December 19, 2014

Palatalization Conference

Our department was well-represented at the recent Palatalization Conference (December 4-5, 2014) that took place in Norway at the University of Tromsø.

Faculty member Alexei Kochetov gave an invited talk: "Palatalization and glide strengthening as competing repair strategies: Evidence from Kirundi."

Faculty member Peter Jurgec gave a presentation: "Variable palatalization in Slovenian: Local and long-distance restrictions in a derived environment effect."

Ph.D. student Phil Howson presented a poster: "Palatalization and uvulars: An acoustic examination of Upper Sorbian."

Attached are some photos from Peter Jurgec.

Alexei and Peter, outdoors around noon!

Phil's poster. 

New work by Arsalan Kahnemuyipour and Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux

Faculty member Arsalan Kahnemuyipour has one article recently published in Lingua and another in Language with colleague Ana Teresa Pérez-Leroux:

Kahnemuiypour, A. 2014. “Revisiting the Persian Ezafe construction: A roll-up movement analysis.” Lingua, 150, 1-24.

Pérez-Leroux, A-T & A. Kahnemuyipour. 2014.“News, somewhat exaggerated: Commentary on Ambridge, Pine, and Lieven.” Language, 90(3), e115-e125. (Invited Response.)

December 18, 2014

Congratulations, LeAnn!

LeAnn Brown defended her doctoral thesis, "Indexical phonetic cues used in gender and sexual orientation perceptions", on Tuesday, December 16, 2014.

The committee was comprised of Naomi Nagy, Alexei Kochetov, Ron Smyth, Laura Colantoni, Philip Monahan, and external examiner James Stanford (Dartmouth College).

Congratulations, Dr. Brown!

LeAnn's defense presentation (photo by Naomi Nagy).

Naomi, Alexei's office name-plate, LeAnn, Ron, Jim, and Phil (photo by Radu Craioveanu).

December 14, 2014

Holiday party 2014

We celebrated the end of the semester with a customary party on the evening of Friday the 5th. An impressive number of musicians - eleven - took part in playing holiday music as the department band, F-ZERO; visiting student Graziela Bohn introduced her infant son to us; and postdoc Nicholas Welch performed his legendary linguist rap that more than deserves its reputation.

December 8, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, December 12

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Group
Marisa Brook: "Syntactic categories informing variationist analysis: The case of copy-raising."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Rebecca Woods (University of York): "Embedded inverted interrogatives as embedded speech acts."

Interest in the syntacticization of discourse and perspective has been reignited in recent years (Speas and Tenny 2003, Miyagawa 2012, Sundaresan 2012, Krifka 2014 inter alia). Much of the literature has focused on indexical shifting and other speaker-orientation phenomena. This paper offers a different perspective, examining Embedded Inverted Interrogatives (henceforth EIIs), a form of presenting reported speech common in some English dialects. In proposing a Speech Act projection above the embedded CP in EIIs, predictions about how such structures affect syntactic dependencies will be explored and issues regarding the Question Under Discussion will be touched upon. 

EIIs are present in a number of English dialects, notably Belfast English (Henry 1995), other Irish Englishes (McCloskey 1992, 2006) and African American English (Green 2002). Examples are as below:

1. I asked Jack was she in his (Jack's) class (McCloskey 2006, Irish English)
2. They don't ask you did you sit on the choir (Green 2002, African American English)
3. Do you remember did she(i) say could she(i) come? (Attested, North West English)

They are used to report speech and share certain characteristics with both direct and indirect speech. It is clear to see that EIIs are embedded within matrix sentences in that person and time is anchored to the utterance context rather than the reported context. Semantically they also play similar roles to indirect speech as they often represent speech acts that have not actually occurred – they can 'pre'-present as well as represent speech. However, there are also clear signs that they are in some way "sectioned off" from the matrix clause in a similar way to direct speech, in particular because they form strong islands:

4. a. *[Which book](i) did Dave ask "Should I read [t](i)?"
b. ? [Which book](i) did Dave ask if he should read [t](i)?
c. * [Which book](i) did Dave ask should he read [t](i)?

Furthermore, their use is more similar to direct speech as they are used to convey commitments to propositions and emotions as expressed by the original speaker, but without any commitment by the reporting speaker to convey a full precise quotation; that is, some of the original structure (such as wh- and T-to-C movement) and lexical items (such as epithets) may remain, but not all will.

Following the spirit of Speas and Tenny (2003) and Sundaresan (2012), it is proposed that the embedding verb in EIIs selects a Speech Act Phrase (SAP) which is the highest projection in the embedded clause. The SAP head specifies the illocutionary force of the embedded clause and interacts with the embedded Force head. In the specifier of the SAP is a DP which is minimally specified in terms of its features and is controlled by the matrix addressee, as this is the 'centre of evaluation' for the question contained in the EII. This DP constitutes the perspective being evaluated in the embedded speech act. This structure, for the sentence "Mary asked John did he dance", is in (5) (featural specifications are in < >, underlining marks values determined by Agree, and Control is indicated by {}):

5. [TP [DP Mary] [T° ] [vP ask [DP John] [VP task [SAP [DP [D,{JOHN}]] [SA° ] [ForceP [Force , [IntP did [TP he dance...]]]]]]

The full extended CP below the SAP is licensed by the relationship between the Speech Act head and Force. Note that Force is not underspecified for illocutionary force, as in typical embedded clauses, because its Force feature is valued by the Speech Act head (cf. Coniglio & Zegrean 2012). This relationship between the Speech Act head and Force is important both for conceptualising the difference between an embedded speech act and a typical embedded clause and for mediating the relationship between clause type and certain discourse elements (e.g. discourse particles, as in Hill 2007).

In terms of the syntactic consequences of the SAP, the embedded CP is selected by a functional head permitting adjunction to CP of speech act adverbs and other adjuncts (cf. McCloskey 2006) and leaving C open to permit subject-auxiliary inversion, as it is not specified by the lexical verb (having not been selected by it). Secondly, long-distance wh-extraction is not possible because, if the head of SAP is taken to be the head of the Phase (via transfer of phasehood from C), then material in Spec,CP is always passed to the interfaces with the lower clause. Finally, assuming that the orientation of speech act items such as adverbs like 'frankly' is determined syntactically via control by Spec,SAP, the presence of the SAP explains why adverbs like 'frankly', which are generally considered speaker-oriented, orient to the matrix-internal argument instead when embedded in an SAP.

