Posts archived in Academic

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 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


This talk may be of interest to some of you:

Friday, October 3rd 2014, 10:00 am
 Identifying the pieces, processes, and brain bases of complex word recognition
320, rue Sainte-Catherine Est
2e étage, salle DS-2505

Participants recherchés

Nous cherchons des adultes sans trouble de langage pour un projet visant à développer un outil de recherche pour le langage.

Vous pourriez participer au projet si

- le français n’est pas votre langue maternelle,
- vous êtes âgé de 18 à 40 ans,
- vous habitez au Québec depuis 5 ans ou moins et
- vous n’avez pas plus de 7 ans d’exposition au français,

Le but de ce projet est d’étudier les processus mentaux impliqués dans le développement de la conjugaison des verbes en français. Pour réaliser ce projet, nous utilisons un jeu conçu pour tablettes Android. Celui-ci nous aide à comprendre les processus impliqués dans la conjugaison des verbes en français.

Avec votre participation au projet, vous courez la chance de gagner un montant de 100$. Le tirage au sort aura lieu à la fin du projet, le 3 fevrier 2015. Le gagnant sera avisé par téléphone. Si vous êtes intéressé(e) à participer à cette recherche ou pour avoir plus de renseignements, contactez Alexandra au:  ou au 514-343-6111 ext 36544

Alexandra Marquis (Ph.D)
École d’orthophonie et d’audiologie, Université de Montréal

(messages can be sent in French or English)

You may be interested to learn that Concordia University features in the world’s elite (Top 200) institutions in 7 of the 30 subjects featured in this year’s QS World University Rankings by Subject, which will be published on 26th Feb 2014 on and by leading media around the world .

For the third edition of the QS World University Rankings by Subject, we evaluated 3,002 universities and ranked 689 institutions in total. 130 million of citations attributions were analyzed and we verified the provision of 10,639 programs.

Of particular note, Concordia University has an improved ranking or is featured for the first time in the following subjects:

  • English Language & Literature
  • Linguistics
  • Psychology
  • Education

Exploring The Interfaces: Word Structure
McGill University, May 6-8 2012
The conference will take place in the ballroom of Thomson House, 3650 McTavish St. Google map

As part of the Syntactic Interfaces Research Group (SIRG) of McGill University and UQAM, McGill is hosting the first of three workshops exploring the interfaces, ETI 1, on May 6-8, 2012.

For the past two and a half years, linguists in Montreal affiliated with SIRG (formerly McSIRG) have been investigating the properties of the two syntactic interfaces, Phonetic Form (PF) and Logical Form (LF) in an interdisciplinary way. Now, in this three day workshop that focuses on the structure of words, we bring together a number of external collaborators of SIRG as well as other renown researchers to explore words from intermodular perspectives. The goal is to investigate the structure of the interfaces through the structure of words, using phonological, semantic and experimental evidence, and surveying evidence from different language types. A particular focus of the workshop is to examine phonological as well as semantic evidence for cyclic domains inside words, and investigate apparent mismatches as resulting from particular interface processes.

Speakers: Matthew Adams (Stanford U), Solveiga Armoskaite (Carleton University), Jonathan Bobaljik (UConn), Richard Compton (U of Toronto), A.-M. Di Sciullo (UQAM), Heidi Harley (U of Arizona), Vera Gribanova (Stanford U), Tom Leu (UQAM), Bethany Lochbihler (McGill U), Eric Mathieu (U of Ottawa), Neil Myler (NYU), Heather Newell (UQAM), Máire Noonan (McGill U), Glyne Piggott (McGill U) & Lisa Travis (McGill U), Andrés Salanova (U of Ottawa), Tobias Sheer (Université de Nice), Tanya Slavin (McGill U), Øystein Vangsnes (Tromsø), Kie Zuraw (UCLA).

Discussants: Alan Bale (McGill), Brian Buccola (McGill), Jessica Coon (McGill), Emily Elfner (McGill), Heather Goad (McGill), Michael Hamilton (McGill), Aron Hirsch (McGill), Gretchen McCulloch (McGill), Heather Newell (UQAM), Máire Noonan (McGill), Larissa Nossalik (McGill), Glyne Piggott (McGill), Alexandra Simonenko (McGill), Tobin Skinner (UQAM), Michael Wagner (McGill).

Registration is free, but please pre-register by April 24, so that we know how many will attend (for coffee breaks and food).

