Issue of Monday, March 5th, 2012
In this talk we will discuss our latest work on
manyand most. We will argue that the three readings of manythat have been previously recognize in the literature, (1), can be detected for most as well.
(1) Many Scandinavians are Nobel prize winners
a. Cardinal: |Scandinavian Nobel prize winners| is largeC
b. Proportional: |Scandinavian Nobel prize winners| / |Scandinavians| is largeC
c. Reverse Proportional: |Scandinavian Nobel prize winners| / |Nobel prize winners| is largeC
In particular, we will show that most has a reverse-proportional reading, and in addition we identify a new reading of most which we call the fragile reading: a superlative reading which is sensitive to the number of comparisons that are made and to the distance between the numbers compared. The fragile reading prominently manifests itself in “strong” environments, for example in the subject position of individual-level predicates. These findings lend support to Hackl’s (2009) analysis of most as being composed of many and the superlative morpheme -est. We will suggest that the familiar proportional and superlative readings of most are derived from cardinal many; RP most is derived from RP many and fragile most is derived from proportional many. We will argue that proportional many is cardinally evaluative and discuss the implications of this suggestion.
Speaker: Omer Preminger
Title: Syntactic Ergativity in Q’anjob’al
Date/Time: Tuesday, Mar 6, 1-2p
(Full paper available at LingBuzz.)
Many morphologically ergative languages show asymmetries in the extraction of core arguments: while absolutive arguments (transitive objects and intransitive subjects) extract freely, ergative arguments (transitive subjects) cannot. This falls under the label “syntactic ergativity” (see e.g. Dixon 1972, 1994; Manning 1996).
Extraction asymmetries of this sort are found in many languages of the Mayan family, where in order to extract transitive subjects (for focus, wh-questions, or relativization), a special construction known as “Agent Focus” (AF) must be used (Aissen 1999; Stiebels 2006, Preminger 2011). In this talk — which presents collaborative work with Jessica Coon and Pedro Mateo Pedro — we offer a proposal for (i) why some morphologically ergative languages exhibit these extraction asymmetries, while others do not; and (ii) how the Mayan AF construction circumvents this problem.
We adopt recent proposals that ergative languages vary in the locus of absolutive case assignment (Aldridge 2004, 2008a; Legate 2002, 2008), and demonstrate that the same variation can be found within the Mayan family itself. Based primarily on comparative data from Q’anjob’al and Chol, we argue (contra previous accounts) that the inability to extract ergative arguments is not due to properties of the ergative argument itself, but rather comes about as the result of the locality conditions on absolutive case assignment in the relevant languages.
We show how the AF morpheme “-on” circumvents this problem in Q’anjob’al, by assigning structural case of its own to the internal argument. Evidence for this approach comes from reflexive and extended reflexive constructions, incorporated objects, nominalized embedded clauses, and the distribution of so-called “hierarchy effects” in related Mayan languages.
This Wednesday’s installment of the Phonology Circle features a talk by Peter Graff and Emad Taliep. They will also be presenting the same talk earlier in the day, at Wednesday 10am in TedLab.
Speakers: Peter Graff and Emad Taliep
Title: English Speakers Track Absolute Frequency in Consonant Co-occurrence
Date: March 7 (Wednesday)
Phonotactic wellformedness has been shown to affect behavior in a variety of linguistic tasks such as word-likeness judgments (e.g., Coleman and Pierrehumbert 1997). However, different researchers have often employed rather different measures for phonotactic wellformedness. This is particularly evident in the literature on consonant co-occurrence where two distinct measures of the wellformedness of constellations of consonants separated by vowels (e.g., p_t in pat) have been hypothesized. The first measure is the joint probability (i.e., absolute frequency) of the constellation P(C1_C2). Studies have found, e.g., that the joint probability of labial-coronal constellations (e.g. pat) is greater than the joint probability of coronal-labial ones (e.g. tap) in many different languages (MacNeilage et. al 1999, Carrissimo-Bertola 2010) and children as young as 7 months have been shown to be sensitive to this phonotactic (Nazzi et al. 2009, Gonzalez Gomez and Nazzi 2012). The second measure of wellformedness often employed is the observed- overexpected ratio (O/E) also known as pointwise mutual information (PMI). The difference between PMI and joint probability is that PMI relativizes the joint probability of a constellation to the independent probabilities of its parts such that PMI(C1;C2) = log(P(C1_C2)/(P(C1)·P(C2))), i.e. log(O/E). PMI has been hypothesized as a measure of wellformedness in studies of OCP-Place type phenomena (e.g. Frisch et al. 2004, Coetzee and Pater 2008) and PMI-based generalizations have been shown to affect wordlikeness judgments in languages like Arabic (Frisch and Zawaydeh, 2001). In this study, we compare the patterning of PMI and joint probability in the English lexicon and show that English CVCs present an ideal test-case for disambiguating the two measures. We present results from an online wordlikeness judgment study (N=50) and find that speakers’ judgments are more accurately predicted by joint probability (i.e., absolute frequency) than PMI.
