June 19, 2024

Professor Reynolds and the Controversy of More/Less: Paper Accepted at Journal of Linguistics

In May 2024, Adjunct Professor Brett Reynolds published his paper "Why more and less are never adverbs" in the Journal of Linguistics, arguing that the analysis of semantic information is useful for making categorical decisions about words and their meanings. 

This interesting work is somewhat of a discovery in the field of categorization. If we had all been agreed that timber wolves and grey wolves were distinct species, for example, Reynolds in his own words has come out with data which suggests that these are actually the same type of wolf living in different territories!

To read Reynolds' succinct twitter thread explaining the phenomenon, check out his Twitter: @brettrey3.

Figure 5of Reynolds' publication,
a k-means grouping between adjectives
and determinatives (pg. 26)
To summarize, words function differently according to context: the words "more" and "less" are categorized in most dictionaries as adverbs, as they can modify adjectives or adverbs, such as in the phrase "more/less quickly." However, they can also determine nouns, and in sentences such as "more/less food" are called determinatives.

Determinatives, (Ds) thus, don't just determine nouns, but they can also modify Advs. 

So why are "more" and "less" special? 

The Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, (CGEL) refers to these two words as adverbs because they perform the same linguistic function as the comparative -er and superlative -est in ways that "much" and "little" don't. 

Reynolds disputes this distinction - you can't have "much massive," but you can have "much [and more] different." 

He suggests that you get overlaps that don't follow rigid rules because of semantic scales, and not because "much" and "more" are categorically different. 

Adjectives "prefer" different modifiers according to semantic rules such as size, similarity, and improvement.

Analyzing different adjectives and their modifiers in a corpus, Reynolds noticed an "almost perfect" split between more-adjectives (blue), much-adjectives (red), and adjectives that are more ambivalent (green).

Thus, Reynolds says that the "most thorough and consistent grammar of English," the CGEL, is only "mostly right" in their categorization of Adjs. and Ds. 

Determinatives shouldn't be listed twice, once with adverbs, and again with other Ds: rather, words like "more" and "less" are never adverbs. 

Stay tuned to see what changes come out of this publication, and weigh in with your own two cents!

June 17, 2024

UofT at the 37th Annual Human Sentence Processing Conference

he University of Michigan’s Linguistics Department hosted the 37th Annual Conference on Human Sentence Processing, held at Ann Arbor May 16th-18th. A full list of UofT parrticipants can be found below.

UofT Linguistics presenters gave talks at this exciting conference, including Tiana Simovic of the Department of Psychology, her supervisor Dr. Craig Chambers, focusing on Psycholinguistics and Cognitive Science, and Wesley Orth, a Postdoctoral Fellow who completed his PhD at Northwestern University.

That presentation by Simovic and Chambers looked at how pragmatics (mental state reasoning) is involved in pronoun resolution, a relatively unexplored field.

At HSP 2023, they explored "how reasoning is involved in language processing." 

Orth's talk at the conference was a collaborative effort in relative clauses in Hungarian, a relatively understudied language. Unique properties of its structure allowed Orth and co. to test new hypotheses, testing variants which read to different reading behaviours, offering insights into the role of memory and prediction in processing. Their work will have an impact on tools for investigating such understudied languages.

Some posters from our UofT linguists included Dave Kush's poster on Active expectation in the processing of Urdu and Hindi correlative structures, in collaboration with Urwa Ali, Sanvi Dubey, Ishita Kumar, and Hayah Siddiqui. 

Their work developed a variant of the "violated expectation paradigm," used in work on expectations and prediction. Hypothesizing surprise if readers were presented with something other than a demonstrative pronoun at the start of a sentence after seeing a correlative, they measured reading time to gauge "surprise" in readers presented with a name at the start of a second sentence instead of a pronoun. Indeed, they found this surprise value. 

Future work will clarify whether these results show prediction of a pronoun as a subject of the next clause, or the pronoun as the first thing in the sentence - a challenging task due to Urdu and Hindi's flexible word order. 

