The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 17th, 2011

Phonology Circle 10/17 - Edward Flemming

Speaker: Edward Flemming (Joint work with Hyesun Cho)
Title: The phonetic specification of contour tones: The rising tone in Mandarin
Location: 32D-831
Time: Monday, Oct 17, 5:00pm

In this talk I will report on joint work with Hyesun Cho investigating how contour tones are specified phonetically. It has been proposed that all tones are realized by point targets for pitch, so the pitch movement associated with a rising tone is simply the result of interpolation between low and high point targets. Other analyses argue that pitch movements in contour tones are governed by targets, e.g. specifying the slope of the pitch movement. We investigate this question through a case study of the Mandarin Chinese rising tone. The patterns of variation in the realization of the rising tone as a function of speech rate indicate that the specifications of this tone involve targets pertaining to both the pitch movement and its end points: the slope of the f0 rise, the magnitude of the rise, and the alignment of the onset and offset of the rise. In addition, this analysis implies that the rising tone is over-specified in the sense that the targets conflict and thus cannot all be realized. The conflict between the tone targets is resolved by a compromise between them, a pattern that is captured by formulating the targets as weighted, violable constraints.

Upcoming Phonology Circle Talks:
Oct 24 - Laura McPherson
Oct 31 - Michael Kenstowicz
Nov 7 - Suyeon Yun
Nov 28 - Donca Steriade

Early Career Award from LSA for alum Seth Cable

We were ecstatic to learn that Seth Cable (PhD 2007) has won the 2012 Early Career Award of the Linguistic Society of America. This award (inaugurated in 2011) goes each year to “a new scholar who has made an outstanding contribution to the field of linguistics.” Seth’s dissertation, which was the source for his recent book The Grammar of Q (Oxford University Press) presents a theory of the syntax and semantics of wh-questions in which pied-piping effects arise without any actual notion of pied-piping in the grammar — a proposal about the structure of languages in general suggested by Seth’s own fieldwork on Tlingit, a Na-Dené language of Alaska. After MIT, Seth spent a post-doctoral year as a Killam Fellow at the University of British Columbia, and is now an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at UMass Amherst, where his current work explores many aspects of semantics and syntax in a wide variety of languages. Congratulations Seth!!

Syntax Square 10/18 - Claire Halpert

Speaker: Claire Halpert
Title: Surprising Subject Agreement in Zulu: Some new facts about raising
Date/Time: Tuesday, Oct 18, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

I’ll be discussing a novel variation on the raising-to-subject construction in Zulu. I’ll present evidence that this construction involves movement of the embedded subject to a preverbal A position in the matrix clause without the matrix subject agreement that typically is required with nominals in such positions (cf. Buell 2005). Instead, the verb bears the same agreement marker found in expletive constructions. A comparison with the standard raising case, in which agreement with the raised subject does occur, yields no interpretive differences between the two constructions, which suggests that agreement with the raised subject is optional in this construction. I’ll compare this construction with one other instance of apparent optional subject agreement—the case of complex NP subjects—and explore potential explanations that unite the two constructions, including the possibility that the “expletive” agreement in both constructions is actually agreement with a CP.

LFRG 10/21 - Ayaka Sugawara

WHO: Ayaka Sugawara
WHAT: First language acquisition of Antecedent-Contained Deletion
WHEN: Friday 21 October, 1:00PM-2:30PM
WHERE: 32-D831


In this talk, I will report the previous studies on first language acquisition of Antecedent Contained Deletion (ACD) sentences and will discuss some thoughts about possible follow-up/refined experiment.

ACD is a version of VP-ellipsis, in which the elided VP is a part of the relative clause within its antecedent, as shown in (1a). ACD is problematic if we do not assume QR, because the elided VP will never be identical to the antecedent VP without QR (1b). In order for the structural identity between the antecedent VP and the elided VP to be realized, the operation QR is necessary to interpret ACD sentences (1c).

(1) a. John read every book that Bill did.
      b. John [aVP read [DP every book that Bill did <eVP read every book that Bill did <…>]]
      c. (after QR) [every book that Bill did <read t>] John read t.

Previous studies (Kiguchi & Thornton (2004), Syrett & Lidz (2009)) show that 4- and 5-year-old kids can correctly interpret ACD sentences in which Binding Principles are relevant such as (2). This suggests that QR is innate (given that the input of ACD sentences is quite rare for kids and we cannot interpret ACD without QR), and that kids have adult-like knowledge of the Binding Principles.

(2) a. The Mermaid baked himi the same food that Cookie Monster*i did.
      b. Dora gave himi the same color paint that Smurf’si father did.
      c. Hei jumped over every fence that Kermit*i tried to.

Syrett & Lidz (2011) conducted experiments to test whether people (adults and kids) can target the embedded VP and the matrix VP as the landing site of QR. Their results, in my opinion, are not very clear.

(3) a. Miss Piggy wanted to drive every car that Kermit did.
      b. (targeting the embedded VP) … Kermit did .
      c. (targeting the matrix VP) … Kermit did .

Adding to introducing those papers in more detail, I would like to discuss some thoughts about what will be a better experiment. Reading those three papers I mentioned will be very helpful (references below).

  • Kiguchi, Hirohisa & Rosalind Thornton (2004) “Binding Principles and ACD Constructions in Child Grammars,” Syntax 7, 234-271.
  • Syrett, Kristen & Jeffrey Lidz (2009) “QR in Child Grammar: Evidence from Antecedent-Contained Deletion,” Language Acquisition 16, 67-81.
  • Syrett, Kristen & Jeffrey Lidz (2011) “Competence, Performance, and the Locality of Quantifier Raising: Evidence from 4-Year-Old Children,” Linguistic Inquiry 42, 305-337.