The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 4th, 2015

LFRG 5/4 - Sophie Moracchini  

Speaker: Sophie Moracchini (MIT)
Time: Monday May 4, 12-1:30
Place: 32-D831
Title: Construal of pronouns in French and Vietnamese
Abstract: Abstract LFRG


Phonology Circle 5/4 - Suyeon Yun  

Speaker: Suyeon Yun (MIT)
Title: Non-native Cluster Perception by Phonetic Confusion, Not by Universal Grammar
Date: Monday, May 4th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831

Experimental results of non-native cluster perception have been used as evidence that the Sonority Sequencing Principle is synchronically active. Notably, Berent et al. (2007 et seq.) argue that the knowledge of onset cluster phonotactics is projected from UG on the basis of evidence that speakers whose native languages do not have the relevant clusters perceive universally preferred clusters with rising sonority more accurately than universally dispreferred clusters with level or falling sonority. In this talk, I will report results of my perception experiments with English and Korean listeners in which phonetically diverse stimuli were used. I will argue that the results of Berent et al.’s experiments are just one possible result we may get from some combinations of initial consonant clusters, and thus cannot be evidence for the Sonority Sequencing Principle in synchronic grammar. More importantly, I argue that it is the auditory properties of the consonant cluster that play a more important role in non-native cluster perception than the cluster’s sonority profile.


Syntax Square 5/5 - Despina Oikonomou & Snejana Iovtcheva  

Speaker: Despina Oikonomou (MIT) & Snejana Iovtcheva (MIT)
Title: Island insensitive fragment answers to Bulgarian li-questions
Time: Tuesday 5/5, 1pm-2pm
Place: 32-D461

We discuss fragment answers to Bulgarian yes/no question that are formed with the particle Li. Different than English, Bulgarian yes/no questions have an overt focus particle that can attach to a wide variety of constituents and allows the speakers to form a grammatical fragment answer even out of a syntactic island. This is significant because island insensitiveness has long been observed in sluicing (Ross 1969, Merchant 2001, Merchant 2004, Griffiths & Liptak 2014 (G&L)) but not in fragment answers. In this sense, the Bulgarian data shed new light on the question of ‘island insensitivity under ellipsis’ as they suggest that islands can be ameliorated under any type of TP-ellipsis, thus allowing for a uniform treatment of sluicing and answer fragments.

Ling Lunch 5/7 - Aron Hirsch  

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT) (MIT)
Title: A case for conjunction reduction
Time: Thurs 5/7, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Disjunction can take wider scope than appears to be the case in the surface string, as in (1a), which can be interpreted similarly to (1b). This has been linked to the availability of ellipsis processes, in particular VP-ellipsis familiar from Johnson’s (e.g. 2014) work on gapping (Schwarz 1999); (1a) can be derived from an LF similar to that for (1b) via ellipsis.

(1) a. John wants to see Mary or Sue.
b. John (either) wants to see Mary or < he wants to see > Sue (but I’m not sure which).

In this talk, I evaluate the strength of evidence that and, as well as or, can take scope via a mechanism other than QR. Is there, for instance, a “conjunction reduction” (Schein 2015 and references therein) mechanism whereby e.g. (2a) can be derived from (2b) via ellipsis?

(2) a. John wants to see every student and every professor.
b. John wants to see every student and < he wants to see > every professor.

This talk (i) develops new arguments which support the view that reduction is at least an available option, and (ii) shows that a commitment to the copy theory of movement and ex situ interpretation of object quantifiers entails a commitment to reduction as the only option for certain cases of conjoined quantifiers. I will provide some support for this prediction by considering the scope behavior of conjoined quantifiers in embedded environments.


Joint linguistics/ philosophy colloquium 5/8 - Angelika Kratzer  

Speaker: Angelika Kratzer (UMass Amherst)
Title: Constructing attitude and speech reports
Time: 2:00-4:00pm, Friday May 8th
Place: 32-155

Abstract TBD


Colloquium 5/8 - Jessica Coon (McGill)  

Speaker: Jessica Coon (McGill)
Title: Two types of ergative agreement: Implications for Dependent Case Theory
Date: Friday, May 8th
Time: 4:30-6:00p Note special time!
Place: 32-141

A range of literature has shown that agreement is sensitive to morphological case (e.g. Bobaljik 2008, et seq). While the dependence of agreement on case has been robustly demonstrated, the source of morphological case remains controversial. This talk focuses on the assignment of ergative case. Under one line of approach, ergative is an inherent case, assigned by a functional head to external arguments in their thematic position (Woolford 1997; Legate 2008). On another approach, ergative is the mirror image of accusative, assigned configurationally to the higher of two arguments in some local domain (Marantz 1991; Baker & Bobaljik to appear). Through an investigation of ergative agreement systems, I argue that a Dependent Case approach is not only unmotivated for a less-studied type of ergative agreement, but also runs the risk of over-generating.

I argue that ergative-absolutive agreement patterns have two different sources. Type 1: In languages like Hindi-Urdu, agreement comes from T; morphologically case-marked ergative subjects are inaccessible for agreement, resulting in an “ergative” agreement pattern (i.e. absolutive arguments agree; see Bobaljik 2008). Type 2: In languages like Chol and Halkomelem, transitive subjects (i.e. ergative arguments) agree, and the source of this agreement is low: v (Coon to appear; Wiltschko 2006).

This talk has two main goals. First, I provide morphophonological and syntactic evidence for the existence of the less-discussed Type 2 system; specifically, I argue that ergative agreement in Chol has a low source and is the result of a direct relationship between v and the ergative subject. Second, I argue that a Dependent Case analysis––while easily able to handle the Hindi-Urdu-type agreement system––faces problems with the Chol-type agreement system. Not only must the language keep track of two different types of null case, but we are left without a way to rule out languages with nominative-accusative case and ergative-absolutive agreement, a well-known typological gap.

While Dependent Case has achieved a range of empirical coverage (e.g. Baker & Vinokurova 2010; Levin & Preminger 2015; Baker & Bobaljik to appear), the end result is one in which the mechanism of ergative case assignment––inherent or dependent––must minimally be parameterized. Given that Type 2 ergative languages lack morphological case altogether, I suggest that this may not be a bad result.


Donca Steriade: Searching for the building blocks of language  

The most comprehensive survey of rhyme ever made reveals a new possibility for one of the essential units of language.

“The syllable has long been considered to be the basic building block of language in the area of rhythm. MIT’s Donca Steriade now believes that a different element — known as the ‘interval’ — may be the basic unit of rhythm in human language.”

Read more on the webiste of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences (SHASS).


Levin to postdoc at Maryland  

We are proud to announce that Ted Levin has accepted a postdoctoral position in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Maryland, where he will be working with Maria Polinsky and Omer Preminger (PhD 2011) (and the rest of the great Maryland linguistics department as well). Fantastic news, great opportunity — congratulations Ted!!