The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 31st, 2014

Syntax Square 4/1 - Ruth Brillman and Aron Hirsch

Speakers: Ruth Brillman and Aron Hirsch
Title: Don’t move too close
Date/Time: Tuesday, Apr 1, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

There are numerous cross-linguistic phenomena showing that extraction of subjects is more restricted than extraction of objects. Our focus will be on English: subjects show a that-trace effect, non-subjects do not; subjects cannot undergo tough-movement, non-subjects can; matrix subject wh questions do not in general license parasitic gaps, non-subject questions do; and so forth.

The range of subject/non-subject asymmetries may look disparate, but we argue that they can be accounted for in a unified way under a cross-linguistically operative spec-to-spec anti-locality constraint, (1), following Erlewine (2014).

(1) Movement of a phrase from the specifier of XP must cross a maximal projection other than XP. Movement from position α to β crosses γ if and only if γ dominates α but does not dominate β.

Anti-locality prohibits movement from spec-TP to spec-CP with TP complement to C. This in general rules out subject movement, except in particular circumstances, e.g. when there is an XP intervening between TP and CP, so TP is not complement to C and movement from spec-TP to spec-CP is thus not anti-local.

We look in detail at the English subject/non-subject asymmetries, and show that they follow from anti-locality, and neutralize in those circumstances where anti-locality permits subject movement.


Ling-Lunch 4/3 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch
Title: Exhaustivity and polarity-mismatch: Economy in accommodation
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 3, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

When can the answer to a constituent question be exhaustive, and when can’t it? This talk focuses on the relationship between exhaustivity and polarity. I report experimental data showing that the puzzle is multi-layered. First: an answer can be inferred to be exhaustive only when it matches the question in polarity (Uegaki 2013, Spector 2003, i.a.).

(1) Which of the men have beards?
a. Ryan does. (can be interpreted ‘only Ryan does’; complete answer)
b. Ryan doesn’t. (cannot be interpreted ‘only Ryan doesn’t’; partial answer)

Second: an answer that mismatches the question in polarity can, nonetheless, be overtly exhaustified with ‘only’. (2b), as well as (2a), is reasonably felicitous.

(2) Which of the men have beards?
a. Only Ryan does.
b. Only Ryan doesn’t.

Why can (1b) not be interpreted as exhaustive when (1a) can? Why can’t (1b) be interpreted as exhaustive at the same time that (2b) is felicitous?

I argue that the resolution to the puzzle reveals something deep about the nature of accommodation.

To satisfy question/answer congruence requirements, when a negative answer is given to the positive question, (1/2b), an unasked negative question must be accommodated; the negative answer is congruent to this accommodated negative question. I argue that accommodation incurs a cost (pragmatic or processing), which is regulated by economy considerations. In particular, there is a constraint on accommodation “Avoid Redundant Accommodation” by which a new question can be accommodated only to convey something that couldn’t be conveyed with an answer congruent to the original question. The contrasts between (1a) and (1b), and (1b) and (2b) follow from this constraint.

In the last part of the talk, I report two additional sets of experimental results providing direct support for the proposal.


Colloquium 4/4 - Adamantios Gafos

Speaker: Adamantios Gafos (Haskins Laboratories, Universität Potsdam)
Date/Time: Friday, Apr 4, 3:30-5p
Location: 32-141

Title/Abstract to be announced.


Yusuke Imanishi to Kwansei Gakuin University

Yusuke Imanishi has accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Kwansei Gakuin University.  Congratulations, Yusuke!!