February 29, 2020

Guest speaker: Félix Desmeules-Trudel (University of Western Ontario)

The Department of French is hosting a talk by Félix Desmeules-Trudel, who is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Western Ontario, having completed his Ph.D. in linguistics at the University of Ottawa in 2018 with a focus on perception, acquisition, and computational methods - especially when it comes to phonetics. His talk is taking place on Monday, March 2, at 3 PM, in 201 Odette Hall on St. Joseph Street: "Modéliser la dynamique du language : Outils expérimentaux, statistiques, et computationnels" (Modelling the dynamics of language: Experimental, statistical, and computational tools.") Note that the talk will be held in French.

(A substantial proportion of the population is able to use more than one language on an everyday basis, but most models of language processing are based on monolingual speakers. Moreover, some major theoretical frameworks consider cognitive representations to be relatively fixed over time. However, language is a dynamic phenomenon. With a view to examining this dynamic reality, I will present a series of projects using sophisticated experimental methods that will allow the modelling of real-time language processing in order to probe more deeply the interactions between phonetic variation and L2 learning. I pay particular attention to the variability and dynamics of nasal vowel production in French (measured according to changes in nasal airflow), to the real-time processing of these vowels in French as an L1 and as an L2 (eye-tracking), and to various linguistic and cognitive factors that influence processing in bilingual children and L2 lexical learning in adults. In conjunction with advanced statistical methods, the results suggest that phonetic features usually thought to be redundant in phono-lexical representations in the mind do contribute to improving linguistic processing. That said, the use of these phonetic features seems to be inextricably linked to speakers' linguistic background. Late bilinguals have perceptual patterns less precise than those of monolingual speakers. Ultimately, this research will allow me to adapt computational models of word recognition (jtrace) to L2 learners, and thus to acquire a more realistic understanding of how language processing and learning function, in tandem with phonetic, phonological, and lexical representations.)

February 28, 2020

LGCU pub night with Susana

As announced at one of our recent department parties, the winner of the TA/Grader Supervision Excellence Award for 2018-19 from the Linguistics Graduate Course Union was Susana Béjar (faculty). She earned a certificate and a special pub night with the graduate students; Kaz Bamba (Ph.D.) has sent along this photo of himself and Susana from the official ceremony, which took place recently. Congratulations, Susana, and thanks for all your efforts!

February 27, 2020

Guest speaker: Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada (University of Alberta)

Our department is very pleased to welcome Jorge Emilio Rosés Labrada, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Alberta. He earned his Ph.D. in 2015 jointly from the University of Western Ontario and l'Université Lumière-Lyon 2, then spent two years as a Banting postdoc at the University of British Columbia. His research focuses on documentation and revitalization of Indigenous languages of the Americas (especially of the Pacific Northwest and the Amazon), often with an emphasis on morphosyntax and/or diachronic perspectives. His talk, "Legacy text collections and their importance for communities, student training, and research", will be taking place at 3:00 PM on Friday, February 28, in SS 560A.

In language documentation, the 'Boasian trilogy' - which has come to be seen as the gold standard - refers to a grammar, a dictionary, and a text collection. Grammars and dictionaries have received substantial attention in the literature over the last 30 years, with many discussions centering on best practices for their creation and on their role in language revitalization and maintenance efforts. Text collections, on the other hand, remain understudied. Yet for many communities, legacy texts - broadly understood here to include narratives, procedural texts, songs, etc. collected in the past - constitute invaluable sources of language and culture. In this talk, I focus on the role that legacy text collections can play in the cultural and linguistic strengthening of communities, in student and community training and capacity building, and in linguistic research. While drawing on multiple examples from my work, the primary focus of the talk will be a case study on the mobilization of such a collection for Makah (Wakashan, Washington State, USA) and the potential applicability of that work to the Canadian context.

