The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 29th, 2010

Phonology Circle 3/29: Youngah Do  

Phonology Circle this week features a CLS practice talk by Youngah Do

Speaker: Youngah Do
Title: Why do Korean children learn some alternations before others?
Time: Monday 3/29, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Korean verbs show numerous alternations. Children acquiring Korean are reported to go through a stage in which they produce some alternations but not others (Do, to appear). The current simulation uses the MaxEnt Grammar Tool (Hayes, 2006) to explore why some alternations are acquired late. It shows that the frequency of different alternations in Korean can give rise to the attested intermediate stage, without assuming intrinsic bias.

The learner is assumed to have a set of constraints, and weights them according to the frequency of violations in the data. Following Hayes (2004), learning is simulated in two stages; phonotactic and morphological learning. The phonotactic learning stage models the fact that even prior to learning morphology, learners master phonotactic distributions. Once morphological relations are discovered, learners may wish to avoid alternations. I model this with output-output faithfulness constraints (OO-F), demanding faithful to a base form.

After two-stage learning, the learner was able to demote all OO-F to master all alternations. The interest of the current study, though, is to simulate a stage in which learning is incomplete. I simulated this by controlling how freely the model can change the weights of OO-F. By decreasing sigma, the learner is biased to leave the weights closer to their high initial weights.

The grammar trained purely by the frequency of different alternations perfectly predicts the child forms. Therefore, this study demonstrates that even without intrinsic bias, the statistics of Korean gives rise to the attested intermediate learning stage.

Upcoming talks:

  • Apr 5 Mafuyu 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
  • May 17 Ari Goldberg (Tufts)

Access real-time updates, on-line:

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


Syntax Square 3/30: David Pesetsky  

Please join us for our post-spring break Syntax Square meeting. David Pesetsky will lead the discussion.

TIME: Tuesday, 3/30, 1-2PM
PLACE: 32-D461


LFRG 3/31 - Patrick Grosz  

For the rest of the semester, the LFRG meeting time will alternate between the old slot on Monday, 11:30am, and the new slot on Wednesday at 4pm. So please double-check if a particular meeting you want to attend in on Monday or on Wednesday. The next week the meeting is on WEDNESDAY.

WHAT: Talk
WHO: Patrick Grosz
TITLE: German ‘doch’: An Element that Triggers a Contrast Presupposition
WHEN: March 31, Wednesday, 4PM - 5:30PM
WHERE: 32-D831

WHAT EXACTLY (abstract):

This talk investigates the German particle “doch”, contrasting it with the particle “ja” (Weydt 1969). I propose that in declaratives, “ja” and “doch” are weak and strong counterparts of each other, in the following sense. They share a core meaning component (uncontroversiality/familiarity, cf. Kratzer 1999), but “doch” has an additional meaning component (contrast/correction, cf. Thurmair 1991). It follows that “ja” and “doch” on their own are in competition. The particle “ja” is used when the presuppositions for “doch” are not met; in contrast, “doch” is used when its presuppositions are met, due to Maximize Presupposition (Heim 1991).

In my analysis of “doch”, I argue that the correction component operates on propositional alternatives (“doch” reinforces the modified proposition p in contrast to a contextually salient alternative q that contradicts p) and is presuppositional in nature. I argue that “doch” makes use of an alternative semantics, associating with focus. This predicts correctly that “doch” triggers intervention effects (Beck 2006): It cannot associate with the same focus as another focus-sensitive element, such as “nur” (‘only’). My analysis accounts for ordering restrictions, which permit “ja doch”, but rule out “doch ja”. Kratzer (1999) argues that “ja” operates on complete propositions and cannot occur between a quantifier and a variable that it binds. I show that “ja” also cannot intervene between a focus-sensitive particle, like “nur” (‘only’) and the focus. Given that “doch” is focus-sensitive, we correctly rule out “doch ja”, but not “ja doch”.


  • 4/5, Monday: Peter Graff and Greg Scontras, “Comparing Pluralities” (practice talk for CLS)
  • 4/12, Monday: DaeYoung Sohn and Yasutada Sudo

Ling-Lunch 4/1: Pritty Patel  

Please join us for this week’s Ling-Lunch:

Speaker: Pritty Patel
Time: Thurs 4/1, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461
Title: First Conjunct Agreement under Agreement Displacement

This paper focuses on the object-verb agreement pattern present in the perfective aspect in Kutchi Gujarati (Indo-Aryan). The language has a 3rd person object reflexive NP, whose presence triggers agreement mismatch: The verb appears to reflect the features of the subject instead of the object. Such agreement displacement also occurs in clauses where the subject consists of two conjoined DPs and a plural reflexive object, pot-pothane. Canonically, in clauses with conjuncts in argument positions, the verb typically shows plural agreement. However the presence of this 3rd person reflexive results in 1st conjunct agreement (Benmamoun 1992). I propose reflexives cannot trigger verbal agreement (an anaphor agreement effect, Rizzi 1990), causing agreement displacement: The verb actually agrees with the subject rather than the reflexive object. I argue plural agreement is established via Agree under c-command (Chomsky 2001), a relationship between a probe and a goal, established when an agreeing head is merged.

Contrastively, I argue that first conjunct agreement is a second cycle effect (Bejar and Rezac 2009), where a probe on v can search as high as its specifier if it does not find a suitable goal in its c-command domain. I argue subject &P’s are phases, and spell out at the next phase level; the difference between plural agreement and first conjunct agreement is whether the &P has spelled out (which results in first conjunct) or not (which results in plural agreement). It follows that agreement displacement happens late in the derivation, explaining 1st conjunct agreement.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium - 4/2 - POSTPONED  

This week’s scheduled colloquium talk by Hubert Truckenbrodt has had to be postponed until next semester, so there will be no colloquium this Friday, April 2nd.

The next colloquia are on April 9th, by Elliot Morreton (UNC Chapel Hill), and on April 16th, by Ash Asudeh (Carleton).


The sound and the query  

The MIT News site has a very nice article about Norvin’s book Uttering Trees (MIT Press). The article appeared last Friday and on that day, the MIT home page was fully Norvin-themed: