The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 8th, 2008

LingWiki Exists

One of the best-kept secrets in the department is LingWiki, a collaborative repository of general information concerning life inside and outside the department, compiled by students. It’s chock full of useful tidbits, especially for those new to the department and/or the area. Please have a look. Also, if you’re a student, please help us by adding information.

Music and Language Reading Group

From Jonah Katz and David Pesetsky:

We are interested in starting a reading group based loosely around linguistics-inspired approaches to music cognition, especially structural approaches to music theory. The idea would be to start out by going through part or all of Lerdahl & Jackendoff’s Generative Theory of Tonal Music, a foundational text in this area. We would help ‘teach’ the book to some extent, because it’s dense and difficult, and we’ve both spent a lot of time with it.  After going through GTTM, we’d like to keep meeting. Some ideas are to look at more recent literature in this area or, ideally, to encourage people to start and discuss their own projects.We want the group to be accessible to anybody with a minimal background in playing/studying music. For instance: if you can’t transpose an orchestral score on sight, don’t worry!  But if you can’t read music at all, you’d probably need some remedial study — we’d need to assume that. If you can’t analyze chord progressions, fine; if you don’t know what a ‘chord’ is, this is probably not for you. Please let us know (e-mail jkatz and pesetsk) if you have any interest in participating in such a group this semester. Our impression is that there are lots of musical people in the department and increasing interest in this topic.

Jonah defends generals paper

Jonah Katz successfully defended his generals paper, “Romance and Restriction”, on Thursday. The paper concerns the descriptive dichotomy between ‘restrictive’ and ‘non-restrictive’ adjectives, in particular the way these properties interact with word order in Romance languages. The committee was Edward Flemming, Norvin Richards, and chair Kai von Fintel.


Ling-lunch is a forum to present work in progress for critique and discussion. It meets Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:45, and bagels/light snacks will be served. Please consider presenting if you have any kind of work in progress. If not, please come to discuss others’ work. So far, scheduled speakers this semester are:

Sept. 25: Marlies Kluck

Oct. 2: Conor Quinn

Oct. 9: Jonah Katz

Oct. 16: Ezra Keshet

Oct. 23: Patrick Grosz

Nov. 20: Peter Graff

Dec. 4: Vanja de Lint

There are many spots still available (including the coming two weeks). Please get in touch with Jonah Katz at jikatz@mit.edu if you’d like to sign up for a speaking slot.

9.601/24.949J new time/room

The new time and room for Graduate Language Acquisition 9.601/24.949J is:

Mondays 2 to 5


This was determined at first meeting, by all who were there. If you missed the first meeting, feel welcome to come to the next one, which will be this Monday, September 8, 2 PM.

Phonology Circle, 9/8/08, Adam Albright: Flapometry and palatography

Phonology Circle

Monday, September 8, 2008 at 5PM

Stata Center, 32-D831

Adam Albright (MIT)

Flapometry and palatography: An argument for surface identity between derived forms?


It is well-known that affixes may differ in the extent to which derived forms deviate from the realization of the base in isolation: suffixes like -ation attract stress, condition vowel changes, and aspiration (distíll ~ dìstillátion, provó[k]e ~ pròvo[kh]átion), while affixes like -ery do not (distíll ~ distíllery/*dìstilléry). Numerous mechanisms have been proposed to derive this difference, assigning affixes different morphological levels (Siegel 1970; Allen 1978; Pesetsky 1979; Kiparsky 1982), different syntactic structures (Marvin 2003), different prosodic structures (Raffelsiefen 1998), or different faithfulness conditions (Benua 1997). However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to affixes with mixed properties, such as attracting stress but not conditioning consonant alternations.

One such case, described by Bermúdez-Otero (2008), concerns learned affixes like -ómeter and -ógraphy. These affixes attract main stress (speedómeter), but unlike other stress-attracting affixes, they do not preserve final clusters of nasal + voiced stop: swi[?]ómeter/*swin[?g]ómeter. In this talk, I present data from American English showing that the phonological inconsistencies surrounding these affixes go well beyond nasal+stop clusters. For example, the suffix -ometer unexpectedly fails to condition aspiration (lea[p]ómeter/*lea[p?]ómeter) and does condition flapping (floa[?]ómeter*floa[t?]ómeter), much like a word boundary; yet unlike a word boundary, it blocks t-deletion (cou[nt]ómeter/*cou[n]ómeter). The suffix -ograph(y) similarly blocks aspiration for non-coronal stops (lea[p]ógraphy/*lea[p?]ógraphy), but for coronal stops, aspiration is preferred over flapping: floa[t?]ógraphy. For /nt/ clusters, where flapping is blocked, this results in a subtle aspiration contrast: curren[t]ómeter vs. curren[t?]ógraphry. These differences are a challenge for syntactic or prosodic accounts, which generally rely on a two-way distinction of presence or absence of a boundary or spell-out domain. They also pose a challenge for the stratal account, since they appear to require additional levels with no external motivation. I show that they follow straightforwardly from an account in which learners must learn different rankings of OO faithfulness for different affixes, based on the available set of data.

9.591 / 24.495: Language processing

9.591 / 24.495 Language processing: An introduction to the experimental investigation of language, above the word level

Instructors: Ted Gibson, Evelina Fedorenko

Location: 46-3015

Requirements: Students need to have either (a) a good experimental psychology background; or (b) a good linguistics background.

Currently scheduled: Mondays 2-5. We already know of some conflicts with students who would like to take this class. So we may re-schedule the class to 4-7 or 6-9 on Mondays, or possibly some other time slot, depending on the schedules of the students who want to take the class. Please send me or Ev email if you plan on taking the class for credit, and if so, please tell us your scheduling constraints.

