourse management in Gitksan” Abstract:

Discourse particles such as German ja or doch have a rich tradition of investigation (see Zimmermann 2011, Grosz 2014 for recent overviews), and continue to intrigue researchers due to the analytical challenges they pose. While discourse particles are common cross-linguistically, they are notoriously difficult even to describe accurately – let alone analyze – in a language the researcher does not speak natively. Consequently, they often remain in the ‘too difficult basket’ long after a language has undergone extensive semantic analysis. In this talk I attempt to shrink the ‘too difficult basket’ by analyzing two discourse particles in Gitksan, an endangered Tsimshianic language spoken in British Columbia, Canada.

The particles under investigation, k’ap and ist, both convey a pre-theoretic notion of ‘emphasis’. K’ap is glossed as ‘certainly, indeed, for sure’ by Rigsby (1986) and as ‘must, have to, absolutely, simply, really, no getting out of it, no two ways about it, no choice about it’ by Tarpent (1987) (in the closely related Nisga’a). Ist is glossed as ‘interact’ by Rigsby and as ‘affirmative’ by Tarpent. I argue that k’ap p is licensed when ¬p is in the Projected Set (the set of potential future common grounds at the time of utterance, Farkas and Bruce 2010). Ist p, on the other hand, conveys that the speaker wishes to downdate the current Question Under Discussion by asserting p (following Gutzmann and Castroviejo Miró’s 2011 analysis of verum focus). I show that these analyses correctly account for the distribution of the particles across a range of discourse contexts and speech act types. Several questions for future research remain, including how to account for the effect of the particles in imperatives. Larger questions are also raised about how we can account for subtle differences between k’ap and ist and similar elements (particles, verum focus) in German and English.

PhD Oral Defense, 4/1 – Tokiko Okuma

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 02:40

Please join us Wednesday April 1st at 12:00pm in Education Building in Room 434 for Tokiko Okuma’s PhD Oral Defense. A reception will follow at 2:00pm in the Linguistics Department lounge.

Title:  Overt Pronoun Constraint effects in second language Japanese


This dissertation investigates the applicability of the Full Transfer/Full Access hypothesis (FT/FA) (Schwartz & Sprouse, 1994, 1996) by investigating the interpretation of the Japanese pronoun (kare ‘he’) by adult English and Spanish speaking learners of Japanese.The Japanese, Spanish, and English languages differ with respect to interpretive properties of pronouns.

In Japanese and Spanish, overt pronouns disallow a bound variable interpretation in subject and object positions. By contrast, In English, overt pronouns may have a bound variable interpretation in these positions. This is called the Overt Pronoun Constraint (OPC) (Montalbetti, 1984).

The FT/FA model suggests that the initial state of L2 grammar is the end state of L1 grammar and that the restructuring of L2 grammar occurs with L2 input. This hypothesis predicts that L1 English speakers of L2 Japanese would initially allow a bound variable interpretation of Japanese pronouns in subject and object positions, transferring from their L1s. Nevertheless, they will successfully come to disallow a bound variable interpretation as their proficiency improves. In contrast, L1 Spanish speakers of L2 Japanese would correctly disallow a bound variable interpretation of Japanese pronouns in subject and object positions from the beginning.

In order to test these predictions, L1 English and L1 Spanish speakers of L2 Japanese at intermediate and advanced levels of proficiency were compared with native Japanese speakers in their interpretations of pronouns with quantified antecedents in two tasks. To make the comparison, the interpretation of pronouns with referential antecedents, which do not obey the constraint, was also investigated. The results support the FT/FA hypothesis in two respects. First, the intermediate English group accepted a bound variable interpretation of subject pronouns more often than the native Japanese speakers while the intermediate Spanish group did not. Moreover, the intermediate English group was not sensitive to the referential/quantified antecedent asymmetry in interpreting subject pronouns while the intermediate Spanish group showed sensitivity. These differences are attributable to their L1s, English, which does not demonstrate the OPC effects, and Spanish, which does, just like Japanese. Second, the advanced English group as well as the advanced Spanish group showed evidence of a target-like grammar, suggesting the OPC effects in their grammars. Given that the OPC effects are underdetermined in input, these results suggest that Universal Grammar (UG) is operative in L2 acquisition.

LingTea, 4/1 – Michelle Sheehan (University of Cambridge)

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 02:40

This week we’d like to welcome a special guest from overseas for our LingTea:

Who: Michelle Sheehan (University of Cambridge)

When: Wednesday, Apr. 13:05-4:05 in room 117

What: Ergative alignment in Romance causatives


In this talk I consider the parallels between the Romance faire-infinitif construction in (1) and ergative-absolutive alignment, as exemplified in (2):

(1)        a.         Jean l’              a          fait       manger.                        [French]
Jean 3s.acc     has       made    eat.inf
‘Jean made her eat.’

b.         Jean le              lui         a          fait       manger.
Jean 3s.acc     3s.dat    has       made    eat.inf
‘Jean made her eat it.’

(2)           a.         Qusngiq          ner’-uq.                                             [Yup’ik]
reindeer.abs   eat-intr.3sg
‘The reindeer is eating.’

b.         Angute-m       qusngiq                       ner-aa.
man-erg          reindeer.abs                 eat-tr.3sg/3sg
‘The man is eating (the) reindeer.’

In both cases, the external argument surfaces with a morphologically marked case sensitive to transitivity (in the languages in question). I show variation across Romance varieties parallels quite closely variation amongst ergative systems, and that a unified inherent-case account of both in terms of a parameter hierarchy seems promising. For example, Spanish dialects which extend the dative to the subjects of unergatives parallel Basque, which extends ergative to these contexts. Obligatory clitic climbing in French, Italian and European Portuguese can be attributed to the presence of an additional short movement of the object to spec ApplP in these languages, which parallels the trigger for syntactic ergativity in languages like Chamorro and Trumai. I also discuss some challenges for the inherent case approach, notably the fact that some Spanish dialects also extend the dative to the subjects of unaccusative verbs.

LingTea, 3/25 – Yuliya Manyakina and Jiajia Su, plus general announcement

Mon, 03/23/2015 - 02:40

This week there is a special LingTea session for MOTH practice talks:

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.”

When: Wednesday, Mar. 253:30-4:30 in room 117

General Announcement: since, officially, the room for LingTea is booked from 3:30 to 4:30, LingTea will now be at this time weekly for the rest of the semester.

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.