The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 24th, 2014

LFRG 2/24 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch
Title: Covert vs. overt exhaustification and polarity mismatch
Date/Time: Monday, February 24, 12-1:30p
Location: 66-148

When can the answer to a constituent question be interpreted as exhaustive, and when can’t it? This paper establishes a link between exhaustivity and polarity, both for covert exhaustification with exh and overt exhaustification with only. I report two sets of experimental data. Exp. 1 shows that an answer can be parsed with exh only if it and the question match in polarity (following Spector 2005, Uegaki 2013): (1/2a) can be interpreted exhaustively; (1/2b) can only be interpreted as partial answers.

(1) Which of the officers have a beard?
a. (exh) Ryan has a beard.
b. (*exh) Ryan doesn’t have a beard.
c. Only Ryan doesn’t have a beard.

(2) Which of the officers don’t have a beard?
a. (exh) Ryan doesn’t have a beard.
b. (*exh) Ryan does have a beard.
c. Only Ryan does have a beard.

Exp. 2 shows that only has a less restricted distribution than exh, but still shows subtle effects of polarity-sensitivity: only can exhaustify an answer which mismatches the question in polarity, (1/2c), but only if the dialog takes place in the right kind of context. I argue that exh and only both carry a presupposition which requires polarity match. When only occurs with polarity-mismatch, a question of the opposite polarity to the question actually asked is accommodated. I claim that accommodation incurs a cost that economy considerations regulate. Economy differentiates between exh and only, as well as between different contexts with only to predict the full distribution of the operators.


Phonology Circle 2/24 - Michelle Fullwood

Speaker: Michelle Fullwood
Title: Asymmetric correlations between English verb transitivity and stress
Date/Time: Monday, Feb 24, 5:30p
Location: 32-D831

It is well-known that lexical categories affect phonological behavior (Smith 2011). Perhaps the best-known example is that English disyllabic nouns are likely to be trochaic (94%), while disyllabic verbs are likely to be iambic (69%) (Chomsky & Halle 1968, Kelly & Bock 1988). In this talk, I will show that the asymmetry goes further: English disyllabic intransitive verbs are more likely to be trochaic than transitive verbs, even after controlling for morphological category and syllabic profile. I then explore possible explanations for the asymmetry and sketch a grammar that, based on the influence of prosodic environments, would result in the observed stress patterns.


Syntax Square 2/25 - Norvin Richards

Speaker: Norvin Richards
Title: Contiguity Theory and Pied-Piping
Date/Time: Tuesday, Feb 25, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Cable (2007, 2010) argues, on the basis of data from Tlingit, that wh-questions involve three participants: an interrogative C, a wh-word, and a head Q, which is visible in Tlingit but invisible in English. In Cable’s account, QP standardly dominates the wh-word, and wh-movement is always of QP. The question of how much material pied-pipes under wh-movement, on Cable’s account, is essentially a question about the distribution of QP. Cable offers several conditions and parameters governing the distribution of QP.

I will try to derive Cable’s conditions on the distribution of QP from Contiguity Theory, a series of proposals about the interaction of syntax with phonology that I have been developing in recent work.


Two Linguistics majors named Burchard Scholars

Two of our undergraduate Linguistics majors have been selected as two of 32 students selected for MIT’s Burchard Scholars program:  Alyssa Napier (‘16) (who is double-majoring in Linguistics and Chemistry) and Oliva Murton (‘15).   Quoting the Burchard Scholars website: “The Burchard Scholars Program brings together distinguished members of the faculty and promising MIT sophomores and juniors who have demonstrated excellence in some aspect of the humanities, arts, or social sciences. The format is a series of dinner-seminars with discussions on current research topics. A Burchard Scholar can be a major in any department of the Institute.”


Norvin Richards @ UCLA

While we were trudging through snow, Norvin traveled to UCLA this week, where he gave a colloquium on “Comtiguity and Pied-Piping”.


ESSL 2/27 - Leon Bergen

Time: Thursday, February 27, 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831
Speaker: Leon Bergen
Title: Pragmatic reasoning as semantic inference

A number of recent proposals have used techniques from game theory to formalize Gricean pragmatic reasoning (Franke, 2011; Jäger, 2013). In this talk, I will discuss two phenomena that pose fundamental challenges to game-theoretic accounts of pragmatics. The first are manner implicatures, such as the following contrast (Horn, 1984):

1) a. John started the car.
b. John got the car started.

While both sentences are (plausibly) truth-conditionally equivalent, 1b. receives a marked interpretation due to its more complex form. The second set of phenomena are embedded implicatures which violate Hurford’s constraint (Hurford, 1974; Chierchia, Fox, & Spector, 2009):

2) a. Some of the students passed the test.
b. Some or all of the students passed the test.
c. Some or most of the students passed the test.

Standard game-theoretic models do not have the resources to explain the contrast between 2b. and c., as these sentences differ neither in their semantic content nor in their syntactic complexity. In order to account for these phenomena, I propose a realignment of the division between semantic content and pragmatic content. Under this proposal, the semantic content of an utterance is not fixed independent of pragmatic inference; rather, pragmatic inference partially determines an utterance’s semantic content. This technique, called lexical uncertainty, derives both M-implicatures and the relevant embedded implicatures, and preserves the derivations of more standard implicatures.


LingLunch 2/27: Hedde Zeijlstra

Speaker: Hedde Zeijlstra (University of Goettingen) Title: Universal Quantifier NPIs and PPIs: Evidence for a convergent view on the landscape of polarity-sensitive elements Date/Time: Thursday Feb. 27, 12:30-1:45p Location: 32-D461

Most known NPIs and PPIs, such as NPI/PPI quantifiers over individuals (like the any and some-series in English) are existentials/indefinites and never universal quantifiers. No PPI or NPI meaning ‚everybody’ or ‚everything’ has been reported. However, in the domain of modals, the picture seems to be reverse. Most attested NPIs and PPIs are universal quantifiers (cf. Homer t.a., Iatridou & Zeijlstra 2013) . Why have Positive Polarity Items that are universal quantifiers only been attested in the domain of modal auxiliaries and never in the domain of quantifiers over individuals? I first argue that universal quantifier PPIs actually do exist, both in the domain of quantifiers over individuals and in the domain of quantifiers over possible worlds, as is predicted by the Kadman & Landman (1993) – Krifka (1995) – Chierchia (2006. 2013) approach to NPI-hood. However, since the covert exhaustifier that according to Chierchia (2006, 2013) is induced by these PPIs (and responsible for their PPI-hood) can act as an intervener between the PPI and its anti-licenser, universal quantifier PPIs often appear in disguise; their PPI-like behaviour only becomes visible once they morpho-syntactically precede their anti-licenser. A conclusion of this paper is that Dutch iedereen (‚everybody’), opposite to English everybody, is actually a PPI. A second claim made in this paper is that universal quantifier modals that are NPIs are so because they have a lexical requirement that requires some abstract negation to be spelled out elsewhere in the structure (after Postal 2000). The question as to why NPIs that result from this mechanism only surface in the domain of modal auxiliaries and not elsewhere is due to their particular syntactic properties and the way how this lexical/syntactic requirement is acquired. Most discussion on the nature of NPIs and PPIs concerns two questions: (i) why are such elements are sensitive to the polarity of the clauses they appear in; and (ii) what is the range of variation in their licensing contexts? The general conclusion of this talk is that different NPIs/PPIs of different strengths are only superficially similar and that the underlying reasons as to why they are NPIs/PPIs can be quite different: some ill-licensed NPIs/PPIs give rise to contradictory assertions, whereas others violate syntactic or lexical requirements.