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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 16 hours 45 min ago

WORDS Group, 11/17

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 02:20

The WORDS Group will be meeting on Friday 17th November, at McGill, Dr. Penfield Ave. 1085 (room 117) at 1pm-2.30pm. Tim O’Donnell will present “Productivity and Reuse in Language”:


A much-celebrated aspect of language is the way in which it allows us to express and comprehend an unbounded number of thoughts. This property is made possible because language consists of several combinatorial systems which can be used to productively build novel forms using a large inventory of stored, reusable parts: the lexicon. For any given language, however, there are many more potentially storable units of structure than are actually used in practice — each giving rise to many ways of forming novel expressions. For example, English contains suffixes which are highly productive and generalizable (e.g., -ness; Lady-Gagaesqueness, pine-scentedness) and suffixes which can only be reused in specific words, and cannot be generalized (e.g., -th; truth, width, warmth). How are such differences in generalizability and reusability represented? What are the basic, stored building blocks at each level of linguistic structure? When is productive computation licensed and when is it not? How can the child acquire these systems of knowledge? I will discuss a theoretical framework designed to address these questions. The approach is based on the idea that the problem of productivity and reuse can be solved by optimizing a tradeoff between a pressure to store fewer, more reusable lexical items and a pressure to account for each linguistic expression with as little computation as possible. I will show how this approach addresses a number of problems in English inflectional and derivational morphology, and briefly discuss its applications to other domains of linguistic structure.

Syntax group meeting, 11/17

Mon, 11/13/2017 - 02:20

Join us this Friday at 10am in room 117 of the Linguistics building for our meeting where Nico Baier will be presenting his paper on “Anti-agreement in non-local contexts.” All are welcome!

Prosody & Meaning Reading Group, 11/06

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 03:00

The Prosody & Meaning Reading group will discuss Cristian DiCanio’s “The phonetics of information structure in Yoloxóchitl Mixtec” on Monday, Nov 6 (12-1pm, Room 117).

MLML meeting, 11/07

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 02:50

At this week’s Montreal Language Modeling Lab meeting (Tues Nov 7 at 5:30-7:30pm in Room 117), Chris Bruno will present work on the generalized parser project, a general framework capable of parsing many different grammar formalisms. Light food provided. Everyone is welcome; please RSVP if not on the lab mailing list.

P* Reading Group, 11/08

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 02:40

In this week’s P* Reading Group on Wednesday (Nov. 8) 11am-12pm in Room 117, Yeong will lead a discussion of DiCanio et al. (2015). Vowel variability in elicited versus spontaneous speech: evidence from Mixtec. Journal of Phonetics, 48, 45-59. This discussion is especially relevant because Christian DiCanio will be the colloquium speaker on Friday. Everyone is welcome!

Colloquium: Christian DiCanio, 11/10

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 02:20

Christian DiCanio from the University at Buffalo will giving a talk entitled “Phonetic variation and the construction of a Mixtec spoken language corpus” as part of the McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series on Friday, November 10th at 3:30pm in room 433 of the Education Building. All are welcome to attend! For the abstract and for any other colloquium information, please visit the Colloquium Series web page:

Synt-ex Reading Group, 11/14

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 02:00

The Synt-ex reading group (experimental syntax reading group) is an interdisciplinary reading group that meets up every two weeks. Our next meeting will be  November 14th, 3-4pm at the Rabinovitch House (3640 rue de la Montagne). There will be snacks provided by CRBLM. Anyone interested is welcome to join, if you want to be added to the list send an e-mail to or check out the website

Bang et al. in Journal of Phonetics

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 01:50

A paper by Hye-Young Bang and co-authors (Morgan Sonderegger, Yoonjung Kang, Meghan Clayards, Taejin Yoon), “The emergence, progress, and impact of sound change in progress in Seoul Korean: Implications for mechanisms of tonogenesis”, has just appeared in Journal of Phonetics. Congratulations!

This study examines the origin, progression, and impact of a sound change in Seoul Korean where the primary cue to a stop contrast in phrase-initial position is shifting from VOT to f0. Because it shares similarities with the initial phase of tonogenesis, investigating this “quasi-tonogenetic” sound change provides insight into the nature of the emergence of contrastive f0 in “tonogenetic” sound changes more generally. Using a dataset from a large apparent-time corpus of Seoul Korean, we built mixed-effects regression models of VOT and f0 to examine the time-course of change, focusing on word frequency and vowel height effects. We found that both VOT contrast reduction and f0 contrast enhancement are more advanced in high-frequency words and in stops before non-high vowels, indicating that the change is spreading across words and phonetic contexts in parallel. Furthermore, speakers suppress non-contrastive variation in f0 as f0 emerges as a primary cue. Our findings suggest that one impetus for tonogenetic change is production bias coupled with an adaptive link between the cues. We further discuss the role of Korean intonational phonology on f0 which may help explain why the phonetic precondition leads to change in Seoul Korean but not in other languages.