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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 2 hours 17 min ago

Word Structure Research Group, 2/22 – Claudia Perez-Herrera

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 09:49

Next meeting: Friday 22 March 2019, 1h30-3 PM, room 117, 1085 Dr Penfield

Topic: Structure

Presenter: Claudia Perez-Herrera


  • Bermudez-Otero, R. (2016) We do not need structuralist morphemes, but we do need constituent structure. In Daniel Siddiqi & Heidi Harley (eds), 2016, Morphological metatheory (Linguistics Today 229), 387–430. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Linguistics/CS Seminar, 3/20 – Frank Mollica

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 02:40


Speaker: Frank Mollica
Date & Time: Wednesday, March 20, 2019 9:30am  
Place: WILSON 105
Title: The Human Learning Machine: Computational Models of Lexical Acquisition


Language allows us to face novel concepts and situations by building structured mental representations of the world. The primary goal of my research program is to use computational models and behavioral experiments to understand how we construct and update these rich mental models both from experience (i.e., language acquisition) and from language (i.e., language processing). In this talk, I draw on methods in computational linguistics and computational cognitive science to propose a model of lexical acquisition formalized as logical program induction. First, I’ll illustrate how the model explains the systematic patterns of behavior observed in children as they acquire kinship words. Then, I will present a large cross-cultural data analysis model that infers how children use data from the timing of their lexical acquisition. Lastly, I will use children’s acquisition of exact number words as a case study to demonstrate how both of these models can be combined to learn about the universal and culturally-specific processes of the human learning machine. Taken together, this body of work provides the first computational model for how children learn relational word meanings, the first large-scale cross-linguistic model of children’s data usage during early word learning and an innovative computational toolbox for leveraging large datasets and discipline knowledge to draw theoretical insights in child development.

MCQLL, 3/20

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 02:40

At next week’s meeting, Emi will present on sections of chapters 3 (“The Tipping Point”) and 4 (“Signal and Noise”) of Charles Yang’s book The Price of Linguistic Productivity; How children learn to break the rules of language. The presentation will focus on the Tolerance Principle, Yang’s account of linguistic productivity. Specifically, she will highlight the principle’s recursive applications, particularly as they apply to the case of German plural nouns.

We will meet Wednesday 5:30pm in room 117. Food will be provided

Amazigh Workshop talks, 3/21 – Achab, Baier, Ouali, Fahloune

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 02:30
This Thursday and Friday McGill  will host a Workshop on Amazigh languages, featuring invited talks by Karim Achab (University of Ottawa), Hamid Ouali (University of Wisconsin, Madison), and Khokha Fahloune (UQAM), as well as short presentations on Kabyle by the students in this semester’s Field Methods course. Thursday, the talks will be held in Leacock 738 All are welcome! Below, find the titles/times of the four long talks for the conference. For a detailed scheduled and abstracts for the talks, please visit the workshop website. Thursday, March 21st (Leacock 738)
1:00 — 2:00:  Karim Achab (University of Ottawa) — Diachronic and Synchronic Account of Anti-Agreement in Amazigh Languages
2:00 — 3:00: Hamid Ouali (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) — On Tense and Aspect in Tamazight
3:30 — 4:30:  Khokha Fahloune (UQAM) — Retour sur les marqueurs sujet et objet en kabyle
4:30 — 5:30: Nico Baier (McGill University) — Person Case Constraint Effects in Kabyle

Please feel free to drop by for any of the talks.

Graduate Mobility Award to Justin Royer

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 02:20

Justin Royer received a Graduate Mobility Award, which will help fund a fieldwork trip in April and May to pursue research on Chuj. While in Guatemala, Justin intends to follow up on research projects related to three areas: 1) random-choice modality and the morpheme komon (joint work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle); 2) maximal and existential free relatives; and 3) nominalizations (joint work with Jessica Coon). Justin will also continue working on a collaborative grammar sketch of Chuj.

Colloquium, 3/22 – Susi Wurmbrand

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 02:20

SpeakerSusi Wurmbrand (Universität Wien)
Date & Time: March 22, 2019
Place:  Education Bldg. rm. 334
Title: Proper and improper A-dependencies


This talk provides an overview of case and agreement dependencies that are established across clause-boundaries, such as raising to subject or object and cross-clausal agreement. We will see that cross-clausal A-dependencies (CCADs) in several languages can apply not only across non-finite but also across finite clause boundaries. Furthermore, it will be shown that the DP entering a CCAD is situated in the specifier of the embedded CP. This poses a challenge for the traditional ‘truncation’ approach to CCADs according to which CCADs are restricted to reduced (CP-less) complements. It also poses a challenge for the view that A-dependencies cannot follow A’-dependencies involving the same element. Lastly, we can observe that a clause across which a CCAD applies functions as true, non-deficient, A’-CP for other purposes. The direction proposed to bring the observed properties together is to maintain a universal improper A-after-A′ constraint, but allow certain positions in certain CPs to qualify as A-positions from which further A-dependencies can be established.

