The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 23rd, 2012

ESSL Meeting 4/23 - Wataru Uegaki

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki
Date/Time: Monday, Apr 23, 5:30p
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I will discuss some prospects for a new project investigating the realtime construction of alternatives used in the interpretation of “only”. Using an eye-tracking paradigm, Kim et al. (2008) observe that subjects fixate their eye-movement to a real-world image of the focus-associate of “only” in the auditory stimulus faster when the context mentions the target item than when it mentions a semantically unrelated item. We interprete this result as arising from the varied accessibility of the different strategies to construct alternatives for the interpretation of “only”. More specifically, a structure-based algorithm as proposed by Fox and Katzir (2011) would be more easily accessible than online inference of Question under Discussion. We will present an experimental design to test this hypothesis building on Kim et al’s experiments.

Syntax Square 4/24 - Junya Nomura and Daeyoung Sohn

Speakers: Junya Nomura and Daeyoung Sohn
Tile: First conjunct agreement in Kaqchikel
Location: 32-D461
Time: Tuesday, Apr 24, 1-2p

The full abstract is available here (pdf).

Special talk 4/24 - Uli Sauerland

Speaker: Uli Sauerland
Date/Time: Tuesday 4/24, 5 pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: Modeling Syncretism Distribution (joint work with Jonathan Bobaljik)


Does the fact that English “you” is both singular and plural, show that there’s an abstract feature “2nd Person”? While many generative analysis accept such an argument, they also need to accept cases of accidental homophony — two morphemes that aren’t related through an abstract feature, but nevertheless sound the same. But, why then not also assume that “you” in the singular and “you” in the plural accidentally sound the same with no need for an abstract feature. The distinction between accidental and systematic (i.e. derived from pieces of generative apparatus) homophony is a conundrum, generative morphologists haven’t overcome. The starting point of our talk is the new hypothesis that accidental homophony should be random — i.e. randomly distributed across languages and across cells of a paradigm. This provides the basis for a statistical approach to paradigm patterns. In the talk, we present two results: 1) The general statistical framework for the analysis of paradigm pattern frequencies. 2) A preliminary application of the framework to Cysouw’s (2003, OUP) data on person marking to argue that a generative analysis accounts for the data rather well.

Phonology Circle 4/25 - Sameer ud Dowla Khan

Speaker: Sameer ud Dowla Khan (Brown University)
Date/Time: 4/25 (Wed), 5 pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: What echo reduplication reveals about correspondence and similarity


Unlike canonical reduplication, echo reduplication involves obligatory differences between the base and reduplicant, either in the form of subtraction or fixed segmentism, e.g. Bengali /goli/ > /oli goli/ ‘alleys, etc.’ and /kashi/ > /kashi tashi/ ‘cough, etc.’, respectively. I show that the unique properties of echo reduplication primarily stem from the multiple competing (anti-)correspondence relations at work, including IO-, BR- and IR-correspondence constraints, an anticorrespondence constraint, and morphemic constraints, all of which can be ranked relative to markedness constraints.Echo reduplication is also investigated as a productive alternation sensitive to phonological similarity. Results of a production experiment on Bengali reveal that BR-homophony avoidance is gradient as opposed to categorical. Bases that begin with consonants more similar to the /t/ are less likely to be echo-reduplicated with the default fixed segment /t/, and more likely to prefer one of the backup labial segments /m, f, p, u/. This homophony avoidance requires a gradient notion of phonological similarity, which can be closely modeled using a probabilistic metric that assigns different weights to different phonological features of the consonants being compared. Possible sources for feature weights are discussed, and will lead to future extensions of the current study.

LFRG 4/26 - Nadine Bade

Speaker: Nadine Bade (Harvard, Tübingen)
Date/Time: 4/26 (Thu) 10-11.30 am
Location: 32-D831
Title: Obligatory Presuppositions and Exhaustive Interpretation


I will provide an analysis for the obligatory occurrence of some presupposition triggers in certain contexts which is based on formal non-Gricean approaches to implicatures (Chierchia (2004), Fox & Hackl (2006), Fox (2007), Chierchia, Fox & Spector (2011)). Presupposition triggers are obligatory in contexts in which it is clear that their presupposition is met. Examples of the phenomenon are given below.

