The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 28th, 2011

Syntax Square 2/28 - Sasha Podobryaev

Speaker: Sasha Podobryaev
Title: Ergative vs. Active-Stative Alignment
Time: Monday, February 28, 11.30-12.30PM
Location: 32-D461

This talk addresses some issues raised by Legate’s (2008) theory of ergative alignment and its “dependent case” alternatives. We will discuss the empirical basis for Legate’s ABS=DEF/ABS=NOM distinction in ergative languages and the applicability of this distinction to active-stative (split-S) systems.

Harvard Phonology Talk 2/28 - Gillian Gallagher

Recent MIT alum Gillian Gallagher (currently a Visiting Assistant Professor at New York University) will speak on Monday at Harvard.

Title: Contrast and non-local dependencies
Time: Monday, February 28, 5:00pm
Location: Boylston Hall, third floor, room 335

In this talk, I argue that long-distance phonological dependencies are grounded in perceptual asymmetries. The analytical claims are

  1. That laryngeal cooccurrence restrictions are restrictions on the perceptual strength of contrasts between roots, as opposed to restrictions on laryngeal configurations in isolated roots, and
  2. That laryngeal cooccurrence restrictions are restrictions on auditory, as opposed to articulatory, features.

Both long-distance laryngeal dissimilation, where roots may have one but not two laryngeally marked stops (MacEachern 1999), and assimilation, where stops in a root must agree in laryngeal features (Hansson 2001; Rose and Walker 2004) are given a unified account based on a grammatical pressure to neutralize indistinct contrasts. The contrast based analysis is supported by the empirical finding that certain non- adjacent sounds interact with one another in perception. Specifically, the perception of a contrast in ejection or aspiration is degraded in roots with another ejective or aspirate, as compared to roots with another plain stop (e.g. the pair k’ap’i-kap’i is more confusable than the pair k’api-kapi). Roots that are minimally distinguished by having one vs. two laryngeally marked stops are confusable with one another (e.g. k’ap’i is confusable with kap’i), and thus languages may avoid having both types of forms.

The analysis integrates long-distance phonological neutralizations with analyses of local neutralizations based on phonetic cues and contrast strength (Flemming 1995, 2004, 2006; Steriade 1997), showing that both local and non-local phenomena are driven by grammatical constraints against perceptually indistinct contrasts.


Phonology Circle resumes next week

Weekly meetings of the Phonology Circle will resume next week, on 3/8, with a talk by Michael Kenstowicz and Filomena Sandalo. If you would like to sign up for one of the remaining slots this semester, please contact Adam.

Upcoming talks:
Mar 8: Michael Kenstowicz and Filomena Sandalo
Mar 15: Igor Yanovich
Mar 29: Sverre Johnsen
Apr 5: Anne-Michelle Tessier
Apr 12: Ricardo Bermudez-Otero

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.


Experimental Syntax & Semantics Lab Meeting 3/2

Speakers: Hadas Kotek and Yasutada Sudo
Time: Wednesday, March 2, 4:00pm-5:30pm
Location: 32-D461

Hadas and Yasu will present results from a recent experiment showing that in English, “most” in subject position has a (previously unnoticed) superlative reading, in addition to the usual proportional reading.


Ling-Lunch 3/3 - Jim Huang

Speaker: Jim Huang (Harvard)
Title: Variation in non-canonical passives
Time: Thursday, March 3, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

Cross-linguistically, there are two major strategies to produce passive sentences. One produces passives by an operation that de-transitivizes (rather, unaccusativizes) the main verb, and the other does so by superimposing an unaccusativized causative verb on a clause that may itself be active. The first, ‘canonical’ strategy is exemplified by the English be passive, and the second, ‘non-canonical’ strategy is exemplified by the Mandarin bei passive. The English get-passive involves a combination of both strategies, with an unnacusativ(ized) get superimposed on a passivized verb. My talk will address three somewhat related aspects of the non-canonical passives.

In Huang (1999) and Huang, Li and Li (2009) the Chinese bei passives are analyzed as involving a semi-lexical verb with a thematic subject that is related to the event clause by control or predication. In view of recent discussions of the control-vs-raising analysis of get-passives and the chameleon character of unaccusatized causatives, I shall show that both analyses of the non-canonical passives are possible, depending on the scenarios involved, up to certain limits, each exhibiting its own characteristic grammatical properties.

I shall then look at three different verbs that have been treated as related to the passive in Chinese: bei, rang and gei. It is shown that the verbs differ in the ‘bandwidths’ in the spectrum of meaning from the causative to the pure unaccusative, both internally and cross-linguistically. The cross-linguistic variation is particularly true of gei between Southern and Northern Mandarin. With respect to Northern Mandarin gei-VP sentences, which has been the topic of important treatment by Shen and Sybesma (2010), I argue that gei is best treated as a raising verb, an unaccusative verb akin to gibt as in German es gibt and give as in English what gives.

Finally, I discuss a new form of non-canonical bei passive that has emerged in Mainland China, particularly in satirical writings on the web, exemplified by bei zisha, bei xiao-ang, bei siwang, bei lüyou, bei shizong (literally, ‘be suicided, be middle-classed, be died, be traveled, be disappeared’), etc. Relying on the lexical decomposition analysis of causatives as in the previous two points, I propose that these involve the passivization of ‘mental causative’ sentences. I liken these to some examples in English, and surmise on their parametric differences.


LFRG 3/4 - Luka Crnic

WHO: Luka Crnic
WHAT: Semantics of bouletic predicates
WHEN: March 4, 2:00PM-3:15PM
WHERE: 32-D831

Luka Crnic will discuss certain issues in the semantics of bouletic predicates. Suggested reading is Maria Aloni’s “Free choice, modals, and imperatives.” doi:10.1007/s11050-007-9010-2


Uegaki at DGfS

Wataru Uegaki presented a paper titled “Controller shift in centered-world semantics” at the Workshop on Grammar of Attitudes at the 33rd Meeting of German Linguistic Society (Deutschen Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft; DGfS), held at the University of Göttingen, February 23, 2011. The handout from the talk can be found here.


Preminger in Leiden at LUCL

Omer Preminger will be a guest at the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics from the 28th of March until the 1st of April. From 3/28-3/30, he will teach an intensive course on “Agreement and case: Patterns, interactions, and implications”, and then on 3/31, he will give a talk at the Syntax Lab.