The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 6th, 2009

Phonology Circle 4/6 - Diana Apoussidou  

This week’s installment of Phonology Circle features a talk by Diana Apoussidou.

Speaker: Diana Apoussidou (UMass Amhert/University of Amsterdam)
Title: Modeling the acquisition of French liaison using allomorphy
Time: 4/6 5pm
Location: 32-D831

As language acquisition research shows (e.g. Chevrot et al. 2008), children learning French are creative when segmenting nouns starting with a vowel. Words like arbre ‘tree’ are in adult speech rarely produced in isolation and undergo a liaison with the final consonant of the preceding word, e.g. un arbre is pronounced as oe.narbr, or des arbre as de.zarbr. Children until the age of 4;6 therefore produce errors such as narbr or zarbr. Chevrot et al. (2008) analyze these errors in terms of templates that the children use in the course of development. The templates are made up of un+/Nword2/ or deux+/Zword2/ etc., where the extra consonant in front of a word depends on the preceding word. I propose instead that the errors produced by the children can be analyzed in terms of allomorphy: children hypothesize different underlying representations for words (e.g. literally /arbr/, /narbr/ and /zarbr/ for ‘tree’) depending on what they can observe. This can be modeled with an optimization-based grammar where different underlying forms of a word are represented by lexical constraints. The results show that even with a resulting ‘correct’ lexicon (e.g. vowel-initial /arbr/ as underlying representation of ‘tree’), interference with the grammar can lead to the use of allomorphs in production (e.g. /narbr/ in combination with un, yielding /oe#narbr/ instead of /oen#arbre).

LF Reading Group 4/8 - Manfred Krifka  

Manfred Krifka will give a talk at the LF Reading Group this coming Wednesday (April 8), at the usual time (3pm) and place (Room 34-303). He will present his work with Alexander Grosu on equational intensional ‘reconstruction’ relatives.


Special Phonology Circle talk **Friday 4/10** 3:30pm - Peter Graff  

This Friday, Peter Graff will give a practice talk for his upcoming CLS paper (with Florian Jaeger). Please note the special time and location!

Speaker: Peter Graff (with Florian Jaeger)
Title: The OCP is a pressure to keep words perceptually distinct: Evidence from Javanese
Time: Friday 4/10 3:30pm, 32-D831

In this study we advance two claims about co-occurrence restrictions on consonants (OCP; Leben 1973) based on a case study of Javanese: i) belonging to the same perceptually salient natural class significantly decreases the likelihood of two consonants co-occurring, ii) that this probabilistic penalty increases linearly with the number of similar segments within a root evidencing cumulativity of OCP effects. Generalizing from perceptual experiments, we hypothesize that the OCP functions as a lexical optimization constraint to keep the words of a language perceptually distinct.

In the first part of this study we investigate whether perceptually salient natural classes have stronger OCP effects associated with them than other sets. In order to not over-parameterize the model we chose a subset of possible natural classes, some with perceptual correlates (e.g. rhotic, lateral, strident) and some with articulatory correlates (e.g. alveolar, glide, palatal). Of 9,261 theoretically possible C1VC2VC3-templates, 1,913 are attested (Uhlenbeck, 1978). We use logistic regression to test whether C1VC2VC3-templates where any two of C1, C2, C3 belong to a natural class are less likely to occur. We simultaneously control for the frequency of C1, C2, and C3 in their respective positions as well as identity (C1=C2), which is known to be favored in Javanese. We find highly significant OCP effects of both articulatory and perceptually motivated classes. By far the strongest similarity avoidance effects, however, are observed for features that are independently known to be highly perceptually salient (rhotic-/r/ and lateral-/l/, Heid and Hawkins 2000; β/r/=-3.86,p<0.0001; β/l/=-2.47,p<0.0001; cf. mean β’s for other OCP effects=-1.47).

Gallagher (2008) shows that, for some features, listeners are better at discriminating words with 0 instances of a feature from words with 1 or 2, than at distinguishing words with 1 instance from words with 2. . Given this result, we generalize that if the OCP is a pressure to optimize perceptual distinctness of words, then additional similar segmentsmake roots even less likely. Indeed, model comparison shows that a cumulative model explains the data significantly better than a non-cumulative model (Bayesian Information Criterion difference=82.5).

Our aim is to place this study in a larger context of logistic regression models of five more languages on which we are currently conducting similar studies. We hope to see i) whether perceptually salient classes of segments co-occur less and ii) whether OCP effects are cumulative as expected under our hypothesis. We will compare our models to other models of similarity avoidance (Frisch et al. 2004, Coetzee and Pater 2008) to see whether our generalizations hold up independent of modeling approach and whether any of these models has an inherent advantage in predicting possible roots.


