The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 19th, 2011

Genetics of Language presentation on Wednesday  

Simon FisherSimon Fisher, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, will give a short presentation for linguists on the genetics of language:

Date: Sept 21 (Wednesday)
Time: 11am-12pm
Location: 32-D461

Dr. Simon’s presentation will include an informal introduction to genetics and how language and genetics can be studied together and will leave time for questions and discussion. His presentation to our group will be followed at 4:00 by a more formal talk in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.


Phonology Circle 9/19 - Mafuyu Kitahara  

Speaker: Mafuyu Kitahara
Date: Sept 19 (Monday)
Time: 5 pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: Alignment and scaling of pitch accent in Japanese Infant-Directed and Adult-Directed Speech
Authors: Mafuyu Kitahara, Ken’ya Nishikawa, Yousuke Igarashi, and Reiko Mazuka


The present study examined F0 contour in Infant-Directed Speech (IDS) and Adult-Directed Speech (ADS). It has been pointed out that the timing of F0 fall in Japanese sometimes occurs later than the lexically accented syllable (Sugito, 1982). As reported earlier, the amount of delay is larger in IDS than in ADS (Kitahara et al., 2008). Their analysis was based solely on the highest point of F0, however. The present study gives a more detailed analysis of the F0 contour of the whole accentual phrase by fitting a three-piece linear regression (Cho, 2010) for the rising part and the falling part separately.

The acoustic data were taken from Riken Japanese Mother-Infant Conversation Corpus (R-JMICC) and a list-reading corpus spoken by the same group of mothers as R-JMICC. A preliminary analysis of the data showed that the delayed-fall tokens tend to have a delayed-rise as well. It was also found that the timing of the lower and the upper elbows in the F0 contours have a systematic difference in IDS than in ADS. Theoretical implications for autosegmental/metrical phonology based on these results will be discussed.


Syntax Square 9/20 - Ted Levin  

Speaker: Ted Levin
Title: Sakha’s One Modality of Case Assignment
Location: 32-D461
Time: Tuesday, Sept 20, 1-2pm

Baker and Vinokurova (2010) adopt a Chomskyan theory of case assignment to account for the realization of case in Sakha. They suggest that case is assigned within the narrow syntax, and that the Case Filter (Chomsky and Lasnik 1977) is real. However, they must also propose that a configurational wrinkle be added to the theory of Chomsyan case assignment to accurately account for the distribution of accusative and dative case. Specifically, accusative and most instances of dative are dependent cases. They are realized on an NP given the relative position of another NP, meeting certain requirements, within an appropriate domain. Their configurational rule is given in (1).

(1)a.   If there are two distinct NPs in the same VP-phase such that NP1 c-commands NP2, then value the case feature of NP1 as dative unless NP2 has already been marked for case.
b.   If there are two distinct NPs in the same phase such that NP1 c-commands NP2, then value the case feature of NP2 as accusative unless NP1 has already been marked for case.

In (1), functional heads determine the appropriate domain, and thus only play an indirect role in assigning these case markers. Conversely, the realization of nominative and genitive case is directly determined by functional heads as is expected. Baker and Vinokurova note that nominative case is only assigned when subject agreement is realized on the verb. The co-occurrence of agreement and case morphology prompts the rule for nominative and genitive assignment given in (2).

(2)   If a functional head F C {T, D} has unvalued phi-features and an NP X has an unvalued case feature (and certain locality conditions hold), then agreement happens between F and X, resulting in the phi-features of X being assigned to F and the case associated with F (nominative or genitive) being assigned to X.

While the hybrid system advocated by Baker and Vinokurova captures the facts of case in Sakha, it is my goal to sketch the beginnings of a strictly Marantzian account of the data. As we shall see, such an exercise requires some alterations to Marantz’s original theory. I incorporate a version of (1) into the disjunctive hierarchy of morphological case assignment to treat both dative and accusative cases as dependent, and I adopt a unique view of what items are assigned case. Specifically, an NP which undergoes movement is assigned case more than once. Each trace (or copy) of the moved item is assigned case according to the case disjunctive hierarchy. Which case(s) is pronounced is subject to cross-linguistic parametric variation. This second modification has been shown to be effective in accounting for other complex case phenomena (Levin 2010). Further, a purely Marantzian account must follow Bobaljik (2008) in treating agreement as a post-syntactic operation which follows case assignment. In this way, I suggest that it is not the presence of agreement morphology which indicates the presence of nominative morphology, but that the presence of nominative case conditions the presence of agreement morphology.


How I spent my summer (installment 2)  

Degraff-children-in-the-classroom-300x199Michel DeGraff writes, “The greater part of my work this Summer was spent in the mountain village of Matènwa in La Gonave, Haiti, working on my NSF-funded project on ‘Kreyòl-based and technology-enhanced learning of math, science, reading and writing.’ (La Gonave is an island off the Haitian mainland.) Much of my time there was spent playing with primary-school kids and helping develop and test computer-based games in Kreyòl to enhance the understanding and practice of elementary mathematics. I also worked on promoting an MIT initiative to help improve higher education in Haiti.”

Some of this work was reported in the international news media this summer, including articles in the Boston Globe, BBC News, Education Portal, and the Voices from Haiti site. A Kreyòl version of that interview can be found halfway down the page at http://www.voicesfromhaiti.com/kreyol.


mitcho at EACL 7