The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Welcome to the Fall Semester  

Today, Tuesday 9/7, is Registration Day. Whamit!, the MIT Linguistics Department Newsletter appears every Monday during the semester. The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, Claire Halpert, and David Pesetsky. To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 4pm before the next Whamit! appears. At the beginning of the semester, we’re particularly interested in news about what happened during the break.


L&P Registration Day Lunch Today  

Don’t forget the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy Registration Day Lunch:

Tuesday, September 7th, 12noon-2pm
8th floor lounge


Syntax Square: Tuesdays 1-2PM  

Syntax Square will be meeting regularly this semester on Tuesdays, 1-2PM (location TBA). If you are interested in leading a discussion, please email Claire Halpert (halpert@mit.edu). Our first meeting will be Tuesday 9/14.


LFRG: Wed Sept 8, 1:30-2:30pm  

LFRG will have it’s first fall meeting on Wednesday at 1:30PM. It will meet regularly this semester on Wednesdays at 2pm.

WHAT: the first LFRG of the semester
WHEN: September 8, Wednesday, 1:30PM-2:30PM (note an earlier end time than usual)
WHERE: 32-D831

Agenda for the meeting:

  • organizational issues (who wants to present, what the LFRG people want to do besides traditional presentations of work in progress made within the department, etc.)
  • “how I spent my summer” stories
  • ice cream!

Phonology Circle resumes Monday 9/13  

The first meeting of the Phonology Circle for the fall semester will be next Monday, 9/13, at 5pm in 32-D831. We will have an organizational meeting schedule the rest of the semester, and discuss lab issues, etc.

If you would like to present this coming Monday, please let Adam know as soon as possible!


Polinsky Lab reading group: Agent-Extraction/Anti-Agreement  

Jessica Coon and Pedro Mateo Pedro are organizing a fall reading group on Agent Extraction phenomena. Meetings will take place Tuesdays at 4:00 at Harvard (exact location TBD), beginning 9/14. If you are interested in attending, please email Jessica Coon (jcoon@fas.harvard.edu) for more information.

Agent-Extraction/Anti-Agreement Reading Group Description:

This reading group investigates restrictions on the extraction of transitive subjects, with special focus on Mayan languages. We begin with an in depth look at so-called “Agent Focus” (AF) constructions in the Mayan language family. AF constructions occur when transitive subjects are questioned, relativized, or fronted for topic/focus (A-Bar extracted) and have been described as semantically and syntactically transitive (i.e. two full DP arguments), but morphologically intransitive (only one argument may agree) (Aissen 1999). After reading about AF and its range of variation in Mayan, we turn to similar “Anti-Agreement” effects more broadly as they have been described in certain Austronesian languages (e.g. Chung 1998) and in some languages of Africa (e.g. Ouhalla 1993).


Course announcement: 24.949/9.601 Language Acquisition  

24.949/9.601 Graduate Language Acquisition this Fall
Instructor: Ken Wexler
Mondays 11 to 2, Linguistics seminar room

  • Lecture 1: Foundational Intro, the role of input, learning, nature of UG and development.
  • Lectures 2-4: The basic properties of early clause structure, finiteness, parameters of clauses, INFL, C, case, agreement, head-movement, raising of subjects, knowledge of morphology, necessity of copulas/aux, why are they omitted?, null-subjects, clitics, modality/negation, movement and its motivations. All of this developmental. Are the classical linguistic-theory (biolinguistic) approaches right, or can we get more than we thought from environmental/computational difficulties (e.g. Yang’s recent papers; in particular we should look at Legate and Yang and its critics).
  • Lecture 5: Deviance
  • Lectures 6,7: Argument-chains, phases, the role of derivation by phase, movement, passives, raising, unaccusatives, clefts, specificational sentences, tough-movement, control (complement and adjunct), control with promise, etc. “Smuggling” in theory and its relation to development and to empty operators, etc (see also lecture 8).
  • Lecture 8: Wh-Movement in Acquisition, questions, relative clauses, A-bar movement in general, etc.
  • Lecture 9/10/11: Semantics of determiners, quantification, scope, maximality, semantics of free relatives, information structure, relation to Theory of Mind experiments, Scalar Implicatures.
  • Lecture 12: Binding Theory.


