February 27, 2015

Guest speaker: John Grinstead (Ohio State University)

We are pleased to welcome John Grinstead from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese at Ohio State. His research is centered around language acquisition and language disorders. On Friday, March 6, John will be giving a talk: "Dimensions of developmental semantics and pragmatics." This will take place in 2108 Sidney Smith Hall starting at 3:30 PM. There will be a subsequent reception in the department lounge.

Studies demonstrate, at least on a small scale, that 5 year-old children can access the truth conditional and the pragmatically enriched meaning of existential quantifiers in child English, in spite of confusion arising from methodological differences. Cross-linguistic differences in the comprehension of existentials arise from, for example, the necessary interface with segmental and suprasegmental phonology in English (e.g. sm vs. some vs. SOME), while in Spanish this interface appears to be less critical for making basic distinctions, allowing earlier convergence on the adult system (unos vs. algunos). An additional dimension of existentials, and universals for that matter, is their susceptibility to collective vs. distributive interpretations. While ciascun in adult Italian and cada in adult Spanish are restricted to distributive interpretations, the definite article i in Italian appears unspecified for distributivity vs. collectivity. In contrast, los, in adult Spanish is categorically a collective quantifier. Similarly, the existential unos appears to have a categorically collective interpretation. While child Italian-speakers appear to show a relationship between ciascun and i that is purported to be mediated by pragmatics (Pagliarini et al 2012), child Spanish-speakers show a relationship between cada and los (and also unos) that seems more likely to be a function of lexical semantics, with a strong correlation between cada, los and unos, in both adult and developmental samples.

February 24, 2015

Public lecture: Ariel Shisha-Halevy (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

The Canadian Society for Coptic Studies presents a public lecture on the Coptic language: "The epic of Coptic linguistics: A brief personal view", by emeritus professor Ariel Shisha-Halevy of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

This talk will place on Thursday March 12, from 12:00 PM to 1:30 PM, in room 214 of 4 Bancroft Avenue.

In this conversational lecture, I wish to share with you some descriptive, biographical and historical highlights of this extraordinary language, in its two major aspects, namely the 'latest Egyptian' phase, and (which is somewhat intangible) as a special language type. The former is briefly addressed, with the regrettable present-day rift between Coptic and Egyptian. The peculiarities of the latter are illustrated by converters, converbs, zero article, subject position, Nominal and Cleft Sentences. Finally, and time permitting, some dialectological observations are made.

Research Groups: Friday, February 27

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Kathrin Münsch, Department of Psychology: "Temporal integration of information during speech perception and production"

To understand the world, we must combine patterns of information over time. For example, we effortlessly understand each word within the context of a continuous sentence. Our ability to integrate information over time may however be affected by the meaningfulness of the information we integrate. We recorded electrocorticographic (ECoG) signals from four participants who perceived, silently rehearsed and reproduced spoken sentences. Across trials, the meaning of identical sentences was manipulated via a prior contextual cue. In addition, meaningless sentences were used as a control condition. We present preliminary results, focusing on reliable stimulus-locked fluctuations of high-frequency power (70-200 Hz) in auditory and motor regions during speech perception. The current paradigm complements accounts of temporal integration based on verbal working memory, by instead focusing on the role of semantics in the continuous integration of incoming naturalistic information.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Radu Craioveanu: "Aspectual case marking in Finnish and Estonian."

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Group discussion on approaches to data storage and management.

Schedule for workshop in honour of Elizabeth Cowper

The schedule for the upcoming Workshop on Contrast in Syntax has now been posted. The workshop will be held in late April and will honour Elizabeth Cowper's 38 years in our department (plus the School of Graduate Studies and the Department of Humanities at our Scarborough campus). It will feature fourteen graduate alumni who were supervised by Elizabeth and are now returning* to the U of T to report on their research since.

* Other than Diane Massam, who has been here for more than 25 years herself.

February 23, 2015

Guest talk at UTM: Xi Becky Chen (University of Toronto) and Vedran Dronjic (Carnegie Mellon)

OISE faculty member Xi Becky Chen and collaborator Vedran Dronjic (Carnegie Mellon) will be giving a talk at our Mississauga campus this Friday at 2 PM in 2080 Deerfield Hall: "Tracking the development of Mandarin-speaking children's morphological awareness from kindergarten to Grade 6."

