The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 12th, 2012

ESSL Meeting 3/12 - Hadas Kotek

Speaker: Hadas Kotek
Title: Second meeting of blocking effects reading group
Date/Time: Monday, Mar 12, 5:30p
Location: 32-D461

In our previous meeting we discussed two approaches to blocking effects: the filter-based approach (Kiparsky 2005) and the derivation-based approach (Embick and Marantz 2008). This week I will survey the predictions that these theories make with regard to brain signals induced by the processing of blocked forms. I’ll present previous ERP studies of blocking effects in irregular verb morphology (Newman 2007, Munte et al. 1999) and recent pilot design/data from an experiment conducted by a group at Tohoku university that is researching blocking effects with -sase forms in Japanese. Finally, I’ll discuss some ideas for a new experiment. No prior knowledge of MEG/EEG will be assumed.

Syntax Square 3/13 - Coppe van Urk

Speaker: Coppe van Urk
Date/Time: Tuesday, Mar 13, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

This talk discusses work in progress on idiomatic readings of ‘give,’ ‘get,’ and ‘have.’ I show that this data provides evidence that there is a common possessive core to the prepositional dative and double object variant of ‘give,’ (contra Harley 1995 et seq.; Richards 2001). I then try to develop a syntax and semantics for the dative alternation that derives this, the attested classes of idioms of possession, and some other related facts.

Phonology Circle 3/14 - Sam Steddy

Speaker: Sam Steddy
Title: How Palatalisation in Italian Verbs is a Regular Process
Date/Time: Wednesday, Mar 14, 5-7p
Location: 32D-831

Italian has a rule of palatalisation transforming velar stops /k,g/ into affricates [tʃ,dʒ] before front vowels /i,e/. At the boundary between verb stem and agreement suffix, though, the rule does not apply consistently - it can be blocked (underapply) or can overapply to forms suffixed by non-triggering vowels. In contrast to Pirelli & Battista (2000), I propose a phonological analysis that explains when each of these three patterns applies, and give a further explanation of a lexical gap in which there are no Italian infinitive forms that underpalatalise. The analysis employs a base-to-derivative relationship in which segments in a derived verb must match for stridency with stressed correspondents in the verb’s infinitive. Infinitives, having no base, palatalise as expected from their conjugation class suffix. Results from a wug-type experiment show the process is productive in the synchronic grammar.

LFRG 3/15 - Sarah Ouwayda

Speaker: Sarah Ouwayda (USC)
Date/Time: 15 Mar (Thursday) 10-11:30am
Location: 32-D831
Title: The Mass-Like Behavior of Plurals of Mass


Plural marking, when it occurs on a noun that is typically mass, usually results in a plural count DP (1). This has been used to show the flexibility of nouns’ occurrence in both mass and count contexts and to argue for a universal packager (cf. Pelletier 1975, Chierchia 1998, Borer 2005 inter alia).

1. (much) oil -> (three) oils

In some cases, Levantine Arabic follows suit (2), but in others, the addition of a plural marker (specifically, the sound feminine plural), results in DPs that trigger plural agreement, but do not admit cardinals (3), and allows primarily an amount comparison (in the sense of Barner and Snedeker 2005).

2. (ktiir) zeit —> (tlat) zyuut
  (much) oil     (three) oil-plb
much oil     three oil types

3. (ktiir) zeit —> (*tlat) zayt-eet Tayyb-iin
  (much) oil     (*three) oil-plf    tasty-pl
much oil         tasty oil (but not three oils)

The mass-like behavior of this type of mass+pl nouns has been taken to suggest that the plural marking is epiphenominal (Tsoulas 2006, for Greek), that the plural marking is lexical/idiosyncratic (Alexiadou 2010, for Greek), or that mass/count is not a strictly binary distinction (Acquaviva 2008, 2010, for Levantine Arabic).

I show that in Levantine Arabic, such DPs (a) do not allow kind or generic readings, (b) must be specific, (c) do not occur with measure words (e.g. ‘a cup of’, ‘a bag of’), and (d) do not allow comparison unless definite. Based on these and other restrictions independent of the mass-count distinction, I propose that the same thing (specifically, that DPs like those in (3) are count but are also specified for quantity) is responsible both for (a)-(d) and for the misleading mass-like behavior.

Ling-Lunch 3/15 - Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine

Title: The Constituency of Hyperlinks in a Hypertext Corpus
Speaker: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (MIT)
Date/Time: Thursday, Mar 15, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

While many have advocated for the use of Internet corpora in traditional corpus linguistics, no previous work has used one of the greatest characteristics of hypermedia—inline hyperlinks—as a tool in the generative study of syntax. In this talk I argue that the hyperlink-authoring behavior of naive speakers reflects the underlying syntactic constituency of sentences. I show that inline hyperlinks show a highly statistically significant tendency to be constituents in their host sentences (96% in our preliminary sample). In addition, hyperlinking behavior is sensitive to structural distinctions, distinguishing between complement and adjunct PPs. Finally, hyperlinks identified as non-constituents will be discussed as a unique natural class of nonconstituent linguistic structure.

LFRG special session 3/16 - Masa Yamada

Speaker: Masa Yamada (University of Kyoto/University of Chicago)
Date/Time: 3/16 (Friday) 3:30-5 pm (Note unusual time)
Location: 32-D831
Title: Reciprocal and Pluraction in Japanese


Numerous languages employ a morpheme that signals plurality, distributivity, or pluractionality to describe real world reciprocal situations. The Japanese verbal suffix -aw has reciprocal and non-reciprocal pluraction uses, but the previous studies only focus on the former use. I will propose two type-shift variants for the lexical meaning of the suffix and argue that the two uses are due to some sort of structural ambiguity in the verbal projection. When it combines with a semantic transitive predicate (i.e. a relation between two individuals), the canonical reciprocal interpretation obtains; when it combines with a semantic intransitive predicate (i.e. a property of individual, a context sensitive pluraction meaning results. I will also demonstrate that the proposed analysis of the verbal reciprocal correctly captures its interaction with other verbal suffixes such as causative and applicative. This is a formal case study of the widely observed phenomenon of (seemingly) polysemy of a linguistic reciprocal expression.

Claire Halpert at ACAL

5th-year student Claire Halpert is off to New Orleans this week for the 43rd Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL), where she will give a talk on “Optional agreement: new facts about Zulu subjects”.

Formal Approaches to South Asian Linguistics @MIT next weekend

Next Saturday and Sunday (March 17 & 18), MIT will be hosting the second workshop on Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL 2), with papers in formal syntax, semantics and morphology. The invited speakers are: Rajesh Bhatt (University of Massachusetts, Amherst), Veneeta Dayal (Rutgers), Brendan Gillon (McGill) and Maria Polinsky (Harvard). The conference will be great — see you there!