This is the home of Michael Wagner's prosodylab, at the McGill Department of Linguistics. There are other labs working on prosody in our department, check out the labs of Meghan Clayards, Francisco Torreira, and Morgan Sonderegger.

‘Prosody’ encompasses all those acoustic aspects of an utterance that are not due to the choice of words, but reflect syntactic grouping, emphasis, negotiate turn-taking, reflect emotional attitude, or distinguish different speech acts.

If you speak through a kazoo (see the picture on the left), what you hear gives you a good idea what prosody is, since you will no longer be able to identify the words. Of course, even then the signal is shaped a lot by the choice words, for example the length of the words and how you position your tongue when you say them will still affect the signal. But the overall tune of the utterance will be much easier to hear, as well as how words group together, and where you place emphasis.

Our research addresses two key questions: (i) What information about speaker and context is reflected in prosody? (ii) How much of this information is retrieved by the listener, and how is it used in speech processing?

Prosody is partly the result of processing effects, such as planning and lexical retrieval, and partly it is itself part of the message, encodes important information. We all have internalized intricate conventions about prosody, just like we have internalized conventions about what particular words mean and how they can be combined to form sentences. So part of our research is trying to better understand how languages differ in their prosodic grammars.

Investigating prosody requires integrating insights from different disciplines, including psycho-linguistics experimentation, signal processing, and modelling the semantics and pragmatics, and our lab tries to do just that…

Principal Investigator: Michael Wagner ORCID iD icon [CV] img

Current postdocs/graduate students:

Current undergraduate students working in the lab:

Massimo Lipari, Asa Kohn, Sijia Zhang

Supervised graduate students:

Dan Goodhue (2018) Asking and answering biased polar questions. Doctoral Dissertation, McGill University (co-supervised with Bernhard Schwarz and Luis Alonso-Ovalle)

Mortazavinia, Sepideh (2018). The additivity of even in Persian and English.(co-supervised with Lydia White)

Oriana Kilbourn (2017). Speech production planning affects variation in external sandhi. Doctoral Dissertation, McGill University. (co-supervised with Morgan Sonderegger)

Alanah McKillen (2016). On the interpretation of reflexive pronouns. Doctoral Dissertation, McGill University. (co-supervised with Bernhard Schwarz).

Jeff Klassen. Ph.D. 2016. (Co-supervised with Lydia White). Second Language Acquisition of Focus Prosody in English and Spanish. Currently lecturing at University of Washington.

Michael Hamilton. Ph.D. 2015. (Co-supervised with Jessica Coon and Alan Bale). Now Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University.

Jozina vander Klok. Ph.D. 2013. (Supervised by Lisa Travis). Worked in prosodylab on project on prosodic focus marking in French and English.Now sessional lecturer at UBC.

David-Etienne Bouchard. Ph.D. Supervisor: Bernhard Schwarz MW: Committee Member. Worked in prosodylab on project on clitics in Québec French (co-supervised with Maire Noonan).

Masayuki Gibson Ph.D. 2012. at Cornell University.  Lexical Tone, Intonation, and Their Interaction: A Scopal Theory of Tune Association. Doctoral Dissertation, Cornell University.

Jonathan Howell (2011). Doctoral Dissertation. Cornell University. Advisor: Mats Rooth, MW: Committee Member.

Nikola Predolac (2011). Syntax and Information Structure: Free Constituent Order and Flexible Relative Prominence in Serbian. Doctoral Dissertation, Cornell University. Advisor: Draga Zec MW: Committee.

Hyun-Kyung Hwang (2009): Prosody and WH-Scope in Pitch Accent Languages. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis. Cornell University. Advisors: Abby Cohn & John Whitman. MW: Committee-Member.

Serena Crivellaro (2008): Investigating Prosody Boundaries. Unpublished Masters Thesis, Cornell University.

Hye-Sook Lee (2008): Pitch Accent and its Interaction with Intonation. Experimental Investigations in North Kyeongsang Korean. Unpublished Ph-D. Thesis, Cornell. Co-supervised with Abby Cohn.