February 26, 2020

Applications now open for LIN398

As with last year, Suzi Lima (faculty) is leading a Research Excursion Program (LIN398) course to Brazil to do intensive collaborative fieldwork on multiple endangered indigenous languages of the Amazon region. She and several undergraduates will be travelling to Boa Vista from May 3rd through 15th. If you are an undergraduate student in Arts & Science at the St. George campus and you have an intermediate number of credits, you are eligible. Applications for the course are due on Monday, March 10. For more details, see below or email Suzi.

February 25, 2020

Suzi at York University this week

Suzi Lima (faculty) is giving a talk as part of the Linguistics Lecture Series at York University: "What do we count? A view from Brazilian Indigenous Languages." This will be taking place on Thursday, February 27, from 5:30 to 6:30 PM, in Ross South 552/562. A reception in the department lounge will follow. Everyone is welcome!

In classical theories of countability, the minimal elements in the extension of count nouns are atoms, and the material parts of these atoms are not themselves part of the extension of the nouns (cf. Link 1983, Chierchia 1998, 2010 among many others). According to these theories, grammatical atomicity (what counts as an atom for purposes of counting in language) is strongly associated with natural atomicity (what constitutes as an individual of the kind described by a noun). Against this view, Rothstein (2010) argues that natural atomicity is neither required nor necessary for grammatical counting. Rothstein (2010) argues that atoms can be contextually defined. That is, count nouns like fence, wall and bouquet denote “different sets of atoms depending on the context of interpretation”. For example, what counts as a wall-atom in a particular context (the four wall-sides of a castle that we can consider as ‘a wall’) might not count as a wall-atom in a different context (the north wall of a castle, which we can also name as ‘a wall’). Empirical facts across languages provide ample evidence that discrete individuals are not necessarily countable (see object mass nouns such as furniture in English) and that nouns that denote substances are not necessarily uncountable (cf. Mathieu 2012, Lima 2014 among many others). Such evidence suggests a dissociation between natural and semantic atomicity. Given this debate, the question we intend to address in this talk is: how much does the conceptual content of a noun and natural atomicity influence how units of individuation are specified? Are units of individuation grammaticalized in the semantics of the nouns? Or are units of individuation contextually/pragmatically specified?

February 24, 2020

Research Groups: Week of February 24-28

Thursday, February 27, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM in SS 1078
Morphology Reading Group
Jean-François Juneau (Ph.D.): "A case of mismatch between syntax and phonology in Georgian PPs."

Friday, February 28, 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM in SS 4043
Psycholinguistics Group
Daniel Grodner (Swarthmore College): "They in transition: Morphosyntactic, pragmatic, and sociolinguistic contributors to the licensing and processing of singular they."

Friday, February 28, 1:15 PM - 2:45 PM in SS 560A
Syntax Group
Thesis proposal of Virgilio Partida Peñalva (Ph.D.): "Split intransitivity in Mazahua."

February 23, 2020


The seventh annual Scarborough Undergraduate Linguistics Conference is taking place on Friday, February 28, from 8:45 AM through 4:30 PM, in rooms 151-152 of the Environmental Science and Chemistry building (Catalyst Centre). Come along and find out about some of the original research our undergrads have been working on - plus hear an invited keynote talk by linguist and cognitive scientist Rick Dale (BA 2000, now at the University of California, Los Angeles), himself an alumnus of the linguistics program at our Scarborough campus.

February 22, 2020

Guest speaker: Ewan Dunbar (Université de Paris Diderot)

The Department of French is hosting a talk by Ewan Dunbar. After finishing our department's BA (2007) and MA (2008) programs, Ewan earned his Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in 2013. He is now a maître de conférences (Assistant Professor) at l'Université de Paris - Paris Diderot (Paris 7), where his research focuses on computational approaches to learning and perception, especially on the phonological level. His talk is taking place on Monday, February 24, at 3 PM, in 201 Odette Hall on St. Joseph Street: "Un jour, Google, tu deviendras un vrai garçon" ("Someday, Google, you'll be a real boy"). Note that the language of the talk is French.

