Nancy Hedberg:  Research







I work in three primary research domains: clefts and other copula constructions, referring expressions, and prosody. In each of them, I explore the relationship between linguistic form (syntactic, morphological, phonological, phonetic) and meaning (semantic or pragmatic), relying to a large extent on data from natural discourse.


My theoretical assumptions have their basis in generative syntax, referential & truth conditional semantics, speech act theory & Gricean pragmatics, and autosegmental-metrical phonology. And I am interested in exploring how what I learn about the nature of language through my research fits more generally into research in Cognitive Science. I am interested in formal, functional, and descriptive approaches to linguistics and in how they can all be related.


In all three research domains, I pursue corpus analysis as a primary method of obtaining data and deriving generalizations, usually through constructing my own corpus or subcorpus of naturally-occurring examples. I have examined several thousands of English cleft sentences and referring expressions in spoken and written discourse drawn from a variety of sources.  I analyze how the meaning of the tokens I collect relates to their contexts. I have also recently been involved in annotating by now more than a thousand spoken questions and several hundred parenthetical expressions for intonation, while attempting to figure out how detailed prosodic categories contribute to the semantic and pragmatic meanings of the utterances. In analyzing any of these corpus examples, I try to imagine what the speaker’s intentions were in producing that utterance in that particular context, thus integrating the empirical methods of corpus linguistics and discourse analysis with the introspective methods of generative linguistics.  Ultimately, I like to go beyond the corpus and notice the functioning of countless examples in the language I encounter in everyday life. In addition, I currently pursue experimental methods to studying grammaticality, acceptability and processing through my collaborations in Chung-hye Han and Keir Moulton’s Experimental Syntax Lab.


My education consisted of a BA at the University of Minnesota in Psychology in 1979, primarily studying behaviorism and cognitive psychology. (I trained a rat to stand up in the corner of a Skinner box when a light came on.) While taking a Psychology of Language course there with James J. Jenkins, I became interested in linguistics and eventually did my 1990 PhD in  Linguistics at the University of Minnesota, supported in part by a pre-doctoral traineeship in the Center for Research in Human Learning, which has now evolved into the Center for Cognitive Sciences.  My advisors were Jeanette K. Gundel and Michael Kac.  During my graduate training I attended two Linguistic Society of America Linguistic Institutes, at the City University of New York in 1986 and at Stanford University in 1987. In 1989-90, I held a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship at Cornell University.  Later, I also attended the 1997 LSA Institute at Cornell. I have been employed as a faculty member at SFU since 1990.


In my first year as an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota in 1974-75, I was part of an innovative first-year cohort program on “Language, Art, and the Mind.” I took Linguistics, Philosophy, Humanities, Art History, Music History, and Psychology as part of that program in my first year. That program was a very interesting incipient Cognitive Science program, and I am still interested in the synthesis of those issues today. Thus, for example, in 2012, 2013 and 2014 I have taught a cognitive science course on “language, music and cognition.” That course has led to interests in the structure of music cross-culturally, the evolution of language and cognition, and correlates of music and language in other animals.






Noureddine Elouazizi and I presented a paper on the syntax of parenthetical verb phrases in Moroccan Arabic at the 2014 Chicago Linguistics Society meeting.

Elouazizi, Noureddine and Nancy Hedberg. 2014. “Subjects and the Structural Licensing of Parenthetical Verb Phrases in Moroccan Arabic”.  Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society, University of Chicago, April 10-12, 2014.



I published a review in Language of Betty Birner’s Introduction to Pragmatics textbook.

Hedberg, Nancy. 2013. Review of Introduction to Pragmatics by Betty J. Birner. Language 89. 953-957.



I have also recently done work on experimental syntax with Chung-hye Han, Keir Moulton and graduate students in the Experimental Syntax Lab. One project has to do with the acceptability and processing of resumptive pronouns in relative clauses.

Han, Chung-hye, Mathieu Dovan, Noureddine Elouazizi, Nancy Hedberg, Meghan Jeffrey, Kyeongmin Kim, and Keir Moulton. 2013,  “A self-paced reading study of resumptive relative clauses in English.” Presented at the Canadian Linguistics Association meeting, University of Victoria, June 1-3, 2013.


Han, Chung-hye, Noureddine Elouazizi, Christina Galeano, Emrah Görgülü, Nancy Hedberg, Jennifer Hinnell, Meghan Jeffrey, Kyeongmin Kim and Susannah Kirby. 2012. "Processing Strategies and Resumptive Pronouns in English." Proceedings of WCCFL 30.  New York: Cascadilla Press. Paper.


Han, Chung-hye, Susannah Kirby, Marina Dykanova, Noureddine Elouazizi, Christina Galeano, Emrah Görgülü, Nancy Hedberg, Jennifer Hinnell, Meghan Jeffrey, and Kyeongmin Kim. 2012. "Processing Strategies and Resumptive Pronouns in English." Poster presented at the West Coast Conference on Linguistics (WCCFL 30). University of California Santa Cruz, April 13-15, 2012. Poster.


