The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 17th, 2008

Phonology Circle: Nabila Louriz

This week’s Phonology Circle presentation will be by Nabila Louriz
Title: He Loves Me… He Loves Me Not: Irregularities in nasal vowel adaptation in Moroccan Arabic
Time: Mon Mar 17, 5pm, 32-D831

The aim of this talk is to analyse the repair strategies of nasal vowels in French loanwords in Moroccan Arabic. The claim has been that in languages that lack phonemic nasal vowels, the latter is repaired as a sequence of oral vowel + nasal consonant (VN, henceforth). That is the nasal vowel undergoes the process of “unpacking” and is adapted as VN (Paradis & Lacharite 1996, Paradis and Prunet 2000, Rose 1999, to name but a few). Paradis and Lacharite (1996) introduce evidence from French loans in Fula, Kinyarwanda, and Moroccan Arabic to show that the nasal vowel is “universally” adapted as a sequence of VN as long as the requirement of the Theory of Constraints and Repair Strategies (1986) (TCRS, hereafter) are met, namely the Threshold Principle. Subsequently, Rose (1999) introduced a structural account of Root node deletion/preservation to explain nasal adaptation, presenting evidence from Fula and Kenyarwanda. He basically claims that the nasal part of the nasal vowel (which is the result of unpacking) is preserved when there is an available licenser, and deleted only when there is none. I will bring these two approaches together to account for the adaptation of nasal vowels in French loanwords in Moroccan Arabic. The latter does not seem to adopt one strategy to “fix” the ill formed segments. Consider the following examples:

MA French Gloss
gufəl Gonfler Swell
klakson klaxon Horn
kwansa coincer To block
zbiktur inspecteur Inspector
kofra Coup-franc Out-of-boards
Fran frein Brake

It seems that there is no uniform for adapting nasal vowels in Moroccan Arabic. It is repaired is as (i) VN , (ii) V (iii) or deleted altogether. Maybe that is what drives some researcher to blame it on “complicating analogical factors” (Paradis & Prunet, 2000), or morphological factors (Heath, 1989). I shall present an analysis that cam account for the different strategies manifested in the examples above, namely, one that incorporates both phonology and phonetics. I will discuss how phonology and phonetics interact in accounting for the asymmetry manifested in the loanwords data.

Cog Lunch: Steve Piantadosi

Speaker: Steve Piantadosi
Affiliation: TedLab
Time: 3/18/08 at 12PM
Room: 46-3310
Lunch: Beauty’s Pizza
Title: A Bayesian model of compositional semantics acquisition

We present an unsupervised, cross-situational Bayesian learning model for the acquisition of compositional semantics. We show that the model acquires the correct grammar for a toy version of English using a psychologically-plausible amount of data, over a wide range of possible learning environments. By assuming that speakers typically produce sentences which are true in the world, the model learns the semantic representation of content and function words, using only positive evidence in the form of sentences and world contexts. We argue that the model can adequately solve both the problem of referential uncertainty and the subset problem in this domain, and show that the model makes mistakes analogous to those made by children.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group returns!

This week marks the return of the Syntax-Semantics reading group, featuring a double-header, with talks on both Monday and Wednesday. To stay on top of announcements concerning titles, times, and locations, check out the website

MONDAY March 17, 11:30am-1pm, 36-112
Ezra Keshet will give a a short poster presentation on situation variables (click for abstract) as well as a talk about his recent work.

WEDNESDAY March 19, 5:15, 32-D461 (time and location provisional)
Andreas Haida (ZAS, Berlin).
Title: The Semantics of Successive-Cyclic Wh-Movement


The preliminary program of talks for WCCFL 27 at UCLA (May 16-18) has been posted, and MIT promises to be well represented! Accepted talks or posters by current or recent MIT affiliates include:

Current MIT graduate students:

  • Franz Cozier: Encoding perceived contrast between CC-clusters & simplified counterparts in coda CC simplification
  • Jessica Coon: When Ergative = Genitive: Nominals and Split Ergativity
  • Maria Giavazzi: On the distribution of velar palatalization in Italian
  • Guillaume Thomas: An analysis of the Xiamen Tone Circle
  • Gillian Gallagher: Identity and laryngeal features
  • Claire Halpert: Overlap-Driven Consequences of Nasal Place Assimilation in Zulu
  • Jeremy Hartman: Dwarf-class verbs, Theta-theory, and Argument Linking
  • Ezra Keshet: Only the Strong: Restricting Situation Variables Jason Varvoutis: Verification Procedures for Modified Numeral Quantifiers (with Jorie Koster-Moeller and Martin Hackl)

