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McGill at NELS 45

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 01:50

McGill will be well represented at the 45th annual meeting of the North East Linguistics Society (NELS 45), to be held at MIT in late October. Presentations will include work by current graduate students, post-docs, and faculty:

  • Brian Buccola – “Global semantic constraints: The case of Van Benthem’s Problem”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine – “On the position of focus adverbs”
  • Daniel Goodhue & Michael Wagner – “It’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it:  Intonation, yes and no”
  • Michael Hamilton –  ”Default agreement in Mi’gmaq possessor raising and ditransitive constructions”
  • Aron Hirsch & Michael Wagner – “Prosodic evidence that parentheticals are placed by rightward movement”
  • Henrison Hsieh – “Future-oriented actuality entailments: A puzzle from Tagalog”

This year’s NELS is also co-organized by current McGill Mellon Postdoc, Hadas Kotek. The full program can be viewed here.

Linguistics at Indigenous Awareness Week

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 01:50

This past week was McGill’s 4th Annual Indigenous Awareness Week. The week’s activities culminated in a Pow Wow Friday in McGill’s lower field. The Mi’gmaq Research Partnership had a booth at the Pow Wow, which included information on language endangerment and language revitalization in Canada, as well as some fun facts about Mi’gmaq. The booth was organized by undergraduates Douglas Gordon, Jacob Leon, and Madeleine Mees.

Madeleine, Jacob, and Douglas

Learn about clusivity and see if you can figure out what the morpheme wenji means here.

McGill at Sinn und Bedeutung

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 01:50

First-year PhD student Dejan Milacic recently returned from Sinn und Bedeutung 19 in Göttingen, Germany. Together with his former supervisors at Carleton University, Raj Singh and Ida Toivonen, Dejan presented a talk entitled “Distance Distributivity and Skolemization“. McLing staff was at hand to capture the moment.

The program also included a talk by McGill 2012 BA alum Erin Olson, now at MIT, co-authored with Martin Hackl and Ayaka Sugawara.

Erlewine at TEAL

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 01:50

Later this week, Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine will present at the 9th International Workshop on Theoretical East Asian Linguistics (TEAL-9), in Nantes, France.  His talk is “On the position of focus adverbs.”

At Last Two Days At Least

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 02:00

As previously announced, Bernhard Schwarz and Luis Alonso-Ovalle presented at the Two Days At Least workshop organised by the ERC funded ROSE project (Restriction and Obviation in Scalar Expressions) led by Rick Nouwen and his team at Utrecht University. The conference was held at the Kasteel de Hooge Vuursche to where McLing reporters were sent to provide the picture below.

Tokiko Okuma at EuroSLA 24

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 01:55

Tokiko Okuma presented a paper L2 acquisition of bound variable interpretation of Japanese demonstrative pronouns at the 24th annual conference of the European Second Language Association (EuroSLA) at University of York, UK, on September 3-6. She received CRBLM Graduate Travel Grant for this talk. Former PhD students, Roumyana Slabakova (1997) and Mari Umeda (2008) also presented their recent works at this conference. Information about the conference, including all programs, is available here.

Clemens et al published in NLLT

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 01:50

Lauren Clemens and Jessica Coon‘s paper––co-authored with Pedro Mateo Pedro, Adam Milton Morgan, Maria Polinsky, Gabrielle Tandet and Matt Wagers––has just been published by Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. The paper, titled “Ergativity and the complexity of extraction: A view from Mayan”, presents the results of a language processing experiment carried out on Q’anjob’al and Ch’ol when Jessica and Lauren were both at Harvard. You can download the paper here.


Researchers using different methods have converged on the result that subject relative clauses are easier to process than object relative clauses. Cross-linguistic evidence for the subject processing advantage (SPA) has come mostly from accusative languages, where the covariance of grammatical function and case prevents researchers from determining which of these two factors underlies the SPA. Languages with morphological ergativity allow for the separation of case and grammatical function, since the subject position is associated with two cases: absolutive (intransitive subjects) and ergative (transitive subjects). Prior experimental results on the processing of ergative languages suggest that grammatical function and surface case may be equally important in relative clause processing. On the one hand, as a syntactic subject, the ergative DP has a processing advantage over the absolutive object. On the other hand, the appearance of an ergative serves as a cue for the projection of the absolutive object, which gives processing preference to that object. This paper further tests these findings by examining the processing of relative clauses in Ch’ol and Q’anjob’al, two languages that mark ergativity via agreement on the predicate (head-marking). We address two main questions: (a) does the SPA hold in ergative languages? And (b) are case and agreement equally able to license grammatical functions, and if so, is this reflected in processing? With regard to (a), our results support the SPA, suggesting that it is present in both ergative and accusative languages. With respect to (b), we do not find evidence for a cueing effect associated with the ergative agreement marker. We conclude that dependent-marking is superior to head-marking in tracking grammatical function; in the absence of case cues, universal structural preferences such as the SPA become more pronounced. We also consider and reject a processing explanation for syntactic ergativity, according to which some languages categorically avoid A-bar movement of the ergative with a gap because it imposes a heavy processing load. Our results show that the processing of ergative gaps is not associated with greater cost than the processing of absolutive object gaps; this suggests that an explanation for syntactic ergativity should be sought outside processing.

