Research grants

Shana Poplack

The evolving grammar of French in Canada: The competing roles of school, community and ideology

SSHRC Insight grant

2017-2023

Spoken vernaculars have always represented an easy target for normative critiques, especially when perceived deviations from the standard are numerous, salient and associated with “bad” grammar. This is particularly true of transplanted and/or minority languages, which are often assumed to have changed, because of isolation from the conservative influence of the metropolis, contact with a majority language, or both. But many reports of change involve only the garden-variety linguistic variability inherent in all spoken language. How can we ascertain whether variability is the result of change?
The overarching objective of my work has been to address this issue, through a wide-ranging research program aiming to elucidate the multifarious nature of language change, including how to identify, date and document its mechanisms and trajectories, and how to distinguish contact-induced change from internal evolution. This project capitalizes on the resulting wealth of material to bring three ongoing research streams to completion by assembling and synthesizing proposed and finalized work in the form of independent but interrelated monographs.


Marc Brunelle

Voicing and its transphonologization: the initiation and actuation of a sound change in Southeast Asia

SSHRC Insight grant

2017-2022

This project will address the question of the initiation of sound change by investigating transphonologization, a type of process that happens when a secondary phonetic property of a phonological contrast becomes its primary property. For example, in French, vocal fold vibrations during the initial consonant (i.e. the onset) of the syllable /ba/ distinguish it from /pa/. These vibrations are called onset voicing. Onset voicing is accompanied by redundant pitch variation on the vowel: thus, /ba/ is produced with a lower pitch than /pa/. In many languages, like Vietnamese and Chinese (but even Afrikaans, a dialect of Dutch), onset voicing was abandoned altogether as the pitch difference on vowels was exaggerated and became the primary contrastive property: /ba~pa/ became /pà~pa/ (this is called tone). In short, onset voicing was transphonologized into a tone contrast on the vowel.

Besides pitch, a number of other phonetic properties also tend to co-occur with onset voicing. There is indirect perceptual evidence that voice quality (the degree of breathiness/creakiness of a vowel) and vowel quality (what distinguishes high [i] from high-mid [e] or from low [a]) are also affected by it. However, no systematic acoustic study of these ancillary properties of voicing has yet been conducted in real languages. This gap needs to be filled as many languages, especially in Southeast Asia, seem to have phonologized one or more of these properties into bundles of correlated acoustic properties known as registers. In register systems, the vowels that used to follow voiced onsets take on a higher quality, a low pitch and a breathy voice, whereas the vowels that followed voiceless onsets take on a lower quality, a high pitch and a modal voice. While we know how register systems form, our understanding of why they develop is still very limited. Another question that has not properly been addressed is why register systems seem unstable and can evolve in a variety of phonetic directions, like simple tone systems or complex vowel inventories. Better descriptions of the ancillary phonetic properties of voicing will allow us to understand how and why it is transphonologized into different types of register. The diverse register systems of Southeast Asia are thus an ideal testing ground to explore the factors that favor and constrain phonologization.


Ana Arregui, María Luisa Rivero, Andrés Salanova

The syntax and semantics of perspectival meanings: a cross-linguistic view

SSHRC Insight Grant

2016-2019

This project investigates how the grammars of the languages we speak shape the perspectives we express by studying the construction of perspectival meanings across different languages. We characterize perspectival meanings broadly as those that add information centered on the speaker's knowledge, evidence or expectations. Our objectives include a better understanding of cross-linguistic diversity in terms of the grammatical categories that encode speaker-perspective, and a better understanding of how the different grammatical categories themselves shape and systematize the expression of speaker-perspective. By examining in detail several documented and novel case-studies from diverse morpho-syntactic constructions in a wide range of languages (a.o. Romance, Amerindian, Balkan), our project investigates how linguistic form organizes the encoding of perspectival meanings, and how such meanings interact with other information grammaticalized by language. The goal is a formal understanding of these relations, identifying what is shared across languages and what is specific to particular grammatical strategies.


