The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Course announcements, Fall 2015

24.956: Topics in Syntax: Agreement and Movement

Instructors: Shigeru Miyagawa (miyagawa@mit.edu) and Norvin Richards (norvin@mit.edu)
Time: Mondays 10-1
Room: 32-D461

In this seminar we will tackle some of the big syntactic questions: what Agree relations should we posit, and what effects do they have on structure and interpretation?

The seminar will begin with discussion of various ways in which C, and particularly root C, has a special status as a starting point for the features that participate in Agree relations in the rest of the clause; topics here will include allocutive agreement, pro-drop, the syntax of ‘why’, and ga-no conversion. The discussion will take as a starting point Shigeru’s Strong Uniformity thesis.

In the second half of the seminar we will turn to Norvin’s Contiguity Theory, which amounts to a family of proposals about how Agree and selection relations are mapped onto prosodic structure, and indirectly onto syntactic structure, driving movement operations and (we will see) determining the size of structures that can or must be moved. Topics for this half of the semester include pied-piping, the derivational history of A-bar operators, the effects of A-bar movement on nuclear stress, and the structure of DPs.

24.915/24.963 Linguistic Phonetics

Instructor: Edward Flemming
Lecture: TR11-12.30
Room: 56-169
Stellar site: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa15/24.915/

We will be considering three fundamental questions:

  • How do we produce speech?
  • How do we perceive speech?
  • How does the nature of these processes influence the sound patterns of languages?

We will also be learning experimental methods and analytical techniques that enable us to address these (and other) questions.

24.964 Topics in phonology: Harmonic Serialism

Instructor: Edward Flemming (flemming@mit.edu)
Time and place: Currently schedule for W 10-1 in 32D-461 but may be rescheduled

A generative grammar is a mapping between two levels of representation. Is this mapping direct or indirect? A common answer in both phonology and syntax is that the mapping is indirect: there are intermediate steps in a derivation. In Optimality Theory (OT), however, the standard answer to date has been that the mapping is direct…The central insight of OT — candidate comparison by a hierarchy of ranked, violable constraints — is not necessarily tied to the direct-mapping architecture, however. A version of OT with indirect mapping is known as Harmonic Serialism (HS). It is in most respects similar to parallel OT, except that it posits serial derivations with intermediate steps. This single change has important empirical consequences…’ (McCarthy 2010).

We will investigate the properties of Harmonic Serialist phonological grammars, and examine the evidence for serial vs. parallel evaluation in OT. Case studies will include opaque interactions between processes (e.g. stress assignment and syncope/epenthesis), ‘myopia’ in harmony, and positional and P-map faithfulness constraints. These are all interesting problem areas in phonological theory, and we will compare analyses of them based on serial and parallel versions of OT.

24.979 Topics in Semantics

Instructors: Danny Fox, Martin Hackl
Time: Thursdays, 2-5
Room: 24-461
Stellar site: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa15/24.979/index.html

This class will be centered on topics in the syntax and semantics of DPs. Traditional approaches to this area of research begin with the postulation of lexical items. determiners, with simple morpho-phonological properties – they are spelled out as the, some, every, etc — and familiar meanings [[the]], [[some]], [[every]]). We will discuss various phenomena that are puzzling from this perspective and might suggest a more indirect relationship between sound and meaning.

Our first topic will be Hydras (e.g . every man and every woman who were introduced to each other…) where we will consider the possibility that words such as every do not directly carry the content of quantification but are rather indicative of its presence elsewhere in the structure (perhaps similar to inflection on verbs being indicative of the presence of distinct temporal operators). Another topic will concern various puzzles in the semantics of the which, likewise, might suggest a more indirect relationship between overt form and content. Among the puzzles we will look at is the semantics of superlatives, where DPs with the have been argued to be underlyingly indefinite: the semantics of the same, the only, and a well-known problem about the semantics of stacked definite descriptions (Haddock’s puzzle).

Reading for first class are on Stellar (Champollion 2015, Fox and Johnson 2015)

24.S95. Computation and Linguistic Theory

Instructor: Professor Robert C. Berwick
Time: Monday and Wednesday 1-2:30pm
Room: 2-105

Linguistics is sometimes construed as an important part of the “computational theory of mind.” But what about its computational aspect? How can we bring linguistics and computation together? Modern students of linguists often confront a dizzying array of questions that intersect with computational analysis. Does sideways Merge or multidominance structure impact computational complexity? Should syntactic features be encoded via arbitrary hierarchal structure, using ‘unification’ like “Simpler Syntax”? Is Simpler Syntax then really “simpler”? Are there any real computational differences between different theories like HPSG, TAGs, CCGs, and Minimalism or are they all just “notational variants”? Is there some way to formally characterize what makes a natural language natural? Is phonology really “different” from syntax? What about OT accounts and constraint-based systems vs. ordered/unordered rules? Do we need to pay attention to the classic learnability results from Gold? Does Bayesian analysis solve the poverty of the stimulus? This course will teach you the computational tools needed to answer these and many other questions from a computational point of view. It will guide you through both the classical and the more modern methods that examine linguistic theories from a computational perspective. No prior knowledge of computational theory will be assumed, but some familiarity with formalisms for syntax, phonology, or semantics, including some exposure to logic, would be very useful. If you don’t have this background, permission of the instructor is OK – please just ask!