Team McGill Linguistics and Friends at Terry Fox Run/Walk

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/15/2014 - 01:30

11 McGill linguists and their friends participated in the Terry Fox Run/Walk for cancer research at the Old Port on Sunday, September 14, 2014. Special thanks to those who contributed very kindly to the $415 that the team has raised. The money goes to the Terry Fox Foundation for cancer research. Here are some of the team members before and during the run. We had a great time!

Syntax reading group – argument licensing, 9/10

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 02:40
WEDNESDAYS at 10AM Room 215 (mitcho & Hadas’ office) This semester the reading group will explore topics in clause structure and argument licensing, which we hope will be of interest to many. This Wednesday, in addition to some organizational discussion, mitcho will lead a discussion on Dinka —an understudied Nilotic language of South Sudan—based on a GLOW talk by Coppe van Urk.

Ling Tea, 9/10 – Gui Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 02:39

Just a reminder that the first LingTea of the semester is this week:

Who: Gui Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo
What: “The status of neoclassical elements in Brazilian Portuguese: evidence from vowel reduction”
When/Where: room 117, 3:30-4:30

If you are interested in presenting at LingTea this semester, please email Gui or Yuliya to reserve a slot.

Colloquium, 9/12 – Anne-Michelle Tessier

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 02:20

Please join us for the first colloquium talk of our 2014/2015 series!

Speaker: Anne-Michelle Tessier (University of Alberta)
Date & Time: Friday, September 12, 3:30 pm
Place: Education Building Rm. 433
Title: Lexical Avoidance and Sources of Complexity in Phonological Acquisition


This talk is about the phenomenon of lexical avoidance in children’s early linguistic development, whereby a child avoids producing words which contain some complex (or marked?) phonological structure (as discussed in Ferguson and Farwell, 1975; Menn 1976, 1983; Schwarz and Leonard, 1982, Schwartz et al, 1987; Storkel 2004, 2006; Adam and Bat-El, 2009; interalia). This research’s basic question is to what extent a child’s developing grammar is responsible for lexical avoidance, and more specifically what kinds of linguistic complexity can drive this avoidance. The increase in complexity I will focus on is the transition from one word to two word utterances – which might be either driven or delayed by a child’s phonology – and I will assess the nature of lexical avoidance related to this transition in two case studies: one taken from Donahue (1986), and another in a novel corpus analysis. The central claim will be that phonological grammar is indeed crucial to explaining the kinds of lexical avoidance which are attested and unattested, illustrated using OT constraint interaction to yield typologically-reasonable patterns, and I will discuss some of the predictions, implications and open questions that emerge from this approach.

Faculty summer news round-up: addendum

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 01:50

Heather Goad went to China with Chen Qu (PhD 2013) in May. She gave talks at universities in Beijing, Ningbo and Harbin. In June, Heather taught at the Summer School of the Norwegian National Graduate School in Linguistics in Hamn i Senja. The rest of the summer was spent working on the status of /s/ in Blackfoot (thanks to Symon Stevens-Guille (BA in progress) for compiling a ton of Blackfoot data), on preparing the Spanish version of an experiment on parsing ambiguous relative clauses in L2 (on-going work with Lydia White and Moti Lieberman (PhD in progress); thanks to Ruth Martinez (BA 2013) for her work on the stimuli), and on the acquisition of subset grammars with Misha Schwartz (BA 2014) (thanks to Lauren Garfinkle (BA 2014) for her help with data collection and transcription).