The blocking nature of the SAP will be then illustrated using data collected in a pilot study of 73 English speaking adults and 5 English speaking children. The data at this stage shows that extraction over embedded questions is possible in child English and, in certain circumstances, adult English also. There are also clear differences between children's comprehension of embedded polar and embedded wh-questions which will be discussed. Finally, predictions for the acquisition path in children acquiring dialects with EIIs will be presented.

Selected references: Coniglio, M. & I. Zegrean (2012). Splitting up Force. In: L. Aelbrecht et al., Main Clause Phenomena. Krifka, M. (2014). Embedding Illocutionary Acts. In: T. Roeper & M. Speas, Recursion. McCloskey, J. (2006). Questions and Questioning in a local English. In: R. Zanuttini et al., Negation, tense and clausal architecture. Configurational Properties of Point of View Roles. In: AM. Di Sciullo, Asymmetry of Grammar. Sundaresan, S. (2012). Context and (Co)reference in the syntax and its interfaces. PhD dissertation, Stuttgart/Tromsø.

Fall Convocation 2014

On November 21, eleven MA students and five PhD students were awarded their degrees at Fall Convocation. Congratulations to:

New MAs:
Kazuya Bamba
Naomi Francis
Richard Gananathan
Emilie LeBlanc
Ruth Maddeaux
Emilia Melara
Danielle Moed
Patrick Murphy
Avery Ozburn
Maida Percival
Michael Schwan

New Ph.D.s:
Suzanne Belanger
Catherine Macdonald
Milica Radisic
Eugenia Suh
Ulyana Savchenko

Faculty members Yves Roberge, Elizabeth Cowper and Diane Massam, with new Ph.D.s (L to R) Catherine Macdonald, Eugenia Suh and Ulyana Savchenko. (Photo courtesy of Diane Massam.)

Eugenia Suh and Ulyana Savchenko. (Photo courtesy of Diane Massam.)

Catherine Macdonald with her supervisor Diane Massam. (Photo courtesy of Diane Massam.)

New MA alumni wugs on parade! (Photo courtesy of Dan Milway.)

Gold medal for Anna Seltner!

Congratulations to MA student Anna Seltner, who is a member of the University of Toronto Varsity Blues women's water polo team. The team recently won the provincial championships!

Spotlight on Postdoctoral Fellow Keffyalew Gebregziabher

Postdoctoral fellow Keffyalew Gebregziabher was introduced on this blog at the beginning of the term. For those who have not yet had the opportunity to meet him or hear about his research, here is a brief profile. Keffy will be teaching the Structure of Amharic in January.

My name is Keffyalew Gebregziabher. I am a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow here at the University of Toronto, Department of Linguistics. I started my fellowship this fall 2014 to work with Elizabeth Cowper. I completed my doctoral degree at the University of Calgary, Department of Linguistics, Languages and Cultures (the then Department of Linguistics), under the supervision of Elizabeth Ritter. My research focuses on the grammar of possession, particularly, how alienable and inalienable possession are portrayed in (Ethio-)Semitic languages and how the meaning of simple nominal possessives (e.g., the teacher’s book/son/leg) are syntactically represented in our grammatical system. I am also interested in the interfaces between morphology and phonology and morphology and syntax mappings and the fine line between prepositions and case markers.

My current projects include the investigation of the relationship between clausal possession (e.g. The teacher has/have a book/three children/two legs) and nominal possession, the study of the role of possessive markers, and determining the syntactic structure of possessive constructions primarily in (Ethio-)Semitic languages.

Over the years, I have taught different linguistics courses that range from introductory to advanced ones at different universities in different languages. In Winter 2015, I will be teaching the course Structure of a Language, here at the University of Toronto, St. George campus, with special emphasis on one of the languages that I work on, Amharic, the second most widely spoken Semitic language.

Please feel free to come and talk to me (my office is room 578 in Sidney Smith Hall) if you have any questions about the languages that I specialize in or the research area(s) that I am interested on or anything in between.

December 7, 2014


The 17th annual Bilingual Workshop in Theoretical Linguistics met concurrently with the Ottawa Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates this year - on the 28th and 29th of November at the University of Ottawa. Several current department members and alumni gave presentations:

Sherry Hucklebridge (BA): "East Sutherland Scottish Gaelic: A model of morphological leveling in dying languages?"

Michael Iannozzi (BA): "Québécois accommodation toward the French: Study of two Québécois directors and how they change their way of speaking when in France."

Kazuya Bamba (MA 2014): "A D-feature analysis of Romance impersonal constructions."

The plenary speaker was Kyumin Kim (Ph.D. 2011): "Variation in the syntax of non-core arguments: PP, ApplP, and pP."

Way to go, all!

December 5, 2014

Congratulations, Ailís!

The editors of Language Acquisition have selected Ph.D. student Ailís Cournane's article "In search of L1 evidence for diachronic reanalysis: Mapping modal verbs" as the best publication by an untenured researcher in the journal for 2014!

Congrats, Ailís!

December 3, 2014

Matt Gardner is cookin'...his way to the top.

We previously congratulated Ph.D. student Matt Hunt Gardner for winning his episode of Pressure Cooker on the W Network, but little did we know that Matt was just getting warmed up. Last night, Matt appeared on the show's Tournament of Champions and came out on top!

Matt says that when he was recruited for the show, he walked into the producers' office and said, "I hope you know that I'm going to win this thing." It turns out that he wasn't kidding.

Way to go, Matt!

December 2, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, December 5

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Becky Tollan: "How surprising is it to encounter Bill Clinton? Processing of Filled-Gap effects in complex WH-questions."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Kyumin Kim (Ph.D. 2011, now at the University of Ottawa): "Dimensions of initiation: A case study of Korean."

