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McGill at the LSA Annual Meeting

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 01/04/2016 - 01:50

McGill linguists are in Washington DC for the 90th Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Society of America which takes place January 7–10th. The LSA meeting also includes sessions of the American Dialect Society and the Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of Latin America.

Presentations include…

  • Charles Boberg (McGill University): Newspaper dialectology: harnessing the power of mass media in collecting dialect data (ADS)
  • Colin Brown (McGill University): Genitive/ergative in Gitksan (SSILA)
  • Bing’er Jiang (McGill University), Jianjing Kuang (University of Pennsylvania): Consonant effects on tonal registers in Jiashan Wu
  • Hadas Kotek (McGill University), Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore): Unifying definite and indefinite free relatives: evidence from Mayan
  • Cora Lesure (McGill University), Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany): Prosodic boundary marking in Ch’ol: acoustic indicators and their applications (SSILA)

Course announcement: Semantics 4 / Seminar in Semantics

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 01/04/2016 - 01:50

Semantics 4, LING 665 /

Seminar in Semantics, LING 765

Winter 2016, Bernhard Schwarz

MW 11:35-12:55, 1085 Penfield, R. 117 

This year’s edition of Semantics 4/Seminar in Semantics will focus on presupposition, a phenomenon of at the interface of semantics and pragmatics. “Presupposition” refers to linguistically marked content that is understood as taken for granted by a speaker at the outset of a speech act (such as an assertion), and in some sense as not belonging to the main semantic content of that speech act. We will read some recent works on foundational issues in presupposition, including so-called presupposition projection. We will also investigate the meaning contributions of particular presupposition triggers (i.e. expressions whose use gives rise to  presuppositions) and we will study the role of presupposition in patterns of perceived unacceptability (such as polarity sensitivity effects and and island effects).  Some useful resources for students who would like to get a head start:

  • Beaver, David I., and Bart Geurts. 2014. Presupposition. In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta. Winter 2014 edition. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/presupposition/
  • Sudo, Yasutada. 2014. Presupposition. In Oxford Bibliographies in Linguistics, ed. Mark Aronoff. Oxford University Press.



President’s Award for McGill alum Yvan Rose

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 12/14/2015 - 01:50

Former McGill graduate, Yvan Rose (PhD 2000), has received the President’s Award for Outstanding Research at Memorial University. Details can be found here: http://today.mun.ca/news.php?id=9857. Congratulations Yvan!


Liz Smeets to the Netherlands

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 12/14/2015 - 01:50

This week Liz Smeets will be travelling to the Netherlands to collect data for her study on the second language acquisition of object movement in Dutch, which is part of her second Evaluation paper. She will also provide a guest lecture in Second Language Acquisition at Utrecht University for an undergraduate course for linguistics and language majors, invited by Prof. Martin Everaert. Best of luck Liz!

Ling-Tea Winter 2016 Dates

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 12/14/2015 - 01:50
Ling-Tea Winter 2016 dates announced!

Where: Room 117
When: Tuesdays 1-2PM.
Who: You!

Ling-Tea is a good place to present ongoing research in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. It’s also a perfect venue for dry runs of forthcoming conference talks. Anyone is welcome to give a Ling-Tea talk!

If you are interested in presenting, email Colin at colin.brown@mail.mcgill.ca.

LingTea Winter 2016: January 12, 19 February  16, 23 March 8, 15, 22, 29 April 5, 12, 19, 26

Ling-Tea, 12/8 – Colin Brown and Cora Lesure

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 12/07/2015 - 02:50

Join us this Tuesday for a special 90 minute Lingtea: SSILA practice talk edition, featuring talks by Cora Lesure and Colin Brown.

Time: 1:00 – 2:30 Location: Ling 117 Who and what: Colin Brown – Person marking in Gitksan: ABS=NOM? I discuss Gitksan’s complex person marking processes, and claim that despite initial appearances, absolutive pronouns can be analysed as being licensed by finite T. Cora Lesure – Prosodic Boundary Marking in Ch’ol: Acoustic Indicators and Their Applications I discuss language specific acoustic correlates of prosodic phrasing in Ch’ol and their application in a study at the morphology-phonology interface. This study uses H1-H2 and intensity to delimit the domain of the phonological word in morphologically complex constructions. This prosodic information is then used to supplement ambiguous morphological data pertaining to the behavior of affixes and clitics in Ch’ol.

