October 25, 2016

U of T linguists at USC!

U of T linguists presented their research last weekend at the 2016 Annual Meeting on Phonology, held October 21-23, 2016 at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

Yoonjung Kang & Jessamyn Schertz: The role of perceived L2 category in cross-language perception and implications for loanword adaptation

Michael Becker (Stony Brook University) & Peter Jurgec: Inconspicuous unfaithfulness in Slovenian

October 20, 2016

Throwback: old department branding

Courtesy of Jack Chambers, we have an old department letterhead (from around 1981) that shows an attempt at branding for our department. It was created by an (at the time) new office of the university that was charged with branding the various departments of the university.

October 19, 2016

Naomi Nagy guest lecture at NYU

Naomi kicked off the 2016-2017 NYU Linguistics Colloquium series with a guest lecture , "Cross-cultural sociolinguistic surprises in Toronto Talk," sharing some recent findings from the Heritage Language Variation and Change Project. The perk of talking about Heritage Languages? Being wined and dined by local linguists at Japanese, Chinese, Italian (and another)—2 of these because she works on 2 Italian varieties!—and Ukrainian venues, all in a 2-day stretch. Oh, and mustn’t forget the Mah Ze Dahr Bakery, with Pakistani roots. Its Urdu names means "the taste essence of food, its flavor and magic that make it delicious."

Bonus: catching up with new NYU prof Dr. Ailis Cournane, a recent grad of our department.
NYU may be the only linguistics department with its own doorman!

Ryan DeCaire on CTV about revitalizing indigenous languages

Ryan DeCaire, who was recently hired in a cross-appointment between the Centre for Indigenous Studies and the Department of Linguistics, was recently interviewed by CTV's Your Morning on language revitalization. The UofT news write-up about it is here, and the actual interview is available from CTV here.

October 18, 2016

2016 Inuit Studies Conference at Memorial University

The 2016 Inuit Studies Conference was held at Memorial University on October 7th-10th. Presentations of interest for our department:

Alana Johns (faculty): "Unikkâk: The Story of a Story"

Alana Johns (faculty) and Rita Andersen: "Phrases from Nunatsiavummiut"

Julien Carrier (Ph.D.): "Sociolinguistic study on the loss of ergativity in Inuktitut across Eastern Canada"

Zoe McKenzie (Ph.D.): "Multi-Functionality of the Optative Mood (in Inuktitut)"

Douglas Wharram & Ilia Nicoll (Ph.D.): "A tripartite classification of intransitive incorporating verbs in Inuktitut"

Richard Compton (Ph.D. 2012, now at University of Quebec at Montreal): "Incorporated nouns in Inuktitut as in situ objects"

Marina Sherkina-Lieber (Ph.D. 2011, now at York University): "Inuit who understand Inuktitut but who do not speak it: What do they know and what do they lack?"

October 17, 2016

Group photo at NELS 47

Some past and present members of our department at UMass Amherst for NELS 47 were able to meet up for a picture!
(L-R): Yining Nie (MA 2015, now at NYU), Michela Ippolito (faculty), Kenji Oda (Ph.D. 2012, now at Syracuse), Michael Barrie (Ph.D. 2006, now at Sogang University), Clarissa Forbes (Ph.D.), Michelle Yuan (MA 2013, now at MIT)

October 14, 2016

Talks by Bob Ladd and John Esling this week

This week was a busy and exciting P-side week in the department, with visits and guest talks by both Bob Ladd (University of Edinburgh) and John Esling (University of Victoria, emeritus). On Tuesday, Bob Ladd presented "Lexical Allophones", a discussion of marginal phonological contrasts, subject to both phonological conditioning and lexical effects. On Thursday, John Esling presented "The Effect of the Laryngeal Articulator on Vowel Quality", showing some excellent MRI images of different laryngeal states and their effects on tongue shape and cavity sizes. The abstracts for both talks are below.

The Phonetics Brigade
(L-R: Alexei Kochetov, John Esling, Jessamyn Schertz)

October 10, 2016

Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics: Alumni Issue (Vol. 37)

Volume 37 of TWPL (Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics) has recently been released. This is a special issue made up of submissions from alumni of our department, to celebrate the recent revival of TWPL (after the six year hiatus between Volume 34 and Volume 35). The submissions for this issue span four different subfields: phonology, syntax, language acquisition, and language variation and change. The alumni issue itself can be found on the TWPL site here, and past issues of TWPL can be found on the archive here. Good work, TWPL team!

October 6, 2016

LGCU Welcome Workshop

The 8th annual Welcome Workshop of the Linguistics Graduate Course Union (LGCU) will take place this Friday, October 7, in Sidney Smith Hall, Room 1083. Our new graduate students will be presenting their research, so please stop by and have a look!

The schedule is below.

1:00-1:10 Coffee & welcome
1:10-1:35 Lexical variation in syntactic profiles: New insights from world Englishes (Melanie Röthlisberger)
1:35-2:00 Frequency of use and lexical change: A case study of Latin and Spanish (Fiona Wilson)
2:00-2:25 Hooking up: Defining and using an ambiguous term in the college bubble (Savannah Meslin)
2:25-2:40 BREAK
2:40-3:05 The dark side of the loon or Joyeux No-dark-ël (Luke Zhou)
3:05-3:30 Enriching sociolinguistic categories: Evidence from variation within the adjective phrase (Lex Konnelly)
3:30-3:55 ‘It’s new, it’s wicked, it’s awesome’: Using adjectives to pinpoint the actuation of linguistic change (Katharina Pabst)
3:55-4:20 The interpretation of pronouns in proxy counterfactuals (Heather Stephens)
4:20-4:35 BREAK
4:35-5:00 De and Chinese morpho-syntax (Cater Chen)
5:00-5:25 Restrictive relativized constituents and verbal predicates in Krio: An investigation of the accessibility hierarchy (Brea Lutton)
5:25-5:50 Relexification of Haitian Creole with French (Sarah Newman)

Fieldwork group meeting at 12:30

The Fieldwork Research Group will be meeting from 12:30-1:30 tomorrow (Friday, 7 October) not 1:00-2:00, in order to allow people more time to attend the Welcome Workshop.

October 4, 2016


The 47th annual meeting of the North East Linguistics Society is being held at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from October 16th to 18th. The program is available here. Of interest:

Will Oxford (Ph.D. 2014, now at the University of Manitoba): "Person dissimilation in the derivation of agreement alternations"

Yining Nie (MA 2015, now at New York University): "Why is there NOM-NOM but no ERG-ERG?"

Michela Ippolito (Faculty): "Indefinite Pronouns"

Clarissa Forbes (Ph.D.): "Aggressively ergative agreement in Gitksan"

October 1, 2016

Sali Interviewed for Her New Book on Teenager Language

Sali Tagliamonte (faculty) was recently interviewed for her new book Teen Talk: The Language of Adolescents on specific features of teenager speech in English (including "like" and "stuff", and online writing conventions) as well as the role of teenager speech in language change more broadly. The interview can be found here on New Books Network.

September 29, 2016

Phonology and psycholinguistics research group meetings

The first official meeting of the Phonology Research Group is this Friday, September 30, from 9:30 to 11:00 am in SS560A.  The speaker is Suyeon Yun, our new postdoc this year.

The Psycholinguistics Research Group will be meeting on October 7,  from 9:30 to 11:00 am in SS560A. The speaker is Jessamyn Schertz of the Department of Language Studies at UTM.

September 26, 2016

RCM highlights Susana & Abdel-Khalig's daughter!

The Royal Conservatory of Music is using this photograph of an inspired young violinist in its publicity materials, and it is easy to see why. Though the musician is unidentified, we know that it is Dalila, daughter of Susana Bejar (Linguistics Faculty) and Abdel-Khalig Ali (PhD graduate and Faculty in U of T's Department of Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations).

Congratulations to Dalila, Susana and Abdel-Khalig for this stealth media appearance!

September 23, 2016

A conversation with Alana Johns

by Sali Tagliamonte

 Alana Johns is retiring at the end of 2016-2017, marking a 20 year sojourn at the University of Toronto and a lifetime of linguistic research on Inuktitut and especially within Inuit communities in Labrador. Although Alana is retiring from the Department of Linguistics, she will continue to do research. Her plan is to devote herself full time to five SSHRC research projects, including one to collect, transcribe and analyze oral stories and conversations working with Inuit research assistants who will ensure that the materials are made available to Inuit communities. I spoke to Alana on August 26th about this important milestone in her life.