TOM 12 – 3/30

Mon, 03/18/2019 - 02:00

The 12th annual Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Semantics Workshop (TOM 12) will be co-hosted by the Department of Classics, Modern Languages and Linguistics at Concordia University and the Department of Linguistics at McGill University on Saturday, March 30, 2019. For details and registration, see All are welcome. Those planning to attend are requested to register. Registration is free.

Linguistics/CRBLM joint talk, 3/15 – Mara Breen

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 19:32
The linguistics Department at McGill and the CRBLM jointly invite you to a talk by Prof. Mara Breen (Psychology, Holyoke College). There’s be a social dinner in the evening, please let me know in case you’re interested in attending! Title: Hierarchical linguistic metric structure in speaking, listening, and reading Friday, March 15, 3:30-5:00pm Location: McGill College 2001, Room 461 ABSTRACT: In this talk, I will describe results from three experiments exploring how hierarchical timing regularities in language are realized by speakers, listeners, and readers. First, using a corpus of productions of Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat—a metrically and phonologically regular children’s book, we show that speakers’ word durations and intensities are accurately predicted by models of linguistic and musical meter, respectively, demonstrating that listeners to these texts receive consistent acoustic cues to hierarchical metric structure. In a second experiment, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) as participants listened to an isochronous, non-intensity-varying text-to-speech rendition of The Cat in the Hat. Pilot ERP results reveal electrophysiological indices of metric processing, demonstrating top-down realization of metric structure even in the absence of explicit prosodic cues. In a third experiment, we recorded ERPs while participants silently read metrically regular rhyming couplets where the final word sometimes mismatched the metric or prosodic context. These mismatches elicited ERP patterns similar to neurocognitive responses observed in listening experiments. In sum, these results demonstrate similarities in perceived and simulated hierarchical timing processes in listening and reading and help explain the processes by which listeners use predictable metric structure to facilitate speech segmentation and comprehension.

SEMINAR: Linguistics/CS hiring candidate Rachel Rudinger, ARTS W-20, 9:30am

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 03:00


SPEAKER:               Rachel Rudinger

PhD student, Center for Language and Speech Processing, Johns Hopkins University

TITLE:                       Natural Language Understanding for Events and Participants in Text

DATE:                        Monday, March 11, 2019

TIME:                         9:30am

PLACE:                     ARTS W-20


 Consider the difference between the two sentences “Pat didn’t remember to water the plants” and “Pat didn’t remember that she had watered the plants.” Fluent English speakers recognize that the former sentence implies that Pat did not water the plants, while the latter sentence implies she did. This distinction is crucial to understanding the meaning of these sentences, yet it is one that automated natural language processing (NLP) systems struggle to make. In this talk, I will discuss my work on developing state-of-the-art NLP models that make essential inferences about events (e.g., a “watering” event) and participants (e.g., “Pat” and “the plants”) in natural language sentences. In particular, I will focus on two supervised NLP tasks that serve as core tests of language understanding: Event Factuality Prediction and Semantic Proto-Role Labeling. I will also discuss my work on unsupervised acquisition of common-sense knowledge from large natural language text corpora, and the concomitant challenge of detecting problematic social biases in NLP models trained on such data.


P* Reading Group, 3/13 – Jeff Lamontagne on Breen (2018)

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 02:40

P* Reading Group (Wednesday, 1:30 pm)

We’ll be having P* Group on Wednesday, March 13th at 1:30 pm in room 831 of SCSD (2001 McGill College, 8th floor), during which Jeff will lead a discussion of  Breen’s (2018) Effects of metric hierarchy and rhyme predictability on word duration in The Cat in the Hat. The paper is available at All are welcome to attend!

SEMINAR: Linguistics/CS hiring candidate Kyle Mahowald, March 13, 9:30am, WILSON 105

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 02:40


SPEAKER:               Kyle Mahowald                   

TITLE:                       Cognitive and communicative pressures in natural language

DATE:                        Wednesday, March 13, 2019

TIME:                         9:30am

PLACE:                     WILSON 105


 There is enormous linguistic diversity within and across language families. But all languages must be efficient for their speakers’ needs and cognitively tractable for processing. Using ideas and techniques from computer science, we can generate hypotheses about what efficient languages should look like. Using large amounts of multilingual linguistic data, computational modeling, and online behavioral experiments, we can test these hypotheses and therein explain phenomena observed across and within languages. In particular, I will focus on the lexicon and explore why languages have the words they do instead of some other set of words. First, consistent with predictions from Shannon’s information theory, languages are optimized such that the words that convey less information are a) shorter and b) easier to pronounce. For instance, word shortenings like chimpanzee -> chimp are more likely to occur when the context is predictive. Second, across 97 languages, phonotactically probable words are more likely to also have high token frequency. Third, applying these ideas about efficiency to syntax, I show that, across 37 languages, the syntactic distances between dependent words are minimized. I will conclude with a discussion of my work in experimental methods and my directions for future research.