Jeffrey Klassen’s dissertation defence, 12/9

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 12/07/2015 - 02:40

McGill University

Department of Linguistics

Jeffrey Klassen

Ph.D. Oral Defence


Second Language Acquisition of Focus Prosody in English and Spanish

on Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

at 1:00 pm

in the Ferrier Bldg. Rm. 456

followed by a reception in the lounge

The first goal of this thesis is to properly characterize prosodic focus in (L1) English and (L1) Spanish, and to establish to best to way to characterize the differences between the two. We provide data that help choose between two prevailing accounts of prominence, the first which attributes prosodic reduction to low-level activation (Accessibility Theory, e.g. Arnold and Watson 2015), and the second which attributes it to a syntactic operator that requires an antecedent, much like a pronoun (Anaphoric Theory, Rooth 1992, Wagner and Klassen 2015). Our English production data show that native English speakers shift prominence in the sentence according to the contrast that speakers intend to convey, using additional adverbs which are only compatible with certain choices in antecedents. We argue that this can only be accounted for by the Anaphoric Theory. With respect to the differences in prosodic focus marking between English and Spanish (and, tentatively, Germanic and Romance more generally), we show that the crosslinguistic differences can be explained by a syntactic-semantic account: the scope of the focus domain in Spanish must be wide, encompassing the entire speech act, while in English it can scope over smaller constituents (the Spanish pattern of narrow scope has also been found for French (vander Klok et al. 2014)). Additionally, the observation in Ladd (2008) that focus in Spanish must be correctional in nature may indeed be correct, meaning that the interpretation of the focus operator in Romance is also restricted in addition to its scope. What is more, the data show that the differences between English and Spanish focus marking cannot be explained by phonological constraints on phrasing (contra Féry 2013).

Using our L1 hypotheses about the crosslinguistic variation of prosodic focus as a starting point, we form a hypothesis regarding the L2 acquisition of prosodic focus, based on standard assumptions about the availability of evidence in L2 (White 2003). We suggest that English speakers have issues with Spanish prosodic stress shift because its use is constrained to a narrow set of con- texts. Therefore, in order to acquire the specific restrictions (i.e. only corrective contexts), learners must integrate two separate pieces of evidence, or else they may simply posit the existence of two grammars, resulting in optionality. Our production data support this hypothesis. After this, we examine the online processing of English cataphoric prosodic focus by Spanish native speakers–the nature of L2 processing being a debated issue (Kaan 2014). We show that L1 transfer plays a role in L2 processing of prosodic focus; however, beyond the effect of the L1, we do not find evidence for different processing strategies.

Colloquium, 12/4 – Elizabeth Allyn Smith

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/30/2015 - 02:20

Speaker: Elizabeth Allyn Smith (UQAM)
Date & Time: Friday, December 4th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Just say ‘no’: Cross-linguistic differences in the felicity of disagreements over issues of taste and possibility

Abstract: Semanticists, pragmaticists, philosophers, and others have recently been interested in disagreements arising from evaluative propositions (especially those containing so-called “predicates of personal taste”), as in (1), and their theoretical implications, especially the mechanism behind the difference between (1) and (2).

(1) A: This soup is tasty. B: No it isn’t.
(2) A: This soup is tasty, in my opinion. B: # No it isn’t

In this talk, I will present experimental data (in the form of offline felicity judgments) collected from English Catalan, French, and Spanish two-turn oral dialogues showing that there are differences with respect to (1) v. (2) and other similar judgments cross-linguistically that create a further puzzle. I will compare various explanations for these new data, drawing on ideas present in Stojanovic 2007, von Fintel & Gillies 2007, Bouchard 2012, Umbach 2012 and others. I will further discuss the interplay of various factors in these data, including comparison with another dialect of Spanish with known differences in cultural norms as compared to Iberian Spanish. Finally, I will propose an analysis in which different types of content affect the number and type of propositions attributed to a speaker’s discourse commitment set v. those being proposed for admission to the conversational common ground.

