The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Where whas WHAMIT? (episode 2)  

As you may have noticed, Whamit! missed its Monday deadline once again, due to server problems. But as of Sunday night, Whamit! has now been migrated to a new server (thank you Chris!) hosted by the venerable MIT Student Information Processing Board, an organization so venerable that it’s actually still called an “Information Processing Board”. (Its acronym SIPB is pronounced [sɪpi:].) Our old URL still works, but it now refers you to our new address: http://whamit.mit.edu. You might want to alter your browser bookmarks accordingly.

We are fairly confident that these changes will solve our ongoing problems, and allow us to bring you Whamit! each week with the reliability that you have every right to expect from a publication … called … Whamit!.


This week! 50 years of Linguistics at MIT: a scientific reunion  

Date/Time: Friday, December 9 to Sunday, December 11, 2011
Location: Friday 10:00-1:05, Koch 76-156 A&B; thereafter in Stata 32-123
Website: http://ling50.mit.edu

50 years ago, in the fall of 1960, Jerome Wiesner, director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics, and William N. Locke, head of the Department of Modern Languages, proposed to MIT the formation of a graduate program in linguistics whose faculty was to include Noam Chomsky and Morris Halle. The rest, as they say is history.

building 20

This week, more than two hundred alumni, former visitors and faculty, along with current students, faculty, visitors and other MIT linguists will meet for three days of talks, discussion, posters, photographs, meals and reminiscences — as we celebrate a half-century of linguistics in our department with 50 years of Linguistics at MIT: a scientific reunion.

The schedule of talks can be found here and a schedule of posters by alumni, present and former visitors and current students can be found here. The program has been designed to allow lengthy (and no doubt heated) discussion, of the sort for which our group is famous, and topics have been chosen that reflect the wide range of linguistic issues that have been explored at MIT over the past fifty years. Saturday features a talk by Noam Chomsky, and the reunion ends on Sunday with a talk by Morris Halle.

Noam & Morris


Syntax Square 12/6 - Liuda Nikolaeva  

Speaker: Liuda Nikolaeva
Title: The Case for Wholesale Late Merger
Date/Time: Tuesday, Dec 6, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

The syntactic literature has traditionally distinguished two types of phrasal movement, A-movement and A’-movement. Left-Periphery Fronting (LPF hereafter), usually referred to as “scrambling”, in Russian and other languages poses a challenge to this traditional dichotomy, because it exhibits a mix of common diagnostic properties. In this paper, I offer a unified account of Russian LPF, based on Takahashi and Hulsey’s (2009) theory of Wholesale Late Merger (WLM). On the account I propose, LPF is A-movement, but crucially it is A-movement from a cased position, which accounts for the properties that it shares with A’-movement. In addition to providing an empirically satisfactory account of the Russian phenomena, my proposal provides new support for Takahashi and Hulsey’s original theory.


Ling-Lunch 12/8 - Ian Roberts  

Speaker: Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge)
Title: Parametric Hierarchies
Date/Time: Thursday, Dec 8, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

This work presents a new approach to comparative syntax, developing the notion of parameter hierarchy originated in Baker (2001). Hierarchies define the ways in which properties of individually variant categories may act in concert; this creates macroparametric effects from the combined action of many microparameters. The highest position in a hierarchy defines a macroparameter, a major typological property, lower positions define successively more local properties. Parameter-setting in language acquisition starts at the highest position as this is the simplest choice; acquirers will “move down the hierarchy” when confronted with primary linguistic data incompatible with a higher setting. In this way, the hierarchies simultaneously learning paths and typological variation.

The idea will be illustrated by five hierarchies: those determining word-order, null arguments, word structure, discourse-configurationality and case/agreement alignment. These five hierarchies, although not exhaustive, combine to give a typological footprint of many languages, as well as providing the basis for the study of the interaction of micro- and macroparameters. In this way, the criticism that formal comparative syntax has little to offer typological studies can potentially be answered. Finally, we show that the nature of the hierarchies is determined, not directly by UG, but by UG interacting with domain-general principles of learning and optimisation: parametric variation is an emergent property of the learning device, UG and primary linguistic data, reflecting the three factors in language design.


Omer Preminger in NLLT  

A new paper has just appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory by Omer Preminger (PhD 2011, postdoctoral fellow with Masha Polinsky at Harvard and a visiting faculty member here). It is called “Asymmetries between person and number in syntax: a commentary on Baker’s SCOPA”. The abstract describes its contribution as follows: “In this commentary, I explore Basque data that counter-exemplifies SCOPA, as well as a handful of other empirical patterns that SCOPA fails to address, but which I believe should be treated as part of the same empirical landscape. But far from condemning SCOPA, I believe these additional patterns may provide us with hints regarding how SCOPA (with its considerable empirical coverage), as well as its exceptions, are to be derived.”

Congratulations, Omer!!