This course has two goals: (1) to teach students about experimental design and basic results in language processing; and (2) to tutor students through the design and execution of an experiment of their choosing, in a language research area above the word level (e.g., syntax, semantics, pragmatics, discourse, working memory).

This is a project-oriented class. Because of the time needed to work on each project, registration is limited in this class to 10 people. If more than 10 people sign up, we will form groups so that the total number of projects does not exceed 10. We will meet with students individually (or in groups) early in the semester in order to decide on a topic area for an experiment to be run during the term. During the semester, students will design, run and analyze at least one psycholinguistic experiment. A paper presenting the study will be due at the end of the semester.

The course will meet once a week for three hours at a time. The lectures will survey some critical results from the field of sentence processing. Throughout the course we will emphasize quantitative methods for investigating language. We will also discuss how to design experimental materials to evaluate hypotheses (including basic statistics, using the language R) from all areas of language, controlling for factors not relevant to the hypothesis in question. Some later lectures will be devoted to discussing students’ experiments.

Students taking the course may come with their own hypotheses to evaluate. Alternatively, we have suggestions for projects in different areas of language. One requirement of any proposed experiment is feasibility. Consequently, most experiments will need to evaluate a question using English participants, because of the availability of this group locally. Proposed experiments on other languages are possible, but only if the experimenter can demonstrate feasibility of getting access to the relevant participant group during the term.

24.964 Topics in phonology: Mechanisms of morpho(phono)logical change

24.964 (Topics in phonology) meets Wed 12-3 this semester, in 32-D831.

The topic is: Mechanisms of morpho(phono)logical change

Description: The early days of generative phonology saw a flurry of work applying the tools of the new theory to the problem of characterizing language change (e.g., Kiparsky 1965, King 1969). More recent phonological and morphological frameworks have brought with them a range of new mechanisms and perspectives on why and how morphological and phonological systems might change, but on the whole, there has less of a concerted effort to link synchronic and diachronic analysis.

The purpose of this seminar is to explore the mechanisms that recent grammatical theories offer for explaining morphological and morphophonological change. We will review the contributions of early generative phonology to the study of language change, and then consider how more recent developments may change the predictions about likely changes. Along the way, of course, we will also need to consider the contribution of extra-grammatical factors, and the interplay of competence, performance, and learning in shaping morphological change.

Topics will include: (subject to substantial revision, according to needs or interests of participants)

  • Overregularization (lexical simplification); Grammar simplification
  • Phonological markedness, morphological markedness
  • Paradigm uniformity constraints
  • Implicational relations between forms
  • Informativeness and lexical distinctness; Antihomophony, morphological distinctness

MIT Libraries Faculty Book Delivery Pilot Project

[From the MIT Libraries site:]

Implemented in the fall of 2008, the Faculty Book Delivery Pilot Project offers faculty the opportunity to have books delivered to their offices upon request. The service takes 2-3 days, and is initiated using the “Your Account” feature in Barton. .

Basically, you order the book via Barton and it gets sent via campus mail. Together with the book drop on the ground floor of Stata, faculty may never have to set foot in the library again. No word yet on whether in a later phase graduate students could get this service as well.

Chomsky and Miyagawa on national Japanese TV

Noam Chomsky was featured on the nationally televized series, “Proposal for the Future (Mirai-e-no Teigen)” on the Japan Television Network (NHK BS) (August 30). He was interviewed by Shigeru Miyagawa on topics ranging from education to politics to linguistics. The program also featured Shigeru’s work with OpenCourseWare at MIT and in Japan. The program will be re-broadcast on September 7, 16:10-17:00.

2008-2009 MIT Linguistics Colloquia

2008-2009 MIT Linguistics Colloquium series:

9/19/08 - Jason Riggle (University of Chicago)
10/10/08 - Chris Kennedy (University of Chicago)
10/24/08 - Larry Hyman (UC Berkeley)
11/21/08 - Ora Matushansky (University of Paris VIII)
12/5/08 - Leston Buell (Leiden University Centre for Linguistics)
2/27/09 - T. Florian Jaeger (University of Rochester)
3/6/09 - Lisa Travis (McGill)
3/20/09 - Anna Szabolcsi (NYU)
4/3/09 - Jeroen van Craenenbroeck (KU Brussels)
4/17/09 - Sharon Rose (UCSD)
4/24/09 - Daniel Buring (UCLA)
5/1/09 - Philippe Schlenker (Institut Jean-Nicod)

24.946 Linguistic Theory and the Japanese Language T10-1 (4-144)

Linguistic Theory and the Japanese Language (24.946) will be taught on Tuesdays, 10 - 1, in 4-144. The tentative schedule is as follows. For a list of readings (more will be added), see the Stellar site:


Tentative syllabus

In this course we will explore some of the major topics studied in Japanese linguistics over the past 15 years or so. Each topic not only represents an important construction in Japanese, but its analysis has significant implications for linguistic universals.

September 9 Genitive Subjects
September 16 Floating Quantifers
September 23 Ditransitives, Nominalization
September 30 Scrambling/Focus/Agreement/EPP
October 7 Pro-drop and related matters, Ellipsis
October 14 Indeterminate Pronouns
October 21 TBA
October 28 Wh-questions
November 4 Causatives, Double-o Constraint
November 11 No Class, Veteran’s Day
November 18 TBA
November 25 Subject and object honorification
December 2 TBA
December 9 TBA