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron in Journal of Semantics

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 02:00

Oriana Kilbourn-Cerón’s article “Embedded Exhaustification: Evidence from Almost” has been accepted for publication at the Journal of Semantics. Congratulations, Oriana!

Poschmann & Wagner in NLLT

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 01:50

Michael Wagner has a new paper out, with Claudia Poschmann, in Natural Language and Linguistic TheoryThe title is “Relative clause extraposition and prosody in German”

Abstract:  Whether a relative clause (RC) can be extraposed has been argued to depend both on contextual focus and on whether an RC is restrictive or appositive. However, no previous study has looked at the interaction between these two factors in restricting extraposition, despite the fact that different types of relative clauses are generally taken to differ in how they relate to focus. Furthermore, previous studies have not looked at the role of prosody in accounting for the effect of focus on extraposition, and have found contradictory results with respect to the prosodic differences between appositive and restrictive relative clauses. This paper presents the results of a production experiment on German which crosses the location of focus and the type of RC in order to explore how they interact in affecting prosody and extraposition.

Jessica Coon at NYU

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/23/2015 - 01:50

Jessica Coon traveled to New York last week where she gave a colloquium talk at NYU, titled “Two types of ergative agreement and their implications for the representation of case”. This work is based on her paper recently accepted to the journal Syntax, available for download here.

Ling-Tea, 11/17 – Liz Smeets

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/16/2015 - 02:50
Please join us this week for Ling-Tea at its usual time and place: Tuesday at 1:00 in Linguistics room 117. Presenter: Liz Smeets Title: Acquisition of object movement in Dutch  

Studies of ultimate attainment in adult second-language (L2) acquisition report a disjunction between success in acquiring the syntax of the target language, on the one hand, and difficulties at the interfaces of syntax with other grammatical modules, e.g. Syntax-Discourse. In this study I aim at investigating the acquisition of word order possibilities in Dutch and try to answer the question whether near-native speakers of Dutch are sensitive to the same restrictions on object movement as native speakers of Dutch. To give one example of the type of sentences I look at, consider (1) and (2). We notice that an object is allowed to be moved to the first position as an answer to a question that asks about the object (see (1)), but not as an answer to a question of the What happened? type (see (2)). (1) What did John buy? Mangos heeft Jan gekocht Mangos has John bought `John bought mangos.’ (2) What happened? #Mangos heeft Jan gekocht Mangos has John bought `John bought mangos.’ More specific questions I try answer are the following: 1. Do different kinds of movements show different kids of difficulties in acquisition (if any): I compare movement to A’-positions (prefield) with movement to A-positions (over adverbs in the middlefield). 2. Are difficulties in successful performance dependent on influence of the L1 of the language learners (I compare learners of Dutch with either German or English as an L1). 3. Is there a difference between object movement that affects truth conditions with object movement that affects felicity. In December I will run this study in the Netherlands and I am working on the design. During this presentation I wish to share the design and discuss potential problems and considerations I have regarding the conditions that are tested and the way experimental stimuli is presented to the participants. All your comments are very welcome!

Colloquium, 11/20 – Meaghan Fowlie

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/16/2015 - 02:20

Speaker: Meaghan Fowlie (McGill)
Date & Time: Friday, November 20th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Modelling and Learning Adjuncts

Adjuncts have among their properties optionality and iterability, which are usually accounted for with a grammar in which the presence or absence of an adjunct does not affect the state of the derivation. For example, in a phrase structure grammar with rules like NP -> AP NP, we have an NP whether or not we have an adjective. However, certain adjuncts like adverbs and adjectives are often quite strictly ordered, which cannot be accounted for with a model that treats a phrase the same regardless of the presence of another adjunct: whether or not a particular adjunct has adjoined affects whether or not another adjunct may adjoin. I present a minimalist model that can handle all of these properties.

In terms of learning, I cover three topics: language learning algorithms and how they handle optionality and repetition; an artificial language learning experiment about repetition, and, just for fun, the use of machine learning to analyse the song of the California Thrasher, showing that their unbounded repetition lends itself much better to a human-language-like grammar than simple transitional probabilities.

Colloquium, 11/6 – Mark Baker

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/02/2015 - 02:20

Please join us for our next colloquium.

