February 29, 2016

Guest speaker: Jessamyn Schertz (University of Toronto)

Our department is very pleased to host a guest talk by current postdoctoral fellow Jessamyn Schertz. She is a phonologist whose interests are centered on speech perception and production, especially with regard to category boundaries. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2014, Jessamyn joined our department as a postdoc in order to work on Yoonjung Kang's SSHRC-funded project 'Bilingualism, perceptual drift, and regularization of loanwords'.

Jessamyn will be giving a talk, "Linguistic constraints on phonetic adaptation," in SS 560A on Friday the 4th, beginning at 3:00 PM. A reception will follow in the department lounge.

Speakers and listeners show remarkable flexibility, dynamically adapting their production and comprehension of language to different communicative situations. Far from being arbitrary or unconstrained, however, the trajectory of adaptation is governed by many factors, including linguistic structure. In this talk, I present three studies examining how language users adjust their use of the “cues” that define phonetic categories in different situations, and I show how these adjustments are constrained by language- and listener-specific phonological structure. First, in production, when clarifying misheard speech, how speakers adjust their pronunciation of a given segment varies both by language (Spanish versus English) and by the specific nature of the misunderstanding. Second, in perception, native Korean-speaking learners of English show categorically distinct patterns of adjustment when confronted with a novel accent, and the different adaptation strategies are predictable based on individual differences in listeners’ pre-existing L2 English phonetic category structure. Finally, expectations about the dialectal affiliation of a talker influence Korean listeners’ categorization of sounds, but this influence is modulated by the listeners’ own dialectal perceptual patterns. Taken together, this work highlights the active role played by language- and listener-specific phonology in phonetic adaptation. More generally, it points to the importance of the joint consideration of linguistic structure and communicative context. Taking into account knowledge of linguistic structure allows for more precise models of adaptation, accommodation, and learning; at the same time, exploring when and how shifts do – and do not – occur can elucidate which elements of linguistic structure play an active role in language use.

Research Groups: Friday, March 4

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Paper discussion: Green, Christopher (2015). The foot domain in Bambara. Language, 91(1), e1-e26 (online content).

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Language Variation and Change Group
Véronique Lacoste (Universität Freiburg): "'We are like bouillon': Sociophonetic diversity among Haitians in Toronto."

The Toronto Haitian English project, on which this paper is based, aims at documenting the variety of English that Haitian immigrants speak in the highly multilingual city of Toronto and identifying its characteristic phonetic features. Sociolinguistic research in Canada has recently focused on ethnolinguistic variation in Toronto English, asking for instance to what extent immigrant communities play a part in language change and how they contribute to Canada's linguistic diversity (e.g. Hoffman & Walker 2010, Nagy et al. 2013, Baxter & Peters 2013). 

This paper examines aspects of the English phonetic repertoire used by a heterogeneous group of Haitians living in Toronto or in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The data comes from 18 sociolinguistic interviews and concerns two categories of English speakers: 1. Informants born in Haiti, with Haitian parents and whose mother tongue is not English and 2. Informants born in Toronto or elsewhere in Canada, whose parents are both Haitian and whose mother tongue or dominant language is English. In addition to English, all the speakers in the sample have variable competence in French and Haitian Creole. Haitians' realisations of dental fricatives, intervocalic phoneme /t/, (t,d) deletion and phoneme /ɹ/ will be investigated. The phonetic analysis will be presented in correlation with the social variables of age and gender, and length of residence in Toronto. Quantitative results in Rbrul reveal high intra-speaker variation for Haitians who were born in Haiti and have learnt English as a foreign language, including e.g. variants characteristic of mainstream Canadian English, variants commonly observed in francophone speakers of English or realisations typical of Haitian Creole. Some phonetic variants produced by Haitians match those found in the speech of Anglophone Caribbean speakers (e.g. Jamaicans, who are numerically well represented in the Toronto area). Speakers in the second category, however, were found to produce a majority of mainstream Canadian English features.

