The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Syntax Square 12/3 - Yusuke Imanishi

Speaker: Yusuke Imanishi
Title: Default ergative: A story of Ixil
Date/Time: Tuesday, Dec 3, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

I will discuss the unexpected emergence of the ergative in intransitive clauses of Ixil (Mayan). This occurs when an instrumental phrase is fronted to a clause-initial position (Ayres 1983, 1991; Yasugi 2012). I will argue that the intransitive subject receives ergative Case as syntactic default Case because it would be otherwise Case-less. It will be shown that a fronted instrumental phrase blocks the assignment of absolutive Case to the intransitive subject. In other words, the unexpected instance of the ergative indicates failure of absolutive Case assignment. To formulate this analysis, I will propose (i) a model of default ergative Case assignment and (ii) the Absolutive Case Parameter in Mayan (cf. Aldridge 2004, 2008; Legate 2008; Coon et al. 2012).

Ling-Lunch 12/5 - Juliet Stanton

Speaker: Juliet Stanton
Title: Constraints on English preposition stranding
Date/Time: Thursday, Dec 5, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I discuss an asymmetry in English preposition stranding, illustrated by the following contrasts:

(1) Which bench were you sitting on?
Which holiday do you eat lamb on?

(2) Not a single bench will I ever sit on.
*Not a single holiday will I ever eat lamb on.

I show that the ability of a given preposition (P) to be stranded is partially dependent on whether or not P accepts a pronoun as its complement, i.e. whether or not P is an antipronominal context (Postal 1998). Certain A-bar extractions permit stranding of antipronominal Ps, while others do not.

I extend the theory of wholesale late merger (Takahashi 2006, Takahashi & Hulsey 2009) and propose that while a subset of A-bar extractions obligatorily leave full copies in the base position, others don’t. I show that this proposal derives the observed restrictions on P-stranding, and present some additional evidence in support of the analysis.

AAAS congratulations for Wayne & Joseph

Congratulations to Joseph Aoun (MIT Linguistics PhD 1982, President of Northeastern University) and to Professor of Linguistics Emeritus Wayne O’Neil on their election as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science!

Colloquium 12/6 - Gillian Ramchand

Speaker: Gillian Ramchand (University of Tromsø/CASTL)
Time: Friday December 6th, 3:30-5pm
Venue: 32-141
Title: Minimalism and Cartography (joint work with Peter Svenonius)


While many current syntacticians have felt queasy about embracing the full extent and number of the functional decompositions as proposed in classic cartography (e.g. Cinque 1999), we believe that cartography in the broad sense is essential for any generative theory - it consists in establishing what the category labels of the symbolic system are, how they are hierarchically organized, and how rigidly. We too find it implausible that extremely fine-grained functional sequences of highly abstract heads with no deterministic relationship to compositional semantics is either universal or innate. However, we do think that the parts of the functional sequence that are universal and driven by innate mechanisms are directly related to pressure from the interfaces, and in particular to the facts about human concept formation. So we will push a strong semantically grounded thesis about why templatic effects of a certain sort emerge. It is an empirical question how fine-grained the universal spine is (cf. also Wiltschko, to appear), although we suspect with Wiltschko that it is rather abstract. In this talk I will first outline the basis for a methodological reconciliation between the practice and results of cartography, and more minimalistic pressures to explain and ground the complex ordering effects we see on the surface. Secondly, I will exemplify with a case study. Using the domain of English auxiliary orders, I argue that one cannot ignore the detailed mapping evidence, and that understanding it is crucial to making progress on the more theoretical questions of universality vs. language particularity, locality effects/phases, and the mapping to the cognitive-intentional systems of mind/brain.

In this talk therefore, I will offer entertainment both for those who like to talk about the ‘big picture’ and and for those who like to get their hands dirty: (i) an articulation of distinctive kind of research programme which many are actually embarked on but which needs a name and some more visibility, (ii) a novel compositional semantic take on aspectual auxiliaries and the modal circumstantial/epistemic distinction and (iii) a new perspective on ‘affix’-hopping.