The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 2nd, 2009

No Ling Lunch this week

Ling Lunch will resume its weekly installments on Thursday, Mar 19.


Talk 3/3 5:30pm - Asaf Bachrach

Speaker: Asaf Bachrach
Title: Syntactic Sharing and Semantic Interpretation
Time: 5:30-7pm, 32-D831

In recent minimalist literature, transformations (Move) have been re-conceptualized as iterative applications of the basic syntactic operation Merge. We will begin by adapting Heim and Kratzer’s (1998) semantic treatment of movement in light of this new state of affairs. We will then propose a generalization of the movement interpretation rule that can handle cases of multidominance other than the canonical movement configuration. Finally we will propose a modified and generalized Predicate Composition and Modification rule which will also depend on syntactic sharing. These new rules will provide an original insight into a number of well known syntactic and semantic puzzles such as extraposition, ECM, object control, small clauses and complex causative constructions.

(Work in progress with Roni Katzir)



“Nominal Voices”, a paper co-authored by Tali Siloni and MIT third-year student Omer Preminger, has just appeared in the volume Quantification, Definiteness, and Nominalization, edited by Anastasia Giannakidou and Monika Rathert and published by Oxford University Press.

Second-year student Jeremy Hartman’s paper “The semantic effects of non-A-bar traces: evidence from ellipsis parallelism” has been accepted for presentation at the conference Semantics and Linguistic Theory (a.k.a. SALT) at Ohio State.

A paper by second-year graduate student Pritty Patel, third-year student Patrick Grosz, Ted Gibson and Evelina Fedorenko entitled “Experimental evidence against a strict version of the Formal Link Condition on E-Type Pronouns” has been accepted as a poster presentation at the 2009 CUNY Conference on Sentence Processing


LF Reading Group Wed 3/4: Guillaume Thomas

Guillaume Thomas will give a talk titled “Against the use of counterpart functions in the analysis of proxy counterfactuals” on Wednesday at 3:00 PM in room 34-303. We hope to see you there! More information, including a tentative schedule for the semester, can be found on the LF Reading Group’s webpage.


Raj Singh to Carleton University

Raj Singh (MIT linguistics PhD 2008, currently postdoc in Brain & Cognitive Science at MIT) has accepted an assistant professorship at the Institute of Cognitive Science at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. Congratulations, Raj!


SNEWS Planning

SNEWS (“Southern New England Workshop in Semantics”) will be held in Amherst this coming spring. It is an informal workshop where students can present their ongoing work. This year MIT contact person for SNEWS is Patrick (grosz@mit.edu). If you are interested in presenting/participating at this coming SNEWS, please let Patrick know. Also, let him know if you have a (dis)preference for any of the following dates when SNEWS might be held: March 28; April 11; April 25; May 2.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium - 3/6 - Lisa Travis

Speaker: Lisa Travis (McGill University)
Time: Friday, March 6th, 2009, 3:30pm
Place: 32-141

The Malagasy cleft: what and why

There are two goals of this talk. One is to discuss the particular characteristics of a certain construction in Malagasy that is used both for focus and for wh-questions. The second goal is to investigate the different ways one can go about creating an analysis for a construction that, on the surface, can look similar to an English construction but in a language that is otherwise quite different from English. Malagasy has a construction, sometimes called a no-[nu]-construction, named for the no particle that it contains. It has the following format where the pre-no material encodes new information.

Rasoa no mividy ny vary
Rasoa no pres.at.buy det rice
‘It is Rasoa who buys the rice.’

Many papers have been written on the Malagasy no construction since Keenan’s (1976) seminal paper (e.g. Law 2005, Paul 2001, Pearson 2006, Potsdam 2004), but the exact nature of the construction is still being debated. Much of the controversy has centred around three issues.

(i) the nature of the [no XP] (clause or DP?),
(ii) the nature of no (Det, Focus head, or Comp?), and
(iii) the relation between the pre-no constituent and the following material (movement, predication, or something else?).

In this talk I revisit these issues and bring new data into the discussion arguing in the end that (i) the [no XP] is nominal, (ii) no is in Det, and (iii) the pre-no constituent has not moved from the [no XP].

While the details of the analysis are partly driven by the data, they are also partly driven by the inherent nature of Malagasy within a language typology delineated by a movement typology. I have argued elsewhere (Travis 2005, 2006) that languages differ as to whether a feature triggers XP or X0 movement. In a language like English (or Italian), a V feature triggers X0 movement while a D feature triggers XP movement, and in a language like Malagasy, the reverse is true (there is VP and D0 movement). Given that Malagasy differs fundamentally from English, we might expect that a surface similar construction would have a fundamentally different analysis.

Keenan, Edward L. 1976. Remarkable Subjects in Malagasy. In Subject and Topic, ed. Charles Li, 249-301. New York: Academic Press.
Law, Paul. 2005. Questions and clefts in Malagasy. In Proceedings of Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association, eds. Jeffrey Heinz and Dimitris Ntelitheos, 195-209. UCLA Working Papers in Linguistics.
Paul, Ileana. 2001. Concealed pseudo-clefts. Lingua 111:707-727.
Pearson, Matt. 2006. What’s No? Clause linking in Malagasy. San Diego: Workshop on Comparative Austronesian Syntax.
Potsdam, Eric. 2004. Wh-questions in Malagasy. In Proceedings of the 11th Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association ed. Paul Law, 244-258. ZAS Working Papers in Linguistics.
Travis, Lisa deMena. 2005. VP, D0 movement languages. In Negation, Tense and Clausal Architecture: Cross-linguistic Investigations, eds. Raffaella Zanuttini, Héctor Campos, Elena Herburger and Paul Portner. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.
Travis, Lisa deMena. 2006. Voice Morphology in Malagasy as Clitic Left Dislocation or Malagasy in Wonderland: through the looking glass. In Clause structure and adjuncts in Austronesian languages, eds. Hans-Martin Gärtner, Paul Law and Joachim Sabel, 281-318. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.