The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 10th, 2008

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group returns next week  

The Syntax-Semantics Reading Group will meet for the first time this semester on Monday 3/17 at 11.30AM in 36-112 for a talk by Ezra Keshet. In the same week, Andreas Haida (ZAS, Berlin) will give a talk on Wednesday (details TBA). An incomplete schedule for the rest of the semester can be found here. If you would like to give a talk or suggest a reading, please contact Jeremy, Luka or Tue.


Phonology circle this week  

Phonology circle this week will feature a presentation by Patrick Jones.
Title: “Accounting for Falling Tones in Kinande Infinitive Verbs”
Time: 5pm, 32-D831

In this talk, I will propose a novel analysis of Kinande infinitive tone that explains why (a) most infinitives receive penultimate high tones at the end of an utterance (/eri-hum-a/ → [erihúma] ‘to hit’), but some (passives, causatives, and forms with CV/VC roots) receive final falling tones (/eri-so-a/ → [eriswâ] ‘to grind’); and (b) H-toned consonant-initial roots surface with a high tone on the first vowel before the root (erítâ ‘to bury’), while H-toned vowel-initial roots surface with a falling tone on the first vowel of the root (eryôtâ ‘to bask’).

The principal elements of the analysis will be:

  1. Phrasal Tone Assignment (PTA) results from the interaction of
    • a) constraints on tonal alignment
    • b) constraints against effortful pitch movements
  2. Lexical Tone Assignment (LTA) results from the interaction of
    • a) faithfulness to underlying H and L pitch targets
    • b) constraints against effortful pitch movements
  3. Verbal roots commonly referred to as “H-toned” are better analyzed as roots containing an underlying pitch accent that falls from H to L.
  4. Both PTA and LTA make crucial reference a phonologically-defined Stem (the P-Stem) that is distinct from the morphologically-defined Stem (the M-Stem). The P-stem will be shown to be independently required in order to account for reduplication facts and alternations involving the purposive suffix –irir.

Linguistics Colloquium: Roumyana Pancheva  

Roumyana Pancheva

“One -er, (sort of) two thans”

March 14th, 2008, 3:30pm

Room 32-141

There will be a party in Roumi’s honor beginning at 6:30pm at Sabine’s place.


The syntax of comparatives shows a fair amount of variability cross-linguistically, but there are also patterns that call for an explanation. A number of languages have phrasal comparatives like the English ‘Mary is taller than me’. The syntactic behavior of the nominal following ‘than’ appears to support a direct analysis of these comparatives, with a degree operator ‘-er’ selecting an individual-denoting PP argument. Such an analysis, however, comes at a cost. The phrasal ‘-er’ has to be different from the ‘-er’ in clausal comparatives (‘Mary is taller than I am’), but languages do not seem to distinguish morphologically between two ‘-ers’. ‘Than’ is required to be semantically empty, yet its counterparts are commonly drawn from among certain spatial prepositions. In this talk, I suggest that the lexical inventory of comparative operators is limited to a single ‘-er’, whose arguments are predicates of degrees. ‘Than’ and its counterparts are partitive prepositions. Like partitive ‘of’ (‘a liter of the water’) and pseudo-partitive ‘of’ (‘a liter of water’), ‘than’ may have a definite description of degrees or a predicate of degrees as a complement. Clausal comparatives may instantiate both partitive types, depending on the nature of the ‘wh-’ degree operator in the ‘than’-clause. Phrasal comparatives may be derived from clauses that lack the CP layer and the ‘wh-’ degree operator residing there; consequently, such small clauses are interpreted as predicates of degrees, complements to pseudo-partitive ‘than’. Ultimately, the syntax of comparatives turns out to be rather tightly constrained, and to show cross-domain parallels.


LingLunch by Conor Quinn  

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

Conor Quinn
“Applicative and antipassive: Algonquian transitive “stem-agreement” as differential object marking”

WHEN: March 13, 12:30-1:45
WHERE: 32-D461


Kai von Fintel named Associate Dean of SHASS  

Congratulations to Kai von Fintel, who has been named Associate Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. He assumes his new role immediately.