March 31, 2019


The U of T is the host of the 33rd Annual Symposium on Arabic Linguistics; it will be held April 5-7, 2019 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE 2214). Check out the program here! The conference has been jointly organized by Atiqa Hachimi (faculty) and Abdel-Khalig Ali (Ph.D. 2013, now a faculty member in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations). This marks the first time that ASAL has been held in Canada. Most of the conference attendees are coming from all over the world, but we are sending one from as near as Sidney Smith Hall: our Ph.D. student Robert Prazeres is presenting "Variability of nominal genitives in Casablanca Moroccon Arabic."

March 30, 2019

New paper: Kahnemuyipour (2019)

Arsalan Kahnemuyipour (faculty) has a squib out in the Canadian Journal of Linguistics, 64(1): "Word-internal modification: The case of the Persian comparative marker."

March 29, 2019

TOM 12

The twelfth Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Semantics Workshop is taking place in Montreal on Saturday, March 30, co-hosted by Concordia University and McGill University. Several department members are in attendance, and we have two Ph.D. students who are presenting their work.

Heather Stephens (Ph.D.) is giving a talk:
"English polarity particles yep and nope."

Andrew Peters (Ph.D.) has a poster:
"Macro-events and Mongolian converbs."

March 28, 2019

Congratulations, Becky!

Congratulations to Becky Tollan (Ph.D.), who has accepted a tenure-track position in syntax at the Department of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at the University of Delaware that will begin this autumn! We'll miss you, Becky, but we're absolutely thrilled for you on this thoroughly well-deserved opportunity!

March 27, 2019


The 32nd Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing is being hosted by the University of Colorado, Boulder, from March 29 through 31. Several faculty members, current students, and alumni are represented on the program.

Raheleh Saryazdi (Ph.D., Department of Psychology) and Craig Chambers (faculty) are presenting a talk:
"Reference and perspective taking across the adult lifespan."

Several current departmental members and alumni are presenting posters:

Kelly-Ann Blake (Ph.D.), Frederick Gietz (Ph.D.), and Meg Grant (former faculty, now at Humboldt University of Berlin):
"Syntactic prediction without lexical activation: Evidence from both (of the)…and."

Becky Tollan (Ph.D.) and Daphna Heller (faculty):
"Pronoun resolution in an ergative language: Effects of case and transitivity."

Raheleh Saryazdi (Ph.D., Department of Psychology), Tamara Mostarac (BA), and Craig Chambers (faculty):
"Speech rate and language processing in older adults: Is slow speech better?"

Daphna Heller (faculty) and Suzanne Stevenson (faculty, Department of Computer Science), along with Xiaobei Zheng (Shenzhen University) and Richard Breheny (University College London):
"How interaction affects (un)certainty about the partners' perspectives."

Megan Parker (MA 2018) and Daphna Heller (faculty):
"Overspecifying state information in the production of referring expressions."

Naomi Francis (MA 2014, now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) with coauthors Leo Rosenstein (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Martin Hackl (Massachusetts Institute of Technology):
"L1 acquisition of polarity sensitivity: The case of either and too."

March 26, 2019

Research Groups: March 25-29

Please note that this week's meetings of the Psycholinguistics Group and the Fieldwork Group are cancelled.

Tuesday, March 26, 1:30 PM - 2:30 PM in PT 266
Computational Linguistics Group, Department of Computer Science
Julia Watson (BA 2018): "Identifying the evolutionary progression of colour from cross-linguistic data."
We present a novel statistical analysis of the semantics of colour using a standard method from semantic typology. Our analysis suggests that the semantic space of colour categories has latent dimensions whose order of relative importance matches the evolutionary ordering of emergence of those distinctions. Moreover, we show that the importance ordering of these dimensions holds even when languages are at an evolutionary stage that further partitions the colour space beyond the given distinction. Additionally, we find that the extreme points of the latent colour dimensions correspond well to a small set of 'universal' focal colours shown to occur across languages. Thus our method derives both a consistent match to the evolutionary stages and to the universal focal areas.

Tuesday, March 26, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM in Innis College 313
Morphology Reading Group
Alec Kienzle (Ph.D.): "Agents, paths, and states in the Hebrew middle templates."

Friday, March 29, 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM
Syntax Group
Dan Milway (Ph.D.): "Towards a novel theory of adjuncts."
I review the two competing minimalist theories of adjuncts – Late Adjunction and Pair Merge – and discuss their theoretical flaws. Based on this discussion and the respective strengths of the theories, I sketch a hypothesis which states that host-adjunct structures are, in fact, the result of two parallel derivations which are collapsed at the syntax-phonology interface. I close by discussing the prospects of such a theory.

