November 17, 2017

Tanya Slavin featured on CBC, on learning Oji-Cree and visiting Kingfisher Lake First Nation

Tanya Slavin (Ph.D. 2011) has been featured on CBC with her personal essay "As a non-Indigenous student of Oji-Cree, I learned much more than a language" on her experiences in Kingfisher Lake First Nation. Check it out here!

November 13, 2017

A Conversation with Diane Massam, by Sali Tagliamonte

Diane Massam retired as of June 30, 2017. Diane and I sat down to have a conversation about her life in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto on June 24th, 2017.
How did you become a linguist?
Looking back, I think I was always a linguist. I remember in elementary school, the highlight for me was spelling. We had exercises where we had to make up sentences with our spelling words in them. I loved doing those exercises.
There was something about sentences that was particularly fascinating to Diane. She loved the structure of it all, subjects, objects, nouns and verbs. Of course like most people, Diane didn’t know anything about Linguistics. She thought she wanted to be a writer, so she did an undergraduate degree in English. One day she asked one of her professors why they never focused on the actual language the writers used. The professor told her she needed a course in Linguistics. So Diane took Introduction to Linguistics and fell in love. She says: “I found what I wanted.”
Diane did her undergraduate degree at York University in Toronto, graduating in 1979 and her MA at U of T (1980). At first she was interested in dialectology and historical linguistics and took a course with Jack Chambers; however, Elizabeth Cowper “turned her on to syntax”.
In 1980 she went to the Linguistics Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She got a scholarship to go which paid for her travel, food and lodging. Aside from that however, she had no money at all. As everyone knows, there is a lot of socializing at the LSA Summer Institutes, but Diane couldn’t go out on the town because she had no money. So, she stayed on campus with a small group of other students. They became fast friends, Among the groups was Juliette Levin (later, Blevins). Juliette and Diane decided to apply to MIT together. At the summer institute Diane took courses with Ray Jackendoff, Ken Hale and James McCawley setting the stage for her work in theoretical syntax.
As a sideline to these developments, Diane had a short sojourn in Edinburgh as a Commonwealth Scholar, because she wanted to study Shetland English. However, the situation didn’t work out for her linguistically. Instead, she went to MIT.
As Diane explains it, being at MIT was another one of those “ever increasing moments of realization” of finding where you should be.
Diane studied at MIT from 1981-1985. Chomsky’s “Lectures on Government and Binding” (LGB) had just come out, so it was a very exciting time. LGB had grown out of a series of Lectures that Chomsky had done in Pisa, Italy. In so doing, he had drawn many European linguists into his theoretical orientation. This meant that many languages started coming into the theory, French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian. Diane’s supervisor was Noam Chomsky, but she also worked with Ken Hale, who had a strong interest in Polynesian languages, and Joan Bresnan who was working on cross-linguistic variation. These influences set the scene for Diane’s abiding interest in languages more generally, particularly Niuean (as we will find out below).
Diane reflects on her MIT experience like this:
So, there was this perfect matching of Chomsky’s brilliant, beautiful perfect theories of human grammar with a lot of really rich and complicated and very different empirical data… that took my heart at that point. And that’s been sort of what I’ve been interested ever since.”
There were wonderful people around. It was a great time to be a student at MIT. “Intellectually it was like nothing else I had ever experienced; personally I remember it as a time of friendship.”
I could not help but ask Diane what was it like to have Chomsky as her advisor
Chomsky’s modus operandi was to meet with his students every week for an hour. For the students, this meant that most of their waking life was spent focused on what they were going to say to him the next week. Everyone tried to bring him something worthy of his attention. Diane remembers him as a very human, warm, and kind advisor with a wry sense of humour.
Like I think you know if you’re going to live in the 20th century, which it was then, you can’t ask for more than to be able to be around a mind like that on a regular basis.”
After she completed her PhD, Diane took a temporary post at UBC as a phonologist, replacing Patricia Shaw. Within the first week she met her husband, Yves Roberge (more on him later). In 1986, both Diane and Yves got post-docs at the Université du Québec à Montréal, and then again at UofT in Toronto in 1987, which was the year they got married.
What was the department of Linguistics like when she first arrived?
When Diane first arrived in the Department of Linguistics in 1979, the faculty included Ed Burstynsky, Jack Chambers, Al Gleason, Peter Reich, Hank Rogers and Ron Wardaugh. Elizabeth Cowper was the only female professor. Eventually a new cohort formed, including Elizabeth, and Keren Rice, Elan Dresher and Alana Johns. The way Diane sees it, the older group (especially Ed) “set the heart” of the Department that can still be felt today in 2017. Many of the newer layer of faculty and students that came along in the 2000’s may not know the old cohort. Diane describes them as follows: Everyone shared an “esprit de corps” focused on departmental well-being. People were willing to put their personal issues aside for the sake of the department.
They cared about education. They cared about teaching. They loved Linguistics. They created the department with its good will and openness, openness not only to intellectual points of view and exploration but also to human qualities — being nice to each other and trying to make this a human place.”
Diane’s cohort went on to develop the curriculum and grow the graduate program. Issues of equity came to the fore. Elizabeth and Keren started the practices that made it possible for both women and men in the department to have a family life. For example, they instituted departmental meetings and guest talks starting at 2 or 3pm rather than at 5pm. These adjustments were quite different to what had before been the UofT norm and further enhanced the humanness of department.
Next, we turned to talking about Diane’s intellectual contributions.
Diane explains that she works “on the A side of syntax.” The A side is the part of syntax that focuses on argument structure, subject-hood and object-hood etc. However, Diane’s interests on the A side are unusually broad because her work is not only theoretically oriented but also language oriented. She works on both Niuean and English, and she likes to work on pretty much anything that is of interest in those languages.
How did you come to work on the Niuean language?
Diane’s first answer to this question was tongue in cheek: “There’s something in common about all my interests. They are all focused on islands! I grew up on an island, Vancouver Island. I loved the Shetland Islands. I’m drawn to islands.”
However the real answer to her love affair with Niuean starts at MIT and her association with Ken Hale who worked on Polynesian languages. Under Hale’s teaching, Diane became interested in Niuean and subsequently Niuean figured prominently in her dissertation. There was a big hiatus in her Niuean work when she started her job at UofT. Instead of fieldwork in far-away lands, she was busy teaching and writing papers on English and starting a family. However, when she had her first sabbatical in 1995, she finally had the funds and the time to go to Niue and New Zealand and do fieldwork, and get to know many wonderful members of the Niuean community, and to learn from them more about Niuean language and culture. To Diane, Niuean has “everything I could possibly want in a language from a linguistic point of view”.
Why is that Diane?
Niuean is verb initial. The basic puzzle that I’m interested in is sentences and what the basic structure of a sentence is. Aristotle said that sentences consist of a subject and a predicate. But in a VSO language, questions immediately arise. There is no single entity you can point to and say that’s the predicate and that’s the subject. So, that’s been the focus of my research mostly. Are VSO languages fundamentally different? On top of that, Niuean has ergative case marking. It raises all kinds of interesting things about subject hood.
I don’t know about you, but no-one has ever been able to explain ergativity to me as well as Diane did during our interview so, let’s hear it in her own words.

