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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 2 hours 18 min ago

Tokiko Okuma at SLRF2014

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 02:01

Tokiko Okuma just returned from the Second Language Research Forum (SLRF 2014) at the University of South Carolina, which took place October 23–25. She presented a paper titled ‘The OPC and task effect in interpreting Japanese pronouns.”

The full program can be found here.


Lisa Travis returns from McMaster

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 01:50

Lisa Travis was at McMaster last week, where she gave a talk as part of the Cognitive Science of Language Lecture Series. The title of her talk was “Macro- and micro-parameters within and across language families.”

Abstract: Languages vary in large and in small ways, and linguists can undertake macro-comparative work (e.g. comparing English and Mohawk) or micro-comparative work (e.g. comparing Northern Italian dialects). Often macro-comparative work is done across language families with the goal of uncovering macro-parameters while micro-comparative work is done within a language family with the goal of uncovering micro-parameters. In this research, I undertake micro-comparative work across language families (Austronesian and Mayan) to better understand a possible macro-parameter (VP-fronting). More specifically, I hypothesize that the co-occurrence of clefting wh-construction with V-initial languages can be explained through a macro-parameter of VP-fronting, explaining both V-initial word order and predicate fronting in clefting constructions. Within this macroparametric study, I investigate the status of clefting structure in an SVO language (Bahasa Indonesia) and micro-variation within the clefted structures comparing two dialects of Malagasy, an Austronesian language, to Kaqchikel, a Mayan language. The goal is to understand some of the details of these clefting structures that allow them to be reanalyzed leading to different setting in the macro-parameter. I argue that it is the status of the clefting particle that allows shifts in the syntactic interpretation of the structure leading to different choices in the macro-parameter.

McGill at the 46th Algonquian Conference

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 01:50

McGill students Douglas Gordon, Michael Hamilton, Yuliya Manyakina, and recent alumna Carol Little (BA ’12) traveled to Uncasville, Connecticut for the 46th Algonquian Conference (Oct. 23–26) which took place at the Mohegan Sun Casino in the Mohegan Tribal Nation.

They presented the following talks:

  • Douglas Gordon – The Distribution of me’ and gi’s in Mi’gmaq
  • Michael David Hamilton – An analysis of ditransitives and ”possessor raising” in Mi’gmaq 
  • Michael David Hamilton, Michael Wagner, Mary Ann Metallic, Janice Vicaire, and Elise McClay (BA ’12) – Focus in Mi’gmaq: Prosodic and syntactic reflexes
  • Carol Little – Negation in Mi’gmq

The full program can be found at the here. You can also read more about the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership in Douglas Gordon’s recent “notes from the field” article, which appeared in the McGill Reporter last week.

Erlewine paper to appear in NLLT

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 01:50

Congratulations to Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, whose paper ”Anti-locality and optimality in Kaqchikel Agent Focus” has just been officially accepted to Natural Language and Linguistic Theory! A pre-final draft is available here.

Many Mayan languages show a syntactically ergative extraction asymmetry whereby the A-bar extraction of subjects of transitives requires special verbal morphology, known as Agent Focus. In this paper I investigate the syntax of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. I argue that this extraction asymmetry in Kaqchikel is the result of a particular anti-locality constraint which bans movement which is too close. Support for this claim comes from new data on the distribution of Agent Focus in Kaqchikel which show this locality-sensitivity. The distribution and realization of Agent Focus will then be modeled using a system of ranked, violable constraints operating over competing derivations. This theoretical choice will be supported by details in the pattern of agreement in Agent Focus.

LingTea, 10/22 – Henrison Hsieh

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 02:40

Please join us for this week’s LingTea:

Who: Henrison Hsieh

What: “Future-oriented Actuality Entailments: A Puzzle from Tagalog” (NELS practice talk)

When/Where: Wednesday, Oct. 22, room 117 3-4pm


Colloquium, 10/24 – Hadas Kotek

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 02:20

The next speaker in the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be:

Speaker: Hadas Kotek (McGill University)

Date & Time: Friday, Oct. 24, 3:30 pm

Place: Education Building, room 433

Title: “Covert wh-movement as covert scrambling”


