McCall MacBain Scholarships - Master’s and Professional Programs

A full graduate scholarship and community to help you make a difference in the world.

Find out when applications open

McLing Newsletter

Subscribe to McLing Newsletter feed
The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 3 hours 25 min ago

Fieldwork Lab Meeting, 11/26 — Dan Brodkin

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 02:30

This week in the Fieldwork Lab meeting, Dan Brodkin (UC Santa Cruz) will present work titled “Agent Focus in South Sulawesi”. Fieldwork Lab will meet at 4 on Thursday, November 26th. Contact Carol-Rose Little (, if you would like to join the meeting.

Syntax/semantics group, 11/26 – Danfeng Wu

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 02:30

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday November 26th at 1:30pm. Danfeng Wu, a graduate student from MIT, will be presenting work titled “Syntax and prosody of either…or… sentences”.

Jessica Coon and Justin Royer in “Headless Relative Clauses in Mesoamerica”

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 02:00

Articles by Jessica Coon and Justin Royer appeared in the recently-published Oxford University Press volume, “Headless Relative Clauses in Mesoamerican Languages“, edited by Ivano Caponigro, Harold Torrence, and Roberto Zavala. The volume is the result of a series of workshops which took place in Chiapas Mexico in 2017 and 2018. The volume contains 15 chapters covering headless relative clauses in different languages of Mesoamerica; Justin’s article focuses on Chuj, and Jessica’s article, coauthored with Juan Jesús Vázquez Álvarez (CIMSUR-UNAM) focuses on Ch’ol. Details of the project can be found here:

Michael Wagner in Semantics Companion

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 02:00

Michael’s handbook article on prosodic focus, to appear in the upcoming Semantics Companion, has gone online on Nov 4 at the publisher’s website:

Wagner, Michael (2021). Prosodic focusTheWiley Blackwell Companion to Semantics, First Edition. Edited by Daniel Gutzmann, Lisa Matthewson, Cécile Meier, Hotze Rullmann, and Thomas Ede Zimmermann. [doi]

Michael Wagner at the 61st Annual Conference of the Psychonomic Society

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 02:00

Michael Wagner recently presented a poster, “Encoding a semantic contrast requires phonological contrast in English but not in French” at the 61st Annual Conference of the Psychonomic Society on Nov 19 2020.

Can a homophone antecedent cause deaccentuation?

It turns out yes. See the full poster for more.

Jessica Coon at Leipzig and UCLA

Mon, 11/23/2020 - 02:00

Jessica Coon presented collaborative work with recent postdoctoral fellow, Nico Baier, and with Ted Levin at two invited talks recently: November 11th at Leipzig University, and November 20th at UCLA. The title and abstract are below. A manuscript version is available on LingBuzz:

“Mayan Agent Focus and the Ergative Extraction Constraint”

Many languages of the Mayan family restrict the extraction of transitive (ergative) subjects for focus, wh-questions, and relativization (Ā-extraction). We follow Aissen (2017) in labelling this restriction the ergative extraction constraint (EEC). In this paper, we offer a unified account of the EEC within Mayan languages, as well as an analysis of the special construction known as Agent Focus (AF) used to circumvent it. Specifically, we propose that the EEC has a similar source across the subset of Mayan languages which exhibit it: intervention. The intervention problem is created when an object DP structurally intervenes between the Ā-probe on C and the ergative subject. Evidence that intervention by the object is the source of the problem comes from a handful of exceptional contexts which permit transitive subjects to extract in languages which normally ban this extraction. We argue specifically that the problem with Ā-extracting the ergative subject across the intervening object connects to the requirements of the Ā-probe on C: the probe on C is bundled to search simultaneously for [Ā] and [D] features. Adapting the proposal of Coon and Keine (to appear), we argue that in configurations in which a DP object intervenes between the probe on C and an Ā-subject, conflicting requirements on movement lead to a derivational crash. This paper both contributes to our understanding of parametric variation internal to the Mayan family, as well as to the discussion of variation in Ā-extraction asymmetries and syntactic ergativity cross-linguistically.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 11/19

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 02:30
In advance of this Friday’s colloquium, Will Johnston will be leading discussion on work by speaker Emily Elfner. The 2015 paper is titled “Recursion in prosodic phrasing: evidence from Connemara Irish” and can be downloaded at

Colloquium, 11/20 — Emily Elfner

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 02:20

The next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Emily Elfner (York University) on Friday, November 20th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Evaluating evidence for recursive prosodic structure”.

