The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 23rd, 2015

LingLunch 2/26 - Byron Ahn

Speaker: Byron Ahn (Boston University)
Title: Giving Reflexivity a Voice
Time: Thurs 2/26, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Reflexive anaphora is not a homogeneous category whose members are licensed in a single uniform way. This talk highlights the formal properties of Local Subject-Oriented Reflexivity (LSOR), in which a reflexive anaphor’s antecedent must be the local subject. In languages across the world, LSOR is subject to a number of syntactic constraints, and is expressed differently from other types of reflexivity.

I show that the attested range of morphosyntactic configurations for LSOR arise from the same basic structural source. In particular, LSOR derivations involve two atoms of reflexivity:

(i) a semantic reflexivizer (associated with a unique grammatical Voice head, REFL), and
(ii) a reflexive anaphor which syntactic movement (triggered by that same REFL Voice)

Moreover, the same two atoms are reflexivity are active in English. For this reason, English also exhibits the same LSOR/non-LSOR split, though the difference manifests in the prosodic component: LSOR anaphors in English do not bear phrasal stress (while non-LSOR anaphors do). This is derived with a Nuclear Stress Rule based upon syntactic hierarchy (and not linearization) that is couched in a multiple spell-out architecture of grammar (e.g., Cinque 1993 and Zubizarreta 1998).

Local Subject-Oriented Reflexivity is implicated as a central aspect of reflexivity, across languages, and when such a distinction is not entirely (morphologically) apparent, closer investigation can elucidate it. Finally, LSOR, its grammatical properties, as well as its possible morphosyntactic instantiations, simply fall out from the general architecture of Language.

LFRG 2/23 - Ayaka Sugawara

Speaker: Ayaka Sugawara
Time: Monday 2/23, 12-1:30pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Acquisition of quantifier scope: Evidence from English Rise-Fall-Rise

Since Musolino (1998), many studies have reported that children trend to interpret sentences such as in (1a) to mean the LF illustrated in (1b), not the LF in (1c), which adults do not have trouble accessing (Musolino et al. 2000, Musolino & Lidz 2006, Viau et al. 2010, a.o.).

(1) a. Every house didn’t jump over the fence.
b. For every horse x, x did not jump over the fence.
c. It is not the case that for every house x, x jumped over the fence.

Meanwhile, at least since Jespersen (1933) it has been pointed out that different prosodic contours will/can differentiate readings in such sentences (Jackendoff 1972, Büring 1997, 2003, Constant 2012, 2014 a.o.; Cf. Ward and Hirschberg 1985). Specifically, sentences with L+H* on the Contrastive Topic (ALL in (2b)) and L-H% on the IntP (sentence-final in (2b)) will only have the reading where negation takes scope over the universal quantifier. (I will refer to the contour for (2b) as Rise-Fall-Rise, following Constant 2012.)

(2) a. All my friends didn’t come.
b. ALL my friends didn’t come…

In this experiment with children (Picture-selection Task), I investigate whether children are sensitive to the difference in prosody that conveys different readings. The results show that children are indeed sensitive - with “Falling” contour where the sentence-final L-H% is not observed, children picked pictures with “not>all (and some)” over “all>not” pictures 30% of the time, on the other hand with “Rise-Fall-Rise” contour, children picked “not>all (and some)” pictures over “all>not” pictures 70% of the time.

Phonology Circle 2/23 - Discussion of the Agreement by Correspondence model

Date: Monday, February 23th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D461

In preparation for Gunnar Hansson’s colloquium talk, third-year student Juliet Stanton will lead a discussion of the basics of the Agreement by Correspondence model, and how it can be extended to account for dissimilation.

Syntax Square 2/24 - Lotte Hendricks

Speaker: Lotte Hendricks (Meertens Instituut)
Title: Knowledge of verb clusters
Date/Time:Tuesday, Febrary 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Speakers are able to judge syntactic constructions that are not part of their own language variety. When they are asked to rank a number of variants of such a construction on a scale, this ranking turns out to be parallel to the geographic frequency distribution of these variants. We consider three possible explanations for this striking fact, based on (i) processing, (ii) familiarity and (iii) the syntactic system. We argue that only the third option can explain the behavior of the speakers.

We discuss two aspects of verb clusters that exhibit variation in the Dutch dialects: the order of the verbs in the cluster and interruption of the verb cluster by non-verbal material.

There is much variation in the order of the verbs in the cluster in (1); (cf. Barbiers 2005; SAND Volume II, Barbiers et al. 2008). While all varieties of Dutch have verb cluster constructions, we find a clear geographic distribution of different orderings across the language area, with differences in frequency of occurrence.