Speaker: Guillaume Thomas
Date/Time: Thursday Mar 8, 10:00AM-11:30AM
Title: Mbyá tense
Since I didn’t have time to address the main point of my work on tense in Mbyá during my ling-lunch talk, I will do it during this LFRG session—although I won’t assume that you have been to my ling-lunch talk. (1) and (2) both entail that there is a time before the time of utterance (TU) at which Juan is a teacher, but (2) also entails that Juan is not a teacher at TU, while (1) only implicates it. I propose that -kue is interpreted as a simple past tense in both cases, and that both (1) and (2) implicate that Juan is not a teacher at TU, but that this implicature can be canceled only in (1). During this session, I want to discuss (a) how we can generate this implicature and (b) how we can make sure that it stays in place in (2).
(1) Juan o-iko va?e-kue ñombo?ea.
Juan 3-be REL-PAST teacher
Juan was a teacher.
(2) Juan ñombo?ea-kue
Juan is an ex-teacher.
Speaker: Cristiano Chesi (NETS ‐ IUSS Pavia, CISCL ‐ University of Siena)
Title: Top‐Down, Left‐Right Derivations
Date/Time: Thursday, Mar 8, 12:30-1:45p
The full abstract is available here (PDF).
The goal of this talk is to provide empirical arguments in favor of a derivational view of the grammar in which structure building occurs, incrementally, top-down (Chesi 2004a, 2007) and from left to right (Phillips 1996, 2003).
Following the Minimalist research spirit (Chomsky 1995-2008), I will show that the bottom-to-top orientation of phrase structure building is not a “virtual conceptual necessity” and that we can gain in descriptive adequacy if we drift away from the idea that the basic recursive operation is a set formation operation like Merge.
Speaker: Yosef Grodzinsky — McGill University
Date/Time: Friday 3/9 3:30 pm
Title: The Analysis of Negative Quantifiers: Multi-modal Evidence
Recent discussion of negative quantifiers (see Penka, 2011 and references therein) focuses on two main questions: do these quantifiers decompose, and if so, what are the mechanisms for decomposition? In this talk, I will describe a series of neuro- and psycholinguistic experiments my colleagues and I have conducted with healthy and brain-damaged participants that aim to provide relevant evidence. These experiments recorded responses from several modalities, as participants were analyzing sentences with positive and negative proportional and degree quantifiers in German and English (e.g., mehr/weniger-als-die-Hälfte die Kreise sind Gelb, many/few of the circles are blue).
All experiments used a Parametric Proportion Paradigm (PPP): participants were exposed to sentence-scenario pairs, and were requested to make truth value judgments. Sentences contained a quantifier in subject position, and scenarios depicted a proportion between 2 types of objects. Proportion was a parameter, systematically varied across images that were presented with each sentence type.
Our first experiment used functional MR imaging to extract a signal that represents localized brain activity. It aimed to identify brain loci that evince an intensity differential between the contrasting stimuli. Signal intensity for sentences with negative quantifiers was higher than that for their positive counterparts only in Broca’s region. Importantly, no other localizable intensity contrasts were found.
A second experiment (currently only a pilot) confronted English speaking, focally brain damaged, Broca’s aphasic patients with the same task. However here, the dependent measure was error rate. The results suggest a remarkably selective deficit: While patients performed near-normally on the positive quantifiers, their scores were drastically reduced when the stimuli contained negative quantifiers.
A third experiment attempted to take a deeper look at the behavioral signature of quantifier analysis through a study of complex RT functions obtained from healthy participants. Here, too, we observed that the signature of negative quantifiers is quite distinct from that of their positive counterparts.
In this talk, I will try to connect these results, obtained through different modalities from different populations, to previous ones that come from parametric studies of overt syntactic movement with healthy participants in fMRI, and with Broca’s aphasic patients. I will propose that a generalization over the experimental results supports an analysis of sentences with negative quantifiers that assumes covert movement. I will then try to situate these results in the broader context of a research agenda that tries to create a brain map of syntactic and semantic knowledge.
A new paper (a “technical comment”) has just appeared in Science, co-authored by Florian Jaeger (Rochester), Dan Pontillo (Rochester) and our own Peter Graff (5th-year grad student), entitled Comment on “Phonemic Diversity Supports a Serial Founder Effect Model of Language Expansion from Africa”. Congratulations, Peter (and all)!!