February 28, 2013

Research Groups: LVC (March 1/2013)

The LVC group is meeting at an unusual time this week, from 10am-12pm, in SS560A.

The speaker will be James Walker of York University.

Post courtesy of Marisa Brooks

MOTH at McMaster on March 2

The first ever meeting of the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton Workshop in Syntax (MOTH) is taking place on March 2 at McMaster. The workshop brings together graduate students and faculty from four Canadian universities - McGill, U of Ottawa, U of Toronto and McMaster. The  program is  posted at www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~linguistics/MOTH/.

Presenters from U of T include 
  • Julianne Doner: A Typology of EPP-Checking Mechanisms
  • Michelle Yuan: On the phasal status of DP in Inuktitut
  • Safieh Moghaddam & Monica Irimia: On Split Ergativity - evidence from Davani
  • Rebecca Tollan: Deriving morphological ergativity in Basque
Bronwyn Bjorkman and Elizabeth Cowper are giving an invited talk: Possession and necessity: from individuals to worlds.

Sali Tagliamonte Wins Killam Research Fellowship

Congratulations to Sali Tagliamonte, who has been awarded a two-year Killam Research Fellowship from the Canada Council for the Arts for her work on language change in Canadian English!

Sali has been conducting fieldwork in several communities in various parts of Ontario for the past several years in order to document characteristics of the local dialects and to learn more about the history of these communities. She has developed several corpora through this research, and has been helping undergraduate students get firsthand experience in conducting sociolinguistic interviews through the independent experiential study program at U of T.

Sali has also already conducted extensive research on dialects of Britain which had not been studied before, the findings of which are published in her 2012 book, Roots of English: Exploring the History of Dialects.

Congratulations again to Sali for earning this well-deserved time to devote herself to research, and we look forward to hearing about her new findings!

February 27, 2013

Canadian Language Museum: New Exhibit Opening

The CLM’s new exhibit 'Speaking the Inuit Way' will be opening in Wilson Lounge, New College at 4:30 pm on Thursday March 28. Over the past year, the CLM’s first exhibit 'Canadian English, Eh?' has toured to universities in Toronto, Kingston, Waterloo, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax and St. John's. The Canadian Language Museum was established in 2011 and its current focus is on promoting awareness of languages spoken in Canada through creating and touring traveling exhibits. Future plans include an exhibit on Canadian French for 2014 and on Cree for 2015. The U of T Department of Linguistics has been very active in the development and support of the CLM.  Elaine Gold is the Chair, Keren Rice is the Vice-Chair, Jack Chambers and Alana Johns have consulted on exhibit content, and many graduate students have volunteered their time and expertise. 


Post courtesy of Elaine Gold

February 26, 2013

TULCON 6 this weekend

The Society of Linguistics Undergraduate Students (SLUGS) at the University of Toronto is hosting its 6th annual Toronto Undergraduate Linguistics Conference (TULCON), this weekend, March 1-3. This is a great opportunity for undergraduate linguists to meet their peers and share their work. It is also a great opportunity for others to hear about the work undergraduates at U of T and elsewhere are doing.

The program is impressive and includes presenters from U of T, York, McMaster, Concordia, McGill, Carnegie Mellon University, Queens College (CUNY), Hunter College (CUNY), Michigan State University, and Seoul National University.

Tyler Peterson and Keren Rice are keynote speakers.

The program can be viewed here:


And you can register here:


Keren Rice in Chatelaine Magazine

Keren is featured in a story published yesterday by Chatelaine Magazine entitled "Five successful women share their pivotal career moments." Check it out! (And thanks to Cristina Cuervo for the tip).


Guest Speaker: Daniel Currie Hall (March 1/2013)

Speaker: Daniel Currie Hall (Saint Mary's University)

Title: Contrast and redundancy: What does phonology know, and when?