The best way I think of to explain it is that we’re all used to English and languages like English that are nominative systems. So, in that language when you have a transitive sentence, you would say something like: “she saw her”. So, we have two forms of the feminine pronoun, ‘she’ and ‘her’. And they’re very different but they mean the same thing, but one is the subject and one is the object. So, ‘she likes her’. Now, when you have an intransitive sentence, there’s one instance of this pronoun and is it like ʻsheʻ or like ʻherʻ? And in English it is like ʻsheʻ. You say “she slept’. You don’t say ‘her slept’. So you’ve got ‘she’ and ‘her’, and then ‘she’. In an ergative language — if English was an ergative language — we would say something like: “she saw her” and then we would also say “her slept”. So the subject of an intransitive verb has the same form as the object of transitive verb in an ergative language. Whereas in a nominative language the subject of an intransitive verb has the same form as the subject of a transitive verb. So, if that makes any sense at all you can understand why it’s interesting. Subject hood becomes a big issue in these languages because, the intransitive subject, the ‘her’ in ‘her slept, is it a subject? But then why doesn’t it look like ‘she’? Or is it an object? But then how can it be an object when it’s the only argument in the sentence? It’s the only noun phrase in the sentence. So, if it’s an object then you’ve got this sentence that consists of a verb and an object but it doesnʻt have a subject. We also have to ask if the transitive object might really be a subject, since it looks the same. So, the questions are endless.
Looking back at your career, what gives you the most satisfaction?
First of all, Diane said: “Every moment that I work on Niuean - it is just a treasure trove.” One of her favorite topics has been verb fronting. She recalls one time on a long-haul flight back to Toronto from Niue she had one of those rare Eureka experiences. She had been wondering about verb fronting and it struck her that what was fronting was not just a verb, as had been previously thought, but a larger structure. Ah hah! She drew trees all the way home trying to figure out how to work it out structurally. Two developments provided the empirical insight she needed: verb fronting and noun incorporation.
People thought verb initial languages were derived by the verb moving to the front of the sentence. In parallel, theories of noun incorporation developed that said that a noun phrase that is an object can form a lexical item along with the verb to get a single word, e.g. like “meat-eat”. Then, that single lexical item can move.
What Diane realized was that in Niuean the incorporated nominal was much larger than in other languages. It was not just a noun but a phrase that was forming a unit with the verb. Looking at the details of that, led to a new way of understanding how verb fronting works in some languages. The series of papers Diane wrote on this topic is one of her most satisfying intellectual accomplishments.
The other thing that Diane is known for is her work on unusual syntactic constructions in English. One question is how do people hold on to different rule sets in different registers, like recipes and diaries? Recently, Diane worked on the ‘is is’ construction, e,g, The thing is is that… and this paper has just appeared in Language (2017, 93:121-152.), the flagship journal of Linguistics. There had been a lot of different ideas going around about the “is is” construction. However, none of them made sense to Diane. She thought to herself:
No, this has to be plain old ordinary syntax. It can’t be something too weird because we all do it all the time. So, it must be part of the syntax.”
Diane explained to me her three main observations about these constructions. First, they are always in specificational contexts. For example, to specify what a problem is you can say: The problem is that … and to specify what an issue is you can say: The issue is that…. You donʻt find an extra be in sentences like "She is pretty." The second observation is that these constructions occur with ‘shell nouns’. Shell nouns encapsulate a lot of information, such as a problem, an issue, or a question etc. And third, the shell noun is shared by two verbs. Once you pull together these pieces of information, the syntax falls out from those observations. But to get the complexities, Diane says, you will have to read the paper.
Massam, Diane (2017). Extra be: The syntax of shared shell-noun constructions in English. Language 93: 121-152.
Diane said: Those two projects, the Niuean one about noun incorporation verb-fronting and the double ‘be’ one in English were really satisfying to me.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your research?