Tania Zamuner

Spoken word production in early language development

NSERC Discovery Grant

2014-2020

A wonderful milestone in children’s development is the day they produce their first word. This usually occurs around children’s first birthday. The emergence of spoken word production is even more amazing when we consider the fact that young children are not born with the ability to talk. Within the first 12 months of their lives, they go from having primarily comprehension-based knowledge and transition to a remarkable point in development when they begin to speak. In this short period of time, they have begun to unify their language comprehension and production abilities. This research tackles a fundamental and basic issue of language development: the cognitive processes of spoken word production in children. Central challenges to the learner are to develop mental representations of language, organize these representations, and integrate new representations into existing ones. Empirical studies of developmental speech production can help us understand how learners accomplish these fundamental tasks. This research will use on-line methods, measuring the time it takes to produce a word and tracking children’s eye movements to images as they produce a word. The questions addressed in this research have implications for how we conceive of early language development. These findings will be of interest not only to researchers in cognitive and language sciences, but also to health practitioners interested in tools for clinical assessment and therapy.


Laura Sabourin

The bilingual mental lexicon: the role of age of acquisition and proficiency

SSHRC Insight grant

2014-2018

Do English-French bilinguals represent the word ‘snow’ in exactly the same way as they represent ‘neige’? And, if they hear the word ‘snow‘, do they automatically access the word ‘neige‘? Are these words processed together in an integrated lexicon? Finding a conclusive answer to these questions is the main goal of this project. Researchers have struggled with the issue of how a bilingual represents the words of their languages. The debate focuses on whether the words of both languages can be found in the same lexicon or whether there is a separate store for the words in each language (e.g., Hernandéz, 2002). This research project tackles the issue of lexical organization by studying English-French bilinguals and second language (L2) learners and compares these groups to monolinguals.


Recently completed research grants (completed 2008-2013)


Shana Poplack

Language contact and change in Canada’s official languages

SSHRC Insight grant

2012-2016

Spoken vernaculars have always represented an easy target for normative critiques, especially when perceived deviations from the standard are numerous, salient and associated with “bad” grammar. This is particularly true of transplanted and/or minority languages, which are often assumed to have changed, whether because of relative isolation from the conservative influence of the metropolis, long-term contact with a majority language, or both. But our work on many such situations shows that such inferences hinge crucially on 1) how change is defined, 2) the capacity to identify it, especially when it is “in progress”, and 3) the benchmark against which the outcome of the putative change is compared. When the benchmark is a prescribed standard, change is a natural inference, because non-standard variants are prescriptively inadmissible. If a superficially similar construction exists in a neighbouring language, the simplest conclusion is that the change is contact-induced. And this inference is bolstered if speakers happen to incorporate words or phrases from that language when speaking the variety in question. How can we ascertain whether alternation among variant forms is the result of change? How can we determine whether it was contact-induced? This research aims to elucidate the multifarious nature of language change through systematic analysis of speakers’ actual use of French and English in social context. Using innovative methods, we seek to identify, date and document its mechanisms and trajectories, and of particular importance in the Canadian context, distinguish contact-induced change from internal evolution.


Éric Mathieu

Gabriela Alboiu, Michael Barrie, Carrie Dyck, collaborators

Cross-linguistic variation in noun incorporation and denominalization

SSHRC Standard research grant

2011-2016

The main objective of this project is to develop a deeper understanding of the cross-linguistic variation exhibited by noun incorporation and denominal verb constructions in aboriginal languages, especially Onondaga and Mohawk (Iroquoian), on the one hand, and Ojibwe, Blackfoot and Cree (Algonquian), on the other. A pervasive and generally accepted property of both noun incorporation and denominal verbs is that the incorporated noun is smaller than the full noun phrase in terms of its morphological structure. Beyond this, there is much disagreement in the literature as to what exactly constitutes noun incorporation and denominal verb formation, and whether these two phenomena are simply two sides of the same coin or two distinct phenomena. Our proposed research program intends to shed light on these disagreements by surveying and recording the natural variation that exists in noun incorporation and denominal verb constructions cross-linguistically. The languages under investigation belong to the Algonquian, Iroquoian as well as the Salish, Inuit and Paleosiberian language families.