Note this upcoming talk by Ian Roberts at McGill:

The Significance of What Hasn’t Happened

Naturally enough, the focus of diachronic syntax – and, indeed of historical linguistics more generally – has been on documenting and analyzing recorded instances of change. In a parametric model, this means trying to observe, describe and explain cases of parametric change. However, if change is viewed as abductive reanalysis of Primary Linguistic Data (PLD) in language acquisition, which, in part, also involves resetting parameter values of the underlying grammar (Lightfoot 1979, 1991, 1999), we expect acquisition mostly to be convergent and, thus, that little will change. This is the Inertia Principle of Keenan (2002) and Longobardi (1994), which we can phrase in parametric terms as:

(1)  Most of the time, most parameter values don’t change.

(1) is almost certainly true, perhaps a truism. But in order to seriously understand both change and the nature of parameters, we need to qualify both occurrences of most. In other words, which parameters change and when? Are certain parameters more amenable to change than others? If so, what can we learn about parameters more generally from these changes? These are the questions this paper investigates. As we shall see, the cases where a given parameter does not change can be as revealing as those where it does.

In this connection, consider the following cases of long-term historical conservation of known parametrically variant properties:

(2)  a. (Multiple) Incorporation in the Algonquian languages (Branigan 2012)
b. Harmonic head-final order in Dravidian (Seever 1998:31) and Japanese/Korean
c. “Radical pro-drop” in Chinese and Japanese

According to Goddard (1994) and Branigan (2012), Proto-Algonquian was spoken 2000-3000 years ago. In that time numerous structural, lexical and phonological features have changed, but incorporation has remained as a “signature” property of the family. Assuming for concreteness that a new generation of native speakers emerges every 25 years, in 3000 years we have 120 iterations of the learning cycle. Proto-Dravidian is dated by Seever (1998) to 4000BC, i.e. 6000 years ago, so this parameter has remained constant over roughly 240 iterations of the learning cycle. Similarly, the oldest texts in Japanese date from around 700-800AD, and so are over 1000 years old, again showing conservation of head-finality and radical pro-drop over 40 iterations. We observe then three cases, each independently thought to be macroparameters, which are conserved for millennia. Macroparameters affect all relevant categories in a uniform way.

On the other hand, it is easy to observe examples of relatively short-lived parameter settings. Assuming that the class of English modals emerged through grammaticalisation in approximately the 16th century, we can see in contemporary English, less than 500 years later, that many of the modals are moribund: this is true in most varieties for need and dare, and in US English for must and may. Moreover, individual modals differ in the naturalness/possibility of inversion: in contemporary UK English for all uses of may and deontic might and in US English for all uses of might. Here, then, the relevant parameters concerning attraction of T by interrogative C are relativised to individual lexical items (the restrictions on “conditional inversion” in contemporary English show that irrealis C interacts with a different set of lexical items). This is a clear case of microparametric change, a change affecting a small set of lexical items, possibly just one, in relation to a specific feature property of a functional head. The class of modals seems to have started to change in this way in the 18th century, two hundred years, a mere 8 iterations of the learning cycle, after its creation through grammaticalisation. Another example of the same kind in a different domain concerns the subject-clitic systems of North-Western Romance (including “advanced” varieties of French – Zribi-Hertz 1994): here we see synchronically a range of systems featuring extreme microparametric variation concerning which clitics have reanalysed from their earlier pronominal status as functional heads in T/Agr and C systems (on Northern Italian dialects, see Poletto 2000, Manzini & Savoia 2005). Again, these systems appear to have emerged quite recently: Poletto (1995) observes that 16th-century Veneto did not have subject clitics, and conservative varieties of contemporary French also do not. “Jespersen’s Cycle” provides a further case: the bipartite negation of Stage II, in particular, can be short-lived (cf. Kiparsky & Condoravdi 2006; the fact that it has survived several centuries in Standard French is plausibly due to normative pressure). Further, the fate of the earlier preverbal negator in Stage III varies: in West Flemish, it functions as a polarity-emphasis marker (Breitbarth & Haegeman 2010); in French it is a “minifier” (i.e. an operator selecting the smallest possible value in a set of alternatives; see Rooryck 2008), and so on.

To summarise, we observe values of macroparameters affecting large classes of categories being conserved over millennia, in opposition to values of microparameters, affecting very small classes of lexical items, undergoing rather frequent change. Note that the same formal operations are involved in our examples: head-movement (incorporation, T-to-C) and licensing null arguments (radical pro-drop, subject clitics).

