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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 9 hours 5 min ago

McLing summer hiatus

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 03:00

McLing will take a break for the summer and be back in the next academic year. Have good summers all!

Two Prosodylab papers accepted at Interspeech

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 02:00
Two papers from prosodylab have been accepted at Interspeech: Wagner, Michael, Iturralde Zurita, Alvaro, and Zhang, Sijjia (in press). Parsing speech for grouping and prominence, and the typology of rhythm. Proceedings of Insterspeech in Brno, Czechia. [paper]

You can try out a version of the experiment yourself at the new prosodylab field station. Abstract:
Humans appear to be wired to perceive acoustic events rhythmically. English speakers, for example,  tend to perceive alternating short and long sounds as  a series of binary groups with a final beat (iambs), and alternating soft and loud sounds as a series of trochees. This generalization, often called the ‘Iambic-trochaic Law’ (ITL), although viewed as an auditory universal by some, has been argued to be shaped by language experience. Earlier work on the ITL had a crucial limitation, in that it did not tease apart the percepts of grouping and prominence, which the notions of iamb and trochee inherently confound. We explore how intensity and duration relate to percepts of prominence and grouping in six languages (English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin, and Spanish). The results show that the ITL is not universal, and that  cue interpretation is shaped by language experience. However, there are also invariances: Duration appears relatively robust across languages as a cue to prominence (longer syllables are perceived as stressed), and intensity for grouping (louder syllables are perceived as initial). The results show the beginnings of a rhythmic typology based on how the dimensions of grouping and prominence are cued. A paper about the  *prosoBeast* annotation tool:

Gerazov Branislav and Michael Wagner (in press). ProsoBeast Prosody Annotation Tool. Proceedings of Insterspeech in Brno, Czechia. ArXiv e-prints. [paper][git] Abstract: The labelling of speech corpora is a laborious and time-consuming process. The ProsoBeast Annotation Tool seeks to ease and accelerate this process by providing an interactive 2D representation of the prosodic landscape of the data, in which contours are distributed based on their similarity. This interactive map allows the user to inspect and label the utterances. The tool integrates several state-of-the-art methods for dimensionality reduction and feature embedding, including variational autoencoders. The user can use these to find a good representation for their data. In addition, as most of these methods are stochastic, each can be used to generate an unlimited number of different prosodic maps. The web app then allows the user to seamlessly switch between these alternative representations in the annotation process. Experiments with a sample prosodically rich dataset have shown that the tool manages to find good representations of varied data and is helpful both for annotation and label correction. The tool is released as free software for use by the community.

McGill @ CLA 2021

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 02:00
Current and former McGillians were well represented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association, held virtually June 4–7. Presentations included:
  • Bronwyn M. Bjorkman (BA 2006): Representing and resolving feature conflicts
  • Heather Goad & Natália Brambatti Guzzo: Regularly inflected forms can be prosodically ambiguous in English
  • Heather Newell (PhD 2006): The Morphophonology of Tamil Pronouns: A solution to a locality problem
  • Ileana Paul (PhD 2000), Lisa Travis, Jozina Vander Klok (PhD 2013) & Susi Wurmbrand:  Crossed control as Voice restructuring
  • Gretchen McCulloch (MA 2014) participated in the Round table: What can I do with a degree in linguistics? How to be a linguist outside academia 

The full program is available at:

Martinez, Goad, and Dow accepted in Second Language Research

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 02:00

Ruth Martinez (BA 2013), Heather Goad & Michael Dow’s paper “L1 phonological effects on L2 (non-)naïve perception: A cross-language investigation of the oral-nasal vowel contrast in Brazilian Portuguese” has been accepted for publication in Second Language Research.


Feature-based approaches to acquisition principally focus on second language (L2) learners’ ability to perceive non-native consonants when the features required are either contrastively present or entirely absent from the first language (L1) grammar. As features may function contrastively or allophonically in the consonant and/or vowel systems of a language, we expand the scope of this research to address whether features that function contrastively in the L1 vowel system can be recombined to yield new vowels in the L2; whether features that play a contrastive role in the L1 consonant system can be reassigned to build new vowels in the L2; and whether L1 allophonic features can be ‘elevated’ to contrastive status in the L2. We examine perception of the oral-nasal contrast in Brazilian Portuguese listeners from French, English, Caribbean Spanish, and non-Caribbean Spanish backgrounds, languages that differ in the status assigned to [nasal] in their vowel systems. An AXB discrimination task revealed that, although all language groups succeeded in perceiving the non-naïve contrast /e/-/ẽ/ due to their previous exposure to Quebec French while living in Montreal, Canada, only French and Caribbean Spanish speakers succeeded in discriminating the naïve contrast /i/-/ĩ/. These findings suggest that feature redeployment at first exposure is only possible if the feature is contrastive in the L1 vowel system (French) or if the feature is allophonic but variably occurs in contrastive contexts in the L1 vowel system (Caribbean Spanish). With more exposure to a non-native contrast, however, feature redeployment from consonant to vowel systems was also supported, as was the possibility that allophonic features may be elevated to contrastive status in the L2.

2021 student awards

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 02:00

McLing is pleased to announce this year’s Linguistics Student Award winners. More information about the awards, as well as previous award winners, can be found on the webpage. Congratulations all!

Graduate award:

  • Lara Riente Memorial Prize in Linguistics: Justin Royer 

Undergraduate awards:

  • Cremona Memorial Prize in Linguistics: Aliza Ellner 
  • Award for Excellence in Research: Sijia Zhang 
  • Award for Academic Leadership: Clara Saliba 
  • Award for Department Citizenship: Sarah Denomy 
  • U2 Academic Achievement Award: Amanda Alicandro & Emily Mayes 

Little and Coon @ WSCLA 25

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 02:00

Carol-Rose Little presented a paper titled “An external possession puzzle in Ch’ol Mayan” at the 25th Workshop on Structure and Constituency of Languages of the Americas (WSCLA 25), hosted virtually by Sogang University last weekend. Carol-Rose also presented a poster, together with  Jessica Coon, Scott AnderBois (Brown) and Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez (CIMSUR-UNAM) titled “Super-free relatives and bare nouns in two Mayan languages: Implications for type-shifters”.

McGill @ AFLA 28

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 02:00

The 28th annual meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 28) took place virtually last week, hosted by McGill University and National University of Singapore. The McGill-based portion of the organizing team included (in alphabetical order) Tallis Clark, Jessica Coon, Jacob Duserre, Mathieu Paillé, Connie Ting, and Sijia Zhang, led by Lisa Travis. Presentations by current McGill affiliates included a plenary talk by Malagasy language consultant, Vololona Razafimbelo, titled “On the other side of the linguist fence – The Consultant World”. Also presenting were:

  • Dan Brodkin & Justin Royer. “Two constraints on ergative anaphors”
  • Connie Ting. “Malagasy N-bonding: A licensing approach”

The full program is available at:

Liz Smeets to York University

Mon, 05/31/2021 - 02:00

McLing is very pleased to report that Liz Smeets (PhD ’19)  has accepted a tenure-track position in the Dept of Languages, Literatures & Linguistics at York University in Toronto, starting this July. Congratulations Liz!

Wagner to appear in Psychological Review

Mon, 05/24/2021 - 02:00

Michael Wagner‘s paper ‘Two-dimensional parsing of the acoustic stream explains the iambic-trochaic law’ has been accepted for publication at Psychological Review. A preprint is available at 

Abstract: In a sequence of otherwise equal sounds, listeners tend to hear a series of trochees (groups of two sounds with an initial beat) when every other sound is louder; they tend to hear a series of iambs (groups of two sounds with a final beat) when every other sound is longer. The paper presents evidence that this so-called ‘Iambic-Trochaic Law’ (ITL) is a consequence of the way listeners parse the signal along two orthogonal dimensions, grouping (Which tone is first/last?) and prominence (Which tone is prominent?). A production experiment shows that in speech, intensity and duration correlate when encoding prominence, but anticorrelate when encoding grouping. A model of the production data shows that the ITL emerges from the cue distribution based on a listener’s predicted decisions about prominence and grouping respectively. This, and further predictions derived from the model, are then tested in speech and tone perception. The results show that intensity and duration are excellent cues for grouping and prominence, but poor cues for the distinction between iamb and trochee per se. Overall, the findings illustrate how the ITL derives from the way listeners recover two orthogonal perceptual dimensions, grouping and prominence, from a single acoustic stream.