Other posters included Ivan Bondoc’s on the subject relative clause advantage in Tagalog; Negative disjunctive sentences in child and adult Romanian: A preference for strong interpretations, co-authored by Lyn Tieu, assistant Professor in the French Department; and a poster on children’s interpretation of the hotly-debated ambiguous singular “they” by Anissa Baird, Nicole Hupalo, Mahnoor Khurram, and Emily Atkinson.

Notable alums presenting at the conference include Ailís Cournane, who earned her Master of Arts and PhD in Linguistics from the University of Toronto, and who now leads the Child Language Lab at New York University.

The Linguistics Department was proud to see so many of our own linguists forging new paths in their fields, and can't wait for HSP Conference #38!


Presentations and talks by UofT Linguists:

Talks:

Tiana Simovic and Craig Chambers: Pronoun Interpretation Highlights the Robustness of Social Perspective Reasoning

Sonny Wang and Craig ChambersThe Trait-Like Nature of Bridging and Instrument Inferences in Younger and Older Adults: An Individual Differences Study

Wesley Orth, Dávid Nemeskey, and Eszter Ronai: Hungarian relative clause processing: Diverging Results in L-maze and A-Maze


Posters by current UofT linguists:

Urwa Ali, Sanvi Dubey, Ishita Kumar, Hayah Siddiqui, Dave Kush: Active expectations in processing Urdu and Hindi correlative structures

Adina Camelia Bleotu, Lyn Tieu, Mara Panaitescu, Gabriela Bîlbîie, Anton Benz, Andreea Nicolae: Negative disjunctive sentences in child and adult Romanian: A preference for strong interpretations

Ivan Bondoc, Dave Kush: Animacy does not modulate the subject relative clause advantage in Tagalog

Anissa Baird, Nicole Hupalo, Mahnoor Khurram, Emily Atkinson: Children’s Interpretation of Ambiguous Singular "They"


Presentations by UofT Linguistics Alum: 

Maxime Tulling, Vishal Arvindam, Ailís Cournane: Maybe now, not later: online processing of possibility and negation in adults and 2-year-olds

June 14, 2024

Linguistics Spotlight: Nicholas Haggarty in the Field of Queer Linguistics

Some French words like, “quatre” (four) and “table,” have over time evolved to sound more like “quat-” or “tabl-,” as speakers “dop” that final segment. 


Seems minor, right?


In 17th-century France, popular opinion held that people who pronounced words without that final segment were “peasants,” “uneducated.”


Sociolinguists often track such idiosyncrasies and their evolving meanings over time to get an understanding of the impact of language on culture. One such individual is Nicholas Haggarty (they/he), who studied historical perceptions of social class of people who spoke French with that particular identifier.


They made an interesting claim in response: it’s not a social class phenomenon or an indicator of education level, but rather, an identifier of Quebec and Montréal French.


Haggarty just finished their first year as a PhD student studying Sociolinguistics and Queer Linguistics with a background in both French and English. Having assisted on Professor Yoonjung Kang’s “Speech Rate Effects in French Stop Voicing Production and Perception,” Haggarty looks back on their works as constantly striving for an understanding of why people make the sounds they do, and why those sounds are perceived in the ways they are. 


Their Master’s thesis studied the stereotypical “gay” voice, and whether there was a science-backed explanation for the phenomenon so commonly referred to in the media. Haggarty examined pitch and tone in a series of archived interviews with queer men of the 80s.


An inspiring individual who views their research as advocacy rooted in education, Haggarty’s work focuses on the stories we tell through not only our language, but the clues revealed by the linguistic forms we use. 


What is queer linguistics?

Haggarty describes queer linguistics as relevant today due to societal interests in staying the hetero-normative course. To them, the field brings the queer community into the linguistics field, identifying elements of queerness and queer performance to define how people use language to root themselves in their identity. 


An intersecting interest therein, Critical Discourse Analysis investigates parts of speech and what it means when we use them. For example, when we use Internet-slang or community-specific vernacular, are we showing relation or connection to ourselves or our community?


