Whamit!

The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 21st, 2013

Phonology Circle 10/21 - Anthony Brohan, Ezer Razin, and Sam Zukoff

Date/Time: Monday, Oct 21, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Anthony Brohan: A case study in assimilation: The view from PBase

This talk will explore the hypothesis that the directionality of assimilation in a given language may be affected by typical stress location in a language. Data from PBase (Mielke 2008) and StressTyp (Goedmans et. al 1996) are used to develop a model of the characteristic behavior of features, which is then used to probe for directionality biases in languages based on stress systems. Second, a case study of lenition is presented, aiming to sharpen the findings of the stress/assimilation interaction. The “lattice” of leniting changes (Hock 1999) is empirically filled in with patterns from PBase and functional pressures of contrast preservation in lenitions (Gurevich 2004) are explored in this lattice.

Ezer Razin: An evaluation metric for Optimality Theory (joint work with Roni Katzir, Tel Aviv University)

Our goal is to develop an evaluation metric for OT, a criterion for comparing grammars given the data. Using this criterion, the child can try to search through the space of possible grammars, eliminating suboptimal grammars as it proceeds. Our empirical focus is the lexicon and the constraints, and our evaluation metric is based on the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL). We wish to model aspects of knowledge such as the English-speaking child’s knowledge that the first segment in the word ‘cat’ involves aspiration, that [raiDer] is underlyingly /raiter/, and that [rai:Der] is underlyingly /raider/. We take it that any theory of phonology would require this knowledge to be learned rather than innate, making this a convenient place to start. The learner that we present succeeds in obtaining such knowledge, which, to our knowledge, makes it a first. The generality of the MDL-based evaluation metric allows us to learn additional parts of the grammar without changing our learner. We demonstrate this by learning not just the lexicon and the ranking of the constraints but also the content of the constraints (both markedness and faithfulness constraints) from general constraint schemata. The learner that we present succeeds in obtaining this knowledge, making it a first in this domain as well.

Sam Zukoff: On the Origins of Attic Reduplication

In Ancient Greek, the perfect tense is marked by reduplication. The default pattern of reduplication for consonant-initial roots is to have a CV reduplicant, and the default pattern for vowel-initial forms is to show lengthening of the initial vowel. However, for a subset of (synchronically) vowel-initial roots, there exists a different pattern, known as Attic Reduplication. Attic Reduplication forms have a reduplicant of the shape VC with concomitant lengthening of the root-initial vowel. For example, √ager- ‘gather together’ : perfect ἀγήγερμαι [agɛ̄germai], √eleuth- ‘go, come’: perfect ἐλήλουθα [elɛ̄loutha], √ol- ‘destroy’ : perfect ὄλωλα [olɔ̄la].

In this talk, I will argue that Attic Reduplication is a well-motivated outcome of the regular phonology of a Pre-Greek system that still contained laryngeals, rather than an analogical development or a stipulated alternative pattern.

The account that will be developed here uses independent evidence from the process of “vowel prothesis” and other alternative reduplication patterns, both in Greek and the other Indo-European daughter languages, to demonstrate that the normal CV reduplication pattern was blocked for laryngeal-initial roots due to markedness considerations. In avoiding these markedness violations, an alternative copying pattern emerges. This new pattern turns out to involve reduplicant-internal epenthesis and copying of both the root-initial laryngeal and the second root-consonant. The ranking which ultimately selects this repair is consistent with, and may even directly follow from, the intersection of the independent rankings necessary to generate vowel prothesis and the default reduplication pattern.

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Syntax Square 10/22 - Despina Ikonomou

Speaker: Despina Ikonomou
Title: Middle morphology in Modern Greek: Same mechanism in different environments
Date/Time: Tuesday, Oct 22, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Many languages (Germanic, Romance, Slavic, Albanian, Hebrew, Modern Greek, et al.) use the same morphology (usually described as Middle or Non-Active morphology) in a range of argument structure phenomena that usually involve i) anticausatives, ii) verbal reflexives and iii) generic middles (see Kemmer (1993) for a typology). Despite the large amount of work on each of the above phenomena, it has been proven hard to provide a unified account for all of them (cf. Embick 1997, Reinhart 2000, Alexiadou & Doron 2012). In this talk, I focus on Modern Greek and I propose a unified analysis of Middle Voice across the different structures that appears. Namely, I argue that in all cases Middle Voice can be analyzed as a functional head that existentially binds the external argument variable (as it has been proposed for the English Passive by Bach (1980), Roberts (1987), Bruening (2011)). The default structure that arises from this operation is a passive structure. However, each of the structures in (i)-(iii) involves an additional component that differentiates them from passives. More particularly, i) anticausatives involve an additional cause event, ii) verbal reflexives carry a reflexivity feature in their verbal root and iii) generic middles involve a generic operator that universally quantifies over events. If there is no additional component, then a passive structure arises by existential binding over the external argument. If time permits, I will also discuss verbs that appear only in Middle Voice (the so-called deponent verbs) suggesting that most of them fall into the class of either reflexive or anticausative verbs (cf. Zombolou & Alexiadou 2012, Kallulli 2013).