Verb cluster interruption shows a lot of geographical variation too, here with respect to the type of constituent that can interrupt the cluster, varying from particles (moet op-bellen ‘must up-call’) to various types of arguments (moet een schuur bouwen ‘must a barn built’) and adverbs (moet vroeg opstaan ‘must early rise’) (cf. SAND Volume II). Two factors turn out to be relevant, the complexity of the interrupting constituent and the position in the syntactic hierarchy (in the sense of Cinque 1999) where this element is base-generated (Hendriks 2014).

The clear geographic distribution of the various variants of these two constructions makes it possible to investigate if speakers have intuitions on variants that occur in language varieties different from their own.

We find a high degree of correspondence between the speakers’ rankings and the number of locations in the Dutch language area that have a particular construction. (i) verb cluster orders that are more frequent amongst the varieties of Dutch are ranked higher and (ii) speakers in areas where verb cluster interruptions are only used sporadically and with many restrictions, nevertheless have intuitions that correspond to the observed syntactic patterns in the Flemish varieties of Dutch.

We demonstrate that processing preferences and familiarity with the phenomenon cannot account for the observed correspondence between speakers’ intuitions of a construction and that constructions’ geographic distribution. Potentially, the intuitions follow from properties of the grammatical system.

Colloquium 2/27 - Gunnar Hansson

Speaker: Gunnar Hansson (UBC)
Title: Learning Long-Distance Phonotactics: Dissimilation, Assimilation and Correspondence
Date: Friday, February 27th
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

In current phonological theory, the leading constraint-based approach to modelling long-distance consonant assimilation is Agreement by Correspondence (ABC; Walker 2000, Hansson 2001/2010, Rose & Walker 2004). In the ABC model, long-distance agreement is dependent on an abstract, and in principle covert, correspondence relation that carves up the surface string into sets of corresponding segments (equivalence classes) in ways negotiated by ranked and violable constraints. Some of these (CORR constraints) demand that similar segments stand in correspondence, while others (CC-Limiter constraints) can curtail correspondence by demanding that pairs of correspondents obey certain criteria. However, there is reason for skepticism as to whether the formal machinery of the ABC model has adequate empirical support, in particular its fundamental notion that similarity-based agreement is a mediated effect (similarity-based correspondence; correspondence-based agreement). The factorial typology of ABC generates many unattested patterns that are highly suspect, while other attested and formally simple patterns become hard to capture; various proposed amendments merely highlight underlying flaws in the overall architecture. Recently the implications of the ABC model for consonant dissimilation have been explored in detail by Bennett (2013, 2014), who identifies a number of “mismatch predictions” whereby the typologies of dissimilation and harmony should be opposites of one another. I will report on a series of artificial grammar learning experiments (in collaboration with Kevin McMullin) which investigate how inductive biases and heuristics affect the learning of nonadjacent phonotactic dependencies between consonants. The central question is what implicational relationships, if any, learners assume to hold between “transvocalic” consonant pairs (…CVC…) and pairs separated by greater distance. Some of these experiments follow a poverty-of-stimulus paradigm, testing how learners generalize in the absence of overt evidence (cf. Wilson 2006, Finley & Badecker 2009, Finley 2011, 2012), whereas others are designed to provide explicit evidence for patterns of questionable status (cf. Lai 2012, White 2014). The findings suggest that, with respect to the hypothesis space, learners treat dissimilatory dependencies and assimilatory dependencies (harmony) equivalently, in ways that run counter to predictions of the ABC model. I will outline future studies that aim to clarify the formal nature of “transvocalic” locality: whether the relevant criterion is syllable-adjacency (Odden 1994, Rose & Walker 2004, Bennett 2013) or adjacency on a consonantal tier (Hansson 2010, McMullin & Hansson 2014).

GLOW and CLS 2015

Congratulations to the students who have been accepted to give talks or present posters at GLOW 38 and CLS 51 in April!


  • Third year student Lilla Magyar: The role of universal markedness in Hungarian gemination processes
  • Third year student Chris O’Brien: How to get off an island
  • Third year student Juliet Stanton: The learnability filter and its role in the comparison of metrical theories (accepted for the phonology workshop, titled ”The implications of Computation and Learnability for Phonological Theory”)
  • Third year student Benjamin Storme: Aspectual distinctions in the present tense in Romance and cross-linguistically


  • Third year students Juliet Stanton and Sam Zukoff: Prosodic effects of segmental correspondence
  • Second year student Michelle Yuan: Case competition and case domains: Evidence from Yimas

Two recent alumni, now at McGill, will also give talks at these conferences:

  • Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014) will give a talk at GLOW: Intervention everywhere!
  • Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014) and Mitcho Erlewine (PhD 2014) will give a joint talk at CLS: Relative pronoun pied-piping, the structure of which informs the analysis of relative clauses