Marc Brunelle

Prosodic typology: insights from Vietnamese and Eastern Cham

SSHRC Insight grant

2012-2014

Prosody is a cover term used to describe rhythm (accents, word groups and pauses) and intonation in spoken languages. It is mostly formalized in two complementary frameworks: prosodic phonology and the autosegmental-metrical model of intonation. 
A full study of the prosody of Vietnamese (VN) and Eastern Cham (EC) will allow us to reconsider the universality of prosodic constituents and intonation, especially after comparing our results with those obtained from similar languages. Data from VN and EC could challenge the universality of prosodic constituents because there is no evidence that they have prosodic words. Moreover, we know so little about the structure of their higher-level prosodic constituents that they could reveal unexpected facts about their phonetic realization and mapping with syntactic structures. Finally, as lexical tone languages, EC and VN are ideal to study the interaction of tone and intonation. We will investigate the realization of their intonation and try to find out if it is fundamentally different from intonation in “toneless” languages and other tone languages. Our research will be based on data elicitation with native speakers and phonetic experiments with different kinds of speech materials (laboratory, semi-natural, natural and resynthesized speech).            


Laura Sabourin

The bilingual mental lexicon: the role of age of acquisition and proficiency

SSHRC Standard research grant

2011-2012


Tania Zamuner

Imitation and production in phonological development

SSHRC Standard research grant

2011-2015

Many people have experienced the wonder, surprise, joy, and sometimes embarrassment of hearing a child say something unexpected. From some of the innocent and not so innocent things that come out of children’s mouths, it is unmistakable that children imitate language. This psycholinguistic research program looks at the way imitation relates to speech production and the acquisition of a language’s sound system. Findings will be of relevance to educators interested in pedagogical methods and theory. Moreover, because imitation is pervasive in other behaviours, findings will be pertinent to other disciplines, such as neuroscience, evolutionary theory, cultural studies, and studies of animal behaviour.


Ana Arregui

Maria-Luisa Rivero and Andrés Pablo Salanova, co-investigators

Unexpected modality

SSHRC Standard research grant

2010-2013


Stephen Levey

Grammatical trajectories of change in preadolescence

SSHRC Standard research grant

2010-2012


Jeff Mielke

Data mining and sound patterns

SSHRC Standard research grant

2010-2012


Maria Luisa Rivero
High applicatives and aspect in Romance, Slavic, and the Balkans: Synchrony and diachrony 
SSHRC Standard research grant
2009-2014
Adopting a generative perspective, this project compares Romance, Slavic, and languages of the Balkan region that differ in challenging ways from intensely studied languages. It concentrates on (1) Aspect, both of the Viewpoint/external type and the Situation/internal type, and (2) Applicative / noncore arguments in the sentence. It explores interactions and crosslinguistic variation in both space and time in the morphology, syntax, and semantics of the two mentioned categories. The study of Aspect has a long tradition in Slavic, Romance, and Greek. By contrast, Applicative arguments have long held the attention of Africanists and specialists of Amerindian languages, but Indoeuropeanists have noticed them only in the recent past. The study of a large variety of Balkan, Romance, and Slavic constructions that combine aspectual and applicative categories can open new windows in a search for morphological, syntactic, and semantic principles , and thus may contribute to our understanding of Universal Grammar.

Marc Brunelle

Phonological representation and phonetic realization of tone and register

SSHRC Standard research grant

2008-2010


Jeff Mielke

Measuring the phonetic similarity of speech sounds

SSHRC Standard research grant

2007-2010


André Lapierre, collaborator

Description du français québécois standard en usage au Québec

Ministère québécois des Affaires intergouvernementales canadiennes

2007-2008


Éric Mathieu

Marie-Hélène Côté, co-investigator

Propriétés lexicales, phonologiques et syntaxiques du mitchif parlé en Ontario 

Centre canadien de recherche sur les francophonies en milieu minoritaire

Université de Regina

2007-2008


Shana Poplack

Assessing the linguistic outcomes of language contact in Québec English

SSHRC Standard research grant

2007-2008


Marie-Hélène Côté 

Ian MacKay, Nina Kazanina, collaborators

La syllabation entre grammaire et perception

SSHRC Standard research grant

2006-2009


Nina Kazanina

Brain and language lab

Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI)

2006-2011


María Luisa Rivero

Interface issues in Balkan, Romance, and Slavic linguistics

SSHRC Standard research grant

2006-2009


Éric Mathieu

Les indéfinis prédicatifs et l’interface syntaxe-sémantique

SSHRC Standard research grant

2005-2008


María Luisa Rivero, collaborator

Modéliser le changement: les voies du français

SSHRC Major collaborative research initiatives

2005-2009


Shana Poplack

Johanne S. Bourdages, co-investigator

Norms and variation in French: the competing roles of school, community and ideology

SSHRC Standard research grant

2005-2008

 

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