Archive of Past 447 Courses


Term 1:


Perceptual Adaptation — Molly Babel

How do we understand those who speak with accents and dialects that we have never heard before? What are the limits to the mechanisms which allow for intelligibility in the face of phonetic variation? Do infants and toddlers exhibit the same perceptual flexibility as adults? In this course we will answer these questions through the study of a phenomenon called perceptual adaptation, which is the term used to describe listeners’ ability to understand the variable spoken world which surrounds them.


Information Structure — Michael Rochemont

This course will provide a basic introduction to Information Structure (IS). We will examine the central notions of IS, including Topic, Focus and Givenness, both their semantic/pragmatic interpretation and their manifestation in natural language prosody (e.g. sentence stress) and in syntax (e.g. clefts, topicalization, left/right dislocation). IS deals primarily with how the form of a linguistic expression reflects the temporary state of a discourse, and so is concerned with “information packaging” as opposed to strictly semantic content. A familiar example from English illustrates the types of problems explored. Consider the following four distinct possible pronunciations of the sentence ‘John likes Mary’: JOHN likes Mary, John likes MARY, John LIKES Mary, and JOHN likes MARY. The differences among these variants are said to be differences in the expression of focus. What precisely is it about each of these pronunciations that makes it phonetically and phonologically distinct from the others? Observe that each of these pronunciations imposes distinct conditions on the discourse contexts in which it can be felicitously used. What are these conditions? How are they best characterized? How do other languages express these same variations in information packaging? Some languages do not use prosody at all, but instead use morphological or syntactic means to give expression to focus variants. Many languages, including English, use a combination of prosodic and morphological and/or syntactic markers of focus. During the course, students will be expected to participate in seminar-type discussions, present literature reviews (both orally and in writing), conduct original research, participate in a research group, and present research findings (both orally and in writing).


Term 2:


Lexical Processing — Joe Stemberger

This course will explore the lexicon from a psycholinguistic perspective. How do speakers (and listeners, readers, and writers) locate words in the mental lexicon when speaking (and listening, reading, and writing)?

SCOPE: 1) We will address both the production and perception of lexical items. 2) The lexicon is a component of language which interfaces with all other components of language and many other components of cognition. Morphology will be a major topic, with lesser attention to phonology (and phonetics), semantics, and syntax. Memory and attention will weave through many weeks of the course. 3) One major issue has always been what the units of lexical representation are, and this has attracted more and more attention recently. We will cover this debate. 4) We will address lexical processing throughout the lifespan, from early in development (for both typically and atypically developing children), through adult processing, to the effects of aging and damage to or degeneration of the language areas of the brain. 5) A large proportion of human beings speak two or more languages, and the organization of bilingual language systems has been a hot topic for a long time. We will address the literature both within and beyond the Indo-European languages.


How to establish common ground: The grammar of Canadian ‘eh’ and other conformationals — Martina Wiltschko

Canadians are famous for using ‘eh’ (as in What a great game, eh?). But many languages of the world have particles with similar functions. We call these expressions confirmationals.

In this course we explore the grammar of confirmationals. What are the contexts in which speakers can or even must use confirmationals? When can confirmationals not be used? How are confirmationals integrated into a sentence? What types of linguistic means do languages exploit to construct confirmationals? What if anything is universal about the form, function, and distribution of confirmationals? And what is the range of variation within and across languages?

We will explore these questions by i) collecting and analysing relevant data from different dialects and languages and by ii) exploring the relevant literature which spans across many sub-disciplines of linguistics.


Beyond Rules and Constraints: Fuzzy Phonology — Kathleen Currie Hall

In this course, we will examine phonology from a very different viewpoint than that taken in Ling 200 and 311, where most phonological patterns are assumed to be categorical. What happens when a pair of sounds isn’t really contrastive OR allophonic? What do we do with phonological processes that seem to apply only some of the time? Are all words created phonologically equal?

It turns out that these kinds of “fuzzy” phenomena are quite common, and that there are a number of tools for describing and analyzing them. In this course, we will explore the roles of frequency, probability, statistics, and information theory in shaping and understanding phonological phenomena.

Coursework will involve reading and discussing original papers on these topics, practical applications of probabilistic tools to phonological data, and a final research paper that explores in depth some area of fuzzy phonology.



Term 1:


Perception of Language — Eric Vatikiotis-Bateson

In this course, perception of language will be considered from two perspectives: historical considerations of perception in western science and philosophy and through the linkage between the perception and production of language performance. The empirical focus of the course will be on the production and perception of spoken language. In addition to selected classical readings, students will read research papers in experimental psychology and speech science, including some brain function studies. Prior basic knowledge of scientific method is preferred, but will be reviewed in the course along with an introduction to the specific methods applied to the study of spoken language as a skilled behavior. Prior knowledge of phonetics is also helpful, but not essential to this course.


Ideophones — Rose-Marie Déchaine

Ideophones are words that provide “a vivid representation of an idea” (Doke 1935), and are most often based on sensory events (e.g. touch, smell, sight, hearing, taste). Other terms used to describe ideophones include “sound symbolism” or “onomatopoeia”. This research seminar will explore the formal properties of ideophones in terms of how they are integrated into the grammar of a language.


Term 2:


Information Structure — Michael Rochemont


How and why do we use sentence stress in English sentences? More generally, how does the form of a sentence reflect or restrict aspects of the context in which it appears? Information Structure (IS) studies the relation between sentence form and utterance context, specifically the ways in which information is packaged in sentences, both prosodically and syntactically. This course examines the main elements of information packaging (topic, focus and givenness) and their expression in English and other languages. The course will develop and draw on knowledge in the areas of prosodic phonology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, in the context of a research oriented seminar. Students will read, report on, and discuss articles in class, and conduct their own research on a language/topic of their choosing. The central aims of the course are to become familiar with basic notions of Information Structure, and to apply these notions in linguistic analysis and/or experimentation.