Haggarty’s magnum opus to date is their PhD, using a corpus of interviews with queer individuals in the Toronto area. He will study their oral histories to get an understanding of language that goes beyond phonetic analysis, including the various ways they perceive authenticity in their identity. 


The best part about this? The resource will be public. 


An unprecedented act of agency and advocacy, this database of oral histories of queer people in Canada is a way of teaching people how queerness is perceived in our corner of North America, and whether the lessons they teach us line up with research done in places like the United States. If not, perhaps there is something to be said about breaking down pervasive stereotypes.


As Haggarty says, “everything we do is a performance,” and their work in the field of queer linguistics seeks to decode its meanings and values. 


To all those interested in the emerging field of queer linguistics, and to everyone else who values education and understanding above all else, keep an eye out for this exciting development in Haggarty’s work.


We all have something to learn by listening to each other’s stories and taking them on their own terms. 



June 12, 2024

Emilia Melara Successfully Defends their PhD Thesis! Congratulations, Doctor!

On May 27th, PhD Candidate Emilia Melara became the Linguistic Department's newest PhD! 

Completing their Final Oral Examination in linguistics, this moment followed years of an extensive research project on syntactic properties of Mauritian Creole. 

Their supervisor Elizabeth Cowper, along with the rest of the committee (Susana Bejar, Diane Massam, Keir Moulton), are so proud of Melara's work and excited to see what they do next. 

We didn't find a new picture, but check out the last time Emilia earned a linguistics degree!

Congratulations, Emilia!

Nadia Takhtaganova successfully defends her PhD Thesis Proposal!

On May 14th, 2024 PhD student Nadia Takhtaganova successfully defended her thesis proposal, Mapping Spatial Expressions in Huasteca Nahuatl.

Working on language documentation in Latin America, Takhtaganova is currently studying the interaction of relational nouns and case marking in Nahuatl, an Uto-Aztecan language spoken in Eastern Mexico. Incorporating historical and generative linguistic frameworks with her thesis, she aims to train community members in linguistic research methodology to "raise metalinguistic awareness" and reduce stigmatization of language change.

We highly recommend speaking to Nadia about this exciting work, a "morphosyntactic snapshot of typological change in spatial expressions in Huasteca Nahuatl."

Her thesis proposal committee, consisting of Pedro Mateo Pedro and Michelle Troberg, as well as Nadia’s supervisor, María Cristina Cuervo, are excited to see where she goes next, and to see the successful completion and defense of her PhD thesis. 

We at the Linguistics Department are so proud of Nadia for all her hard work! Congratulations!


June 10, 2024

The Linguistic Dept. Gets a New Social Media Coordinator!


The Linguistics Department at UofT has just acquired a new Social Media Coordinator for the summer, and if you're confused by the sharp increase in exclamation point usage among WHITL blog posts, it's my fault!

Hello everyone, my name is Marija Buzanin, and I am a first-year undergraduate student in the Linguistics Department. I'm looking forward to meeting everyone reading this and reporting on your wins.


Some fun facts about me: I speak 3 languages, love Python (for coding), and am learning Spanish. My favourite aspect of linguistics is semiotics, and I have just enrolled in the minor program offered by the department while I study something else as a major - I am open to recommendations. 


While holding this position, I aim to accomplish several goals, all of which I hope will contribute to an informative, accurate, aesthetically-pleasing, and up-to-date social media presence:


  1. At least 4 spotlight interviews on faculty, students, staff and their research, 1 of which has already been conducted (keep an eye out!)

  2. Effective and interesting reporting on events held within the department, and out-of-town events in which UofT linguists are participating. 

  3. A 10% increase in social media following and successful collaboration with other UofT pages, important for increased awareness among undergraduate/incoming students

  4. 1-2 guest writers’ posts on the blog/website: this would be great for interaction with our upper-year students


I am excited to celebrate your successes for the larger UofT community to celebrate with you. My (virtual) door is always open should you have a noteworthy event on which you would like me to report, a fun update on your personal successes, and/or if you’d be interested in having a spotlight on your research and work.