Departmental picnic: St-Henri edition

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 01:50

McGill linguists took advantage of a glorious late summer day to mark the beginning of the year with delicious food and good conversation, at the department’s annual picnic.  The picnic was for the first time held in picturesque Square Sir-Georges-Étienne-Cartier in St. Henri.  Some documentation provided by attendees:


Position in phonetics (and related areas)

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 01:50


 The Department of Linguistics, McGill University, invites applications for a tenure-track position in phonetics and related areas of experimental linguistics at the rank of Assistant Professor, effective August 1, 2015. Applicants should have a research agenda that connects to the existing strengths of the Department. General qualifications are a PhD in linguistics and demonstrated excellence in research and teaching in the area(s) of specialization. Duties will include undergraduate and graduate teaching, graduate research guidance and administrative responsibilities.

Deadline for applications: November 7, 2014.

All qualified applicants are encouraged to apply; however, in accordance with Canadian immigration requirements, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.

McGill University is committed to diversity and equity in employment. It welcomes applications from: women, Aboriginal persons, persons with disabilities, ethnic minorities, persons of minority sexual orientation or gender identity, visible minorities, and others who may contribute to diversification.

Interested candidates should submit an application consisting of a letter of introduction, a curriculum vitae, samples of research and teaching evaluations. Applicants should also arrange for three referees to submit letters of reference. The application and the letters of reference must be uploaded directly at https://academicjobsonline.org (position ID:McGill Linguistics ASSTPROF #4520).  To ensure full consideration, all materials should be submitted by November 7, 2014.

Prof. Morgan Sonderegger

Chair, Search Committee

Department of Linguistics

McGill University

Email: jobsearch.linguistics@mcgill.ca


Walter Pedersen successfully defended dissertation

McLing Newsletter - Mon, 09/08/2014 - 01:50

Walter Pedersen has successfully defended his dissertation (“Inchoative verbs and adverbial modification: Decompositional and scalar approaches”) on September 5.

Walter will be a Visiting Assistant Professor in Semantics at the University of Toronto this academic year.

Congratulations, Walter!

Brendan Gillon, Walter’s supervisor, joins the crowd in giving Walter a round of applause

Summer news round up, undergrad edition

McLing Newsletter - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 01:55

Liam Bassford and Maggie LaBelle both spent time this summer working in Morgan Sonderegger’s Montreal Language Modelling Lab (MLML). They annotated many, many word-initial stops, both voiced and voiceless, to add to Morgan’s data on phonetic variation in the reality TV show, Big Brother UK. Maggie also worked with Thea Knowles (BA ’14) on Plotmish, the interface that Misha Schwartz (also BA ’14) created to measure and annotate vowel formants as another way of modelling phonetic variation.

Louisa Bielig spent six weeks this summer doing fieldwork in Guatemala as part of an ARIA internship on Mayan languages with Jessica Coon. She travelled to Patzun and Tecpan to work on Kaqchikel,  and north to Santa Eulalia to gather Chuj data. In Tecpan, she took a two-week intensive Kaqchikel class to learn the grammatical foundation and basic vocabulary of the language, and then gathered data in Tecpan, Patzun, and Santa Eulalia. The collected data will be used for her thesis this upcoming year.

Louisa, front second-from-left, with Kaqchikel teachers and classmates

Hannah Cohen spent this summer working for Morgan at MLML and Michael at ProsodyLab. At MLML, she wrote python scripts to analyze data and organize the lab. For ProsodyLab, she was doing truncation, annotation, alignment, and also ran participants in experiments.

Cora Lesure traveled to Barcelona, and where she spent time thinking about language planning, bilingualism, minority language politics and the like. She reports that she was reminded a lot of Montreal, and is now interested in researching the similarities and differences in these bilingual cities. Cora also started reading about spoken Hawaiian and was reminded of some of the nominal classificatory systems she learned about in LING 410 Structure of Mayan last year.

Jielin Liu attended an Amazonian linguistics summer field school in Peru in July. She spent the first two weeks studying theoretical concepts in Amazonian and Andean linguistics in the PUCP campus in Lima. For the second half of the course, the group traveled to the Peruvian Amazon to do field work on Kakataibo (Panoan). They created a small multilingual dictionary and recorded an oral history.

Jielin at work

Joyce Xiao worked this summer for Postdoctoral Fellow Jakob Leimgruber. She also put her Linguistics skill to work helping friends who are trying to learn English and Japanese.

Summer news round-up, grad edition

McLing Newsletter - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 01:53
Hyeyoung Bang had her first eval paper accepted as a talk at the BU conference on child language and as a poster at the Acoustical Society of America.  The title of her talk is: ”A child-specific compensatory mechanism in the acquisition of English /s/”

Guilherme Garcia gave two presentations earlier this summer: a talk entitled Efeitos de onset em acento: um estudo piloto em aquisição de segunda língua at the 29th ENANPOLL* at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in Brazil and a poster entitled Syllables and intervals in Portuguese stress at the Workshop on Word Stress & Accent at Universiteit Leiden in the Netherlands.

