Whamit!

The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 22nd, 2014

ESSL/LacqLab 09/24  

Our next ESSL/LacqLab meeting will take place on Wednesday, September 24, at 3:00 PM in room 32-D831. It will be partly a brainstorming session on possible activities involving “Linguistics for Kids.”

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LingBeer 09/26  

Date/Time: Friday, September 26, 5 pm
Location: 8th floor lounge

LingBeer will be starting up again this Friday at 5pm. LingBeer is a reading group, but +beer. This week, we will be reading Michael Barrie and Eric Mathieu’s “Noun Incorporation and Phrasal Movement”.

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Phonology Circle 09/22 - Benjamin Storme  

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: Closed syllable vowel laxing and the perceptibility of coda consonant place contrasts
Date/Time: Monday, September 22, 5-6:30 pm
Location: 32-D461

Closed syllable vowel laxing describes a common pattern of allophonic distribution where tense vowels are laxed in closed syllables (e.g., French vous votez /vote/ “you vote” vs il vote /vɔt/ “he votes”). I propose that laxing vowels (e.g., o->ɔ) in closed syllables is a strategy selected by speakers to enhance the perceptibility of coda consonant place contrasts. I present results of a perception experiment that provide preliminary support for this hypothesis.
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Ling-Lunch 9/25 - Edwin Howard  

Speaker: Edwin Howard (MIT)
Title: Superlative Degree Clauses: evidence from NPI licensing
Date/Time:Thursday, September 25, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk concerns the superlative morpheme -est and its ability to license Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) such as any and ever, and addresses the puzzle posed by utterances such as (1):

(1) a. John read the most books that anyone ever read.
b. Mary sang the loudest that anyone ever sang.

While the embedded clause in (1a) appears at first sight to be a relative clause modifier of the NP poems, an analogous role for its counterpart in (1b) would be surprising as RCs do not typically modify adverbs (*Mary sang loudly that I like). Furthermore I demonstrate that the embedded clauses in (1) are not predicted to be able to host NPIs under a RC modifier analysis, given otherwise well-supported proposals that appeal to the entailments that semantic operators such as -est give rise to (Ladusaw 1980; von Fintel 1999, Gajewski 2010).

I present my proposal to analyse these embedded clauses as arguments of -est, akin to than- or as-clauses familiar from other degree constructions. The Superlative Degree Clause analysis makes welcome predictions for the interpretation of such structures, and provides an elegant account of the otherwise puzzling contrasts between (1) and the odd degraded or infelicitous examples in (2):

(2) a. *John read the most books that anyone ever wrote.
b. #Mary sang the loudest that any baritone ever sang

If time permits I will sketch out an implementation of the SDC analysis and consider its consequences for our understanding of the syntax/semantics interface.

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Phonology 2014  

Phonology 2014 was held at MIT over the week end. First-year student Erin Olson gave a tutorial on Automatic Forced Alignment with Prosodylab-Aligner. Third-year student Juliet Stanton gave a talk about Learnability shapes typology: the case of the midpoint pathology. Fifth-year student Suyeon Yun talked about English -uh- insertion and consonant cluster splittability. Third-year students Sam Zukoff and Benjamin Storme presented posters entitled Stress Restricts Reduplication: Stress-Reduplication Interactions in Australian and Austronesian and Closed Syllable Vowel Laxing in Continental French: a Dispersion-Theoretic Account.

Among the presenters were also some MIT alumni. Gillian Gallagher ‘10 (NYU) was one of the three invited speakers. She gave a talk entitled Asymmetries in the representation of categorical phonotactics. Yoonjung Kang ‘00 (University of Toronto Scarborough) talked about French loanwords in Vietnamese: the role of input language phonotactics and contrast in loanword adaptation (paper co-authored by Andrea Hòa Phạm from the University of Florida and Benjamin Storme). Jonah Katz ‘10 (West Virginia University) presented a poster about Continuity lenition.

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