I taught courses on Language Diversity and Linguistic Universals. That topic sums up my research love. That tension of having a theory of human language that is true for all languages and then accounting for the diversity that you find across languages. That’s been the larger focus of my interest.”
I love theory and I love data so I’m very happy that I was able to combine them throughout my career. I think it’s partly the time I lived in that made that possible.”
You’ve been married to Yves Roberge, another linguist, for most of your academic life. What was it like being married to another linguist?
Yves has formed a huge part of the tapestry of my life. Linguistics has been in my life at work, but also part of my life at home. We don’t talk about Linguistics all the time, but when we need to, it’s just great to have someone to bounce ideas off of. Being with Yves has also given me access to a whole other aspect of Linguistics, Romance Linguistics, a whole other dimension to Linguistics and all the people I came in contact with from Yvesʻ associations. Yves was also Principal of New College at UofT for 7 years, and this has given me access to the broader, college life of UofT. Finally, bringing up kids, seeing their language development in a bilingual household. Linguistics has been present in all aspects of my life.
At this point, we turned to Diane’s reflections on her work in the Department of Linguistics.
What did you enjoy most about the department? What makes you think this department has ‘heart’?
Diane’s own words on this topic are a poignant record of her sentiments. I have included three of her observations:
I think that the department has heart and I think it has a big heart. Part of it is what I like to bring out in my own teaching and advising and part of it is what I inherited.
Everyone who comes here is quite wonderful. They’re super intelligent people who have stories and richness to them but they’re all very different. Create an environment where people can be who they are. Sometimes things don’t go so well and a lot of things happen along the way. It’s very important to create an environment where that’s okay. I think we have a department like that.
We used to have this saying: “Not in front of the students; not in front of the Dean.” In the department we might have problems and issues but we didn't want to show that to the Dean and we wanted the students to think everything is good. It has made the department strong.
What was it like to be departmental chair?
The call to be Chair of the department came as a bit of a shock to Diane, but she thought of it a great privilege. She liked being part of the larger university community. It was a time for her to stretch out beyond the department and learn more about the broader University of which it is a part. It was also a great time to lead the department. It didn’t need a lot of heavy-handedness. There were all kinds of powerhouses working in the department at that time and everyone was doing really well with their research. So, in one sense being the Chair was easy. All Diane had to do was create an environment where people could do what they were already doing.
Diane was chair between 2002 and 2008 (as well as Interim Chair in 2012). To her, remembering it all is often a blur. It was an extremely intense time in her life, getting up very early in the morning to prepare her teaching, doing her morning walks (or runs) in the dark, juggling work and family, kids and students, faculty and staff. One year she even had to be both chair and graduate coordinator, which I can hardly believe (because I am currently the graduate coordinator and it’s bad enough just doing that!) Finally, it must be told that there was one thing that Diane remembers only too well: the end of the day deadline, which came at 4:30pm sharp. She recalls many times people walking down the hall to the elevator with her for some last minute Q&A because at 4:30 the workday ended and Diane went to pick up her kids.
Can you tell me about your love of the department through the history of lounges?
The lounge has always been a gathering place. It is the defining nature of UofT Linguistics. We had one at the Queenʻs Park building in 1979 when I first came to the department as an MA student. Gleason was always there talking about language. There was always intellectual stuff going on. Then, we moved to the 6th floor of Robarts Library. While I was at MIT, I came back as a TA. Many of us drank wine late at night and talked about language and the meaning of life. Then I came back again as a Canada Research Fellow and then a professor. I often worked on my teaching materials in the lounge and everyone talked about things in the lounge. That’s where we came up with the idea of the Syntax Research Group. Then when we were about to move to the fourth floor of Sid Smith there was a big controversy. We wanted a lounge and a meeting room, but the administration said we couldn’t have both. So, we said we could not live without a lounge. The lounge is necessary for our department. It’s the heart and soul of the department. So, we got a lounge and the tradition continues.
The lounge in the department of Linguistics is truly unique. Some departments don’t have lounges. There is nowhere for students to go. Some departments have lounges but they typically allow only faculty and maybe graduate students to use them. In the Linguistics department everyone can use the lounge. This makes it possible for faculty, staff, graduates and undergraduates to interact, creating an environment of interaction and camaraderie. The egalitarian nature of the lounge gives everyone the opportunity to talk to each other. It makes everyone feel like they are a part of something. In particular, the undergraduates get the opportunity to see firsthand what it is like to be a graduate student. This gives them the competitive edge when they apply to graduate school themselves. But it gives them life training more generally too.
You have a large number of intellectual achievements and administrative positions, what is the thing you are most proud of?
Diane did not hesitate in her answer to this question! She told me straight out that the things she is most proud of are her graduate students. From the very beginning, the most rewarding part of Diane’s academic life has been advising, at both the MA and PhD levels. She loves giving students the space to explore and discover their own abilities. Diane says, “Each student has been a joy and a treasure.” Most of her 20 doctoral students have gone on to be academics themselves, working in countries around the world - Canada (Toronto, Winnipeg), France, Israel, Italy, Korea, Oman, Taiwan, Thailand, and the USA, and those who have left academia have distinguished themselves in a range of different careers in Toronto.
It must have been a hard choice to retire?
Academic life is exhausting. With the full range of things that Diane has done she uses this expression to sum up her experience: “run ragged”. This is not because academics are under extreme pressure to ‘do-it-all’ but because they inherently want to do it all, so they just keep over doing. As Diane explains, the choice for retirement arose logically: “I am always governed by my list of things to do and I wanted my list of things to do to be shorter and more manageable.” That imperative meant that Diane had to give up something. So, she made the choice to give up classroom teaching and administration — the things that take tremendous time and energy, and the things that she could give up without forsaking her true love — research.
What are your plans for the future?
For someone who is about to retire, Diane has a long list of things to do on her list. First, she wants to write a theoretical book on Niuean syntax. Up to this point there has never been enough time to do it. Now there is. Second, she’d like to continue her work on weird syntax in English and write more papers on Niuean. Third, she’d like to write a grammar of Niuean. She also speculates that she might want to try other types of writing, returning to her long lost penchant for wordsmithing. She also muses about painting, travel, reading, cryptic crossword puzzles (a private fascination), spinning, hiking, biking, etc.
What are you going to miss the most?
Diane has obviously struggled with this sensitive subject. She said very clearly: “What I am going to miss the most is daily and given-to-you-for-free deep and rich contact with young people. I worry that I won’t have that anymore. I think I’ll still have access to colleagues and to graduate students to some extent but the young undergrads, like the ones in my 199 and 300-level courses, I’m not sure I’ll have that and I’m sad about that.”
Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
Not long before Diane and I had our conversation, we had a department retreat. Our discussions primarily focused on the graduate program, how to improve it and the best ways forward. Diane recalls that she was sitting back a bit during the meeting because she knew she would not be part of the decisions that were being made. Then, she looked across the table at Alana and they shared a secret smile, together acknowledging that the department is in good hands. The newest cohort of young colleagues are working together and gelling. They came into the department as individuals. They didn’t have any joint goals as a group but now Diane notices they are developing this quality. She smiles and says: “It’s going to be exciting to see where the department goes in the future. I just hope that it stays as a really good department and really warm department, with a lounge, and a heart.”

November 11, 2017

Fall Convocation 2017

Congrats to the graduates who took part in Fall Convocation, 2017! Here are some pictures, courtesy of Diane Massam and Yves Roberge.

Matt Hunt Gardner and Shayna Gardiner
Kinza Mahoon, Sarah Newman, Luke Zhou, Savannah Meslin, and Brea Lutton

All from above, plus Diane Massam (faculty) on left
Andrei Munteanu

November 8, 2017

What’s new in Undergrad Linguistics

We’ve been having a busy semester on the undergraduate front! On September 28, we had a back to school “Welcome Tea” event for our undergrads where they got to come by and chat with professors, staff, and fellow students and hang out over some tea and pastries. This was the first of hopefully many social events geared to undergraduates.

Naomi Nagy (faculty) with a crowd

Nicholas LaCara, Peter Jurgec, and Nathan Sanders (all faculty). Photo credit: Mary Hsu

A crowd, including Sali Tagliamonte (faculty) in foreground. Photo credit: Mary Hsu

Greg Antono, Deepam Patel, Calahan Janik-Jones, Katie MacIntosh, and Katharine Zisser (undergrads)
At this event, we also announced our 2016-17 award winners:
McNab Scholarship: Toshiaki Kamifuji, LIN Specialist
Jack Chambers Undergraduate Scholarship: Katherine Alexandra Sung, LIN Specialist
Henry Rogers Memorial Scholarship Fund: Yan-Lum Charissa Chan, LIN Major

And a brand new award, the “Elaine Gold Award for Undergraduate Achievement in Linguistics”, which went to Jeffrey Wang (LIN Major). Two honourable mentions went to Toshiaki Kamafuji and Cal Janik-Jones.

On October 22, we welcomed thousands of prospective undergraduate students at U of T’s annual Fall Campus Day, which took place at Hart House this year. Our little Linguistics booth saw quite a bit of traffic, thanks to the efforts of our fantastic volunteers from SLUGS and the LGCU (Laila Faqiri, Cal Janik-Jones, Pocholo Umbal, and Isabelle Ladouceur-Séguin) – huge thanks to them for their time and enthusiasm!

Isabelle Ladouceur-Séguin (MA), Calahan Janik-Jones (undergrad), and Suzi Lima (faculty). Photo credit: Pocholo Umbal

 Photo credit: Pocholo Umbal

Laila Faqiri (undergrad), Keren Rice (faculty), and Pocholo Umbal (PhD)

October 29, 2017

NELS 48 at the University of Iceland

The 48th Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 48) was recently held at the University of Iceland. From our department:

Left to right: Elizabeth Cowper (faculty), Julie Legate (MA 1997, now at U Penn), Tomohiro Yokoyama (PhD), Rachel Walker (MA 1993, now at U of Southern California), Rebecca Tollan (PhD), Richard Compton (PhD 2012, now at UQAM), Bronwyn Bjorkman (Postdoc 2012-2015), Mike Barrie (PhD 2005, now at Sogang U, Seoul), Michelle Yuan (MA 2012, now at MIT)

October 15, 2017

Alexei Kochetov and Jessica Yeung in Hawai'i (25th Japanese/Korean Linguistics Conference)

Alexei Kochetov (faculty) and Jessica Yeung (PhD1) have attended the 25th Japanese/Korean Linguistics Conference at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and presented the paper:
'Inhibition of Korean palatalization in L2 English: Electropalatographic data', co-authored with Kelly-Ann Blake (MA), Andrei Munteanu (PhD1), Fiona Wilson (PhD2), and Luke Zhou (MA graduate). This paper was based on a term project done as part of LIN1211H1S Advanced Phonetics (Winter 2017) 'The phonetics of bilingual speech'.

