The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 13th, 2015

LFRG 4/13 - Zuzanna Fuchs  

Speaker: Zuzanna Fuchs (Harvard)
Title: pro-drop in Coordinated-WH Questions: Further Challenges for Multidominance and Ellipsis
Time: Monday 4/13, 12-1:30
Place: 32-D831

Languages vary as to the freedom with which they coordinate WH-expressions in coordinated-WH questions (CWHs) like When and where is the party?, which differ from familiar multiple-WH questions in the that they contain the conjunction and between two WH-expressions and require a multiclausal analysis (although monoclausal analyses have been suggested (Kazenin 2000, Liptak 2011)). On one end of the spectrum, English-like languages are very limited in their CWHs, while on the other end, Polish and its relatives allow free WH-coordination in CWHs. There seems to be little consensus in the literature as to what the underlying structure of these constructions is, with the two most prominent analyses being ellipsis (Giannakidou & Merchant 1998, Tomaszewicz 2010) and multidominance (Gracanin-Yuksek 2007, 2009).

In this talk, I present ongoing work on what licenses CWHs and whether multidominance and ellipsis can account for these properties. In particular, I focus on the observation — based on comparing Polish, English, and Italian CWHs — that the availability of pro-drop and/or optional transitivity seems to correlate with the degree of freedom to which languages allow CWHs with argument WH-expressions: If an argument can be somehow null in the main clause (as pro or as the missing argument of an optionally transitive verb), it can appear as a WH-phrase in a CWH. Independent analyses of seeming pro-drop in Italian (Cardinaletti 1994, Brandi & Cordin 1989) and Slavic (Gribanova 2013) allow us to more precisely compare the two main approaches to CWH. I demonstrate that the English, Italian, and Polish facts introduce further challenges to multidominance (ex. violations of the Constraint on Sharing (Gracanin-Yuksek 2013) by pro and problems with WH extraction) and ellipsis (issues of parallelism and coindexation).


Phonology Circle 4/13 - Patrick Jones  

Speaker: Patrick Jones (Harvard)
Title: Underlying falling tones in Interlacustrine Bantu, and their implications for Meeussen’s rule
Date: Monday, April 13th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831

In this talk, I argue that in a number of Bantu languages spoken near Lake Victoria – namely Luganda, Shi, Kinande, Haya, and Runyankore – the basic underlying tone contrast is between a falling tone and no tone (i.e. H͡L vs. Ø), rather than the H vs. Ø contrast normally posited for other Bantu languages. Evidence for this comes from a range of different phenomena which require the presence of a L tone following a H tone. These include surface falling tones (Luganda, Shi, Kinande, Haya, Runyankore), downstep (Luganda, Shi), leftward H tone shift (Kinande), and the blocking of intonational H tones (Luganda, Kinande). All of these phenomena, I argue, may be viewed as consequences of different repairs of underlying H͡L.

Positing underlying H͡L requires that certain well known tonal processes be re-examined. In particular, Meeussen’s Rule – normally described as a process by which H lowers to L (or deletes entirely) after another H tone (H-H → H-L) – must be recast as a rule in which a falling tone simplifies to L either following another falling tone (H͡L-H͡L → H͡L-L) or simply following a L tone (L-H͡L → L-L) (Hyman and Katamba, 1993). I argue that this latter reformulation, rather than being an unwarranted complication of Meeussne’s Rule, actually produces a number of positive results, allowing us to explain cases of tonal lowering which are otherwise entirely mysterious. These results, which are entirely independent of the original motivations for underlying HL, provide strong additional support for it.


Syntax Square 4/14 - Athulya Aravind  

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Minimality and wh-licensing in Malayalam
Time: Tuesday 4/14, 1pm-2pm
Place: 32-D461

This talk discusses long-distance wh-licensing asymmetries in Malayalam, a wh-in-situ language. The licensing of a matrix scope taking, embedded wh-phrase depends on whether or not the clause containing it undergoes movement. I will argue that despite not involving two instances of movement, the configuration of interest is parallel to remnant movement. Since Müller (1996), it has been known that remnant movement is disallowed if the two movement steps are of the same type, an effect that has been argued to fall out from the Minimal Link Condition (e.g. Kitahara 1997). I show that a generalized minimality constraint on Agree can derive both the Malayalam wh-licensing patterns and the restriction on remnant movement. If the proposal is on the right track, the Malayalam data provide crucial evidence for the simple and intuitive generalization that all probe-goal relations, of which movement happens to be a special case, are subject to minimality conditions.

Ling Lunch 4/16 - Maria del Mar Bassa Vanrell (MIT/ UT Austin)  

Speaker: Maria del Mar Bassa Vanrell (MIT/ UT Austin)
Title: One or two UNTILs? The case of single-UNTIL languages
Time: Thurs 4/16, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Abstract: One or two UNTILs? The case of single-UNTIL languages


Colloquium 4/17 - Aditi Lahiri  

Speaker: Aditi Lahiri (University of Oxford)
Title: In support of asymmetric phonological representations
Date: Friday, April 17th
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

Word recognition has less impediments than one might expect although no word can ever be pronounced in an identical fashion even by the same speaker. I would like to defend our model, the Featurally Underspecified Lexicon (FUL), which claims that variation in speech can be resolved by assuming that the representation of words is phonologically sparse. The assumption is that privative underspecified feature representations, which can account for a number of asymmetries typical and pertinacious in synchronic and diachronic phonological systems, are also responsible for asymmetries at the onset of word recognition. The acoustic signal is converted into phonological features by roughly defined acoustic parameters which are then mapped on to the lexical representation using a three-way matching logic ranging from a perfect match, no-mismatch to mismatch along with a coherence metric which is used to evaluate the ‘strength’ of the matching features. The talk will present a phonological sketch of the model along with evidence from a series of psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic experiments from German, English and Bengali. .

Animated video about Chomsky on BBC Radio 4  

Gillian Anderson (Agent Scully, now with an English accent) explains Noam Chomsky in an excellent short animated video from BBC Radio 4.


News from Michel DeGraff  

Michel DeGraff recently participated to two events related to his role as a socially and politically committed linguist:


MIT at ECO-5  

ECO-5 was held at Harvard on Saturday. Two graduate students from MIT gave talks: