Whamit!

The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Phonology Circle 9/23 - Gaja Jarosz  

Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (Yale/MIT)
Date/Time: Monday, Sept 23, 5:30p
Location: 32-D831

Gaja Jarosz will lead a discussion of her recent Phonology paper, “Learning with hidden structure in Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar: beyond Robust Interpretive Parsing.”

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Syntax Square 9/24 - Sam Steddy  

Speaker: Sam Steddy
Title: The syntax of distributive and collective pluralities
Date/Time: Tuesday, Sept 24, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

I argue that distributivity, over collectivity, is a linguistic primitive. DPs which convey some plurality, whether transparently (“the cats”) or obliquely (“the team”), may be ‘distributivised’ by a syntactic head ‘#’, merged at the top layer of their DP, which acts as a plural goal for morphological agreement. I will present a number of ‘agreement mismatches’ that show that # is not solely a semantic operator but has an influence on syntax. The optionality of merging #, combined with LF-raising operations creates nuanced semantic interpretations. Finally, #’s phonology will also be shown to cause the different agreement of British and USA English.

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Ling-Lunch 9/26 - Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini  

Speaker: Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini (University of Arizona/MIT)
Title: Steps to the Physics of Language
Date/Time: Thursday, September 26, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

The study of complex systems seems to affirm the Thompson-Turing claim that “some physical processes are of very general occurrence.” Notably, those involving Fibonacci-based “golden” forms, ubiquitous in nature, and a number of mathematical models standard in modern physics (matrix representation of operators, with associated eigenvalues and eigenvectors expressing directional stability). This lends immediate interest to the observation that the repeated structural motif in the human syntactic system, the X-bar schema, is likewise a “golden” form (Piattelli-Palmarini and Uriagereka 2008, Medeiros 2008, Piattelli-Palmarini and Medeiros in preparation) and leads us to inquire whether whatever is behind the natural ubiquity of such phenomena, in other domains, might possibly be at work in language as well. If so, this peculiar aspect of human phrase structure (the X-bar configuration) would fall under Chomsky’s (2005) “third factor”, a factor about language which is neither encoded in the particulars of our genome, nor learned from the environment, but determined by domain-general principles beyond the organism.”

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language@mit 9/26 - Inaugural meeting  

Date/Time: Thursday, 26 September, 6 pm
Location: 32-G449 (Kiva)
Speaker: Ted Gibson

language@mit, a new group aimed at bringing together researchers investigating various aspects of language across the Institute, will hold its inaugural meeting on 26 September at 6 pm in 32-G449. Ted Gibson will give an overview of his lab’s research, followed by general discussion, including canvassing ideas for future events. All are welcome. Pizza will be served.

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No LFRG meeting this week  

LFRG meetings are scheduled for Friday 1 pm in 32-D831 this semester. There are still multiple slots open this semester. Please contact the organizers Edwin Howard and Chris O’Brien if you would like to give a presentation.

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M@90 happened!  

Last Friday and Saturday, about 130 linguists gathered at MIT for M@90: Workshop on Stress and Meter to celebrate Morris Halle’s 90th birthday, where phonologists celebrated Morris’s achievements as a researcher, teacher and “founder of modern phonology” (to quote Noam Chomsky’s introduction to Morris’s own talk) — while simultaneously making progress on some of the toughest problems in stress theory and meter (linguistic, poetic, musical). A great celebration honoring the greatest of linguists, our colleague, our teacher, our friend. We extend our deepest thanks to all who gave talks and participated in the (extremely lively) discussions.

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