The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 30th, 2015

LFRG 3/30 - Yimei Xiang

Speaker: Yimei Xiang (Harvard)
Title: Number-marking in wh-questions: Uniqueness and mention-some
Time: Monday, 3/30, 12-1:30
Place: 32-D831
Abstract: plq_lfrg_abstract

Phonology Circle 3/30 - Juliet Stanton

Speaker: Juliet Stanton (MIT)
Title: Environmental shielding is contrast preservation
Date: Monday, March 30th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831

The term “environmental shielding” refers to a class of processes where the phonetic realization of a nasal stop depends on its vocalic context. In Kaiwá (Tupí; Bridgeman 1961), for example, plain nasal stops are realized as prenasalized stops before oral vowels (i.e. /ma/ > [mba]) but as nasal stops before nasal vowels (i.e. /mã/ > [mã]). Herbert (1986:199) claims that the purpose of shielding is to protect a contrast between oral and nasal vowels. If Kaiwá /ma/ were realized as [ma], without the intervening [b], [a] would likely carry some degree of perseveratory nasal coarticulation and be less distinct from its nasal counterpart /ã/ as a result.

This paper provides several arguments that Herbert’s position is correct – that environmental shielding is contrast preservation, and that any successful analysis of shielding must make explicit reference to contrast. Results from a survey of over 150 languages reveal a stark asymmetry in the typology of shielding: all languages that exhibit shielding also license a contrast in vocalic nasality (see also Herbert 1986:219). In addition, further asymmetries within the typology mirror known cross-linguistic asymmetries in the direction and extent of nasal coarticulation. I propose an analysis referencing auditory factors that predicts these asymmetries, and show that its broader predictions, though not yet fully investigated, appear to be on the right track.

Syntax Square 3/31 - Elise Newman

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Extended EPP: A New Approach to English Auxiliaries and Sentential Negation
Time: Tuesday, March 31, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D461

Abstract: Extended EPP: A New Approach to English Auxiliaries and Sentential Negation

Ling Lunch 4/2 - Cassandra Chapman

Speaker: Cassandra Chapman (McMaster University/ MIT)
Title: Restricting the antecedent domain using focus: New evidence from English DPs
Time: Thurs 4/2, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

In this talk, I investigate a previously overlooked use of the English morphological form one, which occurs with the definite determiner and an overt noun, i.e. “the one dress”. I show that these constructions have a distinct interpretation from numeral “one” constructions and definite descriptions. Similarly to a subset of definite descriptions, the referent in “the one” N constructions must have an antecedent in the context. However, they differ from definite descriptions because the context cannot restrict the domain to a set that contains only one individual. I also show that in “the one” N constructions, either “one” or a modifier, e.g. “blue”, must be Focus-marked.

I argue that the English data provide empirical support for a covert restrictor variable, R (Bartošová, accepted; von Fintel and Heim, 2011), in the DP structure. I propose that R ensures that there is a salient antecedent in the common ground, in a similar way to Rooth’s ~ operator. Unlike Rooth’s ~ operator, which requires a propositional antecedent, I argue that R is of a flexible semantic type (cf. Schwarzschild 1999’s compositional notion of givenness). Specifically, I propose that R adjoins to Focus-marked maximal projections, and that its type depends on the semantic type of its sister. I argue that the introduction of a covert restrictor variable into the structure of English DPs not only allows us to provide a unified analysis of the different anaphoric readings of one but that it may also shed light on how we might understand Rooth’s ~ operator, and how we might relate Rooth’s theory of focus to Schwarzschild’s theory of givenness.

Miyagawa’s new paper in Frontiers in Psychology

A new article co-authored by Shigeru Miyagawa was published last week in Frontiers in Psychology, “The precedence of syntax in the rapid emergence of human language in evolution as defined by the integration hypothesis” (Vitor Nóbrega and Shigeru Miyagawa).

MIT Linguists at WCCFL 33

Four of our students traveled to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver to present talks at the 33rd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (a.k.a. WCCFL 33):

Isaac Gould: Learning from ambiguous input via parameter interaction (or lack thereof)

Nicholas Longenbaugh, with Bradley Larson (Harvard) and Maria Polinsky (Harvard): Subject/Object Parity in Niuean and the Labeling Algorithm

Lilla Magyar: Are universal markedness hierarchies learnable from the lexicon? The case of gemination in Hungarian

Coppe van Urk: Multiple spell-out and the realization of pronouns

— where they were joined by two of our very recent PhDs, also presenting papers:

Claire Halpert (PhD 2012) (Minnesota): Raising Parameters

Bronwyn Bjorkman (PhD 2011) (U of Toronto) and Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen). Upward Agree is Superior

Not to mention keynote speaker and distinguished alum Kyle Johnson (PhD 1985) from UMass Amherst, and former visitor Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen) (who presented a poster arguing, against all odds, that some of Jonah Katz (Phd 2010) and David Pesetsky’s ideas about language and music are wrong). Plus current visitor Lena Karvovskaya (Leiden) and fondly remembered former postdoc Eric Schoorlemer (Leiden), who presented a poster about ““The possessor that should have stayed close to home, but ran away”.

Special Tuesday afternoon talk: Jan-Wouter Zwart

Speaker: Jan-Wouter Zwart (Groningen)
Title: Revisiting complementizer agreement
Date: Tuesday, March 31
Time: 5:30-7:00
Place: 32D-461

In this talk I intend to return to the phenomenon of complementizer agreement as found in (dialects of) Dutch, Frisian and German, one of the research topics during my stay at MIT in 1991. This phenomenon played an important role in early minimalist analyses of verb movement and subject-verb agreement and has since gained added significance as providing evidence for the presence of (uninterpretable, unvalued) phi-features in C, consistent with the idea that even these inflectional features, typically associated with T (or with Agr in earlier minimalism), really derive from the phase head C. I argue, however, that complementizer agreement has many peculiar properties that suggest that its origin lies elsewhere, namely in the analogical generalization of an auxiliary-cum-weak subject pronoun pattern (as argued earlier by Goeman 1980). If we look at the phenomena in detail, it appears that the morphological and distributional properties of complementizer agreement need to refer to interface processes outside of narrow syntax, suggesting that the phenomenon cannot serve as a model for core cases of syntactic agreement, currently described in terms of Agree. If so, not all agreement phenomena can be reduced to the agency of unvalued features probing for a goal with valued counterparts to those features. I will also reflect on the consequences of this for the idea that the features relevant to subject-verb agreement derive from the phase head C, suggesting instead that these core cases of agreement be described in terms of the minimally needed structure building mechanism of narrow syntax, and the asymmetric relations of dependency that it yields.

MIT linguists@PLC 39

The 39th Annual Penn Linguistics Conference took place March 20-22, 2015 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

  • Fifth-year student Ayaka Sugawara and Negin Ilkhanipour (University of Tehran) presented: On the Semantics and Syntax of Persian ‘become’.
  • Third-year student Aron Hirsch presented: An Unexceptional Semantics for Expressions of Exception.