The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 1st, 2008

Miyagawa @ Harvard Linguistics Theory Group - Tues 12/2 6pm

This week Shigeru Miyagawa will speak at the Harvard Linguistics Theory Group

Title: Why Agree? Why Move? Unifying Agreement-based and Discourse-configurational Languages
Time: December 2nd, Tuesday
Location: Boylston Hall Room 303; 6 p.m.

Why do we find agreement in human language? And why is there movement? I will propose a unified answer to these questions based on a specific design for human language that we have assumed in generative grammar since the early 1980s — in GB, LFG, MP and others. What I will show is that agreement must be a universal phenomenon, occurring in every language, and with it, movement. This is obviously a more abstract notion of agreement than phi-feature agreement since many languages lack such agreement. I will show that informational structural features such as topic and focus play a role in “agreementless” languages that is computationally equivalent to phi-features. That is, topic/focus and phi-feature agreement are two sides of the same coin, both there to implement “agreement” and “movement” within exactly the same mechanism.

Language @MIT 12/3 - Regina Barzilay

The Language @MIT series returns this week, featuring a talk by Regina Barzilay.

Title: Learning to Model Text Structure
Speaker: Regina Barzilay, CSAIL
When: Wednesday Dec 3, 3-4:30pm
Where: 26-310

Discourse models capture relations across different sentences in a document. These models are crucial in applications where it is important to generate coherent text. Traditionally, rule-based approaches have been predominant in discourse research. However, these models are hard to incorporate as-is in modern systems: they rely on handcrafted rules, valid only for limited domains, with no guarantee of scalability or portability.

In this talk, I will present discourse models that can be effectively learned from a collection of unannotated texts. The key premise of our work is that the distribution of entities in coherent texts exhibits certain regularities. The models I will be presenting operate over an automatically-computed representation that reflects distributional, syntactic, and referential information about discourse entities. This representation allows us to induce the properties of coherent texts from a given corpus, without recourse to manual annotation or a predefined knowledge base. To conclude my talk, I will show how these models can be effectively integrated in statistical generation and summarization systems.

This is joint work with Mirella Lapata and Lillian Lee.

Phonology Circle 12/3: Jen Michaels

Phonology circle this week features a presentation by Jen Michaels.

Title: Summing Up Constraint Interaction: Chain Shifts in a Split Additive Model
Time: Wed 12/3, 5pm, 32-D831

Ling-Lunch 12/4 - Peter Graff

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

Peter Graff
“The Culture-Phonology Interface: Implications of Laboratory Sociophonetics for Phonological Theory”
Thursday, Dec. 4
Room 32-D461

In this talk we will address the impact of social factors on phonological generalizations. The notion of a social variable in speech will be defined. An overview of laboratory and corpus-based studies of the interaction of phonetic variation and different social variables will be provided. Common factors of categories affected by sociophonetic variation and possible causes for sociophonetic variation will be identified. Cross-linguistic evidence for high-level phonological alternations interacting with social factors will be presented and possible models will be discussed.

In the second part of the talk we report on research probing selective imitation in the laboratory, comparing male and female subjects’ imitation of male and female talkers. We also compare male and female subjects’ imitation of the same stimuli when they are phonetically ambiguous but labeled as “Michael” or “Jessica” to shed light on the question of whether socially motivated phonetic imitation is conditioned by acoustic or cultural factors.

Ling Colloquium 12/5 - Leston Buell

Speaker: Leston Buell (Leiden University Centre for Linguistics)
Title: Purpose WHY in vP, reason WHY in CP: evidence from Zulu

Time: Friday, December 5th, 2008, 3:30pm
Place: Room 32-141

There are two postverbal strategies for asking ‘why’ in Zulu. The first is the purpose applicative question, which is akin to English what for questions. This is in a sense a bipartite strategy, exhibiting a wh enclitic (-ni ‘what’) and a applicative verbal affix that licenses it. The second strategy uses the word ngani ‘why’ and is used only to question the reason of a negative clause. While in both cases the wh element is postverbal, it is argued to be in very different syntactic positions in the two cases. The enclitic -ni ‘what’ of the purpose applicative is shown to be below the inflectional domain, while ngani of a reason question is in the complementiser domain.

In these questions, several types of evidence show that purpose WHY is below the inflectional domain in Zulu, including the distribution of conjoint and disjoint verb forms and the point of attachment of the applicative morpheme. Furthermore, purpose questions are shown to exhibit transparency effects, in the sense that within a “restructuring domain”, both parts of this question (the particle -ni ‘what’ and the applicative verbal affix that licenses it) attach to the lower verb but are interpreted on the upper verb. Beginning with Rizzi’s (1999) analysis of Italian, it has been claimed for a growing number of languages that, unlike other wh phrases, reason WHY is introduced in the complementiser field rather than moving there from a position below the inflectional domain. In all of the languages for which such an analysis has been proposed, the ‘why’ word appears in some left-peripheral or otherwise preverbal position. Zulu ngani ‘why’ is argued to need a similar analysis, even though it appears in postverbal position. Arguments for the analysis are made on the basis of the distribution of conjoint and disjoint verb forms, interactions between WHY and negation, the absence of transparency effects, and previous analyses of Zulu’s elocutionary force particles yini and na. Specifically, ngani is argued to be an Int0 head (a head in the complementiser domain), around which the IP must move. It is suggested that reason WHY (as opposed to purpose WHY) is universally introduced above negation.

Sat 12/6: Birthday Festshop in Honor of Angelika Kratzer

On Saturday, December 6th, 2008, Angelika Kratzer’s PhD students (current and former) will gather at MIT for a workshop in her honor. Anybody is welcome to come and listen to the talks (and partake of the refreshments). Location is the Linguistics & Philosophy seminar room, a.k.a. the Star Chamber, 32-D461.