*ENANPOLL is the Brazilian association of language-related fields

Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron presented a poster at LabPhon 14 called “The influence of prosodic boundaries on high vowel devoicing in Japanese”.

Mordecai Lieberman is starting a YouTube channel about linguistics called The Ling Space. Videos are scheduled to go up every Wednesday starting Sept. 3. In the mean time, the channel currently has a trailer available, which can be viewed by going to the following URL: https://www.youtube.com/user/thelingspace

Yuliya Manyakina spent 6 weeks in Listuguj, Quebec working with community members and doing fieldwork on the Mi’gmaq language. This summer community members focused on developing new ways in making language learning more fun and accessible. One of the new developments is an app called Quizlet, which allows users to create sets of flashcards and test themselves by playing games. Quizlet has some amazing features, which you can read more about here.  It’s free for anyone, so even YOU can start learning Mi’gmaq (click here). Yuliya’s fieldwork included collecting data on the diminutive in Mi’gmaq, as well as looking at the behaviour of subordinative clauses. This data will be used for her Eval papers. For more updates and travel stories, check out the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership blog

Summer news round-up, faculty edition

McLing Newsletter - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 01:50

Meghan Clayards and Michael Wagner welcomed Gustav Edward Clayards Wagner this summer, born June 8th. The rest of the posts here will not be this cute.


Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Bernhard Schwarz were both invited to present at “Two Days At Least“, an international workshop on scalar inferences held in a castle near Baarn, The Netherlands, September 9–12.

Charles Boberg‘s work on regional differences in Canadian English was featured in Metro News Canada earlier this summer. The piece includes an interactive database where people can query different variables in different regions and download a table of data. This new article builds on an earlier story Metro did on his work, which McLing reported on back in June.

In July, Charles also gave an invited plenary talk to the 18th International Conference on English Historical Linguistics, in Leuven, Belgium, entitled “Flanders Fields and the Consolidation of Canadian English.”  Apart from reviewing the history of English in Canada, the talk presented an acoustic phonetic analysis of archival data from interviews with Canadian First World War veterans, looking at what their speech can tell us about the pronunciation of Canadian English in the late 19th century.

Brendan Gillon  just returned from 5 days in Heidelberg, where he gave a paper at an international conference on Buddhist thought in India, China and Tibet. The paper discusses some of the textual problems of the Fāng Biàn Xīn Lùn (方便心論), the earliest text on Buddhist logic extant in Chinese, which Brendan has translated it into English in collaboration with Prof. Shoryu Katsura (to appear next year).  He has taken advantage of this work to study aspects of the syntax and semantics of Buddhist Hybrid Chinese from this period.

Brendan also completed papers for the proceedings of two workshops he participated in last year: (1) ’Constituency and cotextual dependence in classical Sanskrit’, given at the `Seminar on Sanskrit syntax and discourse structures‘ workshop held in June 2013 at the Université de Paris Diderot. The paper sets out the facts pertaining to ellipsis, broadly construed, for classical Sanskrit. (2) `Reasoning and its relationship to logic and language in classical India’, given at the `Logic and culture: theories of logic in Buddhist, Muslim and Aristotelian scholastics’ workshop held at the Lumbini International Research Institute (Lumbini, Nepal) in November 2013. The paper contains a syntax and semantics for the counting numerals of Classical Sanskrit, and considers the relationship between natural language expressions and their notational counterparts.

Jessica Coon spent a month this summer enrolled in intensive French, trying to prepare for (her daughter’s entry to) kindergarten. She also traveled to Listuguj for the Mi’gmaq Summer Language Workshop, organized by members of of the Mi’gmaq Research Partnership. From there, she flew south to Chiapas, where she continued research on Chol, which included a prosody study she is working on with new Postdoc Lauren Clemens.

Jessica’s paper on syntactic ergativity (with Omer Preminger and Pedro Mateo Pedro) was accepted for publication in Linguistic Variation (link) and her paper on little-agreement will appear in the Proceedings of CLS 50 (PDF).

