The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 25th, 2011

Phonology Circle 4/26 - Jongho Jun

Speaker: Jongho Jun (Seoul National University)
Title: Speakers’ knowledge of alternation is uni-directional: evidence from Seoul Korean verb paradigms
Time: Tuesday 4/26, 5-6pm, 32-D831

In this talk, I will address the issue of whether and how speakers internalize lexical statistical patterns. I have investigated speakers’ responses when they are faced with unpredictability in allomorph selection by conducting a wug test on Seoul Korean verb paradigms. The test was performed in two directions. In forward formation test, the pre-vocalic base and pre-consonantal non-base forms were the stimulus and response respectively whereas in back formation test, the stimulus-response relation was switched.

The results show patterns approximating statistical patterns in Seoul Korean verb lexicon, thus confirming the lexical frequency matching reported in many previous studies. However, it seems that speakers do not internalize lexical patterns in the way suggested in most previous studies. It has been argued or assumed that different lexical statistics are usually active in forward and back formations since different sets of (non)alternation classes compete in different directions. This assumption has been adopted by mainstream phonological theories, whether rule or constraint-based, positing underlying representations to explain alternation.

Contrary to these conventional arguments and assumptions, the present study shows that lexical frequencies relevant to the forward formation are relatively consistent with the results of both forward and back formation tests. Lexical frequencies which have been considered active in back formation play almost no role in explaining test results. This observation can be understood only under the single base hypothesis (Albright 2002, 2005, 2008) in which only forward, not back, formation rules are in principle available to speakers.

Upcoming talks:
May 3: Nina Topintzi
May 5 11am-12pm Shin Ishihara ***** NOTE SPECIAL TIME (location TBA)
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.

Ling-Lunch 4/28 - Sarah Ouwayda

Speaker: Sarah Ouwayda
Time: Thursday, April 28, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461
Title: Systematic Optional Non-Agreement in Lebanese Arabic


I look at two cases of optional non-agreement in Lebanese Arabic (LA), an otherwise agreement-rich language. First, I look at optional non-agreement in number marking on adjectives, verbs, and pronouns, following cardinals and quantifiers in LA as well as in Armenian and Basque. In the presence of multiple agreeing elements, this optionality is restricted. I look at these restrictions and compare two syntactic accounts: one which assumes a traditional undivided DP structure, and explains the (non-)agreement facts by proposing an optional pluralizing functional node which triggers agreement and contributes semantic plurality; and another account which assumes a split DP (cf. Sportiche 2005), such that NP is in SpecV and raises to merge with the quantifier in D/Q somewhere higher in the clause. Assuming a split DP, the noun can theoretically compose with the verb either (i) before moving to the quantifier, resulting in non-agreement (and distributivity), or (ii) after moving to the quantifier, resulting in plural agreement. I also look at another case of optional non-agreement, this time in VSO word order. I argue that the two cases of non-agreement are different: in the former, the subject is known, and the agreement patterns depend on its properties, whereas in the latter, the subject may either be the apparent subject or an expletive subject.

LFRG 4/29 - Eva Csipak

WHO: Eva Csipak
WHAT: Drink doch a drop! German minimizer NPIs
WHEN: April 29, 2:00PM-3:15PM
WHERE: 32-D461 (note the change of room!)


NPI licensing has puzzled several generations of linguists. While some of the data is now accounted for, I will present German minimizer data (e.g. einen Tropfen trinken ‘drink a drop’ that challenge the mainstream accounts. I will argue that there are contexts (such as in the scope of stressed Doch and some conditionals) where minimizers are only licensed if their compositional meaning is taken into account.


5/06 Alan Bale
5/13 Ciro Greco

Wampanoag film at the Brattle Theater: 4/30 at 2:15pm

On Saturday, April 30th at 2:15 pm, the Brattle Theater will be showing “We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân”. It’s a film about the revival of the Wampanoag language, featuring Macarthur-award-winning alumna Jessie Littledoe Baird, as well as Norvin and Noam.

[Norvin adds: “Several people have reminded me that the day the Wampanoag film is showing at the Brattle is precisely the day we’re having our open house. So, please come to the open house instead of going to the film…I’m now talking with the filmmaker about having a showing at MIT sometime.”]

“Language and the Human Mind” at the MIT Open House (Saturday, 4/30, 1-4pm)

As part of its 150th birthday celebration, MIT will be holding an Open House called Under the Dome on April 30, from 11:00am to 4:00pm. Even though MIT Linguistics is not located under a dome, strictly speaking - but instead resides in a multi-colored oddly-shaped Gehry-designed thingamajig, we are proud to be an important part of this great event!

Our contribution is called Language and the Human Mind. From 1:00pm-4:00pm, we will be welcoming the public to our department (32-D850) for a variety of language-themed activities. Here’s the description:

We will showcase a variety of examples of research on language and the human mind. Experts on some very interesting languages (such as the Mayan languages of Central America, and the Wampanoag language of the native inhabitants of Massachusetts) will be available to answer your questions about these languages and explain how they differ and do not differ from English.

You can also watch and learn about some experiments which were designed to reveal the unconscious mechanisms by which people generalize from examples when they learn a language, and by which fluent speakers produce and interpret speech and text.

We look forward to seeing you, your friends, your friends’ friends, and their families at our Open House!