Finally, there are “intermediate” cases which we dub mesoparametric change. Mesoparameters concern entire syntactic categories and, as such, are “smaller” than macroparameters (which concern all possible categories), but “larger” than microparameters (which affect subclasses of lexical items). An example is the null-subject parameter in Latin and Romance. This parameter involves T licensing null arguments, and has been stable from Latin through most of the recorded histories of Italian, Spanish and European Portuguese. It has, however, changed in French and Northern Italo-Romance, presumably under contact influence from Germanic. Another likely case is (root) V2 in Germanic; although its diachrony is obscure and the evidence from Gothic, Old High German and Old English suggests it was not present in Proto-Germanic, it has remained remarkably stable across nearly all North and West Germanic varieties. English is of course the exception here, and again contact may explain why this language diverges (cf. Kroch & Taylor 1997). In the domain of word order, the West Germanic pattern whereby all categories in the extended projection of V (except C) are head-final is an example. This pattern is stable across West Germanic, and has been for at least a millennium; again, it changed in English, arguably under contact with VO North Germanic (Trips 2000) and also with Norman French. It has also changed in Yiddish at the T- and arguably v-levels, although VP remains variable (see Wallenberg 2009); note that this “downward propagation” of word-order change is dictated by the Final over Final Constraint (FOFC; see Biberauer, Holmberg & Roberts 2007, 2011).

We conclude that it is possible to isolate three classes of parameter: macro, meso and micro. Macroparameters concern whole classes of heads, and are diachronically very stable. Mesoparameters concern individual syntactic categories (T, V, etc) and are diachronically stable, but subject to change through contact. Finally, microparameters concern small classes of lexical items and are relatively prone to change (unless they are particularly high-frequency elements). Grammaticalisation, since it affects small classes of lexical items, is microparametric in nature. To the extent that grammaticalisation can be endogenous, microparametric change can be.

In line with the general view of parametric change as involving abductive reanalysis of PLD through language acquisition, macroparameters must be “easily” set; hence they resist reanalysis and are therefore strongly conserved. Meso- and microparameters are correspondingly less salient in the PLD. This view is consistent with the view of parametric hierarchies put forward in Roberts (2011): macroparameters represent the higher parts of a hierarchy, microparameters the lowest and mesoparameters an intermediate position. Importantly, this view does not imply that UG prespecifies the parameter types: the hierarchies emerge thanks to third-factor motivated acquisition strategies, possibly acting on minimal UG-specified content, possibly along the lines of the schema-based model suggested by Gianollo, Guardiano & Longobardi (2008). Macroparameters may be set at a stage of acquisition at which categorial distinctions have yet to be acquired, and hence their nature may be due to the “ignorance” of the learner (Branigan 2012). As categorial distinctions emerge, mesoparameters become available, refining the early acategorial system. As functional categories emerge, microparameters become possible. This view then explains how “superset” parameters can be set early without a “superset trap” arising; hence it is consistent with the Subset Principle (cf. Berwick 1985, Biberauer & Roberts 2009).

Finally, it is important to note that we are not proposing that macroparameters cannot change at all (this view would be incompatible with the principle of connectivity). Presumably, sufficiently intensive contact can lead to change in these parameters too: the evidence of head-initial to head-final change in the Southern Semitic languages under intensive contact with Cushitic may be an example (cf. Leslau 1945).

When: Friday, April 13, 3:30PM.
Where: Room 150, Arts Building
McGill University

Note this upcoming talk by Jason Merchant at McGill:

More comparatives than you can shake a stick at: The case of Greek
Jason Merchant (University of Chicago)

Abstract: The syntax and semantics of comparatives are perennial topics of investigation not least because of the challenges they pose to usual assumptions about the syntax-semantics interface; more recently, their cross-linguistic properties have also begun to be the focus of attention. In this talk, I present the case of comparison in modern Greek, which has a richer set of comparative morphemes and standard-marking morphemes than any other language so far described in the literature: it has a synthetic comparative morpheme like English -er (-ter-), two analytic comparative morphemes (pjo and perisotero), and five different markers of the standard (Eng “than”; Greek “apo”, “apoti”, “para”, “ap’os-AGR”, and a genitive of comparison). Building on earlier work, I show that Greek has both fully and reduced clausal comparatives, necessitating a 2-place -er, as well as two phrasal comparatives: one marked by the preposition “apo”, and one by the genitive. These, I show, have different distributions, but can both be accommodated by a 3-place -er (derivable from the 2-place one): while the prepositional marker has an expected distribution, the genitive is curiously restricted: I argue that its properties follow if the genitive must be interpreted in situ, while the PP can undergo scopal displacement.

When: Friday, March 30, 3:30PM.
Where: Room 433, Education Building
McGill University, 3700 McTavish

McCCLU 2012 – March 9-11

From McLing:

In just under two weeks we will host McCCLU: the McGill Canadian Conference for Linguistics Undergraduates, March 9–11. The program includes both local presenters, as well as many who will travel to Montréal for the event. New faculty additions (and McLing editors) Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Jessica Coon will give invited talks. Please mark your calendars, everyone is encouraged to attend. Program details will be available on the website soon.