April 29, 2015

'Language, Myth, and Reality' reading group on Evans (2015)

Vyvyan Evans' recent book The Language Myth, which has received a considerable amount of criticism from prominent theoretical linguists, will be the subject of a reading-group to be held in our department this summer, likely meeting on Wednesday afternoons. For more information, please contact Michela Ippolito. Regular notices of group information will go out via the group mailing list.

April 27, 2015

Reminder: Public lecture by Charles Yang (University of Pennsylvania)

The Department of Linguistics and the Cognitive Science Program at the University of Toronto invite you to a public lecture by Charles Yang (University of Pennsylvania): "Why are there no asleep cats? Children, language and Big Data." Monday April 27, 3:00 PM, University College room 161.

April 22, 2015

Congratulations, Keren!

The 197 new members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences for 2015 have been announced, and one of them is the chair of our department, Professor Keren Rice.

The Academy has been electing "thinkers and doers" from every generation since 1780 and is full of esteemed scholars, writers, intellectuals, artists, philanthropists, journalists, and social leaders.

Keren and the other new members - including astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and author Tom Wolfe - will be inducted into the Academy at a ceremony in October.

For more details, see the U of T's press release, the Academy's official message, and the congratulatory note written by the Linguistic Society of America.

Congratulations to Keren on this great honour! The rest of us can attest to it being more than well-deserved.

April 20, 2015

Research Groups: Friday, April 24

Note that there are no meetings of the phonology or the Syntax-Semantics Squib Section this week.

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Group
Discussion of ongoing preparations for NWAV 44 in October.

April 18, 2015

Upcoming research group meetings

Note that there were no meetings of research groups on Friday the 17th; for most of our groups, things are winding down at this time of the year.

The Syntax/Semantics Squib Section and Fieldwork Group will resume in the autumn.

The Phonetics/Phonology Group may meet very occasionally over the summer: watch for announcements.

The Language Variation and Change Group will be meeting as usual on April 24, May 8, and May 22, and then adjourn for the summer.

The Psycholinguistics Group will be meeting as usual on May 1, 15, and 29, and then also adjourn for the summer.

Summer meetings of the Syntax/Semantics Group will take place each week at 10 AM on Wednesday, beginning on May 6. Watch for individual meeting announcements that will include the location(s).

This post will be updated if any of the above details change.

SESDEF Colloquium 2015

The Société des études supérieures du Départment d'Études Françaises (SESDEF) (French Department Society for Graduate Studies) is holding its annual colloquium on Thursday the 30th of April and Friday the 1st of May, with the theme of "Traces d'une rencontre: Langues en contact" (Imprints of an encounter: Languages in contact). The conference - to be held mostly in French - will be taking place in the Coop Room in Brennan Hall, and touch upon issues in sociolinguistics and language acquisition.

New interview with Richard Compton

Alumnus Richard Compton (Ph.D. 2012, now at l'Université de Québec à Montréal) did an interview with Nunatsiaq News this week on the subject of Inuktitut, language endangerment, and Richard's field methods class at UQÀM. Keep up the great work, Richard!

April 16, 2015

Workshop on Contrast in Syntax

Next weekend is the Contrast in Syntax workshop in honour of Elizabeth Cowper, who retired in June after 38 years at the University of Toronto. A detailed schedule can be found here. The workshop will open with a reception at Trinity College from 5 to 7 PM on Thursday the 23rd. Talks will include those by fourteen of Elizabeth's former students and advisees, as well as a plenary poster session, and presentations by current students:


Michael Barrie (Ph.D. 2006, now at Sogang University) with Gabriela Albiou (postdoc 2002-03, now at York University):
"Aspect, mood and tense in Onondaga: A feature geometric approach."

Andrew Carnie (BA 1991, now at the University of Arizona):
"The syntax and semantics of aspectual contrasts in Scottish Gaelic."

Lisa Cheng (MA 1986, now at Leiden University)
"Contrasting Cantonese and Mandarin VP domain."

Jila Ghomeshi (MA 1990/Ph.D. 1996, now at the University of Manitoba) and Diane Massam (MA 1980, now at the University of Toronto):
"A number of puzzles."

Daniel Currie Hall (MA 1998/Ph.D. 2007, now at St. Mary's University):
"Contrast and case: A phonologically-inspired look at a quintessentially syntactic phenomenon."

