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

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 (, 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 ( 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 ( 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:

Contact Information: Heather Goad (

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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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prosody.lab and the McGill speech learning lab now share a CFI-funded eye-tracking lab with a sound booth, an eyelink 2000 remote desktop eye-tracker and a positivescience free-view eye-tracker.

Check out our short clip from our demonstration at this year’s convocation (this is the first time we used it after our trainging session, so probably we could have gotten a better track with some more experience):

Congratulations to Elise McClay, Thea Knowles, Erin Olson, and Anna Prokofieva who just finished their B.A. at McGill!

And while we’re at it, also congratulations to four alumni’s from our labs who are now going to graduate school in various Linguistics programs: Eric Doty (now going for a Ph.D. to UPenn), Aron Hirsch (now going for a Ph.D. to MIT), Alex Piwowarek (now going for an M.A. to Saarbrücken, Germany), and Anna Prokofieva (going to do a degree in Computer Science at Columbia).

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two conferences in montréal

Exploring the Interfaces I: Word Structure

McGill University
May 6-8 2012

7th North American Phonology Conference

Concordia University
May 4-5, 2012

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daniel büring at mcgill

Daniel Büring will be visiting McGill Linguistics this weekend for etap and stay on for a couple of days afterwards, funded by the McGill Syntactic Interfaces Research Group. Here’s the ABC of his visit:

A. Invited Talk at ETAP2:

Saturday, September 24
9:00-9:30am New Residence, Ballroom B (directions)

Daniel Büring: Correspondence at the Syntax–Phonology Interface
(joint work with Hubert Truckenbrodt, ZAS, Berlin)

Abstract: In this paper we analyze the syntax-to-prosody mapping in German and English using Correspondence Theory. Our proposal develops the original ideas of containment based mapping theories like Truckenbrodt’s (1995) StressXP/WrapXP and is offshoots such as Selkirk’s (2009) recent Match theory, but tackles a number of notorious problems for these, in particular the interaction of stress assignment and movement, as well as directional asymmetries with predicate integration as well as focus. We argue that the correspondence theoretic format offers distinctive advantages in these realms.

B. Monday, September 26
Mini-Workshop on Semantics
1085 Dr. Penfield Avenue
Seminar Room (117)

2.30 Bagels and Juice

2.45-3.15 Alan Bale: Multidimensional Adjectives
3.15-3.45 Schwartz, Buccola & Hamilton:
Two types of class B numeral modifiers: a reply to Nouwen (2010).

3.45-3.55 Short Break

3.55-4.25 Walter Pedersen: Implicit arguments, Focus and Coordination
4.25-4.55 Aron Hirsch & Michael Wagner: Prosodic Effects of Topicality

C. Tuesday, September 27
1085 Dr. Penfield Avenue
Class Room (002)

Daniel Büring: Non at-issue meanings: Introduction and Case Studies

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The second conference on Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody is taking place this weekend at McGill University. Check out the conference program. If you’d like to participate, please register here.

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cataphoric focus marking

Shifting prominence to mark focus requires a linguistic antecedent, so if you say ‘A red apple’, chances are you or someone either said something like ‘green apple’, or there is some other reason why antecedents of this sort are salient, for example, someone might have asked: What kind of apple do you want?

Marking focus is a bit like using pronouns and other anaphoras: While there must be a proper antecedent to resolve the reference to interpret anaphoras, for focus there must be a proper antecedent to justify the contrast. Pronouns can also be used cataphorically, where the antecedent for the reference comes after the pronoun–and the same is true for focus marking.

Here’s a nice exploitation of our grammatical knowledge that focus marking requires a linguistic antecedent from September 15’s Colbert report:

Colbert is using focus cataphorically to set up an expectation for an antecedent, and then leaves us hanging in mid air. There are a number of papers at the upcoming etap conference that address focus marking and its use in context.

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The second conference on experimental and theoretical advances in prosody is just around the corner. It will take place at the New Residence at McGill from Fri 23-Sun 25. If you plan to attend, please register at the conference website.

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subscribe to prosody.lab by email

if you’d like to get a digest emails with posts to this blog, you can subscribe to it here (or use the link in the sidebar). This is a low traffic blog with prosody-related posts. Some of the information posted here is about local events, and I haven’t figured out how to allow readers who don’t live in Montréal to filter these out of the digest emails, so if you subscribe to the email you might get some of these.

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