Haitians' English phonology, especially for speakers in category 1, reflects their sociocultural and sociolinguistic situation of "in-betweens" in the Canadian diaspora (Madibbo & Maury 2001). They exhibit a certain "complexity, singularity, une singularité complexe" (Interview with Josué, 2014). However, there is no indication at this point that a Haitian English variety is emerging in the Toronto area, which may be explained by the current lack of strong community ties and a relatively young settlement in the city (in contrast to the more established Haitian community in Montreal), as well as the speakers' individual socio-historical trajectories.

1:30 PM - 2:45 PM
Semantics Group
Angelika Kiss (Ph.D.): "Remarks on the individual/stage-level predicate distinction."

Some predicates can apply to certain temporally limited stages of an individual’s life, while other predicates apply to the individual itself. The former are therefore called stage-level predicates (SLPs), and the latter, individual-level predicates (ILPs). It has been proposed that in English, this distinction is reflected in the grammar, and despite some strong counterarguments, many linguists still continue to use these labels. In my presentation, I present the basic facts along with analyses offered by Gregory Carlson and Angelika Kratzer, followed by some important observations that challenge the distinction.

February 28, 2016


The 29th Annual CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing is taking place in Gainsville, Florida, from March 3rd to 5th, hosted by the University of Florida.

Several members of our department are presenting posters:

Agatha Rodrigues (recent BA alumna), Raheleh Saryazdi (MA alumna, psychology), and Craig Chambers (faculty): "Like water off a duck’s back: How listeners react to and recover from referential infelicity."

Rebecca Tollan (Ph.D.) and Daphna Heller (faculty):
"Effects of definiteness and wh type on filler-gap dependency."

Meg Grant (faculty) and Sonia Michniewicz (BA) with colleague Jessica Rett (UCLA):
"Incremental interpretation in cases of individual/degree polysemy."

Kelly-Ann Blake (BA), Frederick Gietz (Ph.D.), and Meg Grant (faculty):
"Prediction and inhibition of syntactic structure: Evidence from either (of the)…or."

Robert Redford (undergraduate alumnus, psychology, UTM) and Craig Chambers (faculty):
"The good, the bad, and the ugly: Incremental interpretation of evaluative adjectives."

PsychoShorts 2016

Faculty member Meg Grant was at the University of Ottawa this past week reporting on research conducted with Cristina Feraru (BA), Sonia Michniewicz (BA), and Brian Dillon (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) at the 2016 PsychoShorts conference. Their talk was entitled "The influence of working memory demands on processing attachment ambiguity."

Meg and Cristina are featured in the photos below of their presentation. Thanks to Meg for providing these!

New wiki for NWAV/conference organization

In the wake of co-hosting NWAV 44 in the autumn, our department is now hosting a wiki that can help inform future planners of NWAV conferences of the best practices and conventions when it comes to hosting this conference. The wiki, which will be updated in the years to come by faculty member Naomi Nagy and former York University visiting student Abigael Candelas de la Ossa (Queen Mary University of London), can be found at http://nwavwiki.linguistics.utoronto.ca. Some of the materials may also prove useful for conference planning in general, so all conference organizers should take note of the new resource!

February 23, 2016

Guest speaker: Karthik Durvasula (Michigan State University)

We are pleased to welcome Karthik Durvasula, an assistant professor at Michigan State University, to our department for a guest talk on Friday, February 26. Karthik is a phonologist, primarily interested in features and other forms of phonological representation, especially from the standpoint of experimental investigation (perception-based or neurolinguistic) and across languages. His talk will be taking place in SS 560A at 3:00 PM on Friday: "Probing phonological knowledge in speech perception through auditory illusions." A reception will follow in the department lounge.

Native speakers perceive illusory vowels when presented with sound sequences that do not respect the phonotactic constraints of their language (Dehaene-Lambertz et al., 2000; Dupoux et al., 1999; Kabak and Idsardi, 2007; inter alia). Such perceptual illusions have been claimed to be driven purely by surface phonotactics and phonetic characteristics of segments (Davidson and Shaw, 2012; Dupoux et al., 2011). In this talk, I will argue that it is also crucially modulated by abstract phonological knowledge.