Event structure is considered to have two major components: initiation and delimitation (e.g., Voorst 1988, Borer 1996, 2007, Ritter and Rosen 2000, MacDonald 2008, Ramchand 2008). Languages can activate either I-(nitiation) or D-(elimitation) of event structure: I-language vs. D-language (Ritter and Rosen 2000). For example, in I-language, an event can be delimited or terminated only if an initiation projection (FPinit) is present. In this paper, however, I argue that FPinit can minimally emerge as three dimensions: event initiation, control of the process of an event, and delimitation. I provide evidence from Korean that an event can be viewed as having developing stages only if an initiator of FPinit which is in the control of the process of the event is present. In other words, FPinit activates a Point-of-View Phrase (PoVP): only a PoV holder that is an initiator can view an event as having developing stages. Thus, only accomplishments and activities can be marked by imperfective aspect. I show that the other two dimensions of initiation (FPinit) - event initiation and delimitation/termination - can emerge as a coincidence relation between PoV situation and FPinit or between an initiator and terminator respectively. I support this with data from Squamish (Salish) (Wiltschko 2014) and Blackfoot (Algonquian) (Kim to appear, 2014) for each dimension. In essence, the proposed account in this paper suggests that in Korean, viewpoint aspect is participant oriented rather than temporally oriented, unlike in English: an event can  be viewed differently depending on whether a PoV holder is an initiator or not, rather than whether a PoV time is inside or outside of event time. This predicts that other parts of grammar in the language may also be atemporal, which seems to be the case. As preliminary evidence for this prediction, I proposed that that Korean INFL is underspecified for tense (time): INFL in Korean is anaphoric (not deictic). For example, I show that the morpheme -ess, traditionally considered to mark past tense, can indicate present or future time reference depending on an adverbial time phrase that anaphorically binds an event situation.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Informal discussion with Kyumin Kim (Ph.D. 2011, now at the University of Ottawa) about consultants, data elicitation, and a project with Darin Flynn (Calgary) involving Blackfoot young people.

November 25, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, November 28

Note that this week there are two irregularities: Language Variation and Change group is cancelled, and there is an irregular Psycholinguistics slot set up to accommodate their guest speaker, meeting in SS 2111.

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group (SS 2111)
Tali Bitan (visiting professor, Speech-Language Pathology): "Many ways to read your vowels: fMRI studies of reading in Hebrew, English and in artificial orthography."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonetics/Phonology Group (SS 560A)
Speaker: visiting scholar Ranjan Sen.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section (SS 560A)
Susi Wurmbrand (University of Connecticut): "Crossing phrases: 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.

Language Revitalization presentation evening

How you would feel if the language you spoke was nearing extinction? How would you feel if you spoke and no one understood a word you said? We often are devastated by the thought of adorable pandas becoming extinct, but we often fail to realize the importance of a language becoming extinct, a loss of cultural heritage and identity for its speakers.

On Wednesday, November 26th in the Earth Sciences building, room 4001 at 6:00 PM, the students of LIN 458: Revitalizing Languages will be sharing their work aimed at preserving and reinvigorating the Huron Wendat language. They would like to invite all department members, friends, and alumni to attend and learn more about this endangered language and find out what you can do to support the revitalization efforts!

(Post courtesy of LIN458 students.)

November 24, 2014

Basement reopened!

Following the University's clean-up efforts over the weekend, the ground floor of Sidney Smith Hall is open again. Thanks, everyone, for your patience.

November 21, 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 ( 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.

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.

November 20, 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.

November 18, 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!

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!

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.

November 12, 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.)

November 11, 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.

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.

November 6, 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’).

November 5, 2014

Ranjan Sen talk at York

Visiting scholar Ranjan Sen (originally from the University of Sheffield) will be giving a talk at York University on Thursday, November 6 at 5:15 PM in Ross South 562. The talk will be followed by a reception in the lounge.

The Talking Dead: Fine phonetic detail in Latin sound change

Evaluating the predictions of phonetically based theories of sound change (e.g. Blevins 2004) against structure-based explanations has rendered the fine-grained reconstruction of older languages a crucial enterprise. The sporadic Latin ‘inverse compensatory lengthening’ (Hayes 1989) changed long vowel + single consonant (VːC) into short vowel + geminate (VCC) ? liːtera > littera ‘letter’ ? in the 3rd-1st centuries BC to judge from inscriptional evidence, and can be straightforwardly explained structurally by syllable weight preservation. Is this the best explanation? The rule can be distilled into three phonetically guided processes, supporting Kavitskaya’s (2002) phonologisation model of compensatory lengthening. A clear diachronic VːC > VCC occurred in ‘high vowel + voiceless obstruent’: high vowels are intrinsically the shortest, and vowels are commonly shorter before voiceless obstruents than other consonants. Therefore, the phonologically long vowels which were phonetically shortest by nature, in the environment where they were phonetically shorter still, became phonologically short, by phonologisation of that duration. The concomitant lengthening of the consonant can be explained by the hypothesis, supported by several Latin phenomena, that closed-syllable vowels in Latin were longer than their open-syllable counterparts (Sen 2012), contrary to near-universal expectations. Therefore, the short phonetic duration of high vowels before voiceless obstruents resulted in their reanalysis from long vowels in open syllables to short vowels in closed syllables, a structural context to which their longer-than-expected phonetic duration could be attributed. As the only segment which could be causing the closure, the following voiceless stop was realised as a geminate with minimal aerodynamic difficulty. The process can be explained by a phonetic account of diachronic phonology, rather than invoking structural constraints on change such as ‘weight preservation’.

Blevins, J. (2004). Evolutionary Phonology: the emergence of sound patterns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 
Hayes, B. (1989). ‘Compensatory lengthening in moraic phonology’. Linguistic Inquiry 20: 253-306. 
Kavitskaya, D. (2002). Compensatory lengthening: phonetics, phonology, diachrony. New York; London: Routledge. 
Sen, R. (2012). ‘Reconstructing phonological change: duration and syllable structure in Latin vowel reduction’. Phonology 29 [3]: 465-504.

November 4, 2014

Congratulations, Kenji!

Congratulations to Kenji Oda (Ph.D. 2012), who has accepted and started in a two-year position at Syracuse University! As of August 18, he is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.

Inventing a new South Slavic language

Profs. Christina Kramer and Dragana Obradović from the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures have created a new South Slavic language - dubbed Lavinian - at the request of award-winning playwright Nicolas Billon. The language will be featured in Billon's play Butcher.

See more at the U of T Bulletin.

November 3, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, November 7

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Danielle Moed: "Is the pan without eggs the same as the empty pan? How types of modifiers affect choice of referring expression and memory."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Elizabeth Cowper: ""More about 'have': This talk might have a new analysis in it."

As the title suggests, this talk discusses work in progress. Building on earlier work by Brunson and Cowper (1992), and more recent work by Bjorkman and Cowper (2013), I propose a new analysis of sentences like those in (1).
(1) The tree has a bird's nest in it.
(2) The garden has had many flowers planted in it.
I argue that 'have' spells out a peripheral applicative head (Kim 2011) above Event, the head hosting viewpoint aspect, and that the subject merges in the specifier of the applicative head before moving to spec/T. The applicative head assigns an affected interpretation to its specifier. This account correctly predicts a) the interactions between 'have' and the spellout of other auxiliaries in the clause, and b) the special meaning associated with the construction.  I will conclude with some speculations on why the pronouns in (1) and (2) cannot be replaced with anaphors.

Brunson, Barbara, and Elizabeth Cowper. 1992. "On the topic of 'have'." TWPL.
Bjorkman, Bronwyn, and Elizabeth Cowper. 2013. "Inflectional shells and the syntax of causative 'have'." CLA Proceedings.
Kim, Kyumin. 2011. "External Argument Introducers." Ph.D. thesis, University of Toronto.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Chris Harvey: "Custom wiki-based databases for integrating a small corpus, a lexicon, and a grammar."

In working with the dormant language Mahican, I've tried to organize my work so that each aspect of my research 'talks' with the other aspects. In digging through the corpus, I've found things I'd like to take note of, e.g. interesting inflectional phenomena, derivation of stems, occurrences of unusual sentence structure. These were all noted on whatever scrap of paper was at hand, but it was difficult to consolidate all the information into something usable.

As a means of managing the data, I created a wiki – which has, over time, evolved into a proper database. Now I can do things like:

a) Find all words with the derivational root /htʌm/
b) List all the sentences which have subordinative mood
c) Compare what I think 3sg.independent.indicative should be with all the instances of 3sg.independent.indicative in the corpus.

It has since expanded to work with Dene languages, which led to a user-friendlying of the interface.

Report from NWAV 43

New Ways of Analyzing Variation 43 was held in Chicago from October 23rd to 26th, co-hosted by two campuses of the University of Illinois.

There was a strong showing from the University of Toronto. Current department members who presented talks, posters, and/or workshops were: Marisa Brook (Ph.D.), LeAnn Brown (Ph.D.), Chris Harvey (Ph.D.), Derek Denis (Ph.D.), Shayna Gardiner (Ph.D.), Matt Hunt Gardner (Ph.D.), Michael Iannozzi (BA), Naomi Nagy (faculty), Katherine Rehner (faculty), Sali A. Tagliamonte (Ph.D.), and Anne-José Villeneuve (faculty). Others in attendance included Paulina Lyskawa (MA), Ruth Maddeaux (Ph.D.), and Jim Smith (Ph.D.).

Alumni who were involved: Claire Childs (former visiting student), Alexandra D'Arcy (Ph.D. 2005), Emilie LeBlanc (MA 2014), Shannon Mooney (MA 2012), Nicole Rosen (Ph.D. 2007), and Maddie Shellgren (MA 2011).

Claire, Ruth, and Matt attending a talk. (Photo courtesy of Sali A. Tagliamonte.)

We were delighted to learn that Shayna's talk on variable possessive markers in Ancient Egyptian won an Honorable Mention for best student paper, and LeAnn's poster on perceptual cues to sexual orientation won an Honorable Mention for best student poster. Congratulations to Shayna and LeAnn!

One of the many highlights of the conference was a tightly-packed room paying tribute to William Labov on the occasion of his retirement from the University of Pennsylvania. Some 350 sociolinguists were in attendance to help sing along with a musical celebration, and Naomi Nagy presented Bill with a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the NWAV 43 organizing committee.

NWAV 43 was a great conference and a wonderful precursor to NWAV 44, which will be co-hosted by the U of T and York and held at Hart House from October 22nd to 25th of next year.

November 1, 2014

Visiting Scholar: Silvia Dal Negro

Professor Silvia Dal Negro from the Free University of Bolzano-Bozen is visiting the Heritage Language Variation and Change Project until November 16. Her research investigates variation in multilingual corpora of multilingual communities and multilingual speakers in Northern Italy. Here she is presenting to the LVC group on October 31, and then learning about an important North American tradition that evening. Please contact her at silvia dot dalnego at unibz dot it if you'd like to talk with her about your research or hers.

October 31, 2014

Keren Rice talk at UTM

Faculty member Keren Rice will be giving a talk as part of the Department of Language Studies Speaker Series at our Mississauga campus:

"Fieldwork, community, variation, and change."
Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 1 PM - 3 PM
North Building 262 (Dean’s Lounge)

During my career, I have been interested in addressing and trying to understand the tension that exists between universality and variability in language; I have also been interested in examining ways of working with people in fieldwork where the role that the people that linguists work with are taken into account, with a focus on people as well as on language. In this talk, I examine variation from two very different perspectives, a general approach to research and specific research that I have been doing. The general approach to research that I address concerns the definition of collaborative or community-based models of research, and how those both enhance and restrict research.

The linguistic approach (the focus of this talk) concerns the reported absence of types of phonological variation at a time in the history of the Dene (Slavey) language that has important ramifications for the history of how communities were settled, a topic of interest in the communities. The ethnographic record speaks to the emergence of two varieties of the language in the early 20th century. This does not fit well with people’s sense of their history. Work with a dictionary compiled in the late 19th century reveals that the linguistic varieties were in fact distinct at that time, suggesting that the linguistic record supports the community interpretation of its history.

These topics both address variation, albeit of very different types, but these represent the kinds of variation that are often found in doing fieldwork today.

October 29, 2014

Guest talk at UTSC: Tali Bitan (University of Haifa)

The Centre for French and Linguistics at UTSC presents a lecture by Tali Bitan of the University of Haifa in Israel, who is currently serving as a visiting professor of speech-language pathology here at the U of T and a visiting scientist at the Rotman Institute at Baycrest Hospital:

"Many ways to read your vowels: fMRI studies of reading in English and in Hebrew."
Monday, November 3, 2014, 12-1 PM (with a subsequent Q & A session), MW130

Findings from the last decade demonstrating the enormous malleability of the nervous system throughout life are in consonance with reading theories suggesting that the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in reading depend on the properties of the specific language and the readers’ experience with its orthography. In this talk I will review three sets of experiments in which we examined the neurocognitive mechanisms involved in reading single words, using fMRI: In Hebrew, in English and in an artificial orthography.

Two unique aspects of Hebrew are its complex morphological structure and the two versions of its orthography (with and without diacritic marks). In the first set of experiments we examined the effects of orthographic transparency and morphological complexity on the brain in skilled and Dyslexic adult readers, as well as children. Our results point to the overriding effect of experience on processing, beyond orthographic transparency, and to the compensatory potential of morphological decomposition.

In the second set of studies we examined how English reading children process the conflicting orthographic and phonological information typical of the opaque English orthography. Our brain connectivity results show developmental increase in top-down processing, and sex differences in the connectivity between hemispheres. In the third set of studies we examined the effect of reading instruction method on the brains of adults learning to read in an artificial script. Our results suggest that different learning mechanisms are involved in explicit and implicit reading instruction, and that only explicit instruction on the smallest units of mappingwould result in stable representations and a generalizable reading procedure.

Feel free to bring along your lunch!

October 28, 2014


This year’s meeting of the North East Linguistics Society is taking place at MIT from October 31 to November 2. Four of the papers accepted this year for presentation at the highly selective conference are coming from U of T people:

Ph.D. student Tomohiro Yokoyama is presenting "Features wearing two hats: Derivation of object-marked verbs in Kinyarwanda."

Former visiting professor Tyler Peterson (now at the University of Arizona) and current faculty members Ana-Teresa Pérez-Leroux, Susana Béjar, and Diane Massam, plus colleague Anny Castilla-Earls (SUNY Fredonia), are teaming up to present "Structural complexity and the acquisition of recursive locative PPs."

Will Oxford (Ph.D. 2014, now at the University of Manitoba) is presenting "Probe competition as a source of ergative person splits."

Keir Moulton (MA 2002, now at Simon Fraser University) and Nino Grillo (CLUNL/Stuttgart) are presenting "Pseudo-relatives: Big but transparent."

New blog for Canadian Language Museum

The Canadian Language Museum has a new blog, written by Michael Iannozzi, a work-study student in our department. The English blog is at, and the French version at The most recent
posting is an interview with U of T alumna Nicole Rosen, and the posting before describes Naomi's Heritage Language Variation and Change project.

October 27, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, October 31

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Group
Silvia Dal Negro (Free University of Bozen): "Dealing with multilingual data: The making of a corpus in South Tyrol."

After a short introduction to the sociolinguistic situation of South Tyrol (North-East of Italy), the aims, methodology and results of a research project on bilingual speech will be dealt with. In the presentation I will focus in particular on patterns of language distribution in a spoken corpus encompassing Tyrolean (German) dialect, Italian and Trentino dialect.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonology Research Group
Alexei Kochetov: "Phonetics of Dravidian retroflexes: Insights into phonological patterning and the linguistic prehistory of South Asia."

Dravidian retroflexes are peculiar in being phonetically more 'extreme' (retracted) and historically more archaic than in other languages of South Asia. Phonologically, retroflexes exhibit particular edge effects (positional restrictions and assimilatory directionality) unusual for other coronal consonants. This talk examines dynamic and spatial aspects of retroflex production in Kannada (South Dravidian) exploring phonetic sources and the development of the common phonological patterns. Articulography and ultrasound imaging data collected from 10 speakers of the language reveal that retroflex gestures are complex and asymmetric, being more distinct at their onset than the offset, and thus strikingly parallel to the phonological edge effects. Phonetic types and phonological patterns of retroflexion are further discussed in light of recent findings of molecular genetic studies of South Asian populations.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Round-table discussion led by Nick Welch of issues relating to the structure of the left periphery, particularly questions that arise in diagnosing the position functional heads in head-final languages. Everyone welcome, regardless of background!

flʌut talk: Nicholas Welch

Friends of Linguistics At the University of Toronto (flʌut) presents a lecture by Nicholas Welch (postdoctoral fellow, University of Toronto):

Revitalizing Languages: Challenges and Successes

Thursday, November 6, 2014, 7-9 PM.
Linguistics Department Lounge - Sidney Smith Hall, Fourth Floor

Linguistic diversity, like biological diversity, is in crisis worldwide. Children are growing up speaking an ever-shrinking number of languages. The death of a language is often accompanied by the disappearance of a culture, an oral literature, and a way of life. Throughout North America and the world, efforts to revitalize threatened languages are underway. Language revitalization is a very difficult undertaking, however, and requires resources that are usually already strained. It is therefore vitally important to understand which strategies have been most successful and why. Dr. Welch will discuss what we can learn from the few success stories and how this information can be applied to other languages. In particular he will draw on his experiences with the Tlicho Yatii, Tsuut'ina and Navajo languages.

Informal discussion and reception to follow. Open to all students, alumni, faculty, and friends!

October 24, 2014

PsychologyHenge 2014

Twice a year, the setting sun aligns exactly with the Department of Psychology's windows at the far end of our hall. This eagerly anticipated event is PsychologyHenge.

Diane and Niuean Language Week

October 12-19 was Niuean Language Week in New Zealand and last week Diane Massam was featured on the University of Canterbury (UC) Linguistic Department's blog in a post by Dr. Heidi Quinn (UC) about Niuean Language research at UC over the past few years.

October 23, 2014

Language revitalization efforts featured in U of T News

Earlier this month, U of T News published a story featuring work by Alana Johns and undergraduate students in our department that contributed to the launch of a new website (previously reported on here) dedicated to revitalization of the Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe) language.

October 20, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, October 24

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group

Keffyalew Gebregziabher: "Neither fish nor fowl: The role of nay in Tigrinya."

In Tigrinya (Semitic, Ethiopia & Eritrea; SOV), there is an element, nay, that serves (among other things) to distinguish between two, both semantically and syntactically different, possessives: (i) Nay-marked possessives; (ii) Bare (non-nay-marked) possessives. The former type is used for alienable possession while the latter one is used for inalienable possession. Two hypotheses have been proposed for a similar element, yə-, in Amharic, a very closely related language: (a) yə- is a genitive Case-marker (Ouhalla 2004); (b) yə- is a linker (den Dikken 2007). In this talk, I show that neither hypothesis (a) nor hypothesis (b) is adequate to account for all the facts of Tigrinya nay. Instead, I propose that nay is a nominal copula and its role is to introduce a grammatical relation between two dependents (e.g., a nay-marked possessor and its possessee).