October 14, 2017

Field Methods (JAL401H1 F/ LEC 5101) Malagasy Workshop

Field Methods (JAL401H1 F/ LEC 5101), taught by Suzi Lima, is holding a Malagasy Workshop on December 11th (2017). Students in the class will present their research projects on Malagasy, and there will also be talks from invited speakers Ileana Paul (Western University) and Lisa Travis (McGill). The room and schedule are TBA, but click here for the website and call for papers.

October 12, 2017

1st Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Indigenous Languages of Latin America Workshop

The first annual TOMILLA (Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Indigenous Languages of Latin America) Workshop is being held at UofT on November 24th, 2017 (room TBA, see the website for updates). Below are the talks and posters.

Three theses about active-stative languages (Andrés Pablo Salanova, University of Ottawa, & Javier Carol, Universidad de Buenos Aires)

What is the motivation behind allomorphy in the number markers in Wichí (Jimena Terraza, Université du Québec à Montréal, & Lorena Cayré Baito, Universidad Nacional del Nordeste)

The Possessive Analysis: Support for the Nominal Interpretation of Property Words in Tupi-Guarani (Justin Case, University of Ottawa)

Noun Classifiers, (in)definiteness, and pronouns in Chuj (Justin Royer, McGill)

Poster 1: Adjectives in Chuj (Paulina Elias, McGill)

Poster 2: On the count-mass distinction in Nheengatu (Francy Fontes, UFRJ, Cal Janik-Jones, UofT, Suzi Lima UofT/UFRJ)

Poster 3: Language Vitality in Macuxi and Wapichana in Terra Indigena Serra da Lua, Roraima (Vidhya Elango, UofT, & Isabella Coutinho, UERR/UFRJ)

Switch-reference in Yudja (Guillaume Thomas, UofT, & Suzi Lima, UofT/UFRJ)

October 10, 2017

Visit from Gillian Sankoff and Bill Labov

Gillian Sankoff and Bill Labov visited us on Friday (Oct 6, 2017) from the University of Pennsylvania. In the morning they held a discussion with students and faculty in the Language Variation & Change research group, and in the afternoon Gillian gave a talk on lifespan variation.

Sali Tagliamonte (faculty), Gillian Sankoff, Bill Labov, and Jack Chambers (faculty)

Reception after Gillian's talk

October 1, 2017

Team Faetar at UWO

On the way from a class project in LIN 1256: Language Contact, Corpora & Analysis in 2017 to a talk at NWAV 46 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Team Faetar presented its latest research (and some earlier research!) on subject pronouns in Faetar, an endangered variety of Francoprovençal spoken on two mountaintops in southern Italy and a small group of speakers in the GTA. Presenting were:
  • David Heap, Professor of Linguistics at UWO, who started working on Faetar as a grad student at U of T, as part of a project examining dialect atlas data to understand Romance subject pronoun systems.
  • Michael Iannozzi, a PhD student at Western who, as an undergrad linguist at UofT, analyzed variable null subjects in Faetar.
  • Naomi Nagy, Associate professor of linguistics at UofT.
  • Katherina Pabst, PhD student in linguistics at UofT.
  • Fiona Wilson, PhD student in linguistics at UofT.
Not able to be present, but part of the research team for this project were:
  • Lex Konnelly, PhD student in linguistics at UofT.
  • Savannah Meslin, who earned her MA in linguistics at UofT in 2017 and now teaches French at the Canada's National Ballet School
Fiona and Katharina gave a talk entitled, “Transmission of Variation Between Homeland and Heritage Faetar”, as part of the Western Linguistics speaker series.

Team Faetar September 2017: David, Fiona, Katharina, Naomi & Michael at Western

September 29, 2017

2016-2017 Undergraduate Awards

We are pleased to announce the winners of 4 Undergraduate Awards in Linguistics for 2016-17:
  • The Chambers Award is awarded to Katherine Alexandra Sung, Specialist in Linguistics
  • The McNab Award is awarded to Toshiaki Kamifuji, Specialist in Linguistics
  • The Rogers Award is awarded to Yan-Lum Charissa Chan, Major in Linguistics
A new award is added this year, for outstanding achievement in required 200-level courses:
  • The Gold Award is awarded to Jeffrey Wang, Major in Linguistics
There are also two runners-up for this award:
  • Toshiaki Kamifuji, Specialist in Linguistics
  • Calahan Janik-Jones, Specialist in Linguistics
Congratulations to all these students for their academic achievements!

September 25, 2017

Photo from Manitoba Workshop on Person

The Manitoba Workshop on Person was held this past weekend at the University of Manitoba. Here's a picture of UofT people (names below):

Back row, left to right: Betsy Ritter (former postdoc), Will Oxford (PhD 2014, now at U Manitoba), Michael Wagner (former graduate exchange student 1998, now at McGill), Martha McGinnis (BA 1992, MA 1993, now at U Victoria), Diane Massam (faculty), Jila Ghomeshi (PhD 1996, now at U Manitoba), Richard Compton (PhD 2012, now at UQAM)
Front row, left to right: Andrew Peters (PhD), Lex Konnelly (PhD), Elizabeth Cowper (faculty), Tomohiro Yokoyama (PhD), Bronwyn Bjorkman (former postdoc, now at Queen's), Michelle Yuan (MA 2013, now a PhD student at MIT)

September 24, 2017

Photos from 5th Annual Meeting on Phonology (2017)

The 5th Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP) was recently held at New York University (click here for list of UofT talks). Here are some pictures from the conference.

Poster by Alexei Kochetov (faculty), Laura Colantoni (Spanish & Portuguese), & Jeffrey Steele (French Dept.)

Talk by Mia Sara Misic (MA), Zhiyao Che, Fernanda Lara Peralta (BA), Karmen Kenda-Jež (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) & Peter Jurgec (faculty)

Poster by Suyeon Yun (UTSC post-doc) & Yoonjung Kang (faculty)

September 20, 2017

Ngumpin-Yapa Workshop (2017, University of Queensland)

The Ngumpin-Yapa Workshop (on the Ngumpin-Yapa subgroup of the Pama-Nyungan language family in Australia) was held at the University of Queensland on August 10th and 11th, 2017. From our department, Jessica Mathie (Ph.D.) presented her paper "Through the looking-glass: Ngarinyman expressions of searching, looking and finding".

