January 31, 2019

Lex at UTM Linguistics Brown Bag

Lex Konnelly (Ph.D.) is the next guest speaker for the Linguistics Brown Bag Lunch series at the Mississauga campus. Their talk, "Linguistic innovation and advocacy in trans and gender-diverse communities: The morphosyntax of singular they", will be taking place on Monday, February 4, from 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM in room 5128 of the New North Building.

As one of the primary means of constructing gendered identities, language is a matter of central concern to transgender people (Zimman 2018). In this talk, I highlight the burgeoning relationship between transgender communities, linguistics, and social justice, drawing attention to the role language has played in wider cultural orientations to transgender issues as well as the ways in which linguistics can be at the forefront of this critical activism. By way of example, I report on joint work with Elizabeth Cowper (in prep.) on the non-binary usage of singular they; that is, they as used to refer to individuals whose gender identity is not, or is not exclusively, masculine or feminine (1). Despite they's widespread usage, not all speakers judge this most recent innovation to be grammatical, even if they do not object to singular they in quantified (2), generic (3), or otherwise gender non-specific (4) contexts and would produce such examples natively.
(1) When Arthuri arrives, please ask themi to fill out this form.
(2) If anyonei comes to the door, tell themi to go away.
(3) The perfect studenti always finishes theiri homework.
(4) I heard they hired a new teacheri. I wonder which grade theyi’ll be assigned to.
We argue that resistance to this new use of they can, at least in part, be attributed to speakers' level of participation in a grammatical change in progress. Further, we propose that this change can be categorized into three distinct stages, with they's most recent broadening – that is, as a non-binary pronoun of reference – dovetailing with wider sociocultural changes (as well as featural changes beyond the pronominal system) that underscore the difficulty in separating grammatical and social judgments. As I aim to show, linguists from all disciplines – both theoretical and applied – are especially well-suited to leverage theoretical insights to advocate for trans-affirming language practice.

January 30, 2019

Guest speaker: Rachel Dudley (École normale supérieure)

We are delighted to welcome Rachel Dudley, who earned her Ph.D. in Linguistics from the University of Maryland in 2017 and is now a postdoctoral fellow at l'Institut Jean Nicod of the École normale supérieure. Her research is focused on language acquisition and cognitive aspects of semantics/pragmatics. She will be giving a talk, "How to learn the difference between 'know' and 'think'," at 3:00 PM on Friday, February 1, in SS560A. A reception will follow in the department lounge.

What kind of input is available to the child learning language? How do they use this input? What does that imply about the nature of the grammar? Questions about how children come to acquire adult-like competence, and about the relationship between the child, the grammar, and the input, are central in language acquisition. Nevertheless, research that engages with them is rare because it is resource-intensive and requires drawing together insights from language development, from theoretical and descriptive linguistics, from philosophy and from cognitive development. In my research, I have tried to address these questions in the domain of semantic and pragmatic development. In particular, I have focused on how children master subtle distinctions in meaning, such as the difference between the propositional attitude verbs 'know' and 'think'. While both are belief verbs, there are differences in their meaning that affect the ways we can use them. 'Know' is a factive presupposition trigger and can only be used to describe true beliefs that we take for granted. In contrast, 'think' is non-factive and can be used to describe beliefs which we do not take for granted and may in fact be false. When do children master this difference? And how do they come to do so? Answers to these questions are central in language acquisition, but also have implications throughout cognitive science given the central role of propositional attitudes and mental state concepts. In this talk, I will present results from a series of studies that integrate behavioral methodologies and corpus analyses to (i) determine when children differentiate 'know' and 'think'; (ii) develop learning theories about the kinds of input cues which might help children differentiate them; and (iii) test whether these cues are actually related to children's comprehension of the difference. Results suggest that children start to master these verbs early within the preschool years, but with variability in age of acquisition. This variability is related to differences in individual children's linguistic input that are indirectly informative about the underlying semantic contrast between the verbs. This allows us to make clear predictions about the kinds of evidence that children use to learn the meanings of attitude verbs and presupposition triggers more broadly. Future work will test these predictions on a wider set of data, including input in different dialects, in different languages, with different presupposition triggers, and within the grammar more broadly.

