Whamit!

The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

Recent linguistics talks by Chomsky  

This Spring, Noam Chomsky gave four classes about syntax (and about the language faculty, and the state of the field, and …). Video of these lectures are now available. (Note: during one of them, he lost his microphone for a while — apologies in advance for the loss of sound.)

Lecture 1 (March 3, 2014)
Lecture 2 (April 2, 2014)
Lecture 3 (April 11, 2014)
Lecture 4 (May 19, 2014)

Further, Chomsky visited Sophia University and Keio University in Japan in March. Videos of lectures he gave there are available from their respective webpages.

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Semantics Talks 6/3 - Patrick Elliott and Yasutada Sudo  

Date/Time: Tuesday, Jun 3, 1:30pm
Location: 32-D461

Speaker: Patrick Elliott (University College London)
Title: Illusory Repair and the PF-Theory of Islands

In this talk (based on joint work with Matt Barros & Gary Thoms) we argue against the proposal that island violations are repaired by ellipsis. Building on Merchant (2001), we develop an approach to repair-effects based on a number of distinct evasion strategies, which involve a degree of non-isomorphism between the ellipsis site and its antecedent. Island-violations are side-stepped, just so long as a non-island-violating evasion source is available. When non-isomorphism is controlled for, island effects re-emerge. We show this for both sluicing (widely assumed to be island-insensitive) and fragment answers (widely assumed to be island-sensitive). Only the evasion approach can account for the whole set of facts. We conclude: (i) the conjecture that island conditions are fundamentally phonological in nature is incorrect (ii) islands provide a strong argument for silent syntactic structure.

Speaker: Yasutada Sudo (University College London)
Title: How Scalar Implicatures and Presupposition Interact

(Joint work with Benjamin Spector.)

We investigate the interactions between scalar implicatures and presuppositions in sentences involving both a presupposition trigger and a scalar item, e.g. “John is (un)aware that some of the students smoke”. We first discuss Gajewski & Sharvit’s (2012) account and point out empirical problems for it. Then we present an alternative analysis which is a very natural extension of ‘standard’ treatments of scalar implicatures. We show that it nicely explains the data that is problematic for Gajewski & Sharvit, but claim that it fails to account of the full range of data. This discussion leads us to pursue a view where two distinct strengthening mechanisms are at play. Our key data involves what we call “presupposed ignorance”.

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Semantics Talks 6/5 - Matthijs Westera and Ayaka Sugawara  

Date/Time: Wednesday, Jun 5, 3pm
Location: 32-D461

Speaker: Matthijs Westera (University of Amsterdam)
Title: A pragmatics-driven theory of intonational meaning

I present a compositional semantics for Dutch(/English/German) intonation that crucially treats high phrase accents/boundary tones as signalling conversational maxim violations. Together with Attentive Pragmatics - a set of maxims I proposed earlier for an account of exhaustivity implicatures - this simple assumption is shown to yield very fine-grained and, it seems, accurate semantic/pragmatic predictions for various contours, e.g., that contrastive topic must scope over focus, that fall-rise indicates uncertain relevance or incredulity, and how this all interacts with context. I argue that the assumed intonational meanings are non-arbitrary, suggesting a universal tendency, at least in non-tonal languages, towards an intonational semantics along these lines. Finally, the apparent semanticization of the maxims invites reflection on their status in linguistic theory.

Speaker: Ayaka Sugawara
Title: Covered Box Task to investigate acquisition of scopally ambiguous sentences: evidence from scrambled sentence in Japanese

(Practice talk for FAJL; joint work with Ken Wexler.)

A major open question in the theory of language acquisition is why children speaking English seem to have difficulty interpreting inverse scope of negation and a universal subject quantifier. Our results contribute both to the solution to this puzzle and provide evidence for particular approaches to the A-movement of Japanese and the theory of contrastive topic. We will argue that children have difficulty with at least some forms of reconstruction and alternative comparison which takes place at LF, but do not have a problem with interpreting a particular logical form generated by syntax.

We conducted two experiments in Japanese with Japanese-speaking children. Our first experiment shows that children accept the not>all reading of scrambled sentences, where the not>all reading is supported by the syntax

Our second experiment shows that children completely fail to get the unambiguous not>all reading of Contrastive Topic sentences, where not>all reading is derived at LF. The difficulty seems to be related to the same type of “alternatives comparison” difficulty that is the major explanation of children’s difficulties with scalar implicatures.