Workshop participants

September 17, 2017

Manitoba Workshop on Person 2017

The Manitoba Workshop on Person is being held on September 22 and 23 (2017) at the University of Manitoba. Invited speakers from our department:

Susana Bejar (faculty): Ineffable person in copular complements 

Bronwyn Bjorkman (former post-doc, now at Queen's), Elizabeth Cowper (faculty), Daniel Currie Hall (PhD 2007, now at Saint Mary's University), and Andrew Peters (PhD): Person and deixis in Heiltsuk pronouns

Michelle Yuan (MA 2013, now at MIT): Plural person and associativity (in Inuktitut)

Diane Massam (faculty): Person and null pronouns

And other presentations from our department:

Tomohiro Yokoyama (PhD): The Person Case Constraint: Repairing the notion of “repair”

Lex Konnelly (PhD) and Elizabeth Cowper (faculty): The future is they: The feature geometry of non-binary gender

Richard Compton (PhD 2012, now at UQAM): Inuktitut PCC revisited

Will Oxford (PhD 2014, now at University of Manitoba): Person and the Algonquian inverse

September 14, 2017

5th Annual Meeting on Phonology (2017)

The 5th Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP) is being held at New York University from September 15 to 17 (2017). Alumna Yining Nie (MA 2015; now PhD NYU) was one of the student organizers of the conference. Presentations from UofT:

Mia Sara Misic (MA), Zhiyao Che, Fernanda Lara Peralta (BA), Karmen Kenda-Jež (Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts) & Peter Jurgec (faculty): Nasal harmony and nasalization in Mostec Slovenian

Suyeon Yun (UTSC post-doc) & Yoonjung Kang (faculty): Allophonic variation of the word-initial liquid in North and South Korean dialects

Alexei Kochetov (faculty), Laura Colantoni (Spanish & Portuguese), & Jeffrey Steele (French Dept.): Gradient and categorical effects in native and non-native nasal-rhotic coordination

Nicholas Rolle (MA 2010; now PhD at University of California, Berkeley), Transparadigmatic output-output correspondence

Sharon Rose (BA 1990; now Professor and Chair at University of California, San Diego), ATR Harmony: new typological patterns and diagnostics 

September 7, 2017

Corpora in the Classroom

Two increasingly important domains in linguistics are the study of spontaneous speech and the analysis of large corpora of natural language data. Our Linguistics Department has professors and students who do both.

To improve the instructional infrastructure and scaffold undergraduate and graduate class assignments that teach relevant theory and research skills, we have developed a teaching resource called Corpora in the Classroom (, on which hundreds of hours of recorded and digitized speech from 9 languages (so far) are archived and meta-data-tagged.

This tool has been used in 7 or 8 sociolingusitics classes over the past 5 years, but we are hoping to expand its utility and use to additional classes/areas. If you'd like to use this tool or contribute data to it, please have a look at the demo pages ( and then contact Naomi to discuss. (Sample assignments using this tool for a 1st year course are at, HWs 11 & 13.)

The project has been funded by internal ITIF and CRIF grants, Keren Rice's CRC funds, and SSHRC.

September 1, 2017

SemDial 2017

The 21st Workshop on the Semantics and Pragmatics of Dialogue (SemDial 2017 – SaarDial) was held August 15-17, 2017 at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany. From our department, Angelika Kiss (PhD) presented her paper "Meta-conversational since when-questions and the common ground".

August 31, 2017

LVC memes

In case you missed it, this Drake meme was floating around linguistics circles on Facebook. (Caption: "Reading about dialectology is better than reading fiction :P".)

August 28, 2017

Andrei Munteanu, Dresher award winner, presenting at CRC

Andrei Munteanu (MA), winner of the 2016-17 Dresher Phonology Prize for outstanding work in a graduate phonology course, presented his winning work at the 2017 CRC-Sponsored Summer Phonetics/Phonology Workshop on August 15th: "Co-occurrence restrictions in English: A corpus study". Here's a picture of his talk:

August 23, 2017

Brazilian Indigenous languages research excursion program

(See the course blog here for pictures and updates:

This summer, Suzi Lima (faculty in Spanish & Portuguese, as well as Linguistics) has been teaching a course called "Brazilian Indigenous Languages: documentation, language maintenance and revitalization" in the Spanish & Portuguese department. The first four classes were held at UofT, and the final six classes (starting August 18th) are being held in Brazil, where the students are receiving hands-on training for language documentation projects and collaborative research.

I'd highly recommend checking out the blog link above (or click here); Suzi and her students and colleagues are doing a great job of documenting their progress in Brazil with pictures and updates.

If you're interested in research on Brazilian Indigenous languages but weren't able to join the class and go on this research excursion, check out the Brazilian Indigenous Language research group ( at UofT.

August 22, 2017

Solar eclipse nerds

Toronto was in the path of the August 2017 eclipse (a partial eclipse for us, at more than 70% coverage of the sun), and a contingent of linguists went outside of Sid Smith to (safely) see it.

(L-to-R): Derek Denis (faculty), Nathan Sanders (faculty), Dan Milway (PhD), Michela Ippolito (faculty), Jennifer McCallum (graduate administrator), Zoe McKenzie (PhD), Savannah Meslin (MA), Luke Zhou (MA), Clarissa Forbes (PhD), Robert Prazeres (PhD)

August 19, 2017

Distinctive featured linguists

From the CRC-Sponsored Summer Phonetics/Phonology Workshop. (Credit: Naomi Nagy)

August 18, 2017

Association of French Language Studies conference Blue Jays outing

UofT linguistics profs Alexei Kochetov, Jeff Steele and Naomi Nagy attended the Association of French Language Studies conference outing to the Blue Jays-Yankees game on Aug. 10, following 3 full days of interesting talks about French in a wide range of contexts.

August 17, 2017

New volume on ergativity, edited by Diane Massam and colleagues

The Oxford Handbook of Ergativity was recently published. This volume, which was edited by Diane Massam (faculty) alongside colleagues Jessica Coon and Lisa deMena Travis at McGill, includes almost fifty articles on ergativity (from theoretical approaches to case studies to experimental work). Congratulations on this Diane, I know how much work and coordination has gone into this!

Authors featured in this volume include Julie Anne Legate (MA 1997, now at University of Pennsylvania), Alana Johns (faculty, co-authoring with Ivona Kucerova at McMaster), Richard Compton (PhD 2012, now at Université du Québec à Montréal), and Tyler Peterson (visiting assistant professor 2012-2013, now at University of Auckland). Click here for more information, or read the abstract below.

This volume offers theoretical and descriptive perspectives on the issues pertaining to ergativity, a grammatical patterning whereby direct objects are in some way treated like intransitive subjects, to the exclusion of transitive subjects. This pattern differs markedly from nominative/accusative marking whereby transitive and intransitive subjects are treated as one grammatical class, to the exclusion of direct objects. While ergativity is sometimes referred to as a typological characteristic of languages, research on the phenomenon has shown that languages do not fall clearly into one category or the other and that ergative characteristics are not consistent across languages.

Chapters in this volume look at approaches to ergativity within generative, typological, and functional paradigms, as well as approaches to the core morphosyntactic building blocks of an ergative construction; related constructions such as the anti-passive; related properties such as split ergativity and word order; and extensions and permutations of ergativity, including nominalizations and voice systems. The volume also includes results from experimental investigations of ergativity, a relatively new area of research. A wide variety of languages are represented, both in the theoretical chapters and in the 16 case studies that are more descriptive in nature, attesting to both the pervasiveness and diversity of ergative patterns.

