The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 18th, 2010

Phonology Circle 10/18- Ari Goldberg

Join us for this week’s Phonology Circle Presentation:

Speaker: Ari Goldberg (Tufts University)
Title: Gradient effects of consonant similarity and morphological boundaries
Time: Monday 10/18, 5pm, 32-D831

Functionalist accounts of the OCP propose that the dispreference for similar and repeated items originates in the limitations of the production and perception systems. The difficulty processing repeated elements in sequence (Berg, 1998; Frish, 2004) and the biomechanical effort needed to articulate homorganic consonants (Walter, 2007) are hypothesized to over time lead to an underrepresentation of words with repeated/similar consonants. I argue that an important prediction of any functionalist account of the OCP is that the severity of the effect should decrease across morpheme boundaries. Psycholinguistic theories hold that morphemes are processed relatively independently of each other (e.g., Dell, 1986) and it has been shown that articulatory gestures are less tightly coupled across morpheme boundaries (Cho, 2001). This means that sequences that are dispreferred on serial order or articulatory grounds within morphemes may be easier to process when present across morphemes. I report oral reading reaction time data from the English Lexicon Project that support this claim. Significant inhibitory effects of consonant similarity are found both tautomorphemically and heteromorphemically, with a weaker effect across morpheme boundaries than within. Within multimorphemic words, the effect is modulated by the likelihood that the word is processed via whole-word vs. compositional routes (Hay, 2003). Suffixed words that are more “multimorphemic” show weaker effects of consonant similarity than suffixed words that are more “monomorphemic”. The implications of these findings for typological patterns in heteromorphemic and tautomorphemic environments will be discussed.

Upcoming talks:
Oct 25: Youngah Do (MIT)
Nov 1: Sverre Stausland Johnsen (Harvard)
Nov 8: Natalie Boll-Avetisyan (Potsdam)
Nov 15: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Nov 29: RUMMIT Practice talks
Dec 6: Suyeon Yun (MIT)

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 10/19 - Bronwyn Bjorkman, Alya Asarina

Please join us for Syntax Square: NELS Edition! Bronwyn Bjorkman and Alya Asarina will both be giving practice talks for their upcoming NELS presentations. Abstracts can be found here.

Speaker: Bronwyn Bjorkman
Title: A Syntactic Correlate of Semantic Asymmetries in Clausal Coordination

Speaker: Alya Asarina
Title: Neutrality vs. Ambiguity in Resolution by Syncretism: Experimental Evidence and Consequences

Time: Tuesday, October 19, 1-2PM
Place: 32-D461

LFRG 10/20: Luka Crnic on Pragmatic enrichment and concessive scalarity

WHO: Luka Crnic
WHAT: Pragmatic enrichment and concessive scalarity
WHEN: October 20, 1:30PM-3:00PM
WHERE: 32-D831

I am going to present an analysis of “concessive even” that avoids some of the issues that have plagued previous proposals. The account derives the appropriate meanings and explains “concessive even“‘s distribution. A tentative gesture is made towards understanding the distribution of some other scalar particles. Some questions are left open. The talk will be 20 min.

Rachel Walker @ Harvard Language Universals and Linguistic Fieldwork Series

Rachel Walker, University of Southern California
Title: “Target scope in harmony processes.”
Thursday, October 21 at 4:00pm
Location: TBA
Abstract: click here

Student talks roundup: conference and colloquium presentations

Omer Preminger recently gave an invited talk at the Yale Syntax Colloquium, titled “The Origins of Obligatoriness: Evidence from Agreement Failures”.

Youngah Do recently presented a talk at JK20 (20th Japanese/Korean Linguistics Conference) at Oxford University, with the title “When focal cues are conflicting: Focus perception in Korean”

In addition, Igor Yanovich presented a talk entitled “Making Smarter Contenders?” last weekend at NECPhon 4 (the Northeast Computational Phonology Circle) at UMass Amherst.

Please remember to send announcements about upcoming and recent presentations to whamit@mit.edu for inclusion in future editions!

Linguistics Colloquium 10/22 - Rachel Walker

Speaker: Rachel Walker (University of Southern California)
Title: Locality, Scope, and Sour Grapes Effects in Vowel Harmony
Date: Friday, October 22, 2010
Time: 3:30-5:00PM
Place: 32-155 (PLEASE NOTE NEW ROOM)

Harmony that operates only when it reaches a specific destination, such as a word boundary or other landmark, presents a “sour grapes” effect (Padgett 1995). Unbounded harmony does not show this characteristic, because it can be partial in the domain in which it operates (Wilson 2003). This property of unbounded harmony presents an important test for theories of harmony in different frameworks. Wilson has characterized unbounded harmony as, in effect, local iterative spreading, a phenomenon that is challenging to replicate in the classic version of Optimality Theory but straightforward to generate using autosegmental rules.

