21 November 2014

Talk on non-academic jobs for linguists

The LGCU is kicking off its new Job Application Workshop Series (JAWS) with a session on jobs for linguists outside of academia, to be presented by Naoko Tomioka. This will be held in the department lounge on Thursday, November 27 at 7 PM, with pizza served beforehand at around 6:30 and time for questions and discussion afterwards. If you're interested in attending and have not already done so, please RSVP.

Special Workshop on Linguistics, Data, and Market Research
Naoko Tomioka, Ph.D. (Data Scientist/Linguist, iPerceptions)

In this workshop, I will talk about the field of VOC (Voice of Customer) Research, Big Data, and how linguistics can make important contributions to market research. I work at iPerceptions (www.iperceptions.com) as a data scientist/linguist. After finishing my Ph.D. in linguistics at McGill University, I spent two years as a post-doctoral researcher, and then started exploring the world outside of academia. In my current work, I use my knowledge of linguistic theory to extract insights for market research. You can find an example of my work in this blog entry, in which I apply the semantics of gradable adjectives to better understand customer feedback. Print Page

Basement deluge!

The ground floor and subground level of Sidney Smith Hall are in the process of drying off after a water-main break early on Thursday morning; these floors will be closed until Monday at the earliest. Classes and meetings normally held on one of these floors have been relocated, and our lab managers are investigating the extent of the water damage. Watch for announcements and signage about areas of the building that are still closed. If anyone has been left with an irrepressible desire to go swimming, the Athletic Centre across the street is recommended. Print Page

20 November 2014

Guest speaker: Susi Wurmbrand (University of Connecticut)

Our department is pleased to welcome guest speaker Susi Wurmbrand from UConn. Her research is centred around theoretical syntax, especially with reference to Germanic languages. She will be giving a talk on Friday the 28th in SS 560A, starting at 3:15 PM: Restructuring cross-linguistically: Evidence for three clausal domains. The talk will be followed by a reception in the department lounge.

Since the seminal works by Rizzi and Aissen & Perlmutter many important studies of restructuring/clause union have been provided in various generative frameworks. Due to the variability of contexts that allow restructuring (both within and across languages), most studies are restricted to specific languages and the conclusions reached in those works (e.g., about the size of restructuring infinitives or the mechanisms creating restructuring effects) are often contradictory. In this talk, I provide an overview of restructuring in 23 typologically diverse languages, and I argue that rather than a single restructuring “parameter” there are specific points of variation that conspire to create different degrees of restructuring. The cross-linguistic distribution of three restructuring properties (long object movement, clitic climbing, inter-clausal scrambling) shows that two types of restructuring need to be distinguished: voice restructuring, which determines whether a language does or doesn’t allow long object movement (such as long passive), and size restructuring, which regulates the distribution of clitic climbing and scrambling. Concretely, I argue that the cross-linguistic diversity of restructuring is derived from the existence/absence of a particular voice head and the location of the target position of scrambling and clitic movement. Following Grohmann (2003), I adopt the view that clauses are composed of three domains (A’-domain, tense domain, and thematic domain), and that size restructuring, which is hypothesized to be available universally, arises when the tense and/or A’-domains are not projected. The cross-linguistic differences in the availability of clitic climbing and inter-clausal scrambling are attributed to different target positions of these operations. Restructuring effects only arise when the target position of clitics/scrambling is within a domain that can be omitted as part of size restructuring. If the target position is in a domain lower than the domain(s) affected by size restructuring, restructuring effects do not arise. One of the main general contributions of this study is that despite the initial diversity of restructuring, certain generalizations emerge that allow us to separate language-specific points of variation from the contribution of UG that restricts this variation in predictable ways.

Susi will also be giving a shorter talk earlier that afternoon for the Syntax/Semantics Squib Section group, from 1 PM to 2 PM and also in SS 560A: Crossing phases: The cost of QR.

