The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Archive for September 2nd, 2014

Welcome to the Fall 2014 semester!

Today, Tuesday September 2, is Registration Day. Whamit!, the MIT Linguistics Department Newsletter, appears every Monday during the semester (Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Sophie Moracchini, and Benjamin Storme.

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6 pm. At the beginning of the semester, we’re particularly interested in news about what members of the department did during the summer break.


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:14 am

Posted in Announcements

Events at MIT, Fall 2014

At least two conferences will be held at MIT during the fall semester:

Phonology 2014 will be held at MIT from September 19-21, 2014. Invited speakers are:

  • Gillian Gallagher (NYU)
  • René Kager (Utrecht University)
  • Naomi Feldman (UMD)

The 45th annual meeting of the North East Linguistic Society will be held at MIT on October 31 - November 2nd, 2014. Invited speakers are:

  • Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)
  • Roger Schwarzschild (MIT)
  • Kie Zuraw (UCLA)

Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:13 am

Posted in Talks

Course announcements, Fall 2014

24.960 Syntactic Models 

Instructor: David Pesetsky Lecture: T2pm-5pm (32-D461)

The course has twin goals:

First, it gives a quick introduction to at least two “frameworks” for syntactic research that compete with the Government-Binding/Principles & Parameters/Minimalist tradition in the current syntax world: HPSG and Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG). We work speedily through much of the HPSG textbook by Sag, Wasow and Bender, and also look at the LFG textbook by Bresnan.

Next, the class turns historical, tracing the development of generative syntax from Syntactic Structures (1957) up to the early 1980s, when HPSG and LFG first separated themselves off from the research program that became GB/P&P/Minimalism. An overarching theme of the course is the issue of derivational vs. representational views of syntax — a theme that offers some surprising observations about who said what at various points in the history of the field, but also gives the course a focus relevant to the most current work.

For a demonstration that the issue is live (including the hotly debated question of whether there even is a question), you need look no further than a recent discussion on Norbert Hornstein’s blog, featuring Omer Preminger (who taught this very class in 2011). See http://facultyoflanguage.blogspot.com/2014/08/cakes-damn-cakes-and-other-baked-goods.html, which begins with links to earlier discussion on the blog that prompted that posting, and continues with millions of comments. In fact, at the right moment (about half-way through the semester), we will use this blog debate as a springboard for our own discussion.

You can get a good sense of what the class will be like from its old Stellar pages — for example http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp09/24.960 (and http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp11/24.960 for Omer’s version). I plan to follow essentially the same structure (with improvements in the LFG section due to Omer) — but I will work extra hard to reserve time for a topic of your choosing at the very end.

24.964 Topics in Phonology

Instructor: Edward Flemming Lecture: R9.30-12.30 (32-D461)

This course will organized around three main topics:

  1. Phonetic grammars It has long been known that the grammars of languages must regulate relatively fine details of phonetic realization, but relatively little is known about the form of the relevant component of grammar. We will study a model based on weighted constraints (Flemming 2001), based on case studies including coarticulation (local and long distance) and the timing and realization of tones. We will also consider the relationship between phonetic and phonological grammars in light of this model.

  2. Morphology-phonology interactions: what are the relative roles of morphology and phonology in accounting for allomorphic variation in paradigms? Morphological paradigms sometimes show complex patterns of distribution of stem realizations, in which a given phonological form of a stem appears in a morphosyntactically arbitrary set of contexts (e.g. 1pl and 2pl pres subj, 1pl pres indic, 1pl pres imp). Such cases have been taken as evidence that morphological grammars can specify complex and arbitrary mappings from morphosyntactic specification to phonological form, as proposed by Aronoff (1994). On the other hand, if these morphosyntactically arbitrary distributions of allomorphs are the result of phonological conditioning, then these powerful morphological devices are not required (cf. Steriade in press). Proponents of purely morphological analyses have often dismissed phonological alternatives based on an impoverished conception of the possibilities for phonological conditioning of stem form. We will review cases from Latin and Romance languages in light of mechanisms such as Output-Output Correspondence constraints, phonological conditioning of allomorph selection, similarity-conditioned merger etc.

