The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 4th, 2009

Phonology Circle - 5/4 - MUMM Practice talks

This week we will have two practice talks for the upcoming MUMM meeting:

Time: Monday 5/4, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

First speaker: Hyesun Cho
Title: The problem of generalization in a statistical learning model of phonotactics

Achieving a proper level of generality in OT-style constraints has not been a problem in most of the phonological grammar learning models up to now (such as GLA (Boersma, 1997); a Maximum Entropy model (Goldwater and Johnson, 2003); a GLA-HG model (Coetzee and Pater, 2008)), because in those models, constraints do not have to be learned. Instead, learning a grammar mainly involves finding rankings or weights of the given set of constraints. In contrast, the phonotactic learning model of Hayes and Wilson (2008) is different from others in that the model derives constraints themselves from the surface forms in the training data. This paper shows that in doing so, it is not trivial to learn constraints with a proper level of generalization.

I ran the Hayes and Wilson model on Korean training data. In the resulting grammar, the model makes overly-broad generalizations, i.e., the constraints that penalize both possible (grammatical) and impossible (ungrammatical) sequences equally, especially when the frequency differences between the possible sequences and the impossible sequences are very small. Because of this, some of the possible sequences are predicted to be worse than impossible sequences. The three problem cases include: post-obstruent tensing, diphthong restrictions, and labials-[?] sequences. I discuss two possible solutions: adjusting feature specifications and employing an additional learning bias.

The grammar learned by the Hayes and Wilson model consists of markedness constraints only. I ran a model that uses both faithfulness constraints and markedness constraints (Goldwater and Johnson, 2003) for the problem cases above. It turns out that a proper level of generalization in the constraints is crucial in a faithfulness model as well.

Second speaker: Patrick Jones
Title: Evidence for the Phonological Stem in Kinande

A number of recent studies on Bantu verbal phonology (Downing 1994, 1998, 1999, 2000; Herman 1996) have argued that the phonological processes which affect the Bantu verb, rather than referring directly to constituents of morpho-syntactic structure (M-Constituents), instead refer exclusively to morpho-prosodic constituents (P-Constituents) which are derived from them. Evidence for this view, which has its origins in the work of Selkirk (1986) and Inkelas (1989), is found in a number of phonological processes whose domains of application approximate constituents defined by morpho-syntactic structure, but do not match them exactly. In this talk, I will argue that the existence of a Phonological Stem (PStem) domain is strongly supported by the verbal phonology of Kinande, and that by recognizing the PStem as a morpho-prosodic domain to which phonological constraints can refer, it is possible to provide straightforward and unified analyses of four distinct phonological processes - Verbal Reduplication, Intonational Tone Assignment, Lexical Tone Assignment, and Purposive Suffix Affixation - that must otherwise be explained in terms of arbitrary and idiosyncratic constraints. However, I will argue against the position that only morpho-prosodic constituents, and not morpho-syntactic ones, may be referred to by phonological processes. I will argue that reference to the MStem as well as reference to the PStem is necessary in order to successfully account for Verbal Reduplication and Lexical Tone Assignment, and will therefore argue for a theory in which phonological processes make necessary, but not exclusive, reference to morpho-prosodic domains.

Language@MIT - 5/6 - Deb Roy

As part of the Language@MIT Lecture Series, Deb Roy (MIT Media Lab) will be presenting in the LF Reading Group this Wednesday, May 6, 3-5pm, 34-303. Deb has suggested that we read the following paper for the meeting, titled “Semiotic Schemas: A Framework for Grounding Language in Action and Perception.”


Ling Lunch - 5/7 - Verner Egerland

Speaker: Verner Egerland (Lund University)
Title: Tense in Gerunds
Time: Thurs 5/7, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

In the unmarked case, the English ing-form expresses a process, that is, a homogenous non-culminated eventuality, simultaneous with that of the main clause:

  1. I spent the afternoon sleeping on the couch.

However, exceptions to the simultaneous reading are known to exist. To some extent, gerunds can refer to events following the matrix event (2), or preceding it (3):

  1. He entered college at the age of fifteen, graduating four years later at the head of his class. (From Jespersen 1940: 407)
  2. Setting sail for the island in the fall of 1740, he reached his destination in the spring of 1741. (From Stump 1985: 97)

This paper is concerned with the English ing-form, the French present participle, the Italian gerund, and the Swedish present participle. It will be shown that the «tense-shifting» property illustrated in (2) and (3) is attested in English, French, and Italian, but not in Swedish. It will be argued that «tense-shifting» as illustrated in (2)-(3) does not follow from the aspectual properties of gerunds but is in fact linked to grammatical Tense. By assumption, then, grammatical Tense is projected in gerundival clauses in English, French, and Italian. In these languages, we observe that (a) clausal negation may be licensed, (b) copular and auxiliary Vs are allowed, and (c) a subject argument is licensed. Swedish differs systematically from the other three languages in disallowing clausal negation, copular and auxiliary Vs, as well as explicit subject arguments. These observations have consequences for a number of Tense-related issues in generative grammar, such as the theoretical status of Finiteness, the relation between Tense and the Aspect-Event system, as well as the acquisition of Tense.