Tomohiro Yokoyama: "Features wearing two hats: Derivation of object-marked verbs in Kinyarwanda."

In this paper, I propose that while feature valuation motivates internal/external Merge, as has previously been claimed, checking of uninterpretable features is a distinct operation which triggers head movement. The proposed feature system leads to incorporation of clitics  (object markers) at the phase edge (i.e. v* or Voice) after all the clitics have been merged in their respective argument positions. Consequently, the surface order of object markers can be derived by head movement without having to strengthen the Morphological Component or implement PF rules.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Discussion of a short article by Sonya Bird on phonetic fieldwork and experimental design in the Pacific Northwest.

October 17, 2014


New Ways of Analyzing Variation 43 is being held in Chicago this year from October 23 to 26, with two campuses of the University of Illinois co-hosting the conference. As usual, the University of Toronto is sending a whole pile of its sociolinguists to share their research. In alphabetical order by first author, these are:

Marisa Brook (Ph.D.)
A peripheral view of a change from above: Prestige forms over time in a medium-sized community

LeAnn Brown (Ph.D.)
Phonetic cues, indexical fields, and the perception of gender and sexual orientation

Claire Childs (former visiting graduate student, now back at Newcastle University), Christopher Harvey (Ph.D.), Karen Corrigan (Newcastle University) and Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty)
Comparative sociolinguistic insights in the evolution of negation

Derek Denis (Ph.D.) and alumna Alexandra D'Arcy (Ph.D. 2005, now at the University of Victoria):
Homogeneity, convergence, mega-trends, and stuff like that

Shayna Gardiner (Ph.D.)
Taking possession of the Constant Rate Hypothesis

Naomi Nagy (faculty) and Michael Iannozzi (BA)
Older speakers use more null subjects, but the variable is stable: Accounting for contrasting reports of contact effects in Italian and Faetar

Katherine Rehner (faculty) and Raymond Mougeon (York University):
Socio-stylistic dimensions of the (non-)use of negative particle ne in French Canadian high schools

Anne-José Villeneuve (faculty) and Philip Comeau (Université du Québec à Montréal)
Contrasting constraints in future temporal reference

Other alumni presenting are:

Emilie LeBlanc (MA 2014, now at York University)
Clustering variants in Acadian French

Shannon Mooney (MA 2012, now at Georgetown University) along with Grace Sullivan (Georgetown University):
Investigating an acoustic measure of perceived isochrony

Nicole Rosen (Ph.D. 2007, now at the University of Manitoba) with Melissa Heinrichs (University of Manitoba)
Canadian Shift in time - or is it in space?

Maddie Shellgren (MA 2011, now at Michigan State University) is giving a talk as part of a panel:
Measuring real-time judgments in sociolinguistics and beyond

Two faculty members are also presenting workshops:

Naomi Nagy
Coding in ELAN

Sali A. Tagliamonte (with Ph.D. students Derek Denis and Matt Hunt Gardner)
Quantitative methods: new trends and perspectives

Several other graduate students and faculty members will be in attendance. And next year's NWAV conference will be in Toronto!

October 15, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, October 17

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Group
Practice talks for NWAV 43 in Chicago: Naomi Nagy and Michael Iannozzi; Emilie LeBlanc; Shayna Gardiner; Derek Denis.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Paper discussion: Bale, Papillon, and Reiss (2014). Targeting underspecified segments: A formal analysis of feature-changing and feature-filling rules. Lingua, 148, 240-253.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section

October 10, 2014

LGCU Welcome Workshop 6

The sixth annual LGCU Welcome Workshop will be held on Friday the 17th in SS 560A, starting at 2:10 PM. Sponsored by the Linguistics Graduate Course Union, the workshop provides a venue for new students (and a few returning ones) to present research that they've been working on. This serves as a way for the rest of the department to get to know the newcomers and their research interests.

This year's schedule features the following talks:

Emilia Melara (Ph.D.): "Tense and deixis: Revisiting sequence of tense in English."

Daniel McDonald (MA): "ECMs in Latin and Ancient Greek."

Patrick Murphy (Ph.D.): "Split accusativity in Finnish."

Frederick Gietz (MA): "A semantic treatment for dual-transitive verbs."

Ruth Maddeaux (Ph.D.): "Me, myself, and I: The role of the untriggered reflexive in the English pronominal system."

Erin Hall (Ph.D.): "Style and substance in the Canadian Shift: New evidence from Toronto."

Emily Blamire (Ph.D.): Gay speech in North American television."

Paulina Lyskawa (MA): "An ultrasound study of /ɹ/ production among native and non-native English speakers."

Luke West (MA): "Interaction of intonation and lexical tone in Sgaw Karen."

Yining Nie (MA): "Derived environment phonology in Distributed Morphology."

Thanks to Julie Doner, Ruth Maddeaux, Dan Milway, and the LGCU in general for all of their work in organizing the workshop!

October 6, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, October 10

The following departmental research groups will be meeting this Friday in SS 560A:

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Emily Blamire: "The effect of consonants on vocal attractiveness."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Paper discussion: Chomsky (2013). Problems of projection. Lingua, 130(1), 33-449.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Nick Welch reporting on summer fieldwork, conferences, and teaching Field Methods.

October 3, 2014

Spotlight on undergraduate research

Undergraduate students in our department are doing noteworthy research alongside faculty. Here are testimonies from three of the undergrads who worked with Naomi Nagy over the past year.

Michael Iannozzi (Independent Study, Summer 2014)
My research project centred on an analysis of pro-drop among heritage speakers of Faetar. This analysis was done in order to compare and contrast the results with those of homeland Faetar speakers and heritage Italian speakers, as part of the Heritage Language Variation and Change project. It was an amazing opportunity to be involved in every part of an academic study. I was able to code for the dependent and independent variables, convert those tokens into analyzable data, run the data using multi-variate analysis software, and put the results together in an academic paper. Also, through participating in CILLDI, I learned valuable language documentation skills which I am using to help support Faetar through web resources like a dictionary and vocabulary-building flashcards. I was able to gain valuable skills learning how to use many software programs that are essential to doing sociolinguistic work, as well as organizing my thoughts in an academic way. The culmination will be presenting it at NWAV in Chicago this fall. This experience will be extremely valuable as I continue with my studies to the graduate level.

