The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 20th, 2014

Phonology Circle 10/20 - Laura McPherson

Speaker: Laura McPherson (Dartmouth University)
Title: Problems in Seeku plural formation
Date: Oct. 20 (M)
Time: 5:00 - 6:30
Place: 32D-461

On the surface, the plural in Seeku (Mande, Burkina Faso) is marked by some combination of tone raising, diphthong formation, vowel fronting, or nasalization. For example, bi21 ‘goat’ has the plural bi3 ‘goats’ with tone raising, ko2koː21 ‘rooster’ has the plural ko3koeː3 ‘roosters’ with diphthong formation and tone raising, dyo1ŋma3 ‘cat’ has the plural dyo1ŋmɛ3 ‘cats’ with vowel fronting, and sa21 ‘rabbit’ has the plural sɛ̃3 with nasalization, vowel fronting, and tone raising. I argue that the segmental changes are best understood as suffixation of a front vowel /-ɛ/, accompanied by vowel harmony ([ATR] and [high]) and vowel elision as a hiatus repair strategy. Thus, a form like ‘goat’ has the following derivation:

UR                   /bi-ɛ/
Harmony       |bi-i|
Elision             |b-i|
SR                     [bi]

While this analysis works in a derivational framework, it runs into trouble in a parallel model of phonology due to counterbleeding opacity between elision and vowel harmony: due to the largely monosyllabic nature of Seeku, most often the only vowel that remains in the plural (under this analysis) is the vowel of the plural suffix, yet it displays harmony with the elided vowel of the stem. In this talk, I show how the rule-based analysis accounts for the data then briefly discuss the varying levels of success of different constraint-based analyses, including standard I-O OT, output-oriented constraints, Harmonic Serialism, and contrast preservation.

Syntax Square 10/21- Kenyon Branan

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: A long distance subject/object extraction
Date/Time:Thursday, October 21, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

There are a number of ditransitive verbs that are able to take both a DP and a CP complement. A subset of these verbs exhibit an interesting asymmetry: long distance object extraction of a DP is grammatical, whereas long distance subject extraction of a DP is ungrammatical, even when licensing conditions for long distance subject extraction are fulfilled. Examples of ungrammatical subject extraction are given below.

(1) a.* Who did we convince them [ __ sighted Bigfoot]?
b.* Who did they persuade themselves [ __ should move to Canada]?
c.* What did they assure each other [ __ has sunk]?

Previous accounts of this [Stowell (1981), Bošković and Lasnik (2003)] attribute this ungrammaticality to licensing conditions for elements moved out of subject position. We take a different approach. We show that this ungrammaticality obtains only in cases where the extracted subject is a DP. We give evidence from two tests which suggest that the matrix subject of these verbs originates below [spec,vP]. Putting these two together, we argue that the ungrammaticality of sentences like (1) is the result of an intervention effect. The movement of a DP containing a wh-word to [spec,vP] creates a structure where T is unable to Agree with the low subject, the moved DP acting as an intervener.

We propose that there is a structural difference between long distance subject movement and long distance object movement. Long distance subject movement involves movement of a subject from the CP to matrix [spec,vP]. Long distance object movement involves two steps: movement of the CP to [spec,vP], and subextraction of the object DP from the CP. Crucially, long distance object movement does not create the asymmetric c-command relationship between two syntactic objects of the same type which characterizes intervention effects.

Ling-Lunch 10/23 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: Deconstructing exceptives
Date/Time:Thursday, October 23, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk looks at the semantics of exceptive expressions like but and other than. Building on insights in Gajewski (2008, 2013), I pursue an analysis of exceptives as sharing a common semantic core: a form of subtraction. But in (1) takes John as its argument and returns the set of all entities (atomic or plural) which do not include John. The resultant meaning composes with students by Predicate Modification, yielding the set of students not including John. This set is the restrictor of every.

(1) Every student but John came.

I will argue for an analysis of but as obligatorily strengthened by the Exh operator of Fox (2007). Exh is responsible for deriving the entailment in (1) that John did not come. The literature (in particular, Gajewski 2013) has pursued this approach, but with additional complications, which I will argue are avoidable.

I will show how the analysis extends to account for further empirical puzzles, in particular the incompatibility of exceptives with both, all when there is a numeral present (Moltmann 1993), and singular definites. Each expression in (2) introduces a presupposition about the size of its restrictor: the presupposes uniqueness, both presupposes duality, and all six presupposes a cardinality of six. I will argue that presuppositions project universally out of alternatives over which Exh quantifies, and that the result is presupposition conflict in each of (2a-c).

(2) a. *Both students but John came.
b. *All six students but John came.
c. *The student but John came.

Finally, I will show that the analysis sheds light on the typology of exceptives. But and other than are both a spell-out of the subtraction operator. The dimension on which they differ is that the but allomorph can only occur with Exh, while other than can occur with or without Exh. The availability of a parse without Exh will account for the freer distribution of other than than but and its fewer entailments:

(3) Some student other than/*but John came.
(John could have come also, or not.)
Three students other than/*but John came.
(John could have come also, or not.)

I will motivate the claim that other than is nonetheless optionally strengthened by testing for a parse with Exh using Hurford’s disjunctions.

LFRG 10/23 - Yimei Xiang

Speaker: Yimei Xiang (Harvard)
Title: Mention-Some Readings of Indirect Questions: from Experiments to Formalizations
Time: Thursday, October 23, 5:30-7pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I look for experimental clues and propose a schematized analysis for the following three problems about mention-some (MS) readings of indirect questions. First, which type(s) of indirect questions admit MS readings? Second, is there any MS reading sensitive to false answers (FAs)? Third, are FAs equally bad? Based on the results of five TVJTs on ATurk and the reanalysis of Klinedinst & Rothschild’s (2011) raw data, I find that (i) MS readings are also supported by indirect MA-questions under predicates like tell; (ii) there is an MS reading sensitive to FAs, in parallel to the intermediately exhaustive reading; and (iii) FAs are not equally bad, in particular, over affirmation is relatively more acceptable than over deny in MA-questions, while over deny is relatively more acceptable than over affirmation in MS-questions.