Awareness of morphological structure is known to be essential for word identification, spelling, and reading comprehension in a variety of languages and scripts. This awareness emerges in the preschool years, develops in a piecemeal fashion, with much individual variation, and is considerably enhanced through formal education. Morpheme saliency is one factor known to influence the development of morphological awareness. However, the developmental course of morphological awareness is not well understood, particularly for languages other than English. In this talk, we will report on a series of studies carried out in China with a large sample of Mandarin-speaking children (n = 645) ranging in age from kindergartners to Grade 6 students. The children were required to decide whether pairs of auditorily presented bimorphemic Mandarin compounds shared one of their roots or did not share a root. We will discuss the influence of semantic relatedness (closely versus distantly related words), root type (bound versus free), and orthography (same versus different hànzì character) on the children’s ability to perform the experimental task.  We will also present an outline of the developmental trajectory of aspects of Mandarin-speaking children’s morphological awareness.

February 19, 2015

Guest speaker: Walter Pedersen (University of Toronto)

Faculty member Walter Pedersen will be giving a talk on Friday the 27th in 560A, starting at 3:15 PM: "Again-st decomposition: a scalar analysis of 'again' ambiguities."

The idea that apparently mono-clausal sentences (e.g. 'The door opened') are analyzable as being underlyingly multi-clausal (e.g. [BECOME [the door open ] ] ) has been present in syntactic theory in some form or another since the time of the Generative Semantics movement. In this talk, I argue that the traditional BECOME/small-clause approach to inchoative verbs faces a number of insurmountable problems; these include, among others, the overgeneration of adverbial ambiguities, incorrect truth-conditions for sentences with adverbs in decomposition-internal attachment sites, and incompatibility with certain kinds of modifiers (like directional measure-phrases). A scalar approach, which does not require positing multiple clausal levels in the representation of what on the surface appears to be a mono-clausal sentence, is shown to avoid many of the problems inherent in the decompositional approach. However, moving from a decompositional analysis of inchoative verbs to a scalar one requires new explanations for phenomena, like 'again'-ambiguities, that have been previously handled in decompositional terms. It is shown that, in many ways, scale-sensitive meanings can take the place of decompositional structures in the explanations of such ambiguities, resulting in analyses that are preferable on both empirical and theoretical grounds.

February 12, 2015

Marshall Chasin on The Current

Faculty member Marshall Chasin was interviewed on the CBC program The Current yesterday morning, talking about the history of hearing aids. His four-minute segment of the episode can be found here.

February 10, 2015

Research Groups: Friday, February 13

Note that the LVC group meeting this week is cancelled.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Bronwyn Bjorkman on a joint project on cyclicity with alumnus Ewan Dunbar (MA 2008).

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Paper discussion led by Meg Grant: Rett (2014). "The polysemy of measurement." Lingua, 143, 242-266.

February 8, 2015

OCP 12

The twelfth annual Old World Conference in Phonology (OCP) took place in Barcelona, Spain, from the 27th to the 30th of January.

Professor Emeritus Elan Dresher co-presented a paper with Andrew Nevins (University College London): "Undergoers are harmony sources: Maintaining iterative harmony in Oroqen dialects."

Fourth-year Ph.D. student Ross Godfrey presented "Morphologically conditioned lengthening as a processing effect."

Alumna Christina Bjorndahl (MA 2008, now at Cornell University) presented "The cross-linguistic phonological and phonetic identity of /v/."

Former visiting professor Ranjan Sen (University of Sheffield) presented "Pre-classical prevarication in Latin feet: Stratal synchronic structure and discretionary diachronic development."

February 7, 2015

Guest speaker: Bruce Starlight (Language Commissioner, Tsúùt'ínà Nation)

We're pleased to be about to welcome Bruce Starlight, the Language Commissioner for the Tsúùt'ínà Nation of Alberta. He will be giving a talk on Friday the 13th in SS 560A, starting at 3:30 PM: "The central place of paradigms in teaching Dene languages."

Dene languages like Tsúùt'ínà have complex verbal systems, with frequently dozens of forms of each verb. Control of the verb paradigms is one of the hallmarks of fluent speakers, who can also build new verbs on the fly by adding extra morphology. In addition, our languages are very verb-centred; many nouns for day-to-day objects are derived from verb phrases, and this is the most common way of coining new nouns.

