The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 24th, 2011

Phonology Circle 10/24 - Laura McPherson  

Speaker: Laura McPherson
Title: Morphological distance and optional harmony in Tommo So
Location: 32D-831
Time: Monday, Oct 24, 5:00pm

Tommo So (Dogon, Mali) has two harmony processes: backness harmony and ATR harmony, which are both exceptionless in stems. Stem harmony is gradiently correlated with the order of derivational and inflectional suffixes. Broadly, the propensity to harmonize decreases as we move away from the stem, with a range of obligatory harmony, followed by optional harmony, followed by no harmony; backness harmony shuts off more quickly than ATR harmony. The range of optional backness harmony further breaks down into different rates of harmony, with a set of suffixes harmonizing 90% of the time, followed by a suffix with 35% harmony, followed by a suffix with 7%, again correlating with distance from the stem, which is measured in abstract morphological distance based on affix ordering, not on phonological distance. This talk addresses issues of optionality, gradience, and opacity in the system, suggesting an analysis of vowel harmony based on lexical access and decomposition.


Syntax Square 10/25 - Bronwyn Bjorkman and Claire Halpert  

Speaker: Bronwyn Bjorkman & Claire Halpert
Title: In search of (im)perfection: the illusion of counterfactual aspect
Date/Time: Tuesday, Oct 25, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

This is a practice talk for NELS 42. The full abstract is available (PDF).

Puzzle: We examine the puzzle of “fake” imperfective aspect in counterfactual conditionals (CFs). “Fake” tense and aspect (Iatridou, 2000) – i.e. morphology that does not seem to make a temporal interpre- tive contribution – is used in many languages to mark CFs. The following example from Greek illustrates both past and imperfective morphology used to mark a future-less-vivid conditional:

[An peθene      o   arχiɣos] θa  ton θavame       stin   korifi tu  vunu
 if die.PST.IMP the chief    FUT him bury.PST.IMP on.the top    the mountain
‘If the chief died, we would bury him on the top of the mountain.’
(Iatridou, 2000, ex. (14))

The use of “fake” past morphology associated with CF interpretations has been well-documented (Steele, 1975; James, 1982; Iatridou, 2000, a.o.). Several proposals analyze fake past as the locus of CF semantics, either by construing “past” as a marker of modal, rather than temporal, remoteness (Steele, 1975; Iatridou, 2000; Ritter and Wiltschko, 2010) or by deriving CF meaning from a purely temporal past (Ippolito, 2002; Arregui, 2009). It has been claimed that fake imperfective is also involved in the marking of counterfactu- als, though its use is less well-understood: for Iatridou (2000, 2009) imperfective in CFs is a default aspect; Arregui (2004) claims that it reflects incompatibility between perfective and CFs; while Ippolito (2004) pro- poses that a “modal imperfective” reflects a speaker’s indirect evidence for a proposition. Iatridou (2009) proposes that imperfective-marked CFs occur in a subset of the languages with past-marked CFs, a general- ization she based on the fact that Slavic languages have “fake” past but “real” aspect in CFs. We argue that a full typology includes languages with “fake” perfective aspect in CFs as well, to which we return below.

Proposal: We argue that the apparent requirement for imperfective in CFs in some languages is illusory, merely a morphological reflex of the need to realize a true PAST feature. We argue that “past imperfective” morphology inthese languages actually expresses only PAST; itreceives animperfective interpretation dueto contrast with a true PERFECTIVE morpheme. In CFs, this “past imperfective” morphology reflects only CF “past”; in other words, it does not reflect syntactic IMPERFECTIVE features. We illustrate this proposal with the morphological paradigm of three types of languages: (1) Greek, Romance, and Zulu, where imperfective is default and occurs in CFs; (2) Arabic, where perfective is default and occurs in CFs; and (3) Slavic, where PAST is specified independently of aspect, and CFs preserve full aspectual contrasts.


Ling-Lunch 10/27 - Dennis Ott  

Speaker: Dennis Ott (University of Groningen)
Title: Peripheral fragments: an ellipsis approach to dislocation
Time/Date: Thursday, Oct 27, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Germanic-type dislocation constructions, in which a dislocated XP (dXP) appears at the periphery of a clause containing a resumptive anchor, have been a long-standing problem for syntactic theory. In both Contrastive Left-dislocation (CLD; extensively studied since Cinque’s 1977 and Vat’s 1981 seminal works) and its counterpart Right-dislocation (RD; largely neglected in theoretical works, but see Zwart 2001, Averintseva-Klisch 2008, and Truckenbrodt forthcoming), the dXP is an optional “add-on” to a complete (gapless) clause, suggesting that it is base-generated clause-externally. At the same time, however, the dXP shows connectivity into the clause (case agreement with the pronominal anchor, reconstruction). This paradoxical situation has typically been ‘resolved’ by resort to stipulative mechanisms relating a clause-external adjunct (the dXP) to the movement chain comprising the pronominal anchor and its trace (cf., e.g., van Riemsdijk & Zwarts 1974, Zaenen 1997, Wiltschko 1997, and Frey 2004).

In this talk, I propose an alternative to these approaches, according to which the dXP in CLD and RD is a remnant of clausal ellipsis (cf. Tanaka 2001, a.o., on Japanese RD). That is, the underlying structure of dislocation constructions involves two juxtaposed clauses which are structurally parallel, modulo dXP vs. anchor. At PF, one of the two clauses (the “left” one in CLD, the “right” one in RD) undergoes IP-ellipsis (as familiar from sluicing, fragment answers, etc.; see Merchant 2001, 2004), leaving only the dXP. On this approach, connectivity effects in CLD and RD are due to ordinary reconstruction of the dXP internally to the reduced clause (cf. den Dikken et al. 2000 on pseudoclefts). I show that this analysis straightforwardly explains all central properties of CLD and RD, reducing the phenomenon traditionally labeled “dislocation” to A-bar movement and IP-ellipsis at PF.


LFRG 10/28 - Igor Yanovich  

WHO: Igor Yanovich
WHAT: Standard contextualism strikes back
WHEN: Oct 28, 1:00PM-2:30PM
WHERE: 32-D831


Lately, “standard contextualist” analyses of epistemic modals (think Kratzer 1977, 1981, 1991, on the linguistic side) have been attacked, and even judged to be inadequate on the basis of some data from dialogues. Instead, various authors (to name a few, MacFarlane 2011, von Fintel & Gillies 2011) proposed fancier theories, which can deal with the problematic data.

In this talk, I won’t argue that the fancier theories are wrong. But I will propose a new variant of standard contextualism which accounts for the relevant data.