Linguistics Colloquium - 5/8 - Sharon Rose

Speaker: Sharon Rose (UCSD)
Title: Tone Distribution and Affix Order in Moro
Time: Friday, May 8th, 2009, 3.30pm-5pm
Place: 32-155 Please note special place

This talk investigates two separate, but related phenomena in the verbal morphology of Moro: tone distribution and the order of object markers. Moro is a Kordofanian language spoken in Sudan; the research is part of the Moro Language Project at UCSD.

The interaction between tone and syllable weight has primarily focused on the distribution of contour tones. In Moro verb roots, high tone is distributed according to syllable size or weight. Heavy syllables preferentially bear high tone, whereas light onsetless syllables cannot bear high tone. I argue in favor of prominence constraints as in onset-sensitive stress systems (Gordon 2005) rather than extraprosodicity, an approach which fails to explain the onsetless syllable?s participation in other prosodic processes. The domain for tonal restrictions in Moro is the macrostem rather than the word. Onsets from within the macrostem (progressive prefix v-) license high tone on the initial root vowel, but those outside the macrostem do not. In addition, macrostem affixes that bear high tone cause deletion of root high tone and prevent the realization of tone-licensing prefixes. The macrostem as a whole only allows a single high tone.

The macrostem constituent is important not only for regulating tonal processes, but also affix order. Object markers in Moro attach as prefixes in imperfective aspect, but the same markers appear as suffixes in perfective aspect, outside the macrostem. Object markers longer than a syllable or without high tone also appear as suffixes. I argue that these data point to a templatic approach to the mobile affixes, in the sense of both a position and prosodic requirements within the macrostem. This is further confirmed by double object markers. In perfective aspect, both object markers appear as suffixes. The linear order of the two objects is determined not based on grammatical role, but by a hierarchy of person/number features (1 > 2 > 3 and pl > sg). In imperfective aspect, the first object marker is realized as a prefix and the second as a suffix; the discontinuous linear order follows the same person/number hierarchy. The Moro data point to a templatic approach to linear ordering (Nordlinger 2008), and also provide support for approaches to morphology that are independent of syntactic operations.

Globe-trotting grad students and friends

Patrick Grosz and Jeremy Hartman are back from the most recent GLOW conference. (That’s “GLOW” as in Generative Linguistics in the Old World, and they actually came home last week — but we failed to let you know.) As we noted in an earlier Whamit, Jeremy Hartman spoke on “The Position and Variety of Traces with respect to MaxElide”, and Patrick presented his work on “Movement and Agreement in Right-Node Raising Constructions”. Recent alum Shoichi Takahashi (PhD 2006) also presented, as did Elena Anagnostopoulou, who taught at MIT in Spring 2007. Danny Fox was an invited speaker. The Nantes GLOW was organized by MIT linguistics alums Hamida Demirdache (PhD 1991) and by Orin Percus (PhD 1997). Our participants uniformly report that it was a great conference with excellent talks.

Peter Graff and T. Florian Jaeger of the University of Rochester presented their talk, The OCP is a pressure to keep words distinct: Evidence from Aymara, Dutch and Javanese at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society.

Jessica Coon was an invited speaker at a “syntax brown bag” at NYU, where she talked about “Predicate Fronting and its Consequences: Ergativity in Chol”. Meanwhile, uptown a bit, Pritty Patel and Patrick Grosz were invited speakers at a CUNY Syntax Supper, where they spoke on “On the Typology of Pronouns: Two Types of Anaphor Resolutions”.

Finally, MIT will soon be invading Manchester, for the 17th Manchester Phonology Meeting (17mfm). Bronwyn Bjorkman will be presenting on “Uniform exponence and reduplication: evidence from Kinande”; Maria Giavazzi will presenting “On the application of velar palatalization in Italian nouns and adjectives”; and Peter Graff will be presenting a joint paper with alum Andrew Nevins, entitled “Vowel harmony provides a figure-ground relation for consonant phonotactics”. Adam Albright will also present, on “Cumulative violations and complexity thresholds: Evidence from Lakhota”

MUMM is this Saturday (May 9)

The spring MIT/UMass Meeting in Phonology will take place at MIT this Saturday, May 9, from 11am until 6pm in 32-D461. The schedule of talks is as follows:

11:00 Emily Elfner, Umass Harmonic Serialism and stress-epenthesis interactions in Levantine Arabic
11:45 Bronwyn Bjorkman, MIT Uniform exponence and reduplication: evidence from Kinande
12:30 Patrick Jones, MIT The evidence for the phonological stem in Kinande
1:15 - 2:30 lunch
2:30 Anne Pycha, Penn and UMass The role of acoustic shape in phonological grammar: evidence from eye tracking
3:15 Hyesun Cho, MIT The problem of generalization in a statistical learning model of phonotactics
4:00 break
4:30 Brian Smith, UMass The null parse in Harmonic Grammar
5:15 Karen Jesney, UMass Licensing in Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar