The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Phonology Circle 5/2 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana  

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: The Definite Morpheme in Bùlì
Date: Monday, May 2nd
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

The abstract is available here.


Syntax Square 5/3 - Colin Davis  

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Locality and copular allomorphy in North Azeri
Date: Tuesday, May 3rd
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm
Place: 32-D461

In this talk I analyze the distribution of copular allomorphy in North Azeri (Turkic), which I argue supports a theory of allomorphy that is constrained by structural locality. (Bobaljik 2012) In specific, when a copula is sufficiently local to a T bearing relevant features, copular allomorphy is possible, but when these conditions are unmet, either due to featural mismatch or lack of structural locality due to intervening phrases, the copula defaults to an elsewhere form. This system captures a range of facts in a principled way, while keeping a uniform syntax in all cases. I extend this argument to account for a syncretism between that elsewhere copular form, and the form of the verb “become”, which are the same in this language. I suggest that we can decompose “become” in the syntax into a copula plus an additional head encoding inchoative semantics or some related species of inner aspect, and that the addition of this head results in structural dis-locality between the copula and a potential allomorphy trigger, just as we see elsewhere in the language. That is, while we might posit accidental syncretism between these two things, I suggest that we do not have to do so.


LFRG 5/4 - Itai Bassi  

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, May 4th, 2016
Place: 32-D831
Title: Existential Semantics for Bare Conditionals (joint work with Moshe E. Bar-Lev)

Bare conditionals show quantificational variability contingent on whether they are in an Upward Entailing or a Downward Entailing environment. For example, the conditional in (1) is interpreted universally while (2) existentially:

1) if you work hard you succeed
in all cases where you work hard you succeed
2) no one will succeed if they goof off
no x is such that there is a case where they goof off and succeed

We suggest that contrary to the widely accepted view, the basic semantics of if p, q involves existential quantification, and its universal character in UE environments is derived by a grammatical strengthening mechanism of recursive exhaustification over domain alternatives. We further show how the phenomenon of Conditional Perfection (from if p, q to if and only if p, q), a long-standing puzzle, can be derived in our system.

Some challenges to the analysis will be mentioned, as well as the prospects of extending it to deal with Homogeneity phenomena in general.


Ling Lunch 5/5 - Yuta Sakamoto  

Speaker: Yuta Sakamoto (UCONN)
Title: Beyond deep and surface: Clausal complement anaphora in Japanese
Time: Thursday, May 5th, 12:30-1:50 pm
Place: 32-D461

In this talk, I investigate the possibility of extraction out of both overt and covert anaphora sites in Japanese, i.e. extraction out of clausal complements that are “replaced” by soo ‘so’ and clausal complements that are phonologically missing. Specifically, I show that both of them allow certain types of extraction out of them, unlike clausal complement anaphora in English, where extraction is uniformly banned out of its domain. Based on the extraction possibility, I then argue that the Japanese cases in question are instances of ellipsis, not pro-forms. Furthermore, I argue that both deletion and LF-copying are available strategies for implementing ellipsis. In particular, I argue that “replaced” clausal complements are best analyzed in terms of deletion and silent clausal complement anaphora in terms of LF-copying.


Colloquium 5/6 - Daniel Büring  

Speaker: Daniel Büring (University of Vienna)
Title: Backgrounded ≠ Given — The relation between focusing, givenness and stress in English
Date: Friday, May 6th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

Standard wisdom sees the given/new distinction, and its effects on (de)accenting, as either independent of, and ultimately secondary to, focusing (e.g. Fery & Samek-Lodovici 2006, Katz & Selkirk 2011), or subsumes it wholesale under an anaphoric theory of focusing (e.g. Schwarzschild 1999, Wagner 2006,2012, Büring 2012).

In this talk I explore a novel and rather different picture: givenness is a necessary, but not, ever, sufficient condition for deaccenting (or more in general for what I call “prosodic reversal”), and so is “contrastive focusabilty” (of the then-accented element). Crucially, the target of focussing (say, the value of C in Rooth’s, 1992, ~C), never has to be contextually salient; in other words: focusing is not anaphoric. Consequently, even the background of a focus only needs to be given if is deaccented (“prosodically demoted”).

This view offers new perspectives on a number of thorny problems, including the proper analysis of deaccenting (or the lack thereof) within broad foci (and yes, there will be “convertible” examples!). In a nutshell, using non-anaphoric focal targets (which now we may!), we can re-analyze all cases of apparent anaphoric deaccenting as narrow contrastive foci, while the givenness condition ensures that we do not deaccent (though possibly background) non-given elements.

The proposal is implemented in Unalternative Semantics, a new method for calculating focus alternatives, which solely looks at whether two sister nodes show default or non-default relative stress (no F- or G-marking!). I show that this method provides for a particularly natural implementation of the division of labor between focus and givenness argued for.


Fieldwork Recording 5/6 - Edward Flemming  

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Fieldwork recording
Time: Friday, May 6th, 2-3pm
Place: 32-D831

This is a general talk on fieldwork recording that addresses practical questions, such as how to choose a recorder and recording accessories for a particular fieldwork setting, what to do or not do in a particular recording environment, etc.


Daniel Büring: Mini-course on Unalternative Semantics  

Class 1 (Wednesday)
Title: Unalternative Semantics, basics
Time: 5:00-6:30pm
Venue: 32-461

UNALTERNATIVE SEMANTICS (UAS) provides a new method to calculate focus alternatives. It directly and compositionally calculates focus alternatives from relative stress patterns, without the mediation of [F]-markers or similar devices. Crucially, the structural cue for deriving focus alternatives (in English and similar languages) is the distinction between default and non-default metrical patterns among sister nodes, rather than properties of constituents in isolation (such as presence of an accent, or a particular amount of stress). The result is a simpler, yet arguably more adequate model of the connection between prosody and focus semantics.

The first class introduces the basic workings of UAS. I then discuss how UAS avoids classical problems such as over-focussing, under-accenting, and how it accounts for second occurrence focus.

Class 2 (Thursday)
Title: Unalternative Semantics, further applications
Time: 5:00-6:30pm
Venue: 32-461

The basic framework from class 1 is applied to new phenomena: focus positions, “unfocus” positions (in Hausa), and sentences with two intermediate phrases and two nuclear pitch accents (in English again). If we’re lucky, we can discuss impromptu ideas by students that work on related phenomena, speculate how they could be approached in UAS etc.

A Ken Wexler celebration!  

This weekend, the department held a conference on the occasion of Ken Wexler’s retirement, to honor and celebrate his foundational, lasting contributions to the field. The program can be found here. You can read messages of congratulations from his colleagues and students and also add your own here.


Michel DeGraff in New York  

Michel DeGraff participated in a panel on education as part of the launching this weekend (April 28-29, 2016) of the City University of New York’s Haitian Studies Institute, to be hosted at Brooklyn College. Michel’s presentation for the event was titled:

Haitian Studies => Solutions to Haiti’s “language & education problem”.

Some photos from the event, including the program, are available on Michel’s Facebook page.