The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 4th, 2010

Phonology Circle 10/4 - Kirill Shklovsky

Join us on 10/4 for a presentation by Kirill Shklovsky on his recent work on Tseltal intonation.

Speaker: Kirill Shklovsky (MIT)
Title: Tseltal Prosody: Un Primer Acercamiento
Time: Monday 10/4, 5pm, 32-D831

In this talk I will present (in English) some beginnings of an analysis of Tseltal (Mayan) prosody. In particular I will argue that intonational phrases in unmarked declarative sentences are marked by high (or rising) boundary tones, and that pre-verbal DPs in this verb-initial language project an intonational phrase boundary. I will consider some possible algorithms for assigning tones to syllables, and time permitting, we will discuss the prosody of wh- and yes/no questions in this language.

Upcoming talks:
Oct 18: Ari Goldberg (Tufts)
Oct 25: Youngah Do (MIT)
Nov 1: Sverre Stauland (Harvard)
Nov 8: Natalie Boll-Avetisyan (Potsdam)
Nov 15: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Nov 29: RUMMIT Practice talks

You can view the current, up-to-date version of the schedule here (click ‘agenda’ to see the schedule as a list), or subscribe via iCal here.

Syntax Square 10/5: Coppe van Urk

Please join us for Syntax Square this week:

Speaker: Coppe van Urk
Title: Adjunct Infinitives and Parasitic Gaps in Dutch
Time: Tuesday, 10/5, 1-2PM
Place: 32-D461

This talk attempts to illustrate the value of using a more extensive classification of different adjunct types, drawing on Huettner’s (1989) survey of English infinitival adjuncts. To achieve this, a puzzle in the distribution of parasitic gaps in Dutch across adjunct types is presented. On the basis of independent properties of different adjuncts, it is argued that adjunct infinitives occupy at least three distinct positions in the Dutch clause. Under standard assumptions about parasitic gaps, this proposal is shown to derive the right distributional pattern. The relationship between this analysis and the analysis of Dutch object scrambling is then briefly discussed.

If you are interested in presenting in Syntax Square this semester, please contact Claire Halpert (halpert@mit.edu) or Natasha Ivlieva (ivlieva@mit.edu).

Ling Lunch 10/7 - Peter Graff

Speaker: Peter Graff (MIT)
Title: A Cross-linguistic Investigation of the OCP-Place
Time: Thursday 10/7, 12:30—1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

We expand the seminal work of Frisch et al. (2004) by presenting a large scale investigation of place-driven consonant co-occurrence restrictions (OCP-Place) in Arabic, Amharic, Aymara, Ch’ol, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Javanese, Muna, Quechua, Tagalog, Turkish and Zulu utilizing the framework of the Generalized Linear Model. We propose a constraint set that successfully accounts for OCP-Place and identity effects in all languages. A markedness-based account of the cross-linguistic dispreference for co-occurring similar consonants sharing place features and preference for co-occurring identical consonants is presented. Concretely, it will be shown that OCP-Place typology can be accounted for by a set of probabilistic constraints that penalize featural co-occurrence of similar consonant pairs according to the Similarity Metric of Natural Classes (Frisch et al., 2004) weighted depending on the major place feature they share (Similarity-LAB, Similarity-COR, Similarity-DOR; contra FBP, who propose that the relative similarity of consonants sharing different major place features follows from the organization of the consonant inventory of the language). We also show that identity effects are best accounted for by postulating a violable markedness constraint penalizing non-identical pairs of consonants (Identity; cf BeIdentical; MacEachern, 1997) but note that the domain of this constraint must crucially be restricted to the first and second position of a consonant template.

Jessie Little Doe Baird receives MacArthur genius grant

Jessie Little Doe Baird (SM, MIT Linguistics 2000), of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project, has received a MacArthur “genius grant”. Background info on Baird appears in a 2008 article in the Technology Review. There is a nice video prepared by the MacArthur Foundation, a Boston Globe article, a couple of paragraphs in an MIT News item, which includes quotes from Norvin Richards, who continues Ken Hale’s work with the project: http://web.mit.edu/norvin/www/wopanaak.html. Here are Norvin’s remarks in full:

This award recognizes many years of enormously hard work in pursuit of a dream. It’s hard to imagine a better person to receive this grant! I joined the project in 1999 when I joined the faculty here; at that point, joining the project meant meeting regularly with Jessie and Ken in Ken’s office, poring over 17th-century Wôpanâak texts to try to understand what they could teach us about the grammar and vocabulary of the language. I am honored to still be part of the project today, working together with Jessie on a dictionary, a textbook, and a variety of other educational materials. Today, the project offers language classes at a variety of levels, staffed by Jessie and by her former language students, culminating in a summer Immersion Camp at which only Wôpanâak is spoken. Children are beginning to acquire the language as well, including Jessie’s own daughter Mae Alice Baird, raised by Jessie and her husband Jason entirely in Wôpanâak.

The world is currently in the middle of a massive wave of language extinction. Some linguists estimate that 90% of the world’s languages will vanish in the coming century. The indigenous languages of America are particularly hard hit. Against that backdrop, the success of the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project is a rare piece of good news. If Jessie succeeds, she will have shown that for languages, ‘death’ is not permanent; with enough dedication and hard work, as long as a language is sufficiently well documented, we can hope to bring it back to life.