November 28, 2013

Alexei and Majed in Edinburgh

Alexei Kochetov and Majed Al-Solami attended Ultrafest VI in Edinburgh, Scotland (November 6-8), a conference on ultrasound-based vocal tract imaging. Alexei gave a talk 'An ultrasound study of retroflex and alveolar laterals in Kannada', co-authored with his collaborators at the All-India Institute of Speech And Hearing. Majed gave a talk 'Ultrasound and acoustic study of gutturals and emphatics in three Arabic dialects' based on his ongoing generals paper research. The program also featured Natalia Lapinskaya's poster 'An exploratory ultrasound investigation of emphatic articulation in Cairene Arabic' based on her undergraduate independent research project.

Congratulations, Dr. Ali!

Congratulations to Abdel-Khalig Ali, who on Nov. 22 defended his dissertation "Syllabification and phrasing in three dialects of Sudanese Arabic." Abdel-Khalig was supervised by Elan Dresher. The committee included Keren Rice, Peter Avery, Yoonjung Kang, Arsalan Kahnemuyipour and external examiner Stuart Davis (Indiana University). There was a joyful and memorable celebration afterwards, which reunited many past members of the department for the first time in a long while, including Juli Cebrian, Chiara Frigeni, David Bennett, Trisha Causley and Naomi Cull.

Guest Speaker: Elizabeth Allen Smith (Nov 29)

We are having a guest speaker event this week (November 29th) in Sid Smith 560A at 3pm (=3:10 U of T time). A reception in the department lounge will follow.

Elizabeth Allyn Smith (Université du Québec à Montréal)works on the semantic-pragmatic interface cross-linguistically and how it is influenced by a range of other factors, from syntactic to psycholinguistic to socio-phonetic. Her talk is entitled:

"Cross-linguistic differences in direct refutation and what they say about the interaction of grammar and context"

Most sentences contain multiple kinds of meanings: the main point of the assertion, things you presuppose, things you imply, various secondary points or ‘asides’, the source of your information, your commitment to it, how you feel about it, etc. Participants in a conversation can take issue with any of these meanings, but not always in the same way. For example, most researchers believe, following, e.g. von Fintel 2004 and Simons et al. 2011, that a contrast exists between (1b), which refutes the assertion in (1a), and (1c), which refutes its presupposition.

(1) a. Person 1: John is at the zoo again.
      b. Person 2: No, that’s not true, he’s home sick.
      c. Person 2: #No, that’s not true, he’s never been to the zoo until now.

 This talk attempts to answer the questions (i) what kinds of meanings can really be directly refuted (and whether it differs cross-linguistically), and (ii) what properties determine whether something can be directly refuted. I review previous proposals before presenting experimental results from English, Spanish and Catalan showing more heterogeneity than expected in the literature. I then present necessary revisions to theories of structured contexts to accommodate these results, explaining how syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic properties are all at play.

Psycholinguistics Group (Nov 29)

The psycholinguistics group is meeting on Friday, Nov 29th. Elizabeth Allyn Smith will be visiting from UQAM and will present her work entitled "Examining the perceptual persistence of presuppositions with and without controlling prior discourse context". The meeting with take place in the usual time (10:15) in the usual place (Sid Smith 560A).
 E. Allyn Smith works on the semantic-pragmatic interface cross-linguistically, and how it is influenced by a range of other factors, from syntactic to psycholinguistic to socio-phonetic. You can read more about her work here:

Syntax Project (Nov 29)

Syntax project will take place Friday, November 19th, from 12-2 pm in SS560A. Diane Massam will be presenting "Two is or not two is?" (short abstract below).

Abstract: I will discuss the syntax of intrusive 'be' constructions such as "The thing is is that I like you." and "I realized when he said that is he just doesn't care."  I will summarize the literature on these constructions, propose a new unified analysis for them, and then explore some of the issues raised, involving topics such as equative/predicative sentence types, agreement , and argument sharing.