January 29, 2019

Suzi and Alana at Upper Canada College

Faculty members Suzi Lima and Alana Johns gave a joint presentation - "Indigenous languages of the Americas: Two perspectives," - at Upper Canada College on January 17, 2019. The audience responded with many engaged and thoughtful questions. (Photo courtesy of UCC staff members Sophia Berezowsky, James Liao, and Brandon Sambrano.)

January 28, 2019

Research Groups: Week of January 28-February 1

Tuesday, January 29, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, Innis College 313
Morphology Reading Group
Ross Godfrey (Ph.D.) leading a discussion of: Creemers, Ava, Jan Don, and Paula Fenger (2018). Some affixes are roots, others are heads. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 36, 45-84.

Friday, February 1, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Miriam Neuhausen (visiting scholar) on her research on heritage German as spoken in the Kitchener-Waterloo area.

Friday, February 1, 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM
Phonology Research Group
Photini Coutsougera (University of Cyprus): "High front vowel deletion, palatalization, and fortition in Arcadian Greek."
The focus of this paper is the high front vowel /i/ and its status in Arcadian Peloponnesian (ArcGR), an entirely unstudied variety of Greek spoken in the mountainous region of Arcadia in central Peloponnese. ArcGR shares the same five-vowel system (probably with some acoustic differences?) as SMG. The two differ in that ArcGR has light diphthongs (postvocalic /i/ semivocalises and forms a light diphthong with the vowel preceding it), which are very rare in SMG. Additionally, the status of the high front vowel in ArcGR is different from that in SMG. /i/ is not as stable as the other four vowels when unstressed and is therefore more vulnerable to its phonological environment. More specifically:
In ViC, Vi# contexts it semivocalises and forms a light diphthong with the preceding vowel.
In CiV contexts it either triggers full palatalization in the preceding C or undergoes fortition.
In Ci# contexts it triggers either full palatalization in the preceding C or is deleted, triggering secondary palatalization in the preceding C (or strengthened palatalization according to Baltazani et al. 2016).
In CiC contexts it either triggers full palatalization in the preceding C or is deleted. 
Baltazani et al. (2016) propose that high vowel loss in Ci# context (where C is a labial or a non-sibilant coronal) in two northern varieties of Greek triggers strengthened palatalization and not secondary palatalization in the preceding C. This extension to the current palatalization typology (see Kotchetov 2016), is claimed to be justified on both phonetic and phonological grounds. Despite the geographical distance, the ArcGR examples that feature high vowel loss are strikingly similar to those of the aforementioned northern varieties of Greek. According to the existing literature high vowel loss is thought to be featuring exclusively in northern varieties of Greek. In fact, it constitutes a basic classification criterion used by virtually all Greek dialectologists who have attempted to classify the Greek dialects. The results of this paper may therefore have implications on the classification of Greek dialects and their representation on the dialectal map of Greek as drawn by Trudgill (2003).

Friday, February 1, 1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Semantics Research Group
Keir Moulton (faculty) on joint work with Paula Menéndez Benito (Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen): "Reasoning and evidence: Sources and direction."
Natural languages have constructions that indicate that a claim is based on reasoning from evidence. Some of these constructions encode a particular directionality of evidence (e.g., Davis and Hara 2014, Winans 2016). The phenomenon can be illustrated with the examples in (1) and (2) (after Davis and Hara 2014). While epistemic 'must' expresses conclusions that follow from a piece of evidence (1) as well as conclusions about what might have caused the evidence (2), 'seem'-reports are only possible if the embedded claim is assumed to be cause of the available evidence (a "Reasoning Back" (RB) effect, as in (2)). Other constructions that have been shown to convey a RB effect are (i) a sub-class of evidential inferential elements (see Krawczyk 2012 and references therein), and (ii) the presentational 'this' construction (Winans 2016).
(1) Reasoning Forward from Evidence.
We see, from the 20th floor, rain pouring down but we cannot see the street.
a. The sidewalks must be soaked.
b. #The sidewalks seem to be soaked / It seems that the sidewalks are soaked.
(2) Reasoning Back from Evidence.
We see, on a security camera that shows only the sidewalks, that they are soaking wet.
a. It must be pouring rain.
b. It seems that it’s pouring rain.
In this talk, which reports on work in progress, we tentatively suggest that there are two possible sources for the RB back effect: (i) evidential and epistemic items might contribute RB lexically (as Davis and Hara 2014 argued for the Japanese evidential particle "youda"); (ii) in other constructions the RB effect might come about via a default predication relation that holds between propositions and topic situations (building on Winan's (2016) proposal for presentational 'this' constructions). In support of this second possibility, we present initial data that suggest that bare assertions and some canonical doxastic alternatives ('think' and 'believe') can encode a RB effect.