Course announcement: 24.965 Morphology  

24.965 Morphology
Instructors: Adam Albright and David Pesetsky
Meetings: Monday 2-5pm, 32-D461
Web site (to be populated shortly): http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa10/24.965

Where does morphological structure come from, and why is it realized the way it is? What (if anything) distinguishes word structure from sentence structure? Could it be claimed that “morphology is just a rule of syntax” (filtered through some phonological constraints)? Why do theories of morphology so often posit mechanisms that go beyond what appears necessary in theories of sentence structure? (That is, why do they so often answer “no” to the previous question?)

Attempting to answer these questions leads us into some of the central problems that analyses of morphological systems have grappled with:

  1. To the extent that morphological structure is predictable from syntactic structure, how? [Topics include: the Mirror Principle and scope-based ordering, in Athapaskan and beyond; nanosyntax]
  2. To the extent that morphological structure is constrained in a manner that does not directly follow from obvious facts about sentence syntax, what accounts for these effects? [Topics include: templates; phonologically motivated ordering; level ordering effects, the debate over phases and word-structure, complexity-based ordering]
  3. How do structurally simpler and more complex forms interact? [Topics include: blocking effects (syntax/morphology interactions, word/word interactions, phonologically driven interactions)]
  4. What accounts for complex relations between feature-specifications and their exponents? [Topics include: rules of referral, syncretism, fusion, fission, impoverishment, phonological markedness effects; inflection classes]
  5. What accounts for mismatches among phonologically, semantically and purely morphologically motivated word-structures [Topic: bracketing paradoxes]

The big question underlying the course will be: is there a distinct morphological grammar, or can morphological phenomena all be understood as arising from the interaction of syntax and phonology?

Requirements: three in-class presentations, short paper based on one of them


Course announcement: 24.964 Constraint interaction in Phonetics and Phonology  

24.964 Topics in Phonology: Constraint interaction in Phonetics and Phonology
Instructor: Edward Flemming
Thursday 9:30am-12:30pm, 32-D461
Web site: http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa10/24.964/
(Preliminary readings are already posted).

One of the fundamental insights of Optimality Theory (Prince & Smolensky 1993/2004) is that phonology operates in terms of conflicting constraints. For example, the mapping from input representation to surface form is subject to markedness constraints that cannot all be satisfied without violating some faithfulness constraints. In order to be able to select a surface form in the face of constraint conflict it is necessary to have a mechanism for prioritizing constraints to adjudicate those conflicts. The standard approach, following Prince & Smolensky, is based on constraint ranking: conflicts are resolved in favor of the higher-ranked constraint. In this seminar we will compare this standard approach to alternatives based on numerical weighting of constraints (e.g. Harmonic Grammar , Maximum Entropy Grammars). These alternatives have been often been motivated by computational or learnability considerations, but we will focus on their implications for grammatical analysis and typology in phonetics and phonology.


Course announcement: 24.946 Linguistic Theory and Japanese Language  

24.946, Linguistic Theory and Japanese Language
Instructor: Shigeru Miyagawa
Fall 2010, Tuesdays, 10 -1 (will end by 12:40 for those traveling to Harvard for Jim Huang’s class on Chinese linguistics at 1:15).

We will look at a variety of issues in linguistic theory from the perspective of Japanese with critical comparisons to other languages. Topics include the following:

  • Modularity (causatives, with reference to work on blocking in English, e.g., Embick, Kiparsky)
  • Agreement (with comparison to Basque)
  • Wh-movement (including work on Fukuoka dialect and sign language)
  • Genitive marking on the subject and specification of Phase (comparisons to Turkish, Slavic, and possibly Uyghur)
  • Status of argument structure (ditransitives, with reference to work on nominalization in English, e.g., Kayne, Pesetsky)
  • Optionality (comparision of QR and scrambling)
  • Postposting/Rightward movement (comparisons to Hindi, Turkish, Uyghur)

For reading materials, see the course stellar site: http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa10/24.946/


MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, 2010-2011  

All talks are from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in room 32-141 unless otherwise noted. For further information, please contact Patrick Grosz (grosz@mit.edu) or Liudmila Nikolaeva (liudmila@mit.edu). This schedule is subject to change.