Päivi Koskinen (MA 1992/Ph.D. 1998, now at Kwantlen Polytechnic University):
"Ideophones in Finnish grammar."

Julie Legate (MA 1997, now at the University of Pennsylvania):
"Contrasting impersonals and grammatical object passives."

Martha McGinnis (MA 1993, now at the University of Victoria):
"Cross-linguistic contrasts in the syntax of nominalizations."

Kenji Oda (MA 2002/Ph.D. 2012, now at Syracuse University):
"Contrasting analyses of adjective fronting in Irish."

Nick Pendar (MA 2000, Ph.D. 2005):
"Text categorization with linguistically motivated contrastive features."

Elizabeth Ritter (undergraduate student 1979-80, now at Ben Gurion University):
"Selection for [m] in Blackfoot: Consequences for event structure."

Leslie Saxon (MA 1979, now at the University of Victoria):
"Contrasting complementizers."

Carson Schütze (MA 1991, now at UCLA):
"Did we really need to add AGREE, or could Spec-Head agreement have done the job?"


Rashid Al-Balushi (Ph.D. 2011, now at Sultan Qaboos University):
"Agreement got a new job!"

Gabriela Alboiu (postdoc 2002-03, now at York University) with Virginia Hill (University of New Brunswick):
"Finite contrasts: Gerunds versus indicatives in Old Romanian."

Radu Craioveanu (current Ph.D. student):
"Unifying Finnish aspectual case marking."

Keffyalew Gebregziabher (current postdoc):
"Contrasting (double) clitics and agreement markers: Amharic and Tigrinya pronominal affixes."

Jianxun Liu (University of Victoria):
"The tense feature and finiteness of a purposive construction in Mandarin."

Bethany Lochbiler (University of Edinburgh) and Will Oxford (Ph.D. 2014, now at the University of Manitoba):
"The person-animacy connection."

Emilia Melara (current Ph.D. student):
"Past embedded clauses in English and Japanese."

Alex Motut (current Ph.D. student):
"Remote Agree: Core operations and remote dependencies in binding, control."

Ileana Paul (University of Western Ontario):
"The features of proper determiners in Malagasy dialects."

April 15, 2015

Public lecture: Charles Yang (University of Pennsylvania)

The Department of Linguistics and the Cognitive Science Program are co-hosting a public lecture by Charles Yang, an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Charles' interests include language acquisition, cognitive science, morphosyntax, and computational models. His talk at the U of T will be taking place on Monday, April 27, in University College room 161: "Why are there no asleep cats? Children, language and Big Data."

April 14, 2015

LIN1205 poster session

Meg Grant's Experimental Design students are going to be presenting their work in a small poster session in the department lounge on Friday the 17th from 2:30 PM to 3:30 PM. There will also be light refreshments. We hope you’ll be able to stop by!

April 11, 2015


The sixth North American GALANA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition) conference was held at the University of Maryland, College Park, from February 19th to 21st.

Ph.D. student Ailís Cournane presented a poster: "Modal errors as evidence for child-driven diachronic V-to-INFL reanalysis."

Alumna Lyn Tieu (MA 2008, now at l'École Normale Supérieure) was part of a presentation with colleagues Kadir Gökgöz (University of Connecticut), Ksenia Bogomolets (University of Connecticut), Jeffrey Palmer (Gallaudet University) and Diane Lillo-Martin (University of Connecticut/Haskins Laboratories): "Contrastive focus in children acquiring English and ASL: Cues of prominence."

April 10, 2015

Guest speaker: Meghan Armstrong (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is hosting a guest talk by Meghan Armstrong, an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Meghan's research interests include language acquisition, pragmatics, intonation, Puerto Rican Spanish, and African-American Vernacular English. She will be giving a talk at Victoria College 212 on Friday, April 17, at 2 PM: "Intonation and belief states in adult and child speech: The state of the art."