Supervised undergraduate students:

Sonora Grimsted (2019). Focus marking in chess instructions. Cognitive Science Research Project (Cogsci 440). Lab manager 2018–2019

Emma Gibson (2019). Tonal Upstep in Weak and Repeated Imperatives. Honour’s Thesis (co-supervised with Francisco Torreira)

Yulan Feng (2017). Functional Data Analysis of intonational contours. Honour’s Thesis (Cogsci 440)

Josiane Lachapelle (2017). Liaison: Planning effects of constituent size and speech rate. Cognitive Science Research Project (Cogsci 440)

Sarah Mihuc (2017). Focus in Kabyle. Honour’s thesis in Linguistics. (co-supervised with Jessica Coon).

Elise McClay.(2012). Project on Intonational Tunes. Lab manager 2013-2014

Erin Olson.(2012). Honor’s thesis on speech segmentation and light/dark [l]. Lab Manager 2012-2013.

Aron Hirsch. McGill ‘11. Projects on Topicality and Prosodic Disambiguation. Honour’s thesis on prosodic prominence in intransitive clauses. Lab Manager 2011-2012. Now Ph.D. Candidate at MIT.

Aleksandra Piwowarek. (2011). Honor’s thesis on Vowel Harmony in Québec French. Went on to Master’s program at University of Saarbrücken.

Rachel Morasse. (2010) Project on Emotive Prosody.

Jonathan Abramsohn (2010). Honor’s thesis on reduction: The word grinder. Went on to do degree in the McGill Music Program.

Kate McCurdy (2009. Honors B.A., McGill): Of focus, reason, and rhyme: the Rhyming Law revisited (One of two mini-theses submitted for the Honor’s BA). Lab manager 2010.

Steffani Scheer. McGill ‘09, project on topicalization. Lab Manager 2009-2010.


Past Events

Focus, Givenness, Topic: Prosodic effects and interactions with syntax. Class at the Graz summer school on word order and intonation

The Phonology-Syntax Interface. Class co-taught with Caroline Féry at the 2nd Crete Summer School of Linguistics.

Prosody and Incremental Processing. Class taught at the DGFS summer school in Tübingen on Mapping Meaning: Theory - Cognition - Variation, August 15th - 26th, 2016 in Tübingen/Germany. abtract

ETAP 3 .Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody 3: Prosodic  Variability. September 23--25 2011. Co-organized with Duane Watson and Chigusa Kurumada. Special issue of Laboratory Phonology

LaLaLa. Language labs meeting. Join workshop with students from Meghan Clayards's Speech Learning Lab, Florian Jaeger's HLP lab, Chigusa Kurumada's Kinder Lab, Morgan Sonderegger's lab, and Michael Wagner's prosody.lab.

ETI 3: Prosody and Constituent Structure — McGill, May 2014 Co-organized with Emily Elfner.

Contextual Effects on Prosodic Prominence. Course at EALing 2012. September 14-16 2012.

ETAP 2 .Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody: Prosody and Context. McGill University. September 23–25 2011. Co-organized with Duane Watson and Ted GibsonSpecial issue of Language, Cognition and Neuroscience.

Prosody in the lab. Class taught  at the LSA Institute at the University of Colorado in Boulder. July 7–August 2 2011

Phonology in the 21st Century. Conference in honor of Glyne Piggott. Co-organized with Heather Goad and Keren Rice.

WOMM. Workshop on mixed model regression. May 4 2010. (organized as part of GRIPP, conducted by Florian Jaeger, Peter Graff, Maureen Gillespie)

MOSAIC. Meeting of Semanticists Active in Canada. Montréal, June 1 2010. Co-organized with Junko Shimoyama and others.

ETAP Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody Cornell University. April 11-13 2008. (conference website , program). Co-organized with Duane Watson and Ted Gibson. Papers from the first conference were published in a special issue of the journal Language and Cognitive Processes.

SPINE Syntax and Prosody in the Northeast. Cornell University. May 5 2007