The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 27th, 2015

Syntax Square 4/28 - Ted Levin  

Speaker: Ted Levin (MIT)
Title: The Case Filter is Real
Date: Tuesday, April 28/br> Time: 1:00-2:00pm
Place: 32D-461

Case Theory holds that there is a syntactic property of nominals, Case, that captures aspects of their distribution and form that do not otherwise follow from their PF or LF content (Chomsky 1981, 1986; Chomsky & Lasnik 1995; Lasnik 2008). Nominals that do not receive Case in the course of the derivation violate the Case Filter, yielding ungrammaticality. In the Agree framework, Case is (commonly) held to be feature-valuation and deletion via Agree to satisfy Full Interpretation of the nominal at LF and to give the nominal case morphology at PF (Chomsky 2000, 2001, 2008). However, current thinking has shifted much of the work earlier done by Case to the needs of functional heads, such as [uPhi], reducing the role of Case in DP-licensing. Various accounts have suggested that Case serves solely as a condition on Agree or Move (e.g. Chomsky 2000, 2001), arises ”for free” in the syntax by virtue of [uCase] being able to survive the derivation (e.g.Preminger 2011, 2014), or might be eliminated entirely from syntax (e.g. Marantz 2000, McFadden 2004, Bobaljik 2008, Sigurdsson 2009).

In this talk, I argue that consideration of the needs of nominals cannot be completed eliminated from the calculation of well-formed derivations. I show that in the absence of [uCase], nominals must satisfy alternative distributional requirements, indicative of an alternative licensing strategy that satisfies the Case Filter and cross-cuts any of the implementations of Case above. Specifically, in two disparate environments . pseudo noun incorporated objects and some Austronesian in-situ subjects . the nominal head must display strict linear-adjacency with the verbal head. This need of nominals distinguishes well- and ill-formed derivations. Furthermore, I argue that, because the head-head adjacency requirement is sensitive to linear, not hierarchical, adjacency, the Case Filter must be operative at PF (e.g. Chomsky 1980, Lasnik 2008).


LFRG 4/27 - Leon Bergen  

Speaker: Leon Bergen (MIT)
Time: Monday 4/27, 12-1:30
Place: 32-D808
Title: The strategic use of noise in pragmatic reasoning

We combine two recent probabilistic approaches to natural language understanding, exploring the formal pragmatics of communication on a noisy channel. We first extend a model of rational communication between a speaker and listener, to allow for the possibility that messages are corrupted by noise. A further extension of the model, which allows the speaker to intentionally reduce the noise rate on a word, is used to model prosodic emphasis. We show that the model derives several well-known interpretive effects associated with prosodic emphasis, including exhaustification, question-and-answer pairing, and the interaction between stress and focus-sensitive adverbs. We also use this model to provide a simplified semantics for even. Our results show that nominal amounts of actual noise can be leveraged for communicative purposes.

Ling Lunch 4/30 - Lena Karvovskaya  

Speaker: Lena Karvovskaya (MIT/Universiteit Leiden)
Title: Complex relatives in Russian
Time: Thurs 4/30, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

I will discuss the intensifier “sam” in Russian (which is similar to English “himself” in its “emphatic reflexive” function). The intensifier “sam” can combine with a reflexive pronoun. Two agreement patterns are possible in this case, “sam” can either agree in case with the internal argument (the reflexive) or it can agree in case with the external argument (the subject). The second agreement pattern is puzzling, because the intensifier is not a part of the subject constituent.

I will present the properties that correspond to each of the agreement patterns and argue that we are dealing with two different constructions: in one case the intensifier is a modifier of the reflexive, in the other case it adjoins to the vP and receive its case marking as the result of agreement with the subject.


Colloquium 5/1 - Nina Topintzi  

Speaker: Nina Topintzi (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki)
Title: Edge Geminates: typology and asymmetries*
Date: Friday, May 1st
Time: 3:30-5:00p
Place: 32-141

Edge geminates (EG) are a different species from intervocalic geminates. They are rarer and structurally different; they emerge – at least superficially – as tautosyllabic within an onset (word-initial geminate) or coda (word-final geminate), as opposed to the typically heterosyllabic intervocalic geminates. In this paper, I present a typology of the weight properties of EGs and make observations that may predict whether an EG patterns as heavy or light. For the latter part, I consider the relationship between EGs and edge consonant clusters in the language under consideration and investigate the existence of correlations. For example, an initial finding suggests that if EGs are unique in a language, i.e. the language possesses no edge clusters, then the EG is more likely to pattern as moraic (cf. Trukese and Pattani Malay in initial position and Hadhrami Arabic finally). Additionally, when edge clusters do arise, then the EG will tend to pattern the same way as the cluster with respect to weight. Finally, I discuss exceptions to this and speculate on the reasons the typology is shaped the way it is.

*Based on joint work with Stuart Davis (Indiana University)


Chomsky and Miyagawa talking about animal communication for Nature  

Nature interviews Chomsky and Miyagawa for a program on primate communication and human language. The interview is available on Nature Podcast.


Laurent Lamothe talks about the MIT-Haiti Initiative  

Laurent Lamothe (Former Prime Minister of Haiti, 2012-2014) at MIT Sloan School of Management on April 13, 2015, discussing how the MIT-Haiti Initiative is opening up access to quality education in Haiti—-thus, dismantling Haiti’s linguistic apartheid and its barriers against development. The video can be watched here.


Newman ‘16 @ undergraduate linguistics conferences  

Undergraduate linguistics & physics major Elise Newman (‘16) has been linguistically busy these last two weekends. She presented her paper “Extended EPP: A New Approach to English Auxiliaries and Sentential Negation” as a poster at the 9th Annual Cornell Undergraduate Linguistics Colloquium on the weekend on April 18, and as a talk last weekend at the 2015 Annual Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Colloquium


MIT linguists @ CLS 51  

The 51th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society was held this week end at the University of Chicago this weekend (April 23-25). The program included talks by:

  • 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
  • Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014) and Mitcho Erlewine (PhD 2014), currently postdocs at McGill, gave a joint talk: Relative pronoun pied-piping, the structure of which informs the analysis of relative clauses

A picture of Juliet Stanton and Sam Zukoff’s presentation:


A picture of Michelle Yuan’s presentation:


credit: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (mitcho)