March 26, 2014

Jackman Lecture Series: Lisa Matthewson (March 28)

The fourth and final talk of the Jackman Lecture Series "Beyond Babel: Meanings in the Minds of Speakers" takes place this Friday, March 28, starting at 3pm (sharp) in the Jackman Humanities Building at 170 St. George Street (Room 100).

Speaker: Lisa Matthewson, University of British Columbia

Title: "Semantic uniformity and diversity: Evidence from the Pacific Northwest"


Languages differ in the meanings they are able to express (witness difficult-to-translate words), as well as, more interestingly, in the meanings they are grammatically required to express. While English requires tense information to be marked in every sentence, St’át’imcets (a Salish language spoken in British Columbia) allows tense to be absent, but instead deploys grammatical markers for the speaker’s source of evidence for the information. In the face of such variation, the most interesting question of all is what, if any, semantic commonalities all languages share. In this talk I uncover some of the deep unity underlying surface diversity in the areas of tense and evidence marking, comparing English with several indigenous BC languages.

Fieldwork Group (March 28)

The fieldwork discussion group will meet this Friday (March 28). There will be a discussion of semantic field methodology and storyboards, with Lisa Matthewson (UBC) as a guest. The group will be held from 12:40 to 2:10 in SS560A.

Syntax/Semantics Project (March 28)

This Friday, March 28th, the syntax-semantics project meets from 11-12:30 pm in room SS560A. Elizabeth Cowper and Bronwyn Bjorkman will be giving a dry run for GLOW
entitled: "Possessive modality: from individuals to worlds."

Psycholinguistics Group (March 28)

This Friday (March 28, 9:30am-11:00am) there is another psycholinguistics meeting -- this is because the schedule got shifted, and now it's back on track. Mercedeh Mohaghegh (PhD student, LIN) will present preliminary findings from her dissertation work on speech processing. The next meeting is scheduled for April 11: Helen Buckler, a new postdoc in Elizabeth Johnson's lab in UTM Psychology will present her dissertation work.

Like in the past, this group will continue to meet bi-weekly through June, and will then take a break for July and August.

March 25, 2014

Canadian Language Museum exhibit on Canadian French

Yesterday, for the third year in a row, New College hosted the opening of a portable exhibit put together by the Canadian Language Museum. This year's is Le français au Canada: d'un océan à l'autre (French in Canada: From Coast to Coast), co-sponsored by the departments of Linguistics and Information Science at the U of T and by the Français: à la mesure d'une continent project at the University of Ottawa.

The exhibit features six panels in both English and French describing how French became established in North America and how its dialects in Canada (Québec, Acadian, etc.) compare. There is also a set of recordings of songs and stories, plus a map with QR codes that can connect smartphones with University of Ottawa recordings of 18 different varieties of North American French.

Thanks to Elaine Gold for overseeing the CLM's now multiple travelling exhibits, to France Martineau of the University of Ottawa for all of her assistance and contributions, to the Museum Studies students who put hours into preparing to launch the exhibit, and to everyone else who had a hand in establishing this and the other exhibits.

Photos by Kenji Oda:

The exhibit.

Recordings of four stories/songs in various types of French.

Elizabeth Cowper, Yves Roberge, and Alana Johns discuss the exhibit.

Elaine Gold welcomes everyone.

Keren Rice, Yves, and Jack Chambers at the exhibit.

An excellent collaboration.

Thanks to everyone who attended the opening!

Baby's first visit

The department had a visit yesterday from Keren's new grandson Felix!

March 24, 2014

MO(L)T(H), McGill University, March 22-23

McGill University ended up hosting a veritable extravaganza in theoretical linguistics this weekend: a joint meeting of the MOLT workshop in phonology (Montréal-Ottawa-Laval-Toronto) and the MOTH workshop in syntax (Montréal-Ottawa-Toronto-Hamilton).

Four members of the department gave presentations:

Diane Massam (faculty)
Split argument positions and ergativity

Jessica Mathie (Ph.D.)
Is plural more marked than dual? Evidence from Yukulta

Christopher Spahr (Ph.D.)
What's in a non-segmental contrast?