Han, Chung-hye, Susannah Kirby, Marina Dykanova, Noureddine Elouazizi, Christina Galeano, Emrah Görgülü, Nancy Hedberg, Jennifer Hinnell, Meghan Jeffrey, and Kyeongmin Kim. 2012. “Subject-Object Asymmetry in English Resumption.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, Portland, Oregon, January 5-8, 2012.



I worked on the syntax, semantics and prosody of parenthetical verbs in English with Noureddine Elouazizi. Here is a paper that Noureddine presented at the Canadian Linguistics Association 2012 that has to do purely with syntax.

Elouazizi, Noureddine and Nancy Hedberg. 2012. A derivational analysis of the syntax of parenthetical verb phrases in English. Paper presented at the 2012 Meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association, May 26-28, 2012.  Wilfred Laurier University, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.



A 500-word article on complements and adjuncts with Richard DeArmond came out in Snippets in 2009.  Snippets is an on-line journal that publishes very short articles in syntax and semantics within the generative framework:

Hedberg, Nancy and Richard C. DeArmond. 2009. "On Complements and Adjuncts." Snippets 19. 11-12.  (longer version)



I have co-edited two books.


Gundel, Jeanette K. and Nancy Hedberg (eds.) 2008.  Reference: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. Oxford University Press. New Directions in Cognitive Science Series.  Electronic Flyer.


Hedberg, Nancy and Ron Zacharski (eds.). 2007. The Grammar-Pragmatics Interface: Essays in Honor of Jeanette K. Gundel. John Benjamins. Pragmatics and Beyond New Series. Electronic Flyer.  Review on Linguist List.









Examine this great textbook on Kaqchikel:  ņýLa ütz awäch? Initroduction to Kaqchikel Maya Language, by R. McKenna Brown, Judith M. Maxwell and Walter E. Little.  University of Texas Press. 2006.


Hedberg, Nancy. 2010. Centering and Noun Phrase Realization in Kaqchikel Mayan. Journal of Pragmatics, Special Issue on Reference, edited by Thorstein Fretheim, Kaja Borthen and Heidi BrŅseth.  Paper (pdf).


Hedberg, Nancy. 2007.  "Centering and Zero Pronouns in Kaqchikel Mayan." Paper presented at the 10th International Pragmatics Conference, Göteborg, Sweden, July 12, 2007, as part of panel on "Reference."


Hedberg, Nancy and Sandra Dueck. 1999. "Cakchiquel Reference and Centering Theory. Proceedings of the Workshop on Structure and Constituency in the Languages of the Americas, University of British Columbia Working Papers in Linguistics. 59-74. Paper (pdf).


I studied Kaqchikel at the University of Minnesota in two field methods courses taught by Nancy Stenson in 1981 and 1983-84. I worked afterwards on my course paper for that (first) class and present here the version that I came up with as I was leaving Minnesota in 1988. I was very intrigued by the voice and agreement systems in Kaqchikel (including syntactic patterns of suppressed ergative agreement on the verb that are now called Agent Focus) and by how information structure factors affect syntax.


Hedberg, Nancy. 1988. “Discourse function, ergativity, and agreement in Cakchiquel Mayan”. Paper.






Clefts are sentences like "It is beans that I like" (cleft, or it-cleft), "What I like is beans" (pseudocleft, or wh-cleft), and "Beans is what I like" (reverse pseudocleft, or reverse wh-cleft).  I have examined the syntactic structure of clefts and pseudoclefts, their discourse functions, and to a certain extent their semantics and their prosodic characteristics.  My views on these aspects of clefts have evolved over the years.


I am now working on situating clefts within the study of copula-type sentences more generally, and on studying cross-linguistic properties of copula-type sentences. I am collaborating with Patricia Schneider-Zioga, Mara Katz, Wafa Al-Ali, John Lyon and David Potter on this project. We apply generative syntax and type-theoretic formal semantics in our analysis, taking into consideration context and information structure (topic and focus).





The copulas project received a SSHRC Small Grant from Simon Fraser University: 


Hedberg, Nancy. 2015. The Syntax and Semantics of Copula Sentences in Thai. SSHRC Small Grant. 2015-2017.


The team had two important conference presentations:


Hedberg, Nancy and Patricia Schneider-Zioga. 2015. “Predication, Specification and Information Structure in Kinande.” Poster presented at GLOW 38 (Generative Linguistics of the Old World), April 15-18, 2015. Paris, France. Abstract. Poster.

Schneider-Zioga, Patricia and Nancy Hedberg. 2015. “Predication and Specification in Kinande” Poster presented at the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL 33) March 27-29, 2015, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada. Abstract.

