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The McGill Linguistics Department Newsletter
Updated: 16 hours 12 min ago

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.

P* Reading Group, 4/12 — Alex Zhai

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 03:00

This Monday at 12:30pm, Alex (Z.) will present on her project titled “Acoustic characteristics of vowel reduction in advanced Spanish-English bilinguals”. All are welcome! To join the meeting, please use the information in the confirmation email that you received following registration. If you haven’t registered, please do so here.

Fieldwork Lab, 4/15 — Will Johnston

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:30

This week, Will Johnston will present a talk titled: “Verb serialization as event-building: Evidence from Hmong”. (This is a 20-minute practice talk for MOTH; abstract follows.) Fieldwork Lab meets on Thursdays, though due to the unusual class schedule, Fieldwork Lab will exceptionally begin at 4:15 this week.

Abstract:  I examine two common and highly productive types of serial verb construction in Hmong (Hmong-Mien). These are the so-called ‘Attainment’ SVCs, which express telicity, and ‘Cause-Effect’ SVCs, which express direct causation. I argue that both are reflexes of the same underlying system: both are formed by merging multiple verbal roots within the event-building portion of the verbal projection. I then discuss the extent to which this treatment might apply to other types of SVCs in Hmong.

Colloquium, 4/16 — Lisa Matthewson

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:20

Our next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia) on Friday, April 16th, at 3:30pm. The title and abstract are included below.

If you have not yet registered for the colloquium series, please do so here (you only need to register once for the 2021-2021 year). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website.

Evidential-temporal interactions do not (always) come for free

Lisa Matthewson (joint work with Yuto Hirayama)

Evidentials are usually assumed to encode the speaker’s source of evidence for their utterance. However, a growing body of research proposes that evidence source does not need to be hardwired into the lexical entry of the evidential morphemes; instead, evidential restrictions can be derived from temporal or aspectual information in the rest of the sentence (e.g., Chung 2007, Lee 2013 for Korean; Koev 2017 for Bulgarian; Bowler 2018 for Tatar; Speas 2021 for Matses).

In this talk we argue that the derivation of evidence source from temporal information is not always tenable. Drawing on data from five languages from four families, we argue that evidentials can lexically encode restrictions on the time the speaker acquired their evidence for the truth of the prejacent proposition (the Evidence Acquisition Time). Evidentials can do this independently of temporal marking elsewhere in the sentence, and they sometimes must encode both temporal and evidence source information.

In particular, we argue that English inferential apparently and seem, the Japanese indirect evidential yooda and reportative sooda, and the St’át’imcets (a.k.a. Lillooet; Salish) perceived-evidence inferential an’ all require that the earliest time their prejacent p becomes true, EARLIEST(p) (cf. Beaver and Condoravdi 2003) precedes or coincides with the Evidence Acquisition Time. Conversely, English epistemic should and the German epistemic modal sollte encode the opposite relation: EARLIEST(p) must follow the EAT. A third group of evidentials encode no temporal restrictions: the English epistemic modal must, St’át’imcets inferential k’a and reportative ku7, and Gitksan (Tsimshianic) inferential ima and reportative gat. Comparing temporal evidentials with non-temporal ones supports the view that a temporal component is hardwired into the lexical semantics of the former set. Finally, the fact that the temporal contributions cross-cut the evidential ones supports the proposal that one cannot be reduced to the other in these languages.

Syntax/semantics group, 4/16 – Mathieu Paillé

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:20

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, April 16th at 2:30pm. Mathieu Paillé will present a 20-minute talk entitled “Généraliser l’unicité thématique: une alternative à base d’exhaustivité.”

The talk will be in French but following discussion can be in either French or English. The talk is meant for an audience of both syntacticians and semanticists.

Abstract: En général, les propositions simples n’admettent pas plus d’un constituant portant le même rôle thématique; c’est ce qu’on appelle l’unicité thématique (une idée bien connue par la seconde clause du critère thêta de Chomsky (1981), par exemple). On peut observer cela dans une phrase comme #Louise mange avec une fourchette avec une cuillère, où il y a deux instruments. Dans cette présentation, j’argumente que le concept d’unicité thématique est en fait un cas spécial d’un phénomène sémantique plus général. On compare donc le cas de #Certaines lettres pour Amy sont pour Simon (une violation d’unicité thématique) à d’autres effets semblables chez les prédicats simplexes, par exemple #Certaines responsabilités provinciales sont fédérales. Qu’elle soit «thématique» ou «prédicationnelle», je propose que cette unicité provient du renforcement sémantique des constituants en question, mais qu’il s’agit d’une sorte de renforcement particulière: les constituants doivent apparemment être renforcés localement (Chierchia et al. 2012), puisqu’un renforcement global ne créerait pas de contradiction interne à la phrase, et donc aucune illicéité.

Move and Agree, 4/16 – Neda Todorovic presents Barany and van der Wal 2021

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:20

The Move & Agree Reading Group is meeting this Friday, April 16 and Neda Todorovic will be discussing Barany & van der Wal 2021 paper entitled “We-dont-agree (only) upward”. Please contact Hermann Keupdjio for Zoom information.

Bernhard Schwarz promoted to Full Professor

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:00

McLing is very pleased to report that Bernhard Schwarz has been promoted to Full Professor. Congratulations Bernhard!

Michael Wagner at UPenn

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:00
Michael gave a colloquium talk at UPenn on March 25, titled “Two dimensional parsing and the iambic-trochaic law”. Abstract:
The ‘Iambic-Trochaic-Law’ of rhythmic perception holds that alternating long and short sounds are perceived as sequences of binary groups with final prominence; alternating soft and loud sounds as sequences of binary groups with initial prominence. This talk reports on experiments that illustrate how the ITL emerges from the way listeners parse the signal along two in principle orthogonal perceptual dimensions, grouping and prominence. Evidence from production experiments shows that intensity and duration correlate when cueing prominence (syllables carrying word stress or focal stress are loud and long) and anti-correlate when cueing phrasing (word-final and phrase-final syllables are soft and lengthened, word- and phrase-initial syllables are loud). Listeners exploit this cue relation when deciding what aspects of the signal to attribute to each dimension. Syllables that are excessively long are perceived as final and prominent (leading to the perception of iambs), syllables that are excessively loud as initial and prominent (leading to the perception of trochees), but these two cases (which the ITL is based on) are only a small part of the more general pattern, to which the notions of iamb and trochee are not central. The decisions about grouping and prominence are orthogonal in principle, but they compete for explaining overlapping cues, and they mutually constrain each other.  This perspective on prosodic parsing raises new questions about why exactly we often even perceive a rhythm when listening to sequences of acoustically identical tones or syllables (a phenomenon called ‘subjective rhythm’), as well as about rhythmic differences between languages.

Michael Wagner in GLOW “targetted collaborative debate”

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:00
Michael will debate Arto Anttila (Stanford) in a “Targeted Collaborative Debate” on April 16 at the upcoming 44th meeting of Generative Linguistics in the Old World (GLOW 44) conference, held virtually. Arto Anttila (Stanford University) and Michael Wagner (McGill):  “What is deaccentuation?” The full program is available here:

Hermann Keupdjio at SAIAL

Mon, 04/12/2021 - 02:00

Postdoctoral fellow Hermann Keupdjio will be giving two talks at Syntactic Asymmetries in African Languages (SAIAL 2021), organized virtually by Potsdam Linguistics, April 15–16.

  • Hermann Keupdjio – Wh-/focus movement and the in-situ/ex-situ partition in Bamileke Medumba
  • Hermann Keupdjio and Christelle Niguieu Toukam – Syntactic asymmetry between multi-event and causative SVCs in Bamileke

The full program is available here:


Fieldwork Lab, 4/8 — Hermann Keupdjio

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 02:30

This Thursday, during Fieldwork Lab, Hermann Keupdjio will talk to us about doing a virtual fieldtrip. Contact Carol-Rose Little if you would like to join.

Doing a virtual “fieldtrip”:

Collecting data from understudied languages is a vital enterprise that enriches our knowledge of the nature of human language. Accomplishing this with in person visits is invaluable, however, in addition to the current pandemic situation, there is an urgent need for more data, and a limited number of linguists with the training and resources to conduct field work. In this situation, online experiments provide a powerful supplementary tool for linguists and fieldworkers studying underdocumented languages. Specifically, rather than supplanting fieldwork, online experiments can allow for an expansion of field work with pre-visit pilots and follow-up experiments. More importantly, they are a helpful tool in creating and enhancing global collaborations and capacity building between field linguists, members of understudied language communities, and linguists without field training.

MCQLL Meeting, 4/8 — Michaela Socolof

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 02:30

This week’s MCQLL meeting on Thursday, April 8 at 1:30-2:30pm, will feature a talk from Michaela Socolof, a third year PhD student in the Linguistics department at McGill.