A short and friendly reminder that this is the only active email for the blog: utlinblog@gmail.com.

Please direct your communication here. If you are looking for a quicker reply, try my UofT email: marija.buzanin@mail.utoronto.ca


Thank you for your time, and I look forward to connecting with all of you in the future!

June 4, 2024

UofT Linguists at the 55th Annual Conference on African Linguistics

Several members of our UofT community presented talks at the 55th Annual Conference on African Linguistics hosted by McGill University, between May 2nd and May 4th

A complete list of UofT attendees and presenters can be found below. 

Liam McFadden, Assistant Professor Samuel Akinbo, PhD Candidate Gregory Antono, Yi-Ting Deng, and Assistant Professor Avery Ozburn presented their work, Mapping African languages

His first conference outside of UofT, McFadden is an undergraduate student at UofT, who got to combine his knowledge of linguistics and GIS (Geographic Information System) to navigate through the field of language mapping with the goal of engaging the linguistics community in a project of making better maps

McFadden and the team are excited to see the development of their work in future years, and we at the WHITL are excited to see ACAL 56!

UofT Linguistics Department Presence: 

Speakers: 

Laura Griffin, Alexander Angsongna - An Analysis of Tone Delinking in Future Contexts in Central Dàgáárè

Liam McFadden, Samuel Akinbo, Gregory Antono, Yi-Ting Deng, Avery Ozburn - Mapping African languages

Keffyalew Gebregziabher - Polar and Wh-questions in Tigrinya 

Samuel Akinbo, Tongpan Rabo Fwangwar - Grammatical tones in the Derivation of Verbs from Ideophones in Mwaghavul

Chase Boles, Michaela Socolof - Igala Conditionals

Atiqa Hachimi, Gareth Smail - Stylized performance of “mock Berber” in a Moroccan Stand-Up comedy talent show

Juvénal Ndayiragije, Patrick Kinchsular - A comparative analysis of transitive expletive constructions in Kirundi and Germanic

Poster:

Avery Ozburn, Gregory Antono, Saba Mirabolghasemi - Community- and context-based approaches to African linguistics: the Language Profiles Project

May 31, 2024

UofT Hosts WSCLA - The Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas

 

Members of the WSCLA organizing committee at the Saturday dinner. L to R: Martin Renard, Jack Mahlmann, Greg Antono, Pedro Mateo Pedro, Susana Béjar, Yanfei Lu, Laura Griffin. We are missing Keren Rice. 

Between April 26th and 28th, the University of Toronto’s Linguistics Department and the Centre for Indigenous Studies were proud to host WSCLA - the Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas.

Dedicated to the “formal and theoretically-informed linguistic study of the Indigenous languages of North, Central, and South America,” the event included speakers from Montreal, Alberta, Buffalo, Minnesota, and even Copenhagen. Invited speakers from UofT included Oheróhskon Ryan DeCaire, Associate Professor, while panelists saw a presentation from Tahohtharátye Joe Brant, Assistant professor. Looking forward to WSCLA 2025!




Panelists from the Sunday special session on the Future of Kanien'kéha Revitalization: 

Tahohtharátye Joe Brant (TTO and UofT), Rohahiyo Jordan Brant (Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa), Oheróhskon Ryan DeCaire (Wáhta Mohawks and UofT), Tehota’kerá:ton Jeremy Green (TTO and York University), Konwanonhsiyóhstha’ Callie Hill (Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na), Owennatekha Brian Maracle (Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa), Karonhiióhstha’ Shea Sky

(Ionkwahronkha’onhátie and Kanien’kehá:ka Onkwawén:na Raotitióhkwa).




Elder Eileen Antone giving the opening special session on Sunday, Iwith. 


Sunday Morning Poster session.


