The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 6th, 2012

Welcome back!  

Whamit! welcomes all the members of the MIT Linguistics community to the spring semester. The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, and student editors Michelle Fullwood and Ryo Masuda.

We look forward to receiving items for inclusion in Whamit! throughout the semester. To submit items for inclusion please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 4pm before the next Whamit! appears.


Linguistics Colloquium 2/10 - David Beaver  

Speaker: David Beaver (University of Texas, Austin)
Time: Friday 2/10 3:30 PM
Location: 32-141
Title: IT-constructions


Within the context of a broader project concerning what speakers take to be at-issue, I will present an analysis of the semantics and discourse function of a large range of constructions that I refer to as Inquiry Terminating (IT) constructions. In English, these include it-clefts and exclusives such as “only”, “just”, and “mere(ly)”. I claim that despite their many differences, such constructions cross-linguistically have much in common: they are always focus-sensitive or focus markers, they have a uniform semantics (modulo differences related to syntactic category), and as a discourse function they are always used to mark that a proposition provides a complete answer to what the speaker takes to be the current question.

The similarity of a cleft sentence of the form “It’s X that Ys” to a sentence “only X Ys”, with the exclusive “only” is easily seen: in both cases X is realized with an intonational focus, and both constructions are used when X Ys and nothing else does. Yet cleft sentences and exclusive sentences have many differences. Some of these are shown in the following minimal pairs, each of which shows a contrast in acceptability when an exclusive is replaced by a cleft.

1a) Not only did Kai laugh, but Irene laughed too.
1b) # It wasn’t Kai who laughed, but Irene laughed too.

2a) Mary ate pizza and she only ate pizza.
2b) # Mary ate pizza and it was pizza she ate. (cf. Horn 1981)

3a) Kai: Only David laughed.
Irene: # Yes, and Brady laughed too.

3b) Kai: It was David who laughed.
Irene: Yes, and Brady laughed too.

I aim to account for the main similarities and differences between the meanings of clefts and exclusives, the interaction both types of construction have with focus, and a puzzling range of further data, including evidence drawn from experiments that I’ve been conducting with colleagues on IT-constructions in English, French, German, and Hungarian. I’ll then compare with other accounts, showing e.g. that a recent proposal for the meaning of clefts due to Buring can be subsumed under the current account in all the cases where it works, but not where it doesn’t.


Phonology Circle resumes ***Tuesday 2/14***  

The Phonology Circle will resume its weekly meetings next Tuesday, 2/14 at 5pm, in 32-D831, with a brief planning meeting. (Please note the new time!)


The LSA makes it all official  

You heard it here first, when Irene was elected a 2012 Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America.  But now it’s official:

Congratulations, Irene!!

This one’s now official too. UMass Amherst may claim him with pride, but so do we!  At the LSA annual meeting in Portland, Oregon last month, Seth Cable (PhD 2007) received the LSA’s second annual Early Career Award. And here’s the (rather fuzzy) picture to prove it:

Congratulations Seth!!


Michel Degraff an LSA delegate to AAAS  

Wayne O’Neil at AAAS  

Wayne O’Neil will present a paper at AAAS-2012 (17-20 February, Vancouver BC): “Two linguists, a teacher, and some middle-school students walk into a room”. Wayne’s paper is part of a three-paper symposium: “Teaching science through language” chaired by Anne Lobeck (Western Washington University).


Evidence of mitcho in Tübingen  

mitcho (Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine) will be presenting a paper on “The Constituency of Hyperlinks in a Hypertext Corpus” at Linguistic Evidence 2012 in Tübingen this week.


What we did this winter: Students teaching at EVELIN  

Graduate students Rafael Nonato, Guillaume Thomas and Sam al-Khatib spent January 12-19 teaching at EVELIN (Escola de VErão de LINguística Formal / Summer School in Formal Linguistics) at UNICAMP (the University of Campinas) in Brazil. Rafael taught Syntax 1 and Field Methods 1 and 2; Guillaume Semantics 1 and Sam Semantics 2.


Also over the break … talks by Hadas and Omer  

Both Hadas Kotek and Omer Preminger gave talks over the break at the Jerusalem/Tel Aviv Syntax-Semantics Reading Group.  Hadas’s talk was entitled “What Hebrew multiple questions can teach us about interrogative probing, and how”, and Omer’s talk a few weeks earlier was entitled “Against ‘crashes’: Evidence from Kichean and Zulu” (with an encore presentation at Ben Gurion University on on Dec. 27).

Hadas also gave a talk on “Many readings of Most” at the Hebrew University’s Logic, Language and Cognition Center, based on joint work in experimental semantics with Yasutada Sudo and Martin Hackl.


Old World Phonology  

At the Ninth Old World Conference on Phonology (OCP9), 4th-year grad student Sasha Podobryaev presented a paper on “Rhyming in echo-reduplication”, and Edward Flemming gave a plenary talk entitled “Violations are ranked, not constraints: A revised model of constraint interaction in phonetics and phonology”.

Our recent alum Maria Giavazzi (PhD 2010), now at the Ecole Normale Superieure (DEC-NPI), also spoke on “Assibilation in Standard Finnish: a case of stress-conditioned contrast neutralization”, and presented a poster on how “Vowel quality affects the identification of TSM codas” jointly authored with her classmate Hyesun Cho (PhD 2010, now at Seoul National University).

Another classmate, Jonah Katz (PhD 2010), also at the Ecole Normale Superieure and the Institute Jean Nicod, presented a paper on ‘Spanish consonant clusters and the phonology of timing’ at hte Berlin Conference.


GLOWering MIT Linguists  

Grad students Iain Giblin, Coppe van Urk, Claire Halpert, Hadas Kotek, mitcho Erlewine, recently-a-grad-student Bronwyn Bjorkman (PhD 2011), and a trio consisting of Kai von Fintel/Danny Fox/Sabine Iatridou, have all had abstracts accepted for the upcoming GLOW (Generative Linguistics in the Old World) conference in Potsdam this March (along with many alums etc.),

Congratulations all! More as the date approaches.


Scontras, Graff & Goodman paper accepted to Cognition  

A paper by 5th year dissertating student Peter Graff with Harvard grad student Gregory Scontras and Noah Goodman of Stanford has just been accepted for publication in Cognition. Meanwhile, you can read the paper, entitled Comparing Pluralities, here.


Marie Curie fellowship for Giorgio Magri  

Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009), who has been a post-doctoral researcher at the Institute Jean Nicod and the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, has won a very fancy Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship, which will permit him to carry out further post-doctoral research on computational phonology with René Kager, at the Utrecht Institute of Linguistics (at the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands).  Congratulations, Giorgio!