The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 9th, 2015

Syntax Square 2/10 - Martin Walkow

Speaker: Martin Walkow (MIT)
Title: Locating variation in person restrictions: When they arise and how to get out of them
Date/Time:Tuesday, November 10, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Two analyses have emerged from work on variation in person based restrictions on agreement and cliticization. Cyclic Agree analyses (Bejar 2003,Bejar & Rezac 2009) locate the variation in (i) the feature specification of probes, (ii) the syntactic position of probes, and as a function thereof, (ii) the locality pattern of Agree. On the other hand, Multiple Agree analyses (Anagnostopoulou 2005, Nevins 2007, 2011) assume that both the specification of the probes and the locality pattern are constant, but that variation arises from the availability of different syntactic operations in different languages. Nevins (2007, 2011) in particular argues that the operation MultipleAgree is parameterized differently in different languages.

The two approaches have not been applied to the same data though. While Cyclic Agree has been applied to variation in person-restrictions between subjects and objects, Multiple Agree has been applied to restrictions on combinations of internal arguments known as the Person Case Constraint (PCC, Bonet 1994). This talk shows that Cyclic Agree can also account for the variation between two kinds of PCC, the Strong PCC (Bonet 1994) and the Ultrastrong PCC (Nevins 2007) via different specifications of the probe. Key to the analysis is the observation that the PCC can be understood as the lower direct object (DO) bleeding person Agree with the higher recipient, the reverse of what is typically assumed.

Cyclic Agree’s flexibility of deriving person restrictions in different syntactic structures also offers a better understanding of a second type of variation. Languages that show the same types of PCC can differ in the alternative strategies they use to realize person combinations banned by the PCC. This is demonstrated for Catalan (Bonet 1991) and Classical Arabic, which both show have strong and ultrastrong PCC speakers but differ in the which argument is targeted for alternative realization in PCC-violating person combinations. This difference will be derived from the different underlying structures in which the PCC arrises in the two languages.

MLK Leadership Awards for DeGraff & Napier

Congratulations to our faculty colleague Michel DeGraff and to linguistics major Alyssa Napier ‘16, 2015 faculty and undergraduate honorees of MIT’s Martin Luther King Leadership Award!!

Michel, as readers of Whamit know well, is a founder and leader of the MIT Haiti Initiative, which has been working to actively promote the use of Kreyòl in STEM education in Haiti.  Alyssa is a double major in Linguistics and Chemistry, a 2014 Burchard Scholar, and co-chair of the Black Women’s Alliance. Last November, Alyssa wrote an eloquent article in the Tech about Ferguson, the Newbury Street march, “Black Lives Matter”, MIT and much more. We encourage you to read it!

Congratulations to both!

LFRG 2/10 - Wataru Uegaki

Speaker: Wataru Uegaki (MIT)
Title: Interpreting questions under attitudes
Date: Tuesday, February 10th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

Since Karttunen (1977), interpretations of embedded questions have played a central role in the development of the semantics of questions. One of the important observations in this domain is that interpretations of embedded questions vary depending on the type of embedding attitude predicates. More specifically, cognitive attitude predicates like “know” prefer strongly-exhaustive interpretations of their interrogative complements (Groenendijk & Stokhof 1984) while emotive factives like “surprise” and “be happy” only allow weakly-exhaustive interpretations (Heim 1994, a.o). Also, Égré & Spector (2007, to appear) argue that the class of predicates that are veridical with respect to interrogative-embedding are precisely the class of predicate that are factive with respect to declarative-embedding. Despite the rich literature on embedded questions, however, there has been no account that succeeds in predicting both their exhaustivity and veridicality given the lexical semantics of embedding predicates. In this talk, I propose a theory of question-embedding that is properly constrained to achieve this prediction.

My analysis of exhaustivity is based on a reformulation of Klinedinst and Rothschild’s (2011) analysis of the so-called intermediate exhaustivity. Under this analysis, matrix exhaustification derives intermediate exhaustivity, but the exhaustification is vacuous when the embedding predicate is non-monotonic. Strong exhaustivity is argued to be pragmatically derived from intermediate exhaustivity. Thus, exhaustivity of embedded questions depends on the monotonicity property of embedding predicates, which I argue to be the relevant property distinguishing between cognitive attitude predicates and emotive factives.

Building on Uegaki (to appear), I further analyze declarative-embedding as a special, trivial, case of question-embedding. Under this analysis, factivity is derived as a limiting case of veridicality, providing a natural explanation for Égré & Spector’s generalization (cf. Theiler 2014). The analysis will then be extended to mention-some readings, including George’s (2011) “non-reducibility” puzzle. I will conclude by discussing several open questions concerning the syntax and semantics of attitude predicates and interrogatives in general.

News about the MIT-Haiti Initiative

In January, the 5th MIT-Haiti Workshop on Active Learning in STEM was held in Haiti. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Vijay Kumar (Senior Strategic Advisor, MIT Office of Digital Learning) and Professor Michel Degraff have been leading a team of MIT faculty and staff engaged in helping improve STEM education in Haiti through the use of open education resources and digital technology for active learning all in Haitian Creole. This is the first time ever that such resources and pedagogies are being produced and tested in Haitian Creole—Haiti’s national language—with the help of a valiant team of MIT educators and staff, alongside educators and administrators in Haiti. This 5th workshop was the most successful to date with some 80 participants, and it was co-hosted by Haiti’s Ministry of National Education.


You can see more photos of the workshop here.

There’s also a moving video of a group of Haitian artists donating to the MIT-Haiti Initiative a fresco that they painted during the workshop.

The slides that Michel used to introduce the workshop are available on his Facebook page. There’s an English version of these slides for a keynote speech Michel gave on January 4, 2015, for a Haitian Independence Day gala in Randolph, Massachusetts.

And here’s an article, in French, about the workshop.