The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 2nd, 2012

No ESSL Meeting This Week  

There will be no Experimental Syntax/Semantics Lab meeting this week.


Phonology Circle 4/2 - Sverre Stausland Johnsen  

Speaker: Sverre Stausland
Title: Vowel Weakening in Old West Saxon
Date: April 2 (Monday—note the special date and time!)
Time: 5:30
Location: 32D-831

The predecessor of the Modern English weak verbs with a past tense in -ed is the Old English second weak conjugation. In West Saxon, the main dialect of Old English, the past tense forms of these verbs exhibit both the vowel ‘a’ and ‘o’: ‘andswarade ~ andswarode, wundad ~ wundod’, corresponding to Modern English ‘answered’ and ‘wounded’. The explanation given in the grammars of Old English is that the ‘o’, which goes back to an older ‘u’, stems from the verb forms where an original *u followed in the ending. I raise an alternative hypothesis by which the ‘o’ (< ‘u’) originated in medial syllables through vowel reduction. A statistical analysis of the verb forms in the largest Old West Saxon manuscript shows that ‘o’ is significantly more common in medial syllables than in final syllables, but that there is no correlation between the distribution of ‘a’ and ‘o’ and where an original *u followed in the ending. The explanation in the grammars is therefore not supported. I suggest that the vowel has been reduced in medial syllables because vowels in medial syllables are shorter than in final syllables.

Remaining Schedule
11 Suyeon Yun
18 Giorgio Magri
25 Sameer ud Dowla Khan, Brown U

2 Rory Turnbull, Ohio State University
9 Manchester Phonology Meeting Practice Talks
16 Manchester Phonology Meeting Practice Talks


Syntax Square 4/3 - Norvin Richards and Coppe van Urk  

Speakers: Norvin Richards and Coppe van Urk
Title: Dinka Bor and the signature of successive-cyclic movement
Date/Time: Tuesday, Apr 3, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, we outline our initial findings with regards to the syntax of extraction in Dinka Bor. In particular, we will focus on a number of ways in which extraction affects Dinka clauses, including (a) certain positions having to be empty, (b) blocking of subject agreement, and (c) the appearance of various forms of special agreement/clitics. We show that these effects differentiate between different types of extraction and discuss the theoretical ramifications of these patterns.


LFRG 4/5 - Wataru Uegaki  

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki
Title: Japanese alternative questions are matrix disjunctions of Q-marked clauses
Date/Time: Thursday April 5, 10 am
Location: 32-D831


Authors in the previous literature disagree on whether ellipsis is involved in alternative questions and (if it is) how large the elided material is (e.g., Han & Romero 2004, Beck & Kim 2006, Pruitt & Roelofsen 2011). In this talk, I present my ongoing analysis of Japanese alternative questions, and argue that they are best analyzed as disjunctions of Q-marked clauses with ellipsis in the first disjunct. The argument is based on the restricted syntactic distribution of alternative questions in Japanese: DP disjunction under the Q morpheme “ka” does not induce alternative question reading (i.e. yes/no-question reading is obligatory) while VP disjunction under “ka” allows (in fact strongly prefers) alternative question reading, as exemplified in (i) below.


a. watashi-wa [Mary-ga [John ka Sue]-o yonda-ka] shitteiru
     1sg-Top Mary-Nom John Disj Sue-Acc called-Q know
     *’I know whether it is John or Sue that Mary called.’ (*alt Q)
     ‘I know whether or not Mary called [John or Sue].’ (Y/N Q)

b. watashi-wa [Mary-ga [John-o yonda ka Sue-o yonda]-ka] shitteiru
     1sg-Top Mary-Nom John-Acc called Disj/Q Sue-Acc called-Q know
     ‘I know whether it is John or Sue that Mary called.’ (alt Q)
     ? ‘I know whether or not Mary called [John or Sue].’ (? Y/N Q)

I show that this fact straightforwardly falls out as a consequence of a restriction on the deletion operation in the first disjunct, given a unified semantic analysis of the disjunction marker “ka” and the Q-particle “ka” as a polyadic operator that creates alternative possibilities (cf., e.g., Zimmermann 2000, Alonso-Ovalle 2006). If time allows, I would also like to talk about possible sources of cross-linguistic variation in the distribution of alternative questions.


Ling-Lunch 4/5 - Adam Szczegielniak  

Speaker: Adam Szczegielniak (Harvard)
Title: Relativizing two types of degrees
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 5, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

This talk will propose an alternative to Carlson (1977) and Grosu and Landman (1998) derivation of (1) and (2) that combines a raising analysis of DegP and a matching analysis of NP. Support for this claim will come from head noun reconstruction facts, as well as scope contrasts between degree relatives and comparatives. DegP will be argued to have its denotation built via subsequent overt raising within CP, where it undergoes Maximization and then moves out of CP to a position modifying the external NP. Differences between (1) and (2) will be attributed to differences in the type of DegP (based on work in Szczegielniak 2012). Following Neelman, Koot & Doetjes (2004), I will argue that there are two DegP’s: one that projects, and the other that merges in Spec-XP.

