January 29, 2015

Guest talk: Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten (University of Massachusetts, Amherst)

We are pleased to welcome Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research is centered around linguistic fieldwork and the insights that less-studied languages can bring to semantic theory. Particular interests of hers are Navajo and belief, desire, modality, and modification across languages.

She will be giving a talk on Friday at 3 PM in SS 560A: "Decomposing attitudes of belief and desire." Afterwards, there will be a reception in the department lounge.

In the past 20 years, cross-linguistic investigation has challenged and informed our theoretical and typological understanding of a wide variety of semantic phenomena, including quantification, modality, and comparison. Other areas - including attitudes of belief and desire - have received comparatively little cross-linguistic attention, however, Since Hintikka (1982), attitudes of belief and desire (Alice thinks it will rain, Alice wants it to rain) have been fruitfully analyzed as modal statements. Authors subsequent to Hintikka have argued on the basis of data from English and related languages that attitude verbs (e.g. think, wish, want) are the source of modality in attitudes, where each verb expresses universal quantification over worlds consistent with, e.g., the attitude holder's beliefs or desires.

In this talk, I show that consideration of a more diverse set of languages makes it clear that while the now-standard 'neo-Hintikkan' picture may be satisfactory for English, it is not universally applicable. Navajo (Athapaskan) attitudes of belief and desire all contain the same verb, nízin. On the basis of novel fieldwork evidence, I demonstrate that nízin cannot be analyzed as a modal. Instead, I argue that nízin contributes the meaning common to both beliefs and desires: nízin denotes situations of mental attitudes. All modal meaning characteristic of beliefs and desires comes from modal operators (overt (1a,b) or covert (1c)) in the clauses that nízin embeds:

(1) a. Alice [nahodoołtį́į́ł shaʼshin] nízin.
Alice it.will.rain PRT-belief 3S.att(itude)
'Alice thinks it will rain.'

(2) b. Alice [nahodoołtį́į́ł laanaa] nízin.
Alice it.will.rain PRT-desire 3S.att
'Alice wishes for it to rain.'

(3) c. Alice [nahodoołtį́į́ł             ] nízin.
Alice it.will.rain Ø-belief / Ø-desire 3S.att
i. 'Alice thinks it will rain.'
ii. 'Alice wants it to rain.'

I propose that Navajo nízin-sentences present novel evidence for recent 'decompositional' theories by Kratzer (2006, 2013), Anand and Hacquard (2009), and Moulton (2009), who argue that modality can be severed from the lexical entries of English and German verbs of belief, perception (see), and communication (say). Navajo enriches the decompositional theory - and our understanding of attitudes more generally - by demonstrating how a language can construct attitudes of belief and desire from a light attitude verb and independently motivated modal operators: I will argue that all of the overt and covert modal operators invoked in (1) are also found in Navajo matrix clauses.

While it may be the case that all languages have the ability to communicate beliefs and desires, Navajo demonstrates that languages may differ significantly in the grammatical strategies they employ to communicate these meanings. I will argue, however, that admitting such diversity into our semantic theory of attitudes can shed light on the analyses of data from other languages, including parallel constructions in other Athapaskan languages and apparently 'ambiguous' verbs of communication in Romance and Hebrew: in each language, the contents of the embedded clause drive the interpretation of the clause as a whole.

January 28, 2015

Congratulations, Michelle and James!

Alumni wedding! James Byrnes (MA 2011) and Michelle Stella (BA 2010) were married on Sunday, June 22, 2014, at the Toronto Wedding Chapel. They met through our department in 2010 and still live in the city - occasionally dropping in to say hello at a department party now and then. Congratulations to Michelle and James on their marriage; here's to many more happy years!

Workshop on Contast in Syntax

In honour of Elizabeth Cowper's recent retirement and the 38 years she has dedicated so far to the department and the University of Toronto in general, postdoc Bronwyn Bjorkman and faculty member Diane Massam are co-organizing a workshop on Contrast in Syntax, to be held on April 24-25.