This talk synthesizes recent research on how speakers are able to convey their mental states through intonation, in addition to how children learn to do so. Not only do speakers convey information about phrasing, sentence type and focus through intonation, but they are also able to convey information about their belief states (Ward & Hirschberg, 1985).  In fact, speakers are often able to mark a sentence for utterance type and belief state at the same time (Armstrong, in press; Armstrong & Prieto, in press). This has been documented especially for the case of polar, or yes-no questions (Escandell-Vidal, 1998; Armstrong, in press). The idea that speakers may mark sentences for both sentence type and epistemic states through an intonational morpheme is perhaps unsurprising since the same phenomenon is observed in many languages through particles. Oftentimes sentence-final particles (SFPs) specifically mark an utterance as a question (sentence-type marking), while at the same time giving the hearer information about the speaker’s epistemic stance towards propositional content (belief state intonation). This is the case for languages such as Lao, or Tzetzal, for example (Enfield et al., 2013). Often times intonationists are tempted to assume that contour choice for polar questions is based on coarse-grained dichotomies such as information-seeking vs. confirmation-seeking questions, or neutral versus biased questions. While it is of course possible that contour choice for polar questions is based on these types of dichotomies in some languages, we should not expect this to be the case for every language. This is clear for the case of SFPs in the languages that have them – cross-linguistic study of SFPs shows that the way in which the semantic space is carved for SFPs varies from language to language. Therefore, the type of information about speaker belief states that is grammaticalized from language to language varies. The case of intonation seems to be no different. Drawing from recent experimental work in Romance and American English, I show that languages and dialects are indeed able to convey different types of belief state information through intonational morphemes. I will discuss ways of improving our methodology to better understand how speakers carve their semantic spaces intonationally. Finally, I will discuss how these facts have implications for L1 acquisition of intonation, proposing that a “meaning-based” component will be crucial as researchers work towards a theory of intonational development.

April 8, 2015

Research Groups: Friday, April 10

Note that there is no Phonetics/Phonology group meeting tomorrow.

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Group
Matt Hunt Gardner's thesis proposal. Title: "Grammatical variation and change in industrial Cape Breton." Committee: Sali A. Tagliamonte (chair), Jack Chambers, and Aaron Dinkin. Ph.D. students and members of the graduate faculty are expected to be present if possible. All other members of the department (and/or the LVC group) are welcome to attend. Please aim to arrive by 9:30 AM sharp.

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Extended meeting to accommodate guest speaker Lauren Eby Clemens: "The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure: A look at Chol and Niuean."


This year's Annual Conference on African Linguistics was held on March 26th to 28th at the University of Oregon, Eugene.

Postdoc Keffyalew Gebregziabher presented "Are Tigrinya (double) pronominal possessive affixes clitics or agreement markers?"

Alumnus Nik Rolle (MA 2010, now at the University of California, Berkeley) presented a paper with colleague Ethelbert E. Kari (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies): "Degema serial verbs at the syntax-phonology interface."

Congratulations, Liisa!

Liisa Duncan defended her doctoral dissertation, "Productivity of Finnish vowel harmony: Experimental evidence", on Tuesday, April 7. The committee was comprised of Keren Rice, Yoonjung Kang, Alexei Kochetov, Peter Avery, Peter Jurgec, and Andries Coetzee (external examiner).

Congratulations, Dr. Duncan! (Photographs provided by Keren Rice.)

Andries, Peter J., Keren, Peter A., Liisa, Alexei, and Yoonjung

Duncan/Chocorlan family

Dr. Mom!

GLOW 2015

GLOW (Generative Linguistics in the Old World) is occurring from the 15th to the 18th in Paris. Several past (and future) members of our department will be involved.

Former visiting professor Peter Hallman (University of Vienna) is presenting "Temporal perspective in the state/event distinction."

Monica Irimia (Ph.D. 2011, now at the University of York): "Restructuring and adjectival small clauses."

Incoming faculty member Guillaume Thomas (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro): "Rising scale segments: additivity, comparison and continuation."

Lyn Tieu (MA 2008, now at l'École Normale Supérieure) with colleagues Lynda Kennedy, Jacopo Romoli, and Raffaella Folli: "Scope ambiguity in Broca's aphasia: Evidence for a grammar-specific impairment."

Ewan Dunbar (MA 2008, now at l'École Normale Supérieure) with colleagues Gabriel Synnaeve and Emmanuel Dupoux: "On the origin of features: Quantitative methods for comparing representations."

Keir Moulton (MA 2002, now at Simon Fraser University) with Nino Grillo: "Mismatching pseudo-relatives describe event kinds."

