The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 15th, 2013

Ling-Lunch 4/18 - Bronwyn M. Bjorkman

Speaker: Bronwyn M. Bjorkman (University of Toronto)
Title: Possession and necessity: from individuals to worlds
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 18, 12:30-1:45p Location: 32-D461

(Joint work with Elizabeth Cowper.)

The modal use of possession is well known from the “semi-modal” ‘have (to)’, but is not unique to English: the same broadening from possession to necessity is found in many languages, including Spanish, Catalan, German, and Hindi (Bhatt 1997). We argue that this grammaticalization path is available because possession and necessity are both built on a prepositional relation of containment or inclusion. In possession this relation holds between individuals, in necessity between sets of worlds corresponding to the modal base and the proposition.

Many have proposed that the syntax of possession is prepositional, and that verbal have (and its counterparts in other languages) occurs when the possessive preposition occurs where be would otherwise appear (Freeze 1992, Kayne 1993, a.o.). Levinson (2011) has recently argued that this possessive preposition should be identified as (non-locative) WITH, expressing a relation of inclusion or containment. We argue that this relation of containment or inclusion also appears in the composition of universal modality, but between sets of worlds rather than individuals. A modal operator composes first with a modal base (i.e. a set of epistemically or deontically accessible worlds), and then with a proposition (also modelled as a set of worlds). A universal modal operator requires that a proposition be true in all accessible worlds—-i.e. the set of worlds corresponding to the modal base must be a subset of the set of worlds corresponding to the proposition.

This subset relation mirrors the inclusion/containment relation expressed by possessive WITH. It is this common semantic core, we propose, that is reflected by the grammaticalization of ‘have’ from possession to necessity.

Colloquium 4/19 - Arsalan Kahnemuyipour - RESCHEDULED

As announced earlier Friday, this colloquium talk will be held Saturday (4/20), 12:00pm, in room 32-D461.

Speaker: Arsalan Kahnemuyipour (University of Toronto Mississauga)
Date/Time: 19 April (Fri), 3:30 - 5pm
Venue: 32-141
Title: Phases as domains of linguistic computation: Second position clisis in Eastern Armenian


This talk explores the relevance of phases as domains of linguistic computation by bringing evidence from the positional distribution of an auxiliary clitic in Eastern Armenian. After a brief discussion of my general framework, I will turn to the distribution of the Eastern Armenian auxiliary in focus-neutral contexts. I will show that the auxiliary can best be analyzed as a second position clitic in the vP phase domain (akin to other second position clitics in the CP domain). I will then look at the distribution of the auxiliary in sentences involving focused constituents, wh-phrases and negation and will provide a syntactic account of these facts based on movement of the auxiliary to the focus head (similar to other cases of verb movement to focus heads in other languages). I will finally argue that in order to unify the distribution of the auxiliary in these two contexts, the notion of phasehood should be extended to include focus heads. I will show how this proposal may pave the way for an analysis of the distribution of the auxiliary in sentences involving multiple foci. This talk draws heavily on the parallelism between CP and vP both in terms of their status as phases, but also their structural make-up. To the extent that it succeeds in accounting for the presented facts, it provides further support for this parallelism.

(The bulk of this talk is based on joint work with Karine Megerdoomian.)

LFRG 4/24 - Ciro Greco

Speaker: Ciro Greco (University of Milan-Bicocca)
Date/Time: Wed 24th April 11:30 (note special time!)
Location: 32-D831 (note special location!)
Title: Are subject islands just subject islands? Experimental evidence from Italian

Steriade at Berkeley

Donca Steriade is at UC Berkeley this week, giving a trio of lectures on Greek, Latin, and Romance phonology. The first, given in their departmental colloquium series, is entitled “The role of free bases in cyclic phonology;” her second and third lectures discuss “The cycle without containment.”