March 25, 2019

MOT 2019

We are co-hosting this year's Montréal-Ottawa-Toronto Workshop in Phonology/Phonetics, taking place from March 29th through 31st, co-organized by York faculty member Emily Elfner and our faculty members Peter Jurgec, Yoonjung Kang, Keren Rice, and Jessamyn Schertz. The Friday sessions will be held at York University, with the Saturday and Sunday sessions at the U of T.

Department members and alumni presenting are:

Andrei Munteanu (Ph.D.) and Kinza Mahoon (Ph.D.):
"Dialect accommodation in Canadian English."

Katharina Pabst (Ph.D.):
"The role of word frequency in sound change: [n(j)u] evidence from yod dropping Toronto English."

Pocholo Umbal (Ph.D.):
"/u/-fronting in second-generation Filipinos in Toronto: Evidence of cross-language influence."

Koorosh Ariyaee (Ph.D.):
"Loanword adaption in Persian: A Core-Periphery model approach."

Paulina Łyskawa (MA 2015, now at the University of Maryland) and Naomi Nagy (faculty):
"Language contact and convergence in Polish devoicing: Phonological versus phonetic perspectives."

Jessica Yeung (Ph.D.):
"The role of phonetic and typological naturalness in learning sound patterns."

Connie Ting (Ph.D.)and Yoonjung Kang (faculty):
"The effect of habitual speech rate on speaker-specific processing in English stop voicing perception."

Na-Young Ryu (Ph.D.):
"The role of web-based identification training in the perception of Korean vowels and codas by Mandarin learners of Korean."

Iryna Osadcha (Ph.D. 2019):
"Lexical stress patterns: Ukrainian vocative case."

Radu Craioveanu (Ph.D.):
"Asymmetries in aspiration."

Yoonjung Kang (faculty), Na-Young Ryu (Ph.D.), and colleague Suyeon Yun (Ewha Womans University):
"Contrastive hyperarticulation of vowels in two dialects of Korean."

Alessandro Jaker (postdoc):
"The full ~ reduced vowel contrast in Tetsǫ́t'ıné: Evidence for an eight-vowel system."

Heather Yawney (Ph.D.):
"Asymmetry of Kazakh velar and uvular consonants."

Photini Coutsougera (faculty):
"High front vowel deletion, palatalization, and fortition in Arcadian Greek."

Kristen Wong (BA) and Yoonjung Kang (faculty):
"Sound symbolism of gender in Cantonese names."

Kaz Bamba (Ph.D.):
"Consonant-vowel sequences and their gradient interactions."

Aleksei Nazarov (faculty):
"Formalizing the link between opacity and exceptionality."

Vincent DeCaen (former postdoc, now at DeCaen and Associates) and Elan Dresher (faculty):
"The vowel system of Tiberian Hebrew."

March 24, 2019

Canadian Linguistics Annual Undergraduate Symposium 2019

Two of our undergraduate students presented at this year's Canadian Linguistics Annual Undergraduate Symposium (CLAUSE̥), which took place on Saturday, March 16, in Montréal, cohosted by McGill University and Concordia University. Dania A. (BA) presented joint work with Ibrahim El-Rayes (BA) and Silvia Nguyen (BA): "Sorry not sorry: Politeness discourse markers sorry, thank you, and please in Canadian and British English". Gregory Antono (BA) presented "Más allá del supermercado: Language attitudes of Chinese-Argentine youth." (Thanks to Dania for the photos!)

Dania and Greg.

Dania's talk.

March 23, 2019

Guest speaker: Danielle Thomas (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

OISE and the UTM Department of Language Studies are co-hosting a talk by Danielle Thomas, an alumna of their Ph.D. program who is now a Lecturer at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She is interested in L2 learning, Spanish, and morphosyntactic phenomena in bi- and multilingualism, especially inter-speaker variation. Her talk, "Internal and external induced variability in bilingualism: Evidence from the sounds and structure of Spanish", will be taking place in OISE 11-164, Tuesday March 26, at 10:00 AM.

