The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 18th, 2011

Grant proposals and funding info session at Harvard

On Tuesday, April 19, 4:30-6:30pm, Joan Maling (NSF) will be at Harvard speaking about sponsored research, grant proposals, and general issues of funding. She will give a presentation and will then take questions from the audience. Everyone is welcome. The meeting will be in Boylston Hall 303.


Ling-Lunch 4/21 - Pritty Patel

Speaker: Pritty Patel
Title: Complex Reflexives and the Principle A Problem
Time: Thursday, April 21, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

The abstract of the talk is available here (pdf).


LFRG 4/22 - Sarah Ouwayda

WHO: Sarah Ouwayda
WHAT: Cardinals Without Plurality
WHEN: April 22, 2:00PM-3:15PM
WHERE: 32-D831


Lebanese Arabic nouns display the singular-plural distinction morphologically, and adjectives and verbs typically show number agreement. Following cardinals larger than 10 in Lebanese Arabic, nouns are never plural-marked, and verbs and adjectives are optionally plural-marked. Notably, the presence vs. absence of plural marking on verbs and adjectives in this context is reflected semantically: When a verb is plural-marked, both a collective and a distributive reading are available, when it is not plural-marked, the collective reading is unavailable. Moreover, unmarked adjectives can modify only predicates of atomic individuals, and plural-marked ones can modify only predicates of pluralities. I take the absence of collective readings in unmarked cases to mean that, in this context, not just adjectives but verbs can compose semantically with the (non-plural) noun despite the presence of a cardinal, and that while a semantic plurality in this context may be dependent on the presence of some morpheme associated with plurality (e.g. cardinal or plural marking) the converse is not true for cardinals: the presence of a cardinal does not entail the presence of a semantic plurality. In other words, in Lebanese Arabic, not only do cardinals not compose with pluralities, but a noun phrase containing a cardinal, as a whole, is not necessarily semantically plural when composing with the verb. Based on these semantic effects, I argue that, if one assumes the noun phrase is an indivisible constituent, cardinals (at least cardinals larger than 10 in Lebanese Arabic) are best treated as being of type n (Zabbal 2005), rather than as modifiers (Ionin & Matushansky), determiners (e.g. Montague 1974), or predicates (Partee 1986).

Colloquium 4/22 - Junko Ito

Date: Friday, April 22, 2011
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141
Speaker: Junko Ito, University of California, Santa Cruz
Title: On the sources of (un)accentedness


Recent work on the distribution of unaccentedness in the lexicon of Tokyo Japanese has found a concentration of unaccented words in very specific areas, which are to a large extent defined in prosodic terms. Thus 4-mora words are in their majority unaccented in both native words and loans. On the other hand, 1-2 mora words and 5-mora words are in the majority accented in both native words and loans. For 3-mora words we find a split: They are in the majority unaccented in native words, but accented in loans. What is relatively clear is that unaccentedness is some kind of default for words of these specific shapes. What is less clear is the prosodic rationale of the particular distribution of (un)accentedness. The goal of the talk is to investigate the underlying structural reason, and to develop a formal account in optimality-theoretic phonology.

The regular pitch accent pattern of Tokyo Japanese (i.e., the pattern that is not lexically marked on a morpheme-by-morpheme basis, but emerges, e.g., in loanwords) is characterized by two constraints widely seen at work in other languages: Rightmostness (if the word has an accent, it should fall on the last foot in the word) and Nonfinality (the accent should not fall on a subconstituent that is final in the word). There is a clear tension between these two constraints, which is in many languages resolved by priority ranking (Nonfinality beats Rightmostness in cases of conflict). Seen in this light, unaccentedness is another way of dealing with the conflict: By not assigning an accent, the conflict disappears.

More precisely, the guiding idea is the following: For words of specific prosodic profiles (such as LLLL), unaccentedness is a default because it fulfills both Nonfinality and Rightmostness (no accent means no violation of either constraint). For other shapes, such as LLL and LLLLL, both constraints can be fulfilled even by accented words, so unaccentedness brings no prosodic benefit and is avoided since it violates the ?-Accent constraint requiring words to be accented. For short (one- to two-mora) words, a constraint calling for the construction of the “perfect prosodic word” (a word coextensive with a single foot) plays an important role. Other cases of perfect word effects to be presented include Serbian and Danish.


MIT at the 21st Colloquium on Generative Grammar

Several MIT-affiliated linguists presented at the 21st Colloquium on Generative Grammar, held April 7-9 in Seville, Spain.

  • Pilar Barbosa: invited speaker, Partial pro-drop as null NP-anaphora
  • Shigeru Miyagawa: invited speaker, Minimal Parametric Variation
  • Andrew Nevins and Cilene Rodrigues: “Autonomous” Morphemes are Underlearned in Romance

Special pre-WCCFL Syntax Square 4/19

Please join us for a special session of Syntax Square at 3pm this Tuesday with practice talks and practice posters for WCCFL. The preliminary schedule is as follows:

3.00pm-3.40pm (talk): Claire Halpert. Case, agreement, EPP and information structure: A quadruple-dissociation in Zulu.
3.40pm-4.00pm (poster): Alya Asarina. Constraints on Quantifier Lowering.
4.00pm-4.40pm (talk): Claire Halpert and Hadil Karawani. Aspect in counterfactuals from A(rabic) to Z(ulu).
4.40pm-5.00pm (poster): Bronwyn M. Bjorkman. The Crosslinguistic Defaultness of BE.
5.00pm-5.40pm (talk): Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine. Share to Compare: the Mandarin b? Comparative.
5.40pm-6.00pm (poster): Coppe van Urk. Visser’s Generalization: A Window into the Syntax of Control.

Date: Tuesday, April 19
Location: 32-D461


Graff’s research project in UChicago magazine

Peter Graff’s research on speech in the reality TV show Big Brother (with University of Chicago students Max Bane and Morgan Sonderegger) is covered in an article in Tableau, the magazine of the Division of the Humanities at UChicago.