January 27, 2019

Guest speaker: David Birdsong (University of Texas at Austin)

The Department of French is hosting a talk by David Birdsong of the University of Texas at Austin, whose research is focused on second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and French. He will be giving a talk on Thursday the 31st of January at 2:00 PM at St. Michael's College, in the Charbonnel Lounge at 81 St. Mary Street: "Different learners, different outcomes: Understanding variability in second language acquisition."

Classic formulations of adult second language (L2) acquisition (e.g. Bley-Vroman 1990) seek explanations for variable attainment among individuals; that is, why different outcomes are to be expected from different learners. This presentation looks at this essential characteristic of L2 acquisition in its multiple forms, and with respect to the learner-internal and external factors that contribute to it. With examples from the learning of English and French, we examine putative sources of L2 variability such as age of acquisition, language dominance, cognitive aging, genetics, and learner types. Transcending 'different learners, different outcomes', we consider relatively understudied instances of learner-independent variability that may reflect the grammatical forms under examination, scaling effects, sample size, and choice of statistical models. The presentation concludes with observations on native-language variability, exceptional L2 learners, and (non) nativelikeness in L2 acquisition and bilingualism.

A reception will follow; all are welcome.

January 22, 2019

Research Groups: Friday, January 25

Note that Syntax Group is cancelled this week and also that SS560A is unavailable. Both of the other groups meeting this week will be in an alternative location, as follows.

10:00 AM - 12:00 PM in UC 144
Psycholinguistics Group
Ella Rabinovich (postdoc, Department of Computer Science): "Native language cognate effects on second language lexical choice."

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM in SS 568
Fieldwork Group
Group discussion led by Jean-François Juneau (Ph.D.): Burton, Strang and Matthewson, Lisa (2015). Targeted construction storyboards in semantic fieldwork. In M. Ryan Bochnak and ‎Lisa Matthewson (eds.), Methodologies in semantic fieldwork, 135-156. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

January 19, 2019

Congratulations, LeAnn!


LeAnn Brown (MA 2009, Ph.D. 2015) has recently started a two-year postdoc position with the NoBiPho project, which is associated with Aix-Marseille Université/Laboratoire Parole et Langage (in Aix-en-Provence) and with the Nouvelle-Sorbonne (in Paris). She'll collaborate primarily with Maria Candea, Mariapaola D’Imperio, Julie Abbou, Aron Arnold, Luca Greco, Oriana Reid-Collins, and James German. The NoBiPho project explores voice and discourse in terms of production and perception across the gender spectrum, with a focus on non-binary speakers of English and of French. This follows up on LeAnn's 1.5 year postdoc position with James German on the GenSpecS project, which generated the corpus being used in the NoBiPho project. LeAnn's dissertation, supervised by Naomi Nagy (faculty), was on the perception of gender based on multiple vowel and fricative cues in English, and she's inspired about the next phase of research and about continuing to live in France.

Congratulations on the well-deserved new position, LeAnn, and all the best from all of us!

January 16, 2019

Research Groups: Friday, January 18

Note that there is no meeting of the Phonology Research Group this week.

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Elaine Gold (faculty) on public engagement in conjunction with the Canadian Language Museum; group discussion of ongoing outreach projects.

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Semantics Research Group
Marisa Brook (faculty) on possible semantic conditions on the pseudolocative where relativizer in English.

January 13, 2019

OCP 16

The 16th Old-World Conference on Phonology (OCP 16) is taking place at the University of Verona, Italy, from January 16 through 18.

Andrei Munteanu (Ph.D.) is giving a talk:
"Homophony avoidance: An experimental approach."

Heather Yawney (Ph.D.) is presenting a poster:
"Place and voicing restrictions of velar and uvular consonants in Kazakh."

Rachel Walker (MA 1993, now at the University of Southern California) and Yifan Yang (University of Southern California) are giving a talk:
"Combinative markedness in three-consonant clusters."