The observation and empirical study of the language behaviour of bilinguals has led to a variety of models aiming to explain why bilinguals often exhibit variable patterns of knowledge and use for certain linguistic domains as compared to monolinguals. These models propose a variety of internal and external factors associated with language learning and use at different ages to explain this variability. This talk will present the results from two empirical studies comparing the patterns of phonetic and morphosyntactic behaviour among different groups of Spanish and English speakers, including monolinguals, early (heritage) bilinguals, and late (L2) bilinguals. The goal of these studies was to examine the type of variability exhibited by bilingual speakers (if any) compared to monolinguals as a way to test models that have proposed to explain bilingual variability as the result of internal and external-induced effects (e.g. contact-induced effects, age-related effects). The results of these studies are discussed in terms of a typological approach to language behaviour in bilingualism where bilingual variability is indicative of systematic linguistic and/or cognitive differences between bilinguals and monolinguals, or it is indicative of a bilingual’s systematic understanding of how to vary language in ways that are both appropriate to the language-specific system and to a dynamic communicative reality.

March 22, 2019

New paper: Béjar, Denniss, Kahnemuyipour, and Yokoyama (2019)

Susana Béjar (faculty), Jessica Denniss (Ph.D.), Arsalan Kahnemuyipour (faculty), and Tomohiro Yokoyama (Ph.D.) have a paper, "Number matching in binomial small clauses," to appear in an edited volume, The Grammar of Copulas Across Languages, edited by Maria J. Arche, Antonio Fabregas, and Rafael Marin (Oxford University Press, 2019).

This paper examines covariation in number specification in small clauses with two nominals, as exemplified by copular clauses with a nominal predicate (DP1 BE DP2). We show that number matching between DP1 and DP2 is obligatory in some such structures, but not others. Two questions arising from this are addressed: (a) By what formal mechanism should number matching between the DP1 and DP2 be enforced? (b) What determines whether matching is required or not? Regarding (a), we argue that Agree is not well-suited to modeling this feature-sharing relation and we propose instead that number matching arises as a reflex of feature-valuation at Merge when DP2 has an unvalued number feature [_#]. Regarding (b), we propose that the availability of valuation as a reflex of Merge is sensitive to the feature structure of DP2 and is blocked when, for independent reasons, DP2 does not introduce an accessible [_#]. We examine three such cases. In one case DP2 is referentially complete and has valued [#] rather than unvalued [_#]. In another case, DP2 is a predicate nominal with reduced functional structure (Persian). In the third case DP2 involves a concealed proposition.

March 21, 2019

SESDEF Colloquium 2019

The Société des études supérieures du Départment d'Études Françaises (SESDEF) (French Department Society for Graduate Studies) is holding its annual colloquium on Friday, March 22. "Acquisition de la parole: Perspectives théoriques et expérimentales" (Language acquisition: Theoretical and experimental perspectives).

March 20, 2019

Visiting scholar: Heike Pichler (Newcastle University)

Our department is delighted to welcome Heike Pichler, a Senior Lecturer at Newcastle University, who is visiting us throughout this week. She is a variationist sociolinguist who is a pioneer in the field of discourse-pragmatic variation and change. Heike is the Founding Chair of the Discourse-Pragmatic Variation and Change (DiPVaC) research network and was central to the launch of its highly successful ongoing conference series beginning in 2012; she also spearheaded and edited the 2016 volume Discourse-Pragmatic Variation and Change in English (Cambridge University Press), which included two chapters from department members: one by Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty) and one by Sali and Derek Denis (faculty). This week, Heike will be giving a presentation to the Language Variation and Change group on gender and discourse-pragmatic features, and working with Marisa Brook (faculty) on discourse-pragmatic features and grammaticalization in computer-mediated communication.

March 19, 2019

Guest speaker: William Bennett (University of Calgary/Rhodes University)

We are very pleased to welcome William Bennett, an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary and a Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. He works on phonology, phonetics, typology, language documentation, and more, with a special interest in languages of sub-Saharan Africa. His talk, "Markedness and implicational universals in click typology," will be taking place at 3:00 PM on Friday, March 22, in SS 560A. It will be followed by a reception in the department lounge.

A survey of click consonants in a wide array of languages finds a surprising implicational universal: whenever and wherever a language permits clicks, it permits nasal clicks (Bennett 2008, 2017/in press). Thus, there are languages that have nasal clicks but not oral ones, but not vice versa. There are also languages where clicks are predictably nasal in certain conditions, but no known patterns where nasal clicks are subject to restrictions not shared by oral clicks. This talk claims that representing nasal clicks simply as clicks which bear the feature [+nasal] is inadequate: it fails to derive the !→n! implicational relationship. The proposed alternative is that nasality in clicks is due to continuation of pulmonic airflow, which must be vented nasally in clicks due to the oral occlusions needed to produce the suction required for a lingual (or velaric) airstream. Representing nasal clicks as [+pulmonic] rather than [+nasal] leads to a theory that successfully captures the implicational relationship between nasal and oral clicks in the typology. Finally, we consider how this implicational universal in the typology interacts with another markedness scale, a second implicational hierarchy among click types.

