The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 6th, 2008

Use the phonetics lab? Sign up for the mailing list!  

This is a periodic reminder that if you ever use the phonetics lab space or equipment, you should subscribe to the phonlab e-mail list: (it’s extremely low volume)


In addition, if you are not sure about the correct way to do something in the lab, please just ask someone who knows. (This includes signing up for times to reserve the booth, recording to a file, adjusting the levels or switch mics, adjusting the fitting of the head-mounted microphone, and so on). Finally, if you know of others who use the lab but who might not be on one of the ling lists, such as RA’s/UROPs, class participants, and so on, please forward this to them, and be sure they know where to look for instructions/training, and who to go to for help.


LF Reading Group - Wed 10/8 at 3pm  

In preparation for Chris Kennedy’s colloquium, LF Reading Group will discuss two of his papers this week: Vagueness and Grammar (L&P, 2007) and Modes of Comparison (CLS, 2008). Reading the papers is not a prerequisite to attend. See you on Wednesday at 3PM in 26-310.


MathMod II/1 this Thursday 5pm, 32-D831  

Last year we started a research group studying experimental and quantitative methods in the investigation of linguistic theory. Due to popular demand we will continue our meetings this year.

The format of the group will be similar to Phonology Circle/LF Reading group and other seminars. Participants can propose sessions which should fall roughly into one of three categories:

  1. You have recently run an experiment and would like to discuss ways in which to analyze and/or make sense of your data.
  2. You have a particular project and would like to talk about ways in which to experimentally test your hypotheses.
  3. You stumbled upon a particular experimental or statistical method and would like to learn what it’s all about.

MathMod meets biweekly on Thursdays at 5pm in 32-D831. For details and information, please contact Peter Graff.


Phonology Circle 10/8 - Anthi Revithiadou  

This week’s installment of Phonology Circle features a talk by Anthi Revithiadou

Title: Recessive accentuation in Ancient Greek revisited
Time: Wednesday 10/8, 5PM, 32D831

The issue of accent assignment in Ancient Greek (AGr, 7th c. BC — 3rd c. BC) has been a favorite topic of investigation both in generative (Kiparsky 1967, 1973, 2000, Kiparsky & Halle 1977, Steriade 1982, 1988, Golston 1989, a.o.) as well as in pre-generative phonology (Lejeune 1945, Vendryes 1945, Allen 1966, 1973, Devine and Stephens 1974, 1995, a.o.). AGr was a pitch-accent system which inherited its accents from Proto-Indo-European but also developed certain innovations that distinguish it from other IE accentual systems. More specifically, a cluster of changes took place in Proto-Greek (late 3rd millennium BC) which involved, among other things, the development of recessive accentuation, that is, the limitation of the accent on the last three syllables of the word (1).

(1)Attic (Bubenik 1983: 153)
a. pherómenos < pherómenos Proto-Greek
< *phéromen-o-s 'carried-MASC.NOM.SG'
b. ánthroopos 'man-NOM.SG'
c. patrída 'homeland-ACC.SG'
d. agorá 'market-NOM.SG'

What adds to the complexity of the system, however, is that weight distinctions, confined mainly to the right edge of the word, caused accent to shift if it was too distanced (i.e. more than three moras) from the edge of the word (2).

(2) a. pheroménoo 'carried-MASC.GEN.SG'
b. anthróopou 'man-GEN.SG'

Previous accounts exploit a variety of analytical tools to account for the window and the restricted weight effects. In this talk, I will propose that a more efficient and straightforward analysis of the AGr facts can be made if we implement insights from a representational model that segregates metrical from prosodic structure (Hyde 2001, 2006). Moreover, I will propose that the same theory can also account for the intricate patterns of clitic accentuation:

(3)a. ánthroopós tinos 'someone's man'
óikós tinos 'someone?s house'
b. phílos tinós 'someone?s friend'
phóiniks tinós 'someone?s phoenix'
daímoon tino?s 'someone?s god'


Ling-Lunch 10/9 - Jonah Katz  

Please join us for this week’s Ling-lunch:

Jonah Katz & Lisa Selkirk
“Focus, phonetic scaling, and prosodic prominence”
Thursday, Oct. 9
12:30 - 1:45

In this paper we bring new experimental data to bear on three theoretical issues of current concern in the literature on focus and prosody. The first concerns the notion of focus itself. The second concerns the nature of phonetic scaling in sentences with focus constituents. And the third concerns the question whether there is a phonological representation of focus in terms of prosodic stress prominence.

The experiment reported on in this paper involves a paradigm comparing the prosody of broad focus all-new sentences with a novel class of sentences that contain a combination of discourse-new constituents and (putative) cases of Focus in English; these involve pitch-accented, prosodic phrase-final sequences of New-New vs. Focus-New vs. New-Focus constituents. We call the latter mixed focus sentences. Such an experimental paradigm permits the phonetic properties of New and Focus constituents to be examined in identical surrounding contexts, and so overcomes the drawbacks faced by classical comparisons of New in all-new broad focus sentences and (putative) Focus in narrow focus sentences, where the Focus is surrounded by discourse-given material. One finding of this experiment is that, in between sentence comparisons, Focus constituents do indeed show greater phonetic prominence than corresponding New constituents in identical contexts; in so doing, they provide important phonetic support for the hypothesis that a grammatical category Focus must be distinguished from discourse-new in the theory of grammar (contra Selkirk 1984, 1995, for example).


Linguistics Colloquium: Chris Kennedy  

Chris Kennedy (University of Chicago)

“Vagueness and Comparison”

Friday, October 10th, 2008, 3:30pm

Room 32-141

There will be a party in honor of Chris, beginning at 6:30pm, at
Gillian and Omer’s place.


Vagueness and comparison are linked together in a number of different ways, both empirically and analytically. Vague predicates typically support comparison (though not all predicates that support comparison are vague); some notion of comparison or similarity plays an important role in many accounts of vagueness; and several influential semantic analyses of (grammaticized) comparative constructions are based on prior semantic analyses of vagueness. However, despite (or maybe because of) these connections, the subtlety and significance of the places where vagueness and comparison do not line up have not been fully appreciated, either by philosophers or linguists. The goal of this talk is to examine such cases and discuss their significance. I will take a close look at the semantic and pragmatic properties of several different ways of expressing comparison, and show that some of them preserve canonical features of vagueness while some of them do not. I will then discuss the implications of the facts for the analysis of vagueness, for the semantics of comparison, and for our understanding of the ways that natural languages do and do not differ in encoding these concepts.


Oxford Handbook of Japanese Linguistics  

The Oxford Handbook of Japanese Linguistics has just been published by the Oxford University Press. Edited by Shigeru Miyagawa and Saito Mamoru, contributors associated with MIT include Heidi Harley (Causatives), Masa Koizumi (Nominative objects), Norvin Richards (Wh-questions), and Akira Watanabe (The structure of the DP).


Claire to present at Yale conference  

Claire Halpert is at Yale this week, presenting a paper on South African Kwaito music at the conference Language in African Performing and Visual Arts.


SNEWS — Conference announcement and call for papers  

UMass is hosting SNEWS (‘Southern New England Workshop in Semantics’) this year. This is an informal, one-day workshop where students can present their ongoing work in Semantics. A semi-functional website is up at:


The organizers are considering the following dates for this year SNEWS:

October 25
November 1
November 15

The MIT contact person is Giorgio (gmagri@mit.edu). Let him know if you would like to present or if you would like to attend but have a conflict with any of the dates above.