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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 12 hours 41 min ago

Michael Wagner to Amsterdam

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 01:50

Michael served as an ‘opponent’ on Matthijs Westera‘s thesis defense in Amsterdam last week at the  Institute for Logic, Language and Computation  Universiteit van Amsterdam. The thesis is titled “Exhaustivity and Intonation. A Uni fed Theory“. While there, Michael also presented a paper on “Prosodically marking focus and givenness: What a purely pragmatic account needs to account for” in a satellite workshop to the event.

Emily Elfner to York University

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 01:50

McLing is pleased to report that Emily Elfner (McGill post-doc 2012–2014) has recently accepted a job as Asssistant Professor in Phonetics and Phonology at York University. Congratulations Emily!

Leon Bergen mini-course this week

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 03:00
Leon Bergen will be visiting McGill this week, and will be giving a mini-course on the Rational Speech Act model, and its applications. One session will take place during the regular Semantics Reading Group meeting time. The full schedule is below, all are welcome to attend:
Monday March 20, 4-5.30 (Education Building, Room 434) Tuesday March  21, 4-5.30 (Linguistics Building, Room 117) Thursday March 23, 12-1 (Room 117, regular lingtea time slot) Friday March 24, 3-4.30 (Room 117, regular semantics reading group slot)

P* Reading Group, 3/21

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 02:50

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Tuesday (Mar. 21) 1-2 pm in Room 117, Heather will lead a discussion of Elfner (2006). “Contrastive syllabification in Blackfoot”. Proceedings of the 25th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (pp. 141–149). Everyone is welcome!

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting – 3/24

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 02:20

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 3/24, from 1-2pm in room 117.

We will be returning to our discussion of Levin (2015). Lisa Travis will be presenting additional data from Indonesian that are relevant to Levin’s (2015) argument.

All are welcome!

Martha Schwarz at FASAL

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 01:50

Martha Schwarz presented a poster on “Case Assignment in Nepali” at the Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages conference at MIT, March 4-5th. This poster grew out of her summer fieldwork in India, funded by a MITACs travel grant.

P* Reading Group

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 02:50

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Tuesday (Feb. 21) 1-2 pm in Room 117, Morgan will lead a discussion of Shih & Inkelas (2016). “Morphologically-conditioned tonotactics in multilevel Maximum Entropy grammar”. Proceedings of the Annual Meetings on Phonology(Vol. 3). Everyone is welcome!

Jessica at Public Astro Night

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 02:30

Jessica will be giving a public lecture this week as part of the Astrophysics & Cosmology Public Astro Nights series. The talk will be Thursday, March 17th at 7pm in McIntyre Medical room 522. Weather-permitting, the talk will be followed by night-sky observations.

The Linguistics of Arrival: Aliens, Fieldwork, and Universal Grammar

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.

Colloquium, 3/17 – Stephanie Shih

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 02:20

Please join us for the next talk in our 2016–2017 colloquium series:

Speaker: 
 Stephanie Shih (University of California Merced)
Date & Time: March 17th at 3:30 pm
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 433
Title:  A multilevel approach to lexically-conditioned phonology

Abstract:

Lexical classes often exhibit different phonological behaviours, in alternations or phonotactics. This talk takes up two interrelated issues for lexically-conditioned phonological patterns: (1) how the grammar captures the range of phonological variation that stems from lexical conditioning, and (2) whether the relevant lexical classes needed by the grammar can be learned from surface patterns. Previous approaches to lexically-sensitive phonology have focused largely on constraining it; however, only a limited understanding currently exists of the quantitative space of variation possible (i.e., entropy) within a coherent grammar.

In this talk, I present an approach that models lexically-conditioned phonological patterns as a multilevel grammar: each lexical class is a cophonology subgrammar of indexed constraint weight adjustments (i.e., varying slopes) in a multilevel Maximum Entropy Harmonic Grammar. This approach leverages the structure of multilevel statistical models to quantify the space of lexically-conditioned variation in natural language data. Moreover, the approach allows for the deployment of information-theoretic model comparison to assess competing hypotheses of what the phonologically-relevant lexical classes are. I’ll show that under this approach, the relevant lexical classes need not be a priori assumed but can instead be induced from noisy surface input via feature discovery.

Two case studies are examined: part of speech-conditioned tone patterns in Mende and content versus function word prosodification in English. Both case studies bring to bear new quantitative evidence on classic category-sensitive phenomena. The results illustrate how the multilevel approach proposed here can capture the probabilistic heterogeneity and learnability of lexical conditioning in a phonological system, with potential ramifications for understanding the structure of the developing lexicon in grammar acquisition.

Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab Meeting – 3/24

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 02:20

The Ergativity/Fieldwork Lab will be meeting on Friday, 3/24, from 1-2pm in room 117. Henrison Hsieh will be presenting apparent exceptions to the Tagalog extraction restriction. All are welcome!

Henderson and Coon in NLLT

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:50

McLing is pleased to report that Jessica Coon’s paper with Robert Henderson (Post-doc ’12-’13), “Adverbs and Variability in Kaqchikel Agent Focus: A Reply to Erlewine (2016)”, has been accepted for publication in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.

The paper is available here.

In many languages with ergative morphology, transitive subjects (i.e. ergatives) are unable to undergo A’-extraction. This extraction asymmetry is a common hallmark of “syntactic ergativity,” and is found in a range of typologically diverse languages (see e.g. Deal 2016; Polinsky to appear, and works cited there). In Kaqchikel, the A’-extraction of transitive subjects requires a special verb form, known in Mayanist literature as Agent Focus (AF). In a recent paper, Erlewine (2016) argues the restriction on A’-extracting transitive subjects in Kaqchikel is the result of an Anti-Locality effect: transitive subjects are not permitted to extract because they are too close to C. This analysis relies crucially on Erlewine’s proposal that transitive subjects undergo movement to Spec,IP while intransitive subjects remain low. For Erlewine, this derives the fact that transitive (ergative) subjects, but not intransitive (absolutive) subjects are subject to extraction restrictions. Furthermore, it makes the strong prediction that phrasal material intervening between IP and CP should obviate the need for AF in clauses with subject extraction. In this paper, we argue against the Anti-Locality analysis of ergative A’-extraction restrictions along two lines. First, we raise concerns with the proposal that transitive, but not intransitive subjects, move to Spec,IP. Our second, and main focus, is to show that there is variation in whether AF is observed in configurations intervening phrasal material, with a primary focus on intervening adverbs. We propose an alternative account for the variation in whether AF is observed in the presence of adverbs and discuss consequences for accounts of ergative extraction asymmetries more generally.

McGill at MOTH5

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 01:50

McGill BA student Clea Stuart will be presenting at this year’s MOTH syntax workshop, held at McMaster University April 8th. The title of her talk is “Where the Malagasy Adverbs Are”. The full MOTH program can be found here.

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