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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 6 min 9 sec ago

Ling-Tea, 1/15 – Mike Hamilton

Mon, 2014-01-13 12:20

Please join us this Wednesday for our first Ling-Tea of the semester!

When: Wednesday January 15th, 3-4 pm in room 117
Who: Mike Hamilton
What: Mi’gmaq as a discourse configurational language: A dissertation proposal

If you’d like to present something at Ling-Tea, please contact Yuliya Manyakina at yuliya.manyakina@mail.mcgill.ca or Nina Umont at nina.umont@mail.mcgill.ca


The McGill/MIT Workshop on Gradability and Quantity in Language and the Brain

Mon, 2014-01-13 03:00

The ‘McGill/MIT Workshop on Gradability and Quantity in Language and the Brain’, will take place at MIT from Jan. 31 to Feb. 1, 2014.

The workshop description reads as follows:

[This workshop] is bringing together a group of neuroscientists with an interest in language and a group of experimental and formal linguists interested in the brain, in an attempt to enhance the dialogue between the linguistic and the neurophysiological cultures, and help to close the gap between these two growing groups of researchers. The theme of the workshop is centered on aspects of gradability and quantity as it pertains to the cognitive domains of Number, Space, and Time.

You can check the program here. Yosef Grodzinsky and Bernhard Schwarz are presenting.

The workshop is partially funded by Yosef Grodzinsky’s Canada Research Chair.

AGReading group, 1/17

Mon, 2014-01-13 02:50

AGReement Reading Group will resume on Friday, January 17th, 11:30am-1pm, in room 117. For this week, we’ll read and discuss Andrew Nevins’ 2011 paper, ‘Multiple Agree with Clitics: Person Complementarity vs. Omnivorous Number.” This meeting will also serve as an organizational meeting to choose readings for the rest of the semester. As always, all are welcome to attend.

McGill at LSA and SSILA 2014

Mon, 2014-01-06 02:50

McGill linguists past and present were well represented at the 2014 annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA), and the co-located annual meeting of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas (SSILA), both held Jan 2-5 in tropical Minneapolis.


  • Brian Buccola and Morgan Sonderegger: On the expressivity of Optimality Theory vs. rules: An application to opacity
  • Emily Elfner: Prosodic boundary strength in verb-initial structures: Evidence from English and Irish
  • Aron Hirsch (BA ’11) and Martin Hackl: Presupposition projection and incremental processing in disjunction
  • Thomas Kettig (BA ’13): The Canadian Shift: Its acoustic trajectory and consequences for vowel categorization
  • Alanah McKillen: The role of focus in determining exceptional coreference
  • Sasha Simonenko: Semantics of the DP wh-island
  • Jozina Vander Klok (PhD ’12): Yes-no question and fieldwork strategies: A case study on Paciran Javanese


  • Mike Hamilton: Deriving overt nominals in Mi’gmaq
  • Gretchen McCulloch: Mi’gmaq -asi as a middle voice marker

The full programs for LSA and SSILA can be found here and here.

Colloquium, 1/10 – Julie Legate

Mon, 2014-01-06 02:50

Please join us for the first colloquium of the winter semester!

Speaker: Julie Legate (University of Pennsylvania)
Date & Time: Friday, January 10, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: Acehnese causatives and the structure of the verb phrase

Sonderegger presents at MIT

Mon, 2014-01-06 02:50

Morgan Sonderegger visited MIT on Dec 9.  He gave a talk in the Phonology Circle, entitled “Phonetic and phonological variation on reality television: dynamics and interspeaker variation”.

Course announcement: Phonology 4 / Seminar in Phonology

Mon, 2014-01-06 02:50

LING 635/735
Current topics in phonology: a computational approach
Tuesday, 2:35-5:25

Instructor: Morgan Sonderegger

Course description
This course will address several topics of current interest in phonology, united by the theme of variability in sound systems, using a hands-on approach.  Students will first learn to program in Python, with a focus on tools needed to extract information from corpora which can be used to test research questions about phonological variability — though these tools are useful for experimental and theoretical studies more generally.*  We will then cover several topics related to variability, for two weeks each, including (preliminary list):

  • Sources of variability
    Explanations which have been proposed for the structure of phonologicalvariability, such as Steriade’s influential P-map hypothesis, which links the perceptibility of phonological contrasts to their likelihood of being used in a language.
  • Variability in the lexicon
    Within a given language, some unattested/attested sound sequences are judged worse/better than others by native speakers, and certain sound sequences are heavily overrepresented across the lexicon (the most famous example being co-occurrence asymmetries among consonants in Arabic).  Much recent work explores how to account for such “probabilistic phonotactics”  in terms of some type(s) of similarity between segments (e.g. perceptual distinctiveness, number of shared features).
  • Variability in realization
    Phonological variation — any situation where the same underlying morpheme can be realized as different surface forms in a given environment — has gained extensive attention in phonological theory over the past 15 years. Phenomena such as English t/d deletion (e.g. realization of “went” with or without the final [t]) are increasingly, though not uncontroversially, seen as part of phonology proper, rather than simply “phonetic implementation”.
  • Variability in grammar:
    Classic optimality theory (OT) can only account for categorical phonologicalpatterns.  The increasing interest in gradient patterns (such as probabilistic phonotactics and phonological variation) in phonology has gone hand-in-hand with the adoption of theoretical frameworks which can account for both categorical and gradient patterns, most notably Maximum Entropy grammars and Stochastic OT.

For each topic, we will alternate theoretical and practical weeks: in the first week we will discuss 1-2 key papers and formulate research questions which build on them; in the second week (and a subsequent homework assignment),  we will write and deploy Python scripts to test these questions, by extracting relevant data from corpora or running simulations.  For example, after reading Frisch et al.’s influential paper on gradient consonant co-occurrence patterns in Arabic, which explains them in terms of similarity between segments, we might write scripts to extract consonant co-occurrence data from a pronunciation lexicon of a different language, and see whether Frisch et al’s account works for it as well.

Because of the hands-on nature of the course, most evaluation will be via frequent homework assignments, which will combine programming and brief write-ups. There may also be a short final paper for students in Phonology 4, which can either build on one of the homework assignments or continue an existing research project.

Course announcement: Syntax 4 / Seminar in syntax

Mon, 2014-01-06 02:50
LING 675 Syntax 4 LING 775 Seminar in Syntax “Peripheries” Monday 11:35-14:25, Prof. Junko Shimoyama Course Description The course explores current cross-linguistic issues in syntax and its interfaces. Through in-depth investigations of particular issues, students will learn skills necessary to do independent research, such as (i) constructing arguments by carefully following logical steps, (ii) formulating hypotheses and exploring their consequences, (iii) finding an empirical puzzle and developing it into research questions for a project. This year, we will explore selected topics in the `peripheries’ in the DP and CP domains. In particular, we will examine language-internal and cross-linguistic variations in (i) modification structure within DP (e.g., externally vs. internally headed relatives, integrated vs. non-integrated appositives, modifier order and size) and (ii) expressions of evidentiality (possible connection to Luis’ course), after thought, and so forth in the CP domain. All are welcome!