(We increasingly speak to our computers, smartphones, and digital assistants. In many cases, these devices understand us perfectly. But it doesn't take long to realise that that our devices don't perceive speech the same way human beings do: they can make offbeat errors even under relatively normal listening conditions. Understanding the processes and representations involved in human speech perception is one of the primary goals of phonetics and phonology. I will show how we have approached fundamental questions for speech sciences through the use of reverse-engineering methods, as we attempt to ensure that the technology underlying our digital assistants behaves exactly the same way as human speech perception does. As an example, I describe our initial progress towards developing a teaching tool able to suggest targeted interventions for improving pronunciation in a second language – an application that needs to model and predict the likely difficulties that speakers of a given L1 will have when learning a given L2. I present experimental results gathered in English and French and compare the behaviour of our current models with that of human participants. I show how this work is integrated into a larger research program of modelling human speech perception, and the implications of such models for the speech-based technology that we interact with more and more in daily life.)

February 21, 2020

New paper: Wilson et al. (2019)

Fiona M. Wilson (Ph.D.) and colleagues Panayiotis A. Pappas (Simon Fraser University) and Arne O. Mooers (Simon Fraser University) have a new paper in Diachronica, 36(4): "The role of frequency of use in lexical change."

Based on the number of words per meaning across the Indo-European Swadesh list, Pagel et al. (2007) suggest that frequency of use is a general mechanism of linguistic evolution. We test this claim using within-language change. From the IDS (Key and Comrie 2015) we compiled a comparative word list of 1,147 cognate pairs for Classical Latin and Modern Spanish, and 1,231 cognate pairs for Classical and Modern Greek. We scored the amount of change for each cognate pair in the two language histories according to a novel 6-point scale reflecting increasing levels of change from regular sound change to external borrowing. We find a weak negative correlation between frequency of use and lexical change for both the Latin-Spanish and Classical-Modern Greek language developments, but post-hoc tests reveal that low frequency of use of borrowed words drive these patterns, casting some doubt on frequency of use as a general mechanism of language change.

February 20, 2020

Workshop on Bilingual Development: From Theory to Clinical Practice

The Department of Speech-Language Pathology has organized a mini-workshop on bilingualism and development and practice for Friday, February 21. This will be taking place from 1 PM to 4 PM. Note that it is possible to attend either in person or online. In person, the workshop will be taking place in room 235 of the Rehabilitation Sciences Building (500 University Avenue); attending online via Blackboard is also possible. Either way, please register here.

The workshop features two invited speakers:

Linda Polka (McGill University) (who will also be giving a guest talk on Friday morning): "Bilingual from the start: Variable language experiences and their relationship to vocalization and word segmentation in infants exposed to two languages."

Ellen Bialystok (York University): "How bilingualism changes minds."

February 19, 2020

Chalkboard throwback #4: Alternative Indices (Spring 2014)

Indexicality and variation. We might need to call the sociolinguists. (Origins obscure.)

February 18, 2020

Guest speaker: Linda Polka (McGill University)

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is hosting a talk by Linda Polka, who is a Professor in the School of Communication Science and Disorders at McGill University. She works on speech processing, L1 acquisition, and phonetics. Her talk, "Understanding biases in adult vowel perception," will be taking place on Friday, February 21, at 10:00 AM, in the Private Dining Room of Burwash Hall at Victoria College (89 Charles Street West).

February 17, 2020

New paper: Schertz and Clare (2019)

Jessamyn Schertz (faculty) and Emily Clare (Ph.D. 2019) have a paper in WIREs (Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Sciences): "Phonetic cue weighting in perception and production."

Speech sound contrasts differ along multiple phonetic dimensions. During speech perception, listeners must decide which cues are relevant, and determine the relative importance of each cue, while also integrating other, signal‐external cues. The comparison of cue weighting in perception and production bears on a range of theoretical issues including the processes underlying sound change, the time course of learning, the nature of cues, and the perception‐production interface. Research examining the relative alignment of cue weighting across the modalities, on both a community and individual level, has revealed both parallels and asymmetries between the modalities. The extraordinarily wide range of ways that have been used to conceptualize and quantify cue weights reflects the inherent theoretical, methodological, and analytical differences between the two modalities. More consideration of the choices of analytical metrics, explicit discussion of the theoretical assumptions that underlie them, and systematic investigations of different types of cues will lead to more generalizable findings that can be incorporated into computational implementable models of speech processing.