In what time remains, I will examine the impact of the above analysis for other types of relative clauses, especially restrictive relatives and argue that we should revisit the intuition developed in Quine (1960) that they are clausal adjectives.

(1) It would take us all year to drink the champagne that you spilled at the party
      A. the amount of champagne
      #B. the actual champagne

(2) John took the books that there were on the table


Linguistics Colloquium 4/6 - Benjamin Spector  

Speaker: Benjamin Spector — Institut Jean Nicod, ENS
Date/Time: 3:30 PM, Friday 04/06
Location: 32-141
Title: Generalized Scope Economy (Joint work with Clemens Mayr, ZAS Berlin)


It is a well-known fact that the relative scopes of several operators in a sentence do not always correspond to their relative surface positions. In order to account for such cases, covert scope shifting operations (CSSOs) such as QR and reconstruction have been assumed to apply, resulting in hierarchical structures that deliver the correct interpretation. Such operations, however, are not completely free to apply. One type of restriction on the application of CSSOs has been extensively studied, namely, locality constraints that prevent a CSSO from covertly moving an operator out of a so-called scope-island. There is, however, a second type of restriction that has not been studied to the same extent. In many cases, a CSSO seems to be able to shift the scope of a certain expression x in a sentence S but cannot affect the scope of some other expression – call it y – in a structurally parallel sentence where x has been replaced with y.

Consider for instance the following pair:

(1) Every student did not attend the talk
> Inverse-scope possible: Not every student attended the talk
(2) More than two students did not attend the talk
> Inverse-scope marginal: ??? No more than two students attended the talk.

In other words, the possibility of applying a CSSO seems to depend in part on the nature of the expressions that it targets. As far as we know, the only attempt to account for these types of restrictions in a general way is due to Beghelli & Stowell (1997). These authors propose to account for all the observed restrictions in terms of a cartographic analysis. They assume that CSSOs such as QR or reconstruction target different landing sites depending on the surface position and the nature of the item that undergoes the operation. Although this proposal has broad empirical coverage, it is not really explanatory, since it does not provide a principled account of why the hierarchy of landing sites is the way it is. We develop an alternative approach whose goal is to account for the observed restrictions in a unified way. We propose a new licensing constraint on CSSOs, which is itself a generalization of Fox’s 2000 Scope Economy. In short, we argue that a CSSO can only apply if the resulting interpretation is not logically stronger than or equivalent to the surface-scope interpretation. We will show that such a principle makes correct predictions for a broad range of structures, discuss how exactly it should be implemented, and address apparent counterexamples.


Wayne O’Neil in China  

Wayne O’Neil is spending three weeks in China (Mar 28-Apr 18), lecturing on linguistic theory and second-language acquisition, at Shandong University in Jinan for the most part, but also at Beijing Foreign Languages University.

Wayne taught at Shandong University fall term 1982-1983, and since June 1984, he has been an honorary professor of linguistics there. So this trip is a sort of homecoming or reunion.


An award for Shigeru  

Our very own Shigeru Miyagawa has won MIT’s President’s Award for OpenCourseWare Excellence (ACE) “for his contributions to the global OpenCourseWare and Open Education movements.” More here. Congratulations Shigeru!!


MIT Linguists in Spain and England  

The 22nd Colloquium on Generative Grammar was held in Barcelona on March 21-23. Donca Steriade was an invited speaker (The cycle without containment), and talks were given by graduate student Yusuke Imanishi (A Non-Uniform Merge of Argument WH: A Case Study in Kaqchikel) and recent alum Maria Giavazzi (PhD 2010; “Assibilation in Standard Finnish: a case of stress-conditioned contrast neutralization”). The conference also included a poster by Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009; “No need for a theory of the distribution of readings of English bare plurals”).

Next month, a sizable group of current and recent members of our department will be at the 20th anniversary of the Manchester Phonology Meeting (mfm20, May 24-26). As part of the anniversary, invited speakers will discuss unsolved problems in phonology. Among the speakers are faculty member Donca Steriade, on segment sequencing, and recent visitor Nina Topintzi (Universitaet Leipzig), on compensatory lengthening. Additionally, the following abstracts were accepted:


Adam Albright: “Shared neutralizations without shared representations”
Sam Alxatib: “The stress-epenthesis opacity in Palestinian Arabic”
Tara McAllister Byun (PhD 2009, Montclair State University), Sharon Inkelas, and Yvan Rose: “Transient phonology, CON and child phonological processes”
Laura McPherson (Visiting student 2011, UCLA) and Bruce Hayes: “Relating application frequency to morphological structure: the case of Tommo So vowel harmony”
Kevin Tang and Andrew Nevins (PhD 2005, UCL): “Learning from mistakes: computational modelling of slips of the ear”


Gretchen Kern: “Perceptual similarity in sonority contours: evidence from Early Irish rhyming patterns”
Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009, University of Paris 7): “The stochastic error-driven ranking model of child variation”
Sam Steddy: “How palatalisation in Italian verbs is a regular process”
Suyeon Yun: “A typology of epenthesis positioning in loanword adaptation: A perceptual account”

Congratulations to all!