Time: Friday, March 1, 3pm

Place: Sid Smith 560A


It has often been observed that the contrastive or redundant status of a feature (on a particular segment, in a particular language) is relevant to how that feature behaves phonologically. There is less agreement, however, as to precisely how contrastiveness exerts its influence. This talk addresses two crucial pieces of this puzzle. First, how are features identified as contrastive or redundant? I argue that a set of contrastive feature specifications for a given inventory must be (a) one that is sufficient to differentiate all the phonemes in the inventory and (b) one in which every feature that is assigned serves to mark some phonemic distinction. I contrast this with a narrower definition of contrast based on minimal differences between phonemes, and show that the broader definition allows for a stronger claim about the importance of contrast: Only contrastive features are visible to the phonological computation. This point is illustrated with examples of vowel patterns in Uyghur, Inuktitut, and Anii. Second, what is the role of non-contrastive features? Here, I examine data from Yowlumne Yokuts to argue that phonology must be able to insert redundant feature values into representations, but that it does not need to be able to see those feature values once it has done so.

Guest Speaker: Meg Grant (Feb. 28/2013)

Speaker: Meg Grant

Title: "Subset comparatives require more than (just) world knowledge"

Time: Thursday, February 28, 2:30 pm

Place: Sid Smith 1086


Comprehending a comparative construction like (1) requires the reader or listener to represent two sets of entities in mind and establish an ordered relationship between the cardinalities of these sets.

(1) More men than women came to the party.

The sets under comparison in examples like (1) are often understood to be disjoint, based on the conceptual or world knowledge of the comprehender. However, this is not always the case. In this talk, I will present an investigation of the process by which readers establish relationships between sets in comparatives during on-line sentence processing. To address this issue, I will present the results of studies of eye movements during the reading of a previously unstudied type of comparative, which I call subset comparatives. Subset comparatives are comparatives in which the two sets are understood to be in a (proper) subset relationship, such as (2).

(2) More birds than eagles flew over the conservation area.

Based on the results of these studies, I will argue that what is critical in the initial processing of comparatives is the expectation that the sets compared will be disjoint (the Contrast Preference Hypothesis). It is this disjointness assumption, rather than a bottom-up identification process based on lexical, conceptual or world knowledge, that determines how readers initially analyze the input. The examination of subset comparatives opens up a new empirical domain for examining preferences and default interpretations of relationships between sets in sentence processing, and also presents new questions for the theory of the syntactic and semantic representation of comparative constructions.

February 21, 2013

New baby!

Brenna Haimes Kusumoto <umhaimes@cc.umanitoba.ca>, who earned her MA in Linguistics at U of T in 2009, and her partner Clara had a baby boy, Aurelio Spencer Haimes-Kusumoto on Feb 4th, 2013. He weighed 7 lbs 7 oz and measured 50 cms (a little mix of imperial and metric for you). She also has a great research page: http://brennahk.blogspot.ca/.

Posted courtesy of Naomi Nagy

February 20, 2013

Are you considering graduate study in linguistics at U of T?

If you've been considering graduate study in our department, read this post! Five students answer four questions about their experience in our PhD program. Shayna Gardiner, Emily Clare and Julien Carrier are new to the program this year. Shayna works on the morphology and syntax of Middle Egyptian. Emily works on acoustic phonetics and speech recognition. Julien works on the morphosyntax of Itivimiut (Inuktitut). Christopher Spahr and Matt Hunt Gardner are in their 2nd and 3rd years, respectively. Christopher works on the phonology and prosody of Finnish and Finno-Ugric. Matt works on language variation and change in Cape Breton English.

Shayna Gardiner (PhD1)

1. Where did you come from?
I come from Ottawa originally, and did my MA at U of Ottawa as well. I did my undergrad at Queen's.

2. Why did you come to U of T?
I came to U of T because I heard great things about the PhD program and the Linguistics department as a whole. It's one of the best schools in the country, and the Linguistics program is ranked very high globally as well. I also needed someplace with an Egyptology department because I'm interested in Middle Egyptian — U of T is the only school in Canada that has this.

3. What did you find here that made you glad you came?
Classes here are great; they're fun, interesting, and challenging. Professors are always ready to help, the other students are friendly, and the atmosphere is welcoming and cooperative rather than harsh or competitive like some other schools. Plus, U of T has great resources for linguists! My work requires the use of ancient Egyptian textual material as data. I've been able to receive permission to access the Royal Ontario Museum's materials and I've been working with the Egyptology department at U of T as well.

4. Did anything surprise you when you got here?
I was pleasantly surprised by how helpful and supportive everyone is; it's always confusing when you move to a new city, so it was great to have friendly and knowledgeable people around when I had questions.