March 18, 2019

Research Groups: Week of March 18-22

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

Tuesday, March 19, 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM, PT266
Computational Linguistics Group, Department of Computer Science
Kawin Ethayarajh (Ph.D., Department of Computer Science): "Towards understanding linear word analogies."
A surprising property of word vectors is that vector algebra can often be used to solve word analogies (e.g., king - man + woman = queen). However, it is unclear why - and when - linear operators correspond to non-linear embedding models such as skip-gram with negative sampling (SGNS). We provide a rigorous explanation of this phenomenon without making the strong assumptions that past theories have made about the vector space and word distribution. Our theory has several implications. Past work has conjectured that linear structures exist in vector spaces because relations can be represented as ratios; we prove that this holds for SGNS. We provide novel justification for the addition of SGNS word vectors by showing that it automatically down-weights the more frequent word, as weighting schemes do ad hoc. Lastly, we offer an information theoretic interpretation of Euclidean distance in vector spaces, justifying its use in capturing word dissimilarity.

Friday, March 22, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM, SS560A
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Guest speaker: Heike Pichler (Newcastle University): "'This is what happened, right?': Sex differences in narrative tagging."

Friday, March 22, 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM, SS560A
Phonology Research Group

March 17, 2019

Guest speaker: Begoña Arechabaleta-Regulez (University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign)

OISE and the UTM Department of Language Studies are co-hosting a talk by Begoña Arechabaleta-Regulez, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. She works on L2 learning, especially when it comes to Spanish. Her talk, "The production, comprehension, and processing of Spanish Differential Object Marking by bilingual speakers", will be taking place in Victoria College room 304 at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, March 19.

The purpose of this study was to analyze the production, comprehension and processing of Spanish Differential Object Marking (DOM) by bilingual speakers living in the U.S. Previous studies have reported that heritage speakers and L2 learners show DOM retraction with animate objects, as in (1 (Montrul and Bowles 2009; Montrul and Sánchez-Walker 2013). Transfer from their dominant language, English, seems to be the main factor causing the retraction of DOM. However, no previous study has compared these two groups to each other, and while previous studies have examined production, comprehension and processing of DOM in isolation, few, if any, have compared all three of these aspects with the same group of speakers. Therefore, more research is needed to better understand whether DOM retraction is characteristic of all types of bilingual speakers living in the US, visible in their processing, comprehension and processing, or whether DOM omission depends on the type of speaker and type of task. If DOM retraction happens to be the norm, this study would suggest that it is a new feature of Spanish in the U.S.

(1) Standard Spanish:
Juan saludó a María
‘Juan said hi DOM Maria’

Spanish in the U.S.:
Juan saludó María
‘Juan said hi Maria’

Results revealed that both heritage speakers and adult L2 learners showed less DOM retraction than expected. Moreover, DOM retraction depended on the type of task but not on the type of bilingual: heritage speakers and adult L2 learners both showed more DOM retraction in their oral production than in their comprehension or processing. Heritage speakers and adult L2 learners showed sensitivity to the omission of DOM with animate objects and judged sentences with DOM omission as ungrammatical. However, they omitted DOM in their production. These results suggest that first, there is an asymmetry between bilinguals’ comprehension/processing and production, as DOM retraction is mostly represented in production but not in comprehension or processing; and second, DOM retraction is less prevalent than previously thought in the Spanish of the U.S.

March 16, 2019

Elizabeth Johnson in U of T News

Cross-appointed faculty member Elizabeth Johnson (Department of Psychology, UTM) is featured in the U of T Bulletin describing her recent research on young children's perception of accents in the Toronto area.

March 15, 2019

Bulletin-board overhaul

Our bulletin-board for job-postings has received a makeover, just in time for spring! (Photo by Naomi Nagy.)

March 14, 2019

2nd Annual Buffalo-Toronto Workshop on Variation Within and Across Languages

We are hosting the second annual Buffalo-Toronto Workshop on Variation Within and Across Languages on Saturday, March 16. The workshops probe linguistic variation in every sense (sociolinguistic, typological) using all sorts of methods (variationist, computational, experimental, etc.) and encourage a bit of cross-border mingling!

