The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 1st, 2012

Phonology Circle 10/1 - Michelle Fullwood

Speaker: Michelle Fullwood
Title: Learning nonconcatenative morphological units via Bayesian inference
Date/Time: Monday, Oct 1, 5-7p
Location: 32-D831

(This is a practice talk for NECPhon.)

I will demonstrate an extension to the Goldwater model of Bayesian morphological segmentation (Goldwater, Griffiths & Johnson 2009) to handle the unsupervised learning of nonconcatenative morphologies for languages such as Arabic and Hebrew. I will then discuss a number of linguistic questions that can receive empirical answers by applying the extended model to actual lexica.

Syntax Square 10/2 - Mitcho Erlewine

Speaker: Michael Erlewine
Title: Qu in Squliq Atayal
Date/Time: Tuesday, Oct 2, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

In this talk I’ll share some findings from my recent fieldwork on Atayal (Austronesian, Taiwan). Atayal exhibits the familiar “Austronesian voice system,” where verbs are marked for which argument is in a prominent, sentence-final “trigger” position (which is the subject or some topic position, depending on your view). In Atayal, the trigger is marked with ‘qu’. In the variety of Squliq Atayal I looked at this summer, in some circumstances when the trigger is not in sentence-final position (either through cliticization or leftward A’-extraction) another argument of the verb can be marked with ‘qu’. I’ll speculate on what this extra ‘qu’ marking may be, and how it relates to different conceptions of the Austronesian voice system.

BCS Talk 10/2 - Angela Friederici

Speaker: Angela Friederici (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig)
Date/Time: Tuesday, October 2nd 4pm
Location: Singleton Auditorium, 46‐3002
Title: Syntax in the Brain: Evidence for processing networks from imaging


The processing of syntax is an ability specific to humans. The functional and structural neural network underlying this ability will be expounded, both on the basis of data from natural and artificial grammar paradigms in the mature brain. The different brain regions in the temporal, parietal and inferior frontal cortex which are involved in syntax will be described with respect to their specific contributions in the processing of syntactically complex sentences, as will the information flow between them. A model framing these data with respect to bottom-up and potential top-down processes will be presented.

Ling/Phil Special Seminar 10/3 - Angela Friederici

Speaker: Angela Friederici (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig)
Date/Time: Wednesday, Oct 3, 5pm (Refreshments start at 4:30)
Location: 32-D461
Title: Brain maturation and language development: From phonology to syntax

As the brain matures language processing develops. It will be argued that the maturation of certain fiber tracts goes together with the development of particular processing abilities. The talk will focus on two dorsal pathways in particular: one pathway which connects the temporal cortex (TC) to the premotor cortex (PMC) known to support auditory-based phonological processes and another pathway which connects the TC to Broca’s area (BA 44) known to subserve the processing of syntactically complex sentences. Data from newborns, children and adults demonstrate that the TC to PMC pathway is present in the human infant at birth providing the bases for phonologically based learning observable at the age of 4-5 months, whereas the TC to BA 44 pathway only matures much later and appears to be directly linked to the processing of syntactically complex stimuli.

This talk replaces the weekly Experimental Syntax and Semantics Lab meeting.

LFRG 10/4 - Andreea Nicolae

Speaker: Andreea Nicolae (Harvard)
Date/Time: Thursday October 4, 9:30-11:00am
Location: 32-D831
Title: An alternative account of the distribution of NPIs in interrogatives


Despite much research on the NPI front, their behavior in questions remains puzzling. Many recent theories, building on Ladusaw’s original insight, have developed an alternative–based approach whereby their distribution, a requirement to be in a downward entailing (DE) context, follows from the way their alternatives are “exhaustified,” without having to stipulate a licensing-by-DE condition. In fact, Guerzoni & Sharvit (2007) show that when it comes to the distribution of NPIs in questions, DE-ness cannot be a factor, and claim instead that the crucial factor is strength. While NPIs are always acceptable in direct questions (modulo some intervention facts), matters are more complicated in embedded questions: wonder verbs always allow NPIs, surprise verbs never allow NPIs, and know verbs have an intermediate status.

(1) a. Mary wonders which students brought anything to the party.
     b. %Mary knows which students brought anything to the party.
     c. *It surprised Mary which students brought anything to the party.

Noting that the NPI’s acceptability correlates with whether the embedded question is interpreted as weakly (WE) or strongly (SE) exhaustive — wonder embeds SE questions, surprise embeds only WE questions, while know arguably admits both — G&S draw the generalizations that NPIs are only admissible in embedded questions that receive a SE interpretation. Summing up, the situation is the following. We have a promising theory of NPIs, a good generalization about their distribution in questions, and a theory of WE versus SE questions, but we don’t know how these come together, and in particular how the generalization may follow given what we know about the distribution of NPIs in non–interrogative contexts. In this talk I am going to propose a new way to derive the WE/SE distinction in embedded questions and show how this new approach allows us to tackle the puzzle of NPIs in questions.

The emerging picture is that not only is it the case that DE–ness is not a factor in non–interrogatives and strength not a factor in interrogatives, but that in fact all occurrences of NPIs can be accounted for in an arguably elegant way by simply looking at the interaction between their alternatives and how the grammar uses up these alternatives across different environments. I will also suggest ways to analyze the intervention facts observed with NPIs in questions.

Ling-Lunch 10/4 - Maziar Toosarvandani

Speaker: Maziar Toosarvandani
Title: Gapping is VP-ellipsis
Date/Time: Thursday, Oct 4, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Johnson (2009) argues that gapping — e.g. “Some had ordered mussels, and others swordfish” — does not arise through VP-ellipsis because gapping has properties that VP-ellipsis does not. He proposes instead that the gap in gapping arises through ‘low coordination’ and across-the-board movement. I first show that Johnson’s across-the-board movement account fails to generate gapping in coordination structures with corrective but (Vicente 2010, Toosarvandani, to appear). Then, I revive a version of the ellipsis account in which VP-ellipsis applies to low-coordination structures. Not only does this correctly generate gapping in corrective but sentences, but once the information-structural effects of low coordination and ellipsis are taken into consideration, it also derives the unique properties of gapping.

Major NSF grant for Michel DeGraff

Congratulations to Michel DeGraff, the Principal Investigator on a $1m grant just awarded by the INSPIRE program of the National Science Foundation for research to be conducted at MIT and in Haiti!  The five-year project, entitled Kreyol-based Cyberlearning for a New Perspective on the Teaching of STEM in local Languages,  ”addresses the issue of how to help those whose mother tongue is a language that does not include scientific and technological terminology to nonetheless learn STEM content and practices well. While research in linguistics and on how people learn suggests that learning in one’s native language will promote deeper learning than learning in another language, no research has specifically been done around this question when the native language does not include scientific and technological terminology.”

MIT linguists at FAJL6

Four MIT linguists were at the Formal Approaches to Japanese Linguistics 6 (FAJL 6) held in Berlin, Germany last week.

Isaac Gould gave a talk on Japanese ‘Rokuna’ as a Local Focus Associate. Ayaka Sugawara presented a poster on Apparent inverse scope with universal modals in Japanese. Recent alum Yasutada Sudo (PhD ‘12) (Institut Jean Nicod, Paris) had a poster on Weak ‘Evens’ in Japanese, and slightly less recent alum Shinichiro Ishihara (PhD ‘03) (Goethe University, Frankfurt) gave an invited talk on The Clause-Mate Condition: A Prosodic Account.