Inspired by Bayesian models of speech perception (Feldman and Griffiths, 2007; Sonderegger and Yu, 2010), I suggest that the task of the listener in speech perception is to identify the target underlying representations. Since underlying representations are abstractions that depend on the phonology of the language, the view predicts the recruitment of phonological knowledge, beyond surface-phonotactics, during speech perception. Consistent with this expectation, I will present results from research on perceptual illusions that show that knowledge of both phonological alternations and higher-level prosodic structure is utilized during speech perception.

Research Groups: Friday, February 26

Note that this is an irregular week and that two groups are meeting in the first time-slot.

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM (in SS 560A)
Psycholinguistics Group
1. Presentation by Meg Grant. 2. Presentation by Alissa Varlamova on joint work with Rena Helms-Park (UTSC) and Maria Claudia Petrescu (UTM).

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM (in SS 2112)
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Group discussion: Jessamyn Schertz, Taehong Cho, Andrew Lotto, and Natasha Warner (2016). Individual differences in perceptual adaptability of foreign sound categories. Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, 78(1), 355-367.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Syntax Group
Ivona Kučerová (McMaster University): "No PERSON, no label, no case: Evidence from Slavic numerals."

This work presents new empirical evidence for a formal connection between Case and PERSON, and PERSON and referential index (Schütze 1997, Martin 1999, Chomsky 2000, Béjar and Rezac 2003, Richards 2008, among others). I argue that structural nominative case (NOM) corresponds to a nominal structure labeled by a D head (Chomsky 2013). Consequently, such a structure may become a goal of syntactic φ-feature Agree. The core labeling feature formally corresponds to CI licensing of [+PERSON] feature (see also Sudo 2012, Longobardi 2008, Landau 2010). The empirical motivation comes from a cross-linguistic comparison of numeral constructions in Slavic.

February 16, 2016

Alana Johns and colleagues in the Star

Today's edition of the Toronto Star has an article on the publication of the Dictionary of Utkuhiksalingmiut Inuktitut Postbase Suffixes, featuring faculty member Alana Johns and the rest of the team that put the dictionary together. Congratulations to all!

(Thanks to Keren Rice for pointing this out.)

February 8, 2016

Research Groups: Friday, February 12

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Phonetics/Phonology Group
Paper discussion: Durvasula and Kahng (2016). Illusory vowels in perceptual epenthesis: The role of phonological alternations. Phonology, 32, 1-32.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Language Variation and Change Group
Group 'discovery day' devoted to exchanging research questions and pressing issues.

12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
Semantics Group
Giuseppe Ricciardi (MA): "Italian future non-future: Its contexts of use."

It is a well-known fact that in many languages future morphology can be optionally used to convey an epistemic reading, without any reference to a future time. In this talk, I focus on Italian where the epistemic use of the future is quite productive. I will attempt to define clearly the utterance contexts where it is appropriate to employ the epistemic future and, at the same time, I will try to explore its relation to other, more 'conventional' epistemic expressions.

February 7, 2016

Workshop on Intonation: February 11-12

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is hosting a Workshop on Intonation on Friday the 11th and Saturday the 12th.

The goal of this workshop is to broadcast the research on intonation at the U of T and to establish a dialogue with experts around the world. There will be short presentations by faculty members, alumni, graduate students, and three invited speakers - Carlos Gussenhoven (Radboud University Nijmegen), Ineke Mennen (University of Graz), and José Ignacio Hualde (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign).

Past and present members of the Department of Linguistics who will be involved include faculty members Ana-Teresa Pérez-Leroux, Alana Johns, and Laura Colantoni; and alumna Manami Hirayama (Ph.D. 2009, now at Ritsumeikan University).

For more information, including the program and how to register, see this page on the Department of Spanish and Portuguese site.

February 5, 2016

A conversation with Elaine Gold

[Interview by Sali A. Tagliamonte.]

Elaine Gold is retiring at the end of 2015-2016, marking the end of a long journey at the University of Toronto from undergraduate student to Ph.D. candidate to teacher, researcher, undergraduate coordinator and active outreach organizer. Although Elaine is retiring from the Department of Linguistics, she is actually just changing jobs. Her plan is to devote herself full time to being the Director of the Canadian Language Museum at its new home at Glendon College of York University. I spoke to Elaine on February 1st about this important milestone in her life.