Junko Shimoyama presented a joint poster with Alex Drummond, Bernhard Schwarz and Michael Wagner titled ‘Dislocation and clausal ellipsis: preliminary findings and a puzzle’ at Formal Approaches to Japanese Linguistics (FAJL) in Tokyo in June; she also gave an invited talk on the same topic at Okayama University in July, as well as an invited outreach lecture titled ‘Describing the rules underlying our unconscious knowledge of language’ to graduate students in mechanical engineering at Kyushu Institute of Technology.

Morgan Sonderegger presented at The 3rd Biennial Workshop on Sound Change in Berkeley, and at LabPhon 14 in Tokyo. He was awarded a grant from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, which was put to good use repainting and refurnishing the Montreal Language Modeling Lab, and beginning to populate it with computers and corpora.  Lab members Thea Knowles, Liam Bassford, Hannah Cohen, Maggie Labelle, and Misha Schwartz worked on lab projects and learned new programming skills.  He was also awarded grants by SSHRC (Insight Development) and FRQSC (Établissement de nouveaux professeurs-chercheurs).

Morgan released AutoVOT (with Joseph Keshet and Thea Knowles (BA 2012)), a software package for automatic measurement of voice onset time, and his paper (with Matt Carlson and Max Bane) on phonological networks appeared in Journal of Memory and Language.

Prosody Lab publications

McLing Newsletter - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 01:48
Michael Wagner’s Prosody Lab has had a prolific year, with publications including work by Elise McClay (McGill BA ’12) and current PhD student Jeff Klassen. Congratulations all! McClay, Elise & Michael Wagner (in press). Accented Pronouns and Contrast. To appear in the Proceedings of the 50th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society in 2014. (PDF) Abstract: Both the lack of accentuation on a referring expression and the choice of a pronoun over a full noun phrase have been tied to a higher accessibility of the referent. Why, then, would a pronoun ever be accented? We consider three perspectives: Kameyama’s (1999) Complementary Preference Hypothesis, Smyth’s (1994) Parallel Function view, and Rooth’s (1992) Alternatives Theory of Focus, and present experimental evidence in favour of the focus view. We conclude by noting issues with respect to the definition of contrast that arise when considering cases of multiple foci as in the data of our experiments.  Wagner, Michael & Jeffrey Klassen (in press). Accessibility is no Alternative to Alternatives. To appear in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. (PDF) Abstract:  Linguistic constituents that encode salient information are often prosodically reduced. Recent studies have presented evidence that higher contextual accessibility of referents results in lower prosodic prominence. Accounts of reduction in terms of accessibility  set out to explain a range of phenomena that include those that are in the domain of linguistic theories of focus and givenness. The tacit assumption is that more general and independently motivated accessibility factors will be able to supplant the more specialized grammatical accounts of prosodic prominence. This paper reviews previous results and finds that existing accessibility accounts cannot explain a range of data easily captured by the alternatives theory of focus, and that various experimental studies motivating the accessibility view actually fail to distinguish between the two accounts. New experimental data is presented that teases apart the effects of accessibility and linguistic focus. Wagner, Michael 2015. Phonological Evidence in Syntax. Tibor Kiss and Artemis Alexiadou (Eds.): Syntax—Theory and Analysis. An International Handbook. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science. 42.1-3, Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, to appear 2015. (PDF) Abstract: Linear precedence is one of the key sources of evidence for the syntactic structure of complex expressions, but other aspects of the phonological representation of a sentence, such as its prosody, are often not considered when testing syntactic theories. This overview provides an introduction to the three main dimensions of sentence prosody, phrasing, prominence and intonational tune, focusing on how they can enter syntactic argumentation.

Ling Tea Fall 2014

McLing Newsletter - Tue, 09/02/2014 - 01:46

LingTea will resume at the same time and place this semester: Wednesdays 3-4pm (or 4:30) in room 117. Yuliya and Gui will be co-organizing this semester.

For those that are not familiar with LingTea, it’s an informal meeting (with cookies!) where students and professors are welcome to present work in progress. Anyone and everyone is welcome to present, whether it just be an idea in its beginning stages, a paper that you find interesting, or the research you did this summer. LingTea is also often used for practice presentations if you are planning to present at a conference.

Please send Gui or Yuliya an email if you are interested in presenting. The following is a list of LingTea dates:


10 Gui Garcia and Natália Brambatti Guzzo: “The status of neoclassical elements in Brazilian Portuguese: evidence from vowel reduction”
24 Lisa Travis, Maire Noonan, Heather Newell, and Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron: “Phonological domains vs. root suppletion”


Colin Brown, title TBA


Jessica Coon and Lauren Clemens: “An initial inquiry into the relationship between syntax and prosody in Chol”