Mskwaankwad Rice (University of Minnesota) giving the presentation on a Learner-Centered Approach to Linguistic Research, one of 6 invited talks.




May 28, 2024

Phonology-Phonetics Workshop, Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton 2024


McGill Linguistics, on April 19th and 20th, hosted the 2024 [motʰ] Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton Phonology/Phonetics Workshop. 

Connie Ting, a PhD student at McGill University, presented hers and our own Professor

Yoonjung Kang's “Tracking speaker-specific speech rate: habitual vs local influences on

English stop voicing perception."


This work will also be discussed in an upcoming spotlight on another of Professor Kang's

research assistants, PhD student Nicholas Haggarty - keep your eyes open for that!


We were so proud of all UofT involvement at this conference, and are excited to see where

their work takes them next!  



May 6, 2024

Hän Athabaskan Revitalization Project Report

 This is a guest post by UofT undergrad Stefanie Menezes:












April 18, 2024

From Canada to Guatemala: Connecting Knowledge and People through ICM



We're delighted to feature this posting by guest blogger Ilona Semchuk!

 

April 17, 2024

The Faculty Club

 A few linguistics profs get out together after a long week and brave the weather to participate in a Linguistics Review Panel. 


April 12, 2024

Graduation Lunch & Eclipse

 


How often do we have 2 such exciting things on the same day? 

On April 8, about 20 of our amazing undergrads joined us for a delicious lunch, a live feed to astronomical experts sharing their wisdom about eclipses, and we all got to see the sun disappear (behind the moon, behind the clouds, whatever...). 

Congratulations to our undergrads completing their Majors, Minor and Specialist POSts in linguistics!!!

Here are some highlights from the day:


the actual eclipse (Nathan's pic)
a cake eclipse -- watch the chocolate pass over the lemon, then disappear (Naomi's pic)





Nathan rocks his solar glasses

Picture-in-picture (Craig's pic)


And, if that's not enough, here's more from The Bulletin Brief <bulletin.brief@utoronto.ca>:

Skies darkened and temperatures dropped as the solar eclipse swept across U of T’s three campuses Monday, bringing community members together to marvel at the celestial spectacle. See how the day unfolded through the lenses of photographers at the university.


April 5, 2024

Prof. Naomi Nagy & MA alum Julia Petrosov published in Languages

Congratulations to Prof. Naomi Nagy and former MA student Julia Petrosov who have published a new paper entitled (Heritage) Russian Case Marking: Variation and the Paths of Change in the Journal Languages. The paper adjudicates between conflicting claims regarding the prominence of morphological levelling in Heritage Russian case marking.

We have included the abstract below: 

Russian’s six cases and multiple noun classes make case marking potentially challenging ground for heritage speakers. Indeed, morphological levelling, “probably the best-described feature of language loss”, has been substantiated. One study from 2006 showed that Heritage Russian speakers in the USA produced canonical or prescribed markers for only 13% of preposition+nominal sequences. Conversely, another study from 2020 found that Heritage Russian speakers in Toronto produce a 94% canonical case marker rate in conversational speech. To explore the effects of methodological differences across several studies, the current paper circumscribes the context to preposition+nominal sequences in Heritage Russian speech from the same Toronto corpus as used by the 2020 study but mirroring the domain investigated by Polinsky and including a Homeland comparison to consider changes in both the rates of use of canonical case marking and distributional patterns of non-canonical use. Regression models show more canonical case marking in more frequent words, an independent effect of slightly more mismatch by later generations, but less morphological levelling than reported by Polinsky. Lexicon size does not predict case marking rates as strongly as language usage patterns do, but generation, since immigration, is the best-fitting social predictor. We confirm (small) rate changes in Heritage (vs. Homeland) Russian canonical case marking but not in patterns of levelling.

Congratulations Naomi and Julia!

April 3, 2024

Congrats Karina!

Congrats to Karina Cheung! 

She presented her research at TULCON and then at Vic's Research Day. For the second, she won the Student Choice Research Award (Voted on by UofT Community) for her paper, "The effects of Heavy-NP Shift on Tagalog Word Order Preferences,"  based on work supervised by Dr. Ivan Bondoc.

