The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 26th, 2009

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group - Mon 10/26 - Igor Yanovich  

In Monday’s Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, Igor Yanovich will talk about the nature and formal analysis of indexical presuppositions (this is a practice talk for LENLS 6).

TIME: Monday 11.30AM - 1PM
PLACE: 32-D461

For further information, please visit: http://web.mit.edu/linguistics/groups/synsem/


Phonology Circle - Mon 10/26 - Graff, Halpert (UMMM practice talks)  

This week’s Phonology Circle features a double-header of two talks, in preparation for UMMM at UMass this weekend

Time: Monday 10/26, 5pm, 32-D461

Speaker: Claire Halpert (MIT)
Title: Place assimilation changes its triggers

Speaker: Peter Graff (MIT) and Gregory Scontras (Harvard)
Title: Metathesis as Asymmetric Perceptual Realignment

We investigate the perceptual salience of consonant order in intervocalic stop–fricative (ST/TS) and stop- nasal clusters (NT/TN) and present evidence that speakers of English (N=24) more readily perceive these clusters with the stop in prevocalic position, regardless of their native lexical statistics or whether the fricatives or nasals are native sounds. This bias is amplified when the stop-burst is removed, indicating that perceptual repairs increase as a function of the availability of phonetic cues. Our findings support the proposal that CC-metathesis is driven by optimization of auditory cues in consonant clusters (Hume 2001; Steriade 2001) rather than symmetric confusability.

Upcoming schedule: (contact Adam for open slots)

Nov 2 NELS Practice talks, first installment (Gallagher, Johnsen)
Nov 9 NELS practice talks, second installment (Michaels)
Nov 16 Igor Yanovich
Nov 23 OPEN
Nov 30 OPEN
Dec 7 Maria Giavazzi

BCS Cog Lunch - Tues 10/27 - Evelina Fedorenko  

Speaker: Evelina Fedorenko, Ph.D. (Post-doctoral Fellow, Kanwisher Lab)
Title: Functional localization in the domain of language: A new take on the questions of functional specificity
Time: Tues 10/27, 12:00 to 1:00
Location: 46-3310


Ling-Lunch - Thurs 10/29- Ted Gibson  

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

Speaker: Ted Gibson
Time: Thurs 10/29, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461
Title: Quantitative investigations of syntactic representations and processing

Joint work with Denise Ichinco, Ev Fedorenko, Steve Piantadosi, Nat Twarog, and Melissa Troyer.

We present a new method to quantitatively evaluate similarity and differences in language representations and processes: Inter-Subject Analysis of Covariation (ISAC). The method is a quantitative version of an approach that has been traditionally used in the syntactic literature. In this method, participants rate materials for their acceptability. It is assumed that judgments will correlate more across individuals on materials with overlapping structures or similar processing demands. In order to evaluate this novel method, we demonstrate that relative clauses and wh-questions are rated very similarly to each other across different kinds of transformations, much more so than several control structures. This method holds a lot of promise for addressing questions concerning the nature of linguistic representations and processes.

MIT Linguistics Colloquium 10/30 - Maria Gouskova (NYU)  

Speaker: Maria Gouskova (NYU)
Title: Exceptionality as a Property of Morphemes: the Case of Yers
Time: Friday, October 30, 2009, 3:30pm
Place: 32-141

Most languages have some phonological rules that apply only to a subset of eligible morphemes (for example, in English, regressive voicing assimilation, “thie[f]”/”thie[vz]” vs. the default progressive assimilation, “chie[f]”/”chie[fs]”). The question examined in this talk is whether there are rules that apply only to a subset of eligible segments. I will explore the hypothesis that exceptionality is a property of whole morphemes. This theory of exceptionality has many incarnations (Chomsky and Halle 1968 et seq.), but my version is formalized as Lexically Indexed Constraints in Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky 1993): in any given language, a universal constraint can be indexed to individual morphemes in the lexicon and ranked in two different positions in the language’s hierarchy (Pater 2000, 2006). I test this theory on a famous purported case of segment-by-segment exceptions: Slavic yers, vowels that idiosyncratically alternate with zero (e.g., [mox] vs. [mx-a] `moss (nom/gen sg)’ alongside [mex] vs. [mex-a] `fur (nom/gen sg)’). The dominant analysis of these “ghost vowels” is that they must be underlyingly marked as exceptional on a segment-by-segment basis. Yers are also usually underlyingly marked as representationally defective—either nonmoraic or lacking features (Kenstowicz and Rubach 1987, Melvold 1990, Yearley 1995, inter alia). In this talk, I revisit yers from a different perspective. Instead of treating the individual vowels as special, I argue that entire morphemes are indexed to special phonologies. I show that there are generalizations as to the quality and the position of alternating vowels in Russian. These generalizations are phonologically sensible, but they are lost in accounts where vowels are labeled as deletable on a segment-by-segment basis. Finally, I survey yers in other Slavic languages and test the OT hypothesis that a phonological rule can only be exceptional in one language if it is general in another.

Suggested readings:


UMMM @ UMass, Sunday 11/1  

The fall meeting of UMMM (UMass-MIT Meeting in phonology) will take place this Sunday 11/1 at UMass. (Please note that it will be Sunday instead of the usual Saturday!) Presenters from MIT will include Youngah Do, Peter Graff, and Claire Halpert. If you would like to attend, please let Donca know if you need a ride or if you can offer rides.

For the full program, click here (via John Kingston)