The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 7th, 2011

MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, Spring 2011

All talks are from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. in room 32-141 (Please note we have the old room back). For further information, please contact Liudmila Nikolaeva or Natalia Ivlieva. This schedule is subject to change.

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)


Syntax Square 2/7 - Coppe van Urk

Syntax Square resumes this week with a talk by Coppe van Urk.

Speaker: Coppe van Urk
Title: On Visser’s Generalization
Time: Monday, February 7, 11:30a-12:30p
Place: 32-D461

This talk deals with Visser’s Generalisation (VG), the claim that subject control is incompatible with passivisation (Jenkins 1972, Bresnan 1982). On the basis of new cross-linguistic data, VG is argued to be evidence for models of control in which T plays a facilitating role in establishing subject control (e.g. Borer 1989; Landau 2000 et seq.). In addition, VG stated in this way is shown to be derivable from independent proposals about the syntax of implicit arguments and control.

Harvard Phonology Talks 2/7 - Kevin Ryan

There will be five phonology talks at Harvard in February, with the first two this week.

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (UCLA)
Title: Gradient weight in phonology
Time: Monday, February 7, 5:00pm
Location: Boylston Hall 335 (third floor)

Research on syllable weight in the generative tradition has focused almost exclusively on systems in which weight is treated as an ordinal (strict domination) scale of clearly delineated categories (e.g. heavy and light). As I discuss, stress and poetic meter can also treat weight as a gradient interval scale in which (1) differences between types are matters of relative degree and (2) there is no clear segregation of types into categories. I propose modeling such systems in a probabilistic Harmonic Grammar framework (as in e.g. Goldwater & Johnson 2003, Hayes & Wilson 2008, Ryan 2010) with gradiently violable constraints (cf. Flemming 2001, Zhang 2007, Pater to appear). Investigating gradient weight systems allows the phonetics/phonology of weight to be put under a microscope, so to speak, yielding new evidence supporting and extending phonological universals: First, the scales that emerge language-internally in the gradient realm recapitulate the universal hierarchy inferred from the crosslinguistic categorical typology (Gordon 2006). Second, factors in weight that are relatively marginal in the categorical typology (e.g. properties of onsets) are shown to exert statistical effects even in languages in which such factors play no role in categorization.

Upcoming phonology talks at Harvard:
2/10: Michael Becker (Harvard), “Universal Grammar protects Initial Syllables” (Abstract, PDF)
2/14: Matthew Wolf (Yale)
2/24: Karen Jesney (UMass Amherst)
2/28: Gillian Gallagher (NYU)


Phonology Circle 2/8 - Youngah Do

Speaker: Youngah Do
Title: Interaction of the top most and the bottom most: pragmatic bias and perceptual confusability
Time: Tuesday 2/8, 5-6pm, 32-D831

It is well known that multiple linguistic levels interact in language processing (e.g. lexical knowledge to phoneme perception, Ganong 1980; pragmatic contexts to syntactic parsing, Crain & Steedman 1985). This study explores a very challenging case; the interaction of the top most level, pragmatics, and the bottom most level, phonetics.

I conduct an experiment in which listeners were presented with nouns containing acoustically ambiguous phonemes, the interpretation of which was potentially biased by (a) the pragmatic context (implicit causality: IC) and (b) the phonological context (velar softening before a high and back vowels).

I expected IC verbs to bias listeners’ expectation for which participant cause the event as in (1).

    1. Subject-biased context
      Ko apologizes Cho because ?
      Expectation for ?: Ko over Cho
    2. Object-biased context
      Ko admires Cho because ?
      Expectation for ?: Cho over Ko

    I also expect that perceptually more confusable nouns such as Ki and Chi override pragmatic inference more.

    Results show that pragmatic contexts do bias the perception: listeners perceive confusable nouns more as a subject in subject-biased context. At the same time, acoustic confusability also affects the interpretation of the nouns: [k~ch] before a front vowel [i] context affects pragmatic bias toward or against pragmatically expected noun more than back vowel context.

Upcoming talks:
Feb 11 3:30-5pm: Jonah Katz (Note special day and time!)
Feb 15 5-6pm: AVAILABLE
Mar 1 5-6pm: AVAILABLE
Mar 8 5-6pm: Michael Kenstowicz and Filomena Sandalo
Mar 15 5-6pm: Igor Yanovich
Mar 29 5-6pm: AVAILABLE
Apr 5 5-6pm: AVAILABLE
Apr 12 5-6pm: WCCFL practice talks
Apr 26 5-6pm: AVAILABLE
May 3 5-6pm: AVAILABLE
May 10 5-6pm: AVAILABLE

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.


LFRG 2/9 - Jaeger’s papers on game-theoretical pragmatics

WHAT: Jaeger’s papers on game-theoretical pragmatics
WHEN: February 9 (Wed), 4:00PM-5:30PM
WHERE: 32-D831 (in case of a change of venue, there will be a note with the new room number on the door)

At his colloquium talk on Feb 18, Gerhard Jaeger is going to talk mostly about the Iterated Best Response game-theoretical model of pragmatics. He has just finished an overview here.

Igor suggests that everybody interested look before next Wednesday into these two earlier, and shorter, papers:


Harvard Phonology Talks 2/10 - Michael Becker

The second phonology talk this month at Harvard is by Michael Becker.