The workshop will feature invited talks by more than a dozen of Elizabeth’s former students and supervisees:

Michael Barrie (Sogang University)
Andrew Carnie (University of Arizona)
Lisa Cheng (Leiden University)
Jila Ghomeshi (University of Manitoba )
Daniel Currie Hall (St. Mary’s University)
Paivi Koskinen (Kwantlen Polytechnic University)
Julie Legate (University of Pennsylvania)
Diane Massam (University of Toronto)
Martha McGinnis-Archibald (University of Victoria)
Kenji Oda (University of Syracuse)
Nick Pendar (Skytree)
Elizabeth Ritter (University of Calgary/Ben Gurion University)
Leslie Saxon (University of Victoria)
Carson Schütze (University of California, Los Angeles)

There will also be a poster session, with a call for submissions to appear shortly. The deadline for abstracts is February 15: members of the department are welcome to submit abstracts, but the workshop will also feature an opportunity for current students to present work they have done with Elizabeth (details to follow).

There will also be a reception on April 23, at Trinity College, which all members of the department will be invited to attend, and a dinner on April 24, which is similarly open but will cost approximately $40 per person.

January 26, 2015

Research Groups: Friday, January 30

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Matt Hunt Gardner presenting a reprise of his American Dialect Society talk with Sali A. Tagliamonte: "The bike, the back, and the boyfriend: Confronting the “definite article conspiracy” in Canadian and British English.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonetics/Phonology Research Group
Jessamyn Schertz: "Learning different things from the same input: How initial category structure shapes phonetic adaptation."

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM in BL 112 (note irregular time and place)
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Paper discussion: Burnett, Heather (2014). A Delineation solution to the puzzles of absolute adjectives. Linguistics and Philosophy, 37, 1-39.

Several people in the CJL

The work of four department members can be found in the latest issue of the Canadian Journal of Linguistics - November 2014, 59(3).

Diane Massam (faculty) and Erin Grant (BA) are co-authors of a squib: "Given two bes, how do they Agree?"

There are also book reviews by Becky Tollan (Ph.D.) and Nicholas Welch (postdoc).

Congratulations to all!

January 21, 2015


Two of our alumni are presenting at the 20th Workshop on Structure and Constituency in the Languages of the Americas, being held at the University of Arizona from the 23rd to the 25th.

Richard Compton (Ph.D. 2012) is presenting "On the universality of adjectives: Evidence from verb-like adjectives in Inuit."

Nicholas Rolle (MA 2010, now at the University of California, Berkeley) is presenting a paper with colleague Marine Vuillermet (Centre national de la recherche scientifique de la France): "Morphologically assigned verbal accent in Ese'eja."

Report from LSA/ADS/etc.

The 89th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America was held in Portland, Oregon, from the 8th to the 12th of January. Alongside it were the 'sister societies', including the American Dialect Society (ADS) and the North American Association for the History of the Language Sciences (NAAHoLS).

Current departmental people involved in the conference(s) were faculty members Keren Rice and Sali A. Tagliamonte; postdocs Bronwyn Bjorkman and Nicholas Welch; Ph.D. students Marisa Brook, Ailís Cournane, Matt Hunt Gardner, Yu-Leng Lin, and Ruth Maddeaux; and undergraduates Lyndsey Leask and Kinza Mahoon. MA student Paulina Lyskawa was also in attendance, and six alumni and three former visiting students presented talks or posters.

Lyndsey and Kinza (along with Dennis Preston of Oklahoma State University) and their poster with Sali for ADS on the dialect of the Madawaska Valley (photo by Sali A. Tagliamonte).

Marisa's talk for LSA (photo by Giedrius Subačius).

Sali's talk for NAAHoLS on the history of variationist sociolinguistics (photo by Giedrius Subačius).

 Marisa, Paulina, and Ruth at Ailís's LSA talk (photo by Sali A. Tagliamonte).

In case navigating Portland is proving to be a challenge (photo by Marisa Brook).

Research Groups: Friday, January 23

Note multiple irregularities for this week: there is no psycholinguistics meeting and no fieldwork group meeting, and the syntax/semantics group is meeting at an atypical time.

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax/Semantics Group
Paper discussion: Bogal-Allbritten, E. (2014), "The decomposition of belief and desire in Navajo". Manuscript, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

January 20, 2015

Guest speaker: Ryan Bochnak (University of California, Berkeley)

Ryan Bochnak is a postdoctoral researcher and Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He completed his dissertation at the University of Chicago in 2013. Ryan is a semanticist keenly interested in cross-linguistic variation and documentation of understudied languages; he has worked on gradability, comparison, Washo (isolate/Hokam), and Luganda (Bantu, spoken in Uganda).

On Friday he will be giving a talk at 3 PM in SS 560A: "Variation in degree semantics in comparatives and beyond." A reception in the department lounge will follow.

The standard degree analysis of gradability in English holds that the function of degree morphology, such as the comparative, measure phrases, and degree adverbs, is to bind a degree variable located in the lexical semantics of gradable predicates. In the first part of this talk, I discuss the landscape of gradation structures in Washo (isolate/Hokan), and argue that this language systematically lacks degree morphology of this sort. I propose that this gap in the functional inventory of Washo stems from variation in whether languages introduce degree variables into the semantic representation that can be bound by such operators. This analysis predicts both the systematic absence of degree morphology, as well as the norm-related interpretation of gradable adjectives in conjoined comparisons.

This type of variation raises an interesting question regarding areas of grammar beyond comparison. Specifically, does the variation in gradable predicates extend to other categories as well? In the second part of the talk, I investigate one such area of grammar where degree semantics has been argued to play a crucial role, namely in aspectual composition. I argue that while so-called degree achievement verbs in English and their counterparts in Washo share certain interpretational similarities, such as allowing both telic and atelic readings, we nevertheless find important differences, which can be linked to the availability versus absence of degrees.

This analysis thus has important consequences not only for theories of gradability in natural language, but also the nature of cross-linguistic variation in the semantic component of grammar, specifically the division of labor between variation in functional categories and the lexicon. It furthermore informs us on what possible human languages can look like, and how much a language can do without while still allowing its speakers to communicate effectively.

January 14, 2015

A playwright in our midst!

MA student Frederick Gietz has written and directed a play entitled "Chase Williams and the Case of the Missing Fixture" for the U of T Drama Festival. It is a crime drama comedy that will be performed by the Victoria College Drama Society on the evening of February the 12th. Student tickets are $10 for the whole evening. More information can be found here.

January 13, 2015

Congratulations, Derek!

Derek Denis defended his doctoral dissertation, "The development of pragmatic markers in Canadian English", on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

On the committee were Sali A. Tagliamonte, Elizabeth Cowper, Jack Chambers, Naomi Nagy, Aaron Dinkin, and external examiner Jenny Cheshire (Queen Mary University of London).

Congratulations, Dr. Denis!

Alex and Derek celebrate!

Naomi, Jack, Sali, Derek, Jenny, Aaron, and Elizabeth

Guest speaker: Guillaume Thomas (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro)

Guillaume Thomas is a postdoctoral researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He received his Ph.D. from MIT in 2012 under the supervision of Irene Heim and his research centres around semantics, pragmatics, morphosyntax, and the Tupi languages of South America. He will be giving a talk in SS 560A on Friday the 16th, starting at 3:00 PM: Tense as a nominal category: Evidence from Mbyá. Afterwards, there will be a reception in the department lounge.

This talk will explore the grammar of nominal tense in the Mbyá dialect of Guarani, a Tupi language spoken in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (see Thomas 2014). As in other Guarani languages, nouns in Mbyá can be suffixed with the morphemes -kue and -rã, that shift their predication time in the past or in the future of the time of evaluation of the DP. This is illustrated in (1) and (2).

(1) A-echa mburuvicha-kue.
A1.SG-see leader-KUE
‘I saw the ex-leader.’

(2) Kuee, a-jogua che-ro-rã.
Yesterday, A1.SG-buy B1.SG-house-RA
‘Yesterday, I bought my future house.’

According to Tonhauser’s (2007) prominent analysis, these morphemes are not tenses but quasi-aspectual temporal markers. A central piece of Tonhauser’s argument is that the use of -kue and -rã triggers inferences that are not commonly associated with tense across languages. Focusing on the past tense marker, I will show to the contrary that the additional inferences triggered by –kue can be analyzed as a combination of implicatures and presuppositions, that are also attested with the English past tense under the guise of lifetime effects.

I will argue that once these pragmatic effects have been factored out, -kue can be analyzed as a simple relative past tense. I will then explore the hypothesis that the functional category of tense is exclusively nominal in Mbyá. Support for this claim will come from the fact that although there is no tense inflection on verbs, -kue is attested on nominalized propositions, in which case it is interpreted as bona fide relative past tense, which locates the reference time of the proposition in the past of a local temporal anchor, as illustrated in (3) and (4).

(3) Juan o-icha’ã Maria o-mba’eapo-a-gue
Juan A3-think MariaA3-work-NLZ-KUE
‘Juan thought that Maria was working.’

(4) Juan o-ipytyvõ ava re Maria i-jayvu va’e-kue pe
Juan A3-help man OBL Maria B3-talk VAE-KUE OBJ
‘Juan helped the man that Maria talked about.’

This analysis has important consequences for the typological relevance of the grammar of tense in Guarani languages, as it has been argued that Paraguayan Guarani is a tenseless language (Tonhauser 2011). If I am correct, the relevant point of variation here is not the presence or absence of tense in the inventory of functional categories of the language, but rather the identification of tense as a verbal or as a nominal functional category. I will defend this view against arguments that tense is an inherently verbal category.

Research Groups: Friday, January 16

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Language Variation and Change Research Group
Reports from LSA/ADS in Portland; discussion of semester presentation schedule; planning for NWAV 44 in October.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Yoonjung Kang: "Laryngeal classification of Korean fricatives: evidence from sound change and dialect variation."

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM in Bissell 112 (note irregular time and place)
Syntax/Semantics Squib Section
Paper discussion: Bochnak, M. Ryan (forthcoming). The Degree Semantics Parameter and cross-linguistic variation. To be published in Semantics and Pragmatics.

January 7, 2015

Research Groups: Friday, January 9

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Meg Grant: "Processing structural and referential ambiguities" - joint work with Brian Dillon and Shayne Sloggett (University of Massachusetts, Amherst).

One of the classic projects in the field of sentence processing has been to determine the mechanism by which structural ambiguities, for example attachment ambiguities, are resolved during comprehension. This focus has persisted because the nature of ambiguity resolution has important implications for models of sentence processing in general. The results of studies in this domain have generally supported a model of attachment in which a single analysis of ambiguous material is adopted without a cost to processing (e.g., Traxler et al., 1998; van Gompel et al, 2001) over models in which multiple analyses are simultaneously adopted and compete for selection (e.g., MacDonald et al., 1994). Concurrently, a separate literature has examined the mechanism by which referential ambiguities, such as pronoun reference, are resolved. Contrary to the literature on attachment, competition has been observed between available referents in pronoun resolution (e.g., Badecker and Straub, 2002). In this talk, I will present work directly comparing these two ambiguity types, showing that the separation in the literature between these two ambiguity types is perhaps misleading and that a unified mechanism of ambiguity resolution should be maintained. I will present data from several reading-time methods, including eye movements during reading, self-paced reading and a novel ambiguity judgment task allowing for discussion of the ways in which task demands can influence real-time sentence processing.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax-Semantics Group
Paper discussion of at least the first of two articles:

Thomas, Guillaume (2014). Nominal tense and temporal implicatures: evidence from Mbyá. Natural Language Semantics, 22(4), 357-412.

Bochnak, M. Ryan (forthcoming). The Degree Semantics Parameter and cross-linguistic variation. To be published in Semantics and Pragmatics.

1:00 PM - 2:00 PM
Fieldwork Group
Diane Massam and Catherine Macdonald on fieldwork on the Polynesian languages Niuean and Tongan (in Toronto and in New Zealand and Niue).

January 2, 2015

LSA et al. 2015

The 89th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America will be taking place in Portland, Oregon, from January 8-11, 2015 – as will the annual meetings of several smaller linguistics-related conferences.

Linguistic Society of America

Current department members giving talks are:

Bronwyn Bjorkman (postdoc) with alumnus Ewan Dunbar (MA 2008, now at the Laboratory of Cognitive Science and Psycholinguistics, École Normale Supérieure):
"Eliminating cyclicity: A reanalysis of Chamorro stress."

Marisa Brook (Ph.D.)
"Syntactic categories informing variationist analysis: The case of English copy-raising."

Ailís Cournane (Ph.D.)
"Input-divergent L1 acquisition in the direction of diachronic V-to-INFL reanalysis."

Nicholas Welch (postdoc)
"Mapping the frontier: Discourse particles and the cartography of the Dene clause."

Yu-Leng Lin (Ph.D.) is presenting a poster:
"Sociophonetic variation of coronal sibilants in Taiwan Mandarin."

Keren Rice (faculty) is giving a presentation as part of a special session on the publishing process:
"What is peer review?"