November 23, 2013

Fall Convocation 2013

Eight department members received degrees on Friday, November 15: Sarah Clarke (Ph.D.), Bridget Jankowski (Ph.D.), Clarissa Forbes (MA), Jada Fung (MA), Phil Howson (MA), Dan Milway (MA), Becky Tollan (MA), and Michelle Yuan (MA).

Dan Milway, Clarissa Forbes, Becky Tollan, Elizabeth Cowper, Jada Fung, Alana Johns, and Michelle Yuan. (Photo credit: Radu Craioveanu.)

Sarah Clarke (Ph.D.) and Becky Tollan (MA). (Photo credit: Radu Craioveanu.)

Jada Fung (MA), Michelle Yuan (MA), and Becky Tollan (MA). (Photo credit: Radu Craioveanu.)

Congratulations to all of our new alumni!

November 20, 2013

LVC Group meeting (Nov 22)

The LVC Group will be meeting this week, Friday 10am-12pm, in SS560A. Marisa Brook will be speaking about relativizers in the town of Belleville. Darcie Blainey will be talking about Louisiana French.

Phonology group meeting (Nov 22)

The phonology group is meeting this week, 12-2 in SS560A. The group will be discussing a recent paper by Sara Mackenzie (PhD 2009) in Phonology"Laryngeal co-occurrence restrictions in Aymara: contrastive representations and constraint interaction."

Upcoming talks by department members

On Thursday Nov. 21 SLUGS is hosting a talk by Matt Hunt Gardner, Derek Denis, Marisa Brook and Sali Tagliamonte: "The new global flow of linguistic influence: Be like at the saturation point." This will take place at 4pm in SS 2120.

On Thursday Nov. 28, Arsalan Kahnemuyipour and Susana Bejar will be presenting an invited talk at York University: "Non-canonical agreement in copular contexts." This will take place from 5:15-6:15 in Ross S 562.

Nicole Rosen and Elizabeth Johnson awarded Canada Research Chairs

Nicole Rosen (PhD 2007)

Alumna Nicole Rosen (PhD 2007)  has been awarded a prestigious (SSHRC) Canada Research Chair in Language Interactions at the University of Manitoba. Nicole will be leaving the University of Lethbridge to take up this position in January 2014. Congratulations, Nicole!

Graduate faculty member Elizabeth Johnson (UTM, Psychology) has been awarded an (NSERC) Canada Research Chair in Spoken Language Acquisition at U of T. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

November 14, 2013

1st Undergraduate Linguistics Conference at the Centre for French and Linguistics (UTSC)

The Centre for French and Linguistics at UTSC is hosting its 1st Undergraduate Linguistics Conference on November 15. This all-day event runs from 10am-5pm, in IC 318 (UTSC), with a continental breakfast provided at 9:45am.

Phil Monahan will deliver the keynote lecture: "Identifying linguistic pieces in the brain: how the brain can inform us about the language and what language tells us about the brain."

The complete program is available here

November 11, 2013

Talks at GALA and the Little v Workshop

 Ailis and Becky in Leiden

Becky Tollen and Ailis Cournane have recently returned from Europe. Becky gave a talk at the Little v Workshop in Leiden (Oct 25-26) entitled  "Case marking and sensitivity of little v: evidence from dialectal". Ailis, who also attended the workshop, was in Oldenburg Germany earlier in the fall (Sept 5-7) for GALA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) where she gave a talk, "Acquiring changes: The (re)mapping of modal verbs into diachronic innovations"

 Ailis at Gala (Photo courtesy of alumna Lyn Tieu (MA 2008))

Features Workshop in Tromsø

Elan Dresher and Elizabeth Cowper returned last week from a workshop on features in Tromsø, Norway: Features in Phonology, Morphology, Syntax and Semantics: What are they?.

Elan gave an invited talk: The arch not the stones: Universal feature theory without universal features.

Elizabeth co-presented a talk with alumnus Daniel Hall (PhD 2007): Reductio ad discrimen: Where features come from

Also, recent alumna Sarah Clarke (PhD 2013) presented a poster: Features across domains: The nominal-aspectual parallel.

Elizabeth and Elan with Betsy Ritter
Sarah with Wendy Sandler

November 8, 2013

Congratulations to Richard Compton!

Congratulations to Richard (PhD 2012), who has won a teaching award from the Department of Language Studies at UTM. Above is a picture of him at the ceremony on October 25.

Catching up on recent talks by faculty and students

People in the department were busy over the past month giving talks. Here is a round-up of some of the news we missed in October (and there's more to come):

At NELS 44 (U Conn, Oct 18-20), Will Oxford (PhD) gave a talk entitled "The Activity Condition as a Microparameter." And Avery Ozburn (PhD) presented a poster with Alexei Kochetov entitled "Non-local laryngeal alternations in Lezgian: An Agreement by Correspondence analysis."

Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux gave two invited talks in Europe. On October 8 she presented "What RCs tell us about the syntax and semantics of complex structures in children," at the Goethe University Frankfur. On October 18 she presented a seminar "Continuity, structure and recursion: DP internal PP attachment in English-speaking children", at the Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona, in Barcelona. Also, from August 12-16, Ana was a guest lecturer  at the 2013 Graduate Institute, Universidade Federal de Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where she lectured on the Acquisition of Bilingual Syntax.

Michela Ippolito has just returned from a workshop on conditionals at the University of Konstanz that brought together linguists and philosophers working on conditionals in North America and Europe.

Yoonjung Kang gave an invited talk titled "A corpus-based study of positional variation in Seoul Korean vowels<>" at Japanese/Korean Linguistics 23 <>, held at MIT, October 11-13. Also in attendance was our recent graduate, Kyumin Kim (PhD, 2011) who gave a talk titled "Idioms in Korean and Japanese: phase-based account". <> The conference was also a chance to catch up with Isaac Gould (MA, 2010) and Michelle Yuan (MA, 2013) currently studying at MIT, who send their greetings!

LGCU Welcome Workshop 5

Today is the fifth LCGU Welcome Workshop. This annual event gives our new MA and Ph.D. students an opportunity to introduce the rest of the department to research they've done over the course of past studies. The workshop will take place from 2pm to 7pm in SS560A. The schedule is posted on the door of the lounge. Seven of our new MA students and five Ph.D. students are taking part this year:

Michael Schwan
Gitksan 'ejectives'

Jessica Mathie
Antipassives and transitivity in Australian languages

Julianne Doner
How regular stress became lexical: Changes in stress from Latin to Spanish

Kazuya Bamba
The 'selflessness' of grammar: A diachronic study of Romance reflexives

Danielle Moed
Against the NP-Movement Hypothesis in English middle constructions

Emilie LeBlanc
A phonetic and phonological study of Chiac as spoken by Moncton adolescents

Maida Percival
The perception of Hul'q'umi'num' ejectives by native speakers of English

Richard Gananathan
An OT account of Ojibwe syncope in the Ottawa dialect

Tomohiro Yokoyama
Japanese honorifics and their structures

Naomi Francis
The marking of future uncertainty in Nata

Daniel Milway
Pro-drop in English and German: Evidence from particle verbs

The workshop was followed by a catered dinner in the department lounge. Thanks to Radu Craioveanu and the LGCU more generally for organising and funding the afternoon!

LVC Group Meeting (Nov 8)

This week the LVC Group has a visiting speaker: Véronique Lacoste (University of Freiburg) reporting on a project investigating the English of the Toronto Haitian community. They'll be meeting in SS560A as usual, from 10-12.

November 1, 2013

Massam 2014: Lasting Insights and Questions

Congratulations to Diane, whose 2000 paper "VSO and VOS: Aspects of Niuean Word Order" is excerpted in the newly published Wiley-Blackwell volume An Annotated Syntax Reader: Lasting Insights and Questions (edited by Richard Kayne, Thomas Leu and Raffaella Zanuttini). The volume compiles excerpts from classic syntax papers, dating back to 1966.

Guest Speaker: Morgan Sonderegger (Nov 1)

Morgan Sonderegger is visiting from McGill (, and will talk about "The dynamics of sounds on reality television" -- see abstract below.

The talk will take place in Sid Smith 560A (basement of Sid Smith), starting at 3:10pm. A reception in the department lounge will follow.

"The dynamics of sounds on reality television"

To what extent does an individual’s phonetics and phonology change during adulthood? Previous work has addressed this question on two timescales. In short-term laboratory settings, aspects of one's speech shift in response to the speech of others (e.g. Nielsen, 2008; Babel, 2009). It has been hypothesized that the accumulation of such shifts is an important source of accent change in individuals and sound change in communities (Delvaux & Soquet, 2007). However, studies of phonetic or phonological variables in individuals at times years apart have found huge variability: there is often no evidence for change for a majority of individuals, while a minority change significantly (e.g. Evans & Iverson, 2007; Sankoff & Blondeau, 2007). What is the link between the different patterns seen in short-term convergence and long-term dynamics? And more generally, what do phonetic and phonological dynamics in individuals look like at time scales in between?

We address these questions by investigating ‘medium-term’ trajectories of phonetic and phonological variation in a British reality television show, where speakers live in an isolated house for three months. We examine five variables in spontaneous speech from 12 contestants: voice onset time, coronal stop deletion, and formant frequencies for three vowels. As a preliminary step, we build a model of synchronic variation for each variable; these models yield interesting and surprising findings with respect to previous work. We then analyze the trajectory of each variable within individual speakers, controlling for linguistic factors. Variability is the norm: speakers and variables show several qualitatively different types of dynamics, with a significant minority showing stability. There is some evidence that particular speakers (across variables) and variables (across speakers) have characteristic dynamics. Long-term time trends do sometimes occur, which could be due to accumulation of short-term shifts. By contrast, day-by-day variation is very common. Our results suggest a tentative account of the relationship between short-term and long-term dynamics, and directions for future work.

Syntax/Semantics Project (Nov 1)

Syntax project will be held Friday, November 1st, in SS560A from 12-2 pm. Kenji Oda will be presenting, "On Apparent Adjective Fronting in Irish."

Psycholinguistics Group Meeting (Nov 1)

The Psycholinguistic Group is meeting Friday, November 1st in Sid Smith 560A and will start at 10:15. Morgan Sonderegger ( is visiting from McGill that day and will give a talk entitled "Voice onset time: automatic measurement and corpus studies"

"Voice onset time: automatic measurement and corpus studies"
 Large corpora of speech from laboratory and naturalistic settings are becoming increasingly available and easy to construct, and promise to change the questions researchers can ask about human speech production. However, this promise depends on the development of accurate algorithms to quicken or replace manual measurement, which becomes infeasible for large corpora. With some important exceptions (e.g. vowel formants), such algorithms do not currently exist for most quantities which are widely measured in phonetic research. The first part of this talk describes an automatic measurement algorithm for perhaps the most widely measured consonantal variable, voice onset time (VOT), which has been extensively studied since the 1960s (Lisker & Abramson, 1964). Our approach combines knowledge about the cues human annotators use to measure VOT with machine learning techniques for predicting structured output, to tailor an algorithm which learns to measure VOT nearly as accurately as humans (evaluated on several corpora), by training on a small number (50-200) of hand-labeled examples.

The second part of the talk will describe a corpus study of variability in VOT in British reality television speech enabled by our automatic measurement algorithm, which quantifies the relative importance of different factors affecting VOT in conversational speech (e.g. speaking rate, place of articulation, speaker gender). There have been very few previous studies of VOT in conversational speech (Yao, 2009); in addition to replicating many findings of laboratory studies, we find a number of novel and surprising effects, including inter-speaker differences in the strength of conditioning factors. Time permitting, we will also describe a a collaborative project applying the algorithm to studying real-time change in VOT in a speech community.