The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 4th, 2013

Syntax Square 3/5 - Amanda Swenson and Paul Marty

Speaker: Amanda Swenson and Paul Marty
Title: Local Agreement without local binding: What the syntax and prosody of Malayalam taan teach us
Date/Time: Tuesday, March 5, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Jayaseelan (1997) among others has described the Malayalam anti-local form taan ‘self’ as a subject oriented, bound variable that requires a 3rd person antecedent. In this talk, we provide new data from the first systematic exploration of a second reading taan can have, namely an addressee (ADR) reading. We provide a detailed description of the syntactic and prosodic conditions under which 3rd person and ADR readings occur and argue for a unified account of these readings (contra Asher & Kumari 1997). We provide novel data that suggest the so-called Blocking Effects described in the literature are not an intervention phenomenon but rather the result of the morphosyntactic properties of taan. Contra recent radical revisions of Binding Theory (Rooryck & Vanden Wyngaerd 2011, Reuland 2011), we argue that local Agreement (i) always occurs between the nearest subject nominal and taan, but (ii) never results in local binding because of the anti-local nature of taan.

Ling-Lunch 3/7 - Igor Yanovich

Speaker: Igor Yanovich
Title: Variable-force modality on the British Isles
Date/Time: Thursday, Mar 7, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Recent semantic fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest uncovered modals which may render sometimes English necessity modals, other times English possibility ones without being ambiguous (Rullmann et al. 2008, Peterson 2010, Deal 2011). The analyses for those modals either attribute the peculiar behavior to a radical difference from the “European standard” in the semantics of the modal (Rullmann, Matthewson and Davis), or in the shape of the overall modal system (Deal). In this talk, I add to the typology of variable-force modality the Old English *motan (>modern must), which is analyzed in the earlier literature as a possibility modals with perhaps marginal necessity uses. Only by the end of the 15th century did the modal become a normal necessity modal it is now.

I show that in Old English ‘Alfredian’ prose *motan was an unambiguous modal carrying a presupposition of determined future which explains the peculiarities of the modal’s distribution, and creates a variable-force effect. Then I turn to the semantics of the modal in the AB dialect of Early Middle English (a literary variety written in the West Midlands in the first half of 13th century, remarkably focussed for the period of overall decline in English text production). I show that in Early Middle English, *moten (<*motan) was truly ambiguous between necessity and possibility. We can thus observe in the history of English a change from a true non-ambiguous variable-force modal, into a modal ambiguous between possibility and necessity, into a normal necessity modal.


ESSL Meeting 3/7 - Turkshop part 2

What: Turk workshop, part 2
When: Thursday, March 7, 5:30-7
Where: 32-D461 (note the unusual location!)

This week will be the second part of the Turkshop. mitcho will teach a tutorial on regular expressions (a useful tool for life!) and then we will discuss individual participants’ ideas and designs for their own experiments. If you are a participant, we remind you that you should come with a question in mind that you would like to explore during the Turkshop and (as much as you can) also with some idea for a design. Materials from the Turkshop can be found here.

Linguistics Colloquium 3/8 - Lisa Matthewson

Speaker: Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia)
Date/Time: Friday 8 March, 3:30 - 5pm
Venue: 32-141
Title: Current relevance meets inchoativity: On what makes a perfect aspect


Here are some big questions: Why do viewpoint aspects (like perfective, imperfective, or perfect) recur in language after language with similar, but not identical, semantics? What if any universal properties are shared by the language-specific instantiations of each aspect? How much variation is permitted, and what do the differences follow from?

In this talk I address a sub-part of the big questions; my goal is to isolate the common properties shared by present perfects cross-linguistically. I concentrate mainly on Niuean (Polynesian), with brief looks at Japanese, St’át’imcets, Russian, Blackfoot, Mandarin and Saanich. Pushing Portner’s (2003) analysis of English to its logical limits, I propose that the present perfect is purely a pragmatic phenomenon, consisting only of a current relevance presupposition. Following Portner, I assume that the other salient property of the present perfect – that it places events within the Perfect Time Span – is derivable from other parts of the grammar.

The claim that perfects contribute only current relevance predicts that current relevance does not have to be associated solely with viewpoint aspect. I show that this prediction is confirmed by Niuean. The Niuean perfect displays current relevance effects and places events within the Perfect Time Span, yet differs from the English perfect in the readings obtained with each Aktionsart. In Niuean, perfect activities or stage-level states can receive a simple present-tense interpretation, perfect individual-level states receive an inchoative interpretation, and there are no universal perfect readings. I argue that all the properties of the Niuean perfect fall out from an analysis of it as an inchoativizer; it adds an initial change-of-state to any predicate. This shows that current relevance can be associated with a process operating at the level of event structure. The analysis of Niuean may also extend to Japanese teiru, as well as several other puzzling aspects cross-linguistically.


Call for abstracts - Conference on Metrical Structure: Text-Setting and Stress (m@90)

On September 20-21, 2013, MIT Linguistics will host a Conference on Metrical Structure: Text-setting and Stress. The conference marks a number of new developments in these fields as well as a number of 90th anniversaries: among them, the publication of Roman Jakobson’s O češkom stixe (1923), the first typological study of meter and stress, hailed as the beginning of Prague School phonology; Eduard Hermann’s Silbenbildung im Griechischen und in den andern indogermanischen Sprachen (1923), the first typological study of syllable weight as applied to quantitative meter; and other 1923 events of significance for the theory of metrical structure. The abbreviated name of the conference is M@90.

О чешком стихеSilbenbildung

Invited Speakers
Stress: Megan Crowhurst, Matt Gordon, William Idsardi, Junko Ito, Mark LibermanJohn McCarthy, Armin Mester, Alan Prince, Olga Vajsman
Meter: François Dell, Nigel Fabb, John Halle, Morris Halle, Kristin Hanson, Bruce Hayes, Paul Kiparsky, Kevin Ryan

We are soliciting abstracts for two poster sessions
: one on the role of metrical structure in stress and the other on the role of metrical structure in poetics. The abstracts should be limited to two pages including references and data and submitted in pdf format. Abstract deadline is April 30 2013. Accepted poster presenters will be notified by May 20, 2013. The address to which abstracts should be sent is stressmeter [æt] mit [dɑt] edu.


NSF dissertation grant for Hadas Kotek

Fourth-year graduate student Hadas Kotek has been awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant by the National Science Foundation that will allow her to conduct linguistic experimental work on the real-time processing of multiple wh-questions in English.  Her project, entitled “Experimental Investigations of Multiple Wh-Questions”  will test the differing predictions of two prominent approaches to the syntax and semantics of these questions — focusing on so-called intervention effects, which have been central to current debates about the syntax and semantics of multiple wh-questions.   The research will be carried out at our Experimental Syntax and Semantics Lab. (Martin Hackl and David Pesetsky are the faculty co-investigators on the grant.)

Congratulations, Hadas!!