The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 18th, 2013

Phonology Circle 3/18 - Sam Steddy

Speaker: Sam Steddy
Title: Palatalisation and the Role of Morphological Bases Across the Italian Lexicon
Date/Time: Monday, Mar 18, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

I propose that a palatalisation rule in Italian misapplies because of base-to-derivative correspondence effects. In previous work I showed that the rule misapplies in verbal morphology because verbs stand in a stress-dependent correspondence relationship with the base from of their paradigm: under- or overpalatalisation result when the stressed syllable of their infinitive contains a [±strident] segment. I now propose a means of unifying this work with Giavazzi’s (2012) account of the rule’s application in nouns and adjectives, wherein post-stress segments avoid neutralisation. Derivational verbs may underpalatalise as their suffixes reassign stress: when stress is reassigned to a syllable containing a relevant stem-final, the segment will not palatalise. The reason that stress does not prevent palatalisation in relevant underived verbs appears to be diachronic, but I will nonetheless suggest that a synchronic constraint targeting forms without a derivational base will shed further light on palatalisation in the contemporary language. In particular, and in line with phonetic theory, it will show that the contemporary neutralisation has become less aggressive, now targeting only the most front vowel /i/. This fact accounts for the as-yet unexplained failure of the fem.pl suffix /-e/ to trigger the rule.

ESSL Meeting 3/18

What: ESSL Turkshop project presentations
When: Monday 18 March, 6:00 - 7:00 pm
Where: 32-D831

Please note the special meeting place and date/time!

Aron Hirsch, Lilla Magyar and Mia Nussbaum will present their Turkshop projects.

Syntax Square 3/19 - Yusuke Imanishi

Speaker: Yusuke Imanishi
Title: When ergative is default: Ergativity in Kaqchikel and Q’anjob’al (and Mayan)
Date/Time: Tuesday, Mar 19, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

In this preliminary talk, I will explore the possibility that ergative is assigned as a default Case only when a nominal lacks a structural Case. I will begin with an investigation of the contrastive alignment between the ergative and grammatical functions in ergative splits of Kaqchikel and Q’anjob’al. I will also show that this analysis has a consequence for syntactic ergativity (e.g. a ban on A-bar extraction of the ergative subject) in the two languages (and possibly other ergative languages both within and outside Mayan). Furthermore, it will be demonstrated that the proposed analysis can capture a novel generalization on the correlation between non-verbal predicates and ergative alignment patterns in some Mayan ergative splits (Imanishi 2012).

Special talk 3/20 - Noah Constant

Speaker: Noah Constant (UMass Amherst)
Title: “Deriving the Diversity of Contrastive Topic Realizations”
Day/Time: Wednesday, March 20, 3:30-5:00pm
Location: 32-D461

Information structural notions like topic/focus, given/new and contrastive/non-contrastive have a diverse range of effects on sentence structure and pronunciation. In this talk, I look at Contrastive Topic (CT) constructions, and present a novel account of their meaning and structure that can make sense of the range of CT marking strategies attested in the world’s languages. I will cover languages that mark CT prosodically (e.g. English), those that employ a discourse particle (e.g. Mandarin), and those that have a dedicated CT position in the syntax (e.g. Czech).

A typical example of contrastive topic is given in (1). The object is pronounced with falling prosody, marking ‘the beans’ as the answer to the question of what Fred ate. The subject, on the other hand, bears a distinct rising contour, marking ‘Fred’ as a contrastive topic. The effect is to imply additional questions about what other people ate.

(1) (What about FRED? What did HE eat?)
     FRED … ate the BEANS.

I review Büring’s (2003) account of CT and point out several challenges for it—for example, it doesn’t extend to CT questions (attested in Japanese) and it fails to account for effects of CT marking on word order and prosodic phrasing. In its place, I introduce a new model of contrastive topic that posits a Topic Abstraction operator in the left periphery, and defines CT as the focus associate of this operator. In English, the abstraction operator is lexicalized as a tonal clitic to an intonational phrase. The influence of information structure on phrasing is captured via a scope-prosody correspondence constraint requiring the operator and its associate to be realized within a single prosodic domain.

The topic abstraction account is supported by a range of typologically diverse data. For one, it provides a simple way of understanding the possibility of dedicated CT positions in the syntax. Additionally, the account predicts the existence of CT morphemes that occur at a distance from the topic phrase itself, which are attested in Mandarin and Paraguayan Guaraní.

Ling-Lunch 3/21 - Martin Rohrmeier

Speaker: Martin Rohrmeier (MIT, Intelligence initiative Fellow)
Title: Introduction to musical syntax
Date/Time: Thursday, Mar 21, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

In recent years, the cognitive link between music and language has been subject to various debates across disciplines ranging from linguistics, music, psychology, computer science, up to evolution and anthropology (e.g. Patel, 2008; Rebuschat, Rohrmeier, Cross & Hawkins, 2011; Katz & Pesetsky, submitted). One particular domain, in which an overlap between music and language has been frequently discussed, is syntax. Lerdahl & Jackendoff (1983) have specified a theory of tonal (Western) music which postulates nested, recursive dependency relationships that are modeled in analogy to linguistic syntax. However, a number of features of generative musical rules is not sufficiently specified in their theory. This point is addressed by a novel approach to describe musical syntax, which specifies an exact, general set of recursive generative rules and casts empirical predictions (Rohrmeier, 2011). In my presentation I will give an introduction into musical syntax and what it means to *hear* musical dependency and tree structures. I will compare these predictions with recent converging experimental evidence from cognitive and computational work.

All relevant musical concepts will be introduced and no particular music theoretical knowledge is required.

Katz, J. & Pesetsky, D. (submitted). The Identity Thesis for Language and Music, lingBuzz/000959 (2009).
Lerdahl, F. & Jackendoff, R. (1983). A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge, MA.
Patel, A.D. (2008). Music, Language, and the Brain. Oxford University Press, New York.
Rebuschat, P., Rohrmeier, M., Cross, I., Hawkins (2011) Eds. Language and Music as Cognitive Systems. Oxford University Press.
Rohrmeier, M. (2011). Towards a generative syntax of tonal harmony. Journal of Mathematics and Music, 5 (1), pp. 35-53.

Shigeru Miyagawa paper summarized in Science

A summary of Miyagawa, Berwick, and Okanoya’s Frontiers in Psychology article, “The emergence of hierarchical structure in human language,” appeared in Science (March 8, 1132-1133). The brief piece was based on the news article Science carried on their news website.

Rebecca Reed named Burchard Scholar

Undergraduate linguistics major Rebecca Reed (‘14) has been selected as one of 32 students to MIT’s Burchard Scholars program for 2013.  Quoting the official announcement: “the award recognizes sophomores and juniors who have demonstrated outstanding abilities and academic excellence in some aspect of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, as well as in science and engineering.”  Congratulations, Rebecca — we are all very proud!!

LFRG update

There will be no LFRG this week or next since people will be out of town for spring break. However, we’d like to draw your attention to our schedule for next month.

April 5: Paolo Santorio (University of Leeds) “Exhaustified Counterfactuals”
April 12: Wataru Uegaki “Question-answer congruence and (non-)exhaustivity”
April 19: TBA
April 26: Edwin Howard “Superlative Degree Clauses: evidence from NPI licensing” Practice talk for SALT 23

As you can see, April 19 is still available, and so is all of May. If you have an idea, a paper or some work you’d like to share with us, please get in touch with Mia or Edwin.