Ling Lunch 4/9 - Shigeru Miyagawa  

Speaker: Shigeru Miyagawa
Title: Distinguishing A- and A’-movements Without Reference to Case
Time: Thurs 4/9, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

In GB, A-movement was characterized in two, parallel ways. First, A-movement targets a potential theta position (thus A(rgument) movement) while A’-movement is to a non-theta position. Second, A-movement is Case-driven. The first distinction became obsolete with the advent of the predicate-internal subject hypothesis, which deprives Spec,TP of ever being a theta-position. This leaves only the second characterization for defining A-movement. S. Takahashi (2006) and S. Takahashi and Hulsey (in press, LI) propose an intriguing Case-based analysis for A-movement within MP. In this talk, I will suggest an alternative to Case by exploring instances of A-movement across a number of languages that do not involve Case (e.g., Finnish, Japanese). Based on these cases, I will introduce an entirely different approach to distinguishing A- and A’-movements that takes advantage of the phase architecture of grammar ? what I term the “Phase-Based Characterization of Chains” (PBCC) (Miyagawa, in press). This proposal notes that movements that do not cross a Transfer Domain have A-movement properties while those that cross a Transfer Domain have A’-properties. The analysis provides a straightforward account of not only the familiar A- and A’-movements including scrambling, but it also successfully accounts for more exotic and mysterious types of movements that rely on the notion of“mixed A/A’ position” found in languages such as Finnish (Holmberg and Nikanne 2002).

Miyagawa, Shigeru. In press. Why Agree? Why Move? Unifying Agreement-based and Discourse Configurational Languages. Linguistic Inquiry Monograph 54, MIT Press.


Conference, talk, and paper news: past, present and future  

Conference news of the past…

Last week, Claire Halpert returned from Tervuren, Belgium where she presented a paper on “Superiority Effects in Zulu and Kinande Inversion” at a special workshop on Bantu inversion constrations at the 3rd International Conference on Bantu Languages.

Conference news of the present…

Meanwhile, this weekend was an active one for talks by the MIT linguistics community!

Third-year grad student Bronwyn Bjorkman and first-year grad students Igor Yanovich and Rafael Nonato all presented papers at ECO-5, the “Maryland-MIT-Harvard-UMass-UConn Workshop in Formal Linguistics”, held this year at Maryland. Bronwyn’s talk was entitled ‘Go Get, Come See: the Syntax of a Double Verb Construction in North American English’; Igor’s talk was called “How likely to be viable is a PF theory for A-reconstruction?’; and Rafael’s talk asked the question “What is quantification again?

At the same time, a few states away, second-year student Jeremy Hartman presented his paper “The semantic effects of non-A-bar traces: evidence from ellipsis parallelism” at Semantics and Linguistic Theory (a.k.a. SALT) at Ohio State.

More or less simultaneously with all these talks, one state to the west, fourth-year student Jessica Coon and second-year student Guillaume Thomas presented papers at the 14th annual Workshop on Structure and Constituency in the Languages of the Americas (WSCLA 14) held at Purdue. Jessica’s paper was entitled “A biclausal analysis of aspect based split ergativity”, and Guillaume’s was “Incremental comparatives and inherently evaluative ‘many’ in Mbya”. Conor Quinn, who was a post-doc at MIT from 2006 through last Spring, also presented a paper at WSCLA, entitled “Incorporated verbal classifiers in a predictive typology of noun incorporation”.

And finally, one more state to the west, Adam Albright was at the University of Chicago, giving a linguistics colloquium talk about “Phonetic faithfulness and affix-by-affix differences in derived words”, and a talk in the Workshop on Language, Cognition, and Computation series entitled “Why are cumulative markedness e ffects so rare?”

Conference news of the future…

Peter Graff’s joint paper with Florian Jaeger entitled The OCP is a pressure to keep words distinct: Evidence from Aymara, Dutch and Javanese” has been accepted for presentation at the upcoming meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society


Omer Preminger’s paper “Breaking Agreements: Distinguishing Agreement and Clitic-Doubling by Their Failures” has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry and should appear next Fall.

And please remember…

Please remember to send us your news items about talks and papers so we can announce them in Whamit!


Tamina Stephenson to Yale post-doc  

Tamina Stephenson (PhD 2007), who has been teaching at MIT this year, has accepted a post-doctoral position in semantics at Yale. Congratulations Tamina!



[From Shigeru:]

The program for the 6th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics (May 22-24, Nagoya, Japan) has been announced.