  3. Do speakers’ grammars contain phonetically-based constraints? Phonological typology has been shown to reflect a variety of phonetically-based constraints, but it remains controversial whether these constraints play a role in individual grammars, or whether they are external to grammar, applying only through processes of sound change (e.g. Blevins 2004). We will try to clarify the empirical claims that are at issue here and examine experimental evidence that bears on those claims. (This topic was also covered last year, but we will be looking at new/different sources of evidence this year).

24.979 Topics in Semantics

Instructor: Danny Fox and Roger Schwarzschild Lecture: Mondays 2-5; 32D-461

This seminar will deal with various issues in the semantics of degree expressions (scalar adjectives, comparatives, equatives, degree questions, etc.). We will begin with a well-known puzzle pertaining to the scopal interactions in which such expressions partake. We haven’t yet decided were we will go from there, but the aim is to get to Roger’s recent work reconceptualizing degrees as segments (parts of which were presented here at MIT during IAP and parts of which were presented at SALT) and some work in progress on equatives that Danny’s been doing with Luka Crnic.

21F.514/24.946 Ling Theory & Japanese Lang

Instructor: Shigeru Miyagawa Lecture: M10-1 (32-D461)

We will look at a variety of related topics centering on Japanese but also across a number of other languages. The topics mostly relate to issues of agreement, very broadly conceived:

  • agreement systems, including those that don’t appear to have agreement (Japanese, Chinese, Malayalam, Mongolian, with reference to Romance)
  • topic systems and root phenomena (Japanese, English, Spanish, etc.)
  • binding and agreement (Japanese, Chinese, Malayalam, with reference to Basque, etc.)
  • the structure of ‘why’ (Japanese, Chinese, English)
  • answer fragments and sluicing (Japanese, English, German)
  • position of the subject (standard Japanese, Kumamoto dialect of Japanese)
  • marking of the subject as genitive (Japanese, Mongolian, Turkish, etc.)
  • passive (Japanese)

24.S95: Seminar on Computation, Biology, and Language

Instructors: Robert C. Berwick & Noam Chomsky Lecture: Fridays, 11-2, 32D-461

This seminar will cover four inter-related topics: (1) recent work in linguistic theory extending ‘Problems of Projection’; (2) evolutionary biology as it relates to the origin of language, including the background results from evolutionary population biology required to understand evolutionary modeling, as well as comparative biology, genomics, and the role of natural selection; (3) computation and generative grammar, including results on the role of strong generative capacity, the computational complexity of natural language, and implemented parsers for modern minimalist generative grammars, including principles and parameters theory, derivation by phrase, and problems of projection; and (4) learnability and the poverty of the stimulus, including the classical Gold results, the role of locality constraints in learnability, and the implications of statistical approaches such as Bayesian modeling and minimum description length. No prior knowledge of computation or evolutionary biology is assumed. Syllabus and readings for the first meeting (9/5) and subsequent meetings are posted on the stellar site.


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:12 am

Posted in Announcements

Linguistics colloquia for the academic year

The MIT Linguistics Colloquium schedule for this academic year is below. All talks are on Fridays. For further information, please contact the organizers for this year, Ruth Brillman and Mia Nussbaum.

Fall 2014:

Spring 2015:


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:11 am

Posted in Talks

ESSL/LAQLab 9/3 - Organizational meeting

The first ESSL/LAQLab (Language Acquisition Lab) of the semester will take place Wednesday 3:00 to 4:30 in the 4th floor seminar room (32-D461). We will review summer activities and try to come up with a schedule for the semester. All are welcome!