Lauren Bigelow (MA), Timothy Gadanidis (Ph.D.), Lisa Schlegl (Ph.D.), Pocholo Umbal (Ph.D.), and Derek Denis (faculty):
"[dat’s] loud bro: A report on TH-stopping in Multicultural Toronto English."

Julia Watson (BA alumna), Barend Beekhuizen (faculty), and Suzanne Stevenson (faculty, Department of Computer Science):
"Identifying the evolutionary progression of colour from crosslinguistic data."

Timothy Gadanidis (Ph.D.), Naomi Nagy (faculty), and Joyce Woo (BA):
"Co-variation in Heritage Cantonese in Toronto."

Alana Johns (faculty):
"Brick walls in language: Dialect solutions."

Barend Beekhuizen (faculty):
"Computational tools for doing semantic typology: Parallel corpora and predictive models."

Fiona Wilson (Ph.D.):
"Negation in Cree: Variation in the Muskeg dialect."

Katharina Pabst (Ph.D.):
"The role of word frequency in yod dropping: [n(j)u] insights into an old change."

Pocholo Umbal (Ph.D.):
"/u/-fronting and cross-language influence: Evidence from Filipinos in Toronto."

Patrick Murphy (Ph.D.):
"Online experiments for research in linguistics."

Anissa Baird (BA) and Rachel Keir (BA):
"Word-final vowel deletion: Italian’s influence on Faetar?"

Julien Carrier (Ph.D.):
"Variation and morphosyntactic alignment changes in Inuktitut."

Julianne Doner (Ph.D.):
"Non-nominal subjects and topic prominence."

Angelika Kiss (Ph.D.):
"Word order variation in Mbyá."

March 13, 2019

Guest speaker: Richard Kayne (New York University)

We are very pleased to welcome esteemed syntactician Richard Kayne (New York University) to our department for a guest talk, "The syntax of suppletion," taking place on Monday, March 18, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM, in room 523 of Wilson Hall over at New College.

March 12, 2019

Research Groups: Week of March 11-15

Note the irregular meeting time of the Syntax Group this week.

Tuesday, March 12, 2:00 PM-4:00 PM, Innis College 313
Morphology Reading Group
Presentation by Ross Godfrey (Ph.D.): "Syntactic arrangements and phonological processes: A hybrid theory of morphological realization."
Hockett (1954) distinguished between two models of morphological description: the “item-and-arrangement” (IA) model, where complex forms are generated through the combination of morphemes, and the “item-and-process” (IP) model, where derived forms are generated through the application of processes to roots. Many current morphological theories can be considered to belong to the first type of model, particularly those theories which posit a close relation between syntax and morphology. If, as is often argued, sentences consist of “syntactic hierarchical structure all the way down” (SAWD; Halle and Marantz 1994), including within the word, and if complex syntactic structures are built by combination of smaller constituents, then the adoption of an IA model of morphology seems unavoidable. However, simultaneous adoption of a “realizational” approach to morphology, in which a morpheme’s morphosyntactic feature content is separated from its phonological exponent, makes available certain additional options. I review current attempts to handle the existence of apparently “nonconcatenative” morphology within a purely IA approach, and show that they generate undesirable patterns. I then sketch an alternative way of treating nonconcatenative morphology under the SAWD assumption, capitalizing on the opportunities afforded by realizational morphology: morphemes do not spell out as morphs, but instead trigger the application of processes. The proposal differs from previous IP approaches (e.g., Anderson 1992) in recognizing the existence of abstract morphological constituent structure. In this sense, the proposal belongs both to the IA and IP traditions. Using the terminology of Distributed Morphology, one can say that the proposal recognizes readjustment rules while eschewing Vocabulary Insertion (VI). Many objections to readjustment rules lose their force once VI is eliminated; some objections that remain can be handled by reconsidering the relationship between morphology and phonology; and the residual objections hold even of theories that avoid readjustment rules altogether. These matters will be discussed in greater detail in the talk.

