The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 14th, 2011

Linguists in Japan  

In the aftermath of this week’s terrible earthquake and tsunami we have some news to share about former students, colleagues and friends who are linguists in Japan - all of it reassuring, we are relieved to say. Nobuko Hasegawa, a friend to many of us, and a recent visitor to our department, is fine, and writes that Shoichi Takahashi and his wife Yoko are fine. According to Nobuko, Shoichi says “that the inside of the apartment is a mess and the water line stopped but they are physically ok. He is in Fukushima prefecture, which is between Tokyo and Sendai. His place is far from the nuclear plant and I don’t think it affects him.” Masatoshi Koizumi, who works in the seriously affected Sendai area, is in Guatemala doing fieldwork at the moment, and therefore far from the quake. He writes that his family is ok, as is he. Among other linguists working in the most affected area of Japan, our colleague Shigeru Miyagawa reports that Jun Abe, Akira Kikuchi, Hirohisa Kiguchi and Ken Takita have all been confirmed to be ok - and that the various linguists he has heard from in the Tokyo area are all right too. Shigeru’s own family and friends are fine as well, as are the families and friends of our current students from Japan.

As Yusuke Imanishi has informed us, information about the response to the earthquake organized by MIT students is available here.


Syntax Square 3/14 - Patrick Grosz  

Speaker: Patrick Grosz
Title: Analyzing non-canonical V1 in a V2 language
Time: Monday, March 14, 11:30am-12:30pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk I discuss three types of V1 constructions in German (a language that is otherwise V2 or V-final): V1-polar exclamatives and V1-optatives (cf. Scholz 1991 for a discussion of both), as well as V1-antecedents in conditionals. Given that V2 can be assumed to arise from two separate processes, V-to-C movement and (obligatory?) filling of the SpecCP position (cf. the HSK article by Holmberg 2010), I will address the following two questions for such V1 clauses: What triggers V-to-C movement, and what (if anything) occupies their null SpecCP position?


BCS Cog Lunch-Tues 3/15-Ev Fedorenko  

Speaker: Ev Fedorenko (MIT BCS)
Title: The power of individual subject analyses in investigating the functional architecture of the language system
Time: Tuesday 3/15 at noon
Location: 46-3189

Language is our signature human cognitive skill and one of the most studied. Yet many fundamental questions about how language is implemented in the brain remain unanswered. I have previously argued that at least part of the difficulty in making progress may be due to an almost exclusive reliance on traditional group analyses in neuroimaging studies of language. Because of anatomical differences across individual brains, such methods are bound to underestimate functional specificity and may thus obscure true functional organization. Furthermore, group-based methods make it difficult to compare results across studies and accumulate knowledge about the functional profiles of the relevant brain regions. In recent work (Fedorenko et al., 2010), we developed methods for defining key language-sensitive regions in each individual brain, enabling us to launch a research program aimed at carefully characterizing the profiles of each of these brain regions, with the ultimate goal of understanding the representations and the computations that enable us to produce and understand language. In this talk, I will first address the question of whether language-sensitive regions (including the classical Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas) also support non-linguistic processes that have been argued to share cognitive and neural machinery with language. I will show that these brain regions respond very little to a wide range of non-linguistic tasks, including arithmetic, domain-general working memory, domain-general cognitive control, and music. I will then present some preliminary findings from two other lines of work. First, I will describe a study investigating the relationship between the language system and abstract conceptual processing. And second, I will present preliminary results from ongoing experiments that are attempting to identify the precise linguistic computations conducted in each region.


Ling-Lunch 3/17 - Claire Halpert  

Speaker: Claire Halpert
Title: Argument licensing in Zulu
Time: Thursday, March 17, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

Recent work on Bantu languages (e.g. Baker 2003, 2008; Carstens and Diercks to appear; Diercks to appear) has revived the notion that the Bantu family lacks abstract Case (Harford Perez 1985). In this talk, I address the issue of how arguments are licensed in Zulu by examining two types of constructions: raising constructions and constructions involving morphologically impoverished (“augmentless”) arguments. I show that Zulu has both raising-to-subject and raising-to-object out of agreeing finite CPs, which is empirically problematic for Case-driven analyses of raising, as well as for theories that link (subject) Case-licensing to agreement or EPP (e.g. Chomsky 2000; Bobaljik 2008; Boskovic 2002; Marantz 2000). While Carstens and Diercks (to appear) and Diercks (to appear) argue on the basis of similar data from other Bantu languages that Case is not active at all in Bantu, I use data on the distribution of augmentless arguments to argue that while T doesn’t assign Case in Zulu, we do find argument licensing effects associated with v. Augmentless arguments face a more limited distribution than their augmented counterparts in Zulu. I propose that the behavior of these augmentless arguments in raising-to-object and applicative constructions in particular stems from their need to receive structural case from v. Augmented arguments, in contrast, have inherent case and thus do not exhibit the same positional restrictions. Finally, I propose that we find additional evidence for v as a probe reflected in the “conjoint/disjoint” verbal morphology alternation, which is sensitive to the contents of vP (cf. Buell 2006).


LFRG 3/18 - Jan Anderssen  

WHO: Jan Anderssen
WHAT: Weak and strong readings of indefinites
WHEN: March 18, 2:00PM-3:15PM
WHERE: 32-D831

Suggested reading is Partee 1989 “Many quantifiers”, just to brush up on the issues.


No Phonology Circle this week  

There is no meeting of the Phonology Circle scheduled this week. We will resume on Tues Mar 29 (after spring break), with a talk by Sverre Johnsen.

Upcoming talks:
Mar 29: Sverre Johnsen
Apr 5: Anne-Michelle Tessier
Apr 12: Ricardo Bermudez-Otero
Apr 13, 3-5pm: WCCFL Practice Talks ***Note Special Day and Time
Apr 26: Jongho Jun
May 3: Nina Topintzi
May 10: 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.


Our traveling linguists  

Last week, on March 4, Donca Steriade gave a colloquium talk on “Rhyming Evidence for Intervals” at UCLA. That same week, David Pesetsky gave a series of talks at Newcastle University (including a public lecture on his joint work with Jonah Katz on the relation of music and language). Last Friday, Norvin Richards spoke on the topic of “Generalized Contiguity” in the CrISP Distinguished Visitors Series at UC Santa Cruz. Finally, this week, Sabine Iatridou will be teaching a short course at the University of Athens.


“Three things every student at MIT should do before graduating”