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Best of Luck, Dr. Keir Moulton

August 16, 2018

As of Fall 2018, Dr. Keir Moulton will be an assistant professor at the University of Toronto. We wish him great success in his career, and are certain that he will make a huge mark in the field of syntax.

Research and Teaching

Keir joined SFU as an assistant professor in 2012, doing incredible work in theoretical syntax. Keir then joined as the co-director of the XSyn (Experimental Syntax) lab, alongside Chung-hye Han, where they both have been running experiments regarding c-command, scope, and singular they. He has had several publications in major linguistics journals in the past six years, including:

  • Moulton, Keir and Chung-hye Han. 2018. C-Command vs. Scope: An Experimental Assessment of Bound Variable Pronouns. Language 94.1: 191–219.
  • Moulton, Keir, Queenie Chan, Tanie Cheng, Chung-hye Han, Kyeong-min Kim, and Sophie NickelThompson. 2018. Focus on Cataphora: Experiments in Context. Linguistic Inquiry 49.1: 151–168.
  • Moulton, Keir. 2015. CPs: Copies and Compositionality. Linguistic Inquiry 46.2: 305–342.
  • Moulton, Keir. 2013. Raising from the Dead. Linguistic Inquiry 44.1: 157–167. 6. 
Not only is Keir a respected researcher, but his courses and teaching abilities are highly praised by the students in the department. His special topics courses: Syntax in the Mind/Human Sentence Processing offered students a different perspective on syntax that hasn't been part of the core syntax curriculum. Those courses encouraged students to understand cognitive models of sentence processing, understand how theory relates to processing, and gain experience in designing experiments that can support or contest syntactic theory using human data.
Keir also ran the first two offerings of LING 282WQ: Writing for Linguistics, the new mandatory course for linguistics majors to prepare them for the demands of upper division courses. His topic? The Language of Humour. Keir's course had students analyzing newspaper headlines for ambiguity, processing preferences, garden-path sentences, and much more.

Work in the XSyn Lab

Keir and Chung-hye's joint work in the XSyn Lab focuses on the processing of bound variable pronouns in sentences. (e.g. Every boy said that he wanted a new bike.) More recently, they have focused their efforts into researching the processing of singular bound they, a pronoun that has been around for hundreds of years but has been barely studied until recently.

Here's a small taste of some recent research. Consider the following two sentences:

  1. Amy heard that every father in the crowd quickly declared that they should be allowed to go back.
  2. Amy, who every father in the crowd heard, quickly declared that they should be allowed to go back.
For the syntactians out there, you'll notice that they is bound in (1), but not in (2). When people read these sentences and encounter singular they, it takes people a little bit longer to read (2) than (1). The major implication is that singular they behaves very similarly to he/she as a bound variable pronoun. Neat!

Keir has a new grant on processing quantification that he will start with this fall, in addition to continuing joint work with the XSyn Lab and further strengthening the network between Simon Fraser University and the University of Toronto.

Currently, Chung-hye and Keir are looking at the differences in processing they when it is bound by every-N or refers to the-N.

Good luck, Keir! We wish you the best!

"This is a really bittersweet move. I am excited to be going back to my hometown and to help shape UofT linguistics, which is at something of an inflection point: all the faculty from when I was a student there have now retired, and I am looking forward helping build the department. But SFU has been amazing for me — I don’t think any junior faculty anywhere has ever been treated so well! Both by the chairs (Tom and Nancy) but by the stellar professionals who keep the department working: Silvana, Debra, Judi and Rita! Working with — and being mentored by — Chung-hye has been one of the highlights of my career so far. I owe so much to her and SFU linguistics. So, like I said, bittersweet." - Keir Moulton