Friday, March 15, 10:00 AM-11:30 AM, SS 4043
Psycholinguistics Research Group
Special guest speaker: Ev Fedorenko, a faculty member cross-appointed to the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is a neurolinguist interested in linking precise neurological regions to specific language-related processes, mapping the neurological interactions of language and other cognitive functions, and gaining greater awareness of the extent of interspeaker differences in the neurology of language.
Human language surpasses all other animal communication systems in its complexity and generative power. I use a combination of behavioral, brain imaging, and computational approaches to illuminate the functional architecture of language, with the ultimate goal of deciphering the representations and computations that enable us to understand and produce language. I will discuss three discoveries I have made over the last decade. First, I will show that the language network is selected for language processing over a wide range of non-linguistic processes that have been argued to share computational demands with language, including arithmetic, executive functions, music, and action/gesture observation. Next, I will consider the distinction between the lexicon (word meanings) and syntax (the rules for how individual words can combine to create phrases and sentences). Much prior theorizing and empirical work has focused on syntax, and most current proposals of the neural architecture of language argues that syntax is cognitively and neurally dissociable from meaning. I will challenge this view. In particular, I will how that syntactic processing is not localized to a particular region within the language network, and that every brain region that responds to syntactic processing is at least as sensitive to word meanings, including when probed with a high-spatial/high-temporal-resolution method (ECoG). Further, many brain regions show stronger responses to word meanings than to syntactic manipulations, with no regions showing the opposite preference. Finally, I will provide evidence that stimuli that are not syntactically well-formed but allow for meaning composition (operationalized within an information-theoretic framework) elicit as strong as response as intact sentences, suggesting that semantic composition may be the core driver of the response in the language-selective brain regions. Taken together, these results argue against an abstract and domain-general syntactic processing mechnanism, and support strong integration between the lexicon and syntax. They further suggest that the language network is more concerns with meaning than structure, in line with the primary function of language – to share meanings across minds.

Friday, March 15, 10:30 AM-12:00 PM, SS 560A
Syntax Group

Friday, March 15, 1:00 PM-2:30 PM, SS 560A
Fieldwork Group
Alessandro Jaker (postdoc): "The full ~ reduced vowel contrast in Tetsǫ́t’ıné: Evidence for an 8-vowel system."
Many Dene (Athapaskan) languages, including the reconstructed Proto-Dene language (Krauss 1964), are known to exhibit a contrast between a set of full vowels, which are long, tense, and peripheral, and a set of reduced vowels, which are short, lax, and centralized. In this presentation, I will present evidence that a contrast between full and reduced vowels also exists in Tetsǫ́t’ıné Yatıé, a dialect of Dëne Sųłıné spoken in the Northwest Territories, Canada. In this presentation, I will report the results of a pilot experiment, which show that this dialect has a total of 8 vowels in morphologically non-derived stems: five full vowels a [ɑː], e [ɛː], ı [iː], o [oː], u [ʉː], and three reduced vowels ä [ɐ], ë, [ɘ], and ü [ɵ]. Reduced vowels are both shorter in duration and more centralized than their full counterparts. I will then discuss some of the difficulties that have resulted from trying to write the Tetsǫ́t’ıné dialect using an orthography which is based on a different dialect, which has only 6 vowels, and how much of this confusion can be cleared up by adopting an orthography which is more appropriate to Tetsǫ́t’ıné, and which recognizes 8 vowels.

March 11, 2019

Guest speaker: Avery Ozburn (University of British Columbia)

Our department is delighted to welcome back Avery Ozburn (MA 2014), currently a Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia. She is a phonologist whose work straddles theoretical and experimental approaches and is centered on harmony of vowels or of consonants. Her talk, "Why low vowels are special: Contrastive neutral vowels in Mayak ATR harmony," will be taking place in SS 560A at 3:00 PM on Friday, March 15. A reception will follow in the department lounge.

In the literature on vowel harmony, there is a long-standing tradition of equating neutral vowels, which do not undergo harmony, with vowels that are non-contrastive for the harmonic feature. Theoretical approaches to neutrality, then, often depend crucially on constraints against the harmonic counterpart of the neutral vowel. However, this generalization is based on a small number of widely studied languages; in fact, in the broader typology, a range of behaviours is attested: a vowel may or may not be neutral, regardless of whether it has a counterpart for the harmonic feature. In this talk, I examine a situation that is particularly problematic for many theoretical frameworks: in Mayak (Nilotic; Andersen 1999), low vowels are contrastively paired for ATR/RTR (advanced/retracted tongue root), yet generally neutral to ATR harmony. In Mayak, non-low RTR vowels alternate in the presence of an ATR vowel (e.g. [kɔc] 'take-PRES' vs. [koj-u] 'take-PAST'), while the low RTR vowel [a] does not (e.g. [ʔam] 'eat-PRES' vs. [ʔam-u] 'eat-PAST'), even though there is a contrastive low ATR vowel [ʌ] that is possible in the contexts in which [a] fails to undergo harmony. This case has been described in the literature but not analyzed, yet it is crucial to our theoretical understanding. Specifically, while it is common for low vowels to be neutral to ATR harmony, Mayak shows that this tendency is at least partially independent of harmonic pairing. I argue that this case is illustrative of a broader special status of low vowels in ATR harmony systems, and that this unique behaviour is phonetically motivated. The analysis I propose allows for ATR harmony to be relativized to non-low vowels, and this approach can capture the range of typologically attested neutrality behaviour in ATR harmony systems.