Fall 2010

September 24 - Hubert Truckenbrodt (Tübingen, rescheduled from Spring 2010)
October 15 - Vera Gribanova (Stanford)
October 22 - Rachel Walker (USC)
November 5 - Valentine Hacquard (UMD)
November 12 - Caroline Heycock (Edinburgh)
November 19 - Jon Nissenbaum (McGill)

Spring 2011

February 18 - Gerhard Jäger (Tübingen)
March 11 - Jason Merchant (University of Chicago)
March 18 - Milan Rezac (University of the Basque Country)
April 1 - David Adger (Queen Mary, London UK)
April 8 - Rick Nouwen (Utrecht)
April 22 - Junko Ito (UC Santa Cruz)
May 6 - Shinichiro Ishihara (J.W. Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt am Main)


DeGraff receives NSF grant for work in Haiti  

Michel DeGraff has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant to pursue work for Haiti thoughout the academic year 2010—2011. He writes:

My NSF project title is: “Kreyòl-based and technology-enhanced teaching of reading, writing, math and science in Haiti.” I will help develop, refine and evaluate innovative Kreyòl-based and technology-enhanced educational materials and methods for Haitian classrooms. These materials and methods will be tested in situ in Haiti.

I will thus be on leave during the year to work on this project, which started earlier this year, especially during trips to Haiti over the Summer.

This project seems particularly timely in the context of the post-earthquake reconstruction of Haiti’s school system. Some of the rationale for it is explained in a couple of articles, in the Boston Globe (in U.S.) and in Le Nouvelliste (Haiti). Both articles discuss Haiti’s language barrier:

I hope my NSF project and related efforts will help break down this barrier.

Congratulations, Michel!


Preminger wins Levitan teaching award  

At the end of the spring semester, we received news that Omer Preminger had received the James A. ‘45 and Ruth Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching.

This is a prestigious award within SHASS and very hard to get because all faculty, lecturers and TAs who teach SHASS courses are eligible.

As the letter of award says, “this prize recognizes those in our School who have demonstrated outstanding success in teaching undergraduate and graduate students, and who have been nominated by students themselves for work above and beyond the ordinary classroom responsibilities”

Congratulations, Omer!!

(submitted by Sabine)


MIT at Sinn und Bedeutung  

MIT is sending 5 talks to Sinn und Bedeutung, held 9/9-9/11 at Universität des Saarlandes, Germany:

  • Tue Trinh & Luka Crnic: On the Rise and Fall of Declaratives

  • Patrick Grosz: Facts and ideals: on the relationship between conditionals and optatives

  • Tue Trinh: Bare nouns and classifier phrases ? A comparative analysis

  • Patrick Grosz & Viola Schmitt: An Ordering Semantics for German “zwar, aber”

  • Sabine Iatridou & Hedde Zeijlstra: Negation and negative indefinites in modal constructions


Meet Ling-10  

Welcome to our incoming first year students! They’ve sent us some brief introductions.

Ted Levin grew up in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He received a B.A. in Language and Linguistics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. While interested in all subfields of theoretical linguistics, as an undergraduate he focused on syntax writing his honors thesis on external possession constructions in Korean. Aside from linguistics, Ted is a fan of all Philadelphia sports teams and a self-described beer snob.

Sam Steddy reports, “I come from a seaside town in the Southeast of England, not far from Canterbury or Sandwich, though I’ve been studying and living in London for the past six years, with interludes in Bologna, Italy and Toulouse, France. I have an undergraduate degree in French & Italian and a master’s in syntax, both from University College London, though I suppose now is the time to begin working in new fields and with new languages. My main areas of interest up until now have been syntax and phonology, the interface between the two, morphology, compounding, and language universals. Outside of linguistics I seek solace in good food and Italian detective novels.”

