The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 21st, 2009

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group: two practice talks on 9/21

The Syntax-Semantics Reading Group is meeting for two special sessions on Monday, September 21, to hear practice talks for Sinn und Bedeutung:

Who: Jacopo Romoli
When: 11:30AM
Where: 32-D461
Title: Towards a Structural Account of Conservativity

Abstract can be found on the Sinn und Bedeutung webpage.

Who: Patrick Grosz & Pritty Patel-Grosz
When: 3:30PM
Where: 56-191
Title: The Typology of Pronouns: Two Types of Anaphora Resolution

Abstract can be found on the Sinn und Bedeutung webpage.

If you are interested in presenting your work or someone else’s work in the Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, there are still some slots available for this semester - please check the group’s webpage.


Ling-lunch 9/24: Kirill Shklovsky

Join us for this week’s Ling-Lunch talk:

Speaker: Kirill Shklovsky
Title: Person-Case Effects in Tseltal
Time: Thurs 9/24, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Person-Case Constraint (PCC) is a restriction on the nature of the direct object argument in the presence of an indirect object: in many languages, the the direct object in a ditransitive construction can only be third person (Bonet, 1991). Tseltal, a Mayan language of southern Mexico, exhibits PCC restrictions not only in with ditransitive verbs but also in a construction involving non-finite complement embedded under an intransitive verb. Curiously, the restriction is not in effect when the same non-finite complement is embedded under a transitive verb. In this talk I will show that the phenomenon can be accounted for using theories of PCC in Béjar and Rezac (2003) and Anagnostopoulou (2003) in combination with inherent case theory of ergative case (Woolford (1997), Legate (2008)). This should provide support for the idea that ergative is inherent case in Tseltal. The rest of this talk will deal with case-assignment and agreement in non-finite complement clauses.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group 9/25 - Chris Collins

Please join us for a special session of the syntax-semantics reading group on Friday, 9/25.

Who: Chris Collins (NYU)
When: 1:00-2:30PM
Where: 32-144

Title: A formalization of Minimalist Syntax

The goal of this formalization is to give a precise, formal account of certain fundamental notions in minimalist syntax, leading up to the definition of a convergent derivation. We would like this formalization to be useful to minimalist syntacticians in evaluating their own proposals (both conceptually and empirically), and comparing their proposals to others.

The talk is joint work with Ed Stabler.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium 9/25 - Martina Wiltschko

Speaker: Martina Wiltschko (University of British Columbia)
Title: The composition of INFL: An exploration of tense, tenseless languages and tenseless constructions.
Time: Friday, September 25, 2009, 3:30pm
Place: 32-141

In this paper we argue that the functional category TENSE, sometimes viewed as the head of the clause can be decomposed. It consists of the universal functional category INFL and language specific features of temporal content: [past] and [present]. Thus, the functional category TENSE is not a primitive category of UG, but INFL is. Specifically, we argue that INFL has a universal function, namely anchoring, but that the substantive content associated with it is language specific or can be lacking alltogether.

We present three arguments for this view:

i) Arguments from language variation. We show that in some languages INFL exists without features of temporal content. Instead, in Halkomelem INFL is associated with substantive features of spatial content. In Blackfoot, INFL is associated with substantive features relating the participants of the event to those of the utterance (Ritter & Wiltschko, in press). This much establishes that the category INFL exists independent of its substantive content, at least at the initial state.

ii) Arguments from tenseless constructions. The independence of INFL from its substantive content is further supported by the existence of constructions where INFL appears without temporal content – even in a language which otherwise appears to be a tensed language: Infinitives and imperatives. This much establishes that INFL exists without substantive content even within a given language. The proposal correctly predicts that in contexts where INFL is used without substantive content the difference between English, Halkomelem and Blackfoot vanishes.

iii) Arguments from nominal licensing. Finally, we show that the licensing of nominal arguments varies with the substantive content associated with INFL. In languages with temporal features, nominal arguments are licensed via dependent marking (structural case), while in languages with spatial or participant features, nominal arguments are licensed via head-marking. This indirectly supports Pesetsky & Torrego’s 2001 idea according to which structural case reduces to tense features on D. However, since tense is not a primitive category in our analysis, we argue that case reduces instead to the substantive features that make up tense: [present = NOMINATIVE] and [past = ACCUSATIVE].

We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our proposal for our understanding of functional categories.


UMMM @ UMass Amherst, Sun Nov 1

The fall meeting of the phonology workshop UMMM will take place on Sunday, Nov 1, at UMass Amherst (which happens to coincide with Daylight Savings Time, giving you an extra hour to recover from Halloween). A schedule and further details will be forthcoming as the date gets closer.


Phonology Circle schedule for Fall 2009

Phonology Circle will not meet this week, but will meet every Monday for the remainder of the semester. Here is the tentative schedule of presentations:

Mon Sep 28 Peter Graff
Mon Oct 5 Andrew Nevins
Tue Oct 13 Michael Kenstowicz
Mon Oct 19 Youngah Do
Mon Oct 26 UMMM practice talks
Mon Nov 2 Igor Yanovich
Mon Nov 9 NELS practice talks
Mon Nov 16 Sverre Johnsen
Mon Nov 23 Hyesun Cho
Mon Nov 30 Gillian Gallagher
Mon Dec 7 Maria Giavazzi