The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 17th, 2018

Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group

The LPRG (Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group) will hold its first meeting for the fall 2018/spring 2019 terms on September 24 from 1-2pm in the 8th floor seminar room. Everyone interested in either linguistics and philosophy is invited to attend. This year sees the introduction of a new format: unlike previous year, this year’s readings are themed ; this semester in particular will focus on the De Re, De Se, De Dicto distinction. To see a tentative reading list, please consult the LPRG website. If you wish to be informed of the upcoming LPRG events through the LPRG mailing list, get in touch with one of the organizers: Keny Chatain, Maša Močnik, Vincent Rouillard, Nathaniel Schwartz, Harrison Smith-Jaoudi.


MorPhun 9/17: Colin on the morphophonology of case in Buryat

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: The morphophonology of case in Buryat 
Date and time: Monday 9/17, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

In this presentation, I’ll overview some morpho-phonological properties of case in Barguzin Buryat (Mongolic) based on my recent fieldwork. I’ll focus on the accusative and genitive cases, which pattern together in displaying a few interesting phenomena. My analysis is tentative and incomplete, but ideally this presentation will go as follows:
   First I’ll argue that a phonological requirement of these case affixes results in the insertion of certain mysterious epenthetic morphemes. Second I’ll argue that the ‘epenthetic’ status of these morphemes is obscured by processes which can subsequently delete the original genitive/accusative marking, thus yielding opaque derivations for many nominal forms. Third I’ll turn to a pattern of plural allomorphy unique to genitive and accusative cases, which I’ll suggest provides a clear counterexample to certain theories of case features and suppletion argued for in recent literature in morphology. Fourth I’ll relate these Buryat facts to analogous patterns in other languages.

LF Reading Group 9/19 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron (MIT)
Title: Measure of Change
Date and time: Wednesday, September 19, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


In this presentation, I’ll discuss Kennedy & Levin’s (2007) paper, “Measure of Change.” The paper discusses so-called Degree Achievements (DAs) like (to) cool,widen, and darken, which describe some kind of change an object undergoes, and which seem to have variable telicity. Kennedy & Levin present and motivate a scalar semantics for DAs, wherein the underlying meaning is a special kind of measure function, systematically related to the measure functions that the adjectival roots of DAs denote, called `measures of change.’ The variable telicity is accounted for on the basis of the structure of the scales that the underlying adjectives make reference to. I’ll discuss some objections and issues for Kennedy & Levin’s analysis as well, in particular some that Piñón (2007) and Križ (2011) raise.


Phonology Circle 9/19 - Chris Yang (MIT)

Speaker: Chris Yang (MIT)
Title: Presenting Serial Markedness Reduction (Jarosz 2014)
Date/Time: Wednesday, September 19, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

A growing body of research provides evidence supporting Harmonic Serialism (HS; McCarthy 2000, 2008a, 2010; Elfner to appear; Pruitt 2010), a serial version of Optimality Theory in which a single ranking of constraints is used iteratively to construct a derivation. This work has led to new insights into several outstanding problems in phonology and has highlighted problematic over-predictions of parallel OT, showing that HS predicts a more restricted range of interactions that better reflects typology. Although HS makes it possible to capture certain generalizations stated at intermediate levels of representation, it does not provide a general solution to phonological opacity. For this reason McCarthy developed a significant elaboration of HS, OT with Candidate Chains (OT-CC; McCarthy 2007), which evaluates complete HS-like derivations in parallel. This paper proposes a novel extension of HS, Serial Markedness Reduction (SMR), which combines advantages of HS and OT-CC. Like OT-CC, SMR includes a family of constraints that enables the modeling of both counterfeeding and counterbleeding opacity. However, SMR significantly streamlines the machinery necessary to model opacity as compared to OT-CC, relying on the gradual optimization inherent to HS to construct a single optimal derivation. The formal and empirical differences between OT-CC and SMR are discussed.

We encourage those attending to read the paper (linked in the title), but by no means is it required!


Ling Lunch 9/20 - Vincent Rouillard, Naomi Francis (MIT)

This week we have 2 presentations one after the other as practice talks for NELS: 
Speaker: Vincent Rouillard (MIT)
Title: Number Inflection, Spanish Bare Interrogatives, and Higher-Order Quantification
Date and time: Thursday, 9/20, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
In this joint work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle, we examine the behavior of simplex interrogative expressions in Spanish. Many languages including Spanish inflect who for number; Spanish has quién (who.sg) and quiénes (who.pl). Assuming Dayals’s (1996) ans operator, Maldonado (2017) argues that quién and quiénes challenge Sauerland et al.’s  (2005) theory of number, where the plural is semantically vacuous (weak plural) while the singular presupposes atomicity (strong singular). Maldonado takes quiénes to be a plural ranging over pluralities only while quién is a singular ranging over both atoms and pluralities. In other words, she assumes a vacuous singular (weak singular) and a plural presupposing plurality (strong plural). We show that this fails to capture the behavior of quién and quiénes with collective predicates and argue, extending Elliott et al. (2017), that both wh-expressions range over generalized quantifiers (GQs). We conclude, contra Elliott et al., that having quién range over GQs while being a strong singular is insufficient to account for its behavior and that the data are best described if quién is a weak singular and quiénes a strong plural, extending Maldonado.
Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Imperatives under even 
Date and time: Thursday, 9/20, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Imperative sentences can give rise to strong (e.g. command; □) or weak (e.g. acquiescence, indifference; ◊) readings. The acceptability of even in imperatives tracks this distinction in a surprising way: even can appear with broad focus in imperatives only if they receive a weak reading (1-2).

  1. [Prof. X is invigilating an exam and orders the students to stop writing.]

Put down your pens. [Close your exam papers]F #even!                                                           □imp

  1. [Prof. Y is telling students that they no longer have to complete the exam they had been writing and are free to do whatever they like.]

Put down your pens. [Close your exam papers]F even! (None of this matters.)                   ◊imp

There is no such contrast between sentences with even containing overt possibility and necessity modals.

  1. You have to/must put down your pens. You even have to/must [close your exam papers]F. □mod
  1. You’re allowed to put down your pens. You’re even allowed to [close your exam papers]F. ◊mod

I show that this pattern can be accounted for if we assume that i) even has an additive component (Karttunen & Peters 1979) and ii) imperatives underlyingly contain an existential modal operator (◊imp), with strong readings derived by exhaustifying the prejacent of the imperative operator(Schwager 2005, 2006/Kaufmann 2012, Oikonomou 2016). When seen in this light, the puzzling interaction between even and strong imperatives will be reduced to an incompatibility between the additive component of even and the exclusive component of exh/only.


Fieldwork Reading Group

The Fieldwork Reading Group (FWRG) is being revived this semester! This is a chance for all who are interested in gathering linguistic data via fieldwork to discuss/present/share their work, raw data, elicitation techniques etc.; it also features invited talks by MIT colloquium speakers who do fieldwork.  It will be held on Thursdays 5-6pm in 32-D831. If you want to reserve a date to talk about various aspects of your experience in the field, or present fieldwork data, please get in touch with one of the organizers: Tanya Bondarenko (tbond@mit.edu), Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu), Cora Lesure (lesure@mit.edu), and Mitya Privoznov (dpriv@mit.edu).