This paper investigates the apparent benefits of local iterative spreading through an exploration of systems with nonlocal target scope: an unbounded round harmony in Baiyinna Orochen and a bounded height harmony in the central Veneto dialect. These patterns each show nonlocal target scope but harmony proceeds locally, that is, the operation of harmony between adjacent syllables can depend on information about vowels in nonadjacent syllables. These patterns point to a need to distinguish locality of assimilation from locality for target scope, a separation that presents difficulty for local iterative spreading rules as well as for any constraint that enforces harmony only over adjacent trigger-target pairs. These phenomena call for harmony constraints with nonlocal scope, readily implemented using the global evaluation that is intrinsic to OT.

The bounded pattern of central Veneto, which singles out a stressed target, also bears on a serial version of OT. In this system, unstressed vowels on the path to a stressed vowel undergo harmony as incidental participants but not otherwise. This suggests a need for a fell-swoop derivation, where a stressed vowel target and an intervening unstressed vowel undergo harmony at once rather than in successive steps. However, a derivation of this kind is not generated in the standard theory of Harmonic Serialism (e.g. McCarthy 2008a,b, 2009).

In conclusion, the harmony systems under study highlight empirical advantages of global evaluation and harmony-driving constraints with nonlocal scope rather than a local iterative procedure for harmony. Although harmony-driving constraints with global scope predict certain unattested systems, approaches with only local scope are too restrictive, signaling the need for a fresh look at issues of typological overgeneration.


MIT is well represented at NELS 41, held this weekend (10/23-24) at the University of Pennsylvania. Noam Chomsky will deliver the keynote address, entitled “Should we study Language? If so, how?” The following students and recent alumni will be giving talks:

  • Alya Asarina: Neutrality vs. Ambiguity in Resolution by Syncretism: Experimental Evidence and Consequences
  • Bronwyn Bjorkman: A Syntactic Correlate of Semantic Asymmetries in Clausal Coordination
  • Seth Cable (UMass): The Optionality of EPP in Dholuo
  • Jessica Coon (Harvard) and Omer Preminger: Transitivity in Chol: A New Argument for the Split-VP Hypothesis
  • Luka Crnic: Pragmatic Enrichment and Concessive Scalarity
  • Maria Giavazzi (ENS): Getting Rid of Positional Faithfulness in Stressed Positions: The Phonetic Underpinnings of Prosodic Conditioning

Ling-Lunch 10/21 - Donca Steriade

Speaker: Donca Steriade (MIT)
Title: Constraint Interactions derive Morphomic Identity
Time: Thursday 10/21, 12:30—1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

Morphological paradigms sometimes display systematic identity (or syncretism) between cells that share no syntactic properties. Such phenomena are widespread enough to have generated new descriptive technologies: e.g. the rule of referral (Zwicky 1985, Stump 2001), the morphome (Aronoff 1992) and the thematic space (Bonami and Boyer 2001, for stem syncretism). All these devices were proposed in the belief that any pair of paradigm cells is as likely as any other to have identical exponents.

I show that syncretism is frequently predictable when phonology is factored in: cells that are on the surface strictly identical, without syntactic reason, are the ones that whose underlying representations single them out as being very similar, in some local respect. Familiar data showing this is the obligatory identity between English past tense and past participles when both end in t or d (sat/sat; rid/rid; built/built; burnt/burnt; said/said). There is variation, but no paradigm internal contrast between forms like burnt~burned or lit~lighted. Pairs not ending in t/d tend to be distinct in strong verbs (wrote/written; swelled/swollen; dove/dived) showing that it’s the local similarity between final alveolar stops that triggers syncretism. What we need then is a mechanism that generates global identity between forms that are underlyingly distinct but similar, i.e. hypothetical inputs like burnt/burned.

Most of this talk is about the Latin syncretism that inspired the morphome (Aronoff 1994; Matthews 1974) and the related hypothesis of an autonomous morphological component. The stem of many Latin deverbal derivatives (e.g. agent nouns like laudator ‘praiser’) is always identical to that of the passive-perfect participle (laudatus ‘praised’). I show that local similarity is the critical factor here too, in ways reminiscent of the English case. The Latin pattern is more revealing because stem syncretism violates here an otherwise general condition linking the referent of a deverbal derivative to the argument structure of verb forms containing the same stem as the derivative: if the latter are passive, the former must refer to a passive subject. The full picture suggests exactly the opposite of Aronoff’s conclusions: syncretism is not arbitrary, and cannot be analyzed in an autonomous component. Rather, it involves an interaction of phonological constraints seeking identity of similar forms with conflicting preferences on the proper exponence of syntactic structures.