The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 10th, 2010

Last regular LFRG, 5/10: end-of-semester extravaganza  

Well, it is not actually an extravaganza, but the idea is for our student semantic community to gather and celebrate the end of the semester - and at the same time have some small talk related to our professional activities.

Among possible items on the agenda:

  • who has been up to what during the semester, and who plans to work on what projects in the summer and the fall;
  • what experiences we had taking classes outside of the department: which were useful and interesting, which were boring, which level of prior knowledge they presuppose, and whether it makes sense to take them;
  • possible topics for more traditional reading group/small informal seminar activity in the fall - maybe in smaller focus groups?
  • having coffee, tea, and (hopefully) cookies

See you at the usual place at the usual time, 11:35-12:25!


Phonology Circle 5/10 - Donca Steriade  

The last installment of Phonology Circle for the spring semester will feature a talk by Donca Steriade.

Speaker: Donca Steriade (MIT)
Title: Rhyming evidence for intervals
Time: Monday 5/10, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Stress and meter operate on rhythmic units, each of which consists of a nucleus plus some neighboring consonants. Since Dionysius Thrax (2nd cent. BC), these units have been assumed to be syllables. This talk presents a survey of rhyming conventions whose analysis supports a different rhythmic unit, the Vowel-to-Vowel interval. An interval is the unit containing the nucleus plus any segments following it, up to the next nucleus or to the end of the domain. So interval divided into intervals = (?nt)(?rv)(?l). Intervals contain, like syllables, exactly one nucleus, but their left and right edges are shifted rightwards relative to those of syllables. Intervals have been invoked in the analysis of durational invariance effects, where syllables proved less useful (Farnetani and Kori 1986 JPhon, Fant and Kruckenberg 1989 PERILUS, McCrary 2005, UCLA diss.)

The goal of the talk is to find the constraints that characterize, for each rhyming tradition, the contents of the Rhyming Domain (RD). The RD is the recurring string in rhyming lines. There are three relevant findings. First, there is considerable diversity in the contents and location of the RD, much more than one expects from exposure to standard European poetry: the RD need not be line final, or word final, it need not contain a stressed syllable, or a heavy syllable; and the degree of similarity required between RD’s can be low. Second, despite the great diversity of rhyming practices, the RDs of all traditions share two properties: their left edge is the left edge of an interval, not the left edge of a syllable onset; and their right edge is the right edge of an interval, not the right edge of a syllable coda. Finally, RD internal sub-constituents are occasionally needed, to distinguish degrees of required similarity between rhyming lines: these sub-constituents are intervals too.

Taken together, these results suggest that only intervals – not syllables, or sub-syllabic units – are the units invoked by constraints on RD structure.


Syntax Square 5/11: Mitcho Erlewine  

Please join us for the last Syntax Square of the semester* on Tuesday, 1-2PM. Mitcho Erlewine will present “Independent Dependency and the Mandarin b? Comparative.”

SPEAKER: Mitcho Erlewine
TIME: Tuesday, 5/11, 1-2PM
PLACE: 32-D461
TITLE: Independent Dependency and the Mandarin b? Comparative

Most recent analyses of the Mandarin b? comparative have posited a syntax with only one copy of the predicate in the derivation (Xiang 2003, Erlewine 2007, Lin 2009). In this talk I will argue that this assumption cannot explain a range of comparative data. I refer to this new hypothesis — that the Mandarin comparative must have two copies of the predicate, one for each of the compared items — as Independent Dependency. We will also touch on the phenomena of internal argument comparison with a restricted distribution that no theory on the market can currently account for. I will then hone in on two analyses — an ellipsis approach and a multidominance approach — which are compatible with Independent Dependency and show that they also give a natural account for the internal argument comparatives.

*Stay tuned for Syntax Square: Summer Edition!


Special LFRG 5/14: Klaus von Heusinger  

WHO: Klaus von Heusinger (U. Stuttgart)
TITLE: Specifictiy, Referentiality and Discourse Prominence
WHEN: May 14, Friday, 3PM-4:30PM
WHERE: TBA, probably 32-D461

There are various notions of specificity, ranging from Fodor & Sag’s (1982) referentiality view to Givon’s discourse prominence view. Ionin (2006) discusses the relation between these two perspectives by analyzing the English indefinite this. She represents indefinite this as a referential operator in the sense of Fodor & Sag (1982), but also adds the felicitous condition of “noteworthiness”. She notes that there is an open question how these two properties of indefinite this are linked to the discourse property of signaling high prominence in a discourse.

The talk will address this open question by analyzing the two German equivalents of the English indefinite this: the indefinite demonstrative dies and the form so’n, which is composed of do ‘such’ and the reduced and enclitic form ‘n of the indefinite article ein. Both forms are primarily used in informal registers and signal discourse prominence, i.e. that more will be said about the referent introduced by these expressions. First, I argue that these two forms are in fact two indefinite articles in German; I present some results from corpus searches that provide evidence for their discourse function, and I report on a subtle difference in their referential behavior under extensional and intensional operators. I suggest some new links between the referential properties and the discourse properties of these specific indefinite article in German and conclude with even more open questions.

  1. Peter traf gestern eine Frau.
  2. Peter traf gestern diese Frau.
  3. Peter traf gestern so’ne Frau.
    Peter met yesterday a / this / such-a woman.

Fodor, Janet & Sag, Ivan 1982. Referential and Quantificational Indefinites. Linguistics and Philosophy 5, 355-398.
Givon, Talmy 1981. On the Development of the Numeral ‘one’ as an Indefinite Marker. Folia Linguistica Historia 2, 35-53.
Ionin, Tanja 2006. This is definitely specific: specificity and definiteness in article systems. Natural Language Semantics, 14, 175-234.


New Media Projects For Haiti  

Michel DeGraff was in Haiti the week before last (April 25 — May 1st) with Professors Dale Joachim and Barry Vercoe from the Media Lab and with seven students from the new Media Lab class “New Media Projects For Haiti.” The students had four projects to further develop and test in Haiti:

  1. “Uplifting expressions”: Theater, music, dance and craft as therapy for children’s post-traumatic stress disorder (Asha Martin and Clinton Scroggins)
  2. Health education in post-earthquake Haiti (Amritaa Ganguly)
  3. Low-cost water testing (Anila Sinha, Jess Kim and Kathy Li)
  4. “Pedal Power”: Lost-cost system to produce electricity by pedaling (Marvin Arnold and Daryl Fairweather)

Two of the students (Jess Kim and Amritaa Ganguly) have blogged about their experiences in Haiti:




Jessica Coon to Harvard next year  

Jessica Coon tells us that she will be a post-doc next year in Masha Polinsky’s language processing lab at Harvard. Congratulations, Jessica!