The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 5th, 2014

LFRG 5/5 - Chris O’Brien

Speaker: Chris O’Brien
Time: Monday, May 5, 12-1:30p
Location: 66-148
Title: The online processing of implicatures

I’ll be discussing two recent papers on the online processing of scalar implicatures (SIs). The first (Huang & Snedeker 2009) uses data from a series of experiments that employ the visual world eye-tracking paradigm to argue that computing an SI exacts a processing cost relative to accessing the basic meaning of a scalar item. However, Degen (2013) argues that this effect only shows up when number terms are made contextually salient. We’ll discuss these studies and what implications they have for our understanding of SIs.


Phonology Circle 5/5 - Richard Futrell and Tim O’Donnell

Speakers: Richard Futrell and Tim O’Donnell
Title: A Tier-Based Probabilistic Phonotactics Model
Date/Time: Monday, May 5, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831

We present work in progress on a probabilistic generative model of English phonotactics. Augmenting an underlying feature-based N-gram model, we implement a tier-based representation of the kind studied in autosegmental phonology (e.g. Goldsmith, 1976) that allows nonlocal interactions of certain features as in vowel harmony. Local and nonlocal interactions are controlled via a feature geometry embedded in the model. To evaluate our model, we used Mechanical Turk to gather a large dataset of wellformedness ratings for 1000 monosyllabic nonce words. Our generative tier-based model achieves a higher correlation with these human ratings than BLICK. We also test our model on data from Daland et al. (2011), which tests the ability to explain sonority effects, and get performance comparable to the state of the art.


Ling-Lunch 5/8 - Sasha Podobryaev

Speaker: Sasha Podobryaev (Institut Jean Nicod)
Title: More on person features of bound pronouns
Date/Time: Thursday, May 8, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

The focus of this talk is on the representation and interpretation of person features of bound pronouns. There has been some controversy in the literature about the licensing of such features in sentences like “Only I did my homework”. While some argue that there is a requirement of formal identity between the features of the nominal binder and the bound pronoun (cf. Heim 2008, Kratzer 2009), it has also been suggested by some others (cf. Jacobson 2013 for a recent example) that the features of bound pronouns do not depend on the features of their binders in any direct way.

Relying primarily on the evidence from Collins and Postal 2012, I show that both approaches are valid to a certain extent. I argue that there are at least two kinds of person features that can show up on bound pronouns: features of referential indices (cf. Minor 2011, Sudo 2012) licensed under identity with the features of the binder, and presuppositional head features (cf. Sauerland 2008, a.o.) that are licensed independently.


ESSL 5/8 - Teresa Guasti

Speaker: Teresa Guasti
Time: Thursday, May 8, 5-6:30p (Note special time)
Place: 32-D831
Title: Sensitivity to syntactic structure and contrastive stress in children’s sentence continuation

The full abstract is available (pdf).


MIT Linguists Around North America

Third-year graduate student Snejana Iovtcheva was in UC Berkeley for the 23rd Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics (FASL23) conference held May 2-4. She gave a talk entitled An Output-to-Output Correspondence Analysis of the Bulgarian Vowel-Zero Alternation.

David Pesetsky visited Yale’s linguistics department last Monday, where he gave a colloquium talk entitled Islands in the modern world.

Finally, Norvin Richards will be in McGill University this weekend, May 8-10, for a workshop entitled “Exploring the Interfaces 3: Prosody and Constituent Structure” (ETI3). Norvin will give an invited talk, Another look at Tagalog prosody. Among the workshop’s organizers is Jessica Coon (PhD ‘10).


Linguistics Colloquium 5/9 - Julie Legate

Speaker: Julie Legate (UPenn)
Title: Noncanonical Passives
Date/Time: Friday, May 9, 3:30-5p
Location: 32-141

In this talk, I investigate the syntactic structure of voice, focusing on noncanonical passives; I build on previous work by myself and others showing that voice is encoded in a functional projection, VoiceP, which is distinct from, and higher than, vP. I demonstrate that microvariation in the properties of VoiceP explains a wide range of noncanonical passives, including agent-agreeing passives, restricted agent passives, accusative object passives, impersonals, and object voice. The analysis draws on data from a typologically diverse set of languages.