The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 14th, 2009

Phonology circle - 9/14 - Organization, and a brief presentation by Peter Graff

Phonology Circle resumes its weekly meetings on Monday with an organizational meeting, and a brief presentation by Peter Graff on what he has learned about a local MIT resource, the Behavioral Research Lab.

Time: Mon 9/14, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

If you cannot make it to the meeting, but wish to present some time this semester, please contact Adam to request a slot.

24.921: Language acquisition, variation and change

Language acquisition, variation and change
24.921, Fall 2009
Michel DeGraff and Ken Wexler

There’s a long and strong tradition, going back to at least the Neo-Grammarians, of attempting to explain language change via the processes of language acquisition. Yet, in each of the relevant sub-disciplines of linguistic theory, historical linguistics and language-acquisition research there are several competing hypotheses that enlist incompatible assumptions about the nature of grammar and variation.

The purpose of this seminar is to discuss the most up-to-date approaches in the study of language acquisition and language change, as well as linguistic theory, toward providing the best possible framework for the connection among the corresponding empirical domains. We understand “language change” broadly—-to include diachronic syntax (in the history, say, of English) alongside the creation of “new” languages (in the history of, say, Haitian Creole). We’ll examine all of these diachronic patterns as examples of the human linguistic capacity coming to terms with varying input in the linguistic ecology. Thus, processes of first- and second-language acquisition, and the differences between the two, should be crucial to understanding language-change phenomena. The results of our discussion should contribute to our understanding of the nature of language in the human mind and the conditions and limits whereby language can vary.

The first couple of lectures will discuss central issues in, and a sample of models from, the study of historical change and language acquisition, including:

  • the relationship between language contact and language change;
  • whether language change is ever possible in absence of language contact;
  • the nature of “creolization”;
  • the relationship between first- and second-language acquisition and language change;
  • whether the language acquirer comes equipped with a set of “cues” that enable parameters to be set.

Then we’ll turn to particular domains of language variation related to basic parameters of clause and nominal structure, possibly including the following issues:

  • Does the language have V-to-I? Yes: French / No: Haitian Creole
  • Does the language have (non-residual) V-to-C? Yes: German / No: English
  • Is a (phonetically overt) copula required for non-verbal predication? Yes: English / No: Haitian Creole
  • Distribution and interpretation of determiners

For each of these domains we’ll look for evidence in comparative syntax, historical change, and language acquisition.

We expect the seminar to be of interest to colleagues interested in:

  • linguistic theory;
  • first- and second-language acquisition;
  • language change/creation;
  • the relationship between language and larger issues of cognition.

Meet Ling-09, Pt. 2

There are two more incoming first-year students who have sent us brief introductions this week.

Jorie Koster-Moeller is from Corrales, New Mexico. She got her BA from Pomona College, and is currently doing a joint program through the linguistics department and the brain and cognitive science department. She’s particularly interested in semantics, both formal and experimental, and psycholinguistics. She also enjoys most anything mountain-related, such as backpacking and rockclimbing.

Edwin Martin Howard apologises that you’ve had to wait a whole week to hear about him, but he was out of email contact last weekend whilst enjoying a break in the wilds of rural Quebec - the Canadian province that he now also, in addition to his native Scotland, calls home. During his time in Montreal, he has become a proficient French speaker, and he completed a BA in Linguistics at McGill, writing an honours thesis on the semantics of superlatives and NPI licensing. The best thing that’s ever happened to him was the birth of his son, just over a year ago.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group - Special presentation 9/21 3:30-5pm by Grosz and Patel-Grosz

Patrick Grosz and Pritty Patel-Grosz are going to present their work on pronominal anaphora next week, which they will also present at Sinn und Bedeutung 14. For the title and abstract of their presentation see below. Note that this is not a 30-minute practice talk, but intended to be a longer, more interactive presentation where comments, discussion and feedback are encouraged throughout.

DATE: Monday, September 21, 2009
TIME: 3:30-5PM
ROOM: to be announced
TITLE: The Typology of Pronouns: Two Types of Anaphora Resolution
ABSTRACT: can be found on the Sinn und Bedeutung webpage

This will be a special session of the LF Reading Group (Syntax-Semantics Reading Group).

Save the date: NECPhon 3 @ MIT, Oct 24

The yearly meeting of the Northeast Computational Phonology circle will take place this year at MIT.

Title: NECPhon 3
Date: Oct 24, 2009
Location: 32-D461

Details of the event, including the precise time and schedule of talks, will be announced as the date gets closer. In the meantime, save the date, and if you may be interested in presenting, please contact Adam Albright.

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.