Early days of discovering linguistics

Alana was at Carleton University in Ottawa in the 1970’s. Like most people she didn’t know Linguistics existed. “I was very interested in languages, learning about them, learning to speak them. When I hit upon Linguistics, it seemed to be very attractive because it involved languages and it involved analysis. And I really liked complex words right from the very beginning.”
Things got really exciting for Alana when she became a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. She was asked by Doug Walker to supervise a summer student project on Ojibwe and she got to do fieldwork to her heart’s content and ended up doing her MA on the topic.
At the time, the University of Ottawa had just started a new PhD program and Alana was among one of the first students to enter the program.  She says, “we were a motley crew.” Sitting in on a graduate course on morphology with John Jensen, the students were going through Marantz’s thesis  that had just come out (Marantz, Alec. 1978. On the Nature of Grammatical Relations. Ph.D. thesis, MIT.) and Alana knew enough about Inuktitut by that time to think that his ideas about ergativity couldn’t entirely be right. However, to argue against his analysis she needed critical Greenlandic data, but fortunately she didn’t have to go to Greenland. She found a language consultant in Montreal. Alana demonstrated that what Marantz had proposed “did not go through entirely”. Moreover, reading the thesis was good training in constructing analyses as a foundation for future research.
Alana was hired by Memorial University in St John’s to do research on Labrador dialects of Inuktitut. During her time there she would go up to communities in Labrador in the summer to teach Linguistics, Inuktitut language and do research. In 1996, she was lucky enough to get a position at the University of Toronto. She was very excited by the challenge of a busy, strong institution but the thing that struck her the most when she first arrived was the quality of the graduate students. “I would like people to consider that one of the first times I taught morpho-syntax, in that class, was Milan Rezac, Susana Bejar and Daniel Currie Hall. You know we tell the graduate students that they learn from each other, but we’re learning from them a lot too!”

Advances in understanding Polysynthesis

Alana’s career has focused on trying to understand the complex morphology of Inuktitut as a polysynthetic language. “One of the things we always thought about was what rules will give you these complex words. The rules that we had already thought about for English wouldn’t give you the complex words. You could see they were related but they weren’t exactly the same. If you take an English sentence and you just cram it all into one word, that doesn’t give you a polysynthetic word. So, then how do you get it?”
Alana developed the idea that all the verbs that are involved in noun incorporation were not regular verbs; they were light verbs. There were no verbs like ‘tickle’ or ‘brush’ or ‘smash’. They were all verbs like ‘get’ or ‘have’ or ‘be’.
Then Richard Compton and Christine Pitman came up with the idea that maybe the complex verb was a phase, a specific limited domain in syntax. You take an English sentence and take out anything that’s an NP and then take everything you have left and smoosh it together. “I never wanted to eat apples.” If you took out ‘apples’, ‘never wanted to eat’ would be the verb. It was a very pretty idea.”
“My current interest is to try and look at it from the perspective of agreement. It may be that instead of agreement it involves clitic pronouns. I want to see if I can do a formal treatment of it. However the collection of data to do this work coincides with what the community wants. The majority of written Inuktitut that is available in communities is a translation from English sources. Very few of the written materials were originally composed in Inuktitut. I think there should be natural written materials of the language for native speakers.”
Alana goes on to explain that, “Inuit don’t tell stories. Their accounts are either true accounts of what they saw in their lifetime or traditional stories, true accounts of things they didn’t witness. So, there is no story idea. There is no sense of fiction. People don’t make things up. It’s almost like they are on the stand all the time.” She muses that if Inuit start writing in their own language they might come up with a whole new genre.

What has it been like working on Inuktitut and what would you like people to know about it?

There’s always two sides [Alana Johns: two things about Inuktitut]. On the Linguistics side I would like people to know that the language has these complex words that seem very very different from English. But the more you look at it, the more you realize it’s got a lot of similarities to English, you just have to turn it upside down. If you turn something and invert it, it’s not like it’s randomly related to the other thing. In fact Inuktitut complex words are ordered the inverse to English. So, if you wanted to say “I want to drink some tea” you would start with “tea” and “drink”, then “want”, then “I”. So, there’s all these relationships that make you see that it’s similar to English. It’s the opposite order but it’s the same order.
From the other part of my research, which is always more on the community side, I’ve always wanted people to realize how interesting indigenous languages are and then of course the whole issue of people trying to keep them healthy in the modern framework.
The writing issue is also important. You go all across the Arctic. You might go into a cultural centre and you’ll see a bank of tapes “Oral Inuktitut” and then you see another bank of paper, “English Translation”. But what you don’t have is the bank of paper, “Inuktitut Transcription”. That’s the missing piece. And I think it’s a rich piece that needs to be increased and brought into a position of strength, as a tool within the community.

What is the project you will be doing in your retirement?

Together with Sipila Tuglavina, the Language Co-ordinator in Labrador, we’re going to make a written description of how the Inuktitut writing system works and make it public. Then, the plan is to have workshops teaching people how to use it. At the same time we’ll collect written data. The whole idea is to strengthen knowledge of the Inuktitut writing system. At the same time, I can teach a bit of Linguistics, which is very useful to sort out controversies about language. A healthy Linguistics perspective is extremely useful and we will teach the Linguistics that is useful in that context.
Another current project is to produce a phrase book on Inuktitut. It will be marketed to the Inuit themselves but the book may also be used by other people. The kinds of phrases that will be in the book are ones that people can use in everyday conversations. Phrases such as “that tastes good”, or Aso! (which means “so” or “really!”).