Several alumni are giving talks or posters:

Michael Barrie (Ph.D. 2006, now at Sogang University) is co-presenting a poster with colleague Isaiah Yoo (Sogang University): "Bare DP adverbs and the syntax of relative clauses."

Former visiting student Jorge Rosés Labrada (University of Western Ontario) is giving a talk:
"Proto-Sáliban subject marking and the grammaticalization of copulas into TAME and polarity morphology."

Marina Sherkina-Lieber (Ph.D. 2011, MA 2003, now at Carleton University) is giving a talk: "Syntactic knowledge and cross-linguistic influence in Russian-English bilingual children."

Lyn Tieu (MA 2008, now at l'École Normale Supérieure) is presenting a poster with colleague Erin Zaroukian (also at l'École Normale Supérieure): "Hedging arguments."

Former visiting student Holman Tse (University of Pittsburgh) is also giving a talk: "Retroflexion in Somali Bantu Kizigua: Language shift and a contact-induced explanation to what looks like an internally-motivated sound change."

Former visiting student Michael Wagner (McGill) is part of two talks. One is with Daniel Goodhue (McGill): "The effect of the contradiction contour on the interpretation of ambiguous yes-no responses." The other is with Alan Bale (Concordia) and Jessica Coon (McGill) and is an introductory talk as part of a workshop: "LingSync and ProsodyLab-Aligner: Tools for linguistic fieldwork and experimentation."

Rachel Walker (MA 1993, now at the University of Southern California) will be presenting "Feature-restricted evaluation of surface identity."

American Dialect Society

Five current department members and two alumni are involved:

Matt Hunt Gardner (Ph.D.) and Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty):
"The bike, the back, and the boyfriend: Confronting the 'definite article conspiracy' in Canadian and British English."

Ruth Maddeaux (Ph.D.):
"Me, myself, and I: The role of the untriggered reflexive in the English pronominal system."

Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty), Kinza Mahoon (BA), and Lyndsey Leask (BA) are presenting a poster: "Hills and hails in the Madawaska Valley: Introducing a unique Canadian dialect."

Alumna Alex D'Arcy (Ph.D. 2005, now at the University of Victoria) and former postdoc Becky Roeder (now at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte) are part of a talk with colleague Sky Onosson (University of Victoria): "City, province, or region? What do the vowels of Victoria tell us?"

Alex is also giving a talk with colleague Janelle Serediak (University of Victoria) "Old njooz or noo nooz? A diachronic look at yod dropping."

Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas

Several alumni will be presenting talks:

Michael Barrie (Ph.D. 2006, now at Sogang University): "Gender and person mismatches and ellipsis in Cayuga."

French Linguistics alumnus David Beck (University of Alberta): "Primary and secondary objects in Upper Necaxa Totonac."

MA alumna Ewa Czaykowska-Higgins (MA 1984, now at the University of Victoria): "Constructing a dictionary for academic and community audiences: The Nxaʔamxcín Project."


Sali is also giving a talk for the North American Association for the History of the Language Sciences (NAAHoLS): "Off the cuff and from the heart: A history of variationist sociolinguistics from personal narratives."

Alumna Donna Lillian (MA 1986, now at Appalachian State University) is giving the presidential address at the meeting of the American Name Society: "Names and magic."

Emilia Melara at ConSOLE 23

The 23rd Conference of the Student Organization of Linguistics in Europe (ConSOLE) is being held in Paris from January 7th to 9th. Ph.D. student Emilia Melara is presenting "Deixis and Embedded Tense: Revisiting tense in English and Japanese subordinate clauses."

Newcomers for the beginning of 2015

Happy New Year! Our department has two new people to welcome:

For our 18-month position in psycholinguistics, we have hired Meg Grant. Meg completed a Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in 2013, focusing on psycholinguistics and neurolinguistics. She is coming to us from McGill, where she has been a postdoctoral researcher. At the U of T, she will be teaching psycholinguistics, quantitative methods, and experimental design.

Incoming postdoctoral researcher Darcie Blainey earned a Ph.D. in linguistics from Tulane University in 2013 and has since taught French linguistics at our Mississauga campus. Her research has been centred around extensive sociolinguistic investigations of Louisiana ('Cajun') French from a diachronic perspective. Other interests of hers include phonology and language contact. Darcie will be conducting research under the supervision of Naomi Nagy.

Welcome, Meg and Darcie!