The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 5th, 2010

LFRG Monday 4/5: Two CLS practice talks

WHAT: Practice talks for CLS
WHEN: April 5th, Monday, 11.30AM - 1PM
WHERE: 32-D831

Talk 1: Gregory Scontras (Harvard University), Peter Graff (MIT), and Noah Goodman (MIT)
Title: Comparing Pluralities

Talk 2: Luka Crnic
Title: Imperatives in Unconditionals

Speakers have reliable truth-judgments when comparing pluralities. The semantics of these constructions, however, cannot straightforwardly follow from the semantics generally assumed for comparatives (e.g., von Stechow 1984, Heim 1985, Kennedy 1997) or plurals (e.g., Link 1983, Landman 1989, Schwarzschild 1996). Past work on plural comparison (Matushanksy and Ruys, 2006) attempts to capture speakers’ intuitions in a semantics that reduces plural comparison to a multitude of comparisons between the individual members of compared pluralities. We present experimental evidence that plural comparison does not reduce to the comparison of degrees true of individual members, but rather to the comparison of collective degrees inferred from the pluralities involved.

Our results support the hypothesis that a plurality can have a single degree associated with it that differs from the maximal degrees true of each of its parts, and that this degree is calculated by averaging the maximal degrees of the individuals belonging to the plurality. Thus, collective properties of pluralities are compared. Plural comparison then proceeds just as singular comparison, where the property relevant for comparison is inferred by averaging the degrees associated with the individual members of each plurality. Translating differences between pluralities into a probabilistic truth value significantly improves the model’s fit to human data. Ongoing work investigates how the gradience in human judgments arises.


Phonology Circle - 4/5 - Mafuyu Kitahara

This week’s Phonology Circle presentation is by Mafuyu Kitahara of Waseda University.

Speaker: Mafuyu Kitahara
Title: The lexical distinctiveness of tones and segments in Japanese
Time: Monday 4/5, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Phonological events are not equally utilized. Some events (particular segments, features, or tones) are highly useful and crucial for phonological distinctions while others are not. Such distinctive properties can be estimated from the distribution of lexical items in the lexicon.

Upcoming talks:

  • 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


Chung to speak at Harvard - 4/5

The Harvard Department of Linguistics presents the Fifth Annual Joshua and Verona Whatmough Lecture, featuring a talk by Sandra Chung (UCSC).

Speaker: Sandra Chung (UCSC)
Title: Parts of Speech and the Limits of Exoticism
Time: Monday 4/5, 4pm
Location: Fong Auditorium, Boylston Hall


Booij @ Harvard, Tues 4/6

On Tuesday, Geert Booij will give a talk as part of the GSAS Workshop in Language Universals and Linguistic Fieldwork:

Speaker: Geert Booij (Visiting Erasmus lecturer from Universiteit Leiden)
Title: ‘Noun incorporation and particle verbs in Dutch: a challenge for linguistic models’
Time: Tuesday, April 6th, 5:30-7pm
Location: Boylston Hall 104

Verbs with noun incorporation such as adem-halen ‘to breathe’ and particle verbs such as aan-vallen ‘to attack’ look like complex verbs, and they do behave as lexical units in a number of ways. They often have idiosyncratic meanings, and feed word formation. Dutch orthography requires them to be written as one word. Yet, the two parts are separable in root clauses, as in:

  1. Jan haalt zwaar adem ‘John breathes heavily’
  2. De tijger viel ons aan ‘The tigre attacked us’

Such ‘separable complex verbs’ are therefore phrasal in nature, but they have a number of properties that distinguish them partially from what the regular syntax of Dutch predicts. Hence, they have to be analysed as cases of optional syntactic compounding.

Their phrasal structure corresponds with specific meanings. Noun incorporation evokes the meaning of conventional action. The word door ‘through’ used as a particle expresses continuative aspect, as in door-gaan ‘lit. through-go, to continue.’

The existence of these separable complex verbs therefore implies a lexicon with a set of phrasal constructional idioms, phrasal constructions of the type [X V],with the X position lexically specified. Hence, there is no sharp boundary between lexicon and syntax, unlike what many models of grammar assume.


Coon back from UCSC

Jessica Coon has just returned from giving a colloquium talk at UCSC on April 2, on the topic of “Split Ergativity and Transitivity in Chol”.


MIT @ CLS 46

MIT will be well represented at the 46th annual meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society this weekend (April 8-10). The program includes talks by:

  • Luka Crnic: “Imperatives in unconditionals”
  • Young Ah Do: “Why do Korean children learn some alternations before others?”
  • Peter Graff: “Longitudinal phonetic variation in a closed system” (with Max Bane and Morgan Sonderegger, University of Chicago), and “Comparing Pluralities” (with Gregory Scontras of Harvard and Noah Goodman of MIT)
  • Patrick Grosz: “German doch: An Element that Triggers a Contrast Presupposition”
  • Pritty Patel-Grosz: “First Conjunct Agreement under Agreement Displacement”
  • Kirill Shklovsky: “Person-Case Effects in Tseltal”

Two talks by Jim McCloskey @ BU

Jim McCloskey (UC Santa Cruz) will give two talks at BU this week.