August 16, 2017

2017 CRC-Sponsored Summer Phonetics/Phonology Workshop

The annual CRC-Sponsored Summer Phonetics/Phonology Workshop hosted by our department took place on Tuesday, August 15th. Here were the presentations:

Jessamyn Schertz (faculty): Listening differently to accented talkers: Use of acoustic and contextual cues in perception of native vs. non-native speech

Na-Young Ryu (PhD): Effects of cross-language acoustic similarity on non-native speakers’ perception of Korean vowels

Rachel Soo (incoming MA) and Philip J. Monahan (faculty): Phonemic perception and lexical access: Evidence for speech factor levels in Cantonese heritage speakers

Julian Bradfield (The University of Edinburgh): The Sound of a Spherical Cow

Karina Kung (BA UTSC), Luan (Jessie) Li (BA UTSC), Connie Ting (incoming MA), Jasmine Yeung (BA UTSC), and Yoonjung Kang (faculty): Compensating for speech rate variation in English stop perception

Rachel Evangeline Chiong (BA), Andrea Macanović (BA), and Peter Jurgec (faculty): Secondary palatalization in Zadrečka Valley Slovenian

Andrei Munteanu (MA): Co-occurrence restrictions in English: A corpus study

Paul Arsenault (PhD 2012, now at Tyndale University College) and Alexei Kochetov (faculty): Retroflex vowel harmony in Kalasha: A preliminary acoustic analysis

Wenxuan Chen (BA) and Peter Jurgec (faculty): Vowel harmony in Slovenian

Nathan Sanders (faculty): Some issues in the perceptual phonetics of sign language: Motion-in-depth and the horizontal-vertical illusion

Mercedeh Mohaghegh (PhD 2016) and Craig Chambers (UTM Psychology faculty): Perceptibility of the place of articulation in nasal and oral stops and recognition of assimilated words

Suyeon Yun (UTSC post-doc): Quantifying sonority contour

Katherine Sung (BA) and Alexei Kochetov (faculty): Allophonic variation in English coronal stops: An EPG corpus study

Deepam Patel (BA), Rosemary Webb (BA), and Peter Jurgec (faculty): The rise and fall of the palatal nasal glide in Slovenian

Suyeon Yun (UTSC post-doc) and Yoonjung Kang (faculty): Allophonic variation of the word-initial liquid in Korean dialects

August 15, 2017

Julie Doner in Probus (International Journal of Romance Linguistics)

Julie Doner (PhD) has had her article "Spanish stress and lexical accent across syntactic categories" published in the August 2017 volume of Probus, International Journal of Romance Linguistics. Congrats, Julie! The abstract is below, and a link to the article is here.

In this paper, I provide an analysis of Spanish stress with the following three characteristics: (a) both verbal and non-verbal stress are accounted for in a single, unified, system, (b) the three-syllable window for stress is accounted for in a principled way, and (c) the stress algorithm has no access to the morphosyntactic structure. I do this by extending Roca’s analysis of variable edge parameters for stress in Spanish non-verbs to verbs, and by arguing that morphemes which mark for only person, number, and gender (φ-features) are outside of the domain of stress because they are prosodic adjuncts.

August 14, 2017

Methods in Dialectology XVI (Tachikawa, Japan)

The Sixteenth International Conference on Methods in Dialectology (METHODS XVI) was held in Japan from August 7th to 11th (2017). Presentations from our department:

Jack Chambers (faculty), Erin Hall (Ph.D. student), Mary Aksim (M.A. 2016, now at the University of Ottawa): Dialect asymmetries in vowel perception

Katharina Pabst (Ph.D. student), Lex Konnelly (Ph.D. student), Melanie Röthlisberger (Ph.D. student at KU Leuven, former visiting student), and Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty): The individual vs. the community: Evidence from T,D deletion in Canadian English

Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty): Into the hinterlands: Probing urban to rural diffusion in intensifier variation (part of the workshop “Beyond the well-known: current foci and issues in research on intensification”)

Thanks to Katharina Pabst for the pictures!

Jack Chambers (faculty) and Dennis Preston (faculty at Oklahoma State University) giving a speech at the conference dinner

Katharina and Mel before their talk

Sali A. Tagliamonte (faculty) giving a talk about intensifiers in Northern Ontario

The U of T related contingent at Methods XVI

August 1, 2017

Dog Days VI Syntax Workshop

The 6th annual Dog Days Summer Workshop on syntax, morphology, and semantics is taking place on Wednesday, August 9th (2017) in SS560A, starting at 9am. It is being presented with the generous support of Susana Béjar, Elizabeth Cowper, Diane Massam, Alana Johns, and Keren Rice and the University of Toronto Linguistics Department. Here are the speakers:

Julianne Doner (Ph.D.): Overtness and the EPP

Bronwyn Byorkman (Queen’s, formerly UofT post-doc), Elizabeth Cowper (faculty), Daniel Currie Hall (Ph.D. 2007, now at Saint Mary's), and Andrew Peters (Ph.D.): Person and deixis in Heiltsuk pronouns

Neil Banerjee (BA 2016, now at MIT): Something not aspectual in Southern Nambiquara

Virgilio Partida Peñalva (Ph.D.): Split-S in Otomí

Gavin Bembridge (York): Verbal Class and Lexical Diacritics

Alana Johns (faculty): An Agreement/Case Mismatch?

Heather Yawney (Ph.D.): Suspended Affixation within the Inflectional Domain of Turkish Verbs

Monica Irimia (Ph.D. 2011, now at University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) and Tova Rapoport (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev): Agreements: Secondary Predication Integration

Bridget Copley (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique Paris 8): More have causatives

Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen’s University, formerly UofT post-doc): Who can they be?

Kenji Oda (Ph.D. 2012, now at Syracuse University): First/last name asymmetry in Japanese proper names

Julie Goncharov (Ph.D. 2016, now at Hebrew University of Jerusalem): Relativization in the Grammar

Will Oxford (Ph.D. 2014, now at University of Manitoba): Consequences of Caselessness

July 18, 2017

New book by Isaac Gould

Isaac Gould (BA 2009, MA 2010, now at the University of Kansas) has recently had his book Choosing a Grammar: Learning paths and ambiguous evidence in the acquisition of syntax published with John Benjamins Publishing Company. Congratulations, Isaac! Here's the summary from the site:

This book investigates the role that ambiguous evidence can play in the acquisition of syntax. To illustrate this, the book introduces a probabilistic learning model for syntactic parameters that learns a grammar of best fit to the learner’s evidence. The model is then applied to a range of cross-linguistic case studies – in Swiss German, Korean, and English – involving child errors, grammatical variability, and implicit negative evidence. Building on earlier work on language modeling, this book is unique for its focus on ambiguous evidence and its careful attention to the effects of parameters interacting with each other. This allows for a novel and principled account of several acquisition puzzles. With its inter-disciplinary approach, this book will be of broad interest to syntacticians, language acquisitionists, and cognitive scientists of language.