Speaker: Michael Becker (Harvard)
Title: Universal Grammar protects Initial Syllables
Time: Thursday, February 10, 5:00pm
Location:  Boylston Hall 303 (third floor)

(Joint work with Lauren Eby Clemens, Jonathan Levine, and Andrew Nevins)

In English, voicing alternations (e.g. knife ~ knives) impact mostly monosyllables, while polysyllables are rarely impacted. The opposite is true of Turkish: most monosyllables keep their base faithful under affixation (e.g. top ~ topu ‘ball’), while most polysyllables tolerate a voicing alternation (gurup ~ gurubu ‘group’). In this talk, I examine the two types of languages, and show that the symmetry is only superficial. The Turkish trend is accessible to the grammar and extends readily to novel words, whereas English speakers treat novel words the same regardless of size. In other words, English speakers fail to find the generalization (“the surfeit of the stimulus”).

Initial syllable faithfulness explains this asymmetry: The [p] in top ~ topu is protected by initial syllable faithfulness and by general faithfulness, while the [p] in gurup is protected by general faithfulness only. English goes against the Universal bias, requiring monosyllables to be less faithful than polysyllables. But with general faithfulness highly ranked, the ranking of initial syllable faithfulness is irrelevant, and the speakers are blocked from forming the required generalization.

Having established the asymmetry in the novel word tasks, we press English speakers further and ask them to learn unfamiliar morphophonological alternations (e.g. mi?p ~ mi?b-ni). Unencumbered by the accidental nature of actual English, the speakers fall back on their Universal Grammar and exhibit the Turkish pattern.

This line of investigation, which goes from real words to novel words and from novel words to novel alternations, allows us to trace the biases that humans use in the phonological organization of the lexicon, and allows us to expose behavior that roundly contradicts the ambient language, yet conforms to the biases we see in the world’s languages.

Upcoming phonology talks at Harvard:
2/14: Matthew Wolf (Yale)
2/24: Karen Jesney (UMass Amherst)
2/28: Gillian Gallagher (NYU)


Ling-Lunch 2/10 - Wataru Uegaki

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki
Title: Controller shift in centered-world semantics
Time: Thursday, February 10, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

(This is a practice talk for the workshop “Grammar of Attitudes” at the 33rd meeting of DGfS to be held on February 23rd at University of Göttingen.)

English control shift (CS) (Hust & Brame 1976) is a phenomenon where the understood subject of an obligatory control complement corresponds to an argument that is different from the verb’s ordinary controller, as exemplified in (1).

  1. a. Johni was promised by Maryj PROi to be allowed to perjure himselfi.
    b. Johni asked Maryj PROi to be allowed to leave.

In this talk, I will argue that this long-standing problem can be given a straightforward analysis within the centered-world analysis of attitude ascription (cf. e.g., Lewis 1979), which is independently motivated to deal with the semantics of de se attitude reports. The basic proposals are the following: (i) the participants of the event predicated of by the control complement must consist of the counterparts of those of the matrix attitude (i.e. obligatory de se reading), (ii) the lexical semantics of “subject/object control” verbs are such that their subject/object arguments correspond to the agent of the complement event, (iii) In CS, the complement contains an implicit agent argument in addition to PRO, which makes the complement denote a ‘double-centered’ proposition with both the author-center and the addressee-center. Among these, (i) and (ii) apply to obligatory control in general, and only (iii) is the proposal specific to CS. In the talk, I will show how this system allows a straightforward analysis of CS, and discuss its implications.


Special Phonology Circle **Friday 2/11** Jonah Katz

On Friday, there will be a special meeting of the Phonology Circle, featuring a talk by Jonah Katz. Please note the special day and time!

Speaker: Jonah Katz (CNRS, Institut Jean Nicod)
Title: Compression effects, perceptual asymmetries, and the grammar of timing
Time: Friday 2/11, 3:30-5pm, 32-D831

This paper examines the nature of the information that is relevant to speech timing and the consequences of this domain for phonetic/phonological theory. We report the results of two English experiments on timing and perception. The first experiment demonstrates asymmetries in timing between consonants and vowels, which depend on the manner of the consonant. The second experiment shows that these asymmetries in speech production are mirrored by perceptual asymmetries among consonants with different manner features. We argue that these phenomena are best described in terms of auditory recoverability. A formal analysis is developed using weighted, gradiently-violable constraints on segment and syllable duration. Because the constraints make reference to the auditory features of segments, the analysis can derive the relationship between asymmetries in speech production and asymmetries in speech perception. The patterns of timing discovered here appear to interact in limited ways with systems of phonological contrast. We incorporate the duration constraints proposed here into a phoneticallydriven model of phonology, examining the predictions that such an approach makes about phonological typology


Our multifaceted linguists: Mitcho Erlewine wins Microsoft educational technology prize!

This is news from last December, but fresh news to us. Mitcho Erlewine, wearing one of his many hats (we know him as a crackerjack syntactician and semanticist) was awarded the 2010 Microsoft Research iCampus Technology Innovation Student Prize by the MIT Council for Educational Technology — for his work on “Sustainable Web Development for the MIT Community Using WordPress”. You can read all about his achievements and the ways in which they facilitated three separate educational efforts at MIT here. Congratulations, Mitcho!!