March 28, 2024

Congratulations to Lex Konnelly!

The SGS Awards Committee has selected Lex Konnelly (PhD 2023) as the sole winner of the University of Toronto’s 2024 John Leyerle-CIFAR Prize for Interdisciplinary Research. This award recognizes outstanding doctoral dissertations with a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary research and significant contributions to both the academic community and to Canadian society. Note that the award is open to candidates from all SGS programs, not just Social Sciences and Humanities. Many thanks to Lex for putting Linguistics in the spotlight among all these disciplines!

Lex’s dissertation (committee members: Prof. Atiqa Hachimi, Prof. Susan Ehrlich and Prof. Derek Denis) explores the linguistic strategies employed by non-binary patients to negotiate medical expectations while expressing their gender identities authentically, highlighting the interplay between language, identity, and healthcare access. Lex’s work not only puts in conversation the fields of linguistics, (trans)gender studies,  and studies of health communication, but also identifies barriers to accessing competent, truly affirming healthcare [quoted from the dissertation].

Please join me in congratulating Lex for their distinguished work!


Thanks to Guillaume for the text.

March 26, 2024

Julien Carrier goes to Kentucky

Dr. Julien Carrier, who earned his PhD in our Department in 2021, and then held a postdoc position at UQAM (working with former UofT student Richard Compton), is excited to be starting a tenure-track position in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Kentucky.  

He says, "This is a great place for me because people there really like the fact that my research is in socio-syntax."

We wish him all the best in his new job!  Félicitations!

March 22, 2024

LGCU has started a new newsletter!

The LGCU has started a monthly newsletter to be sent out to members of the Department. If you are looking to advertise any events, post announcements, or simply share some linguistic fun facts or positivity, send it on over! Submissions for the next (April) newsletter close on March 28. Please submit to aliya.zhaksybek@mail.utoronto.ca.

March 20, 2024

Spring is coming (!) (?)

People, especially prospective students, often ask what the weather is like in Toronto. So here's some evidence. This week is the first day of Spring, according to the calendar. We had a very mild winter with little snow, but it's been coming this week. 

Please add your favourite shots from your commute!

Crocuses

Daffodils and irises

Forsythia


March 18, 2024

New paper by Prof. Samuel Akinbo in Glossa!

A new paper by Prof. Samuel Akinbo entitled "Iconicity as the motivation for the signification and locality of deictic grammatical tones in Tal" has recently appeared in Glossa. The paper presents evidence in favour of iconicity in the core morphophonological grammar.

Here is the abstract:

We present novel evidence for iconicity in core morphophonological grammar by documenting, describing, and analysing two patterns of tonal alternation in Tal (West Chadic, Nigeria). When a non-proximal deixis modifies a noun in Tal, every tone of the modified noun is lowered. When the nominal modifier is a proximal deixis, the final tone of the modified noun is raised. The tone lowering and raising are considered the effects of non-proximal and proximal linkers, which have the tone features [–Upper, –Raised] and [+Raised] as their respective exponents. The realisation and maximal extension of the non-proximal tone features are considered effects of morpheme-specific featural correspondence constraints. Similarly, the exponent of the proximal linker docking on the final TBU is due to the relative ranking of the proximal-specific correspondence constraints. The association of the tone features [–Upper, –Raised] and [+Raised] with non-proximal and proximal linkers, respectively, is in line with crosslinguistic patterns of magnitude iconicity. Given that the local and long-distance realisations of the proximal and non-proximal featural affixes respectively are perceptually similar to deictic gestures, the locality of the featural affixation is considered a novel pattern of iconicity. To motivate this pattern of iconicity, we extend the notion of perceptual motivation in linguistic theory to include the crossmodal depiction of sensory imagery. Consequently, Tal presents evidence for iconicity as a motivation for morphophonological grammar.

Congratulations Prof. Akinbo!