John Lyon gave a colloquium in the Linguistics Department on copular sentences in Okanagan Salish:


Lyon, John. 2014. Identifying Identificational Sentences in Okanagan Salish. SFU Linguistics Department Colloquium. November 27, 2015. Abstract.


I gave a preliminary talk at SFU on the general copula project when professors and graduate students from Jawaharlal Nehru University were visiting our department in June 2014. Handout.



I commented on two papers on clefts in British Columbia languages at SULA 8, the Semantics of Underrepresentated Languages of the Americas, which was held at University of British Columbia on May 16-18, 2014.  Information on this conference can be found here.



Here is the revision of my Berlin cleft paper that has been published in a John Benjamins volume:

Hedberg, Nancy. 2013. "Multiple Focus and Cleft Sentences" In Hartmann, Katharina and Tonjes Veenstra (eds.) Cleft Structures. John Benjamins, Linguistik Aktuell series. (paper).



David Potter and I presented a paper at Berkeley Linguistics Society in February 2010 on copular sentences in Thai. We argued that the two copulas of Thai support equative over inverse analyses of copular sentences. This has implications for clefts. It also was a nice account of a balance between experimental methods in syntax (acceptability judgment surveys) and fieldwork-type native speaker interviews.  The proceedings paper is here.

Hedberg, Nancy and David Potter. 2010.  Equative and Predicational Copulas in Thai. Presented at the Berkeley Linguistics Society. BLS 36, University of California at Berkeley, Feb. 6-7, 2010. Abstract (pdf).



On November 28, 2008, I presented an invited talk at the Workshop on Clefts at ZAS in Berlin.  Here is the Call for Papers and here is the preliminary program.   Here is the handout (typos corrected).



I have been collaborating with Chung-hye Han on developing a Tree-Adjoining Grammar analysis of it-clefts, implementing my 2000 analysis of clefts in this more precise and computationally-constrained framework.  We use Tree-Local Multi-Component TAG to capture the discontinuous relationship between the cleft pronoun and the cleft clause, and have defined a compositional semantics on the proposed syntax using Synchronous Tree-Adjoining Grammar:

Han, Chung-hye and Nancy Hedberg (2008). Syntax and Semantics of It-Clefts: a Tree-Adjoining Grammar Analysis. Journal of Semantics 25. 345-380. Pdf.


Han, Chung-hye and Nancy (2008). Continuous Discontinuity in It-Clefts. Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, May 31-June 2, 2008.  Powerpoint Slide


Han, Chung-hye and Nancy Hedberg (2006).  A Tree-Adjoining Grammar of the Syntax and Semantics of It-Clefts. Proceedings of TAG+8, Sydney, Australia, July 15-16, 2006.  Paper (pdf).



A paper on it-clefts (clefts) and wh-clefts (pseudoclefts) argues that while in wh-clefts, the cleft clause always expresses the topic of the sentence with the comment being expressed by the clefted constitutent, in it-clefts and reverse wh-clefts (inverted pseudoclefts), the initial clefted constituent can express either the topic or the focus (comment) of the utterance with the cleft clause expressing the complementary relation.  Most of the examples come from the McLaughlin Group:

Hedberg, Nancy and Lorna Fadden.  (2007). The Information Structure of It-clefts, Wh-clefts and Reverse Wh-clefts in English.  In Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski (eds.),The Grammar-Pragmatics Interface:  Essays in Honor of Jeanette K. Gundel. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Pragmatics & Beyond New Series. Pp. 49-76  PrePublication version (pdf)



My graduate student, Tim Choi, completed a master's thesis (Dec. 2006) on Mandarin Chinese sentences that get translated into English as clefts. Library draft (pdf).



This is a thoroughly revised version of two chapters of my dissertation:

Hedberg, Nancy (2000). The Referential Status of Clefts.  Language 76. 891-920.  Description.



This is a paper on the syntax of wh-clefts:

Hedberg, Nancy. (1993). "On the Subject-Predicate Structure of Pseudoclefts," in Mushira Eid and Gregory Iverson, eds. Principles and Prediction: The Analysis of Natural Language. Papers in Honor of Jerry Sanders. John Benjamins, 119-134.  Description. Pre-publication version (pdf).



This is my dissertation on it-clefts:

Hedberg, Nancy (1990).  Discourse Pragmatics and Cleft Sentences in English.  Ph.D. dissertation. University of Minnesota.  Description.



This was my first paper on clefts. I looked at it-clefts, wh-clefts and inverted wh-clefts in episodes of the McLaughlin Group:

Hedberg, Nancy. 1988. "The Discourse Function of Cleft Sentences in Spoken English." Linguistic Society of America Meeting, Dec 1988, New Orleans, Louisiana. Paper.









