Patrick Murphy: Linguistics

I am a PhD candidate in Linguistics at the University of Toronto. I'm a psycholinguist with a particular interest in speech perception and dialect variation. Here you can find up-to-date information on me and my research, including my CV. Paper and presentation downloads are available on a separate page.

Contact: p.murphy [at]

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Varadero, Cuba

1. Research Interests

There are three primary recurring topics in my speech perception research:

  • Contrast. Languages vary regarding which sounds they use to distinguish meaning (e.g. /t/ and /d/ in English), which sounds they consider equivalent for the purposes of meaning (e.g. different ways of pronouncing /t/ in English), and which sounds simply aren't used (e.g. front rounded vowels /y ø œ/ in English). I'm interested in how such phonological statuses (contrastive, allophonic, non-native) affect the perception of sounds, including discrimination of sounds. I'm especially interested in cases that do not clearly fit into the categories of contrast or allophony (partial contrast).
  • Phonotactics. Languages also vary regarding how they allow sounds to be arranged in words, particularly which sequences of sounds they allow (e.g. /kn/ is a possible onset in German but not in English). I'm interested in listeners' knowledge of what is and is not allowed and the extent to which they use this knowledge to guide their perception (e.g. in cases of perceptual ambiguity) and also how this varies depending on whether the rules belong to a variety (language or dialect) that they speak natively, one they have had exposure to, or one they are trying to learn.
  • Dialect exposure. Two dialects have more in common than two languages do—by definition, if we define dialects and languages according to mutual intelligibility (setting aside that this is not always clear, and not always done). I'm interested in the perceptual adaptations that people make when given exposure to a different dialect of their own language, and whether the effect is similar to exposure to a completely different language. Does similarity (between dialects) make adaptation less likely, because fewer changes are necessary? Or more likely, because the changes are smaller and easier?

I've primarily worked with English (Canadian and American) and French (Canadian and European). That's partly due to interest, and partly due to proximity. In the future I'd be happy to also work with other dialects of these languages, or other languages entirely.

While my research mainly concerns the sounds of language (P-side: phonetics/phonology), I have some secondary interests in the structure and meaning of language (S-side: syntax/semantics), including ergativity (especially split ergativity), null objects (in languages not traditionally seen as pro-drop), and coercion/polysemy (particularly experimental approaches to these phenomena).

2. Research Projects

2.1 Doctoral Research


Committee: Philip Monahan, Jack Chambers, & Jessamyn Schertz

In progress. I am studying the effects of partial contrast and dialect exposure on speech perception, using Canadian Raising as a testing ground.

Complement Coercion in the Canadian English "be done NP" Construction (PhD Generals Paper 2)

Supervisors: Margaret Grant & Philip Monahan

This is an eye-tracking study of the Canadian English "be done NP" construction ("I'm {done/finished} my homework"). It looks at reading times of two classes of objects (entities like "the script" and events like "the audition") to test Fruehwald & Myler's (2015) analysis of this construction (specifically that it involves an extra interpretive mechanism—coercion or type-shifting—for entity objects).

  • Available downloads: poster (30th CUNY) and paper (Toronto Working Papers)

Phonotactic Rareness and Partial Allophony in Canadian French (PhD Generals Paper 1)

Supervisors: Philip Monahan & Margaret Grant

This project is a perceptual study of Canadian French affrication, which affects coronal stops (/t, d/ → [ts, dz]) before high front vowels, as in tigre "tiger" [tsɪgʁ] (non-allophonic affricates exist and they occur in other environments, e.g. tsé "y'know", but they are rare). It tests two main hypotheses: (1) listeners are biased against perceiving sound sequences that are possible but rare in their language, (2) when two sounds are contrastive or non-contrastive depending on the environment, the perceptual boundary between them will be sharper in the contrastive environment.

  • Available downloads: poster (LabPhon 15) and paper (CLA Proceedings)

2.2 Master's Research

Recipe Null Objects

Co-researchers: Diane Massam & Kazuya Bamba

English is not traditionally seen as a pro-drop language. Despite this, null objects are found extensively in instructional contexts such as recipes. For example, "take 4 potatoes, boil _ for 20 minutes, and then mash _" (Cummins & Roberge 2004). This paper proposes a generative grammar theoretical analysis of these register-specific null objects that links them to the obligatorily null 3rd person inanimate pronoun in the Polynesian language Niuean.

  • Links: paper (Linguistic Variation)

Split Accusativity in Finnish (MA Degree Paper)

Supervisor: Diane Massam

One peculiar feature of ergative/absolutive languages is the prevalence of case splits (in the presence of a particular trigger, often related to aspect, the regular case or agreement patterning changes). This paper builds heavily on Coon's (2013) analysis of split ergativity and argues that certain case alternations in nominative/accusative languages (particularly the partitive alternation in Finnish) should be considered "split accusativity"—the equivalent of split ergativity but in a nominative/accusative language.

  • Available downloads: paper (unpublished)

2.3 Undergraduate Research

I got my first taste of working with French dialects (and doing field-work) when I recorded 10 speakers of Acadian French (the traditional dialect of Atlantic Canada, distinct from Quebec French) at Université Sainte-Anne, a francophone university in southwest Nova Scotia. Interesting findings for me included the rhotics, which varied between the apical tap [ɾ] and the English-like retroflex [ɹ] (rather than the more standard uvular [ʁ]).

3. Teaching

For more than 10 semesters I've taught tutorials (of 2040 people, where we do content lessons, quizzes, and review homework each week), in phonetics and a variety of introductory linguistics courses. I've also graded for more advanced linguistics courses (statistics, language acquisition, psychology of language, and Canadian English).

4. Department Involvement

I run the department blog (What's Happening in Toronto Linguistics), I'm an editor for TWPL (Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics), and I've been an organizer of the annual Welcome Workshop for new students. I've also helped various people in the department with designing and implementing experiments (both sound and text, using OpenSesame and Ibex farm respectively).

5. Curriculum Vitae


6. Tools and Workflow

Praat (editing recordings and making stimuli), OpenSesame or (designing and running the experiment), R/RStudio (analyzing results), LaTeX or RMarkdown (writing the paper or making the poster/presentation). For reading experiments I've used SR Research Experiment Builder and Ibex farm (online). I like Zim Desktop Wiki for organizing notes.

7. Background

7.1 Academic

My main interests during my undergrad were syntax (especially ergativity), dialect variation, and phonetics (especially perception). I focused on syntax for my master's, and while I still find ergativity fascinating, a course in speech perception at the beginning of my PhD rekindled my interest in perception and really got me hooked on experimental methods. Since then, I've developed my research program around speech perception and, to a large extent, dialect variation.

7.2 Personal

I'm from Nova Scotia (Latin for "New Scotland"), a province on the east coast of Canada. I grew up mostly in and around the town of Truro (near the Bay of Fundy). I lived in Halifax, the capital of the province, for the four years of my undergrad. Now for graduate school I live in Toronto, the largest city in Canada.

My personal interests include: technology (Linux and open source), fitness and staying active (weights, running, walking, biking), travel, music (e.g., Arcade Fire, Hey Rosetta!, Karkwa, Sigur Rós, Explosions in the Sky, the Decemberists), audiobooks (non-fiction: history, economics, etc.), and taking pictures.