The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 3rd, 2014

LFRG 3/3 - Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine

Speaker: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine
Title: Focus and reconstruction
Time: Monday, 12-1:30
Room: 66-148

The focus operator ‘only’ must c-command its focus associate at LF, and therefore cannot associate with material which has moved out of its scope. In most cases, this is true even if scope reconstruction of the moved associate into a position under ‘only’s scope at LF is independently possible. I will discuss various potential solutions to this puzzle, and their own problems. Audience participation welcome.

Phonology Circle 3/3 - Juliet Stanton

Speaker: Juliet Stanton
Title: Factorial typology and accentual faithfulness
Date/Time: Monday, Mar 3, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(This is a practice talk for WCCFL.)

In many languages, the phonology of morphologically complex words is influenced by their morphological composition. This influence can be manifested as accentual faithfulness, where the stress of a complex word resembles the stress of its base or another related word. The question I address is the following: what types of constraints evaluate accentual faithfulness? I show that a modified version of Benua’s (1997) theory of Base-Derivative (BD) correspondence models accentual faithfulness effects in a large group of accentually similar Australian languages, and makes accurately restrictive predictions regarding the broader typology of BD correspondence.


Syntax Square 3/4 - Laura Grestenberger

Speaker: Laura Grestenberger (Harvard)
Title: Two voice mismatch puzzles in Sanskrit and Greek
Date/Time: Tuesday, Mar 4, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Sanskrit and Greek both have binary voice systems in which active morphology alternatives with non-active (middle) morphology. In this talk I will present two problems in the morphosyntax of these languages, both of which concern exponence of voice morphology in unexpected syntactic environments (“voice mismatches”).

The first one comes from deponent verbs, which take non-active morphology, but syntactically and semantically behave exactly like active agentive verbs. The second problem arises in contexts in which a distinct passive morpheme is available. Contrary to what is expected in standard approaches to Voice, this passive morpheme obligatorily co-occurs with middle morphology (Sanskrit) or active morphology (Greek). I propose that both puzzles can be solved by adopting an approach in which only active and middle are values of vP, while passive is a distinct functional head. In this approach, only passive is valency-changing, while active/middle are sensitive to their syntactic environment but do not operate on it. I will show that this predicts the distribution of active and middle morphology in languages like Sanskrit and Greek, as well as where potential mismatches can occur.


Ling-Lunch 3/6 - Ted Gibson

Speaker: Ted Gibson
Title: A pragmatic account of complexity in definite Antecedent-Contained-Deletion relative clauses
Date/Time: Thursday, Mar 6, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

(Joint work with Pauline Jacobson, Peter Graff, Kyle Mahowald, Evelina Fedorenko, and Steven T. Piantadosi.)

Hackl, Koster-Hale & Varvoutis (2012; HKV) provide data that suggest that in a null context, antecedent-contained-deletion (ACD) relative clause structures modifying a quantified object noun phrase (NP; such as every doctor) are easier to process than those modifying a definite object NP (such as the doctor). HKV argue that this pattern of results supports a “quantifier-raising” (QR) analysis of both ACD structures and quantified NPs in object position: under the account they advocate, both ACD resolution and quantified NPs in object position require movement of the object NP to a higher syntactic position. The processing advantage for quantified object NPs in ACD is hypothesized to derive from the fact that – at the point where ACD resolution must take place – the quantified NP has already undergone QR whereas this is not the case for definite NPs. Although in other work it is shown that HKV’s reading time analyses are flawed, such that the critical effects are not significant (Gibson, Mahowald & Piantadosi, submitted), the effect in HKV’s acceptability rating is robust. But HKV’s interpretation is problematic. We present five experiments that provide evidence for an alternative, pragmatic, explanation for HKV’s observation. In particular, we argue that the low acceptability of the the / ACD condition is largely due to a strong pressure in the null context to use a competing form, by adding also or same. This pressure does not exist with quantified NPs either because the competing form is absent (*every same) or because the addition of also actually degrades the sentence. In support of this interpretation, we show that the difference between the the / ACD and every / ACD conditions (a) persists even when the relative clause contains no ellipsis and thus nothing is forcing QR; (b) disappears when either also or same is added; and (c) disappears in supportive contexts. Together, these findings show that HKV’s QR hypothesis should be rejected in favor of a pragmatic account.