Guzzo and Garcia in Glossa

Mon, 05/17/2021 - 02:00

Postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo and Guilherme D. Garcia (PhD ’17) just had an article accepted for publication at Glossa: a journal of general linguistics. The title of the paper is ‘Gradience in prosodic representation: Vowel reduction and neoclassical elements in Brazilian Portuguese’. The preprint is available for download on Open Science Framework: 10.31219/

Guzzo and Franken @ CLS 57

Mon, 05/17/2021 - 02:00

Natália Brambatti Guzzo and Avery Franken (BA ’21) presented a talk at the 57th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, hosted virtually by the University of Chicago on May 6-8. The title of the presentation was ‘Examining contact effects in a written corpus: Subjects in Brazilian Veneto’.

Bale, Schwarz, and Shanks to appear in Journal of Semantics

Mon, 05/10/2021 - 02:00

Alan Bale (PhD ’06), Bernhard Schwarz, and David Shanks (incoming MA student) recemtly learned that their paper “Monotonicity revisited: mass nouns and comparisons of purity” has been accepted for publication in Journal of Semantics. A prepublished version of the paper is available at: Congratulations all!

Abstract: Comparatives with “more” plus mass noun, like “John has more milk than Bill”, are naturally analyzed as referencing measure functions, functions like volume or weight that map individuals to degrees. Although such measure functions vary with context as well as the choice of mass noun, there are well known grammatical limitations on this variation. In particular, Schwarzschild (2006) proposes that only monotonic measure functions can enter into the interpretation of comparatives with more plus mass noun. While this Monotonicity Constraint has strong empirical support, Bale and Barner (2009) have drawn attention to data that seemingly contradict it. For example, “There is more gold in the ring than in the bracelet” can be evaluated based on whether the ring is made from purer gold than the bracelet. This seems to suggest that comparatives with more plus mass noun can reference purity, yet purity is non-monotonic (Schwarzschild 2006, Wellwood 2015). Building on Solt (2018) and Bale and Schwarz (2019), we show here that comparisons of purity can be credited to monotonic proportional measure functions, thereby reconciling Bale and Barner’s observation with the Monotonicity Constraint. We provide independent support for this proposal, establishing that reference to the relevant monotonic proportional measure functions, but not to purity, yields meanings that accurately track speakers’ truth value judgments. Our analysis commits us to the assumption that the main clause and the comparative clause can invoke different measure functions. We propose that this is made possible by Skolemization and binding. That is, we posit function-denoting expressions which contain variables that have different binders in the two clauses.



Mike Hamilton (PhD ’15) promoted to Associate Professor at Florida Atlantic University

Mon, 05/10/2021 - 02:00

Michael David Hamilton (PhD 2015) has been awarded tenure and been promoted to Associate Professor of Linguistics (effective Fall 2021) at Florida Atlantic University after 5 years there. Congratulations Mike!

LING 215 ‘Languages of the World’ final projects video

Mon, 05/10/2021 - 02:00

For Carol Rose Little‘s Winter 2021 LING 215 “Languages of the World” course, each student picked a language to work with throughout the semester. At the end of the semester, they created final projects on an aspect of their language. You can take a look at some previews of their final projects here:


Paillé and Royer at the “Colloque 50 ans de linguistique à l’UQAM”

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 02:00

Mathieu Paillé and Justin Royer both presented their work at the “Colloque 50 ans de linguistique à l’UQAM: regards croisés sur les enjeux de la linguistique”, held at Université du Québec à Montréal April 22-24. The titles of their talks were:

  • Mathieu Paillé – “Généraliser le critère thêta : une alternative à base d’exhaustivité”
  • Justin Royer – Aligner prosodie et syntaxe pour mieux comprendre la syntaxe: Phénomène prosodique en maya