Covert wh-movement is normally believed to be an unbounded, long-distance movement, similar to its overt counterpart. In the multiple question in (1a), the wh-phrase ‘which student’ is fronted out of an embedded clause, while the wh-phrase ‘which professor’ is pronounced in-situ, in its base-generated position. Much work has suggested that the (surface) in-situ wh-phrase in (1a) undergoes covert wh-movement, so that it occupies a position near the overtly fronted wh-phrase at LF (Karttunen 1977, Huang 1982, a.o.), (1b). (1) a. Which student did Mary say that Sue introduced ___ to which professor?     b. LF: [ which student ]1 [ which professor ]2 did Mary say that Sue introduced t1 to t2? I will argue that covert wh-movement indeed occurs in questions like (1) but that it should be thought of as a more restricted, local operation, similar to scrambling in languages like German. The arguments come from online sentence processing and from the behavior of multiple wh-questions with syntactic islands. I show that covert wh-movement at the very least can, and sometimes must, be a short movement step targeting a position other than the one targeted by overt wh-movement in the same structure. Implications for cross-linguistic typology and for the acquisition of wh-questions will be discussed.

Introducing Tashi Wangyal

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 01:50

A belated welcome to Tashi Wangyal, who is working this semester as the language consultant for LING 415/610, Linguistic Field Methods. The class is studying the dialect of Tibetan spoken in Dharamsala, where Tashi grew up. Tashi can be found many days meeting with students outside of class on the third floor––if you see him around, please say hi!

My name is Tashi Wangyal and I am a Tibetan. I was born and raised in India.  I am married with two children, a boy and a girl, and my wife is also Tibetan, but she was born and raised in Canada. I immigrated to Canada in 1998. In 2012 I decided to pursue my passion in filmmaking, and I was fortunate to be accepted in Concordia’s film production program. Currently I am doing my final year and looking forward to graduating next year.

Syntax reading group, 10/15 – Legate (2008)

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 02:40
This week in the syntax reading group, we will discuss Legate (2008) on ergativity, with an eye towards diagnostics that can be used to understand the behavior of a possibly ergative language. This discussion will inform work on the ergativity questionnaire project. Please (re)read Legate (2008) and join us. Wednesday 10am, room 215.

Lauren Clemens at UQAM, 10/15

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 02:40

Lauren Clemens will present at UQAM’s Wednesday afternoon talk series this week:

When: Wednesday, 10/15 at 12:45pm
Where: DS-3470 (320 Saint-Catherine East, 3rd floor)
Title: Têtes et compléments à l’interface prosodie/syntaxe

All are welcome to attend!

LingTea, 10/15 Michael Hamilton

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 02:40

Please join us for this week’s LingTea:

Who:  Michael Hamilton

What: Ditransitives and “possessor raising” in Mi’gmaq
When/Where: Wednesday, room 117, 3-4pm

Abstract: In Mi’gmaq (Eastern Algonquian) an ambiguity exists in (1) between a ditransitive (DTV) and “possessor raising” (PR) interpretation. This form has an applicative morpheme (-u) and the φ-features of the primary internal argument, the DTV goal or the possessor DP, are indexed on voice0 (-i 1st person).


(1)  gesistaqan-m-u-i-pn 


‘S/he washed it(AN) for me’; ‘S/he washed my thing(AN)’


The first puzzle is that animacy agreement on v0 appears in a default form (-m in (2)) even when DTV and PR have only animate (AN) internal arguments. This is unusual because this default form is usually appears in forms with an inanimate internal argument or a complement clause. The second puzzle is that the ambiguity in (2) does not arise in passive, reflexive or inverse forms, as only a benefactive interpretation is possible. 


In this paper, I argue that the appearance of a default form on v arises due to “high” Appl0 blocking feature inheritance between voice0and v0. Furthermore, I argue both constructions involve and Appl0 (-u/w), but differences arise in whether a DP is base-generated in Spec-ApplP (DTVs) or arrives there via movement (PR). I posit that PR is driven by δ-feature movement, and that both φ- and δ-feature driven movement possible in the verbal domain, in parallel with the clausal domain (Miyagawa, 2010). This fits the characterization of Mi’gmaq and Algonquian languages as discourse configurational, similar to Japanese. 



Jessica Coon to Maryland

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 01:50

Jessica Coon will give a colloquium talk at University of Maryland this Friday. The title of her talk is “The (apparent) inseparability of person and number in Mi’gmaq”; the abstract can be found here. This talk is based on joint work with Alan Bale.