recent work

McClay, Elise & Michael Wagner (in press). Accented Pronouns and Contrast. To appear in the Proceedings of the 50th Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society in 2014. [paper]

Abstract: Both the lack of accentuation on a referring expression and the choice of a pronoun over a full noun phrase have been tied to a higher accessibility of the referent. Why, then, would a pronoun ever be accented? We consider three perspectives: Kameyama’s (1999) Complementary Preference Hypothesis, Smyth’s (1994) Parallel Function view, and Rooth’s (1992) Alternatives Theory of Focus, and present experimental evidence in favour of the focus view. We conclude by noting issues with respect to the definition of contrast that arise when considering cases of multiple foci as in the data of our experiments.

Wagner Michael (in press). Phonological Evidence in Syntax? In: Tibor Kiss and Artemis Alexiadou (Eds.): Syntax – Theory and Analysis. An International Handbook. Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science. 42. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2015 [paper]

Abstract: Linguistic constituents that encode salient information are often prosodically reduced. Recent studies have presented evidence that higher contextual accessibility of referents results in lower prosodic prominence. Accounts of reduction in terms of accessibility set out to explain a range of phenomena that include those that are in the domain of linguistic theories of focus and givenness. The tacit assumption is that more general and independently motivated accessibility factors will be able to supplant the more specialized grammatical accounts of prosodic prominence. This paper reviews previous results and finds that existing accessibility accounts cannot explain a range of data easily captured by the alternatives theory of focus, and that various experimental studies motivating the accessibility view actually fail to distinguish between the two accounts. New experimental data is presented that teases apart the effects of accessibility and linguistic focus.

Wagner, Michael & Jeffrey Klassen (in press). Accessibility is no Alternative to Alternatives. To appear in Language, Cognition and Neuroscience. [paper]

Abstract: Linear precedence is one of the key sources of evidence for the syntactic structure of complex expressions, but other aspects of the phonological representation of a sentence, such as its prosody, are often not considered when testing syntactic theories. This overview provides an introduction to the three main dimensions of sentence prosody, phrasing, prominence and intonational tune, focusing on how they can enter syntactic argumentation.

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prosody and constituent structure

The conference eti3: Prosody and Constituency at McGill (co-organized by Emily Elfner, Jessica Coon, Lisa Travis, and myself) is now over. Thanks everyone for participating!

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accented pronouns

Handout for the talk we’ll be presenting at CLS today:

Elise McClay & Michael Wagner: Accented unambiguous English pronouns: Complementary Preference, Parallel function, or Focus?

Comments welcome!

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two papers on intonational tunes

… to be presented next week at semdial:

Daniel Goodhue, James Pickett and Michael Wagner. English reverse prosody in re- sponses to yes-no questions. Proceedings of Semantics of Dialogue (Semdial). [paper]

Wagner, Michael, Lauren Mak and Elise McClay. Incomplete Answers and the Rise- Fall-Rise Contour. Proceedings of Semantics of Dialogue (Semdial). [paper]

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Dorit Abusch and Mats Rooth Talks

Dorit Abusch and Mats Rooth will give talks as part of a special issue of the Semantics Reading Group this Thursday, October 10, Leacock 738.

2.30-3.45pm Mats Rooth (Cornell University): Focus over new, farmer sentences, and directionality in focus licensing.

3.45pm Refreshments

4.00-5.15pm Dorit Abusch (Cornell University): Anaphoric relations in sequential and conflated pictures

Everybody is welcome.

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Prosodylab Aligner Demo Pt 2

Next in our series of tutorial videos is how to use the options available through the Prosodylab Aligner, like using a different phonetic dictionary or training new models. Take a look if you’re interested & want to know more!

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Prosodylab Aligner Demo

For those of you who are interested in using the Prosodylab Aligner and are new to using Unix and/or Terminal on your computer, we’ve started making a series of video tutorials to show you how to use this software on your own. The videos will cover some basics and not-so-basics, from how to run the Aligner through Terminal to how to clean and prepare your data for training the Aligner on new models.

First in the series is an intro to the Aligner: what is it, what does it do, and how can you run it?

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linguistics olympiad

This year, we are once again organizing a session of the North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad, to be held at McGill on January 31. This is a fun competition that is a great way for us get some high school and cegep students (up to 12th grade) exposed to the field of linguistics. If you know of anyone who’d be interested, please forward this message.

Participation is free. No previous knowledge is required. More information and many practice problems are posted at the naclo website.

If you know any students at high schools or cegeps in the Montréal area who might be interested, please forward them this information. Students can register online until January 30 at 3pm, and we also accept walk-ins on the day of the contest.