March 10, 2019

Guest speaker: Ted Gibson (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

The Cognitive Science Program at University College is hosting a talk by Ted Gibson, a faculty member from the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He works on language processing, cognitive perspectives on the links between language and culture, and typological patterning from the standpoint of information structure. His talk, "Information processing and cross-linguistic universals", will be taking place on Thursday, March 14, at 4:30 PM, in UC 140.

Finding explanations for the observed variation in human languages is the primary goal of linguistics, and promises to shed light on the nature of human cognition. One particularly attractive set of explanations is functional in nature, holding that language universals are grounded in the known properties of human information processing. The idea is that lexicons and grammars of languages have evolved so that language users can communicate using words an sentences that are relatively easy to produce and comprehend. In this talk, I summarize results from explorations in two linguistic domains, from an information-processing point of view. First, I show that word lengths are optimized on average according to predictability in context, as would be expected under an information theoretic analysis. Second, I show that all the world's languages that we can currently analyze minimize syntactic dependency lengths to some degree, as would be expected under information processing considerations. Finally, we apply a simply information theory analysis to the language for color. The number of color terms varies drastically across languages. yet despite these differences, certain terms (e.g., red) are prevalent, which has been attributed to perceptual salience. Our work provides evidence for an alternative hypothesis: The use of color terms depends on communicative needs. Across languages, from the hunter-gatherer Tsimane' people of the Amazon to students in Boston, warm colors are communicated more efficiently than cool colors. This cross-linguistic pattern reflects the color statistics of the world: objects (what we talk about) are typically warm-colored, and background are cool-colored. Communicative needs also explain why the number of color terms varies across languages: cultures vary in how useful color is. Industrialization, which creates objects distinguishable solely based on color, increases color usefulness.

March 9, 2019

New paper: Rice (2018)

Keren Rice (faculty) has a new paper out, "Reflections on documenting the lexicon", in special publication #15 of Language Documentation & Conservation.

The lexicon presents unique challenges in language documentation. This reflection reviews some of those challenges, focusing on two major areas, what I have learned over time about what is important to document and the creation of dictionaries. Throughout I stress the value of considering the lexicon broadly, and, in the situation that linguists are involved, of working closely with speakers and community members in all stages of decision making, from what to document to how to spell, to how to represent meanings. N. Scott Momaday writes of words as medicine, and this is important to keep in mind in lexical documentation – one is engaging with worldview. The responsibility then of documenting the lexicon is large, and the stakes are high, given how words give deep insight into ways of being.

March 8, 2019

Congratulations, Ryan!

Ryan DeCaire (faculty) has been selected as the recipient of this year's Ranjini (Rini) Ghosh Excellence in Teaching Award from the U of T Arts and Science Student Union (ASSU). Cross-appointed to the Centre for Indigenous Studies and the Department of Linguistics, Ryan has been praised for his commitment to engaging students in Indigenous language revitalization; motivating students to learn Kanien'kéha and then continue in Indigenous Studies. Ryan's language revitalization work has recently been featured several times in the news. We are thrilled to learn that his dedication to teaching undergraduate students is being recognized as well. The award is named after Rini Ghosh, a two-term ASSU president, in honour of her commitment to improving the undergraduate experience at the University of Toronto and carries with it a donation to a charity or cause of each recipient's choice. Congratulations, Professor DeCaire!

March 7, 2019


The twelfth annual TULCON (Toronto Undergraduate Linguistics Conference) is taking place on Saturday the 9th and Sunday the 10th. Given the designation of 2019 as the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, the keynote speakers will be Suzi Lima (faculty) and Jessica Denniss (Ph.D.). Suzi's talk is "Language maintenance and revitalization in Brazil: A case study," and Jessica will be presenting "The mutual value of linguistic work with Indigenous communities: A perspective from Ngarinyman (Australia)". Undergraduate students of ours presenting at TULCON this year are:

Anissa Baird (BA) and Rachel Keir (BA):
"Word-final vowel deletion: Italian's influence on Faetar?"