Rebecca Tollan (Ph.D.)
Argument structure and active vs. strict (un)ergative alignment

Seven presented posters:

Julianne Doner (Ph.D.)
Variable parameters for stress in Spanish across verbs and non-verbs

Richard Gananathan (MA)
A wug test of the productivity of Sino-Japanese assimilation

Ross Godfrey (Ph.D.)
Effects of morphological complexity and word novelty on English vowel duration

Yu-Leng Lin (Ph.D.)
Differential mapping of L1 phonetic categories and its effect on L2 perception: evidence from sibilants in Taiwan Mandarin and English

Dan Milway (Ph.D.)
Null pronouns in English particle verb constructions

Iryna Osadcha (Ph.D.)
Nominal stress in Ukrainian

Rebecca Tollan (Ph.D.)
Sonority, typology and ontogeny: acquisition of consonant clusters in Russian

The keynote address, centred on the syntax-phonology interface, was given by alumnus Glyne Piggott (Ph.D. 1974), now a professor emeritus at McGill.

Congratulations to everyone who took part!

March 20, 2014

Psycholinguistics Group (March 21)

There is a psycholinguistics group meeting on Friday, March 21, from 9:30-11:00 am, in the usual location Sid Smith 560A. Ruth Lee (OISE) will present her project "Situation models and semantic relevance in children's prediction of linguistic input."

Phon Group (March 21)

Phonetics-Phonology group meets this Friday (March 21) from 11-12:30 in SS 560A. Presenting this week is visiting professor Ranjan Sen (University of Sheffield, UK). The title of the talk is "Reconstructing Phonological Change in Latin: Reductionist Versus Structural Explanation." You can read Prof. Sen's bio and an abstract of his talk below. There will also be a short poster dry-run by Iryna Osadcha.  


My main research interest is sound change, and I focus particularly on developing techniques to reconstruct and account for phonological change over time, and investigating to what extent synchronic structure plays a role in diachronic phonology. One aim is to improve methods used to access fine-grained phonetic evidence from dead languages, to allow a better evaluation of theories of change grounded in phonetics. In addition to phonological theory and historical linguistics, I have research and teaching interests in phonetics, psycholinguistics, and language acquisition.

I completed my doctorate (D. Phil.) in Comparative Philology and General Linguistics at the University of Oxford in December 2009. My thesis, ‘Syllable and Segment in Latin’, focused upon pre-classical Latin phonology and diachronic explanation in phonological theory, and will be published by Oxford University Press in the series Oxford Studies in Diachronic and Historical Linguistics. Prior to the doctorate, I was awarded the M. Phil. in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology, and the B.A. Hons./M.A. in Literae Humaniores (Classics), both at the University of Oxford. After the D.Phil., I was a Teaching Fellow at University College London in 2009-10, and a Research Associate and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Oxford in 2010, before joining the School of English at the University of Sheffield in September 2010.


Last year marked the centenary of the death of Ferdinand de Saussure, whose pioneering work bequeathed to linguists the ‘diachronic versus synchronic analysis’ split. One hundred years on, vigorous debate continues (see Honeybone and Salmons 2014) regarding the role of synchronic phonological structure – speakers’ mental linguistic systems at a point in time – in explaining diachronic phonological development. Reductionists argue that the constraints of speaking and hearing alone (phonetics, speech perception) guide sound change, and such a view has gathered momentum over the last two decades (e.g. Blevins 2004), in opposition to the prevalent, non-reductionist approach stemming from twentieth-century generative phonology: change is driven and constrained by mental linguistic structure, i.e. synchrony guides diachrony. The phonological development of archaic to classical Latin furnishes us with an attractive testing-ground since (i) reconstructed pre-change forms are mostly uncontroversial because of detailed scholarship in Indo-European etymology, (ii) there is copious written evidence over many centuries for the phonological development of the language, (iii) several changes apparently sensitive to phonological structure occurred, and (iv) we can confidently reconstruct successive synchronic systems from evidence such as stress placement. An investigation of four Latin phenomena from archaic to classical times - vowel reduction, inverse compensatory lengthening, assimilations, and syncope - indicates that although reductionism can explain much diachronic development, synchronic structure predicts the quantum and direction of change, notably in successive waves of syncope, in ways that do not fall out of an analysis based on phonetics alone.