How did you become a linguist?

I always loved languages but I knew nothing about linguistics. I did not do linguistics as an undergraduate. I started at U of T in math, physics and chemistry, and ended up with an undergraduate and a master's degree in art history. For many years I worked with museums and arts administration and eventually with the Ontario Arts Council. I started thinking about going back to school and by then I had heard about linguistics, so I thought, "Why don't I try it?" I was 39 when I took first-year linguistics and I really liked it. I eventually applied to the grad program. The graduate coordinator at the time was Elan Dresher. He called me into his office and said, "We can't accept you into the Master's program." (Side note: the University of Toronto does not allow a student to do more than one master's degree.) I was on the verge of deep disappointment when Elan continued, "But we can accept you into the Ph.D. program." So, in 1991, I started my Ph.D. with little more than second-year linguistics under my belt and four kids on the home-front.

What was the Department of Linguistics like then?

Everyone was so welcoming. There was such a lovely atmosphere in the department! Ed Burstynsky was teaching the Intro to Linguistics at the time. He would throw questions out to the big class and encourage everyone to come and see him. So, I went to see him.  Eventually, I modeled my own teaching of the intro class on Ed's methods.

I got involved in the Syntax Research Group. We were all working on different things and we were all very excited about what we were working on and we would get to together and talk about it. It was so much fun.

Looking back at your career, what were the pivotal moments? 

An important moment was when Queen's University invited me to teach Canadian English. That changed the direction of my research. I thought if I was going to teach Canadian English I should do some research on Canadian English. I started working on Canadian 'eh'. I discovered that it was not that easy to do research on 'eh'. So, I did a survey. I discovered that the same results as what had been reported 20 years earlier, so despite the fact that people think Canadian 'eh' is gone, it's not. And also, I discovered that there are so many different ways of using 'eh'.

I had done my Ph.D. dissertation on aspect and language contact in Yiddish. So, I decided I would pull together that research topic into my research on Canadian English. I examined Yiddish words that have come into English, like 'schlep' and 'schmooze'. Interestingly, while  'schlep' is used in English just like it is used in Yiddish, 'schmooze' has taken on a more negative meaning that it doesn't have in Yiddish. In Yiddish it just means 'small talk', 'have a little conversation'. But in English it also means 'sucking up to someone', perhaps being influenced by negative words like 'ooze', or its associations with the entertainment industry.

Another thing that came out of teaching Canadian English was my work on the variety called Bungi. Bungi was a Scottish-English dialect spoken in Manitoba by First Nations people in the late 1800s. If you listen to tapes, the people have a Scottish lilt, just as though they were born in Scotland.

During my time in the Department of Linguistics, I've done many administrative jobs, including Undergraduate Coordinator, member of the Curriculum Committee, Arts and Science Council representative, and many others. I'm sitting on the Council even now. I've enjoyed that larger view of the university I gained in these positions. 

Looking back at your career, what gives you the most satisfaction?

I've had an enormous amount of satisfaction from teaching and exciting students about the field of linguistics, but I think the most important thing I've done in my career is to establish the Canadian Language Museum. I got the idea from Linguist List. Somebody had posted that they wanted to create a language museum and were looking for input. And I thought, "What an interesting idea!" I had worked in museums before, so the idea had a lot of intrinsic interest to me.  I hired a Work Study student to research language museums around the world and I found out everything I could about language museums. The idea is to bring information about the languages of Canada to the Canadian public. Nowadays, people write to me from all over the world to ask my advice about creating a language museum!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

One thing I think is really important is the outreach aspects of the Department. I've run the FLɅUT lectures, which are presentations for people who did linguistics as undergraduates, and although they did not continue in the field, they still want to hear about research and developments. I've also done Fall Campus Days and outreach to high-school students in programs such as the Linguistics Olympiad. I hope that kind of outreach will continue. It's important that linguistics does not get cut off from the wider public.

What will you miss the most?

I will miss my colleagues and the students. However, it's time for me to transition to the Canadian Language Museum because I'm the person to build it up so that it can thrive. I'm not thinking of this transition as retirement. I've got a really big project ahead of me.