April 7, 2015

Guest speaker: Françoise Rose (CNRS/Université Lyon 2)

Our department is pleased to welcome Françoise Rose from the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) and Université Lyon 2. Her research interests include phonology, morphosyntax, Amazonian languages, typology, language documentation, and socio/historical linguistics.

On Tuesday, April 14, at 1 PM, she will be giving a talk reporting on work done with Peter Bakker (Aarhus University, Denmark): "The cross-linguistic diversity of categorical genderlects."

The location is to be announced; watch this space for updates.

While it is frequent for males and females around the world to have different linguistic usages, it is rare for males and females of the same community to have different grammars. This talk presents the rare cases of categorical genderlects attested around the world, i.e. cases where a language has variants used exclusively by speakers of one gender, or used exclusively with addressees of a specific gender. It starts with a general introduction to gender indexicality and then presents the inventory of the 96 languages that we have surveyed as showing categorical genderlects. The talk then focuses on the diversity of the phenomenon. Genderlects differ in respect to which of the speech act participants has their gender indexed. They also differ in the domain of the grammar that indexes the gender of the speech act participant: phonology, lexicon, morphology, or discourse markers.

Guest speaker: Beth Hume (University of Canterbury)

We're delighted to welcome Elizabeth (Beth) Hume from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand. Beth is a phonologist whose wide-ranging research over several decades has involved (among other things) speech perception, features, markedness, epenthesis, predictability, consonant-vowel interactions, geminates, language change, French, and Maltese.

She will be giving a talk reporting on a recent collaboration with Kathleen Currie Hall (UBC), Florian Jaeger (University of Rochester), and Andrew Wedel (University of Arizona): "The message shapes phonology: A unified account of strong and weak patterns." This will be taking place on Monday, April 13, at 3 PM, in SS 1072.

A central goal of phonology is to achieve an understanding of sound patterns that can account for both cross-linguistic commonalities and language-specific details. Notable success in recent years has come through integrating insights about the articulatory and perceptual underpinnings of phonology (Archangeli & Pulleyblank 1994; Boersma 1998; Browman & Goldstein 1986; Flemming 1995; Hayes, Kirchner & Steriade 2004; Hume & Johnson 2001; Jun 1995; Padgett 2005; Steriade 2008; etc.) with understandings of how language sound systems function and evolve in communities over time (Blevins 2004; Bybee 2001; Kirby 2010; Lindblom 1990; Ohala 1981; Pierrehumbert 2003; Wedel 2006; etc.). Here, we contribute to this project by synthesizing these general findings with newer information theoretic and Bayesian approaches that investigate sound patterns as part of a larger communication system (Aylett & Turk 2004; Cohen-Priva 2012; Hall 2009, 2013; Hume & Bromberg 2005; Hume & Mailhot 2013; Hume et al. 2013; Pate & Goldwater 2015; Piantadosi et al. 2011; Seyfarth 2014; Wedel et al., in press). We show that inclusion of a putative bias toward effective message transmission into our model improves explanatory coverage for a broad range of phonological patterns. Specifically, we show that an approach that incorporates competing biases in lexical information transmission toward (i) low error probability and (ii) low resource cost provides a more predictive account for the range and diversity of many phonological pattern types.

To introduce this approach we concentrate on a diverse group of asymmetrical phonological patterns that can be framed, in general terms, as being weak or strong, exemplified by lenitions and fortitions. To begin, we describe a general puzzle that is presented by the apparently disparate contexts in which strong and weak phonological patterns appear. We then provide background on language as a communication system, and review evidence that communicative goals, such as robust information transmission, do in fact influence language variation and change. We then return to the puzzle and provide a predictive account of strong and weak phonological patterns that makes use of the message-based framework. Time permitting, we return to sound patterns more generally and suggest that the fundamental principles and mechanisms at issue here form part of the context in which most, if not all, phonological patterns arise.

April 3, 2015

Guest speaker: Lauren Eby Clemens (McGill University)

We're pleased to welcome Lauren Eby Clemens on Friday the 10th. Lauren is a theoretical linguist keenly interested in syntax, phonology, and the intersection thereof; she earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 2014 under the supervision of Maria Polinsky and is now a postdoctoral researcher at McGill.

She will be giving a talk on her research in an extended meeting of the Syntax/Semantics Squib Section: Friday, April 10, 1:00 PM to 2:30 PM, in SS 560A: "The possibilities and limitations of using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure: A look at Chol and Niuean."