These are noun phrases of different forms such as "it", "the dog", "that dog", "a dog", which can be used to refer to entities in the discourse model.  I have explored the semantic and pragmatic behavior of referring expressions in two frameworks. I work mainly with Jeanette Gundel and Ron Zacharski, on cognitive status, but I have also done some work in the centering theory framework of Grosz, Joshi and Weinstein.



Cognitive Status


We propose the 'Givenness Hierarchy' below, arguing that different forms of referring expressions require that their referents have different 'cognitive statuses' in the mind of the addressee:  in the focus of attention ("in focus"); in working memory ("activated"); represented in memory ("familiar"), identifiable by the time the noun phrase is processed, with the representation retrieved from memory or newly constructed ("uniquely identifiable"), or identifiable by the time the sentence is processed, with the representation retrieved from memory or newly constructed ("referential").  "Type-identifiable" means that the hearer can identify the type of object described by the expression.  Each status is a necessary condition for the form of expression associated with it on the hierarchy. The statuses are in a unidirectional entailment relation, so that a given form can in principle be used when a higher status obtains, e.g. a the-phrase is often used when the referent is familiar or activated. However, it is frequently the case that use of a given form triggers a Gricean quantity implicature that a higher status does not obtain, e.g. use of an indefinite article often implicates that the referent is not familiar, and use of a demonstrative pronoun often implicates that the referent is not in focus.


In Focus  >  Activated    >   Familiar  > Uniquely Identifiable   >   Referential      >   Type Identifiable

  it        this                 that N                  the N          indefinite this N            a N


            this N





Jeanette Gundel, Kaja Borthen and I have written an article on reference for the Oxford Handbook on Reference.

Hedberg, Nancy, Jeanette K. Gundel, and Kaja Borthen. Forthcoming. On Different Senses of ‘Referential’. To appear in The Oxford Handbook on Reference, edited by Jeanette K. Gundel and Barbara Abbott. Oxford University Press. Prepublication version (pdf).

Jeanette Gundel and I recently published a book chapter in which we defend the Givenness Hierarchy against the charge that it over-predicts scalar implicatures, and we talk a little bit more than before about typology and languages other than English.

"Reference and Cognitive Status: Implicature and Typology." 2016. In Ferrnandez-Vest, M. M. Jocelyne and Robert D. Van Valin, Jr., eds. Information Structure and Spoken Language in a Cross-Linguistic Perspective. Mouton de Gruyter. 33-53. Prepublication version (pdf).

I presented a paper on the Givenness Hierarchy at a Tokyo conference. Here are the proceedings of the conference.

Hedberg, Nancy. 2014. Applying the Givenness Hierarchy Framework: Methodological Issues. Paper presented at Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on the Information Structures of Austronesian Languages. Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa. Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Dec. 13-15, 2013. Paper.


Jeanette Gundel, Ron Zacharski and I published a journal article on the topic of the Givenness Hierarchy, in which we defend our approach against recent claims in the psycholinguistic literature that the GH is a salience hierarchy and that there is more to reference than salience. We claim that the GH is not a salience hierarchy and that our theory can account for the data presented in the literature:

Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 2012. Underpecification of Cognitive Status in Reference Production: Some Empirical Predictions. Topics in Cognitive Science (TopiCS) 4(2), 249-268. Issue on: The production of referring expressions: Bridging the gap between computational and empirical approaches to reference.  Manuscript.


Jeanette Gundel was invited to give an address at the second workshop on reference at the 2011 Cognitive Science Meeting in Boson. A partial version of our TopiCS paper appeared in the proceedings.
Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg, and Ron Zacharski. 2011. “Under-specification of Cognitive Status in Reference Production: the Grammar-Pragmatics Interface”, Pre-Cognitive Science 2011 Workshop, “Bridging the Gap between Computational, Empirical and Theoretical Approaches to Reference.” Boston, Massachusetts, July 20, 2011. Jeanette Gundel, invited speaker. Proceedings of the Annual Cognitive Science Society Meeting. Paper (pdf).          



In May 2009, my two graduate students, Emrah Görgülü and Morgan Mameni, and I gave a talk at the Canadian Linguistics Association meeting at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario on "Specificity and Definiteness: Evidence from Turkish and Persian" (slides).  We presented a continuation of it at MOSAIC (Meeting of Semanticists Active in Canada) on May 26 at the University of Ottawa, with a paper on "More on Specificity and Definiteness in English, Turkish and Persian" (slides).


Here is the proceedings paper of the CLA talk:

Hedberg, Nancy, Emrah Görgülü, and Morgan Mameni. 2009. On Definiteness and Specificity in Turkish and Persian. Proceedings of the 2009 Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistic Association.  Paper (pdf).



On March 26, 2008, I gave a talk in the Cognitive Science Program "Defining Cognitive Science" colloquium series on the Givenness Hierarchy and its relationship to Philosophy of Language, focusing especially on articles in Salish languages (sample data) that I claim should be classified on the Givenness Hierarchy as "referential". I contrasted our use of that term with that of Kent Bach in the 2008 Reference volume.  Slides.