One of the current challenges we face in teaching our languages is the fact that in many educational jurisdictions, curricula are expected to follow an ESL model, where typically half an hour is allotted for the introduction, teaching and practice of a new verb. For languages like English, where verbs have only a few forms, this approach is reasonable, but for Dene languages it creates great difficulties for both teachers and learners. For this reason, it is important for any Dene-language curriculum to allow considerable more lesson time for new verbs, and when designing teaching methods, to look for ideas to teachers of other “verby” languages, like Arabic, Hindi, or Hungarian, not English.

February 6, 2015

Chris Harvey in Mohawk language revitalization documentary

Ph.D. student Chris Harvey was recently interviewed for Raising the Words, a short documentary film project by Chloë Ellingson. As described on the project's website, the film will explore "personal experiences with Mohawk language revitalization in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, a community roughly 200 kilometers east of Toronto, Canada." The film will be completed in 2015.

New Publication by Phil Howson

Congratulations to second-year Ph.D. student Phil Howson! An article based on his 2013 MA Forum paper (with faculty members Alexei Kochetov of our department and Pascal van Lieshout of Speech-Language Pathology) has appeared in the latest issue of the prestigious Journal of Phonetics.

The article, entitled "Examination of the grooving patterns of the Czech trill-fricative", can be found here.

February 4, 2015

Research Groups: Friday, February 6

Note that there is no syntax/semantics group meeting this week.

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Robert Redford (undergraduate alumnus, psychology, UTM): “The Good, the bad, and the ugly: Incremental interpretation of evaluative adjectives."

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Paper discussion of an article by Heather Burnett.

Greetings from Graziela Bohn

Graziela Bohn, who spent last year in our department as a visiting student, has recently returned to Brazil. She has sent us gorgeous pictures of the beach across from where she lives (where it is now 36˚ C!), and her son, born in Toronto last fall, and her city, Santos.

February 3, 2015

New book by Michael Barrie

A new book by alumnus Michael Barrie (Ph.D. 2006) has just been announced on the Linguist List:

Title: A Grammar of Onondaga 
Series Title: Languages of the World/Materials 503  
Publication Year: 2015 
Publisher: Lincom GmbH

Congratulations, Michael!

Guest talk: Heather Burnett (Université de Toulouse)

Our department is pleased to welcome Heather Burnett of the Université de Toulouse, 2-Jean Jaurès. Heather earned her Ph.D. from UCLA in 2012. She is a semanticist with additional interests in syntax and sociolinguistics, currently working on a project about syntactic microvariation in the Romance languages of France. She will be giving a talk, "Vagueness and scale structure in delineation semantics," in SS 1085 at 3 PM on Friday the 6th. A reception will follow in the department lounge.

In this presentation, I present a new theory of the relationship between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and adjectival scale structure set within the Delineation semantics framework (Kamp, 1975; Klein, 1980, among others). From an empirical point of view, I argue that the four principle subclasses of adjectival predicates (relative adjectives (ex. tall), total absolute adjectives (ex. dry), partial absolute adjectives (ex. wet), and non-scalar adjectives (ex. atomic)) can be distinguished along three dimensions: 1) how their criteria of application can vary depending on context; 2) how they display the characteristic properties of vague language; and 3) what the properties of their associated orders (a.k.a. scales) are. It has been known for a long time in the literature (cf. Unger (1975), Pinkal (1995), Kennedy (2007), McNally (2011) a.o.) that there exist connections between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and scale structure; however, a formal system that expresses these connections has yet to be developed. By combining insights into the relationship between context-sensitivity and scalarity from the delineation semantics framework with insights into the relationship between tolerance relations and the Sorites paradox from Cobreros, Égré, Ripley & van Rooij (2012)’s Tolerant, Classical, Strict (TCS) framework, I propose such a logical system. Using this framework, I show that the association of particular classes of adjectives with their particular kinds of scales can be derived from their context-sensitivity and vagueness properties. In other words, I argue that from independently necessary theories of context-sensitivity and vagueness, we arrive at a full theory of gradability and scale structure in the adjectival domain.