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:10 am

Posted in Announcements

LFRG 9/4 - Dorothy Ahn

Speaker: Dorothy Ahn (Harvard)
Title: Semantics of focus particles too and either
Date/Time: Thursday, September 4, 5:30-7p
Location: 34-D461

Additive either is an NPI that appears clause-finally in sentences like (1).

(1) John didn’t leave. Bill didn’t leave either.
(2) *Bill left either.

An adequate account must explain at least two main properties of additive either: a) its restricted distribution and b) the relation between the host – the clause containing either – and the antecedent – the clause preceding the host. Building on Rullmann’s (2003) intuition that additive either is a negative counterpart of focus particle too, I first propose an analysis for too: it introduces an anaphoric variable q that requires an antecedent, and when applied to a proposition p, it asserts a conjunction of q and p. After discussing how this anaphoricity accounts for the relation between the host and the antecedent, I propose that additive either is a completely parallel disjunctive counterpart of too, with its meaning identical to too except that it asserts a disjunction between q and p. The restricted distribution of additive either is predicted to follow simply from the lexical entry of either once we adopt the exhaustification-based theory of NPIs (Chierchia, 2013) and assume thateither has the same domain and scalar alternatives of a regular disjunction.

Chierchia, G. (2013). Logic in Grammar: Polarity, free choice, and intervention.
Rullmann, H. (2003). Additive particles and polarity. Journal of semantics, 20(4)


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:09 am

Posted in Talks

LingLunch 9/4 - Roman Feiman

Speaker: Roman Feiman (Snedeker & Carey Labs at Harvard Psychology)
Title: The acquisition of verbal negation: a case study in the development of logical operators in thought and language
Date/Time: Thursday, September 4, 12:30-1:45
Location: 34-D461

Logical connectives in natural language, such as “and,” “or,” and “not,” have highly abstract meanings that are typically modeled as higher-order functions of the meanings of the phrases with which they combine. Despite this complexity, children begin to use such words very early. How do they learn the meanings of words with such abstract, non-referential content? Does learning the corresponding words somehow help learn the concept? Or must one know the concept already, so that learning the word is a matter of labeling an existing mental symbol?

I will describe a series of experiments examining children’s comprehension of the words “no” and “not.” Our main finding is that children do not begin to understand the abstract meaning of these words until the age of two. This is surprisingly late, given that “no”, in particular, is frequently produced by younger children. I will discuss some possible interpretations for this disconnect between children’s production of the word and understanding of its logical force, as well as the significance of these findings for the relationship between the development of logic and language.


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:08 am

Posted in Talks

Introducing our new Lab manager, Leo Rosenstein

Over the summer, our new linguistics lab manager, Leo Rosenstein, started work. She will be helping with experimental research throughout the linguistics side of the department, including the Phonetics lab, the Experimental Syntax and Semantics lab, and the Language Acquisition Lab.

Leo is originally from Troy, Michigan. She got her BA in Linguistics from Boston University in January 2013, and is finishing her MA in Linguistics there in September. She is primarily interested in semantics, and is writing her master’s project on adjective denotation and classification, but she likes syntax and has enjoyed doing work on intonation as well. When not thinking about linguistics, she divides her time between writing, reading, ballroom and swing dancing, fire-spinning, stargazing, singing in a symphonic chorus, and playing Dota 2.


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:07 am

Posted in Announcements

Welcome to ling-14!

Ömer Demirok

I’m from Turkey. I was born and grew up in Tekirdağ, the land of “rakı”. I received my B.A. degree in Foreign Language Education and M.A. degree in Linguistics, both from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. Ethnically, I am half Georgian. For this reason, I became interested in Georgian (especially its dialects spoken in Turkey) and shortly after in its endangered sister, Laz. I did fieldwork on Laz in Turkey and wrote my M.A. thesis on the agreement and case systems of Laz. Coming from a country notorious for killing its indigenous languages with great care, I got involved in endangered language preservation efforts. My main interests are syntax and syntax-morphology interface. But I have also done some work in phonology. I certainly look forward to getting my hands dirty (also) with semantics at MIT.