May, 2006.  Here is the most recent version of the Coding Protocol for Statuses on the Givenness Hierarchy, written up by Jeanette Gundel with the help of students and former students.  Protocol.  This provides guidance for coding referring expressions in texts and transcripts with respect to cognitive status categories.



In a series of three DAARC papers from 2002-2007 we examined reference to “higher-order” entities (like events and propositions as opposed to objects) in light of the Givenness Hierarchy:

Hedberg, Nancy, Jeanette K. Gundel, and Ron Zacharski. 2007. Directly and Indirectly Anaphoric Demonstrative and Personal Pronouns in Newspaper Articles. Poster presented at DAARC-2007 (the Sixth Discourse Anaphora and Anaphora Resolution Colloquium), Lagos, Portugal, March 29-30, 2007. Paper (pdf). The data come from the New York Times.


Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 2005.  Pronouns without NP Antecedents:  How do we know when a pronoun is referential?  In Antonio Branco, Tony McEnery and Ruslan Mitkov (eds.). Anaphora Processing: Linguistic, Cognitive and Computational Modelling. John Benjamins. 351-364. Paper. This is a revised version of the 2002 DAARC paper. The data come from the Santa Barbara Corpus of American English. 


Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 2004. Demonstrative Pronouns in Natural Discourse. Paper presented at DAARC-2004 (the Fifth Discourse Anaphora and Anaphora Resolution Colloquium), Sao Miguel, Portugal, Sept. 23-24, 2004. Paper (pdf). The data come from the Santa Barbara Corpus of American English.


Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg, and Ron Zacharski. 2002. "Pronouns Without Explicit Antecedents: How Do We Know When a Pronoun is Referential?," Presented at DAARC-4 (the Fourth Discourse Anaphora and Anaphor Resolution Colloquium), Lisbon, Portugal, Sept. 18-20, 2002.  The data come from the Santa Barbara Corpus of American English. A revision was published as a book chapter in 2005 (see above).



In this paper, we examined definite article phrases with non-familiar referents:

Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 2001. "Cognitive Status and Definite Descriptions in English: Why Accommodation is Unnecessary." English Language and Linguistics 5. 273-295.  Abstract.


Here we examined indirect anaphors in light of the Givenness Hierarchy.

Gundel, Jeanette K., Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 2000. "Status Cognitif et Forme des Anaphoriques Indirects. Verbum 22. 79-102. Abstract.  English version (pdf).  French version (translated by Francis Cornish) (pdf).



This was my own attempt to explore the implications of the Givenness Hierarchy for the Mandarin Chinese determiner system.

Hedberg, Nancy. 1996. "Word Order and Cognitive Status in Mandarin Discourse," in Reference and Referent Accessibility, ed. by Thorstein Fretheim and Jeanette Gundel, Pragmatics and Beyond Series, John Benjamins, 173-192.  Prepublication version (pdf).



This is the first full explication of the Givenness Hierarchy:

Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 1993. "Cognitive Status and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse. Language 69.274-307.  Abstract,.


Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 1990. "Givenness, Implicature and the Form of Referring Expressions in Discourse," in M. Meacham, et al, eds. Proceedings of the Sixteenth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: Parasession on the Legacy of Grice, University of California at Berkeley, 442-453. Incorporated into the 1993 Language paper.


Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 1989. "Givenness, Implicature and Demonstrative Expressions in English Discourse," in R. Graczyk, et al, eds., Papers from the 25th Annual Regional Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society: Parasession on Language in Context, University of Chicago, 89-103. Incorporated into the 1993 Language paper.



Below is the earliest paper on the Givenness Hierarchy. This paper was conceived as part of a project funded by a grant to Jeanette Gundel from Control Data Corporation for studying discourse anaphora. The research focused on studying demonstrative expressions in naturally-occurring discourse (including CDC technical reports) and was inspired by then current computational  theories of discourse anaphora:

Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 1988. "On the Generation and Interpretation of Demonstrative Expressions," in D. Vargha, ed., Proceedings of the Twelfth International Conference on Computational Linguistics, John von Neumann Society for Computing Sciences: Budapest, Hungary, 216-221.  Pdf.








For the last several years, I have been working with Juan Sosa, Lorna Fadden, Sam Al Khatib, Yasuko Sakurai, Emrah Görgülü, Morgan Mameni, Leticia Rebollo Couto and her students at Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Noureddine Elouazizi, and Betty Leung on the meanings of prosody in North American English and Latin American Spanish and Portuguese.  We are interested in meanings associated with different sentence types and constructions that are conveyed through prosody.  We have focused on prosodic properties of questions: both yes-no questions and wh-questions, and more recently on parenthetical verbs.


