Archive for the ‘students’ Category

2nd and 3rd year Graduate Student QP-fest! — Poster sessions

Thursday, March 5th, 2015

Dear all,

The research seminar class will present to you a QP Poster fest on March 10th! We have a large class this year, and the poster presentation is divided into two sessions.  Please come by to talk to the grad student researchers! They have all made significant progress on their QPs. Your support will be greatly appreciated.

Please find below the information on the location, time schedule, project titles, and a short summary for each project.

Diane and Ming (on behalf of the research seminar class)

Research Seminar Poster Sessions

March 10th, Tuesday, 3-5:50

Classics, 110


Session 1: 3-4:20pm

  1.  Emily Coppess: Individual Variation in Perceptual Compensation: Evidence from Sibilant Perception in American English

The perception of the acoustical information contained in a speech signal can become warped by its surrounding context (i.e. perceptual compensation).  Recently, it has become apparent that there is variation across individuals in the amount that those individuals perceptually compensate.  In order to further understand this variation across individuals, I am proposing a perception study investigating the effect on context on the classification of naturally-produced sibilants (as opposed to artificially-manipulated stimuli) and how the strength of the this effect varies across individuals.  I am interested in determining if individuals vary in their sensitivity to vocalic effects when the vowel is not overtly present.

  1. Ksenia Ershova: Nominalizations in Bzhedug Adyghe: Incorporation and Argument Structure 

This project provides an analysis of the morphosyntactic behavior of nominalized predicates in the Bzhedug dialect of Adyghe, an ergative polysynthetic language. I argue that nominalizations unveil underlying asymmetries between verbal arguments, which may not be apparent elsewhere in the syntax of the language. While the behavior of full NPs suggests syntactic ergativity, i.e. the prioritizing of the absolutive argument, data on nominalizations shows that the absolutive isn’t necessarily generated higher than other arguments, and there is no one-to-one mapping between case marking and structural position.

  1. Joshua Falk: A Compositional Analysis of Imprecise Numerals

Number expressions are interpreted more or less precisely depending on the degree of “roundness” of the number. Building on Krifka 2007’s scale granularity analysis, I provide a compositional semantics for number expressions that captures these varying degrees of precision. This analysis can be implemented efficiently, and thus represents a step in limiting the computational complexity of pragmatics.

  1. Julian Grove: Information Structure and the Resolution of VP-ellipsis

Recent accounts of voice-mismatched ellipses (Merchant, 2013; Sailor, 2014) posit a structural distinction between low ellipses that exclude Voice (VP-ellipsis) and high ellipses that include it (sluicing) that reflects the varying acceptability of these different construction types under mismatch. However, as Kehler (2000) discusses, acceptability varies even among examples of VP-ellipsis depending on the coherence relation between an ellipsis site and its antecedent. I present an account of voice-mismatch that relies crucially on Rooth (1992)’s semantic condition on ellipsis, but revises it to be sensitive to the distinction between Contrastive Topic and Contrastive Focus in a way that explains variation in acceptability among examples of voice-mismatched VP-ellipsis, but that, unlike Kehler, remains consistent with structural accounts of the distinction between VP-ellipsis and sluicing.

  1. Emily A. Hanink: Familiarity and the German Definite Article

German makes use of both a strong and weak form of the definite article, which have a different semantics and follow a complementary distribution. Schwarz (2009) proposes that while the weak article encodes uniqueness, the strong article encodes anaphoricity, and for this reason must host a silent pronoun above D (à la Elbourne 2005) in order to support anaphoric reference. I build on this work, but argue instead that a referential property is encoded below D in strong article uses, and in doing so achieve the following: 1) the preservation of one denotation for the definite article, while Schwarz (2009) must assume three, 2) a unified account of all strong-article uses as discourse referential in the sense of Heim (1982), and 3) a simplified analysis of the weak article, which constitutes the elsewhere case.


  1. Jacob B. Phillips: Noun Incorporation in Sora

Noun Incorporation (NI), or the process by which a noun becomes part of a verb stem, has often been derived using head movement (Baker 1988). While head movement allows for the vast majority of incorporated structures cross-linguistically, head movement cannot account for all noun incorporation in Sora, which allows for incorporation of goal/locations and subject/agents. I propose that noun incorporation should be treated as a combination of phrasal movement and morphological merger (Matushansky 2006), allowing for incorporation regardless of syntactic role.


  1. Betsy Pillion: Vowel Devoicing in Lezgi: The Effect of Speech Rate

Previous descriptions of Lezgi have noted a pattern of vowel syncope (Haspelmath, 1993), wherein pre-tonic high vowels in voiceless obstruent initial syllables delete leaving residual phonetic information from the vowel. More recent work by Chitoran and Iskarous (2008) and Chitoran and Babaliyeva (2007) shows that this phenomenon is better categorized as vowel devoicing as a result of gestural overlap, while still leaving the question of whether or not this is a phonetic or phonological phenomenon unanswered. This work aims to discern the gradient or categorical nature of this pattern by manipulation of speech rate.


  1. Adam Roth Singerman: Pronoun, Agreement, and Ergativity in Tupari

Person marking on verbs in Tupari, a little-studied Tupian language of the Brazilian Amazon, displays properties reminiscent both of agreement and bound pronouns. I argue that these morphemes are all pronouns; what look like agreement markers are really overt copies within a movement chain. This account explains the distribution of the language’s mysterious `theme vowel’, as well as the strict constituency of the verb phrase and the absolutive cross-referencing on lexical verbs.


  1. Jeffrey Geiger: The role of rhythm in iterative-infixing ludlings





Session 2: 4:30-5:50


  1. Anqi Zhang: Duration and Frequency Phrases in the Nominal Domain: A Case of Mandarin

This paper argues that Duration Phrase and Frequency Phrase before the direct object form a constituent with the direct object in Mandarin.It  claims that these constructions are cases of event measurement and counting expressed nominally on the direct object. It shows that Duration Phrase and Frequency Phrase are parallel to a  Monotonic Measure Phrase and a `Num+Classifier’ constructions respectively.

  1. Carlos Cisneros: FCI in Mixtec 

Free Choice Items (FCIs) in Mixtec differ from the more commonly studied FCIs in European languages by appearing to be structurally more phrasal (as opposed to adjectival or determiner-like) and exhibiting optionality of focus-sensitive morphemes in some environments without change in meaning.  These facts demand an investigation into the internal composition of Mixtec FCIs and what they might reveal about the semantic ingredients to Free Choice interpretations, and their relationship to the environments which license the occurrence of FCIs.  The best analysis seems to be one which considers the obligatory contribution of alternative exhaustifying morpho-syntax and has that the FCI be an existential quantifier (Giannakidou 2001; Chierchia 2013), but it remains to be explained how indicriminative readings of FCIs (Horn 2000) are derived, which are the one primarily exhibited by Mixtec FCIs.

  1. Zachary Hebert: Morphology & Phonological Complexity in the British Sign Language Lexicon

This project investigates the relationship between phonological complexity, morphology, and the lexicon, using monosyllabic, lexical signs from the British Sign Language (BSL) online dictionary BSL SignBank (Schembri et al. 2014) as its case study. Complexity “scores” of handshape and location specifications of signs of various morphological statuses (e.g., lexicalized compound, lexical root, affixed stem) are calculated using basic scoring system adapted from Brentari et al. (2012) and Hara (2003) and are compared across sign types. Preliminary results suggest that phonological complexity does tend to vary by morphological or lexical status of the sign.


  1. Robert E. Lewis: Potawatomi word order

I give the first empirical analysis of word order in Potawatomi. In this analysis I use several diagnostics to show that word order in Potawatomi is conditioned by a pragmatic topic and three focus types (predicate, argument, and sentence). These diagnostics show that Potawatomi makes used of a sentence initial topic position and a pre verbal argument focus position while post verbal arguments appear to be unmarked and largely unordered.


  1. Hilary McMahan: The Kalaallisut demonstrative system: a comparative historical account

In this paper, I examine the Kalaallisut demonstrative system in terms of its diachronic development out of Proto-Yupik-Inuit, looking at what the Kalaallisut system has inherited and in what ways it has innovated. Today’s Yupik-Inuit languages display many different reflexes of the Proto demonstrative paradigm, which includes 28 stems semantically classified by proximity, verticality, enclosure, accessibility and visibility (relative to the speaker) as well as shape/extent of the referent. Using a combination of original fieldwork data and published data, I argue that Kalaallisut’s system of 12 stems has lost the encoding of semantic features of the referent within the stems themselves and I show how the semantic dimensions of the Proto system collapse and transform into those of Inuit and Kalaallisut.

  1. Cherry Meyer: Noun Categorization in Ojibwe (Algonquian): Animacy

Animacy in Algonquian languages is traditionally referred to as marking a distinction in gender, though recently this characterization has been opposed.  Using data drawn from Ojibwe, I will examine arguments for and against each position. Of particular interest are the realization and assignment of animacy, its relation to number and the count/mass distinction, as well as its position cross-linguistically.