(1) John came to the store.
(a) # Bill came to the store.
(b) Bill came to the store, too.

(2) Yesterday Jenna went ice skating.
(a) #She went ice skating today.
(b) She went ice skating today, again.

(a) The sun is shining.
(b) # A sun is shining.

(4) It is raining.
(a) #John believes it.
(b) John knows it.

Usually these facts are explained by exploiting a principle “Maximize Presupposition” (Heim (1991), Schlenker (2006), Sauerland (2008b), Percus (2006), Chemla (2008), Singh (2011)). Most of these proposals assume that lexical items or sentences are ordered on a scale with regard to their presuppositional strength. They predict that the sentence or item that is presuppositionally weaker will lead to a specific inference called “antipresupposition” or “implicated presupposition”. I argue that the obligatory insertion of a presupposition trigger follows from the fact that people have to interpret exhaustively in certain contexts. I assume that the trigger is inserted to avoid a contradiction that arises due to the implicature that is the result of this exhaustive interpretation. The present account is hence based on an independently needed mechanism and does not need to assume lexical scales of presuppositional strength or inferences with special status. Moreover, it provides an explanation for the fact that most triggers are not obligatory under negation which “Maximize Presupposition” fails to account for.

Ling-Lunch 4/26 - Kevin Ryan

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard)
Title: Statistical onset weight effects in stress and meter
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 26, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

A traditional observation regarding syllable weight is that it can be determined only by properties of the rime, while onsets are universally ignored. Apparently onset-sensitive weight criteria have received renewed attention in recent years (e.g. Gordon 2005, Topintzi 2010), but such cases remain uncommon. This talk presents a new kind of evidence for onset-sensitivity in syllable weight, arguing that its effects are more pervasive across languages and phenomena than previously acknowledged. In particular, I examine weight-sensitive systems exhibiting gradience/variation. Gradient syllable weight can be found in stress, poetic meter, word order (heavy shift), textsetting, and rhythmic centering or synchronization. In all of these systems, onsets not only matter, but matter in ways that are both highly consistent with each other and with the typology of categorical onset-sensitive criteria.

I focus on stress and meter, the two most discussed weight systems in phonology. First, in complex, less than fully deterministic stress systems such as those of English and Russian, onset size is a significant predictor of stress/accent placement in roots both in the lexicon and in wugs (e.g. a nonword like “brontoon” is more likely to be initially stressed than one like “bontoon”; see also Kelly 2004). I argue that this behavior cannot be attributed to analogy alone, but reflects grammatical generalization. Second, in metrics, syllables with longer onsets are avoided in preferentially light positions and overrepresented in preferentially strong ones, even while controlling for various confounds (rime structure, word shape, etc., as in Ryan 2011). A theory of syllable (or Steriadean interval) weight based on the (stochastic) perceptual downbeat of the syllable rather than the (fixed) onset-rime boundary correctly predicts both the emergence of onset effects in statistical systems as well as its rarity under small n-ary categorization (effectively, the priority of the coda).

Linguistics Colloquium 4/27 - Uli Sauerland

Speaker: Uli Sauerland, ZAS (Berlin)
Date/Time: Friday 4/27, 3:30 pm
Location: 32-141
Title: Attitudes and Embedding


The question I investigate is whether sentence embedding is universally used for the linguistic expression of propositional attitudes (cf. Cristofaro 2003, Oxford UP). Recently, it’s been claimed that in some languages (at least Old Babylonian, Teiwa, Pirahã, Matses, Kobon) propositional attitudes are never expressed by embedding but only by other means: quotation, structures akin to coordination or even independent sentences. I present results mostly from fieldwork investigations of three of these languages (Matses, Pirahã, and Teiwa). My results provide evidence for syntactic embedding in all three languages. They also show some novel variation concerning embedding, namely total indexical shift in Matses and clause-like complementizers in Teiwa.