With regard to questions, on the one hand, we are interested in speech act meanings (e.g., is a polar interrogative sentence used to ask a genuine question or to make a request or perform another speech act?  Is a declarative sentence used to make an assertion or ask a question?) and to what extent such speech act meanings are prosodically conveyed.   As part of this, we are interested in accounts of the meaning of interrogative and declarative utterances in terms of the acts they are used to perform as modeled by theories of question-answer dialogue games in formal approaches to dynamic semantics/pragmatics that explicate how utterances of various types can relate to and then change the common ground.


On the other hand, we are simultaneously interested in information structural meanings of various sorts (e.g. topic/comment, focus, contrast, givenness, cognitive status, global discourse structure), and how these meanings are prosodically conveyed, as well as how they relate to the dynamic semantic and pragmatic theories mentioned above.


With regard to parenthetical verbs, we are interested in how a speaker changes his/her epistemic commitment to the material being presented midway through a sentence, e.g. “The 9/11 terrorists had fake drivers’ licenses from I believe Florida”. What is the relationship between the prosodic phrasing of the parenthetical and its semantic scope? Is the scope constituent always focused?


For English, we have been using our version of ToBI to transcribe prosody; and for Spanish, we will use Spanish ToBI and the autosegmental transcription system that Juan Sosa has developed for his work on Spanish.  Thus far, we have been analyzing natural speech drawn from our own McLaughlin Group corpus, the CallHome Corpus of American English  and the Fisher English Corpus. We are beginning work on the CallHome Corpus of Spanish. We are also interested in eventually doing production and perception experiments in both languages to verify our conclusions.





Daniel Chang, Yue Wang and I wrote an article on music and tone perception.

Chang, Daniel, Nancy Hedberg, and Yue Wang. 2016.  Effects of Musical and Linguistic Experience on Categorization of Lexical and Melodic Tones. Journal of the Acoustic Society of America.



Juan, Emrah and I have our yes-no questions paper published on-line now. Soon to come out in print. This is a long paper that describes much of the work we did under the support of the 2007-2012 SSHRC Grant.
Hedberg Nancy, Juan M. Sosa and Emrah Görgülü. Forthcoming. The Meaning of Intonation in Yes-No Questions in American English: A Corpus Study. Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory. Published on-line June 2014. Pre-publication version (pdf).

In July 2015, I co-organized a panel at the International Pragmatics Association Meeting in Antwerp, Belgium on prosodic constructions with Richard Ogden, Nigel Ward and Oliver Niebuhr. The call for papers is here: 

Hedberg, Nancy. 2015. “Larger Prosodic Constructions in Dialogue”. Presentation accepted for panel on Prosodic Constructions, International Pragmatics Association Conference, Antwerp, Belgium, July 26-31, 2015. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the conference due to a family emergency.

I was an invited speaker at the Workshop on the Prosody and Meaning of (Non-)Canonical Question Intonation Cross-Linguistically, which was at the meeting of the German Linguistics Society (March 4-6, 2015) at the University of Leipzig. The workshop was organized by Daniel Wochner, Nicole Dehé, Bettina Braun, Beste Kamail, and Hubert Truckenbrodt. The Call for Papers is here.

Hedberg, Nancy. 2015. “Non-canonical Question Intonation in English.” Invited talk for Workshop on the Prosody and Meaning of (Non-)Canonical Question Intonation Across Languages.” The 37th Annual Meeting of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwisssenschaft (DGIS), University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany, March 4-6, 2015.   Slides.


Noureddine and I have a prosody paper in a volume on parenthetical verbs:

Hedberg, Nancy and Noureddine Elouazizi. 2015. Epistemic Parenthetical Verb Phrases: C-Command, Semantic Scope and Prosodic Phrasing. In Schneider, Stefan, Julie Glikman, and Mathieu Avanzi (eds.) Parenthetical Verbs. Berlin/Munich/Boston: Walter de Gruyter GmbH. 225-256. Pre-publication version (pdf).

For the conference that gave rise to that volume, I went to Paris in May 2012 to present a paper on how the prosody of such phrases relates to their semantics.

Hedberg, Nancy and Noureddine Elouazizi. 2012. “Epistemic Parenthetical Verbs and Association with Focus”. Presented at Parenthetical Verbs: Hypotoxis, Parataxis or Parenthesis? Université Ouest Nanterre, Paris. May 23-25, 2012.


In 2010, I wrote a review of a book by Laurel Brinton on this type of construction (also called ‘comment clauses’):

Hedberg, Nancy. 2010.  Review of Laurel Brinton. “Comment Clauses”. World Englishes 29(3). 442-445.  Review (pdf).



Emrah Görgülü, long time research assistant on the questions project, finished his PhD in December 2012, with a dissertation on the semantics of nouns in Turkish. He examined issues of number and the count/mass distinction. In September 2013, he is beginning an Assistant Professorship in the Department of English Language Teacher Education at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University in Turkey.