March 18, 2014

Public lecture by alumna Jools Simner

Jools Simner (MA 1997) is giving a public lecture at U of T this evening (March 18) on synaesthesia. Jools wrote her MA forum paper on VP anaphora under the supervision of Ron Smyth. She went on to do a Ph.D. at the University of Sussex and is now a professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Edinburgh and a leading world expert on synaesthesia.

Tuesday March 18, 7:00 pm
Room 330, Faculty of Music, University of Toronto (80 Queen’s Park Crescent)

Tasty coloured sounds: The experiences of synaesthetes
Jools Simner

Abstract: Synaesthesia is an inherited neurological condition that gives rise to a kind of 'merging of the senses'. For example, synaesthetes might 'see' colours when they hear music, or experience tastes in the mouth when they read words. One particularly common variant is experiencing colours when reading letters or numbers, and this variant of the condition – known as grapheme-colour synaesthesia -- is found in around 1 in 100 people. What are the experiences of synaesthetes, and how do these unusual experiences develop during childhood? How do they impact on schooling and early life development and how do adult synaesthetes navigate their multisensory worlds? I will explore the nature of these cross-sensory experiences and ask what they might also tell us about sensory processing in the population at large. I’ll describe what I have learned from the scientific research carried out at my Synaesthesia and Sensory Integration lab over the last decade, and how synaesthesia might open novel ways of understanding creativity, perception and the very nature of reality.

March 15, 2014

Congratulations, Julie and Alex!

We received wonderful news from Leslie Saxon, President of the CLA, yesterday: Ph.D. students from our department have received both the Best Student Paper Award and the Best Student Poster Award at the 2013 CLA.

Congratulations to Julie Goncharov (Best Student Paper) and Alex Motut (Best Student Poster) for their outstanding work!

Here are the citations:

Best paper/Meilleure communication:  Julie Goncharov (University of Toronto): “Self-superlatives”

Julie Goncharov's presentation was simply impeccable: it was perfectly paced, the data were clearly presented, the argumentation was solid and her analysis was sound.   The aspect of her presentation that was truly remarkable was the way she handled the Q/C period: she was attentive to the questions and comments and answered all questions thoroughly. She conducted herself very professionally.

Best poster/Meilleure affiche:  Alexandra Motut (University of Toronto): “A semantics for object-oriented depictives and their connection to partitives”

Alexandra Motut’s poster was clear and well organized and contained all the information necessary.  Her oral presentation of the poster was lucid and systematic.  The data and arguments were totally understandable.  The analysis is innovative since it explains in a simple manner a wide range of data that were not accounted for in the literature, and has strong predictive power.

Leslie would also like to thank our depatment for how it supports graduate students generally. Thanks to all of you who participate so actively in the CLA.

(Post courtesy of Keren Rice.)

March 14, 2014


Peter Jurgec and Danielle Moed have recently returned from WCCFL 32 at the University of Southern California.

Peter presented a talk with co-author Tina Razboršek (University of Nova Gorica): "Chainshifting in šmartno and Input Positional Faithfulness".

Danielle Moed presented with Ivona Kucerova and Victor Kuperman (McMaster University): "What eye-movements tell us about NP-movement? Investigating the English Middle Construction".

Also presenting at WCCFL were Will Oxford (University of Toronto/University of Manitoba) and alumnus Richard Compton (McGill University).Will gave a talk entitled: "Intralanguage variation in multiple person agreement"; Richard presented a poster: "Mood variance as evidence for genuine object agreement in Inuit."

Hopefully everybody enjoyed the sunny break from winter!

Fieldwork Group

There will be a fieldwork discussion group this week on Friday from 1-2pm, in SS560A. The topic is: Fieldworker responsibility to the community. What are some things that we as linguists can do to give back to the communities or individuals we work with? Is there anything (concrete or abstract) that we are obligated to do? How does this vary across language situations? How do you manage these responsibilities in conjunction with the very different pressures of academia?

Syntax/Semantics Project (March 14)

Syntax project happens this Friday, March 14th, from 11-12:30 pm in SS560A. Invited guest Karlos Arregi will be speaking about clitics and agreement.