McGill @LSRL 51

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 02:00
McGill linguists presented the following talks at the 51st Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL). The conference was hosted virtually between April 29 and May 1 by the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  • Natália Brambatti Guzzo and Avery Franken (BA ’21): Structure preservation and contact effects: Subjects in Brazilian Veneto
  • Guilherme D. Garcia (PhD ’17) and Natália Brambatti Guzzo: Target vowel asymmetry in Brazilian Veneto metaphony

Natália Guzzo in Journal of Child Language

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 02:00
Postdoc Natália Brambatti Guzzo’s article “Revisiting the Acquisition of Onset Complexity: Affrication in Québec French” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Child Language. The preprint is available on Open Science Framework: Congrats Natália!

Royer in Canadian Journal of Linguistics

Mon, 05/03/2021 - 02:00

A paper by Justin Royer has been accepted for publication at the Canadian Journal of Linguistics. The paper is entitled “Decomposing definiteness: Evidence from Chuj”. The paper is based on Justin’s first PhD evaluation paper, supervised by Jessica Coon and Aron Hirsch. A pre-published version is available here: Congrats Justin!

Abstract: This paper explores the realization of definiteness in Chuj, an underdocumented Mayan language. I show that Chuj provides support for recent theories that distinguish between weak and strong definite descriptions (e.g. Schwarz 2009, 2013; Arkoh and Matthewson 2013; Hanink 2018; Jenks 2018). A set of morphemes called “noun classifiers” contribute a uniqueness presupposition, composing directly with nominals to form weak definites. To form strong definites, I show that two pieces are required: (i) the noun classifier, which again contributes a uniqueness presupposition, and (ii) extra morphology that contributes an anaphoricity presupposition. Chuj strong definites thus provide explicit evidence for a decompositional account of weak and strong definites, as also advocated in Hanink 2018. I then extend this analysis to third person pronouns, which are realized in Chuj with bare classifiers, and which I propose come in two guises depending on their use. On the one hand, based on previous work (Postal 1966, Cooper 1979, Heim 1990), I argue that classifier pronouns can sometimes be E-type pronouns: weak definite determiners which combine with a covert index-introducing predicate. In such cases, classifier pronouns represent a strong definite description. On the other hand, I argue based on diagnostics established in Bi and Jenks 2019, that Chuj classifier pronouns sometimes arise as a result of NP ellipsis (Elbourne 2001, 2005). In such cases, classifier pronouns reflect a weak definite description.

McGill at WCCFL 39

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 14:32

McGill linguists presented at the 39th meeting of the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL 39), hosted virtually by the University of Arizona April 8–11. Presentations involving McGill linguists included:

  • Dan Brodkin and Justin Royer – “Ergative Anaphors and High Absolutive Syntax” Abstract
  • Carol-Rose Little, Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez, Jessica Coon, Nicolás Arcos López and Morelia Vázquez Martínez – “Collaborative corpus creation: A Chol case study” Abstract
  • Jonathan Palucci, Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Esmail Moghiseh – “Against Obligatory Wide Scope for Any : Transparency”   Abstract

Colloquium, 4/23 – Duane Watson

Mon, 04/19/2021 - 09:11
Please join us Friday April 23rd at 3:30pm for the final colloquium of the Winter 2021 semester. Speaker: Duane Watson (Vanderbilt University) Register here. Title: “Speaking for thinking: Understanding the link between cognition and speech” Abstract: One of the central debates in the language sciences is understanding whether linguistic representations can be divided into those that represent competence, i.e. linguistic knowledge, and those that represent performance, i.e. psychological processes that use that knowledge.  Prosody, which is the tone, rhythm, and intonation of speech, is perhaps unique among linguistic representations in that it conveys information about both linguistic structure and psychological processes.  In this talk, I will present work from my lab, as well as the language literature more generally, that suggests that prosody is used to optimize the speech signal for listeners as well as provide time for speakers to engage speech processes related to language production.  By studying prosody, language scientists can gain insight into language structure (e.g. syntax, semantics, and discourse), psychological processes (e.g. production and comprehension), and how the two interact.


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