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2020-2021 year).

Abstract: In much recent work on the syntax-prosody interface, the question of whether recursion is present in prosodic structure has played a key role (for example, Wagner 2005, 2010; Selkirk 2009, 2011, among others). In particular, in theories of the syntax-prosody interface such as Match Theory (Selkirk 2009, 2011), which derive prosodic constituents directly from syntactic structure, prosodic structure is predicted to show by default a degree of recursion that arguably is comparable with the depth of the nested hierarchical structure found in syntax.

One major question which has surfaced is the extent to which the level of recursive prosodic structure predicted by syntactic structure is universal. For example, some languages have been argued to show overt phonological and phonetic reflexes of recursion, thus providing apparent empirical support for the recursive structures predicted by syntactic structure in a number of languages, such as Irish (Elfner 2012, 2015), Basque (Elordieta 2015), and Swedish (Myrberg 2013). However, other languages may not show such overt evidence, as it has long been assumed that the ways that languages mark prosodic phrase edges and heads is language-specific; for example, some of the predicted prosodic phrases may be marked overtly only on one edge (left or right), or not at all. Conversely, we cannot always assume that overt evidence of a prosodic boundary indicates the presence of a syntactic boundary.

Therefore, the question remains: if there is no overt evidence of the edges of certain prosodic constituents in a particular language, to what extent can we posit their existence based on theoretical predictions relating to hierarchical structure and syntax-prosody mapping alone? In this talk, I will explore this question in relation to a case study on the prosodic structure of Irish, which provides an apparent conflict between prosodic cues which provide evidence for hierarchal syntactic structure and domain juncture (Elfner 2012, 2016).

P* Reading Group, 11/20 — Alex Cucinelli

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 02:20

This week, Alex Cucinelli will be leading discussion on “Dutch and English toddlers’ use of linguistic cues in predicting upcoming turn transitions” (Lammertink et al., 2015). P* Group takes place on Fridays from 12-1pm on Zoom. All are welcome! To get information on how to join the meeting, please register here.

Welcome incoming professor James Crippen!

Mon, 11/16/2020 - 02:00

The McGill Linguistics Department is very happy to welcome new professor James Crippen, who will be joining us in January 2021.

James Crippen [ˈkɹɪ.pən] specializes in morphosyntax, information structure, and the structure of the lexicon. He works primarily on Tlingit as well as on other languages in the Na-Dene (Dene-Eyak-Tlingit) family. Particular topics he has worked on include the structure of complex words (‘polysynthesis’), the syntactic and semantic properties of roots, event structure and grammatical aspect, focus and nominal predication, the phonetics of ejective fricatives, language documentation, and historical reconstruction in Na-Dene. In addition he has interests in languages of Alaska and the Pacific Northwest of North America, Chinook Jargon and Chinuk Wawa, and more generally indigenous languages of North America. James is Tlingit [ˈklɪŋ.ˌkɪt] (Tl. Lingít [ɬìn.ˈkít]) and holds the names Dzéiwsh [tséːwʃ] and Gunyaa [kʷùn.ˈjàː]. He is a member of the Deisheetaan [tèː.ʃìː.ˈtʰàːn] clan of the Raven moiety (Laayineidí [ɬàː.jì.ˈnèː.tí]), from the Kaḵáakʼw Hít [kʰà.qʰáːkʼʷ hít] ‘Basket House’ group known as the Ḵakʼweidí [qʰà.ˈkʼʷèː.tí]. His family is from the Shtaxʼhéen Ḵwáan [ʃtʰàxʼ.ˈhíːn qʰʷáːn] at the mouth of the Stikine River, based in Ḵaachx̱an.áakʼw [qʰàːtʃ.χàn.ˈʔáːkʼʷ] known in English as Wrangell, Alaska.

Welcome aboard James!

MCQLL Meeting, 11/11 — Bing’er Jiang

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 02:40

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (1:30-2:30pm Wednesday, November 11), Bing’er Jiang, a sixth year PhD student at the McGill Linguistics Department, will present her work on the perceptual tonal space in Mandarin Chinese continuous speech. Talk abstract is below.

If you would like to join the meeting and have not already registered for the MCQLL mailing list, please do so ASAP using this form.

Abstract: This study examines the perceptual tonal space in Mandarin Chinese continuous speech and how various acoustic properties signalling the tonal contrast are represented in this space. Previous studies on Mandarin tones mainly focus on words produced in isolation, but there is little understanding on the perception of tones in continuous speech, which are realized with more variability. We first evaluate the importance of three acoustic correlates (pitch, intensity, and duration) for the tonal contrast by using a set of tone classification models trained on broadcast news. Instead of model ablation, we use a novel method of data ablation inspired from conventional perceptual experiments to restrict the acoustic information the model can access. We further force the model to learn a low-dimensional representation, which can be seen as the model’s perceptual representation for tones. We find that the information for tonal distinction can be compressed in a two-dimensional space, and the structure of the space corresponds to the findings on human’s perception of isolated tones in the literature.

Syntax/semantics group, 11/12 – Martina Martinović

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 02:30
This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday November 12th at 1:30pm. Martina Martinović will be presenting work titled “Control and restructuring in Wolof”: ABSTRACT: In this talk I discuss the phenomenon of control in the Niger-Congo language Wolof, which has the following interesting properties. First, Wolof only exhibits Exhaustive Control; Partial Control is not possible in the language. Second, all control predicates in Wolof exhibit restructuring properties, both those that cross-linguistically generally restructure, and those that have been argued to never restructure. And finally, only predicates that do not take direct objects participate in control. I will show that these properties give support to Grano’s (2012, 2015) claim that there are two strategies for establishing control: one that results in Exhaustive Control (for Grano, following Cinque (2004), this is raising), and another that results in Partial Control (involving a PRO). Wolof has only one of those strategies. While Wolof does not have direct evidence that the strategy resulting in Exhaustive Control indeed involves raising, it does offer some indirect support for this. First, all control structures restructure, suggesting a reduced complement size that would allow raising. Second, only verbs with no objects allow control, which straightforwardly follows from the Minimal Link Condition. And finally, even if raising to object exists (as argued in Postal 1974), it does appear to be cross-linguistically rare. If EC is raising, this would explain the absence of object control in Wolof. I offer additional evidence for a reduced structure of infinitival complement from cliticization.  

McGill @ NELS 51

Mon, 11/09/2020 - 02:00

The 51st Annual Meeting of the Northeast Linguistics Society (NELS 51) took place virtually this past weekend, organized by the UQÀM. McGill presenters included:

  • Justin Royer – Subject or possessor? Binding and the ‘Low/High-ABS’ parameter in Mayan
  • Jonathan Palucci & Luis Alonso-Ovalle – Numeral any: In favor of viability

Full conference information can be found here:

MCQLL Meeting, 11/4 — Emi Baylor

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 02:40

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, November 4th, 1:30-2:30pm), Emi Baylor, masters student at McGill School of Computer Science and Mila, will be presenting on her work with morphological productivity. Bio and talk abstract are below.

If you would like to attend the talk but are not already on the MCQLL listserv, please sign up at this link as soon as possible, as there is still a registration step that needs to be completed after that.

Bio: Emi Baylor is a masters student at McGill Computer Science and Mila. She is interested in computational morphology, multilingual NLP, and low resource languages, as well as the combination of all three.

Abstract: This work investigates and empirically tests theories of linguistic productivity. Language users are able to make infinite use of finite means, meaning that a finite number of words and morphemes can be used to create an infinite number of utterances. This is largely due to linguistic productivity, which allows language users to create and understand novel expressions through stored, reusable units. One example of a productive process across language is plural morphology, which generalizes the use of plural morphemes in a language to novel words. This work investigates and empirically tests theories of how this generalization of forms is learned and carried out, through data from the complex German plural noun system.

Fieldwork Lab, 11/5 — Dorothea Hoffmann

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 02:40

The next Fieldwork Lab Meeting will be on November 5th, 2020, this week exceptionally at 2:30pm. (Contact Carol-Rose Little if you would like to join.)

Dorothea Hoffmann will present a talk entitled “Event- and team-based fieldwork with a non-profit in comparison to the “lone-wolf” approach: A personal account”.

This paper compares “traditional” academic fieldwork in Australia as a “lone-wolf” linguist with the event- and team-based approach developed by the non-profit organization The Language Conservancy (TLC) in the US and Canada. After briefly describing my fieldwork methods and experiences working in the Northern Territory of Australia with the Malak Malak, I will shift focus to my work on North American languages such as Acoma Keres, Ute Mountain Ute, Ho-Chunk, and Stoney Nakoda. I will place particular emphasis on describing a modification of the Rapid Word Collection method (RWC), which was originally developed by SIL International (2010) in order to create practical dictionaries in a relatively short period of time. TLC adapted the semantic domain associations of the RWC method to the North American endangered language situation where both literacy levels and number of speakers are generally low. As a result, TLC developed a specialized software tool to collect both written and audio recordings for each entry in the semantic domain database in a two-week workshop setting.

After a workshop is completed, all collected data is consolidated into a digital spreadsheet and checked to ensure standardized spelling, accurate transcription, and grammatical consistency by a team of experienced linguists. The data is being flagged and organized so that it can be reviewed and re-recorded by fluent speakers in subsequent weeklong workshops. These workshops become true community events bringing Elders and speakers together in an effort to document an endangered language for the purposes of language revitalization. Additionally, the speed and efficiency of the process ensures that high-quality language materials can be delivered into the hands of the community in a relatively short period of time.

SIL International. (2010). Retrieved 2020, from
Warfel, Kevin. (2016). Dictionary Production: Rapid Word Collection Method. [Brochure]. SIL International. Retrieved 2020, from word-collection-flyer

Dorothea Hoffmann holds a BA/MA in German and English linguistics and literary studies from the University of Konstanz, Germany and a PhD in linguistics from the University of Manchester, UK entitled “Descriptions of Motion and Travel in Jaminjung and Kriol”. She spent 5 years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago working on the Australian languages Malak Malak and Matngele. She started working for the non-profit organization The Language Conservancy in 2017 and is now Linguistic Project Manager. She has researched various Australian and North American Indigenous languages  and is enthusiastic about language documentation and revitalization.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 11/5 — Will Johnston

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 02:30

This week’s Syntax-Semantics Reading Group meeting will take place Thursday, November 5 at 1:30pm. Will Johnston will present work in progress, titled “Nonspecific promises: the structure of intensional transfer-of-possession verbs.” 

Incoming professor James Crippen featured in McGill Reporter

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 02:00

James Crippen, who will begin a tenure-track faculty position in the Department of Linguistics in January 2021, was featured last week in the McGill Reporter, together with six other new Indigenous faculty members. James is currently finishing up a postdoctoral fellowship at Simon Frasier University, and recently completed his doctoral dissertation at UBC. Read the full article here, and stay tuned for an official McLing welcome post coming soon!

James Crippen pictured lower left corner

Welcome to Montreal postdoctoral fellow, Alexander Göbel!

Mon, 11/02/2020 - 02:00

Alex Göbel, who recently finished his Ph.D. at UMass, just made it across the border to start his postdoc at McGill! He will be working Michael’s prosody.lab, on a postdoc funded through a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, as well as funding from a SSHRC Insight grant. Welcome Alex!

MCQLL Meeting, 10/28 — Michaela Socolof

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 02:40

At this week’s MCQLL meeting (Wednesday, October 8th, 1:30-2:30pm), Michaela Socolof, PhD student in the McGill Linguistics department, will be presenting on her work with idioms and compositionality. Bio and talk abstract are below.

If you would like to attend the talk but are not already on the MCQLL listserv, please sign up at this link as soon as possible, as there is still a registration step that needs to be completed after that.

Bio: Michaela Socolof is a PhD student at McGill Linguistics. She is interested in syntax and semantics, with a focus on using computational tools to explore questions in these domains.

Talk: This work addresses the question of how idioms should be characterized. Unlike most phrases in language, whose meanings are largely predictable based on the meanings of their individual words, idioms have idiosyncratic meanings that do not come from straightforwardly combining their parts. This observation has led to the commonly repeated notion that idioms are an exception to compositionality that require special machinery in the linguistic system. We show that it is possible to characterize idioms based on the interaction of two simple properties of language: the extent to which the word meanings are dependent on context and the extent to which the phrase is stored as a unit. We present computational approximations of these two properties, and we show that our measures successfully distinguish between idiomatic and non-idiomatic phrases.

Syntax/semantics group, 10/29 – Jonathan Palucci and Justin Royer NELS practice talks

Mon, 10/26/2020 - 02:30

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday October 29th at 1:30pm. Justin Royer and Jonathan Palucci will be presenting work that they will be presenting at the upcoming NELS conference. Justin’s talk is titled “Binding and the low/high abs parameter in Mayan” and Jonathan’s is titled “Numeral any: In favour of Viability”.


Back to top