July 17, 2017

July 12, 2017

Welcome back, Derek!

Derek Denis (BA 2008, MA 2009, PhD 2015), who was away as a post-doc at the University of Victoria, has recently returned to UofT take up a tenure-stream position in sociolinguistics at the Mississauga campus. Here's an interview with Derek! Topics:
  1. His research
  2. Toronto for research on variation and change
  3. Being grounded in one institution
  4. Getting a tenure-stream job
  5. Involvement at St. George campus
  6. Supervising and collaborating with graduate students
  7. If linguistics didn't exist...
Questions and answers:

1. How would you introduce your research to someone who isn't familiar with linguistics?

All of my research falls under the very large umbrella of trying to understand the what, how, who, and why of language change. I mostly work on Canadian English and primarily use variationist sociolinguistic methods. I'm mostly interested in morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic phenomenon such as 'eh' but I've also done sociophonetic research as well.

2. What makes Toronto a compelling place to carry out research on language variation/change?

Toronto is one of the most multicultural and multilingual cities in the world. This is obviously of great benefit for linguists because it means we can almost always find a native speaker of a language locally. It also means that we can study the heritage varieties of these languages outside of a homeland setting, as Naomi has been doing. I’m most interested in understanding the effect that having a population in which more than 50% of people speak a language other than English has on Toronto English. We have a very detailed understanding of ‘old line’, middle class, settler colonial English from Sali’s Toronto English Archive, but there are other things going on in communities that are predominantly composed of first generation Canadians and who predominantly interact with first generation Canadians. In London, Jenny Cheshire, Paul Kerswill and their colleagues have found that in such scenarios a unique kind of multiethnolectal dialect can form. I suspect that we have something like that developing in Toronto and I'd like to try to document it and understand how it came about and where it's going.

3. You've done three degrees at UofT, and now you're back for a job. What are the benefits of being so grounded in one institution? Has it posed any problems or challenges?

The number one benefit of being back at UofT in a faculty position is the amazing students, both graduate students and undergraduate students. I plan to involve students in my research at all stages. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing what I did... everyone is different. I'm exactly where I want to be so my path worked for me. The only challenge I can think of is that I'll have to find something to occupy my Thursday nights since I won't be able to go to pub night anymore!

4. Will having a tenure-stream job change the way that you plan your research, such as the scale or time-frame of research projects that you start?

Having a permanent position and the resources available to tenure-stream faculty will definitely allow me to implement my bigger ideas!

5. Your main appointment is in Mississauga—how will you be involved in St. George?

I’ll be a member of the graduate faculty which will mean I'll occasionally teach graduate courses and can be the supervisor or a committee member on forum papers, GPs, and dissertations.  This year I'll be co-coordinating Junior Forum with Susana as well. I plan to be in Sid Smith most Fridays for research group meetings. I’m always happy to talk to whoever about variation, change, sociolinguistics, stats, and really pretty much anything else people in the department are working on or thinking about!

6. For the graduate students reading this, what kind of projects would you be interested in supervising or collaborating on?

Once my project on Toronto multiethnolects gets underway, there should be lots of opportunities for graduate students to be involved in that project. I'd be happy to supervise any project using variationist sociolinguistic methods including projects on languages other than English and understudied varieties of English worldwide. I'm also interested in supervising or co-supervising historical or experimental work. One of my more recent interests is understanding the role of settler colonialism in the development of Englishes around the world including Canadian English and I'd be more than happy to chat with anyone who's thinking about Settler-Indigenous relationships in terms of language (or otherwise).

7. If linguistics didn't exist, what other academic field or career path would you have liked to explore or go into?

When I was 10, I was a huge fan of the Stargate movie, which made me want to be an (crypto-)Egyptologist. In grade 7, I wrote a report on what educational path I’d need to take to achieve that goal. Funnily enough, I ended up following parts of that path in a lot of ways. What I didn’t get into was physical anthropology and archaeology. I think if I didn’t become a linguist and stayed in academia, I’d have gotten into the study of prehistroical population migrations either from the archaeological or genetic side of things. One thing I love about teaching historical linguistics is that I get think about that kind of stuff. 

If I wasn’t in academia, I would own and operate a small coffee shop and roastery called svartr --- Old Norse for 'black', like how I take my coffee. That’s always been the back-up plan.

July 11, 2017

CLA presentation award winners

Congratulations to our two departmental winners, Julianne Doner and Virgilio Partida Peñalva!

Julie Doner has won the Best Student Paper Award, from the Canadian Linguistics Association in the twenty-minute talk category, for her presentation "Predicate-sensitive EPP", while Virgilio Partida Peñalva has won the Best Student Paper Award in the ten-minute talk category, for his presentation "Stripping in Spanish: Focalized PP remnants". Congratulations to both our winners!

We also congratulate Nicole Hildebrandt-Edgar of York University, who tied with Julie for first place in the 20-minute talk category with her presentation “I don’t know in Toronto and Victoria: Comparing analyses of discourse variation”, and Angélica Hernández Constantin, of Western University who won the Best Poster Presentation Award for her poster ""Différences regionales dans l’utilisation du verbe impersonnel haber de l’ espagnol: Les Caraïbes contre l’ Amérique Latine continentale".

July 5, 2017

Jack Chambers interviewed by CBC News on Canadian Dainty

CBC News interviewed Jack Chambers (faculty) on a quasi-British accent that was once common among the elite in Canada, called Canadian Dainty. Check it out here:

From the article:
"In the first decades of the 20th century, people who heard their bank manager or their minister speaking with the Canadian Dainty features thought that person is educated and intelligent," he said. "In the second half of the 20th century, when people heard their bank manager, clergymen speaking with a Canadian Dainty accent, they may have been thinking, 'Boy, that sounds pretentious to me.'"

July 4, 2017

A surprise visit!

Junmo Cho (Ph.D. 2000) (Professor, Handong Global University) paid a surprise visit to the department this week (June 28). He is visiting from Korea, with his family. In this photo we see Junmo, his wife Faith, their two sons, Joel and Yega, and their nephew Andrew Chun (in the middle). It was a great surprise to see him (he hasn't changed a bit!), and it brought back lots of great memories. There is also a photo of Junmo with Diane, who supervised his dissertation.

July 3, 2017

Diane Massam's retirement: messages from some former students

Diane Massam is retiring from the Department of Linguistics on July 1st, 2017. She's been a professor here since 1989, working on syntax, especially with Austronesian languages. Rather than a ceremonial write-up detailing her achievements and contributions, let's hear from some of Diane's former students on what she's meant to them.

Päivi Koskinen (MA 1992, PhD 1998, now at Kwantlen Polytechnic University) - website

The 1990’s was the best decade, UofT Linguistics was the best of the 90’s, syntax project was the best of UofT Linguistics, and there would not have been syntax project without Diane (and Elizabeth). Thank you, Diane, for that fabulous decade! Thank you for starting me on the path the right way for an MA about Finnish passives, and my first generals paper on the lexical semantics of those Finnish inchoative verbs. Thank you for being gracious when you returned from your sabbatical in France and Niue to find that in your absence your PhD student had defected. I was privileged to work with a prof with whom we would flip back and forth between functional projections, kids with chickenpox, Finnish participles, gender bending children, and everything under the sun. Cheers for Friday syntax project meetings, garden parties, and That Santa Claus Parade. May you always have cake and flowers on July 24, your Finnish-Finnish Name Day, and for good measure October 16, your Swedish-Finnish Name Day!