Sara Mackenzie (Ph.D. 2009, now at Memorial University of Newfoundland) has a poster:
"Allophony, neutralization, and structure preservation in Stratal OT."

January 9, 2019

New paper: Moulton and Shimoyama (2019)

Keir Moulton (faculty) and colleague Junko Shimoyama (McGill University) have a paper out in Glossa, 4(1): "On the Inverse Trace Conversion and maximal informativeness analysis of Japanese internally-headed relative clauses: A reply to Erlewine and Gould."

In this response to Erlewine and Gould (2016), we argue that an account of internally-headed relative clauses using Inverse Trace Conversion and the maximal informativeness semantics for definites of von Fintel et al. (2014) does not derive the observed interpretations when the internal head is quantified by certain downward entailing quantifiers and derives no interpretation at all for non-monotonic and some upward entailing quantifiers. We then argue that the cases that Erlewine & Gould (2016) claim to be a newly identified interpretation of internally-headed relatives are actually headless relatives.

January 8, 2019

Research Groups: Friday, January 11

Note that there is no meeting of the Psycholinguistics Group this week.

11:30 AM - 1:00 PM
Syntax Group
Keir Moulton (faculty): "Exceptional agreement via clausal determiners"
In this talk, reporting joint work with Nino Grillo (University of York), we suggest a mechanism for exceptional or long-distance agreement into finite clauses via a determiner heading CP. I start with a novel observation about pseudo-relative (PR) constructions in Italian (Cinque 1992): that they allow their subjects to optionally and exceptionally govern matrix agreement as in (1).

(1)[PR Carlo e Paolo che ballano il tango] è/sono un evento da non perdere.
Carlo and Paolo that dance-PRES the tango is/are an event to not miss
'Carlo and Paolo dancing the tango is/are an event not to miss.'

(2)[DP DC [PR [DPS Carlo e Paolo ] [C' che ballano ]]]

We first argue that (1) has the parse in (2), in which the PR subject
Carlo e Paolo is an argument of the finite PR clause, not the matrix clause. We then assemble arguments that the PR is embedded under a null D, which is crucial to licensing the PR subject but is nonetheless deficient in its ϕ-features, and therefore permits exceptional agreement with the embedded subject. We claim, following Deal (2014) and Halpert (2016), that this is possible because a head can continue to probe after one goal only partially satisfies it. Our results also add to a growing body of literature arguing for determiners on clauses (Roussou 1991, Davies 2010, Hartman 2012, Kastner 2015) and the beginnings of a literature on the semantics of determiners that combine with event- and proposition-sized constituents (Ferreira 2005, Iatridou 2014).

1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Fieldwork Group
Group discussion of the documentation work done by Javier Domingo (Université de Montréal) of Tehuelche (a Chonan language spoken in Patagonia) with the last speaker of the language, Dora Manchado, who passed away recently.

January 7, 2019

Guest speaker: Anari Bomfim (Museu Nacional/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro)

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is hosting a talk by Anari Bomfim, a Ph.D. candidate at the Museu Nacional/Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She is a member of the Pataxó people and will be reporting on the revitalization of their language, Patxohã, which is from the Macro-Jê family of South America. The title of her talk is "Patxohã, 'língua de guerreiro': O protagonismo do Povo Pataxó na retomada de sua língua originária" or "Patxohã, 'a warrior's language': The central role of the Pataxó people in the recovery of their language." This will be taking place on Thursday, January 10, from 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM, in the Regents Room (room 206) of the Goldring Student Centre. Note that the talk will be presented in Brazilian Portuguese but will have slides and a Q&A session in both that and English.

January 1, 2019

New office space

Following several years of space-division issues in Sidney Smith Hall, we are pleased to announce the imminent opening of the Linguistics Satellite on the 14th floor of Robarts Library. Campus staff are currently wiring up the offices and outfitting them with furniture. Partway through this month, Business Officer Mary Hsu, plus a number of emeritus faculty members and postdocs, will move in and finally have a sufficient amount of room. Current chair Sali A. Tagliamonte will be splitting her time between the two buildings over the course of a typical work-week. Everyone else in the department is encouraged to drop by the Satellite to say hello and explore our new space!