Naomi Francis

I grew up in Tsawwassen, a small town just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I completed a BA with a double major in linguistics and classics at the University of British Columbia and an MA in linguistics at the University of Toronto. My main interest is in semantics; my recent work has focused on predicates of personal taste, and I hope to continue working on context-dependent expressions at MIT. In the past I’ve also done some fieldwork on modality in Kwak’wala (Wakashan) and Nata (Bantu), and I still have a soft spot for underdocumented and endangered languages. When not doing linguistics, I enjoy knitting, baking, and watching Doctor Who.

Michael Jacques

I’m from Connecticut, I got my B.A. in Linguistics and Philosophy from the University of Connecticut, I am interested in semantics and pragmatics. In my free time, I like to play drums and read.

Nick Longenbaugh

I grew up in the high desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico and completed his BA in Computer Science and Linguistics at Harvard. My linguistic interests comprise complexity in language, particularly the origins and distribution of crossed dependencies; the syntax of verb initial languages; and a less specific fascination with formal semantics. Outside of linguistics, I like riding my bicycles.

Daniel Margulis

I was born in Latvia and grew up in Israel. I received my B.A. in linguistics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I was also working on my M.A. in linguistics. I am interested in semantics, syntax, pragmatics and their interfaces, having special curiosity about negation, polarity sensitivity, tense, modality, aspect, scalar implicatures, focus sensitivity, case and movement. At MIT, I hope to continue dealing with puzzles concerning these topics, along with many new ones.

Erin Olson

I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and graduated from McGill University with a BA in Linguistics in 2012. I’m often mistaken for being Canadian (which I don’t mind). In the last two years, I’ve worked as a lab manager at both McGill and MIT doing experimental linguistic work, primarily in syntax and semantics, although my main research interests lie in the field of phonology. I’m especially interested in learning more about the prosody of Algonquian languages, having done some fieldwork on Mi’gmaq (Mi’kmaq, formerly Micmac) while at McGill. When I’m not doing linguistics, I enjoy biking, drawing, computer programming, and reading.

Carolyn Spadine

I’m orignially from New Jersey, but for most of my life I’ve lived in Minneapolis, where I did my BA in Linguistics at the University of Minnesota (with a minor in Cultural Studies). When I’m doing linguistics, I like syntax and semantics, especially in Austronesian languages, and when I’m not, I like rock climbing, cooking, and playing guitar.

Abdul-Razak Sulemana

My name is Abdul-Razak Sulemana, I am from Sandema a small town in the Upper East Region of Ghana. I received my BA in Linguistics and Political Science from the University of Ghana where I also had my MA in Linguistics. I am interested in Syntactic theory, the Syntax of Buli, and the Syntax of Gur languages but I sometimes venture into morphology and phonology. I am open-minded as I embark on the MIT journey. When I am not doing anything related to linguistics, then I am either reading a John Grisham or Sydney Sheldon novel. I go running or play soccer to exercise. I listen a lot but I say little.

Hanzhi Zhu

I was born in Shandong Province on the coast of China, but grew up mostly in Worcester and Shrewsbury, in central Massachusetts. I double majored in Linguistics and Computer Science at Stanford University. At Stanford, I’ve worked on raising constructions in Kazakh, but I’m also interested in a variety of other topics in formal syntax and semantics, and I’m excited to explore other areas as well. For fun, I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, as well as music, cooking, and calligraphy.


Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:06 am

Posted in Student News

New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Fall 2014

Visiting students

  • Maria del Mar Bassa Vanrell (University of Texas at Austin) says: “My name is Maria del Mar but everyone just calls me Mar (‘sea’). I’m from an island, Mallorca (Spain), where I lived until I was 20. As an undergraduate I studied English literature and linguistics at the University of the Balearic Islands, The University of Texas at Austin, and Queen Mary University of London. After a year of teaching at The College of the Holy Cross, MA, I decided to move back to UT Austin to pursue graduate studies in linguistics. I’m currently working on the typology of motion constructions. My main interests are semantics, lexical-semantics, pragmatics, and syntax. I look forward to going deeper into any of these fields while at MIT. During my free time, I love traveling, photography, dancing, painting, watching movies, cooking (& eating), and just spending time outdoors while enjoying nature.”
  • Brian Buccola (McGill University) says: “My research interests primarily include formal semantics, pragmatics, phonology, and computational linguistics. On the semantics/pragmatics side, I have worked on ignorance inferences associated with superlative numeral/scalar modifiers like “at least” and “at most”. On the phonology side, I have worked on the difference in generative capacity between Optimality Theory and ordered rewrite rules.”
  • Heidi Klockmann (PhD student at Utrecht University) works on syntax, especially on case, agreement and numerals.

Visiting scholars

  • Tony Borowsky (University of Sydney)’s research interests are all kinds of Theoretical Phonology including issues of lexical phonology in Optimality Theory, the formalization of phonological variation in OT and language acquisition.
  • Hemanga Dutta (The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU))’s research explores different phonological theories. He also works on the sociolinguistics and linguistic aspects of Indian languages including language change, language contact, language, power and gender dynamics, language and youth culture, multilingualism, language and education. In addition, he is also interested in applied linguistics, language pedagogy and language disorders.
  • Miwako Hisagi (MIT)’s research interests are Speech and Language Processing, Speech Processing, Acoustic Phonetics, Language Acquisition, and Phonetics.
  • Masuyo Ito (Fukuoka University) works on first language acquisition, syntax, psycholinguistics and pragmatics.
  • Jinglian Li (Beijing Institute of Technology)’s fields are Generative Grammar and Contrastive Linguistics.
  • Aijuan Liu (Beijing University of Chinese Medicine) says: “[My] research interests include age effects and maturational constraints in second language acquisition, L2 acquisition of formal aspects of language knowledge (especially morphology and syntax).”
  • Chie Nakamura (University of Tokyo)
  • Tamina Stephenson (University of Massachusetts Amherst)’s research interests are pragmatics, semantics and philosophy of language.
  • Tsuyoshi Sugawara (Ube National College of Technology) writes: “I am a spontaneous and an extrovert person. I love Boston because of its diversity. I am crazy about Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics. I hold two degrees: Master of Education in Teaching English as a Second Language and Ph.D in Information Science (on Linguistics). As a linguist and a TEFL instructor, I am extremely curious about every language. I have been studying 12 languages (Arabic, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, German, French, Italian, Russian, Turkish, Hindi, Malay, Chinese, and Korean), communicating every day with my friends from about 50 countries around the world. My research areas are Lexical Semantics (especially on Generative Lexicon Theory), Morphology, Syntax, and Language Acquisition ( Bilingualism, Trilingualism, and Multilingualism).”
  • Aline Villavicencio (Institute of Informatics, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul) reports: “The main goal of this visit is to collaborate with Prof. Berwick on the project Cognitive Computational Models of Natural Languages for Assessing Language Competency (CNPq-MIT) to investigate particular linguistic factors connected to language use in clinical and non-clinical conditions, such as aphasia and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). ”

Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:01 am

Posted in Announcements

A summer bouquet of congratulations

Congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators!

In the coming year, Mitcho will be a post-doc at McGill, Yusuke is an Assistant Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Patrick will be teaching at Harvard, and Hadas will be a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill.

And our warmest congratulations to Anthony Brohan on the successful defense of his MA thesis entitled Analytic Bias in Coocurrence Restrictions! Now he’s off to take up a great position at a small firm that a few of us have heard of called “Google”.

Mitcho3 Yusuke Patrick Hadas

Written by Benjamin Storme

September 2nd, 2014 at 5:00 am

Posted in Student News