What did you enjoy about working in the Department of Linguistics?

I enjoyed being Graduate Coordinator because the students were very good and it’s an opportunity to fix a few things. I enjoyed teaching because you learn so much from teaching and it’s so nice to see students developing.

What will you miss the most?

I’m hoping I won’t miss anything! But if I think of it in terms of what will I look back fondly on, it would be the research projects with the graduate students.
I remember one time we were in Baker Lake. I was with Midori Hayashi and Conor Cook and Richard Compton and we were invited us to go out ice fishing. This was June in Baker Lake. You had to go out on skidoos all day. Richard and I thought, “no!” But Connor and Midori agreed to go. You had to take a boat from the shore across the melted water to the ice where you got on the skidoo. It was cold and it was blowing. They looked a little miserable, but off they went. Richard and I went back to the house and drank tea and read Linguistics and everything. So, we were kind of smug. They came back at 11pm that night and they were so happy. They brought back char that they’d caught. Midori was admiring the spots on the belly of the char. Conor cooked up the char. He’s a wonderful cook. So, Richard and I actually went out the second time because we realized that we’d really missed out on a really wonderful experience. [This is an abbreviated version of the actual story: Alana Johns, fishing story]

I have a lot of nice memories!

September 21, 2016

Slavic Linguistic Society Conference at U of T!

This coming weekend, a number of University of Toronto linguists will present at the 11th annual meeting of the Slavic Linguistic Society, hosted by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literature at the University of Toronto. It will be in Carr Hall and Alumni Hall Friday, 23 September to Sunday, 25 September.

ELAN DRESHER (Faculty)  & DANIEL HALL (PhD grad, now at St. Mary’s)
Halle’s ‘Sound Patterns of Russian’: The Road Not Taken

An acoustic comparison of Russian & English sibilant fricatives

Shifting through history: Lexical stress in East Slavic

Exceptionality and conspiracy in Polish vowel-zero alternations

A preliminary ultrasound analysis of liquids in Upper Sorbian

JULIE GONCHAROV (PhD grad, now at Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
What can silent elements tell us about grammar?

MARINA SHERKINA- LIEBER (PhD grad, now at Carleton)
Acquisition of Russian embedded yes-no questions by monolinguals and heritage speakers

Case Marking Variation in heritage Slavic Languages in Toronto

September 20, 2016

Michelle Troberg honoured for TA mentorship!

The LGCU decided last year to present an annual award to a faculty member who showed excellence and dedication in the mentoring of teaching assistants. Linguistics faculty of any rank, from sessionals to emeriti, are eligible.
This year, Michelle Troberg (UTM) received the award. Elaine Gold and Eri Takahashi received honourable mentions.

The award includes a certificate as well as either a pub night with the grad students sponsored by the LGCU or a gift certificate.

Congratulations, Michelle!

Canadian Language Museum now open!

The Canadian Language Museum officially opened on 19 September, in its permanent location in Glendon College, with speeches by Elaine Gold (Director of the Museum), the Principal of Glendon College, Donald Ipperciel, Maya Chacaby (Glendon College's Course Director of Linguistics and Languages), María Constanza Guzmán (Director of the Centre for Research on Language and Culture Contact), Amos Key Jr. (Assistant Professor at U of T's Centre for Indigenous Studies), and Roberto Dante Martella of Language & Linguine.
 We hope all U of T linguists will pay a visit before long to congratulate Elaine and her team on their new home!

September 18, 2016

The Undergraduate Awards 2016: Honours for UofT Undergrads

The Undergraduate Awards (UA) is an awards program recognizing research and original work done by undergraduates in the sciences, humanities, business and creative arts. It received 5,514 submissions for 2016, and those ranked in the top 10% of their category were deemed "Highly Commended Entrants". Among those receiving that honour in the category of Languages & Linguistics includes UofT students: Leah Brainin, who submitted her paper written in Meg Grant's class this spring, and Anneliese Mills. See a full list for Highly Commended 2016 here. Congratulations both of you!

September 14, 2016

Dan Milway's response to a Scientific American article on Universal Grammar

Dan Milway (Ph.D.) recently wrote a response to a popular science article in Scientific American that presented a grim view of Chomsky's idea of Universal Grammar in linguistics. Dan's response, "Don’t believe the rumours. Universal Grammar is alive and well." (available here), makes reference to some of the research going on in this department. The original article, "Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning" by Paul Ibbotson and Michael Tomasello, is available here.