BCS Colloquium 9/18 - Keith Kluender

Speaker: Keith R. Kluender, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Title: Speech perception as efficient coding
Time: Friday, 18 September, 4pm
Place: Singleton Auditorium, 46-3002


Fundamental principles that govern all perception, from transduction to cortex, are shaping our understanding of perception of speech and other familiar sounds. Here, ecological and sensorineural considerations are proposed in support of an information-theoretical approach to speech perception. Optimization of information transmission and efficient coding are emphasized in explanations of classic characteristics of speech perception, including: perceptual resilience to signal degradation; variability across changes in listening environment, rate, and talker; categorical perception; and, word segmentation. Experimental findings will be used to illustrate how a series of like processes operate upon the acoustic signal with increasing levels of sophistication on the way from waveforms to words. Common to these processes are ways that perceptual systems absorb predictable characteristics of the soundscape, from temporally local (adaptation) to extended periods (learning), and sensitivity to new information is enhanced. [Supported by NIDCD]

For more info: http://mit.edu/bcs/newsevents/colloquia.shtml

What I did this summer: Claire Halpert

Claire attended the first-ever African Linguistics Summer School, held in Accra, Ghana, in late July/early August. The school, modeled on the EGG school, brought together more than 60 students who work on African languages. Among the organizers of the school were MIT alumnus Chris Collins and 2008 visiting professor Enoch Aboh. Planning is underway for a second ALS in Benin in 2011.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group: 9/21

The Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, also known as the LF Reading
Group, is still looking for presenters. If you would like to discuss
your research or present stimulating work done by others, please let
Tue or Luka know. The group’s first meeting is scheduled for:

Monday, Sept 21, 11.30AM
Location: 32-D461

For more information, please visit the group’s website.

Ling-Lunch 9/17: Patrick Grosz

Come join us for this week’s Ling-Lunch talk:

Speaker: Patrick Grosz
Title: Grading Modality: A New Approach to Modal Concord and its Relatives
Time: Thurs 9/17, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Abstract can be found here

This term’s visitors to MIT Linguistics

Visiting Students (5)

Aysa Arylova: PhD student at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands. Aysa is investigating the morphosyntactic realization of syntactic dependency as a function of the structure building operation Merge. Her work will include an extensive typological survey and the development of a formal analysis.

Micha Breakstone: PhD student at Hebrew University, Israel. Micha is fascinated by “Universal Degrees.” Different assumptions regarding the nature of degree processing (e.g., universal density) have led him to exciting speculations about how the linguistic module in the mind/brain may interact with other cognitive modules, as well as with pragmatic knowledge about the world.

Marcus Lunguinho: PhD Student at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Marcus’s research focuses on “Auxiliary Verbs and the Theory of Grammar,” and the following two areas in particular: 1) the defective morphological paradigms of certain auxiliaries; 2) the syntax of the non-finite domains selected by auxiliary verbs.

Dimitris Michelioudakis: PhD student at the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom. Dimitris’s current research is on the syntactic status of Inherent (“Dative”) Case in different diachronic and diatopic varieties of Greek.

Coppe van Urk: MA student at Utrecht University, The Netherlands. Coppe’s research mainly concerns issues in modern generative syntax, specifically in the area of Control.

Visiting Scholars (3)

Manchun Dai: Professor at the National Research Center for Foreign Language Education at Beijing Foreign Studies University, China. Professor Dai’s interests revolve around Second Language Acquisition and Syntax.

Jeongah Kim, Researcher at the Institute of Language and Information Studies at Yonsei University, Korea. Professor Kim’s research interests are in phonetics, phonology, morphology and the phonology-phonetics interface. She is interested in recent developments in phonology, including Optimality Theory, Correspondence Theory and Sympathy Theory.

Anna Roussou: Associate Professor at the University of Patras, Greece. Professor Roussou’s main research interests are in syntax (Greek, comparative, diachronic) and its interfaces with morphology/lexicon and semantics.

[Thanks, Michel!]

What I did this summer: Omer Preminger

In late-July/early-August, Omer taught at the Eastern(-European) Generative Grammar summer school, better known as “the EGG”, in Pozna? (Poland). He taught two courses: “Intro to Syntax” and “Agreement and its failures”. Materials for these courses are still available on his website.

Later in August, he spent a couple of days at NYU working with Anna Szabolcsi and Julia Horvath (who was visiting from Israel) on the phenomenon of overt (nominative) controlees in infinitival clauses in Hungarian and, it turns out, other languages as well (something that looks a little bit like “backwards control”, but probably isn’t). This work is scheduled to resume in early November.

Two of The Top 10 Philosophy Articles in 2008

The Philosopher’s Annual has listed two articles of MIT authors among the top ten best philosophy articles in 2008: