The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 4th, 2008

Welcome to Enoch Aboh, Visiting Professor  

A special warm welcome to visiting professor Enoch Oladé Aboh, who is visiting from the University of Amsterdam this semester, until May 08.

Research interest: theoretical syntax; comparative syntax (e.g., Kwa vs. Germanic/Romance, Kwa vs. Sinitic, Kwa vs. Caribbean creoles); discourse-syntax interface; language creation and language change.

Enoch will be teaching an undergraduate seminar and co-teaching a graduate seminar with Michel DeGraff:

24.910 Topics in Linguistic Theory: Information Structure at the Edge
24.921 Special Topics in Linguistics: A transatlantic sprachbund? Gbe and Haitian Creole in a comparative-syntax perspective


Registration Day Ice Cream & Games  

The Department of Linguistics & Philosophy


When: Registration Day, Monday, February 4, 2008
Where: 32-D850 (Lounge)
Time: 2:00—4:00

Games will start at 3:00pm



Course Announcement: 24.965 Morphology  

Instructors: Adam Albright, David Pesetsky
Thursdays 2—5, 32-D461

Course description:

Topics in the structure of words and their components, including why such things should exist in the first place (if, indeed, they do). What is the evidence for structure below the level of the word? What (if anything) distinguishes word structure from sentence structure? What principles account for the phonological shape of complex words? Why does morphology sometimes fail to express syntactic/semantic differences (one affix, two functions), and why does it sometimes “overexpress” them (two affixes, one function). The big question underlying the course will be: is there a distinct morphological grammar, or can morphological phenomena all be understood as arising from the interaction of syntax and phonology?

Course website: http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp08/24.965

Schedule of Topics (subject to revision):

2/7-2/14       Morphous vs. a-morphous approaches
2/21-2/28 Affix Ordering, part I
3/6 Syncretism
3/13 Inflectional classes
3/20 Stem allomorphy
4/7-4/10 Interlude: presentations of problems to be worked on for final projects
4/17 Affix Ordering, part II
4/24 Blocking
5/1 Productivity
5/8 Defectivity and gaps
5/15 Morphology and the mental lexicon

Course announcement: 24.964 Opaque Generalizations  

Instructors: M. Kenstowicz and D. Steriade
Fridays 9—12, 32-D461

Brief description:

This class discusses the analysis of opaque phonological processes, beginning with the latest proposal, John McCarthy’s OT-with-Candidate-Chains (OT-CC). The broad aim of the class is to reach a conclusion about the need for any unified approach to opacity within OT (as against a divide-and-conquer approach that deals separately with the different phenomena comprising the set of opaque structures); and to explore related issues about the origins and continued productivity of opaque systems.

2-8       OT-CC intro
2-15 OT-CC: the model McCarthy 2006: chapter 3; 4: 4.2. DS
2-22 Case studies 1: Levantine & Bedouin Arabic, Québec French
2-29 Case studies 2: Stress, syncope, epenthesis in Cyrenaican Ar
3-7 Case Study 3: Icelandic
3-14 Derived environments in OT-CC
3-21 Return of global rules
4-4 Other approaches: intermediate inputs
4-11 Still other approaches: contrast preservation
4-18 Opacity as expanded faithfulness
4-25 TBA
5-2 TBA
5-9 Class presentations

Course announcement: 24.921 Gbe and Haitian Creole in a Comparative-Syntax Perspective  

Instructors: E.O. Aboh and M. DeGraff
Thursdays 9:30—12:30, 32-D461

Course description

In this class, we will study various aspects of Gungbe (a Gbe language of the Kwa family) and Haitian Creole. A question that one may want to ask immediately is why these two and not any other combination, say Gungbe versus Mandarin Chinese or Haitian Creole versus Mohawk?

One motivation for focusing on Gungbe and Haitian Creole is historical: Some of the creators of Haitian Creole were native speakers of Gbe languages (Ewe, Fon, Gun, etc.). Accordingly, we can naively think that certain properties of their native languages were transmitted, via “relexification,” into the new language variety—-the “Creole”—-they created in the colonial Caribbean. Yet, while Gbe and Haitian Creole appear to share certain general syntactic properties, close scrutiny reveals that they also display drastic and fascinating contrasts. Therefore comparing Haitian Creole to Gungbe is, in some sense, an exercise in relatively fine-grained comparative syntax where we try to elucidate the principles that govern variation across languages that are historically related and that exhibit a substantial inventory of morphosyntactic parallels.

This exercise is also relevant for understanding variation across certain language types. Gungbe and Haitian creole display certain core properties of isolating languages like Mandarin Chinese (e.g., “bare” noun, serial verb construction). But again, it appears under inspection that the languages differ radically in certain domains (e.g., DP). Therefore, one of the questions we are concerned with in this class is to what extent the similarities between Gungbe and Haitian Creole are due to the structural make-up of isolating languages and how the unraveling of this structural make-up will help understand the commonly assumed typological partition between isolating and non-isolating languages.

Provisional outline:

Week 1: Overviews of Gbe and Haitian Creole morpho-syntax
Week 2: A first look at (certain) DPs: “adjectival” modification and related issues
Week 3: More on DPs: relative clauses, factives, etc.
Week 4: Predication, clefts/doubling, etc.
Week 5: Tense, Mood and Aspect, “Inherent-complement” (Light?) Verbs, Serial Verb Constructions
Week 6: (continued)
Week 7: Back to DPs: Number, “bare” nouns specificity, possession, etc.
Week 8: (continued)
Week 9: Locatives
Week 10: Negation
Week 11: (continued)
Week 12: Nominal and clausal determiners, clause-final “particles,” etc.
Week 13: Wrap-up

2/4: Special BCS Talk: Roger Levy  

Roger Levy, UCSD Assistant Professor, PhD from Stanford linguistics (2006), is the second BCS cognitive candidate. He studies syntactic processing. All are welcome.


Assistant Professor
Department of Linguistics
University of California, San Diego
La Jolla, California

“Probabilistic Knowledge in Human Language Comprehension and Production”

Monday, February 4

[Thanks to Ted Gibson]


Syntax/Semantics Job Talks  

Here are the five job talks for our open syntax/semantics position:

  • Feb 6: Keir Moulton
  • Feb 11: Doris Penka
  • Feb 21: Thomas McFadden
  • Feb 25: Alexander Williams
  • Mar 3: Martin Hackl

The first of these is this Wednesday at 3:00pm:

Keir Moulton: “Introducing Clausal Complements”
Wed Feb 6, 3pm, 32-D461


LF Reading Group Schedule?  

[Ben and Patrick write:]

We are currently working out the Spring 2008 schedule for the LF Reading Group. One possible option for a permanent slot (which we would strongly favor) seems to be to maintain last semester’s Monday 11:30am-1pm. Alternatives would be Wednesday afternoon (on days where there is no faculty meeting etc.), or slots after 5PM.

If you are interested in attending the LF Reading Group, please could you let us know by Friday (Feb.8) whether Monday 11:30am-1pm will not work for you?


LingLunch on Thursday 2/7  

Joan Mascaró Altimiras
“Phonologically (and syntactically and lexically) conditioned allomorphy.”

WHEN: Feb 7, 12:30-1:45
WHERE: 32-D461

Abstract is below.

The schedule of talks for the rest of the semester will be posted later this week at: http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/www/linglunch/

Hope to see you there!

Your ling-lunch organizers, Jen & Jessica


Phonologically conditioned allomorphy has been analyzed as an instance of The Emergence of The Unmarked (TETU). Allomorphs are listed in the lexicon with no contextual subcategorization, and the phonology chooses the allomorphs that yield a less marked structure, depending on the context in which they appear. I will analyze two specially difficult cases of phonologically conditioned allomorphy, Haitian definite suffix selection and Northeastern Central Catalan s-deletion.

In the first case allomorph selection seems to be governed by unnatural phonological conditions: the allomorph la appears after consonants, as in liv-la ‘book-the’, and the allomorph a appears after vowels, as in papa-a ‘father-the’. I will show that once we allow partial ordering allomorphs in the lexicon (ordering reflecting relative markedness), natural alignment conditions derive the right results.

The second case regards s-deletion. Here “deletion” is subject two three heterogenous conditions: a phonological condition (s must be final in a complex coda and followed by a consonant), a lexical condition (s must be the plural morph), and a syntactic condition (the lexical element ending in s must be prenominal). Thus in bon-s vin-s blanc-s franceso-s ‘good-pl wine-pl white-pl French-pl’, the plural marker in prenominal bon-s doesn’t appear, but plural markers in postnominal vin-s and blanc-s show up. Assume N is final within the DP and raising causes agreement with elements appearing to its right, but agreement with the rest takes place at PF. This forces postnominal agreement but leaves prenominal agreement subject to PF conditions. The bare root bon will be preferred to the number-inflected bon-s because it doesn’t violate the marked structure CsC even if it violates (PF) Concord. Other cases of prenominal-postnominal asymmetry will be briefly discussed.