Kai Ian Leung (BA) and Monika Molnar (faculty, Speech-Language Pathology)
"The role of voice familiarity during bilingual spoken language processing."

Nazia Mosin (BA), Lisa Sullivan (Ph.D.), and Yoonjung Kang (faculty)
"Gender phonology of Urdu first names."

Breanna Pratley (BA):
"The importance of methodological choices in the typology of uncommon phenomena:
A Gilaki case study."

Mark Smith (BA):
"Choosing between VVPE and OG in Brazilian Portuguese."

Aileen Song (BA) and Grace Ryu (BA):
"Exploring the universality of pro-drop patterns: An analysis of Korean heritage and homeland speakers."

Rosemary Webb (BA):
"Modifier reduplication in Gilaki."

March 6, 2019

Guest speaker: Karthik Durvasula (Michigan State University)

We are delighted to welcome Karthik Durvasula, a faculty member at Michigan State University. He is a phonologist whose work centres on speech perception, neurocognitive representation, and experimental methods. His talk, "Linking discrete phonological representations to continuous phonetic manifestations", will take place at 3:00 PM on Friday, March 8, in SS 560A. There will be a reception afterwards in the department lounge.

There is a long history of discussing the relationship between discrete phonological representations and continuous phonetic manifestations, and opinions range from the relationship being very murky (Hockett 1955) to isomorphic (Pierrehumbert 2003, Johnson 1997). In this talk, I point out that wherever one stands on the issue, there is a genuine benefit to stating the envisioned relationship precisely. I look at two cases where there has been no clear consensus in the phonological literature: (a) ambisyllabic consonants; (b) segmenthood. In both cases, I will argue for a view that espouses specific consistent 'mappings' between discrete phonological representations and their phonetic manifestations, which in turn allows us to identify/clarify the abstract representational analyses. Such cases suggest that developing clear linking hypotheses will help with the further understanding of discrete phonological representations through phonetic data.

March 5, 2019

Research Groups: Friday, March 8

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM, SS560A
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Vijay Ramjattan (OISE): "A raciolinguistic perspective on the perception of foreign accents."

11:30 AM - 1:00 PM, SS560A
Phonology Research Group

1:00 PM-2:30 PM, SS560A
Semantics Research Group
Andrew Peters (Ph.D.): "Mongolian converbs and the macro-event property."
The degree to which structure plays a role in meaning in balance with the compositional semantics of a sentence is a difficult to answer question in S-side linguistics generally. In the study of temporal-locating adverbs and subordinated clauses in a variety of languages, it has been suggested that the structural height of these projections relative to tense, aspect, the VP etc. has independent ramifications for the temporal interpretation of the clause on whole (cf. Bary and Haug 2011 on Greek Participles). In this presentation of a work in progress, I discuss the case of Mongolian converb clauses and their temporal interpretations relative to the matrix predicate. Mongolian – like other Altaic and Turkic languages – has a wide array of converb suffixes which do the work of subordinators, coordinators and participles in languages like English, and which are said to be dependent on a tensed matrix verb for TAM. Fieldwork in Chakhar Mongolian has revealed that converb suffixes vary widely in their independence from the matrix verb, and I suggest that this is correlated with the necessity that some converbs’ temporal interpretation be anaphoric to a reference time provided or made salient by the matrix verb. This analysis draws parallels with Altshuler’s (2014) account of temporal locating adverbs which suggests that only some, but not all, temporal adverbs introduce a new reference time. I argue for Mongolian that those converbs which do not introduce their own reference time must appear in configurations which permit them to be anaphoric to a reference time introduced by the matrix predicate. Specifically, I show that these configurations are identifiable by bearing Bohnemeyer et al.’s (2007) Macro-event Property. Bohnemeyer et al.  conclude – and I agree – that this property is not definable cross-linguistically based on syntactic configurations alone, however I suggest that in a given language this property may only be possible in certain configurations. Thus, the kinds of syntactic ramifications on interpretation that Bary & Haug observed in Greek and which may be observed as well in Mongolian, are epiphenomenal. Simply stated: some converbs in Mongolian are dependent on the matrix verb for their temporal interpretation, which is only possible when they may form a macro-event with the main predicate, which limits the available syntactic configurations where these converbial clauses may merge. Thus it is not the syntax itself which contributes meaning, but rather the restrictions that the lexical semantics of the converb suffixes themselves impose on the syntax in order to form licit sentences.