  1. Patrick Muñoz: Naming relations and the semantics of proper names

Though contemporary accounts of the semantics proper names all crucially appeal to some sort of naming relation in virtue of which a name can refer to its referent – such as bearing the name, being dubbed with the name, etc. – there exist literal, successful uses of names to refer that depend on no such relation. To capture this, I give a semantic analysis of names as variables, and characterize naming relations as pragmatic restrictions on the assignment functions governing their mappings to individuals. This approach in turn results in a new referentialist treatment of the semantics of names that makes no appeal to predicative or indexical content while avoiding many of the traditional problems that referentialists face, while also providing a formal model-theoretic account of naming relations for the first time.

  1. Natalia Pavlou: Cross-clausal Subject-Verb Agreement in Greek

This project looks at cases where the matrix verb agrees with a subject, which is located in the embedded clause and behaves as an argument of the embedded verb. To explain the phenomenon, different approaches such as Backward Control and Restructuring are discussed and are shown to be impossible with the Greek facts. The question focuses on an explanation of the agreement pattern as Long Distance Agreement across finite clauses or as local agreement in each clause’s domain.


18. Ross Burkholder: The Use of “do” in Pennsylvania German

Congratulations Rebekah!

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Congratulations to Rebekah Baglini, who has been offered a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship for two (and possibly three) years of research in the Department of Linguistics at Stanford University.

The 2014 cohort

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015


Jessica Kantarovich graduated with a BA in Linguistics from the University of Chicago in 2012. After a 2-year stint in the thrilling world of call center consulting, she grew tired of “leveraging synergies” and decided to return to the life of the mind. Her academic interests include language contact, variation, and change, and she hopes to one day work on the documentation of an understudied language in contact with Russian (preferably someplace with better weather than Chicago, but let’s face it, it’s probably going to be the far reaches of Siberia). In her free time she enjoys baking pies, crocheting, and reading that one book she started at the beginning of the quarter.

Tran Truong received his bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He was born in Vietnam, which is why he cannot produce non-implosive [b, d], but was raised in Minneapolis, MN, which is why he is always asking people if they ‘wanna come with’. He is primarily interested in morphosyntax, particularly as studied from the framework of Distributed Morphology. Secondary interests include modularity, grammaticalisation, and the Mande languages. Tran manages the all-linguist intramural volleyball team, the Covert Movers (and has his sights set on managing the all-linguist intramural indoor soccer team, the Internal Subjects). His guilty pleasures include Israeli pop music and Clarke’s Diner in Hyde Park.

Orest Xherija was born in Albania and has lived most of his life in Greece. He completed undergraduate studies in the University of Chicago where he graduated with a B.A. in Mathematics. Orest’s research interests revolve around applications of mathematical and computational theories to the formal modeling of structure and meaning in natural languages. Specific topics of interest include negation and negative polarity items, quantification and focus. The languages he wishes to work on are (naturally) Albanian and Modern Greek, Turkish​,​ and Vlach, an endangered language of the Balkans. Orest’s non-academic interests include playing bouzouki (a stringed folk instrument of Greece), playing football (the non-American sort) and listening to folk music of the Balkans and Middle-East.


Chicagoans head to LSA!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

Several Chicago linguists are presenting at the 89th annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America in Portland, Oregon. Congratulations to all!

  • Asia Pietraszko “Discourse configurationality and agreement in Ndebele”
  • Emily Hanink “The `Missing-P’ Phenomenon in German: Free Relatives are Super Light-headed”
  • Alan Yu, Daniel Chen, Katie Franich, Yosh Halberstam, Jacob Phillips, & Betsy Pillion “The peril of sounding manly: A look at vocal characteristics of lawyers before the United States Supreme Court”
  • Stephen Matthews & Jackson Lee “The representation of Cantonese tone: evidence from music”
  • Julian Grove “Kinds and Monotonicity”
  • Gallagher Flinn “Model Fit for Cross-linguistic Asymmetries in NP-Modifier Order”
  • Peter Klecha (PhD ‘14) & Martina Martinovic “Exhaustive Identification is Predication”
  • Natasha Abner, Kensy Cooperrider, & Susan Goldin-Meadow “Creating Meaning in the Palm of Your Hand”
  • Lilia Rissman & Susan Goldin-Meadow “Morphological & lexical markers of causation in the gestures of a child homesigner”
  • Diane Rak “Phonological relations affecting phonetic productions in English-Spanish code-switching”
  • Dorothea Hoffmann “Serialization in complex predicates in MalakMalak”
  • Andrea Beltrama “A “totally awesome” trajectory. Modeling the emergence of speaker-oriented meaning.”
  • Mike Phạm & Jackson Lee “Combining successor and predecessor frequencies to model truncation in Brazilian Portuguese”
  • Natasha Abner, Savithry Namboodiripad, Elizabet Spaepen, & Susan Goldin-Meadow “Morphology in Child Homesign: Evidence from Number Marking”


Some Chicago linguists will also participate in the sister society meetings, which meet concurrently with the LSA:

Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics

  • Dorothea Hoffmann “Asymmetrical serial verb constructions in Kriol of Northern Australia”

Society for the Study of Indigenous Languages of the Americas

  • Lenore Grenoble & Hilary Head McMahan “Navigating the Arctic landscape: The language of place in Kalaallisut”
  • Amy Dahlstrom “Obviation and information structure in Meskwaki”
  • Cherry Meyer “Word order and information structure in Ojibwe”
  • Lenore Grenoble: Panel Chair for Otomanguean, Chocó, and Mayan
  • Adam Singerman “Negation as nominal-to-nominal derivation in Tupari”
  • Carlos Cisneros “Two analyses of floating numerals in Guaymí”

The new cohort of 2013

Sunday, October 13th, 2013

2012 has come and gone and with nary an apocalypse in sight, we have the opportunity instead to extend a warm welcome to a new incoming cohort to the department — the department lounge has never seemed as full (and in need of better ventilation). Here’s a quick rundown of this year’s new cast of characters:

IMG_43511Ksenia Ershova received her undergraduate degree in the Russian State University for the Humanities (Moscow, Russia). She has done fieldwork in the Caucasus, working on different types of clause combining in Circassian languages (Northwest Caucasian) and Dargwa (Northeast Caucasian). Her main interests include morphosyntax, syntax and the syntax-semantics interface, especially in polysynthetic languages.

josh_falk_cbJosh Falk graduated from Stanford University in 2012, where he worked on English prose rhythm, Finnish metrics, and English half-rhyme. He spent the past year at the University of Maryland, studying unsupervised learning of phonetics and phonology, as well as Bayesian modeling of speech perception. His primary interests at the moment are computational phonology, sign language phonology, and poetic metrics.

Screen shot 2013-09-30 at 9.45.57 PMJeff Geiger graduated from Northwestern University in 2012 with a BA in linguistics and geography. His interests, for now, lie in the domain of semantics, pragmatics, and their interface, but he’s excited to learn more about different subfields and expand his linguistic repertoire. He hopes to viciously attack linguistic problems using a variety of methodologies, experimental and otherwise. He is from the Chicago area and is excited that he gets to stay here for longer than he had anticipated. Outside of school, he enjoys playing bass trombone, reading, following college football, not breathing during Northwestern games, watching hockey, reading maps, making maps, and browsing Wikipedia.

HebertBLINGZach Hebert is interested in phonological interfaces, particularly prosodic morphology, and research areas that focus on language as a contextualized phenomenon, such globalization and linguistic-cultural vitality and change, especially the francophone world. He comes to Chicago from Tulane University, in New Orleans, where he studied linguistics, French, and international development.

2314_66452985118_5261_nRobert Lewis is a recent M.A. graduate from the University of Kansas, where his research focused on complementizer agreement in the Najdi dialect of Arabic. Apart from complementizer agreement, he is also interested in morphosyntactic properties of Algonquian languages, particularly with respect to the Potawatomi language. He recently has added to his research interests a curiosity for discourse analysis of oral stories and legal interpretation.

Photo_MariElStephanie Locke is coming from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa where she received her MA in Linguistics. She is interested in issues related to language documentation and revitalization, including topics such as fieldwork, language contact, sociolinguistics, language acquisition, and public policy – to name a few. Needless to say, she is very excited about the interdisciplinary nature of UChicago. Stephanie’s other lofty goals include eating lots of Chicago-syle hot dogs, checking out the local comedy scene, and catching a Blackhawks game.

IMG_1004Patrick Munoz got his B.A. in Linguistics and Philosophy at the University of California San Diego. His interests, which he’s always looking to expand, include semantic and pragmatic issues such as indexicality, relevance conditions, implicature, and too many others to name, as well as how those issue bear on the philosophy of language.

207532_1622980986731_5971742_nJacob Phillips graduated from Swarthmore College with a B.A. in Linguistics. He is interested primarily inphonology and is dedicated to fieldwork and working with under-documented languages. In the past, he worked with Munda languages in eastern India, but he interested in shifting his focus to North African to work with Berber and Semitic languages. In addition to linguistics, Jacob is a competitive distance runner, specializing in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters.

BetsyBioPhotoBetsy Pillion is a recent graduate of the Ohio State University, where she studied linguistics and Arabic. She is interested in phonological theory, and completed her undergraduate thesis on verbal tone behavior in Mushunguli, a Bantu language spoken in southern Somalia. She has studied abroad in Jordan, and hopes to do fieldwork in the Middle East and North Africa. She’s looking forward to getting involved in the UChicago phonology lab. Outside of academics, Betsy enjoys biking, drawing, eating strange foods, and watching foreign language movies.