Time: 4:15
Where: 4:15


In this talk I investigate the issue of the context-dependence of counterfactual conditionals and how the context constrains similarity in selecting the right set of worlds necessary in order to arrive at their correct truth-conditions. The present proposal is that similarity is constrained by what I call Consistency and Non-Triviality. Assuming a model of the discourse along the lines proposed by Roberts (1996) and Buring (2003), according to which conversational moves are answers to often implicit questions under discussion, the idea behind Non-Triviality is that a counterfactual statement answers a conditional question under discussion and, therefore, is required to make a non-trivial assertion. I show that nonaccidental generalizations which have often been taken to play an important role in the interpretation of counterfactuals, are crucial in selecting which conditional question is under discussion, and I propose a formal mechanism to identify the relevant question under discussion.

When: Friday February 13th 4:15pm
Where: H-527



In Old English, an original unstressed long *’ō’ is in some
morphological categories reflected as variation between ‘u’ and ‘a’.
The traditional explanation for this variation is that *’ō’ generally
developed to ‘a’, but that it developed to ‘u’ when the following
syllable also had a *’u’.

My hypothesis is that *’ō’ reduced to ‘u’ in medial syllables due to
the short duration of such syllables. A statistical study of an Old
English corpus strongly supports my new hypothesis, and finds no
support for the traditional explanation. I suggest that *’ō’ has
reduced and raised to ‘u’ as the result of phonetic errors by speakers
and listeners, and that a purely grammatical account for this
phenomenon seems redundant.



(Im)possible suppletive patterns

The comparative and superlative corresponding to good are suppletive: better and best rather than hypothetical, but unacceptable, *gooder, *goodest. In a large, cross-linguistic survey of suppletion in adjectives (Bobaljik 2012), it turns out that some patterns of suppletion are widely attested, while others are virtually unattested. For example, essentially no language has a pattern like *good-better-goodest in which only the comparative is suppletive. Looking at a large, cross-linguistic sample (tens or hundreds of languages) allows us to distinguish between accidental and systematic gaps, and to seek explanations for generalizations that appear to be linguistic universals.

In this talk, I will go over an explanation for some of the universals presented in Bobaljik 2012, focusing in particular on the role of structure within words. The explanation of why ABA patterns like *good-better-goodest do not occur provides us with a template for looking for structure in words beyond adjectives. Armed with this ‘structure-detector’, we will look at a large survey of pronominal paradigms. In pronouns too we find that some patterns of suppletion are widely attested, while others are virtually unattested. The conclusions developed on the basis of adjectives lead us to posit hidden structure in pronouns as well, as an explanation for apparent universals.

*in collaboration with: Peter Smith, Beata Moskal, Jungmin Kang, Ting Xu

Below is information pertaining to McGill’s Colloquium:

Speaker: James Kirby (University of Edinburgh)
When: Monday, Jan 19, 3:30
Place: Education Building, room 627

Title: “Dialect variation and phonetic change: Incipient tonogenesis in Khmer”

Unlike many languages of Southeast Asia, Khmer (Cambodian) is not a tone language, but an incipient tone contrast has been noted in several Khmer dialects for at least 50 years. While the process of tonogenesis is reasonably well-understood, the manner by which it seems to be taking place in Khmer – conditioned by loss of onset /r/ – has not been reported for any other language. In this talk, I will compare new acoustic and perceptual data on the emergence of tone in two varieties of Khmer: the colloquial speech of the capital Phnom Penh, and the dialect spoken in Kiên Giang province, Vietnam. I will show how this sound change may have been set in motion by devoicing of /r/, and sketch a statistical learning account of how differences in the perception of devoicing might help explain the observed differences between dialects. Finally, I will briefly discuss the implications of these findings for our understanding of tonogenesis and phonetic change more generally.


Our friends at UQUAM are having a book release.  There will be a presentation by the author followed by cocktails.
Location: DS-1950 (320, Sainte-Catherine E)
Time: Wednesday January 14 2015 à 12h45

External Event: TULCON

The Society of Linguistics Undergraduate Students (SLUGS) at the
University of Toronto is excited to announce its 8th annual Toronto
Undergraduate Linguistics Conference (TULCON), to be held on March 6-8,

TULCON is a great opportunity for undergraduate linguists to meet their
peers, share their work, and further their appreciation for linguistics
and language-related studies.

We invite research, complete or in progress, from any area of linguistics.
Abstracts should be approximately 500 words in length (not including
references). Please submit your abstracts in .pdf or .doc (NOT .docx)
format to tulcon2015@gmail.com by Friday January 31st, 2015. In
your submission, please indicate whether you would like to present a talk
or a poster during our poster session. Speakers will have the opportunity
to present for 20 minutes, followed by an additional five-minute question

Citizens of countries who require a visa to enter Canada may submit
abstracts early. In your submission, please indicate approximately how
much time you require to secure your visa. We will try our best to review
your abstract and send notification of acceptance at an earlier date.

Stay tuned for more announcements about registration in the future! If you
have any questions, please contact us at tulcon2015@gmail.com.


