The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 30th, 2009

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group- Mon 11/30- Floris Roelofsen  

There is a syntax-semantics reading group meeting on Monday at 11:30am
in room 32-D461. Floris Roelofsen will talk about inquisitive
semantics. The relevant background readings can be found on the group’s website. Everyone is welcome!

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


Phonology Circle - Mon 11/30 - Sverre Johnsen  

Time: Monday 11/30, 5pm, 32-D461
Speaker: Sverre Johnsen (Harvard)
Title: Contrast maintenance effects in Norwegian retroflexion

Norwegian contrasts morpheme initial /s/ and /ʂ/ before a vowel (/sV-/ - /ʂV/), but not before a consonant (/sC-/ - */ʂC-/). Initial /s/ undergoes retroflexion to /ʂ/ when preceded by a morpheme ending in /-r/. Before a vowel, the contrast between /s/ and /ʂ/ is then lost (/sV-/, /ʂV-/ > /ʂV-/), but no contrast is lost before a consonant (/sC-/ > /ʂC-/). I present data from two experiments showing that Norwegian speakers apply this retroflexion significantly more often before a consonant than before a vowel. The effect is that a contrast is better maintained. Retroflexed /ʂV/-tokens have, however, more lexical neighbors and a higher phonotactic probability than retroflexed /ʂC/-tokens. Experiments in lexical access have shown that items with a high lexical neighborhood and phonotactic probability are more prone to be misidentified. I show that under an exemplar model of speech perception/production, the asymmetry in retroflexion between /sV-/ and /sC-/ is a direct consequence of such misidentifications.

Upcoming schedule:

Dec 4 Michael Tanenhaus (1:30-2:30pm, location TBA)
Dec 7 Maria Giavazzi

Stay up to date! Check out the online schedule, or subscribe via iCal


East Asian Linguistics Seminar - Tues 12/1 - Mamoru Saito  

This week, Mamoru Saito will give a double-header guest lecture in the East Asian Linguistics seminar.

Speaker: Mamoru Saito
Tuesday, December 1, 10-1, 66-156
Talk 1: “A Comparative Syntax of Ellipsis in Japanese and Korean”
Talk 2: “Clause Types and the Japanese Right Periphery”


Ling-Lunch 12/3: Coppe van Urk  

Please join us for Ling-lunch this week:

Speaker: Coppe van Urk
Time: Thurs 12/3, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461
Title: Movement and Antecedency in Obligatory Control

The two most prominent contemporary theories of control echo early theories in transformational grammar, Equi-NP Deletion (Rosenbaum 1967) and Postal’s (1970) null pronoun Doom. Hornstein (1999) suggests that control is derived through movement. Landau (2000 et seq.), on the other hand, argues for a PRO analysis. Regardless of what conceptual problems are associated with each analysis, there are significant empirical arguments for both approaches. In this talk, I go over some of these and conclude that both strategies are necessary. The empirical observation behind this is that some control complements behave like raising: the thematic positions have to be non-distinct, can share a single Case and the lower copy can be spelled out. Others behave more like non-obligatory control: they allow partial control and the lower position needs to have independent Case. These properties correlate across languages. I show that this account greatly simplifies the theory of control. Many of the special mechanisms that are necessary in Hornstein’s and Landau’s account can be dispensed with. In addition, the empirical coverage derived in this way is superior to that of other theories.


Supernumerary Phonology Circle - Friday 12/4 - Michael Tanenhaus  

Michael Tanenhaus, visiting MIT to give a colloquium talk, will talk about speech at a special meeting of the Phonology Circle December 4th, 1:30pm-2:30pm. Please stay tuned for an announcement about the exact location.

Speaker: Michael Tanenhaus (University of Rochester)
Title: Fine-grained phonetic detail in spoken word recognition
Time: Friday 12/4, 1:30-2:30 pm
Location: TBA

Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, it is widely assumed that some classes of speech sounds are perceived categorically in a way that exemplars from other types of non-speech categories are not. Yet, the articulation of many sounds, including consonants, varies systematically with position in a prosodic domain. A system that discarded sub-phonetic detail would thus be ignoring potentially useful information. I’ll review recent data from eye-tracking studies demonstrating that spoken word recognition does, in fact, exploit fine-grained sub-phonetic detail to make probabilistic hypothesis about lexical candidates, including within-category variation for stop consonants—the poster child for categorical perception.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium - 12/04 - Michael Tanenhaus  

MIT Linguistics Colloquium 12/04: Michael Tanenhaus (University of Rochester)

Speaker: Michael Tanenhaus (University of Rochester)
Title: Common ground and perspective-taking in language processing
Time: Friday, December 04, 2009, 3:30pm
Place: 32-141

Successful communication would seem to require that speakers and listeners distinguish between their own knowledge, commitments and intentions, and those of their interlocutors. A particularly important distinction is between shared knowledge (common ground) and private knowledge (privileged ground). Keeping track of what is shared and what is privileged would seem, however, to be too computationally expensive and too memory intensive to inform real-time language processing—a position supported by striking experimental evidence that speakers and listeners act egocentrically, showing strong and seemingly inappropriate intrusions from their own privileged ground. I’ll review recent results from my laboratory demonstrating that (a) speaker’s utterances provide evidence about whether they believe information is shared or privileged and (b) listeners are extremely sensitive to this evidence. I’ll suggest an integrative framework that explains discrepancies in the literature.