The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 10th, 2018

MorPhun 12/10: Tanya and Stan on leftover agreement

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko, Stanislao Zompi’
Title: Leftover Agreement: spelling out number in Kartvelian languages
Date and time: Monday 12/10, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, we present our work in progress in which we argue that sometimes probes agree with features on lower probes that have not yet been spelled out —- a mechanism we refer to as Leftover Agreement. We show that this mechanism is helpful in accounting for the verbal agreement paradigms in all four of the Kartvelian languages (Georgian, Laz, Megrelian, Svan). The main body of evidence comes from number agreement: we show configurations where a higher probe spells out plural features only if those features have failed to be spelled out by a lower probe. Here is a short illustration from Georgian:

(1) a.  gv-naxa                      b. g-naxa-t
          1PL-see.AOR.3SG            2-see.AOR.3SG-PL
          ‘He/she saw us.’              ‘He/she saw you (pl).’

The lower probe (the prefix) in (1a) spells out both first-person and plural features of the object, so the higher probe (the suffix) does not find anything left over to agree with. In (1b) however, the lower probe has spelled out only the person, but not the number feature of the object. This leftover feature is being agreed with and spelled out by a higher probe (the suffix -t).  
This alternation between synthetic and analytic exponence of number has previously been dealt with by morphological tools (Fission in Halle & Marantz 1993; templates in Harley & Lomashvili 2011; bottom-up nonterminal spellout in Blix 2016). By contrast, we argue for a fundamentally syntactic approach, which integrates insights from the theory of multiple spellout and of fine-grained probing.

Phonology Circle 12/12 - Lee Bickmore (University at Albany) & Winfred Mkochi (University of Malawi)

Presenter:  Lee Bickmore (University at Albany) & Winfred Mkochi (University of Malawi)
Title:Segmental and Tonal Absolute Neutralization in CiTonga
Date/Time: Wednesday, December 12, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

CiTonga, an under-described Malawian Bantu language, exhibits a complex array of stem tone patterns. We show that these patterns can be accounted for by assuming that in addition to various lexical High tones present underlyingly, melodic (grammatical) High tones are also added. These target the stem-initial TBU if it is free, otherwise the final one. Two productive tonal processes are key to understanding the surface tones: Tone Doubling, which spreads an underlying H to the following mora, and Phrase-final Left Shift, which shifts a H off a phrase-final mora to the phrase-penultimate one. These two processes create a variety of tonal configurations, many of which violate the Obligatory Contour Principle (OCP). We show that in some cases these violations simply remain, while in other cases they are repaired. Of interest is the fact that four different repair strategies are used depending on 1) whether one or both Hs are multiply linked and 2) the domain in which the OCP violation is found (e.g. within the stem, across the stem, or across words). Finally, we present two TAMs, the Subjunctive and Imperative, which seem to have anomalous surface tone patterns, given the productive rules which have been motivated to that point. To account for these we present and discuss an abstract analysis which involves an absolute neutralization. For the subjunctive, we propose that even though the Subject Prefixes uniformly surface as Low, they must be set up as High in order to trigger the various processes which directly account for the surface stem tone patterns, even though this H is not ultimately realized. For the imperative, a segmental prefix is posited in order to trigger the appropriate processes, which must ultimately be deleted (i.e. both the mora and tone of the prefix). We conclude by briefly comparing this analysis to several alternatives.


MIT Colloquium 12/13: Gary Thoms (NYU)

Speaker: Gary Thoms (NYU)
Title: Variation and the amn’t gap (joint work with David Adger, Caroline Heycock and Jennifer Smith)
Time: Thursday, December 13th, 3:30pm-5pm
Place: 32-155
This talk is concerned with “the amn’t gap,” which refers to the absence of a negated form for the finite auxiliary am in most varieties of English. Bresnan (2001) notes that while the gap is persistent in the varieties of North America and England, things are interestingly different in Irish English and Scots: in Irish English, amn’t may be used in all syntactic contexts, and in Scots it may be used in inversion contexts (”amn’t I coming with you”) but not in declaratives (”I amn’t coming with you”). Using new data from the Scots Syntax Atlas, I show that the empirical picture in Scotland is more complex than what Bresnan described, and I develop an account of dialectal variation with amn’t in terms of Yang’s (2016, 2017) Tolerance Principle, where it is the productivity of the negative affixation rule which is crucial.

Whamit! Winter Hiatus

Whamit! will be on its Winter (semi-)hiatus from now until the start of the Spring semester. Weekly posts will resume on February 5th, 2019. In the mean time, we will have rolling posts, publishing breaking MIT Linguistics news as it happens. Thanks to all our contributors, editors, and you dear readers!

See you next year!