Speaker: Mark Baker (Rutgers), presenting joint work with Ruth Kramer  (Georgetown University)

Date & Time: Friday, November 6th at 3:30 pm
Place: ARTS Bldg. room 260
Title: Doubling Clitics are Pronouns: Agree, Move, Reduce, and Interpret


Linguistic theory has had a remarkably difficult time arriving at any consensus about how to distinguish between clitic doubling and agreement in a way that is robust and applicable across languages. Familiar diagnostics disagree in some languages, and this uncertainly detracts seriously from our ability to discern theoretically significant typological patterns that concern agreement (for example). In this talk, we revisit this topic, beginning with a close look at “object markers” (OMs) in Amharic, like əw in (1)

(1) Ləmma (wɨʃʃa-w-ɨn) j-aj-(əw)-al.

Lemma dog-DEF-ACC 3mS-see-3mO-AUX(3mS)

‘Lemma sees it/the dog.’ (OK with əw or with ‘the dog’ or both)

These OMs turn out to be impossible with an interesting range of direct objects, including indefinite objects, quantified objects, anaphoric reflexive objects, and objects that contain a bound variable. We claim that these restrictions are quite mysterious if OMs are analyzed as manifestations of object agreement—even if the Agree-based theory is supplemented with a new feature like [+specificity] or if agreement is fed by Object Shift as known from Dutch and German. In contrast, the constraints can be derived from known principles of syntax (or the syntax-semantics interface) like the Weak Crossover Condition and the Binding theory if one assumes that the OMs are pronouns and interpreted as such at LF.

This leads us not only to a clitic-doubling analysis, but to a particular kind of clitic doubling derivation that has its own theoretical interest. We argue that v Agrees with the object and attracts the object to SpecvP. Then a novel process of Reduce applies in the syntax, to transform the moved DP into a bare D head. This D-head with its phi-features then counts as the pronoun at LF. This view can be contrasted with the m-merger of Matushansky (2006) and subsequent work, which has similar aspirations but crucially applies at PF, where it cannot feed LF conditions, and conflates Reduce with the attachment of the clitic to the verb. By way of extension, we show that Amharic also has an unusual kind of prepositional clitic, which is problematic for an Agree-approach, but can follow from our Move-and-Reduce approach.

We close with some preliminary typological results, claiming that the diagnostic implied by our analysis also works for familiar cases of clitic doubling in IE languages (Spanish, Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian). Object markers in Burushaski and Sambaa, however, clearly pattern as simple agreement markers by this test. In contrast, influential recent diagnostics by Preminger (2009) and Nevins (2011) say that OMs in these two languages are clitics. We claim that our diagnostic is the more significant one, because it is firmly grounded in established syntactic principles, and because gets at the heart of the conceptual difference between agreement and clitics—namely whether there is value added by saying that the morpheme in question is pronominal or not.

Gui Garcia presentations

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 11/02/2015 - 01:50

Gui Garcia has presented at several conferences this semester in addition to NWAV 44 :

(2015) Garcia, G. D. The second language acquisition of weight and stress: Extrametricality and default stress. Second Language Research Forum (SLRF 34), Oct 29-31, Georgia State University, Atlanta, USA. (talk)

(2015) Garcia, G. D. Extrametricality and second language acquisition. Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP), Oct 9-11, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. (poster)

(2015) Garcia, G. D. A statistical approach to stress in Portuguese. Hispanic Linguistics Symposium (HLS), Sep 24-27, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, USA. (poster)


Talk by Mara Breen

McLing Newsletter - Sun, 11/01/2015 - 01:50

The CRBLM and the Linguistics Department present a talk by Dr. Mara Breen (Mt. Holyoke).

The talk will take place at 1.30-3pm Nov 13 2015, in room 501 in the Goodman Cancer Research Centre (1160 Avenue des Pins Ouest). A reception will follow.