LVC Group (March 14)

The Language Variation and Change Group is meeting at 9:30 in SS 560A. The speakers are Anne-José Villeneuve and Phil Comeau, reporting on their recent work about future temporal reference in Picardie French.

Guest speaker Karlos Arregi (March 14)

Karlos Arregi of the Dept. of Linguistics, University of Chicago will be giving a talk hosted by the Linguistics Department on Friday, March 14, 2014 at 4pm in Woodsworth.
119 St. George St., WW 119. Everyone is welcome.

Title: The syntactic and postsyntactic derivation of agreement

Recent work on agreement has uncovered evidence that postsyntactic properties of sentences (such as linear order) interact in non-trivial ways with agreement relations. In this talk, I provide an analysis of this type of interaction between postsyntax and agreement in terms of a two-step theory of agreement. Adopting the
terminology in Arregi and Nevins 2012, we can refer to these as Agree-Link, or the syntactic establishment of an Agree relation between Probe and one or more Goals, and Agree-Copy, or the postsyntactic (PF) copying from Agree-Linked Goal(s) onto theProbe. Evidence for this split of Agree into two separate steps comes from the fact that they can be derivationally intercalated by postsyntactic operations such as Linearization in Hindi and Slovenian (Bhatt and Walkow 2013, and Marusic, Nevins and Badecker, to appear) postsyntactic morpheme displacement in Bulgarian (Arregi and Nevins 2013), and Vocabulary Insertion in West Germanic (van Koppen 2005).

I offer evidence for this two-step analysis of agreement from a different empirical domain, namely, the interaction of agreement with case syncretisms due to postsyntacic impoverishment in Indo-Aryan and Basque. In both cases, variation in the possibility of agreement with oblique case-marked arguments (ergative in Indo-Aryan, dative in Basque) is due to a uniform establishment of syntactic Agree-Link relations, coupled with dialect- or language-particular differences in the application of Agree-Copy and its derivational interaction with postsyntactic impoverishment rules. The interaction of agreement and case syncretism in these languages converges with other phenomena in arguing for a strongly derivational theory of Agree in which the latter is established in two steps, the second of which is postsyntactic and can interact in different derivationally defined ways with other postsyntactic operations. The variation found is thus largely reduced to familiar feeding and counterfeeding interactions among operations in a derivational theory.

Naomi and students at the Undergraduate Research Forum

ROP coordinator Deborah Shaw and authors Minyi, Vina and Naomi N. with the poster.

ROP student Minyi Zhu, linguistics majors Naomi Cui and Vina Law, and Naomi Nagy have been working on large-scale partially-automated analysis of vowel formant variation in the English and Cantonese of Toronto's Cantonese community, as part of the HLVC Project ( Preliminary results were presented at the Undergraduate Research Forum in Hart House on March 6.

See the poster at:

March 8, 2014

Congratulations, Elizabeth!

Congratulations to Elizabeth Cowper, who has been awarded the Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award by the University of Toronto Alumni Association!

"This award will recognize a faculty member who has served the University of Toronto with distinction in multiple leadership capacities in diverse spheres over many years. The intended recipient of this award is an exemplary university citizen and a senior member of the faculty." (More information here.)

Update (March 21): Here is a wonderful story written for the U of T website:

Prof. Elizabeth Cowper

Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award
by Alan Christie

After nearly 40 years at the University of Toronto, Professor Elizabeth Cowper says she is still “like a sponge, soaking up new skills and knowledge.”

It is this quest for knowledge that helped Prof. Cowper win the 2014 Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award. “It is amazing, really gratifying,” she said. “Everyone says they are humbled when they win an award like this but it is true.”

Prof. Cowper arrived at U of T in 1976 and became undergraduate co-ordinator in the Department of Linguistics the following year. In 1980 she became a member of the University of Toronto Faculty Association Council, serving on the executive committee and the salary and benefits negotiating team the following year.

In 1999 she took on a new challenge, becoming Chair of the Division of Humanities at University of Toronto Scarborough. And in summer 2004 she served as acting vice-principal (academic) and Dean at UTSC, as well spending one month as acting vice-president and principal and six months as interim vice principal, all the while serving as chair of the Department of Humanities.
Moving out of the linguistics department after 23 years “was one of the best decisions I ever made,” she said. “It provided me with the opportunity to learn a whole new array of skills…an opportunity to expand my horizons and skill set.”