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Summer Conference Round-Up, Part 2  

The 22nd Manchester Phonology Meeting (mfm22) was held May 29-31. Among the presentations were:

  • Juliet Stanton and Donca Steriade: Stress windows and Base Faithfulness in English suffixal derivatives
  • Yoonjung Kang (PhD 2000), Tae-Jin Yoon and Sungwoo Han: Lexical diffusion of vowel length merger in Seoul Korean: a corpus-based study
  • Adam Albright: Epenthesis in rising sonority clusters in Lakhota
  • Suyeon Yun: The role of acoustic disjuncture in loan epenthesis: experimental evidence
  • Andrew Nevins (PhD 2005) and Nina Topintzi: Moraic onsets and cross-anchoring in Arrernte
  • Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009): On the Prince-Tesar-Hayes’ approach to OT restrictiveness
  • Anthony Brohan: Licensing Catalan laryngeal neutralization by cue (Poster)
  • Sam Zukoff: A correlation between stress and reduplication: Diyari and beyond (Poster)
  • Lilla Magyar: Gemination in Hungarian loanword adaptation (Poster)
  • Benjamin Storme: The Loi de Position and the acoustics of French mid vowels (Poster)
  • Katrin Skoruppa, Andrew Nevins and Stuart Rosen: English listeners’ use of vowel phonotactics for speech segmentation (Poster)

The 24th meeting of Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT 24) was held at NYU on 5/30-6/1.

  • Among the invited talks were Valentine Hacquard (PhD 2006), Bootstrapping into attitudes, and Sarah Moss (PhD MIT Philosophy 2009), On the semantics of epistemic vocabulary.
  • Wataru Uegaki gave a talk entitled Japanese-type alternative questions in a cross-linguistic perspective.
  • Tue Trinh (PhD 2011) presented a poster with Andreas Haida entitled Building alternatives as did Luka Crnič (PhD 2011), on Scope fixing, scope economy, and focus movement.
  • Marie-Christine Meyer (PhD 2013), gave a talk entitled Grammatical uncertainty implicatures and Hurford’s constraint

CNRS-IKER in the Basque Country will host the Workshop on Quantifier Scope: Syntactic, Semantic, and Experimental Approaches on June 12-13. Benjamin Bruening (PhD 2001) will present an invited talk entitled Giving and having: quantifier scope and secondary predicates. Susi Wurmbrand (PhD 1998) is also giving an invited talk titled Thoughts on the syntactic domain of QR. Ayaka Sugawara and Ken Wexler will present a talk entitled Covered Box Task to investigate acquisition of scopally ambiguous sentences: evidence from scrambled sentences in Japanese.

NINJAL and ICU are co-hosting the 7th Formal Approaches to Japanese Linguistics (FAJL7) in Tokyo on June 27-29. The following are among the MIT-affiliated presentations:

  • Miwako Hisagi, Valerie Shafer, Shigeru Miyagawa, Hadas Kotek, Ayaka Sugawara and Dimitrios Pantazis: Perception of Japanese vowel duration contrasts by L1 and L2 learners of Japanese: An EEG study
  • Uli Sauerland (PhD 1998) and Kazuko Yatsuhiro: Japanese Reported Speech within the Emerging Typology of Speech Reports
  • Shinichiro Ishihara (PhD 2003): On Match Constraints (Invited Talk)
  • Ayaka Sugawara and Ken Wexler: Children do not accept unambiguous inverse-scope readings: experimental evidence from prosody and scrambling in Japanese
  • Ryo Masuda: Phonological and lexical contexts and the phonetic realization of [voice] in Japanese (Poster)
  • Takashi Morita: Scalar implicature and restrictive focus particles (Poster)

Finally, NINJAL will also host the 14th Conference on Laboratory Phonology (LabPhon 14), July 25-27. Presenting there are:

  • Yoonjung Kang (PhD 2000), Tae-Jin Yoon and Sungwoo Han: Lexical diffusion of vowel length merger in Seoul Korean: a corpus-based study
  • Gillian Gallagher (PhD 2010): Determining the representation of phonotactic restrictions with nonce words (Poster)
  • Suyeon Yun: Acoustic disjuncture in consonant clusters and vowel epenthesis (Poster)
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Miyagawa paper in Lingua  

Shigeru Miyagawa’s new article, “A feature-inheritance approach to root phenomena and parametric variation”, has just appeared in the June issue of Lingua. It is jointly authored with Ángel L. Jiménez-Fernández (University of Seville). The article compares topic constructions in Japanese, Spanish, and English.

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