Emily Clare (PhD1)

1. Where did you come from?
I did my BA in Linguistics at the University of Wisconsin in the US and my MA in Phonological Development in Childhood at the University of York in the UK.

2. Why did you come to U of T?
I applied to schools which valued experimental approaches while still maintaining a strong theoretic core. There were a number of people here whose work I was interested in, and when I came to meet them they were welcoming and fun to talk to. I also spoke with some current students about the faculty, because one of the most important things to me was that the faculty was not divided.

3. What did you find here that made you glad you came?
The dynamic of the department is great. I love how social it is and how the students and faculty interact regularly and comfortably. Everyone is so encouraging and interested in everyone else's work.

4. Did anything surprise you when you got here?
I was surprised by how much time some people spend at the department!

Julien Carrier (PhD1)

1. Where did you come from?
I’m from Saint-Georges de Beauce in Qu├ębec.

2. Why did you come to U of T?
I decided to do my doctoral studies at the University of Toronto to work with Alana Johns, who has built up a tremendous expertise on Inuktitut. Also, I knew that doing a PhD in English and having a diploma from a reputed university such as U of T would increase my employment opportunities afterward.

3. What did you find here that made you glad you came?
The teachers and the quality of education honour the university’s reputation.

4. Did anything surprise you when you got here?
I have to say that the warm welcome from all the previous students surprised me a lot and helped me to quickly integrate myself into the department.

Christopher Spahr (PhD2)

1. Where did you come from?
I'm originally from Long Island, New York, but I did my undergrad at SUNY Albany.

2. Why did you come to U of T?
I had heard that the department had a good reputation, but I decided to apply for the MA program after visiting Toronto and thinking that it looked like a great place to live. I've long wanted to live in Canada, and grad school seemed like the perfect opportunity to do so. That was over two years ago now, and I haven't regretted my decision yet!

3. What did you find here that made you glad you came?
First and foremost, the people. The faculty and graduate students are all so friendly and passionate, which makes for a remarkably stimulating environment, both socially and academically. I've made a lot of good friends and learned a whole lot.

4. Did anything surprise you when you got here?
Only how natural (though slow) it's been transitioning from being someone who liked linguistics to someone who feels like he could be a real academic. I'm taking it one step at a time!

Matt Hunt Gardner (PhD3)

1. Where did you come from?
I grew up in Sydney, Nova Scotia, which is on Cape Breton Island and is the site of my current research. I did a French and Journalism degree at the University of King's College in Halifax, Nova Scotia and an MA in Linguistics at Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. I lived in St. John's for three years prior to coming to U of T.

2. Why did you come to U of T?
I came to U of T specifically to work with Sali Tagliamonte and Jack Chambers. Sali
and Jack, and their students, are at the cutting edge of variationist sociolinguistic research and the study of Canadian English. U of T is also likely the best linguistics department in Canada.

3. What did you find here that made you glad you came?
I came from a very small linguistics department, where there weren't many other graduate students. Here there is a real community of graduate students who advise, revise, commiserate, celebrate, and motivate. It was this community feeling here that tipped the scales for me when deciding between programs.

4. Did anything surprise you when you got here?
I was surprised by how much I got into phonology, and how diverse the undergrads are.

February 14, 2013

Guest Speaker: Peter Graff (Feb. 15, 2013)

 Speaker: Peter Graff (MIT) http://web.mit.edu/graff/www/

Title: "Communicative Efficiency in Phonology"

Time: Friday Feb. 15th, 3pm.

Place: Sid Smith 560A (ground floor) (Sid Smith is located at 100 St. George St.)

In this talk, I present novel typological and behavioral evidence suggesting that phonological patterns derive from communicative efficiency: The cross-linguistic patterning of sounds and words as well as the ways in which speakers produce them are geared towards achieving a high rate of information transmission given the effort invested by the speaker (Lindblom, 1990; Flemming 1995). First, I show for the first time that the relative occurrence frequencies of different sounds in 60 languages from 25 major language families may be understood in terms of communicative efficiency. Building on well-known findings about the relative perceptibility of voicing contrasts in different contexts (Raphael, 1981), differences in the effort involved in articulating different voiced stops (Ohala & Riordan, 1979), and information theory in the sense of Shannon (1948), I derive a measure of communicative efficiency for frequency distributions over voiced and voiceless stops in context. I show that the efficiency of natural language frequency distributions over those categories is significantly greater than expected from chance.