*Mariana Kouzela (Research Assistant, The Heritage Language Variation and Change Project
Working on the HLVC project has been a very rewarding and interesting experience for me. I feel that while I am contributing to the project as a research assistant for the Ukrainian language portion of it, I am also gaining a tremendous amount of insight and knowledge about the Ukrainian language in return by working on it. It is really quite intriguing and valuable to me, as a second-generation speaker myself, to see how the language changes among the generations. The HLVC project has enabled me to understand and notice the differences that exist in my heritage language, and to appreciate it more than ever before. After being a part of such a research project, I believe it is truly vital to continue such research as a means of further developing an understanding of how languages change from generation to generation, and perhaps serving as a teaching tool on how to preserve heritage languages among successive generations.
*Mariana’s research was funded by the Shevchenko Foundation

Minyi Zhu (Research Opportunity Program)
It was a great experience for me working with professors and other students in the department of Linguistics, under the Research  Opportunity Program. My research topic, The Variation in Vowels between Cantonese and English in the Greater Toronto Area, interested me a lot. Not only because I am was a bilingual student but also I was given the chance of using various kinds of software (ELAN, Praat,   Forced-Aligner, Ploknik) to analyze data and observe interesting results. Professor Naomi is a very well-organized and approachable instructor. Although I am not a Linguistic student and found some materials too abstract, I benefited from her thoughtful explanations and discussions with other team members.

October 2, 2014

Guest speaker: Luiz Amaral (UMass Amherst)

We are pleased to be about to welcome Luiz Amaral from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He works on multilingualism, L2, applied linguistics, and the indigenous languages of Brazil.

His talk will be on Friday October 10, in SS 560A, beginning at 3:15 PM: Recursion in acquisition: Theoretical questions and experimental design based on Wapichana, English, and Portuguese data.

In the last decade, the debate about the role of recursion in human languages (e.g., Hauser et al., 2002; Everett, 2005) also inspired research on the acquisition of recursive constructions (Roeper and Snyder, 2004; Hollebrandse et al., 2008; Limbach and Adone, 2010; Perez-Leroux et al., 2012). Although the controversy on whether recursion is a universal operation present in all human languages was inspired by data from a native Brazilian language (Pirahã), there is currently a big void in acquisition studies focusing on recursion in indigenous languages of Brazil.

In this presentation I will show some data from three different comprehension experiments in Wapichana, an Arawak language spoken in Brazil and Guyana. Wapichana is an SVO language with some head final constructions, which allows for relative clauses such as in (1) and (2).  

(1)  Py=aida   un=at  daunaiur tyka-pa       uraz  zyn kaiwada-pa  uraz  kuwam.
     2ps-show  1ps-to boy         look-PROG REL  girl  wear-PROG REL hat. 

    ‘Show me the boy that is seeing the girl that is wearing a hat.’
(2)  Py=aida   un=at  waru-nau  kanawa dia’a uraz ky’ba paawa’a uraz.
      2ps-show 1ps-to  parrot-PL canoe    in      REL rock  on           REL. 

    ‘Show me the parrots that are in the canoe that is on the rock.’
I will present an analysis of the internal structure of multiple embedded relative clauses and genitive constructions in Wapichana, and I will provide data that shows the preferred interpretation patterns by adult speakers and bilingual children who speak Wapichana/English and Wapichana/Portuguese. I will also present the preliminary results of an interpretation experiment for English embedded relatives and show how they compare to the Wapichana data. During the talk I will discuss possible theoretical ideas about the acquisition of recursion both as a syntactic operation and as a general property of the grammar that is linked to specific rules. 

September 29, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, October 3

The following departmental research groups will be meeting this Friday in SS 560A:

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Jessamyn Schertz: "Individual differences in the structure and adaptability of native and non-native phonetic categories."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Language Variation and Change Group
Reprise talks from Methods in Dialectology XV:
Jack Chambers: "Global demise of a venerable change-in-progress."
Aaron Dinkin (with Robin Dodsworth): "Gradience, allophony, and the Southern shift trigger."

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Nick Welch on copulas in Tłı̨chǫ Yatıì (Dene/Athapaskan).

Ninth International Conference on the Mental Lexicon

The Ninth International Conference on the Mental Lexicon is meeting from September 30 to October 2 in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Department members presenting posters are:

Ross Godfrey (Ph.D.)
Morphologically conditioned lengthening: A phonetic window to lexical access?

Mercedeh Mohaghegh (Ph.D.) and Craig Chambers (faculty)
Connected speech processes and lexical access in real-time comprehension.

Craig Chambers is also part of another poster and a presentation:

(with Cara Tsang and Mindaugas Mozuraitis)
The influence of noun classifiers on the lexical processing of compounds: Evidence from real-time spoken word recognition in Cantonese.

(with Mindaugas Mozuraitis and Meredyth Daneman)
Privileged versus shared knowledge effects on phonological competition.

September 23, 2014

Research Groups: Friday, September 26

The following departmental research groups will be meeting this Friday in SS 560A:

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Alan Yu (University of Chicago): "The peril of sounding manly: A look at vocal characteristics of lawyers before the United States Supreme Court."

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Bronwyn Bjorkman: "Different ways of faking it: Counterfactuals vs. sequence of tense."

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Discussion of summer fieldwork expeditions; logistical planning for the semester.

September 22, 2014

Guest speaker: James Myers (National Chung Cheng University)

We're pleased to be about to welcome James Myers from Taiwan's National Chung Cheng University. He works on phonology, morphology, psycholinguistics, language and memory, and Chinese.

He will be giving a talk entitled Mandarin wordlikeness megastudies on Monday the 29th at 1:00 PM exactly, in Innis College room 204.

