The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 30th, 2012

ESSL Meeting 4/30 - Ayaka Sugawara

Speaker: Ayaka Sugawara
Date/Time: Monday, Apr 30, 5:30p
Location: 32-D461

In my LFRG talk I proposed a new experiment on ACD acquisition. In this talk, I would like to discuss pilot results of the experiment. Examples of the target sentences we have are as follows.

(1) Dora wants to be at the same place that Lisa is.
(2) Dora hopes to be on the same mountain that Lisa does.

As opposed to Syrett & Lidz (2011) reporting that 4 year olds can do long distance QR, our results show that children do poorly on long distance QR while they do well on short distance QR.

LFRG I 5/1: Anastasia Smirnova

LFRG will meet twice this week. Please note the unusual date/time and location for this meeting:

Speaker: Anastasia Smirnova (Tufts University)
Date/Time: Tuesday, May 1, 10-11:30 am
Location: 56-180
Title: Evidentiality in Bulgarian: epistemic modality and temporal relations

Bulgarian has a designated morphological paradigm that expresses evidentiality, a linguistic category that encodes the source of information (Aikhenvald 2004). In this talk, I discuss the properties of the Bulgarian evidential system from a cross-linguistic perspective and present a formal semantic analysis of the Bulgarian evidential construction. The analysis is motivated by a number of facts that went unnoticed in the literature on evidentiality in Bulgarian and that cannot be explained by the previous analyses (Izvorski 1997; Sauerland and Schenner 2007; Koev 2011). First, I show that the same evidential construction in Bulgarian can express direct, reportative, and inferential information sources. These data not only challenge the current analysis of the Bulgarian evidential as indirect (Izvorski 1997), but also argue against the assumption that evidential systems cross-linguistically distinguish between direct and indirect information sources (Willett 1988; Aikhenvald 2004). Second, I show that the Bulgarian evidential expresses temporal meaning: it functions as a relative tense. Finally, while I retain the insights of Izvorski’s modal analysis, I substantially change the modal component to account for reports of false information in reportative contexts (I analyze them as reports de dicto). Ultimately, I argue that the evidential construction in Bulgarian has a tripartite meaning: it encodes information source, temporality and epistemic modality. This paper addresses the question about the ontological status of evidentiality in relation to epistemic modality and contributes to the understanding of the semantics of evidentials cross-linguistically (cf. Faller 2002, McCready and Ogata 2007, Matthewson et al. 2007) by showing how the interaction of the modal and the temporal components affects the distribution and meaning of evidentials in discourse.

Syntax Square 5/1 - Mitcho Erlewine

Speaker: Mitcho Erlewine
Title: Kaqchikel Agent Focus and the syntax of extraction
Date/Time: Tuesday, May 1, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Agent Focus (AF) in Mayan languages is a morphological change to transitive verbs which is traditionally described as obligatory whenever a subject is A’-extracted. In this talk I present evidence from my ongoing fieldwork on Kaqchikel that AF morphology does not simply appear when the subject of a transitive verb is A’-extracted. Rather, AF morphology occurs when the subject of a transitive verb moves to a particular, immediately preverbal position. This can be shown by a careful look at sentences involving multiple A’-extractions to the same verbal periphery. I will discuss what this might tell us about the nature of AF and argue against recent Case-based approaches to AF (Coon, Mateo Pedro, Preminger, ms; Assmann et al, 2012) for Kaqchikel.

The data also features some fun scope judgments… semanticists also welcome!

Phonology Circle 5/2 - Rory Turnbull

Speaker: Rory Turnbull (Ohio State University)
Date/Time: Wednesday, May 2, 5p
Location: 32-D831

Title/Abstract TBA

LFRG II 5/3: Natalia Ivlieva & Sam Alxatib

Speakers: Natalia Ivlieva & Sam Alxatib
Date/Time: 5/3 (Thu) 10 am-11:30 am
Location: 32-D831


In this talk, we will discuss several puzzles related to the superlative modifiers ‘at least’ and ‘at most’.

a) Superlative modifiers trigger obligatory ignorance inferences, as shown in (1):

(1) John read at least 5 books. #More precisely, he read 7.

b) Under universal quantifiers these ignorance inferences can disappear, as shown in (2):

(2) To pass the exam, you are required to read at least 5 books.

c) Under existential modals, ‘at most’ and ‘at least’ behave differently - ‘at most’ can lead to the disappearance of ignorance inferences, whereas ‘at least’ cannot:

(3) Your paper is allowed to be at most 15 pages.
(4) *Your paper is allowed to be at least 15 pages.

We will discuss Schwarz’s approach to superlative modifiers based on his handout from the “Indefinites and Beyond” workshop and see how well the approach can handle the puzzles described above.

Ling-Lunch 5/3 - Maziar Toosarvandani

Speaker: Maziar Toosarvandani (MIT)
Title: Temporal interpretation and discourse structure in Northern Paiute
Date/Time: Thursday, May 3, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

The full abstract is available (pdf).

Jeremy Hartman to UMass Amherst!

5th-year student Jeremy Hartman has accepted a tenure track position as Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst.  His duties at UMass will include teaching and research in both syntax and language acquisition. Congratulations, Jeremy!!

Linguistics Colloquium 5/4 - Hagit Borer

Speaker: Hagit Borer (Queen Mary University of London and USC)
Date/Time: 5/4 (Friday), 3.30 pm
Location: 32-141
Title: The Domain of Content


An investigation of the properties of derived nominals reveals a number of rather surprising facts. First, derived nominals with non-compositional Content (or Sense) cannot be Argument Structure nominals (Complex Event Nominals in the sense of Grimshaw, 1990), contrasting, as such, with identical morpho-phonological forms which do happen to have compositional Content (e.g. transformation in its technical linguistic sense vs. transformation as transparently composed from transform). Second, Argument Structure nominals, but not necessarily others, must embed a constituent that is otherwise a possible independent verb, thereby making e.g. aviation, fiction andpetulance perfectly licit derived nominals, but not with an embedded event structure. The contrasts, as it turns out, cannot be accounted for by a lexicalist theory of word formation, nor can they be explained by appealing to any model in which roots are allowed to select arguments. The contrasts, however, can be derived within a wholly syntactic approach to argument structure and to the formation of complex words, in which the domain of non-compositional Content (atomic Content) is defined on the basis of structurally delimited, phonologically realized, syntactic constituents, and is crucially accessible by phase. The argumentation and the conclusions will thus point towards a system of complex word construction which must be syntactic. It will further points towards the need to revise at least some aspects of our understanding concerning the interaction between sound, and specifically phonological realization, and meaning, the latter specifically as in Content.