Next, I present evidence that redundancy in the lexicon is not randomly distributed, but instead exists to supplement distinctions between meaningful linguistic units that are hard to perceive. Specifically, I show that the number of words disambiguated solely by a given contrast (i.e., minimal pairs) decreases as a function of the perceptibility of that contrast, beyond what is expected from the probabilistic patterning of the contrasting sounds. The lexicon as a whole is thus organized in ways that minimize the confusability of words given the effort invested in their production.

Finally, I present behavioral evidence suggesting that language production at the sound level seeks to maximize the rate of information transmission and minimize speaker effort (cf Aylett & Turk, 2004). I report on a phonetic corpus study of F2-transitions into stops and stop burst durations showing that these acoustic cues to place of articulation stand in a probabilistic trade-off relation. When stop bursts are long, F2-transitions are correspondingly small, while when stop bursts are short, F2-transitions are correspondingly large. This trade-off is expected if the articulatory effort invested in the production of the burst is reduced where formant transitions convey sufficient information for the listener to recover the place of a stop.

Taken together, these results suggest that communicative efficiency shapes human language phonology, the lexicon, and the ways in which humans use sounds and words to communicate intended meanings.

February 12, 2013

Cristina Cuervo in the Globe and Mail (The Prequel)

We posted last week that Cristina had been quoted in the Globe and Mail in an article on the benefits of immersion. However, we failed to report that she had been quoted a few weeks earlier in a January article on the language of emotion (Globe and Mail, Jan. 10, 2013). Here is the link:


Research Groups: Syntax/Semantics (Feb. 15/2013)

Courtesy of Julianne Doner

Speaker:  Olga Kharytonava (University of Western Ontario)

Title:  "The complexity of -(s)I in Turkish compounding."

Time: Friday, February 15th from 1:00-2:45pm (note special time)

Place: SS560A

Research Groups: Psycholinguistics (Feb. 15/2013)

Courtesy of Daphna Heller

Speaker: Yujeong Choi's presents this Friday.

Title: "Repair negotiation by English L2 learners"

Place: Sid Smith 560A

Time: Friday, February 15, 10:15am


This study examines English second language (L2) learners’ repair negotiation in task-based interaction and the effectiveness of repair negotiation on the linguistic knowledge of non-native speakers (NNSs) through the framework of Long’s (1996) Interaction Hypothesis. Three research questions were proposed: (1) How do different types of tasks relate to NNS repair organization? (2) Does repair negotiation lead to development of linguistic targets? (3) Does type of task affect development of morpho-syntactic features? The results of two experiments with L2 speakers of English indicate that type of task does affect repair negotiation; self-initiated repair was elicited most frequently in decision-making tasks whereas other-initiated repair was elicited most frequently in one-way information gap tasks. In addition, the results suggest that repair negotiation and task type affect linguistic targets differently. Past tense is learned more effectively than relative clause through interactive tasks between NNSs. Type of task also differently influenced the learning of the two linguistic targets; one-way information gap tasks were more effective for learners in the short term than were decision-making tasks. Through the analysis of repair negotiation between NNSs, this study provides support for the Interaction Hypothesis and has implications for task-based instruction in the classroom.

Diane at COOL9

Diane gave a talk at the Conference on Oceanic Languages in Newcastle, Australia last week. The conference organized a trip to an Australian bush reserve to see native plants and animals. Here is Diane with Eric Potsdam, Masha Polinsky, and Ileana Paul, after visiting the kangaroos and koala bears.

February 6, 2013

Guest Speaker: Anne-Michelle Tessier (Feb. 8/2013)

Speaker: Anne-Michelle Tessier (University of Alberta) http://www.ualberta.ca/~annemich
Title: "Serial vs. Parallel Phonology: Learners, Errors and Consequences"
Time: Friday, Feb. 8, 3pm
Place: Sid Smith 560A (ground floor) (Sid Smith is located at 100 St. George St.)

