The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 15th, 2010

Phonology Circle 11/15 - Michael Kenstowicz

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz
Title: The Origin and Development of Kinande Tonal Classes
Time: Monday 11/15, 5pm, 32-D831

In his analysis of Kinande tone Hyman (1990) proposes a ternary High-Low-Toneless contrast on the final syllable vs. a binary High-Toneless opposition elsewhere. In this paper we trace the historical development of this distinction from its origins in Proto-Bantu to its distribution in the contemporary language.

Upcoming talks:
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 11/16 - Isaac Gould

Please join us for Syntax Square this week. Isaac Gould will present his work on the Grassfields Bantu language Lamnso’.

Speaker: Isaac Gould
Title: Who Isn’t There? A preliminary description of the absentive in Lamnso’
Time: Tuesday, November 16, 1-2PM
Location: 32-D461

In this descriptive talk, I sketch out some of the basic uses of the absentive morpheme ‘siiy’ in Lamnso’ (Grassfields, Cameroon). Its primary use is to indicate someone’s spatial absence in requests or when reporting information, but it might also have a temporal use as well. I will also give a brief overview of absentive constructions in some other languages. The way that absence is expressed in Lamnso’ appears to be typologically uncommon, but it does seem to have parallels in other languages.

LFRG 11/17 - Guillaume Thomas

WHO: Guillaume Pierre Yves Thomas
WHAT: Additive “more” and “another”, PART 2
WHEN: November 17, 1:30PM-3:00PM
WHERE: 32-D831

Upcoming LFRG meetings:

Nov 24: Luka Crnic
Dec 1: Peter Graff

Roeper to speak at Harvard - 11/17

Speaker: Tom Roeper (U Mass Amherst)
Title: Vacate Phase: How acquisition data provides subtle support for the Strong Minimalist Thesis
When: Nov 17, 2010, 5pm (pizza provided!)
Where: Polinsky Language Processing Lab Conference Room (4th floor of 2 Arrow St)

Ling Lunch 11/18 - Peter Graff & Jeremy Hartman

Speakers: Peter Graff & Jeremy Hartman (MIT)
Title:Constraints on Predication
Time: Thursday, November 18, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk we propose a novel semantic universal “Myopia”, which we argue constrains the denotations of lexical predicates in natural language. We generalize that for any lexical predicate P, the only entities relevant to determining the truth of a formula involving P are the entities identified by P’s arguments. Roughly, a predicate P is “myopic” if the truth of a formula involving P in a universe consisting exclusively of the individuals identified by the arguments of P is always identical to its truth value in the full domain of individuals. We show that this constraint not only excludes many denotations of natural language determiners previously excluded by Conservativity (Keenan and Stavi 1986), but also generalizes to predicates of other lexical categories, including nouns, verbs, adpositions and adjectives. We support the psychological reality of our typological observation with evidence from an on-line artificial determiner learning study (N=454), showing that both Conservativity and Myopia are active in determiner learning. Conservative determiners are easier to acquire than non-conservative myopic determiners, which in turn are easier to acquire than non-conservative non-myopic determiners, showing that typological universals may have a more or less profound impact on word learning.

MIT Linguistics Colloquium 11/19 - Jon Nissenbaum

Speaker: Jon Nissenbaum (Syracuse University)
Title: Pseudo Pseudo-Scope
Date: Friday, November 19, 2010
Time: 3:30-5:00PM
Place: 32-155 (PLEASE NOTE ROOM)

The ability of an infinitival clause to contain a gap is often dependent on the syntactic environment. At first glance, infinitival clauses with degree operators (too, enough) seem exceptional, freely alternating between a gapped and gapless version: Bob is too mean [for me to talk to (him)]. But this alternation turns out to be dependent on the syntactic position of the degree phrase at LF, as Bernhard Schwarz and I have argued in recent work. An infinitival degree phrase with a gap must (ordinarily) be interpreted as the sister of a gradable adjective (in situ), while a gapless one must raise at LF. We argued, in other words, that the distribution of gaps in degree phrase infinitives is well-behaved after all, following from semantic compositionality.

However, the picture cannot be so simple. The gapless degree infinitive, in addition to being able to scope past an intensional verb, allows a third reading distinct from either the ordinary wide or narrow scope interpretation. This resembles familiar cases of transparent readings of DPs: interpreted in the scope of an intensional operator without being bound by that operator. But our transparent readings give rise to a conundrum: they are incompatible with gaps—the opposite of what is expected under narrow scope.

The first part of this talk will report continued joint work with Schwarz, rejecting our earlier proposal about these mysterious readings. We argue instead that the third reading is really a species of wide scope LF. I will sketch a proposal about how its peculiar truth conditions are derived. The second part of the talk will attempt to re-situate infinitival degree phrases within a more general theory of gapped and gapless infinitivals.