On the subject of question intonation, Juan and I went to India in November 2011 to the International Seminar on Prosodic Interfaces:

Hedberg, Nancy and Juan M. Sosa. 2011. “A Unified Account of the Meaning of English Questions with Non-Canonical Intonation". Presented at the International Seminar on Prosodic Interfaces, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India, November 25-27, 2011. Paper.


I went to Montreal in September 2011 to ETAP-2.

Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa and Emrah Görgülü. 2011. On the Meaning of Non-Canonical Question Intonation”. Poster presented at Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody 2, McGill University, Montreal, Québec, September 23-25, 2011. Poster.


Juan went to Hong Kong in August 2011 to the International Congress of Phonetics Sciences with an oral presentation by the two of us.

Hedberg, Nancy and Juan M. Sosa. 2011. “The Phonetics of Final Pitch Accents in American English Polar Questions.” Proceedings of the International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Hong Kong, August 17-21, 2011. Paper (pdf).



In summer 2010, Morgan Mameni defended his MA thesis that grew out of the project on the prosody of questions, although it is about biased questions in English and Persian rather than intonation:  Morgan’s thesis (pdf).  Morgan went off briefly to the Institute for Logic, Language and Information at the University of Amsterdam to begin a Ph.D. in Inquisitive Semantics, but came back in order to concentrate on being a practicing artist.  Now he works at SFU in the office of the Vice President Research.



In summer 2010, we worked with Leticia Rebollo Couto, who was visiting us on a postdoctoral scholarship from Brazil. With Leticia, we are working on Spanish question intonation. In this way, based on parallel data in American English and Spanish, we hope to be able to compare the intonational systems of the two languages (or rather, dialects thereof) and uncover similarities and differences in how the two languages encode meaning via intonation. We are beginning with the Callhome Spanish Corpus and plan to explore a corpus of sociolinguistic interviews collected by Juan Sosa aimed at question intonation in various Latin-American Spanish dialects.


Here is our CLA Proceedings paper.

Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa, Emrah Görgülü and Morgan Mameni.  2010.  Prosody and Pragmatics of Wh-Interrogatives.  Proceedings of the 2010 Meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association.  Paper.


In May 2010, we presented two posters on the intonation and meaning of wh-questions in the English corpora at Speech Prosody 2010 and CLA 2010. On June 1, we also presented a talk MOSAIC 2. As reported in the Speech Prosody and CLA papers and posters, Emrah and Morgan came up with a typology of wh-question dialogue meanings that can be used to explain the difference between rising and falling wh-questions. The MOSAIC paper expands on the meaning of rising wh-questions to cover rising wh-questions in general, i.e. outside the corpus and encountered in everyday life, as well as native speaker intuitions about the meaning of rising wh-questions in constructed scenarios.

Hedberg, Nancy and Morgan Mameni. 2010. The Semantic Function of Rising Wh-Questions.  Meeting of Semanticists Active in Canada (MOSAIC 2), McGill University, Montréal, Québec, June 1, 2010.  Slides.


Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa, Emrah Görgülü and Morgan Mameni. 2010.  Prosody and Pragmatics of Wh-Interrogatives. Poster presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association, Concordia University, Montreal, Québec, May 29-31, 2010.  Poster (pdf).


Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa, Emrah Görgülü and Morgan Mameni. 2010. The Prosody and Meaning of Wh-Questions in American English. Speech Prosody 2010. Chicago, Illinois, May 11-14, 2010. (paper).


In August 2009, the lab had a visit from Noah Constant, PhD student at the Universitiy of Massachusetts - Amherst. We discussed his master’s thesis and the fall-rise examples from the McLaughlin Group corpus from Hedberg & Sosa 2007.


In May 2008, the lab presented a poster at the 2008 Speech Prosody conference in Brazil.

Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa, and Emrah Görgülü. 2008. Early and Late Nuclei in Yes-No Questions: Tails or High Rises?  Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2008, Campinas, Brazil, May 2008. Paper (pdf).


In March 2008, Juan presented a version of the Speech Prosody 2008 paper in Spanish.

Sosa, Juan M. and Nancy Hedberg. 2008. Semántica y Entonación de las Preguntas Absolutas del Ingles.  ("Semantics and Intonation of Yes-No Questions in English"). Paper presented at the XX Jornadas Lingüisticas de La Asociación de Lingüística y Filología de la América Latina (ALFAL), Caracas, Venezuela, March 6-9, 2008.


In February 2008, Lorna Fadden defended her Ph.D. thesis on the prosody of police suspect speech during police interviews.


In July 2007, the lab had a visit from Malcah Yaeger-Dror. We collaborated together on a project comparing social and information-structural factors on the accentedness of negative elements like not and AUX+nt in McLaughlin Group conversations, political debates and CallFriend conversations, using transcripts for the latter that Malcah has made available on TalkBank. We presented a paper together on this at the Linguistic Society of America meeting in Chicago, January 2008: abstract. Slides (pdf).


