The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 3rd, 2014

LFRG 11/6 - Loes Koring

Speaker: Loes Koring (Utrecht)
Title: The semantics and acquisition of non-embedding reportatives
Time: Thursday, November 6, 5:30-7
Place: 32-D461

Two seemingly similar Dutch evidential raising verbs, schijnen and lijken, have been shown to differ in their distribution (Haegeman 2006). Although they can both be translated to ‘seem’ in English, they do differ in meaning (van Bruggen 1980, Vliegen 2011). Schijnen means that the speaker has indirect reported evidence for the proposition (Vliegen 2011, cf. De Haan 1999); whereas lijken means that the speaker has some type of direct evidence for the proposition, but the evidence is unclear (van Bruggen 1980). Interestingly, whereas lijken can be embedded under modals, negation, and questions for instance, schijnen cannot. One goal of this talk is to identify a semantic property that is responsible for the restrictions in distribution reportative schijnen shows. The claim is that schijnen is restricted in evaluation to the here and now of the speaker (i.e. it is subjective) and as such it cannot occur in nonveridical contexts (cf. Giannakidou 2011). Crucially, the difference in semantics between schijnen and lijken does not only affect their distribution, but also their acquisition and processing. As a secondary goal of this talk, we will look at the effect of the extra semantic computation in acquisition and processing.

Pumpkin carving session

Nor snow nor rain nor heat nor NELS can stay these pumpkins from the swift completion of their appointed carvings [e].

Some of the results:


Irene’s birthday

Last week, we celebrated Irene Heim’s 60th birthday. On this occasion, a Festschrift was offered to Irene by some MIT students, faculty and alumni to honor her great contribution to the field of formal semantics. Happy birthday, Irene!

Colloquium 11/7 - Klaus Abels

Speaker: Klaus Abels (UCL)
Title: Guess what else!
Date: Friday, November 7th
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

Ross’s seminal paper on sluicing, that is, elliptical wh-questions of the type in (1), contains two generalizations that have driven analyses of sluicing in radically different directions.

(1) Somebody just left. - Guess who!

On the one hand, Ross observes that, at least in languages where this is directly observable, the wh-phrase in the elliptical question must bear the same case as its perceived correlate in the antecedent sentence, as in the German example in (2).

(2) Er hat jemandem geholfen, aber er verrät nicht {wem | *wen | *wer}.
he has someone.dat helped but he divulges not who.dat | who.acc | who.nom}
‘He helped someone but he won’t divulge who.’

On the other hand, sluicing ameliorates island constraints, as seen in the contrast between the acceptable (3) and the ungrammatical full version (4).

(3) They want to hire someone who speaks a Balkan language, but I don’t know which.
(4) *They want to hire someone who speaks a Balkan language, but I don’t know which Balkan language they want to hire someone who speaks.

The case matching effect in (2) is often taken as a straightforward argument for the presence of syntactic structure at the ellipsis site which is (nearly) identical to the syntactic structure of the antecedent. The island amelioration effect seen in (3) suggests the exact opposite.

In the first part of this talk, I will report on joint work with Gary Thoms. In this work, we use contrast sluices in languages with resumptive pronouns as a diagnostic tool. Contrast sluices are examples like (5), where the correlate in the antecedent clause is definite and the sluice asks about the identity of a different relevant entity.

(5) He gave the car to his son and guess what else!

The cross-linguistic distribution of island repair in contrast sluices strongly suggests that sluicing does not literally repair island effects. It also strongly suggests that ellipsis identity for sluicing in general cannot be understood as strict syntactic identity.

This conclusion calls for a careful evaluation of the case-matching effect, a task that will be taken up in the second part of the talk. Finally, a possible way forward will be suggested based on Fox and Katzir’s structural theory of focus alternatives.


NELS 45 was held at MIT over the week end and it was a success! The following MIT students and faculty gave talks or presented posters:

A lot of MIT alumni were present:

A picture of Mitcho’s poster presentation:

Mitcho's poster presentation

Syntax Square 11/4 - Rebecca Woods

Speaker: Rebecca Woods (University of York/UMass Amherst)
Title: Embedded Inverted Interrogatives as Embedded Speech Acts
Date/Time:Tuesday, November 4, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: See attachment SyntaxSquare abstract

Ling-Lunch 11/6 - Christiana Christodoulou

Speaker: Christiana Christodoulou (MIT Brain & Cognitive Sciences/University of Cyprus)
Title: Towards a Unified Analysis of the Linguistic Development of Down Syndrome
Date/Time:Thursday, Nov. 6, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

Previous studies on the linguistic development of individuals diagnosed with Down Syndrome (DS) report both phonetic/phonological as well as morphosyntactic impairment. To date, there has not been any research on the effects of phonetic/phonological restrictions on inflectional marking, nor a theoretical analysis of the distinct performance of individuals with DS. Cypriot Greek individuals with DS exhibit distinct articulation and phonological difficulties that affect the production of inflectional marking. Once those are factored out, results reveal high accuracy rates (over 95%) with aspect, tense, person, number and case. In this talk I deal with the small residue of differences, which were morphosyntactically conditioned, and argue that the use of alternative forms exhibit a clear preference for the default value of each inflectional feature. I provide a unified analysis couched within the Distributed Morphology framework, covering both morphosyntactic as well as phonological differences. I suggest that failure to use the targeted form and the consistency in using default values derives from failure of the Subset Principle to fully apply.

Phonology Circle 11/3 - no meeting this week

There is no Phonology Circle meeting this week. The next meeting will be on November 24.