Title: Listening to the little voice in our heads: Effects of implicit prosody on silent reading


Many readers have the impression that a “little voice” reads along in their heads as they read silently. My research focuses on understanding what aspects of prosody are represented in this “little voice” and whether this implicit prosody serves a functional role during silent reading by affecting readers’ on-line sentence comprehension. In this talk, I will describe a series of behavioral and electrophysiological experiments designed to investigate effects of implicit prosody during silent reading. I will first describe a set of eye-tracking studies which provide evidence that readers are representing stress patterns in silent reading such that they experience disruption when they read words that don’t conform to an overall imagined sentence rhythm (e.g., they were expecting PREsent and they read preSENT). I will then present event-related potential (ERP) data demonstrating similarity in the processing of overt and implicit rhythmic mismatches. I argue from these results that reading silently activates prosodic features and that these features affect real-time language comprehension.

Ling-Tea, 10/3 – Jessica Coon

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 02:50
Please join us this week for Ling-Tea at its usual time and place: Tuesday at 1:00 in Linguistics room 117. Presenter: Jessica Coon Title: Unergatives, antipassives, and the underspecification of roots: Evidence from Chuj (a practice talk for CILLA XII)   Abstract: The suffix -w in Chuj (Q’anjob’alan) is found in two different environments: (i) “incorporation antipassives”, and (ii) certain denominal intransitive verbs (unergatives). In both, the result is an intransitive verb stem. In this talk, I propose that these two uses of the suffix -w can be unified under an account in which -w is a verbal suffix (i.e. a Voice head) which combines with a root to form an intransitive verbal stem with a single agentive external argument. Crucially, this unification relies on the ability for -w to combine with apparently different types of roots: transitive verb roots which have incorporated bare NP objects, nominal roots, as well as “positional” roots. I argue that the most elegant account of these facts is one in which roots are underspecified for lexical category (see e.g. Halle and Marantz 1993; Arad 2003 in general, and Lois 2011 on Mayan). This analysis also has implications for the status of antipassives. Under this view, the Chuj antipassive is not derived from a transitive. Rather, both transitive and antipassive stems are formed directly from a root.

WSRG group, 10/30

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 02:20

The next WSRG meeting is on Friday, October 30th, at 12 p.m. in room 117.

Reading: Grandi, Nicola and Fabio Montermini. 2005.  Prefix-Suffix Neutrality In Evaluative Morphology In G. Booij, E. Guevara, A. Ralli, S. Sgroi & S. Scalise (eds.), Morphology and Linguistic Typology, On-line Proceedings of the Fourth Mediterranean Morphology Meeting (MMM4) Catania 21-23 September 2003, University of Bologna, 2005.

Presenter: Francesco Gentile

McGill at NWAV 44

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 01:50

McGill was well-represented in talks and posters presented at the 44th New Ways of Analyzing Variation conference held at the University of Toronto October 22-25:

  • Liam Bassford (BA ’15), Peter Milne, & Morgan Sonderegger : “Attentive speech and clear speech in Quebec French diphthongization”
  • Charles Boberg: “Internal relations among the short vowels of Canadian English”
  • Natalia Brambatti Guzzo & Guilherme Garcia: “When phonological variation tells us about prosody”
  • Thomas Kettig (BA ’13) and Bodo Winter: “The Canadian Shift in production and perception: New evidence from Montreal”
  • Donghyun Kim, Louisa Bielig (BA ’15), Amanda McConnell, Ryan Kazma (BA ’15): “Variation in /AE/ in Montreal and New Brunswick English: With reference to the Canadian Shift”
  • Jeffrey Lamontagne & Jeff Mielke: “Perceptual salience of vowel rhoticity in Canadian French”
  • Morgan Sonderegger, Jane Stuart-Smith, Rachel Macdonald, Thea Knowles (BA ’12), & Tamara Rathcke : “Stability and change in Scottish stops: a real-time study of three acoustic cues in Glasgwegian vernacular”

Gretchen McCullough (MA ’14) also led a Wikipedia Editathon.

Here are some of them, under the McGill crest (in the Great Hall of Hart House):

Jessica Coon and Cora Lesure at CILLA

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 10/26/2015 - 01:50

Jessica Coon and BA Honours student Cora Lesure are at the University of Texas at Austin this week for the 7th Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America (CILLA). The title of Jessica’s talk is “Inergativos, antipasivos y la categorización de raíces: Evidencia en Chuj.” Cora is presenting collaborative research with recent Postdoc Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany): “An investigation of the acoustic correlates of prosodic phrasing in Chol.”