The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 15th, 2010

LFRG 3/15 - Igor Yanovich

WHAT: Work in progress
WHO: Igor Yanovich
TITLE: A non-standard theory of vagueness
WHEN: March 15, 11.30AM - 1PM
WHERE: 32-D831

I will present a “solution” of the sorites paradox (aka the heap paradox, the bald man paradox, etc.) which I believe is new and distinct from earlier solutions. The main idea is that vague predicates come with meaning postulates which are true in a certain kind of infinite models, and are useful for some kinds of practical reasoning, but which lead to dire consequences when used as axioms for reasoning about finite models such as the ones of the sorites paradox situations.


  • 3/22 no meeting - Spring break
  • 3/29 Patrick Grosz
  • 4/5 Peter Graff, practice talk for CLS
  • 4/11 DaeYoung Sohn and Yasutada Sudo

Phonology Circle 3/15 - Adam Albright

Speaker: Adam Albright
Title: Cumulative complexity effects and phonotactic acceptability
Time: Monday, 3/15, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

A design feature of both ruled-based and constraint-based models of phonology is that processes apply independently of one another: for example, final consonant clusters with disagreeing voicing are always banned in English, causing voicing alternations regardless of whether the word has a simple or complex onset (`caps’ /kæp+z/, `claps’ /klæp+z/ ? [kæps], [klæps]), a round vowel (`copes’ /ko?p+z/ ? [ko?ps]), or any other marked structure. By forcing rules or constraints to apply independently, we exclude the possibility of `superadditive’ effects in which the well-formedness of a structure depends on the presence of another structure. In this talk, I argue that when we move beyond alternations and turn to static phonotactics, superadditive effects do seem to occur. For example, English allows words beginning with /bl-/ and /gl-/ clusters, as well as words ending in /-sp/ and /-sk/ clusters, but there are no words with both together (*blesk, *glisp). As it turns out, the rarity or lack of such combinations cannot be predicted from the independent frequencies of /bl-/, /-sp/, etc. I discuss several sources of evidence for superadditive effects, including lexical underattestation in Lakhota and English, and acceptability ratings for English nonce words. In all three cases, it appears that marginal structures become worse in the presence of other marginal structures. Crucially, however, not all combinations are penalized in this way. Relatively common combinations, such as /kr-/ and /-st/ co-occur about as often as expected (crust, crest, etc.), and do not show superadditive effects. Furthermore, although frequency is often a factor in predicting superadditive effects, in many cases, phonetic biases appear to play an even more important role in determining the marginality of a structure. I propose a model in which acceptability judgments arise through a combination of two levels of evaluation: (1) a non-grammatical evaluation of phonotactic probability, which assesses the joint probability of the substrings in a word, and (2) evaluation by a grammar of weighted constraints, further penalizing sequences that violate highly weighted constraints.

Upcoming talks:

  • Mar 29 Youngah Do
  • Apr 5 Mafuhu Kitahara (Waseda University)
  • Apr 12 Haruka Fukazawa (Keio University)
  • Apr 26 Jae Yung Song (Brown University)
  • May 3 Igor Yanovich and Donca Steriade
  • May 10 Donca Steriade

Access real-time updates, on-line:

via the web (click ‘agenda’ to see the schedule as a list), or through iCal

Syntax Square 3/16: Kirill Shklovsky & Yasutada Sudo

This week in Syntax Square:

Kirill and Yasu will lead a discussion of their work on Uyghur Case.

Time: Tuesday 3/16, 1-2PM
Place: 32-D461

Ling-Lunch 3/18: Simon Charlow

Please join us for this week’s ling-lunch:

Speaker: Simon Charlow (NYU)
Time: Thurs 3/18, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461
Title: TBA

Norvin Richards named a MacVicar Fellow

Last Tuesday, Norvin Richards was named a MacVicar Fellow, honoring him for outstanding undergraduate teaching, mentoring and educational innovation. The provost said “Appointment as a MacVicar Fellow recognizes professors who have made exemplary and sustained contributions to the teaching and complete education of MIT undergraduates, which includes their dedication inside the classroom and beyond.” Fellows receive $10,000 a year of discretionary funds for support of educational activities, research, travel, and other scholarly expenses.

An MIT news article included these quotes:

“Every conceivable virtue is evident in Norvin’s teaching,” explains one of his colleagues. “His planning is extensive and perfect. He comes to class, lays out the issues, data and analysis with clarity and beauty. Norvin is the kind of teacher who makes his audience think and ask questions because they find it fun to do so.”

“Professor Richards is easily one of the best instructors I’ve had in my life,” one of his students told the selection committee. “His lectures are entertaining, interesting and content-packed. The care and attention he pays to his students is very evident and quite inspirational.”

Linguistics & Philosophy has had one previous recipient of this award: David Pesetsky, who received the honor in 2005.

Congratulations, Norvin!