The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 14th, 2014

LFRG 4/14 - Cory Bill

Title: Indirect scalar implicatures are neither scalar implicatures nor presuppositions (or both)
Speaker: Cory Bill (Macquarie University)
Time: Monday, April 14, 12-1:30
Place: 66-148

This paper provides an experimental comparison of indirect scalar implicatures (2-a) with direct scalar implicatures (2-b) and presuppositions (2-c), in both children and adults. The results suggest a three-way distinction between direct SIs, indirect SIs, and presuppositions. This distinction challenges the standard view, which groups both types of SIs on one side and presuppositions on the other, as well as more recent accounts that analyze (certain) presuppositions as being (broadly) on par with SIs (Chemla 2009, Romoli 2012 a.o.).


Syntax Square 4/15 - Ayaka Sugawara

Speaker: Ayaka Sugawara
Title: A-scrambling, Reconstruction and the Computation of Alternatives under Prosody in Japanese: Evidence from Acquisition
Date/Time: Tuesday, Apr 15, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

(Joint work with Ken Wexler.)

A major open question in the theory of language acquisition is why children speaking English seem to have difficulty interpreting inverse scope of negation and a universal subject quantifier. Our results contribute both to the solution to this puzzle and provide evidence for particular approaches to the A-movement of Japanese and the theory of contrastive topic. We will argue that children have difficulty with at least some forms of reconstruction, but do not have a problem with interpreting a particular logical form. In Japanese, a scope-rigid language, (1) is unambiguous, while its English counterpart is not.

(1) Minna-ga siken-o uke-nak-atta.
     Everyone-NOM exam-ACC take-NEG-PAST
     ‘Everyone didn’t take the exam’ (ok“all>not”, *“not>all”)

One way to get wide scope of negation is to scramble an object over the subject (Miyagawa ‘01, ‘10, a.o.). The scrambled sentence in (2) is ambiguous between the all>not reading (preferred) and the not>all reading (less preferred), while the non-scrambled sentence in (1) does not have the not>all reading.

(2) [siken-o] minna-ga uke-nak-atta.
     Exam-ACC everyone-NOM take-NEG-PAST
     ‘Everyone didn’t take the exam.’ (ok“all>not” ok“not>all”)

In Miyagawa’s analysis, (2) receives the not>all reading because it does not violate rigid scope; the scrambled object optionally moves to [Spec, T], leaving the subject in [Spec, v], thus c-commanding negation. If children accept the not>all reading in (2), then they understand the not>all LF and can access it when reconstruction is not necessary. Our first experiment shows that indeed children accept the not>all reading of (2).

Another way, and the only unambiguous way to obtain the not>all reading is to have a high pitch contour on the universal quantifier followed by a topic marker –wa (Contrastive Topic), as in (3) (Hara ‘06, Nakanishi ‘07, a.o.). The not>all reading is derived by adopting Büring’s (1997) Alternative Semantics approach to German Topic-Focus sentences.

(3) [Minna-wa]_F siken-o uke-nak-atta.
     Everyone-TOP exam-ACC take-NEG-PAST
     ‘Everyone didn’t take the exam’ (*“all>not”, ok“not>all”)

Our second experiment shows that children completely fail to get the unambiguous not>all reading in (3). The difficulty seems to be related to the same type of “alternatives comparison” difficulty that is the major explanation of children’s difficulties with scalar implicatures.


Ling-Lunch 4/17 - Ciro Greco

Speaker: Ciro Grego (Ghent University & University of Milano-Bicocca)
Title: Wh-clustering and the role of coordination in Italian multiple wh-questions
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 17, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Please see the full abstract here (pdf).


MIT @ FASAL 4 and CLS 50

The 4th edition of Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages was held in Rutgers, March 29-30. Second-year grad student Ishani Guha presented a poster on “The Other je Clause in Bangla”. Alumnus Mark Baker ‘85 (Rutgers University) gave a talk entitled “On Case Assignment in Dative Subject Constructions in Dravidian: Tamil and Kannada”.

The 50th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society was held this week end at the University of Chicago. Second-year grad students Ruth Brillman and Aron Hirsch gave a talk about asymmetries between subject and object extraction (“Don’t move too close”). Fourth-year grad students Theodore Levin and Ryo Masuda gave a talk on “Case and Agreement in Cupeño: Morphology Obscures a Simple Syntax”. Alumni Jonathan David Bobaljik ‘95 (University of Connecticut) and Jessica Coon ‘10 (McGill University) were among the invited speakers. Jonathan Bobaljik gave a talk entitled “Morpholocality: Structural Locality in Words” and Jessica Coon talked about “Little-v Agreement: Evidence from Mayan”.


No ESSL this week

There will be no ESSL session this week.


Ling-Lunch Special Session 4/19 - Caroline Heycock

Speaker: Caroline Heycock (University of Edinburgh)
Title: The problem is agreement
Date/Time: Friday, Apr 19, 3-4p (Note special date and time)
Location: 32-D461

In his recent colloquium, Marcel den Dikken outlined some of the striking - and different - agreement patterns that are found in English and Dutch in the kind of specificational sentences in (1):

1. a. The problem is your parents.
    b. The culprit is you.

2. onze grootste zorg {zijn/*is} de kinderen
     our biggest worry {are/*is} the children
     `Our biggest worry is the children.’

The requirement for number agreement with the second DP in Dutch (even in contexts which exclude V2) seems to accord well with the proposal that in these cases the initial DP is a predicate, as in the influential analysis developed by from Williams 1983, Partee 1987, Heggie 1988, Moro 1997 and many others.

In this talk I will present current work, much of it done in collaboration with Jutta Hartmann (Tübingen) in which we have begun to explore the agreement possibilities of these sentences in a number of different Germanic languages, and I will argue that while the facts indeed support an inversion analysis of specificational sentences, the initial nominal does not in fact show the properties of a predicate of the usual kind, but instead behaves like a Concealed Question, as proposed in Romero (2005, 2007).