MIT faculty:

  • Adam Albright: Chaotic evolution in an unbiased learner

Recent alums:

  • Liina Pylkännen (plenary speaker, Saturday)
  • Marta Abrusan: An interval-based semantics for degree questions: negative islands and their obviation (with Benjamin Spector)
  • Heejeong Ko: Economy in rightward movement: moving into inner edge (with Jae-Young Choi)
  • Martin Hackl: Verification Procedures for Modified Numeral Quantifiers (with Jorie Koster-Moeller and Jason Varvoutis); D-Raising in Restrictive Relative Clauses (with Jorie Koster-Moeller)
  • Jon Nissenbaum: The scope of too with gapped infinitival clauses (with Bernhard Schwarz)
  • Tania Ionin (BCS PhD): An experimental investigation of the semantics and pragmatics of specificity
  • Christina Kim (2003 S.B, linguistics minor): Information integration and domain restriction: Interpreting ‘only’ in context (with Christine Gunlogson, Michael Tanenhaus and Jeffrey Runner)

Recent or current visitors:

  • Bartosz Wiland: Circumstantial Evidence for Syntactic Head Movement
  • Chiyuki Ito: Analogical Changes in the Accent of Sino-Korean Words in Yanbian Korean

[Thanks to David Pesetsky]

LingLunch: Enoch Aboh

E. O. Aboh
University of Amsterdam/MIT
“Multiple copies and parallel chains”

WHEN: March 20, 12:30-1:45
WHERE: 32-D461


This paper discusses predicate fronting with doubling cross-linguistically and demonstrates that it is an instance of parallel chains in the sense of Chomsky (2005). Under this analysis, what superficially looks like a spell out of multiple copies within a single uniform chain turns out to be the expression of two simultaneous chains of which the heads only are spelled out. The analysis extends to subject intrusion in Dutch, as discussed in Barbiers and van Koppen (2006), and to auxiliary doubling in English child language.

Aardvark Concert

Experience Jay Keyser and The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra in Concert!

Big Band Panorama: Jazz from the 1920s to the 21st Century
Tuesday, March 18, 2008 at 7:30 pm
Bentley College, Koumantzelis Auditorium in Lindsay Hall
175 Forest Street, Waltham, MA
Tickets: $7
Directions: http://www.bentley.edu/directions/

Lush sonorities and a saxophonic blend worthy of Duke’s finest reed sections (Jazz Times)

Awe-inspiring audience fascination (Downbeat)

“the soloists all play with passion and conviction … captivating … highly recommended” (Jazz Improv)

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, nominated for best jazz artist in the 2008 Boston Phoenix/FNX Best Music Poll, continues its 35th season with a wide-ranging concert tracing the history of jazz from the 1920s to the present. The band will explore changes in style, sound and substance as the jazz big band evolved, evoking echoes of the Swing Era, Kansas City, New Orleans, and West Coast jazz, while also sampling recent works by Aardvark music director Mark Harvey. Selections will include Scratchin’ in the Gravel, a classic by Mary Lou Williams; Walkin’ Shoes, also a classic, by Gerry Mulligan (for the Stan Kenton Orchestra); Solitude and The Mooche by Duke Ellington; and Sent for You Yesterday, a staple of the Count Basie Orchestra. Mark Harvey’s pieces will include NOLA, a tribute to New Orleans, and Spanish Mood, inspired by Gil Evans’ celebrated Sketches of Spain that featured Miles Davis.

The Aardvark Jazz Orchestra is known for its exhilarating concerts spanning the jazz spectrum, from the music of Ellington and other jazz greats to original works by founder/music director Mark Harvey, to performances with film, dance, and poetry. Winner of the 2000 Independent Music Awards, the band has premiered more than 100 works for jazz orchestra and has released 9 CDs (Leo Records, 9Winds, other labels) to international critical acclaim.