In June 2007, I gave a talk on “Yes-No Questions, Information Structure and Prosody” at the LIPP Symposium on Clause Syntax, Information Structures, and Discourse Pragmatics in Munich, Germany. Here is the presentation handout for that talk (pdf).


In April 2007, Juan Sosa and I received Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Standard Research Grant $410-2007-0345 to work on “The Prosody of  Sentence Types and Information Structure in North American English.” During the first two years of the grant, we studied meanings associated with the intonation of positive yes-no quetoins from the CallHome Corpus of American English and the Fisher English Corpus. During the third and fourth years, we have been study the meanings of different intonation contours on wh-questions from the same corpora. For both projects, we annotated the questions according to our version of the ToBI transcription system, and have tried to identify meanings associated with the different intonation patterns. Here is a summary of the grant.


In January, 2007, the 2001 LSA topic and Focus Workshop paper was published.

Hedberg, Nancy and Juan M. Sosa.  2007. The Prosody of Topic and Focus in Spontaneous English Dialogue. In Chungmin Lee, Mathew Gordon, and Daniel Buring, (eds.), Topic and Focus: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on Meaning and Intonation. Dordrecht:  Springer. 101-120 .Pre-final version (pdf)


In 2006 came the publication of my report on the 2001 Topic and Focus paper and the 2002 Speech Prosody paper, taking into consideration some of the criticism that we received for the original conference papers. This was first presented at the Lund, Sweden workshop on Information Strucutre and Contrast, Dec. 6-8, 2002, and was itself a revision of the Stuttgart paper (Hedberg 2003 below):

Hedberg, Nancy. 2006.  Topic-Focus Controversies. In Valeria Molnar and Susanne Winkler (eds.), The Architecture of Focus. Mouton de Gruyter. Paper (pdf).


In May 2006, we presented a poster at Speech Prosody in Dresden:  Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa and Lorna Fadden. 2006. "Tonal Constituents and Meanings of Yes-No Questions in American English. Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2006, Dresden, Germany. Paper (pdf).


In February 2004, I gave a talk at the University of British Columbia on the “epistemic” meanings of polar questions of various positive and negative forms in the CallHome Corpus. The goal was to figure out what aspects of meaning the question form itself contributes, so that we could later see what added nuances prosody contributes. The talk included a literature review. Here is the handout from that talk. (pdf).


Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa and Lorna Fadden. 2004. "Meanings and Configurations of Questions in English". Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2004, Nara, Japan. Paper (PDF).


Hedberg, Nancy, Juan M. Sosa and Lorna Fadden. 2003. "The Intonation of Contradictions in American English." Paper presented at Pragmatics and Prosody. North West Conference on Linguistics, University of Southern Lancashire, Preston, England, Nov. 2003. Paper (PDF).


Hedberg, Nancy and Juan M. Sosa. 2003. "Pitch Contours in Negative Sentences." Poster presented at the 15th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Barcelona, Spain, Aug. 3-9, 2003. Paper (PDF).


Hedberg, Nancy. 2002. "Topic-Focus Controversies," presented at the symposium "Informationstruktur - kontrastivt", Lund, Sweden, Dec. 6-8, 2002. Published as a book chapter 2006.


Hedberg, Nancy. 2002. The prosody of contrastive topic and focus in spoken English. Pre-proceedings of the workshop on information structure in context, 14 –52. Stuttgart:  Institut für Maschinelle Sprachverarbeitung.. Paper (PDF)


Hedberg, Nancy and Juan M. Sosa. 2002. "The Prosody of Questions in Natural Discourse." Proceedings of Speech Prosody 2002 (the First International Conference on Speech Prosody), Aix-en-Provence, France, 375-378. Paper (PDF)


Hedberg, Nancy and Juan M. Sosa. 2001. "The Prosodic Structure of Topic and Focus in Spontaneous English Dialogue." Topic and Focus: A Workshop on Intonation and Meaning. University of California, Santa Barbara, Linguistic Society of America, Institute of Linguistics, July 2001. Published as a book chapter 2007.


Sosa, Juan M. and Nancy Hedberg. 2001. "The Prosody of Topic and Focus in Spanish." Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages XXXI, University of Illinois at Chicago, April, 2001.


Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg and Ron Zacharski. 1997. "Topic-Comment Structure, Syntactic Structure and Prosodic Tune," Workshop on Prosody and Grammar in Interaction, Helsinki, Finland, August 13-15. Paper (PDF)


Gundel, Jeanette, Nancy Hedberg, and Ron Zacharski. 1995. "Prosodic Tune and Information Structure," in Proceedings of the 1995 Annual Conference of the Canadian Linguistics Association, University of Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics, 215-223.  First draft of Helsinki paper presented in 1997.