The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 19th, 2014

Whamit!’s Last Issue for Spring  

This is the last issue of Whamit! for the spring term. Besides a special issue or two over the summer break, we will resume regular publication in September. Have a nice break!


Phonology Circle 5/21 - Manchester Practice Talks  

The next session of the Phonology Circle will feature practice talks for the Manchester Phonology Meeting.

Date/Time: Wednesday, May 21, 1-3p (Note special date/time)
Location: 32-D831


LFRG 5/29 - Jacopo Romoli  

LFRG will have several special meetings over the summer, including Yasutada Sudo and Patrick Elliott (6/3) and Matthijs Westera (6/6). The first of these is detailed here.

Speaker: Jacopo Romoli (Ulster)
Title: Redundancy and the notion of local context
Date/Time: Thursday, May 29, 2pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Clemens Mayr.)

In this talk, I discuss novel data which are problematic for Stalnaker’s (1979) non-redundancy condition, requiring not to assert something that is already presupposed. This condition has been extended to the local level, so that a sentence is deemed not assertible if it contains any part that is redundant in its local context (Fox 2008, Schlenker 2009, Singh 2007 among many others). The problem for this approach comes from disjunctions like Either Mary isn’t pregnant or (she is) and it doesn’t show. The optional presence of she is (pregnant) – a locally redundant part – is not readily predicted by the non-redundancy condition. These data are even more puzzling if compared to corresponding conditionals like If Mary is pregnant, (#she is and) it doesn’t show where the she is (pregnant) part is unacceptable as predicted by the non-redundancy condition. In response to this puzzle, we propose a solution based on Schlenker’s (2009) parsing-based theory of local contexts. In this system, exhaustifying a sentence can modify the local contexts of its parts. As a consequence of this, she is (pregnant) is actually not redundant in the disjunctive sentence above, provided the latter is exhaustified. As we discuss, this solution is not available in an approach like dynamic semantics where local contexts are computed compositionally from the syntactic structure of the sentence in question (Heim 1983, Beaver 2001; see also Chierchia 2009). Therefore, our solution to the disjunctive puzzle above, if correct, is an argument for the parsing-based approach to local contexts. More in general, redundancy provides a testing ground for these two approaches to local contexts, which are provably equivalent in the domain of presupposition projection (Schlenker 2007, 2009). We discuss also other issues that the disjunctive case above raises in connection to exhaustification, presupposition projection, and the calculation of alternatives.


Summer Conference Round-Up, Part 1  

As the summer conference season starts up, here are some events where MIT linguists can be spotted. More updates will follow in the next Whamit! issue.

  • Donca Steriade and Gillian Gallagher (NYU, PhD 2010) were invited discussants at the conference on Agreement By Correspondence (ABC), held this past weekend at UC Berkeley.
  • The 21st Annual Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 21) will be held May 23-25 at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Mitcho Erlewine, Ted Levin, and Coppe van Urk will present a paper entitled What makes a voice system? On the relationship between voice marking and case. Among the invited speakers is Diane Massam (UToronto, PhD 1982) whose talk is entitled Applicatives and the split argument hypothesis in Niuean.
  • This year’s meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association will take place at Brock University in Ontario on May 24-26.Current lab manager and incoming PhD student Erin Olson and alum Michael Wagner (McGill, PhD 2005) are among the presenters of the talk Allophonic variation in English /l/: production, perception, and segmentation. Michelle Yuan is among the presenters of Perception of English corrective focus by native Inuktitut speakers. Anthony Brohan will present Licensing Catalan laryngeal neutralization by cue.Two alumni are also presenting: Bronwyn Bjorkman (UToronto, PhD 2011) will speak on Possession and necessity: from individuals to worlds (with Elizabeth Cowper), and Igor Yanovich (Tubingen, 2013) will present No weak necessity.
  • The last of the conferences being held next weekend is GLOW in Asia X at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. Yusuke Imanishi’s work on Default ergative: A view from Mayan will be presented in the poster session. Moreover, all three keynote speakers have ties to MIT Linguistics: current faculty Michael Kenstowicz will present The emergence of default accent in Kyungsang Korean; Richard Kayne (NYU, PhD 1969) will speak on The silence of projecting heads; and C.-T. James Huang (Harvard, PhD 1982) will present Passives forever: control, raising and implicit arguments.

Kotek’s two-probe paper appears in NLLT  

Hadas Koteks paper “Wh-fronting in a two-probe system” has appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.  Congratulations, Hadas! Here’s the abstract:

“Prior work on wh-movement has distinguished among several types of wh-fronting languages that permit distinct patterns of overt and covert movement, instantiated for example by the Slavic languages, English, and German. This paper extends the cross-linguistic typology of multiple questions by arguing that Hebrew instantiates a new kind of wh-fronting language, unlike any that are discussed in the current literature. It will show that Hebrew distinguishes between two kinds of interrogative phrases: those that are headed by a wh-word (wh-headed phrases: what, who, [DP which X], where, how…) and those that contain a wh-word but are headed by some other element (wh-containing phrases: [NP N of wh], [PP P wh]). We observe the special status of wh-headed phrases when one occurs structurally lower in a question than a wh-containing phrase. In that case, the wh-headed phrase can be targeted by an Agree/Attract operation that ignores the presence of the c-commanding wh-containing phrase. The paper develops an account of the sensitivity of interrogative probing operations to the head of the interrogative phrase within Cable’s (2010) Q-particle theory. It proposes that the Hebrew Q has an EPP feature which can trigger head-movement of wh to Q and that a wh-probe exists alongside the more familiar Q-probe, and shows how these two modifications to the theory can account for the intricate dataset that emerges from the paper. The emerging picture is one in which interrogative probing does not occur wholesale but rather can be sensitive to particular interrogative features on potential goals.”

Halpert book to appear with Oxford University Press  

Claire Halpert (PhD 2012, Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota) has signed a contract with Oxford University Press to publish a monograph entitled Argument Licensing and Agreement: A Bantu Case Study in the series “Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax” (edited by Richard Kayne).  Congratulations, Claire!!