Over the past few years my lab has asked around 200 native speakers of Mandarin to judge the acceptability (“Mandarin-likeness”) of around 10,000 different nonlexical forms, yielding around 700,000 wordlikeness judgments. In megastudies like ours, the large and representative sampling makes it possible to factor out partially confounded lexical variables through multiple regression techniques. Moreover, the corpora of responses generated by megastudies, like corpora of language production, can be freely analyzed for a wide variety of purposes. In this talk I review some of the analyses that we’ve conducted so far on our megastudy corpora. In a “sociolinguistic” analysis, we examined the influence of gender and native language (i.e. Mandarin vs. Taiwan Southern Min). In a “psycholinguistic” analysis, we attempted to tease apart the highly confounded variables of neighborhood density and phonotactic probability by looking at their interactions with reaction time, working memory capacity, and handedness. In two “phonological” analyses, we looked at the controversial syllable position of the Mandarin prevocalic glide and, more ambitiously, at the interaction between lexicality typicality and universal markedness. All of the above analyses used just one of our megastudy corpora, involving monosyllabic test items; analyses of our other megastudies have looked at wordlikeness judgments for disyllabic nonwords and two-character nonwords. We invite the audience to play with our data, freely available on the web, to test their own pet hypotheses, and to join us in the development of our contributor-built cross-linguistic platform for collecting and sharing data from wordlikeness judgment experiments.

September 19, 2014

Guest speaker: Alan Yu (University of Chicago)

Alan Yu of the Department of Linguistics at the University of Chicago will be visiting us on Friday, September 26 and giving two talks.

Alan started out working on the morphology-phonology interface, and has gravitated towards studying the actuation problem in sociolinguistics (i.e. where new changes come from in the first place). As part of this line of research, he has been investigating individual differences in speech, especially those resulting from neurodiversity (e.g. speakers on the autistic spectrum). Alan has also worked on a truly eclectic mix of languages over the course of his career!

The first of his two presentations will be at a special meeting of the Phonetics/Phonology research group (9:30 AM to 11:00 AM in SS 560A): The peril of sounding manly: A look at vocal characteristics of lawyers before the United States Supreme Court:

Individuals make use of many aspects of the speech signals to construct personas and to project hidden desires to the external world. Of interest here is whether vocal characteristics and the perceptual evaluation of them exert an influence on listener behavior. With the exception of a few pioneering studies (e.g., Purnell et al. 1999), this question has remained largely unexplored. In the present study, we examine the vocal characteristics of lawyers arguing in front of the Supreme Court of the United States and link this data to the lawyers’ actual win rates in the Court. We show that perceived attributes of voices predict Supreme Court wins, suggesting potential differential labor market treatment of lawyers with certain mutable characteristics such as sounding more or less masculine or confident.

The second talk will be at 3:10 PM, also in SS 560A, and is entited Idiolectal phonology produces the pool of "phonetic" variation:

Theories of sound change hypothesized that mistakes in speech perception and production, if uncorrected, may lead to eventual changes in perceptual and production norms. In this talk, I articulate a theory of sound change where systematic individual variation in speech perception and production takes center stage. To illustrate this theory, I focus on the origins of allophony, which are often attributed to effects of coarticulation. Such contextual effects in speech have been argued to be phonological in nature, given that coarticulation appears to be language-specific and planned. In this talk, I argue further for the phonological nature of coarticulation, using findings from recent behavioral and neurophysiological studies. In particular, I argue that the systematic variability across individuals in how coarticulated speech is produced and perceived suggests that individuals acquire different phonological grammars of coarticulation. Such differences, which are anchored to specific individuals, serve as the pool of systematic variation that members of a speech community may draw from to construct local identities.

September 18, 2014

Guest speaker: Andrea Wilhelm (University of Victoria)

We are pleased to have Andrea Wilhelm of UVic visiting our department next week. Andrea's research is focused on typology on the semantic and syntactic levels; she has a special interest in the Athapaskan languages, and in language endangerment and documentation in general.

She will be giving a talk on Tuesday, September 23 in ES B142, starting at 2 PM: Semantics and syntax of Dënesųłiné nouns:

In this talk I explore a well-known trait of Dënesųłiné and other Dene (Athabaskan) languages, the fact that nouns show almost no grammatical markings while intricate grammatical and other expression of noun-related concepts (such as shape or number an event participant) occurs on verbs. I propose that this pattern is a logical consequence of Dënesųłiné nouns being inherently of type , entities. While better-known languages use grammatical elements in the nominal domain, such as number marking or determiners, to turn nouns into type , I argue that in the absence of these elements, Dënesųłiné nouns start out and remain as type throughout the syntactic-semantic derivation. Once this idea is accepted, syntactic properties seemingly unrelated to noun semantics fall out as well: the finiteness of all clauses, the fact that most adjectival concepts are expressed by verbs, the obligatoriness of copulas, the reluctance to use PPs to modify nouns, and the fact that so-called relative clauses are nominalized full clauses without gap. I use basic model-theoretic semantics to give a precise account of these properties, relying strongly on the Carlsonian idea that nouns are names of kinds (Carlson 1977, Chierchia 1998).

September 11, 2014

Catherine's defence dinner

Here is a picture of Catherine Macdonald (on the right) celebrating her successful thesis defence recently along with, from left to right: Yuko Otsuka from University of Hawai'i at Manoa (external examiner), La'aina Mo'ungaloa Kavouras (Tongan language consultant), and Diane Massam, (thesis advisor).

September 10, 2014

Congratulations, Ulyana!

Ulyana Savchenko defended her doctoral thesis, "Second Language Acquisition of Russian Applicative Experiencers", on Tuesday, August 26.

On the committee were Yves Roberge, Alexei Kochetov, Ron Smyth, Diane Massam, Keren Rice and external examiner Joyce Bruhn de Garavito (University of Western Ontario).

Congratulations, Dr. Savchenko!

New Semantics CLTA

Our department would like to welcome Walter Pedersen, who is serving as a semantics professor in a limited-contract position for 2014-15. Walter has recently completed his Ph.D. at McGill University. He specializes in natural language semantics and its relationship to syntax, and he is especially interested in gradable adjectives and adverbs. At the U of T, he will be teaching LIN200 and at least two courses in semantics. Welcome to Toronto, Walter!

Thesis defense announcement rainbow

(Photo by Radu Craioveanu.)

Two weeks ago our department saw three successful thesis defenses on three consecutive days! Congratulations to the new alumni (and extra kudos to any of the faculty members who were on more than one of these committees).