  • “Sex and the Irish Language: The Cultural Politics of Language Attrition”
    Thursday, April 8, 2010 @ 7:30 PM, followed by a reception
    Location: KCB (565 Commonwealth Ave.), room 101.
  • “Yes, No, and the Construction of Finite Verbs in a VSO Language”
    Friday, April 9, 2010 @ 3:30 PM Location: KCB (565 Commonwealth Ave.), room 106.

Details can be found in the PDF poster announcement.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium 4/9 - Elliott Moreton

Speaker: Elliott Moreton (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)
Time: Friday, April 9, 2010, 3:30pm-5pm
Location: 32-141
Title: Connecting paradigmatic and syntagmatic simplicity bias in phonotactic learning

Phonotactic patterns are easier to learn in the lab when they are simple and systematic in terms of phonetic features (e.g., LaRiviere et al. 1974, Saffran & Thiessen 2003, Kuo 2009, Wilson 2003, Moreton 2008). This is true in two ways: A category contrast is easier if it is defined by possession of a specific feature (paradigmatic simplicity, e.g. [p t k]/[b d g] rather than [p d k]/[b t g]), and also if it is characterized by within-stimulus dependencies between instances of the same feature rather than of different features (syntagmatic simplicity, e.g., height harmony rather than height-voice correlation). Both biases are important to linguists because of their possible impact on natural-language typology. This talk presents evidence for syntagmatic simplicity bias, and discusses the relationship between paradigmatic and syntagmatic simplicity bias, in connection with theories of general human and non-human category learning, and of phonotactic pattern learning.

Although paradigmatic simplicity bias is consistent with what is known about human category learning in other domains (Shepard et al. 1961, Nosofsky et al. 1994), syntagmatic simplicity bias has not been addressed. Paradigmatic simplicity bias in non-linguistic domains can be accounted for by error-driven learning in which constraints compete for influence on the basis of how well they explain unexpected data (the “delta rule”, Gluck & Bower 1988). The same learning rule is used in Maximum Entropy (Jaeger 2004), Harmonic Grammar (Boersma and Pater 2008), and Stochastic OT (Boersma 1997, Boersma & Hayes 2001), resulting in the same bias (Pater et al. 2008).

These results can be extended to account for syntagmatic simplicity bias, *if* there is a guarantee that the constraint set provides more-general constraints only for featurally-simpler within-stimulus dependencies. But evidence from both the lab and natural language suggests that constraints can also be induced from phonological data (Hayes et al. 2009). This talk will present a model of supervised phonotactic learning in which constraint induction is restricted by Feature-Geometric constraint schemas which support general constraints only for featurally-simple between- and within-stimulus dependencies, while still allowing great flexibility in the formulation of constraints. The model implements the delta rule in Harmonic Grammar as an evolutionary competition among constraints which reproduce with variation and selection, so that constraint induction and ranking (weighting) happen simultaneously. The model correctly predicts superior acquisition of syntagmatically- and paradigmatically-simple patterns. Discussion will focus on alternative models of category learning and phonotactic learning.


Ling-Lunch 4/8: Daniel Jaspers

Due to a cancellation, the ling-lunch slot on April 29th is now available. Please email Bronwyn and Alya if you are interested in giving a ling-lunch talk on that date.

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

Speaker: Daniel Jaspers (CRISSP/HUBrussel)
Time: Thurs 4/8, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461
Title: Logic of Colours

Starting from the Aristotelian oppositions as represented in the logical square on the one hand and Höfler’s (1897) colour octahedron on the other, it will be shown algebraically how definitions for the relations of opposition in predicate logic – entailment, contradiction, contrariety and subcontrariety – carry over to the realm of colours and describe very precisely the relations of opposition obtaining between primary and secondary colours. This result has the potential to provide a better characterization of a lot of diffuse everyday knowledge people generally have about colours. Moreover, there are interesting consequences from a linguistic perspective too, relating to the fact that certain colour terms (such as red, green, etc.) are ordinary natural language words whereas other terms such as magenta and cyan are not.

The observed isomorphism between colour perception and logical reasoning also raises interesting philosophical questions: are the logical oppositions as deeply embedded in the physiological structure of human cognition as the colour opposition system?

Gallagher accepts job at NYU

Gillian Gallagher has accepted a position as a one year visiting assistant professor at NYU for 2010-11. Congratulations, Gillian!