Abstract: I will be presenting an overview of issues relating to the syntax of relative clause constructions across languages. The purpose of this talk is to explore possibilities for computational projects in this area.

If you would like to attend the talk but have not yet signed up for the MCQLL meetings this semester, please send an email to

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 4/9 — Martina Martinović

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 02:20

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Friday, April 9th at 2:30pm. Martina Martinović will be presenting joint work with Dr. Ryan Bochnak (UBC).

Flavours of the future: The case of Wolof di

The auxiliary di in Wolof (Niger-Congo) is associated with several readings: an event-in-progress/progressive reading, a habitual reading, and a future reading. Interestingly, the availability of these readings depends on di’s structural position: when it is below C, all readings are available, but when it is in C, only the future reading is possible. We provide a unified analysis of the readings of di by combining and expanding on several independently motivated analyses for progressives, habituals, and modality. We propose that the behaviour of Wolof di provides new evidence for the idea that modal height correlates with modal flavour (Hacquard 2010, Kush 2011), specifically, that different modal bases are available at different syntactic heights because of the availability of different types of modal anchors. Progressives and habituals crucially involve event-relative circumstantial modality (Portner 1998, Ferreira 2016), and futures are derived from either a circumstantial or epistemic modal base (and give rise to different readings).

Colloquium, 4/9 — James Crippen

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 02:20

Our next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by James Crippen (McGill University) on Friday, April 9th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Aspect and related phenomena in Tlingit: Looking down to composition”. The abstract can be found at the end of this message.

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). For more information on upcoming events in the McGill Linguistics department, please see our website.

I present the basic parameters involved in aspect, tense, mood, and modality in Tlingit, searching for some possible avenues for a formal, compositional analysis that matches the morphosyntax. Na-Dene languages like Tlingit, Navajo, and Ahtna are famous for their “elaborate aspectual systems” (Mithun 1999: 166). The complexity of these systems is opacified by their peculiar descriptive terminology (Cook 1984: 120; Mithun 1999: 362) which evolved apart from mainstream temporal semantics. Given a Minimalist syntactic model of the Tlingit verbal system (Crippen 2019), we would like a semantic model that proceeds compositionally along the same structures. But a compositional approach to aspect is incompatible with the standard non-compositional analyses in the family (Cook 1984: 119; Leer 1991: ch. 8; Axelrod 1993: ch. 3; Smith 1997: 329 n. 7; Young 2000). This suggests that the system needs to be deconstructed and reanalyzed with compositionality in mind. Looming large in the morphosyntax of aspect is the conjugation class system that expresses spatial semantics and which seems to be extended to time in the grammar. In addition, the lexical aspect classes known as “verb theme categories” (Kari 1979; Leer 1991: ch. 7; Axelrod 1993: ch. 5) and their rich systems of derivation (Kari 1992) directly impinge on the realization of aspect and other temporal meanings. I suggest some directions for the analysis of aspect that take into account the spatial and lexical aspect categories and point toward the possibility if not the reality of a compositional semantics for aspect and related phenomena in Tlingit and other Na-Dene languages.

Axelrod, Melissa. 1993. The semantics of time: Aspectual categorization in Koyukon Athabaskan. Lincoln, NE: Univ. of Nebraska Press.
Cook, Eung-Do. 1984. A Sarcee grammar. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Crippen, James A. 2019. The syntax in Tlingit verbs. Vancouver: UBC, PhD diss.
Kari, James. 1979. Athabaskan verb theme categories: Ahtna. Fairbanks, AK: ANLC.
Kari, James. 1992. Some concepts in Ahtna Athabaskan word formation. In Morphology Now, M. Aronoff (ed.), pp. 107–131. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Leer, Jeff. 1991. The schetic categories of the Tlingit verb. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago, PhD diss.
Mithun, Marianne. 1999. The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: CUP.
Smith, Carlota. 1997. The parameter of aspect. Dordrect: Kluwer Academic.
Young, Robert W. 2000. The Navajo verb system: An overview. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press.

Move and Agree group, 4/9 – Terrance Gatchalian presents Bjorkman and Zeijlstra 2019

Tue, 04/06/2021 - 02:20

The Move & Agree Reading Group is meeting this Friday, April 09 and Terrance will be discussing Bjorkman and Zeijlstra’s 2019 paper entitled Checking Up on (ϕ-)Agree. Please contact Hermann Keupdjio for Zoom information.


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