Gretchen Kern grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where she recently completed an MA in linguistics. Before that, she did an MA in Irish at Aberystwyth University and a BA in East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Southern California. Her interests lie in phonology — more specifically in historical linguistics and language change, prosody, and the phonology/syntax interface. She spent the past summer living with an Irish-speaking family on a sheep farm in County Donegal.

Wataru Uegaki writes, “I am originally from Japan, and have done my BA and MA in linguistics at University of Tokyo. Outside of Japan, I have once lived in San Francisco for one year when I was five, but that’s a long time ago. So, my life at MIT is going to be the first time for me as an adult to settle in the US (and in a country other than Japan). I am mainly interested in semantics, especially the semantics of different types of expressions that report attitudes (belief, wish etc.), but am also very excited to learn ideas and methods from other (sub)fields inside and outside linguistics. In my spare time, I like to go for a ride around Boston and Cambridge on my new bike. Let me know if any of you is planning a bike trip!”

Suyeon Yun reports, “I’m from South Korea and have an MA in linguistics from Seoul National University. My major research interests include typology, phonology, and the Arabic languages. I spend a lot of time listening to music and writing in a journal. I also like traveling very much.”

Ryo Masuda grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles and earned a B.A. in linguistics and mathematics at UC Berkeley, where he also completed a senior thesis on loanword phonology. His primary research interests are in the interface of phonetics and phonology, with a consideration for historical issues that arise in that area. Outside of linguistics, Ryo likes to watch films both mainstream and obscure.

Isaac Gould enjoys cooking (last dinner was leftover chicken provençal), going for walks (maybe I’ll find the time to do the Camino de Santiago?), and old films (a taste of Jimmy Stewart, healthy portions of Mastroianni and Stanwyck, and the Marx Brothers for dessert). He has an MA and BA in linguistics from The University of Toronto and seems drawn to the syntax-PF interface.

Michelle Fullwood is from Singapore. She graduated from Cornell University with a BA in mathematics and linguistics in 2004. Since then, she has worked in speech and natural language processing and later web development, before the lure of linguistics proved too strong to resist any longer. She is interested in computationally modelling various aspects of language acquisition, particularly phonological and morphological acquisition.

Ayaka Sugawara reports, “I grew up in Chiba, which is next to Tokyo, in Japan. I’m interested in syntax and L1 acquisition. My BA and MA theses focused on relative clauses in Japanese and split topicalization in Japanese, respectively. I’m looking forward to developing my intellectual strength and learning lots of new things through the MIT program. On my day off, I like to listen to (rock) music, and I used to like to play the guitar on weekends. I was in a band when I was in Japan, and I miss my Les Paul (which is still in Japan)!”

Coppe van Urk writes, “I was born and raised in The Netherlands, in a small city near Utrecht. I got a BA in English and an MA in linguistics at Utrecht University. As some of you may know, I was a Visiting Student at MIT in the Fall 2009 semester, as part of that MA. I’ve mainly worked on syntactic issues, particularly on obligatory control, but I’m also interested in language evolution and phonology. Outside of linguistics, I like to play soccer and board games. My first name is a Middle Dutch form of Jacob, now quite rare, and is pronounced: /k?p?/ (note the absence of aspiration).”


How I spent my summer vacation  

This week and next, we feature some news items concerning activities that members of the department participated in over the summer.

  • In June, Patrick Grosz & Pritty Patel-Grosz gave a guest lecture at the University of Vienna, presenting their joint work on pronouns.
  • For the second summer in a row, Omer Preminger taught at the EGG (the Eastern/Central-European summer-school in generative grammar: http://egg.auf.net/). This year, the school was held in Constanta, Romania. Omer taught a topics class called Recent developments in (the theory of) ergativity (which featured, among other things, an extensive discussion of Jessica Coon’s 2010 dissertation!). In addition, he taught the second half of the Intro to Syntax course, the first half of which was taught by Michal Starke (http://michal.auf.net/).

If you have news about events and accomplishments from the past summer, please send them to Whamit! by this Sunday (9/12).