This talk discusses the long-standing question of whether phonological processes are applied in a serial order, or all at once in parallel, from the perspective of phonological learning and learnability. While nearly all of my previous acquisition research has used a fully parallel grammar (as in classic OT or Harmonic Grammar), this work explores the learning potential of Harmonic Serialism (HS: McCarthy 2008ab and many others), which blends serial derivations and constraint interaction in a novel way. In this talk, I discuss two consequences of phonological learning in an HS framework: arguing that HS avoids predicting one set of unattested developmental stages, but also that HS considerably complicates the acquisition of inventory restrictions. The take home message will be optimistic, in that Harmonic Serialism offers a new perspective on the notions of phonological mapping and derivation, and its *finite* notion of a candidate set (cf. the infinite candidate set of classic OT) may allow for an improved theory of how both phonotactics and alternations are acquired.

February 5, 2013

Will Oxford at WCCFL

Will Oxford will be presenting a paper at WCCFL next weekend at Arizona State University. The title of his talk is "Multiple instances of true phi-agreement in the clausal spine."

Also presenting is recent alumnus Richard Compton, who will be presenting "Word-internal XPs and right-headedness in Inuit."

Guest Speaker: Chandan Narayan (Feb. 7/2013)

Speaker: Chandan Narayan (UTSC)
Date: Thursday February 7th
Time: 2:30pm
Place: SS1086.

Title: “The Phonetic World of Infants: Perceptual Biases and the Acoustics of Input.”


In this talk I explore the interrelatedness of types of speech sounds infants are able to perceive, the peculiarities of infant-directed speech (IDS), and the shapes of the world’s sound systems. The connections between first language acquisition, phonological typology, and sound change have been questioned in the past mainly from the standpoint of the emergence of children’s *productive* phonology, the speech sounds they are able to make. My research program takes a different perspective, approaching possible links between acquisition, typology, and sound change as a function of infants’ innate perceptual biases and the acoustic nature of the primary input to infants, infant directed speech. I argue that the speech sounds that infants fail to perceive are precisely those that are rare in the world’s sound systems. The second part of my talk looks to the acoustic nature IDS. IDS is thought to provide infants with robust phonetic cues to the phonology of the language. I present work from English and Korean IDS that suggests that IDS is often less than ideal phonetic input to infants. Taken together, infant speech perception and the acoustics of the caregiver-infant interaction conspire in potentially affecting the observed shapes of sound systems and the directions of sound change.

February 4, 2013

North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad

The open round of NACLO (North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad) took place last week. NACLO is a computational linguistics contest that is open to high school and middle school students. Pen Long, an undergraduate student in linguistics who last year as a high school student was selected to compete in the International Linguistics Olympiad after placing in the top four at NACLO, is organizing the contest for U of T this year. She shares this picture from the open round.

The invitational round takes place on Mar. 19. We hope this contest continues to inspire high school students to pursue studies in linguistics!

Yoonjung Kang Appointed Associate Editor of Phonology

Congratulations to Yoonjung for being appointed Associate Editor for Phonology! She has been on the editorial board since 2009, and is looking forward to serving the journal in this new capacity.

February 3, 2013

The Great Vowel Shift, as Explained by Jack Chambers

Jack Chambers was interviewed by Michael Enright for CBC Radio to discuss the Great English Vowel Shift. You can listen to the 9.5 min. interview here: http://www.cbc.ca/thesundayedition/shows/2013/02/03/sunday-school-the-great-vowel-shift/.

February 1, 2013

Cristina Cuervo in the Globe and Mail

Cristina Cuervo was interviewed in the following Globe and Mail article on the benefits of bilingual education.


Diane on Research Leave in New Zealand

Diane Massam and Lynsey Talagi

Diane is spending part of January in summery New Zealand, working with Lynsey Talagi on Niuean, and meeting with Heidi Quinn and her students who just finished a course in Field Methods on Niuean with Lynsey and also Lisa Matthewson who was a visiting Erskine scholar. The first picture shows Diane and Lynsey in the lab in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Canterbury, after a long and satisfying elicitation session. The second photo shows the Field Methods class meeting with members of the Niuean community to talk about their findings. Next week Diane goes to the Conference on Oceanic Languages in Newcastle, Australia.

These Field Methods students in New Zealand have been studying Niuean and working with Diane

Elan on Esperanto

Elan Dresher was recently interviewed by The Varsity to share his thoughts on Esperanto, one of the most well-known constructed languages. In the article he provides linguistic insights on the language, as well as rebuttals to some of the claims made by Esperantists.

The full article can be accessed here: http://thevarsity.ca/2013/01/27/the-universal-language/.