February 15, 2020

Red-and-grey day

Several times recently, multiple faculty members have unwittingly selected the same colour palette for the day. Here, Craig Chambers, Sali A. Tagliamonte, and Derek Denis provide an example (photo courtesy of Sali).

February 14, 2020

New paper: Tagliamonte and Pabst (2020)

Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty) and Katharina Pabst (Ph.D.) have a new paper in the Journal of English Linguistics, 48(1): "A cool comparison: Adjectives of positive evaluation in Toronto, Canada and York, England."

This paper examines variation and change in the adjectives used to express 'highly positive evaluation' in the varieties of English spoken in Toronto, Canada, and York, England. Building on earlier work on another semantic field, strangeness, we analyze over 4800 tokens and thirty-four different types, as in 'That’s great' and 'She’s awesome'. Our results show both similarities and differences between these two semantic fields. While individual forms in both fields tend to be popular for a long time, many forms fall in and out of favor. In the case of adjectives of highly positive evaluation, the adjectival set is particularly rich. Distributional analysis and statistical modeling of constraints on the major forms and their underlying social and linguistic correlates reveals that these changes are not progressing in parallel across varieties of English. There are robust linguistic patterns that suggest a systemic underlying explanation. New additions to this field arise in predicative position and as stand-alones, and in a later stage extend to attributive position. Finally, consistent with earlier findings on adjectives and (intensifying) adverbs, there are notable links to social trends and popular culture, affirming the link between open class categories and their sociolinguistic embedding.

February 13, 2020

Research Groups: Friday, February 14

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM in SS 560A
Phonology Group

10:00 AM - 11:30 AM in BA 2139
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Marisa Brook (faculty) reporting on work on intensification with Emily Blamire (Ph.D.) and Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty).

1:15 PM - 2:45 PM in SS 560A
Semantics Group
Nadia Takhtaganova (MA) on French epistemic modals:

In their paper on strong and weak universal modals, Von Fintel and Iatridou identify a cross-linguistic tendency that 'counterfactual', e.g. conditional, inflectional morphology on a modal verb marks a weaker modal claim than indicative morphology (2008:2). This is explained in the context of Domain Restriction Theory as follows. The conditional morphology signals an additional ordering source that is applied on top of a modal base and primary ordering source in order to restrict the domain of worlds evaluated. But what about existential epistemic modals? In work to appear, Silk claims that the notion of a secondary ordering source incorrectly predicts a stronger reading with counterfactual morphology on existential modals. It seems that his conjecture is corroborated by native French speaker intuitions, which suggest that conditional morphology on the verb pouvoir, roughly equivalent to the English 'can/could', signals a 'weaker possibility' than indicative morphology would. My forum paper compares the epistemic uses of the French modal verbs devoir (“must, have to”) and pouvoir in their conditional and indicative inflectional paradigms to test Silk’s prediction. I will do this by examining the relationship between negative polarity and domain widening and the blocking effects that arise with the use of stronger modality in positive polarity environments.

February 12, 2020

Guest speaker: Tahohtharátye Joe Brant (Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Cultural Center)

Our department is delighted to welcome Tahohtharátye Joe Brant (Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Cultural Center) He is an educator and community leader in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory heavily involved in the core of Indigenous cultural practice, and also working in language revitalization. A graduate of the M.Ed. program at the University of Victoria, he has taught at every level from elementary school to university, and conducts ethnographic work on L1 speakers of Mohawk.

His talk, "Ratiwennókwas (They are Pulling the Words out of the Water)", will be taking place at 3:00 PM in SS 560A.