Syntax Reading Group, 3/14 – Benjamin Oldham

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 02:30
This week, Benjamin Oldham will be presenting his ongoing work on applicatives in Chichewa. The presentation is titled: Object marking in Chichewa: A diagnostic for the syntax of applicatives. A short abstract is below. This presentation uses object marking in Chichewa as a diagnostic for the syntactic structure of applicatives, which are double object constructions. In different types of applicatives, the object available for object marking may be either the direct object or the applied object, to the exclusion of the other. I show that object marking targets the syntactically highest object, and that Chichewa makes the distinction between a high and low applicative. This syntactic model is compatible with other observed behaviors of object marking crosslinguistically. We will meet at our usual meeting time of 12-1pm in Linguistics, Room 117. All are welcome!

Fieldwork Lab meeting, 3/14 – Ethics and REB

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 02:30

The fieldwork lab will meet this Thursday from 4:30–6:00pm in room 117. Richard Compton (UQAM) will lead discussion ethics and university REB, and will be discussing a reading by Monica Macaulay’s (2004) article, ‘Training Students for the Realities of Fieldwork.’ If you need access to a copy of the article, or if you would like to receive regular Fieldwork Lab meeting announcements, email organizer Clint Parker.

Workshop on Amazigh Languages, 3/21—3/22

Mon, 03/11/2019 - 02:00

McGill linguistics will host a Workshop on Amazigh languages on March 21st and March 22nd. The workshop will have invited talks by Karim Achab (University of Ottawa), Hamid Ouali (University of Wisconsin, Madison), and Khokha Fahloune (UQAM), as well as short presentations on Kabyle by the students in this semester’s Field Methods course.

All are welcome! If you do you plan on attending for some or all, please email organizer Nico Baier ideally by Monday, March 11.

P* Reading Group, 2/27 – Meghan Clayards on Yu (2019)

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 02:40

P* Reading Group (Wednesday, 1:30 pm)

We’ll be having P* Group on Wednesday, February 27th at 1:30 pm in room 831 of SCSD (2001 McGill College, 8th floor), during which Meghan will lead a discussion of  Yu’s (2019) “On the nature of the perception-production link: Individual variability in English sibilant-vowel coarticulation”. The paper is available at All are welcome to attend!

MCQLL, 2/27

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 02:40
At next week’s MCQLL meeting, Graham will give a presentation on the following paper: The Emergence of an Abstract Grammatical Category in Children’s Early Speech (Meylan et. al. 2017) Abstract: How do children begin to use language to say things they have never heard before? The origins of linguistic productivity have been a subject of heated debate: Whereas generativist accounts posit that children’s early language reflects the presence of syntactic abstractions, constructivist approaches instead emphasize gradual generalization derived from frequently heard forms. In the present research, we developed a Bayesian statistical model that measures the degree of abstraction implicit in children’s early use of the determiners “a” and “the.” Our work revealed that many previously used corpora are too small to allow researchers to judge between these theoretical positions. However, several data sets, including the Speechome corpus—a new ultra-dense data set for one child—showed evidence of low initial levels of productivity and higher levels later in development. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that children lack rich grammatical knowledge at the outset of language learning but rapidly begin to generalize on the basis of structural regularities in their input. We will be meeting Wednesday at 5:30pm in room 117.

Syntax Reading Group, 2/28 – Michaela Socolof

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 02:30
This week in Syntax Reading Group, Michaela Socolof will be presenting some ongoing work on Georgian correlatives. There is no reading for this week. We will meet at our usual time and location: 12-1pm in Linguistics room 117. All are welcome!

Semantics Group, 3/1 – Michael Wagner

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 02:20

This week, Michael Wagner will give a talk titled “Interactions between focus and choice of intonational tune”. As usual, we will meet on Friday at 3pm in Room 117. All are welcome to attend!

Kim and Clayards in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience

Mon, 02/25/2019 - 02:00
This week a new article was published online in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience with co-authors Donghyun Kim (recent PhD graduate) and Meghan Clayards. Donghyun Kim & Meghan Clayards (2019). Individual differences in the link between perception and production and the mechanisms of phonetic imitation, Language, Cognition and Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1080/23273798.2019.1582787 Here is the hyperlink

P* Reading Group, 2/20 – James Tanner on Williams and Escudero (2014) 

Mon, 02/18/2019 - 02:40

P* Reading Group (Wednesday, 2 pm)

We’ll be having P* Group on Wednesday, February 6th at 1:30 pm in room 831 of SCSD (2001 McGill College, 8th floor), during which James will lead a discussion of  Williams and Escudero’s (2014) “A cross-dialectal comparison of vowels in Northern and Southern British English”. The paper is available at All are welcome to attend!