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Colloquium 10/25 - Barbara Partee

Speaker: Barbara Partee (UMass Amherst)
Date/Time: Friday October 25th, 3:30-5pm
Location: 32-141
Title: The Starring Role of Quantifiers in the History of Formal Semantics

The history of formal semantics is a history of evolving ideas about logical form, linguistic form, and the nature of semantics. This talk emphasizes parts of the history of semantics where quantifiers played a major role, including the “Linguistic Wars” of the late 1960’s and the conflicts in the philosophy of language between the Ordinary Language philosophers and the Formal Language philosophers. Both conflicts resulted in part from the mismatch between first-order logic and natural language syntax. Both were resolved in part once Montague applied his higher-order typed intensional logic to the analysis of natural language, as illustrated most vividly by the treatment of noun phrases as generalized quantifiers. In subsequent developments, generalized quantifier theory led to the first substantive ideas in formal semantics about semantic universals (Barwise and Cooper, Keenan), and the failure of Barwise and Cooper’s universal provoked some of the earliest work in formal semantic typology. Quantifiers have also been central in debates about dynamic approaches to semantics, and about the nature of anaphora.


Reference: Partee, Barbara H. In Press. The starring role of quantifiers in the history of formal semantics. In The Logica Yearbook 2012, eds. Vit Punčochár and Petr Svarny. London: College Publications.

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MIT linguists at NELS 44

A sizeable MIT contingent were at UConn for NELS 44 this weekend. Among the presenters were:

Colin Phillips (PhD 1996, Maryland): Encoding and navigating structured representation (invited speaker)
Sam Steddy & Coppe van Urk: A Distributed Morphology View of Auxiliary Splits in Upper-Southern Italian
Tingchun Chen: Restructuring in Squliq Atayal
Moreno Mitrović (University of Cambridge) & Uli Sauerland (PhD 1998, ZAS Berlin): Decomposing Coordination
Hadas Kotek: A new syntax for multiple wh-questions
Alexander Podobryaev: Impostrous domains
Amanda Swenson & Paul Marty: Malayalam taan: A local account for an anti-local form
Wataru Uegaki: Predicting the distribution of exhaustive inference in a QUD model
Aaron Hirsch & Martin Hackl: Incremental presupposition evaluation in disjunction
Sam Alxatib (PhD 2013): Free Choice Disjunctions under only

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NECPhon 10/26

The Northeast Computational Workshop (NECPhon) will be held this Saturday, Oct 26, 2013, at MIT. The program is below. All events will be held in the Stata Center in 32-D461.

11:30 Coffee/lunch

12:00 Ezer Rasin (MIT) An evaluation metric for Optimality Theory (joint work with Roni Katzir, Tel Aviv University)

12:30 Joe Pater and Robert Staubs (UMass) Modeling Learning Trajectories with Batch Gradient Descent

1:00 Tal Linzen and Gillian Gallagher (NYU) Modeling the timecourse of generalization in phonotactic learning

1:30-1:45 break

1:45 Jane Chandlee (University of Delaware) Strictly Local Phonological Processes

2:15 Anthony Brohan (MIT) A case study in assimilation: The view from PBase

2:45-3:00 break

3:00 Naomi Feldman (UMD), Caitlin Richter (UMD), Josh Falk (U Chicago), and Aren Jansen (JHU) Predicting listeners’ perceptual biases using low-level speech features

3:30 Sean Martin (NYU) Phonetic category learning with unsupervised cue selection

4:00-4:15 break

4:15 Tamas Biro (Yale) Title TBA

4:45 Adam Jardine (University of Delaware) Computationally, tone is different

End: 5:15 pm

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