'Ratiwennókwas' has centred on researching language acquisition and documentation methodologies as part of a SSHRC-funded project partnership between Tsi Tyónnheht Onkwawén:na Language and Cultural Center in Tyendinaga and NEȾOLṈEW̱, led by Dr. Onowa McIvor and Dr. Peter Jacobs through the University of Victoria. Ratiwennókwas literally translates to English as 'they are pulling the words out of the water'. This title correlates with the project goals of documenting, retaining, activating, and transmitting Kanyen'kéha first-language speaker data that may have otherwise been lost 'down the river' forever. Ratiwennókwas gatherins capture invaluable audio and video recordings of first-language Kanyen'kéha speakers and help produce authentic second-language learning resources. This presentation will share the process of activating first-language speaker data and its impact on Kanyen'kéha learning. Audio and video recordings from the Ratiwennókwas are being edited and transcribed to create authentic materials and interactive language-learning activities on a range of topics. Some examples of the topics captured in Ratiwennókwas are: introducing, apologizing, condoling, consoling, offering help, promising, cancelling, defending, thanking and saying goodbye. For each of these topics, a range of levels of speech are explored by first-language speakers, for example condoling a child on the loss of a pet vs. condoling an elderly person on the loss of a family member. Eliciting this language ensures that learners have access to language for a range of emotional states and levels of formal and casual speech. The process and products documented throughout the Ratiwennókwas project are increasingly important in Mohawk Nation communities such as Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory where there are no longer adult first-language fluent Mohawk speakers. As the population of first-language Indigenous speakers continues to decline internationally, the documentation, activation, and transmission of authentic second-language learning material is crucial in maintaining Indigenous languages' cultural and linguistic integrity.

February 7, 2020

Chalkboard throwback #3: Compounding (Spring 2011)

Figure 1: Chameleon-dinosaur-kitten-rat-dragon-tank-CRANE! (Origins obscure.)

February 6, 2020

Guest speaker: Heeju Hwang (University of Hong Kong)

Our department is delighted to welcome Heeju Hwang, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Hong Kong. She has a Ph.D. from the University of Southern California (2012) and works on language processing, morphosyntax, and acquisition (both L1 and L2). She will be giving a talk on Friday the 7th at 3 PM in SS 560A: "Influence of cumulative L1 syntactic experience on L2 production":

A critical question for psycholinguistic research is how the input shapes language processing. Existing research suggests that speakers’ previous syntactic experience significantly affects their production preferences. For example, speakers are more likely to use a syntactic structure if they have just encountered that structure (e.g., Bock 1986) or have had multiple experiences of it (e.g., Kaschak, Loney, and Borreggine, 2006) within a language. Speakers, however, often learn to speak more than one language and are exposed to both L1 and L2. This raises the question of how speakers adapt their syntactic behavior in a between-language environment: Do speakers integrate L1 syntactic experience into L2 sentence production? The answer to this question holds important implications for the nature of syntactic processing and the interactivity of two languages under a single cognitive system. We aim to address the issue by investigating how speakers’ cumulative experience with a particular syntactic structure in L1 affects subsequent production of that structure in L2. Mandarin (L1) speakers of English (L2) described transitive and ditransitive events in a between-language context of Mandarin and English (Experiment 1) and in a within-language context of Chinese (Experiment 2). We found that Chinese speakers integrated cumulative experience in Chinese into production of not only Chinese but also of English and such adaptation was greater with a less frequent structure. We also found that between-language adaptation was not sensitive to surface word order. We discuss these findings in terms of theories of syntactic priming and bilingual syntactic processing and consider the need for a model that accommodates our findings.

February 5, 2020

Research Groups: Week of February 3-7

Note that while there are no research group meetings on Friday this week, there is one on Thursday:

Thursday, February 6, 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM in SS 1087
Morphology Reading Group
Virgilio Partida Peñalva (Ph.D.): "Clitic alignment in Serbo-Croatian: A Distributed Morphology approach."