The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 21st, 2014

Phonology Circle 4/22 - Ryo Masuda

Speaker: Ryo Masuda
Title: Pitch perturbation in Japanese
Date/Time: Tuesday, Apr 22, 3pm (Note special date/time)
Location: 32-D831

Cross-linguistically, the fundamental frequency of vowels following voiced obstruents is lower than following voiceless stops, a phenomenon called pitch perturbation (House & Fairbanks 1953). It has been posited as a pathway to tonogenesis (Haudricourt 1954) and has been shown to be a cue to distinguish stop voicing contrasts for listeners (Whalen et al 1993). It is plausible, then, that pitch may be exploited by speakers as a dimension for phonetic enhancement (Kingston & Diehl 1994) in realizing a stop voicing contrast. In this talk I present phonetic production and corpus work on Japanese, investigating such an interaction between f0 and voicing in a pitch accent language.

Ling-Lunch 4/24 - Tianshan Dai

Speaker: Tianshan Dai (Shenzhen Polytechnic University)
Title: The Taoist Perspective of Chomsky’s Philosophy of Language
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 24, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I will discuss and interpret some of the lines from Chuang Tzu’s writings about the nature of language, children’s acquisition of language, language’s communicative function and meaning, etc. I compare Chuang Tzu’s Taoist philosophy of language with that of Chomsky, pointing out many striking similarities between the two, which shed light on both historical traditions between the east and the west. I conclude in the talk that the Plato’s problem or the Descartes’ problem in the west could be appropriately labeled Chuang Tzu’s problem in the east, and the development of generative linguistics can serve as a modern interpretation of Chuang Tzu’s Taoist philosophy of language.

LFRG 4/24 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme
Title: Deriving Greenberg’s Universal 45
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 24, 5:30-7p
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, I will propose a model deriving Greenberg’s universal 45 about the interaction of gender and number in third person pronouns.

(1) Greenberg’s universal 45: If there are any gender distinctions in the plural of the pronoun, there are some gender distinctions in the singular also.

The general idea will be that, lexicon size being equal, a lexicon with more gender distinctions in the singular is more efficient in terms of anaphora resolution than a lexicon with more distinctions in the plural, because of the higher frequency of use of singular pronouns. The specific proposal will be implemented using a grammar generating pronoun meanings with gender presuppositions and a harmonic grammar regulating the mappings from those meanings to lexicons via two constraints (“Minimize lexicon size” and “Maximize the number of correct anaphora resolutions”). Finally, I will discuss possible extensions of this model to treat grammatical gender in addition to semantic gender, to deal with mixed-gender pronouns (they seem to be rare cross-linguistically), and to derive the primitive gender predicates.

Sasha Podobryaev to Moscow HSE post-doc

Alexander Podobryaev (PhD 2014) has accepted a post-doctoral fellowship in the Faculty of Philology of the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, which (don’t be misled by the name!) boasts a new, exciting and growing linguistics program. Sasha is currently a visiting scientist at the Institute Jean Nicod in Paris.  Congratulations, Sasha!  Поздравляем Вас!!


This weekend two students from MIT visited the University of Maryland to participate in the 2014 edition of ECO5, an annual student-run Workshop in Formal Linguistics that brings together students from MIT, Harvard, UMass, UConn and the University of Marlyand.  Second-year student Juliet Stanton presented a paper on “Varieties of A’-extractions: evidence from preposition stranding ” (draft here), which explains a variety of constraints on A-bar constructions as a consequence of Wholesale Late Merge.  First-year student Michelle Yuan presented “Person-case restrictions in Inuktitut as an anti-agreement effect ” (based on her fieldwork) arguing for feature movement as a species of agremeent in Inuktitut.

Colloquium 4/25 - Richard Kayne

Speaker: Richard Kayne (NYU)
Title: The Silence of Projecting Heads
Date/Time: Friday, Apr 25, 3:30-5p
Location: 32-141

Examination of sentence-final particles, complementizers, up/down-type particles, modal elements like ‘need’, the nominal character of agreement morphemes, aspect, tense, adjectives and adverbs, determiners, adpositions, focus and topic, derivational suffixes and light verbs leads to the conclusion that a preponderance of projecting syntactic heads are silent.

I suggest that we understand this to reflect the simpler fact that all syntactically projecting heads are silent. That simpler fact derives in turn from the fact that, for reasons having to do with the systematic antisymmetry-based association of Merge with temporal order, phonological material cannot be bundled together with a syntactic feature in a single node.

If so, then temporal order must be part of core syntax, as is suggested in any case by cross-linguistic asymmetries concerning backwards pronominalization that feed into interpretation.

The antisymmetry-based prohibition against feature-bundling simultaneouly has as a consequence the decompositionality principle of Kayne (2005).