The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 3rd, 2008

ECO5 Syntax Workshop - Mar. 8

The ECO5 Syntax Workshop will take place at UConn this Saturday, March 8. Patrick Grosz, Jeremy Hartman, and Guillaume Thomas are presenting talks there. A full schedule can be found at the conference website. If anybody would like to go and needs a ride, please contact Jessica Coon at jcoon@mit.edu .


Phonology circle: David Hill

This week’s phonology circle presentation will be by David Hill

Title: Matching minimalities: quantitative correspondence in Ancient Greek textsetting
Monday 5pm, 32-D831

This preliminary talk has three main ingredients: a new empirical finding, an observation, and a simple analytical concept. The finding is that in Ancient Greek vocal music, the mapping between syllable rime type and musical quantity (the number of grid positions occupied), already known to be tight, is too fine-grained to be captured by a binary L/H weight contrast, or even by a skeletal classification of rime structure (V, VC, VV, VVC), since not all VC rimes behave alike.

The observation, surprising at first, is that the meter of Greek song is demonstrably quantity-insensitive. Its currency is an abstract prominence alternation, which does not map directly to syllable weight. Quantity sensitivity emerges from the way that text, meter and time grid inter-correspond. The existence of a class of songs defined by a tempo specification—half time—from which L syllables are categorically barred, but which are nevertheless completely normal metrically and in text-to-time grid alignment, confirms that Greek song meters do not care about the weight of the rimes they align with. The fine-grained mapping mentioned above is therefore primarily a text-to-time grid phenomenon.

I use these phenomena to explore the viability of a notion of “(non-)minimality correspondence.” The rough idea is that there is a cross-modal notion of minimality defined in some domains, and that objects in those domains that correspond with each other are required to both be minimal or both be non-minimal according to the appropriate definition. I apply this notion to quantity in textsetting, using a cardinal definition of minimality for meter and the time grid and structural definitions of minimality in rimes and segments.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium - Bart Geurts - Mar. 7

Friday, Mar. 7, 3:30 PM

Bart Geurts
Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen

Piggyback Pronouns

Dynamic theories of discourse interpretation seek to describe and explain antecedent-anaphor relations with the help of discourse referents. In a dynamic framework, it is the function of indefinite expressions to introduce new discourse referents, whilst anaphoric expressions serve to reintroduce them. This approach has proved to be as fruitful as it is intuitive, but it is not without its problems. One of the main worries has been to account for what I call “piggyback anaphora” (examples by Karttunen):

(1) You must write a letter to your parents. It has to be sent by email.
(2) Harvey courts a girl at every convention. She always comes to the banquet with him.

The characteristic feature of this type of anaphora is that, intuitively speaking, the anaphoric link is enabled by the fact that the anaphor sits in the scope of an expression that quantifies over the same range of entities as the expression whose scope contains the intended antecedent. This is the guiding intuition underlying most accounts of the phenomenon, but although I agree that this is the right way to go, I also believe that these accounts are systematically flawed. The key to the problem, I argue, is that the anaphors in (1) and (2) also rely on bridging inferences. A theory based on this assumption is a great deal simpler than all of its predecessors, but it also raises issues that go to the heart of dynamic semantics.


LingLunch: Sverre Johnson

Come join us for this week’s Ling-lunch talk, to be presented by:

Sverre Johnsen
“Binding in complements of perception verbs”

WHEN: March 6, 12:30-1:45
WHERE: 32-D461


Norwegian is one of the most discussed languages in the literature on reflexive binding, with its system of simple and complex reflexives seg vs. seg sjøl. This talk will present new Norwegian data showing not only a previously unknown pattern in Norwegian for long-distance binding of seg, but also a generalization for long-distance binding that has not been reported in any language before. The data will reveal that the reflexive seg is exceptionally allowed in complement clauses only if the clause is the complement of a perception verb.

Across languages, perception verbs exhibit a special behavior in a different domain, namely in terms of tense dependency. In languages without the phenomenon known as sequence of tense, a past tense in the complement clause of another past tense verb only allows a past-shifted reading. This is the case in Russian and Hebrew. In the complement clause of a perception verb, on the other hand, a past tense has a preferred simultaneous reading, meaning that its temporal interpretation fully depends on the tense of the matrix verb. In languages where ‘sequence of tense’ generally exists, such as English and Norwegian, the tense in complements of perception verbs still behaves differently from other complements in that it shows a greater dependency on the matrix clause tense.

I will adopt the common view of tense dependency as being caused by structural syntactic binding of tense (Enç 1987). With the analysis of reflexive binding within the minimalist framework developed in several papers by Reuland, I will show that interclausal reflexive binding can be a natural fall-out of interclausal tense dependency.


von Fintel Trip to Ann Arbor

Kai will present joint work with Thony Gillies, “Must … Stay … Strong!” at a mini-workshop at the University of Michigan, this week, March 5—7. Chris Potts (UMass Amherst) and Craige Roberts (Ohio State) are the commentators.


Share Your News!

Whamit! is a few weeks old now. The editors are grateful that for the most part, talk and event announcements are put out ahead of the early Monday morning release of the week’s issue of Whamit! It would be great if that could be maintained and even institutionalized some more.

We would really like to encourage everyone, faculty and students, to share news about their professional lives via Whamit! Conference acceptances, successful defenses, colloquia trips, publications, etc. Please make Whamit! more interesting and useful to the community!


Job Visit: Martin Hackl

Martin Hackl will visit MIT on Monday and Tuesday, March 3 - 4.

Please plan to come to his talk:

Monday, March 3, 3 - 4:30pm
“Quantifiers in Object Position”


Quantifiers play a central role in syntax and semantics because they raise fundamental questions about the expressive power and the combinatorial processes found in natural language. A good portion of these questions are due to the fact that quantifiers don’t refer, yet they seem to combine freely (just like referring DPs) with expressions that describe n-place relations between individuals.

This talk compares three classes of approaches to this puzzle in terms of their implications for real time processing of quantifiers in extensional and intensional environments. I will argue, based on evidence from a series of sentence processing studies, for the view that quantifiers and referring expressions have different combinatorial properties and that the grammar employs syntactic mechanisms (e.g. Quantifier Raising) to maintain distributional uniformity of all DPs at surface structure rather than purely semantic mechanisms (e.g. Type-shifting).