In this talk, I discuss issues regarding the determination of the syntactic domains which can be crossed by quantifier raising (QR). A long-standing question, for instance, is why QR is apparently clause-bound in English and not possible out of finite clauses, whereas overt A’-movement (wh-movement, topicalization) can escape from finite clauses via successive cyclic movement. The issue becomes even more puzzling when scope in antecedent contained deletion (ACD) contexts is considered, which, assuming ACD is resolved via QR, point to the conclusion that QR out of finite clauses is possible when ACD resolution is at stake. A final issue concerns the variability in judgments and significant variation across speakers, which is found mostly when QR out of infinitival clauses is considered, but also for QR from finite clauses. Based on the judgments and generalizations reported for English and Italian, the main observation I make in this talk is that scope interpretations requiring QR decrease in acceptability the more syntactic domains are crossed by movement. The hypothesis I put forward is that rather than imposing restrictions on the syntactic domains from which quantifier raising is possible (e.g., QR is ‘clause-bound’) or the application of QR itself (e.g., via Scope Economy), QR obeys the same syntactic restrictions as other A’-movement operations—i.e., QR is in principle possible successive cyclically, thus also across finite clauses. However, due to its invisibility, QR incurs a processing cost which increases with increased complexity of the structure as defined by a theory of syntactic phases. Thus, decreased acceptability (which is often gradient) reflects increased processing difficulty rather than a syntactic violation. This approach offers an explanation for the variability in judgments reported in this area, and it has consequences for the theory of syntactic movement and the determination of syntactic domains. Print Page

18 November 2014

2nd Annual UTSC Undergraduate Linguistics Conference

This Friday will be the second annual Undergraduate Linguistics Conference at UTSC. Sixteen students will be presenting, and the conference will end with a keynote lecture by postdoc Jessamyn Schertz. Best of luck to all involved! Print Page

Onwards and upwards for Do I Sound Gay?

There has been a considerable amount of attention garnered by David Thorpe's documentary Do I Sound Gay?, which investigates the properties of voices and language across the sexuality spectrum and features our own Ron Smyth along with a number of prominent LGBT celebrities (Dan Savage, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, etc.). The film was premièred at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 7th with both Thorpe and Savage in person to lead a discussion. In attendance were a number of linguists from the U of T and York. Do I Sound Gay? ended up being named the runner-up for the People's Choice Award in the documentary category.

More recently, on November 13 Do I Sound Gay? was the opening presentation at the fifth annual New York Documentary Film Festival. CBS reviewer David Edelstein mentioned it among his favourite films of the festival, and the film was also discussed in Maclean's magazine. Once the film has secured a distribution deal, it will be for sale (on DVD and via streaming), in cinemas, on television, and on Netflix.

Ron and the film are also discussed in the forthcoming book Real Men Don't Sing: Crooning and American Culture, 1925-1934 (Duke University Press), by Allison McCracken of DePaul University. Ron contributed information for Allison's final chapter, in which she examines the history of how crooners fell out of favour in the US because their voices were too gay-sounding.

Congratulations to Ron for all of the publicity! Print Page

Research Groups: Friday, November 21

Note that there is no psycholinguistics group this week.

Note also that due to the basement flooding in Sidney Smith Hall, both of the following meetings will be in atypical rooms:

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM in UC 163
Syntax/Semantics Group
Departmental alumnus Carson Schütze (MA 1991, now at UCLA) will be giving a talk: "(How) Can syntacticians' empirical claims be tested with naïve speakers?"

Technology now allows linguists to gather large amounts of judgment data from naïve speakers (of English, at least) quickly and cheaply. But we shouldn’t be naïve about how the data so gathered can be turned into a solid empirical base for (syntactic) theory. Previous work has established some lower bounds on the proportion of data presented in works on theoretical syntax that can be confirmed with samples of naïve speakers, yielding numbers around 93–98%. In this talk I go beyond those important findings and present new experimental data to address the following questions:

1) Are some of the nonconfirmations spurious, in that they reflect something other than naïve speakers' linguistic competence?


2) Can we find general ways of reducing the spurious results, and will that yield a higher proportion of confirmations?


3) In approaching 2), is it useful to try to understand what naïve speakers are doing when asked to provide acceptability judgments?


1:00 PM - 2:00 PM in SS 2112
Fieldwork Group
Ravi Wood on his experiences attending CoLang 2014 (the Institute on Collaborative Language Research) over the summer.

Print Page

12 November 2014

Matt Gardner is cookin'


Ph.D. student Matt Gardner triumphed under difficult conditions on the TV series "Pressure Cooker" (W network) last night (Tuesday the 11th). The show required him to compete in two cooking contests - a semi-final and final - and his dishes were judged best in show by a celebrity taster. Both contests entailed choosing ingredients as they whizzed by on a conveyor belt and then using all of the ingredients in the resulting dishes, all with a 30-minute time limit. Matt cooked numerous dishes (including, believe it or not, a meringue made in a microwave), but he received high praise from the taster for a chicken slider with homemade biscuit bun and sweet potato fries, and for a pudding that was a variant on an Eton mess.