This talk explores the possibilities and limitations for using prosodic phrasing as a diagnostic for syntactic structure in the context of two verb-initial (V1) languages – Chol (Mayan) and Niuean (Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Oceanic) – that display similar patterns of word order variation (Coon 2010; Massam 2001). To date, no consensus has emerged among syntacticians about how to derive V1 order, but three approaches have received particularly widespread support: 1) right-branching specifier, 2) VP-fronting, and 3) head movement. These three syntactic analyses make different predictions for the assignment of prosodic structure, which can be cached out in Match Theory (Selkirk 2011). Match Theory posits violable constraints calling for isomorphism between syntactic and prosodic constituents. Here, I argue that the right-branching specifier account should be rejected in favor of a movement account based on the prosodic realization of different V1 structures in these languages. However, prosodic arguments alone cannot reliably distinguish between the two movement accounts under consideration (head movement and VP-fronting). Instead, I show how prosodic arguments can be used in conjunction with syntactic arguments to solve problems of syntactic structure and constituency.

April 2, 2015


The 33rd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) was held at Simon Fraser University from the 27th to the 29th of March.

Diane Massam (faculty) presented "Applicatives and secondary predicates."

Bronwyn Bjorkman (postdoc) co-presented a poster with colleague Hedde Zeijlstra of the University of Göttingen: "Upward Agree is superior."

Several alumni were also involved:

Richard Compton (Ph.D. 2012, MA 2004, now at l'Université du Québec à Montréal): "Detecting the effects of a covert aP layer in polysynthetic words in Inuit."

Isaac Gould (MA 2010, now at MIT): "Learning from ambiguous input via parameter interaction (or lack thereof)."

Monica Irimia (Ph.D. 2011, now at the University of York): "Restructuring and adjectival small clauses."

Will Oxford (Ph.D. 2014, now at the University of Manitoba), with colleague Heather Bliss (University of Victoria): "A microparametric approach to syncretisms in nominal inflection."


The eighth annual Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal workshop on semantics (TOM 8) is being held on Saturday, April 11 at Carleton University. Faculty member Daphna Heller is presenting an invited talk: "Modification and contrast: The view from psycholinguistics."

Report from LIN362 poster session

Aaron Dinkin's Historical Linguistics class had the chance to show off their research in this lively poster session, held in the lounge on Monday night. (Photos by Marisa Brook.)

Guest speaker for discussion: Andries Coetzee (University of Michigan)

Our department is pleased to welcome Andries Coetzee, a faculty member at the University of Michigan. His interests include phonology, phonetics, speech processing, and the languages of southern Africa. We will be holding an informal discussion with Andries about phonology and current issues in the field: Tuesday, April 7 at 4 PM in SS 2111.

We recommend reading the following two papers by Andries before the meeting in order to become acquainted with his research:

Coetzee, Andries (2014). Grammatical change through lexical accumulation: Voicing cooccurrence restrictions in Afrikaans. Language, 90(3), 693-721.

Lin, Susan; Patrice Speeter Beddor; and Andries W. Coetzee (2014). Gestural reduction, lexical frequency, and sound change: A study of post-vocalic /l/. Laboratory Phonology, 5(1), 9-36.

April 1, 2015

New publication by Meg Grant and collaborators

Congratulations to faculty member Meg Grant and her colleagues on the publication of an article in the Journal of Memory and Language:

Staub, A., M. Grant, L. Astheimer, and A. Cohen (2015). The influence of cloze probability and item constraint on cloze task response time. Journal of Memory and Language, 82(1), 1-17.


In research on the role of lexical predictability in language comprehension, predictability is generally defined as the probability that a word is provided as a sentence continuation in the cloze task (Taylor 1953), in which subjects are asked to guess the next word of a sentence. The present experiments investigate the process by which subjects generate a cloze response, by measuring the latency to initiate a response in a version of the task in which subjects produce a spoken continuation to a visually presented sentence fragment. Higher probability responses were produced faster than lower probability responses. The latency to produce a response was also influenced by item constraint: A response at a given level of probability was issued faster when the context was more constraining, i.e., a single response was elicited with high probability. We show that these patterns are naturally produced by an activation-based race model in which potential responses independently race towards a response threshold. Implications for the interpretation of cloze probability as a measure of lexical predictability are discussed.