Will Oxford (PhD 2014, now at University of Manitoba) - website

Thanks, Diane, for showing me that Algonquian is more like Austronesian than I ever would have thought! Happy retirement!

Kyumin Kim (PhD 2011, now at Cheongju University) - website

I still remember the moment that I first met Diane when I started my PhD back in 2006. When I entered her office for the first time, she asked what city in Korea I am from. Then she took out a map and asked me to point out and talk about the city and how I grew up etc.. She wanted to know about me first rather than what I was interested in for my PhD. So, this is Diane, which I have loved! Best wishes for a very happy retirement, Diane! Thank you for everything you've done for me directly and indirectly. I have been so fortunate to have you in my (PhD) life. You'll be missed, but wish you all the best for the next phase of your life.

With Love!


Jila Ghomeshi (MA 1990, PhD 1996, now at University of Manitoba) - website

I defended my doctoral dissertation in 1995 and Diane Massam was my supervisor. She was a relatively new faculty member in the department and I was her first doctoral student. Under her supervision I felt challenged, in the positive sense, to write the best thesis I could. We became friends through the process and have stayed in touch personally and professionally through our collaborative research. While we continue to find areas of mutual interest in syntax to work on, I think what really keeps us working together is how much we laugh. I am happy to have been asked to write something on the occasion of her retirement from U of T though I have had trouble narrowing down what I want to say about her.

There is her unbridled curiosity for all things linguistic and for the details of daily life. There is her remarkable work ethic that has resulted in a steady flow of journal articles, book chapters, edited volumes, and presentations. There is her remarkable record of graduate supervision. And there is her commitment to service in the form of committee work, organizational roles and leadership at all levels. This commitment extends beyond the department at U of T to the Canadian Linguistic Association. All this can be read from her CV so I will write about two qualities that are less tangible but have made far more of an impression on me.

Diane has a gift for combining rigour and openness in her outlook towards everything. As a syntactician, she is a formalist to her core and yet does not let theory constrain the way she looks at data or the phenomena she works on. As a supervisor, she holds her students to an established framework but not so as to hamper their imagination. As a person, she is deeply ethical without being judgmental. In every realm I can think of, she achieves a balance between equally important but seemingly opposite poles. She has an unerring sense of the middle – the space between extremes that looks like common sense. This brings a steadiness to her and those around her.

Equally inspirational for me has been to see her work-life balance – a clichéd term that makes it sound like a skill to be acquired at a workshop or from a self-help book. It is evident to me that Diane’s balance comes out of the love and commitment that she feels towards both her job and her family. Of course, there is a sense of duty at work that has no necessary counterpart at home so they can never be truly equal. But work, for Diane, includes doing syntax and as I’ve watched her ‘do’ syntax over the years I have imagined it is like the way great writers write – because they have to to be happy. Those of us who find the vocation we love almost as much as we love our families experience ‘balance’ as the pain of tearing ourselves away from one for the other. I have watched her do this a million times.

Diane used to say to me that she wants to be ordinary. I found this shocking as she was (and is) a driven person who has achieved most of the conventional benchmarks of success. It is a radical statement in our pursuit-of-excellence culture. I don’t know if this is still what she wants so at the risk of disappointing her I must say she is the most extraordinary person I know. She is a role model for how to be the very best kind of linguist, professor, colleague, friend, and ordinary person.

Monica-Alexandrina Irimia (MA 2005, PhD 2011, now at University of Modena and Reggio Emilia) - ResearchGate

I have been so fortunate and honoured to have Diane as my M.A. and PhD supervisor. I am not sure I will ever be able to express my gratitude for everything Diane has done for me, from my academic formation to crucial advice on personal matters. Diane is the best mentor a student could ever hope for; her talent and insight as a great linguist are only matched by her kindness, understanding, humanity, never ending  support, encouragement, generosity, and dedication. It is more than fair to say that it would have been impossible for me to become a linguist without Diane’s contribution. Diane has also set a model of a true scholar which I will always value and emulate.


Julie Goncharov (PhD 2016, now at Hebrew University of Jerusalem) - website

“There are no former students”, right?

In my heart, there are a lot of words that I can say to Diane and about Diane from the time prior to my becoming her student and during her supervision. But what is more relevant (for me) now is this experience of being her former student.  The connection never breaks. And this is not only because of occasional (and so delightful) catching-ups, but also because I recognize how many of my choices are sculpted by Diane. Especially, those choices that pertain to moral judgments and scientific standards.  

Here’s one story about respecting others’ scientific territory. I remember Diane once prefixing her talk at the Syntax Group with an acknowledgment that the topic she was going to talk about she had been developing with one of her students. And she added that before taking on the topic again, she emailed the student and asked for permission. Now, when my scientific ship is out there in the ocean, I realize how important this is for a student and an early-career researcher. Surely, the larger your toolbox is and the more experienced you are with using those tools, the faster you can solve a new problem. But to create room for somebody else’s discovery and to respect somebody else’s scientific territory, you need to have wisdom and high standards which make Diane Diane.

Of course, this is only one story from a million! Thank you for everything, Diane!

Arsalan Kahnemuyipour (PhD 2004, now at UofT Mississauga) - research profile

Congratulations on your retirement, Diane!

It is really hard for me to imagine U of T syntax without you. You are the reason I am still doing Syntax today. You are and will always be a role model for me both as a syntactician but also for the balance you always struck between your academic and personal life. Since that phone call you made to Iran in summer 1998 to let me know I have been (kind of ☺) admitted to the grad program until today and forever, you will be my mentor. Yes, that means you cannot get away from me. You can run but you can’t hide!

I wish you a great retirement, Diane. I am sure you and Yves have everything planned and will have a fabulous chapter in your lives. You both deserve it. How do we do Syntax without Diane (and Elizabeth and Alana!) at U of T? Well, I will have to resort to you to find a positive way of approaching the problem. During my graduate years and especially when I was writing my thesis, whenever I came across what looked like an insurmountable block in my research and rushed to your office frantically, your reaction would be: That is a good problem. I guess I have another good problem to deal with!

Thank you so much for being who you are, Diane, and wishing you all the very best once again!   

Patrick Murphy (MA 2014, now in UofT PhD) - website

I'm extremely grateful to Diane for being a wonderful mentor on my MA paper. That experience really solidified my desire to continue with research and do a PhD. My research path ended up going in a different direction after my MA (due to a course in speech perception reigniting an old interest), but ergativity is still very cool and hearing it mentioned never fails to capture my attention. I also appreciate the experiences she gave me as a research assistant (for the Oxford Handbook of Ergativity and her Niuean/English recipe null objects project), and I want to point out that she's in general just a fun person to talk to. Thanks for everything!