After completing her term at UTSC, she became Associate Dean, Division One at the School of Graduate Studies, and in 2006 became Vice Dean (programs), a positions she held for three years.  In one year alone she served on 22 tenure committees.

In 2007 she became a member of the Academic Board and as a fellow of Trinity College served on committees of the college, including chairing the college Senate in 2012-13. She was elected to Governing Council in 2011.

Prof. Cowper is now on sabbatical, but still supervising grad students and doing research. She is working on the history of English, specifically on changes in the grammar and syntax.

The Vivek Goel Faculty Citizenship Award was created to honour the many contributions of Dr. Vivek Goel during his term as Vice-President and Provost of U of T.  He served in this role for five years before becoming President and CEO of Public Health Ontario in 2008. He is also a Professor in Clinical Public Health and Public Health Policy at U of T.  This award is presented along with several other faculty, staff and student awards under the banner of Awards of Excellence. A complete list of this year’s recipients and their citations can be viewed on the Awards of Excellence website. This award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.

Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.

Prof. Cowper and other 2014 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 1.

LVC Research Group Meeting (March 7)

Ruth Maddeaux presented a practise version of her talk about articulatory variation for WISSLR next week, and visiting Ph.D. student Claire Childs presented about her MA research on the use of the adjective/adverb/intensifier/degree-modifier 'canny' in the northeast of England.

March 7, 2014

Jackman Lecture Series: Anna Papafragou (March 7)

The third talk of the Jackman Lecture Series "Beyond Babel: Meanings in the Minds of Speakers" takes place this Friday, March 7, starting at 3pm (sharp) in the Jackman Humanities Building at 170 St. George Street (Room 100).

Speaker: Anna Papafragou, University of Delaware

Title: “Events in Language and Thought”


The linguistic expression of events draws from basic, probably universal, elements of perceptual/cognitive structure. Nevertheless, little is known about how event cognition maps onto language production. Furthermore, languages differ in terms of how they segment and package events. This cross-linguistic variation raises the question whether the language one speaks could affect the way one thinks about events. This talk addresses how event cognition interfaces with language. Our studies reveal remarkable similarities in the way events are perceived, remembered and categorized despite differences in how events are encoded cross-linguistically.

Syntax/Semantics Meeting (March 7)

The Syntax/Semantics Squib Section is meeting this Friday (at 1PM in SS560A). There will be a round table discussion about “transitivity” in syntax and semantics (what does it mean for a predicate to be transitive, are there uniform structural correlates of transitivity, what processes is transitivity relevant for and how, etc.). There will be some quick introductory remarks by Jessica and Diane, to help connect the discussion to relevant issues in the literature, but other than that it will be open conversation.

Phon Group (March 7)

The Phon Group meets this week from 11.30 - 13.00 in SS560A. On the schedule are two presentations, by Emily Clare and Ross Godfrey.

Psycholinguistics Group (March 7)

This week in psycholinguistics group there is a talk by the Jackman speaker Anna Papafragou (U Delaware). The presentation is entitled "The acquisition of evidentiality". The meeting takes place in Sid Smith 2111 (not the usual room), and starts at 9:30am.

Talk by Dennis Preston

"Dennis Preston, Regents Professor, Oklahoma State University, and University Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University, visited our Department on Feb. 25. SLUGS and the LVC group hosted a talk by him, "Does language regard vary" - an interesting overview of recent research on variation in language attitudes.

 Dennis, Jack and Claire coordinated their colours for the event.

Dennis and Carol Preston and Jack and Sue Chambers enjoyed Mercurio

March 6, 2014

Photos from Andrea Moro talk

Andrea Moro (University of Advanced Study, University of Pavia) presented the second talk in the Jackman Lecture Series 'Beyond Babel: Meanings in the Minds of Speakers', entitled "The Boundaries of Babel: Notes Between the Brain and Syntax" on Friday, February 28.

Susana Béjar introduces Moro.

Moro talks with Arsalan Kahnemuyipour.

Cristina Cuervo and two students from the Mississauga campus.

Thanks to everyone who attended!