Since the time of Paul Broca, methods for looking at brain structure and brain function have become powerful tools to answer questions about cognition. In this talk, we will discuss how modern scientists use these tools, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Specifically, we will use examples of studies in music and speech, including my current PhD work on speech prosody and music. In this project, we are interested in how different auditory perceptual skills– like detecting differences in pitch or timing– map onto brain structure. We test both musicians and nonmusicians in a task with pitch and time changes, in speech and music contexts. We then use this information to study how participants’ performance on the task relates to brain structure as shown by MRI scans. This ongoing work reveals areas that are potentially involved in making judgments about auditory information.



Abstract: One of the defining properties of presuppositions is that they are inferences that survive when a sentence is embedded under negation. For example, “John will bring his wetsuit” and “John won’t bring his wetsuit” both presuppose that John has a wetsuit. Karttunen (1973) thus characterized negation as a “hole” for presuppositions: it lets through the presuppositions of its embedded constituent.

However, it has long been noted that presuppositions of negative sentences sometimes vanish. For example, the following sentence has no presupposition at all: “John won’t bring his wetsuit…he doesn’t even have a wetsuit!” To deal with vanishing presuppositions it has been common to assume the existence of mechanisms that can “cancel” a sentence’s presuppositions (e.g., Heim’s 1983 “local accommodation,” or Beaver and Kraemer’s 2001 “floating-A operator).

In this talk I argue that cancellation mechanisms are conceptually and empirically problematic; a theory of presupposition would do better without them. To meet this challenge I propose a revised theory of presupposition projection under which negation is *not* a hole for presuppositions; instead, it is a “plug” that doesn’t let presuppositions through. Following Schlenker (2008), the projection system employs a bivalent semantics as well as reasoning over continuations of a sentence in incremental processing, but unlike Schlenker it derives presuppositions only from the assumption that the sentence has a true continuation. I will argue that the apparent hole-like behaviour of negation and other operators follows from independent considerations (the “proviso-problem”, Geurts 1996).

Abstract: Mature human cognition is complex and variable, both across
contemporary cultures and over human history, but human cognitive
development proceeds in a more predictable pattern, especially in infants
and young children. Studies of infants’ cognitive abilities in non-social
domains (including object cognition, numerical cognition and spatial
cognition) shed light on the starting points for human cognitive
development. Together with studies of these cognitive abilities in other
animals, at other ages, and with other methods from the cognitive and brain
sciences, this research suggests deep properties of physical and
mathematical reasoning in older children and adults. Here I ask whether
studies of infants can bring similar insights into human social cognition.
Do the complex social inferences and intuitions of adults develop from, and
build on, simpler systems that are functional in infants? If so, what are
the properties of these systems, and what roles do they play in the richer
social reasoning that emerges later in development? Recent studies of human
infants, using simple behavioral methods, suggest that the answers to these
questions may lie within reach. I describe some new findings and call for a
multi-species, multi-leveled search for the core mechanisms by which humans
navigate the social world.

About the Speaker:

Elizabeth Spelke received her A.B. from Radcliffe College and her Ph.D.
from Cornell University, where she studied cognitive psychology with Ulric
Neisser and perception and developmental psychology with Eleanor J. Gibson.
She taught in the Psychology Departments of the University of Pennsylvania
and Cornell University, and in the Department of Brain and Cognitive
Sciences at MIT, before joining the Department of Psychology at Harvard,
where she now directs the Laboratory for Developmental Studies. Dr. Spelke
has received numerous prestigious awards: the William James Award, American
Psychological Society, 2000; the Distinguished Scientific Contribution
Award, the American Psychological Association, 2000; America’s Best in
Science and Medicine, Time Magazine, 2001; National Academy of Sciences
Prize in Psychological and Cognitive Sciences, 2014. Over her career,
Spelke has probed the origins, development and nature of knowledge of
objects, actions, number, geometry, persons and social relationships
through behavioral studies of human adults, children, and especially
infants. She seeks to shed light on cognitive capacities that are universal
across human cultures, early emerging in human development, and fundamental
to the unique cognitive achievements of human adults. To foster
investigations of cognition at multiple levels, her research seeks to
elucidate aspects of human cognition that depend on ancient mechanisms and
that therefore can be studied in model animals. To shed light on our
species’ unique cognitive achievements, including mastery of systems of formal mathematics, her research also probes the processes that give rise to new concepts over the course of children’s cognitive development.


The Concordia Linguistics Students Association (LSA) and the Concordia Centre for Cognitive Science  will host Dr. Mabel Chong (PhD McGill, 2009) for  an introductory-level  discussion of the neuroscience aspects of  Poeppel’s (2012) paper on the “the relation between the primitives of cognition [language,speech,vision, etc.] and neurobiology” at 1:30 PM on October 3 in H527. Undergraduates in all fields (psychology, linguistics, biology, philosophy etc.) are particularly encouraged to attend<< hyperlink to paper below.



The maps problem and the mapping problem: Two challenges for a cognitive neuroscience of speech and language