The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 16th, 2015

Syntax Square 2/17 -Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Two tiers of case assignment in Yimas
Date/Time:Tuesday, November 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831 (note exceptional location!)

Under the Marantzian (1991) model of case assignment, dependent case is assigned configurationally and on the basis of competition. In this talk, I examine the case and agreement system of Yimas (Lower Sepik; Papua New Guinea; data from Foley 1991) and argue that, while Yimas supports the fundamentals of this system, it also necessitates an extension of it. In Yimas, ERG and DAT behave like dependent cases, realized only in the presence of a case competitor. However, dependent case is determined over a series of optionally-present verbal agreement clitics, not over the arguments they cross-reference (i.e. clitics are case competitors for other clitics). The realization of dependent case thus hinges on the number of clitics hosted by the verb, not the number of arguments present in the syntax. The puzzle that this talk addresses is how dependent case comes to be realized over the clitics.

I argue that this can be resolved under a two-tiered system of case assignment. First, I show that there is reason to posit that the overt nominals are being assigned abstract case (NOM for subjects and ACC for objects) in the syntax, though this is obfuscated by the zero spell-out of both NOM and ACC (see Legate 2008 on ABS=DEF languages). The doubled clitics encode both the phi-features and abstract case features of their associated arguments. In the morphological component, dependent case realization is calculated over the series of verbal clitics; subject clitics are ERG in the presence of a case competitor and NOM (=ABS) otherwise, while object clitics are DAT in the presence of a case competitor and ACC (=ABS) otherwise.


Phonology Circle 2/17 - Donca Steriade

Speaker: Donca Steriade (MIT)
Title: The Tribrach Law
Date: Tuesday, February 17th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D461

In a 1884 paper, Saussure sketched the evidence for a rhythmic constraint operating in prehistoric Greek, whose effect was to eliminate non-final sequences of three light syllables. Saussure called it la loi du tribraque, the tribrach law (abbbrev. TL; tribrach = three lights). The TL is interesting in several ways. It’s typologically unusual. It employs, in Greek, a wide range of solutions, from vowel lengthening to syncope, to ineffability and violation of morphological exponence constraints. It is a rhythmic phenomenon that’s easier to interpret in a foot–free theory of metrical prominence, than in a foot-based one. Finally, a closer look at the evidence shows that the TL was still alive in 5th cent. Attic, but morphologically limited: Saussure was thinking as a neogrammarian when he denied TL’s survival in historical Greek. Once we realize that TL continues to operate in historical times, it turns into the most reliable evidence available to determine the weight of different consonant clusters in Greek. This has consequences for the analysis of reduplication and for our understanding of the ways in which weight is computed.


Ling Lunch 2/19 - Marie-Christine Meyer

Speaker: Marie-Christine Meyer (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Title: Redundancy and Embedded Exhaustification
Time: Thurs 2/19, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

In this talk we are going to look at some of the most recent developments in the area of embedded exhaustification, by which I mean the insertion of a grammatical operator exh as one possible mechanism to derive embedded implicatures (see e.g. Sauerland 2010, 2012 for others). As recently as 2009 (Geurts&Pouscoulos), the mere existence of embedded implicatures has been disputed. On the other hand, the last decade has seen various successful applications of (embedded) exhaustification, ranging from polarity sensitivity (Chierchia 2004 et seq.) and Free Choice (Fox 2007, Meyer 2014b) to surface redundant disjunctions (Chierchia,Fox&Spector 2012, Gajewski&Sharvit 2012,Meyer 2014a, Mayr&Romoli 2014). However, these contributions concentrate on what embedded exhaustification can do, and background the old question of what it can not do, and why not (e.g. Horn 1989). I propose that, for starters, embedded exhaustification cannot violate the Gricean maxim of Brevity. Departing from a formalization of this idea, we will see how it addresses Horn’s old question and related challenges currently discussed (Fox&Spector 2014, Spector 2014): What happens in downward-entailing environments? — e.g., Mary didn’t talk to Bill or Sue (*or both) Why are some, but not all logically redundant disjuncts acceptable? — e.g., Mary either studied physics, or (she didn’t and) she studied math. Why do certain embedded implicatures have to be marked phonologically? — e.g., Mary didn’t study math OR physics.


Tenure for Joey Sabbagh

We are celebrating the great news that our distinguished alum Joey Sabbagh (PhD 2005) has been officially recommended for promotion to Associate Professor with Tenure at the University of Texas Arlington. Joey wrote his dissertation on Non-verbal argument structure: evidence from Tagalog and is the author of numerous papers about Tagalog syntax. But he is also well-known for his ground-breaking work on the construction known as Right Node Raising, which was, as it happens, instantiated quite beautifully in the letter that he received yesterday with the great news:

I am happy to inform you that [the University Tenure and Promotion Committee voted to approve __], and [President Karbhari will recommend to UT System __] [that you be granted tenure and promoted to associate professor].”



van Urk & Richards in Linguistic Inquiry

Hot off the press, the latest issue of Linguistic Inquiry includes a syntax paper jointly authored by fifth-year student Coppe van Urk and by Norvin Richards: “Two Components of Long-distance Extraction: Successive Cyclicity in Dinka”. Congratulations, Coppe and Norvin!

Here’s the abstract: “This article presents novel data from the Nilotic language Dinka, in which the syntax of successive-cyclic movement is remarkably transparent. We show that Dinka provides strong support for the view that long-distance extraction proceeds through the edge of every verb phrase and every clause on the path of movement (Chomsky 1986, 2000, 2001, 2008). In addition, long-distance dependencies in Dinka offer evidence that extraction from a CP requires agreement between v and the CP that is extracted from (Rackowski and Richards 2005, Den Dikken 2009b, 2012a,b). The claim that both of these components constrain long-distance movement is important, as much contemporary work on extraction incorporates only one of them. To accommodate this conclusion, we propose a modification of Rackowski and Richards 2005, in which both intermediate movement and Agree relations between phase heads are necessary steps in establishing a long-distance dependency.”


Colloquium 2/20 - Sigrid Beck (Tübingen)

Speaker: Sigrid Beck (Tübingen)
Title: Readings of ‘noch’ (still)
Date: Friday, February 20th
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

The talk develops an analysis of the particle ‘noch’, the German counterpart of ‘still’. These particles can give rise to a lot of different readings, making it hard to figure out their semantic contribution (e.g. ‘Washington still wore a wig’). The literature has analysed ‘noch/still’ as focus sensitive and ambiguous. I suggest that it is not focus sensitive, and I try to propose just one lexical entry to account for the different readings that sentences with ‘noch/still’ can have.