The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 14th, 2008

Phonology circle 4/14: Joan Mascaró

This week’s phonology circle presentation will be by Joan Mascaró
Title: A prosodic analysis of stress-dependent harmony
Time: Mon Apr 14 5pm, 32-D831

In some harmonic systems the trigger or the target must be a stressed vowel. These systems have been analyzed as limited by a prosodic domain, the stress foot, but more recently as long-distance assimilation of the stressed vowel to an unstressed vowel (Walker 2005, 2006), grounded on the need of “weak trigger” positions to realize their feature content on prominent positions. I will examine the evidence presented in favor of a weak trigger analysis and discuss additional evidence that suggests that a prosodic account should be preferred.

Guide to funding opportunities

Stanford keeps a comprehensive list of funding opportunities available to linguistics grad students. Have a look.

[Thanks Hrayr!]


ELF Grants - Deadline April 21st

The Endangered Language Fund provides grants for ‘language maintenance and linguistic field work’. The deadline to apply for this year is Monday, April 21st. More information is available on the ELF’s website.

[Thanks Jessica!]


Preminger to speak at CUNY - 4/15

This Tuesday (4/15), Omer Preminger is off to give a talk at the CUNY Syntax Supper, on the topic of “Breaking Agreements: Distinguishing Agreement and Clitic-Doubling by Their Failures”


Early Notice - NSF ‘Documenting Endangered Languages’ Program

This one doesn’t have a deadline until November, but it looks like a rather involved application process, with potentially great rewards. The NSF, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities, is offering sizable grants and fellowships to support work on endangered languages. Details can be found here.

[Thanks Jessica!]


LingLunch: Robert Ladd

Robert Ladd
University of Edinburgh
“Correlations between Interpopulation Differences in Two Human Genes (ASPM and Microcephalin) and the Distribution of Lexical and/or Grammatical Tone.”

WHEN: April 17, 12:30-1:45
WHERE: 32-D461


We consider the relation between allele frequencies and linguistic typological features. Specifically, we focus on the derived haplogroups of the brain growth and development-related genes ASPM and Microcephalin, which show signs of natural selection and a marked geographic structure, and on linguistic tone, the use of voice pitch to convey lexical or grammatical distinctions. We hypothesize that there is a relationship between the population frequency of these two alleles and the presence of linguistic tone and test this hypothesis relative to a large database (983 alleles and 26 linguistic features in 49 populations), showing that it is not due to the usual explanatory factors represented by geography and history. The relationship between genetic and linguistic diversity in this case may be causal: certain alleles can bias language acquisition or processing and thereby influence the trajectory of language change through iterated cultural transmission.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium - Henk van Riemsdijk - April 18th

Friday, Apr. 18, 3:30 PM

Henk van Riemsdijk
Tilburg University

“Parameterizing Laws of Nature: Some Thoughts on Identity Avoidance”

In earlier work (Van Riemsdijk, 1989), I had argued that headed relatives in Swiss German do not involve wh-movement. Instead there is an invariable relative complementizer wo and regular pronominals are used as resumptive pronouns. These pronouns tend to be clitic-like, and as such they can be adjoined to the C°-position. And if that C°-position is the one adjacent to the head of the relative clause, then a configuration of local licensing for deletion is obtained. One major question arising from this state of affairs is that deletion is absolutely obligatory in the sense that clitic movement, normally optional, must apply here to feed deletion. This was handled in Van Riemsdijk (1989) by means of a global version of the Avoid Pronoun Principle.

Two other major problems had been largely ignored in my earlier work. First, the resumptive pronoun is not obligatory as such. In fact, part-whole relations will suffice to establish a semantic connection between the head of the relative clause and the relative clause itself. In this sense, Swiss relatives are quite similar to English such that relatives like ‘a triangle such that the sum of the squares of the two shorter sides equals the square of the longest side’. The question then arises whether there is any reason (presumably syntactic and not semantic) to assume that some covert correlative element is involved in such cases.

Second, there is one other situation (in addition to the deleted clitic) in which a gap is found. This is when the correlative element is a locative. The overt locative wh-word is wo, that is, it is identical to the relative complementizer. The relation between the locative gap and the head of the relative clause is characterized by the usual movement diagnostics. We must conclude therefore that wh-movement is involved in this case. Predetermining the choice of the strategy (wh-movement, resumptive pronoun, mere semantic aboutness) in the derivation of Swiss German headed relative clauses thereby becomes a serious problem. What seems to be going on, quite patently, is that wo when moved to Spec,CP, can then be deleted in a process of haplology, a kind of OCP-effect in syntax, cf. Van Riemsdijk (1998). Thereby we have established a situation rather reminiscent of the generalization concerning clitic resumptive pronouns: wo must move in order to be deleted.

I will also argue that the aboutness cases that apparently lack a correlative element altogether actually involve a locative (wo) expletive adjunct that also moves only to be deleted. It appears, then, that annihilation of the correlative element is the true generalization underlying the analysis of headed relatives in Swiss German. The major principle forcing deletion is the Doubly Filled COMP Filter, which can also be interpreted as a principle that avoids (relative) identity. I will conclude with a discussion of the possible status of such a general principle of ‘identity avoidance’ as a general principle of design that is at work in (among others) grammar.