The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 11th, 2015

Phonology Circle 5/11 - Joan Mascaró

Speaker: Joan Mascaró (UAB)
Title: Phase impenetrability in phonology
Date: Monday, May 11th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831

There are several proposal that entertain the idea that the phase impenetrability condition, PIC (Chomsky, 2000, 2001) also applies to the phonological computation (Phase Impenetrability in Phonology, PIP). I will give an overview of these poposals and discuss some of them (e.g. D’Alessandro and Scheer to appear, Samuels 2009, 2011). I will also present a set of data from phonologically conditioned allomorph selection that show that a meaningful version of the PIP is difficult to maintain.

LFRG 5/13 - Alexandre Cremers

Speaker: Alexandre Cremers (ENS, LSCP)
Time: Wednesday 5/13, 12-1:30
Place: ***TBA***
Title: Plurality effects with embedded questions and exhaustive readings.

Questions are known to behave like plural nouns. Most famously, Berman (1991) showed that embedded questions can be modified by adverbs of quantity such as ‘mostly’ or ‘in part’ (quantificational variability effect). They also give rise to cumulative readings (Lahiri, 2002), and homogeneity effects (observed but never implemented). Recently, it has also been shown that questions embedded under verbs like ‘know’ are ambiguous between weak, strong and intermediate readings. This ambiguity is usually seen as an orthogonal issue, and most recent literature on the various levels of exhaustivity completely ignores plurality effects. Here I show how an updated version of Lahiri’s (2002) proposal can be combined with ideas from Klinedinst & Rothschild (2011) to yield a theory of strong and intermediate readings compatible with recent theories of plurality effects of definite plurals (e.g., homogeneity, cumulative readings). Along the way, we may discuss a few puzzles such as mention-some questions, emotive-factive verbs (‘surprise’) and the reason why ‘believe’ does not (usually) embed questions.


Fourth-year students Snejana Iovtcheva and Despina Oikonomou presented this weekend a paper entitled Island Obviation in Fragment Answers: Evidence from Bulgarian li-questions at FASL (Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics) 24 at NYU. Congratulations!

A message from Michel DeGraff


The MIT-Haiti Initiative has produced a 3-minute video on our efforts to promote active learning of STEM in Haiti. This video is part of an online showcase organized by the National Science Foundation. WHAMIT readers can help MIT and Haiti win a “Public Choice” award by voting for this video—-i.e., by sharing or tweeting the video that will be available on Monday, May 11, at 8AM, at this link:


By voting (between Monday, May 11 and May 15—early and often!), the WHAMIT community can help MIT and Haiti move ahead together, so teachers and students in all social classes in Haiti can do science and math better, in their native Kreyòl with state-of-the-art technology for active learning. That way, Haiti will, indeed, get on the much awaited path of development, with the participation and for the benefit of *ALL* her children. And this breakthrough will also serve as an example for the rest of the world to see that local languages, coupled with technology, can have global impact in improving access and quality in education.

Thank you,

Michel DeGraff

Ling Lunch 5/14 - Juliet Stanton

Speaker: Juliet Stanton (MIT)
Title: Constraints on contrast motivate nasal cluster effects
Time: Thurs 5/14, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

Many languages disallow sequences of nasal clusters (*[NC1 V NC2]). In languages where these sequences are banned, there are a number of attested repairs. For example, in some systems, the first NC is realized as a plain nasal, N (1).

(1) NC1 nasalization in Ngaju Dayak (Blust 2012)

a. /maN-bando/ > [ma-mando] ‘turn against’ (cf. [mam-bagi] ‘divide’)

b. /maN-gundu/ > [ma-ŋundul] ‘wrap up’ (cf. [maŋ-gila] ‘drive crazy’)

Previous analyses of nasal cluster effects generally fall into one of two camps. Many authors (e.g. Meinhof 1932, Blust 2012) claim that effects like (1) are dissimilation, driven by an OCP constraint (*NC…NC). Others (Herbert 1977, 1986; Jones 2000) claim that effects like (1) are neutralization, driven by a constraint on contrast: in the sequence [NC1 V NC2], anticipatory nasalization from NC2 renders NC1 insufficiently distinct from N.

In this talk I argue from the larger typology of nasal cluster effects that the contrast-based analysis is the right one. I show that the contrast-based account (i) accurately predicts the conditions under which languages exhibit certain types of repairs, (ii) accurately predicts implicational generalizations regarding which kinds of [NC1 V NC2] sequences are repaired, and (iii) accurately predicts generalizations regarding the locality of repairs. I show that an analysis in which effects like (1) are treated as dissimilation is not capable of accounting for any of these generalizations, let alone all of them together.

Ezer Rasin paper to appear in Linguistic Inquiry

Congratulations to 2nd-year student Ezer Rasin, whose paper “On evaluation metrics in Optimality Theory” (co-authored by Roni Katzir) has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry! You can read a draft of the paper by clicking here.