Congratulations, Matt!


(Post courtesy of Jack Chambers.) Print Page

11 November 2014

Report from NELS45

As announced previously, NELS45 took place in Boston from October 31st (Hallowe'en!) to November 2nd, hosted by MIT. 

Count David Pesetsky delivering the opening remarks.
Several current and former U of T'ers presented posters at the conference: PhD student Tomohiro Yokoyama, alumni Will Oxford (PhD 2014, now at Manitoba) and Keir Moulton (MA 2002, now at Simon Fraser), and former visiting professor Tyler Peterson (now at Arizona). 

In addition to the presenters, PhD students Radu Craioveanu and Ross Godfrey and postdoc Bronwyn Bjorkman attended the conference, as did Maayan Abenina-Adar (BA 2013) and two alumnae now at MIT, Naomi Francis (MA 2014) and Michelle Yuan (MA 2013). Sadly, Will and Tyler were not around for the U of T group picture.



Bronwyn, Maayan, Radu, Ross, Tomo, Naomi, Michelle, Keir.
Looking up at the MIT Department of Linguistics & Philosophy.
Everyone had a great time at NELS45, and we look forward to NELS46 at Concordia!


Photos courtesy of Radu Craioveanu.
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Research Groups: Friday, November 14

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Group
Discussion of the Journal of Sociolinguistics debate (2014) over the place of the media in language-change.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Peter Jurgec: "Variable palatalization in Slovenian: Local and long-distance restrictions in a derived environment effect."

Slovenian velar palatalization has been described as a morphologically and lexically restricted, variable derived environment effect (Toporišič 2000). I present a corpus-based study which for the first time also considers phonological factors. Much of the variation turns out to be conditioned by local and long-distance consonant co-occurrence restrictions. Velar palatalization is most strongly affected by local phonotactics. In particular, palatalization is blocked if it would result in an illicit consonant cluster, while palatalization invariantly applies to remove an illicit consonant cluster. The more surprising finding is that other consonants anywhere within the root and suffix also have a strong effect. For example, palatalization of the stem-final k → ʧ is more likely if the stem contains another velar stop, but less likely if it the stem contains another affricate or a postalveolar fricative. This effect is weaker if the suffix itself contains another affricate. These data present a previously unknown type of local derived environment effects that are blocked at a distance.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Discussion of post-verbal agreement. Print Page

06 November 2014

Guest speaker: Gerard Van Herk (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

We are pleased to welcome Gerard Van Herk to our department next week. Gerard is a variationist sociolinguist who holds a Canada Research Chair in Regional Language and Oral Text at Memorial University of Newfoundland. His recent work has been centred around investigations of Newfoundland English. Other topics that he has worked on include African-American Vernacular English, Caribbean languages and dialects, and the Northern Cities Vowel Shift. He is also keenly interested in research methodology and education.

His talk will take place on Friday, November 14, in SS 560A, beginning at 3:15 PM. It will be followed by a reception in the department lounge.

Undergraduate big research: Learning and useful data?

Attested pedagogical benefits of undergraduate research include gains in research skills, independence, career preparation and degree completion (Kardash 2000, Seymour et al. 2004, Lopatto 2003, Nagda et al. 1998). But when instructors scale up projects to satisfy quantitative disciplines, we must balance pedagogical needs (student engagement and learning) with research imperatives (producing robust findings).

This talk describes research projects that engage neophyte sociolinguistics students in data collection and analysis, but that can also contribute useful data to the discipline. In intensifier studies, students harvested linguistic data from online sources. In an ongoing survey study (15 classes to date), they conducted professor-designed surveys of language use in Newfoundland and Labrador. In both cases, students coded their data, a professor collated it, and students analyzed an aspect of the findings that interested them.

After reviewing the pedagogical rewards of such projects, which include student attendance, retention, class participation, and on-time submission (Van Herk 2008), the talk will demonstrate the value of the resulting data through multivariate analysis of the linguistic and social constraints on 9446 tokens of intensifiable adjectives (e.g., very slow, really slow) and the social distribution of survey responses for five variables – interdental stopping in voiced and voiceless contexts (dat ting for that thing), non-standard verbal s-marking (I loves it), locative to (Where are you to?), and the traditional lexical item fousty (‘musty, smelly’). Print Page