February 3, 2016

Guest speaker: Keir Moulton (Simon Fraser University)

We are very pleased to welcome back alumnus Keir Moulton (Simon Fraser University) for a guest talk. Keir received his MA from our department in 2002, and then earned a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2009. He has since been a postdoc at SSHRC and a faculty member at UCLA, the University of Vienna, and SFU. He is primarily interested in syntax, semantics, and their interface, particularly when it comes to subordination.

Keir's talk will be at 3 PM on Friday the 5th in SS 560A: "Ingredients of embedding: Complementizers, clausal determiners, and mediated AGREE." A reception will follow in the departmental lounge (SS 4065).

In both traditional and generative syntax, a long-standing question is what role complementizers play in allowing clauses to serve as arguments of predicates. Building on ideas about parallelism between clauses and noun phrases (Szabolcsi 1987, Abney 1987), one view treats complementizers in Romance and Germanic as analogous to the determiners of noun phrases (Roberts and Roussou 2003, Manzini and Savoia 2003, 2011). On this approach, both C and D are there to give a phrase argument status. In this talk, I argue against such parallelism. Instead, I argue that all CPs are predicates — even complement CPs (Kratzer 2006, Moulton 2009, Moulton 2015, Arsenijevic 2009). I begin by presenting distributional evidence about CP complementation and the theory of Moulton (2015). I then turn to an interesting case study of an understudied type of CP in Romance — the Pseudo-Relative (PR) (Radford 1977, Kayne 1975, Cinque 1992), illustrated by the bracketed string in (1) in Italian. These constructions speak against DP-CP parallelism because, as I argue in joint work with Nino Grillo (Humboldt), they show that Ds and Cs co-occur in this construction, both bearing distinct morpho-syntactic and semantic signatures.

(1) [Io che fumo per strada] è uno spettacolo che non raccomando a nussuno.
[I.NOM that smokes in street] is a sight that not recommend.I to anyone.
'Me smoking in the street is a sight I don't recommend to anyone.' (Cinque 1992 (66))

We argue that PRs contain a predicate CP that is converted to an argument by a null determiner heading the CP. We further show how this null determiner facilities an AGREE relation between the matrix clause and the PR-internal subject (e.g. Io above), in a fashion similar to suggestions in Preminger (2009) and Bjorkman and Zeijlstra (2015) for Long-Distance Agreement in Basque and Tsez. The results add to a growing body of literature arguing for determiners on clauses (Davies and Dubinsky (2002, 2010), Hartman (2012) and others).

Raigelee Alorut in the Star

Raigelee Alorut, one of faculty member Alana Johns's local Inuktitut-speaking colleagues was on the front page of yesterday's Toronto Star talking about the role of post-secondary education in the lives of First Nations people.

February 1, 2016

Research Groups: Friday, February 5

9:30 AM - 11:00 AM
Psycholinguistics Group
Presentation by faculty member Amy Finn of the Department of Psychology.

11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Language Variation and Change Group
James Walker (York University): "The sociolinguistic consequences of ethnolinguistic diversity for English in Toronto."

Recent patterns of immigration to Canada have altered the ethnolinguistic landscape of Toronto, transforming a predominantly monolingual city into one of the most diverse cities in the world. Language shift to English by immigrant groups has been mitigated by the city’s  'ethnic enclaves', which are said to promote heritage-language maintenance and to the development of 'ethnolects', ethnically marked ways of speaking. In this presentation, I report on an ongoing research project examining the sociolinguistic consequences of ethnolinguistic diversity for the English spoken in Toronto. Comparing speakers of different ethnic backgrounds across generations and by their responses to an ethnic orientation questionnaire, we analyze the quantitative patterning of a number of phonetic and grammatical features. Our results suggest that ethnolects do not reflect the effects of language transfer, which do not persist beyond the first generation, but that second-/third-generation speakers may use features at different rates to express their ethnic identity. Since the linguistic conditioning of features is largely parallel across all younger speakers, regardless of ethnic background and degree of ethnic orientation, we suggest that they all share the same linguistic system.