The first round of the contest will take place on Thursday, Januar 31, from 10am to 1pm at McGill University (sign in starting at 9:15am; directions can be found at our website (see below). Students who perform well on the first round will be invited back for a second round, to take place on March 13. The winners of the invitational round will be eligible to represent North America at the International Linguistics Olympiad.

Check out the McGill Website for more information, or contact us at naclo.montreal@gmail.com.

Note: Currently the North American Olympiad is only held in English. If you are interested in developing materials in French for future years, we can put you in touch with the organizers of NACLO, who expressed interest in trying to make materials available in French as well.

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experimental linguistics at mcgill

Note that the deadline for applications to our graduate programs is approaching fast: December 15!. Here’s some information about recent changes in our program.

The McGill Graduate Program in Linguistics has recently undergone significant restructuring and expansion, which should make it more appealing to students interested in experimental research.

The new Experimental Stream offers a two-course sequence in Experimental Linguistics (‘Foundations’ and ‘Methods’), focusing on experimental, statistical, and computational methods. There are further new offerings in the areas of expertise of our recent hires: Meghan Clayards (Phonetics and Psycholinguistics), Morgan Sonderegger (Computational Phonology and Phonetics), and Michael Wagner (Prosody and Language Processing). These additions complement existing strengths in L2 Acquisition of Syntax (Lydia White), L1 and L2 Acquisition of Phonology (Heather Goad), Neurolinguistics (Yosef Grodzinsky) and Sociolinguistics (Charles Boberg). The experimental stream allows our students to focus on empirical studies while also acquiring a solid grounding in linguistic theory. The department has excellent resources for conducting empirical research: two experimental labs, a field methods lab, and soon also a computational lab, equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, including eye trackers, sound-attenuated booths, and high-performance computers. We are affiliated with many other experimental facilities through the Centre for Research on Brain, Language, and Music (crblm.org), and also have close ties to the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Department of Psychology.

At the same time we have also extended our offerings in syntax and semantics. Luis Alonso-Ovalle has joined Brendan Gillon and Bernhard Schwarz to strengthen our program in the areas of Formal Semantics and Pragmatics. Jessica Coon has joined Junko Shimoyama and Lisa Travis to extend our syntax offerings, and has also reinvigorated the department’s long tradition in teaching Field Methods and conducting Field Work, which has already resulted in a collaborative language revitalization project with a local community (seemigmaq.org for more information).

The 5-year PhD program in Linguistics offers a competitive funding package and allows for applications straight from a B.A. or after an M.A. Applicants are admitted to the program rather than to work with a specific supervisor. This gives students considerable flexibility in developing their own research agenda. The program offers a tight curriculum of core courses in the first year, and a lighter load with more in-depth courses in the second year. Students write and defend two evaluation papers before embarking on their dissertation research, as is common in other North American Ph.D. programs.

The stand-alone M.A. program is intended for students who wish to pursue further studies in Linguistics before deciding whether or not to continue on to a Ph.D. program. We also offer a Qualifying Year program for students transitioning into Linguistics from other fields.

More information about research and teaching in the department is available on our website (http://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/graduate). Our website also provides information on living in Montréal, where McGill University is located, a cosmopolitan, bilingual, and affordable city. Instruction at McGill is in English.

Note that we have a comparatively early deadline: December 15th.

We’d be excited to see your applications this fall!

The Department of Linguistics, McGill University

Applications Deadline: 15-Dec-2012

Web Address for Applications: http://www.mcgill.ca/linguistics/graduate

Contact Information: Heather Goad (heather.goad@mcgill.ca)

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a givenness illusion

This paper (which went online at the journal site a year ago) has now officially appeared:

Michael Wagner (2012). A givenness illusion. Language and Cognitive Processes 27 (10). 1433–1458

    Constituents that encode information that is salient in the discourse or “given” are often prosodically reduced and remain unaccented. What is given and new is usually defined at the level of meaning: given expressions are those that refer to salient referents or predicates that have been made salient by the previous discourse. This paper presents evidence from two production studies that sometimes, a constituent that semantically should be contrastive, and hence accentable, is treated prosodically as if it was given, and placing an accent on it is consistently avoided—an illusory case of givenness. This effect can be explained by assuming that givenness is not only evaluated in terms of semantic content, but also at the phonological level. Prosodically marking a semantic contrast requires the presence of a phonological contrast. This effect thus provides evidence that the notion of “antecedent” relevant for prosodic givenness-marking needs to include reference to linguistic form, and not just to referential meaning.
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