The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 12th, 2015

Phonology Circle 10/13 - Edward Flemming

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Deriving Implicational Universals in Optimality Theory
Date: Tuesday, October 13rd
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D461

Many phonological universals are implicational in form, e.g. ‘If a language allows obstruents to be syllabified as the nucleus of a syllable then that language also allows sonorant consonants to be syllabified as the nucleus of a syllable.’ In Optimality Theory, implicational universals are often supposed to follow from the existence of hierarchies of constraints with universal rankings (or from stringency hierarchies). Implicational universals do follow from the possible rankings of a constraint hierarchy and a single conflicting constraint, but the more common situation of interaction between two conflicting constraint hierarchies is more complex because the constraints in two hierarchies can be interleaved in many ways. We will see that there are cases where positing a constraint hierarchy is not sufficient to derive an implicational universal because the structure of the conflicting hierarchy undermines the expected implication. I will propose a revision of standard OT, Ranked Violations OT, in which it is possible to constrain the interactions between constraint hierarchies, allowing for the correct derivation of implicational universals in these cases.

ESSL/Language Acquisition Lab 10/14 - William Snyder

Speaker: William Snyder (UConn)
Title: Relativized Minimality in Children’s Passives
When: October 14, 2015, 5pm - 6:30pm
Where: 32-D461

The acquisition literature on English passives is strikingly inconsistent. Many studies have found that children under age four have considerable difficulty with unequivocally verbal passives, and that children as old as six are still struggling with passives of non-actional verbs. Yet, a small number of studies (e.g. Pinker, Lebeaux & Frost 1987) find adult-like performance on both the comprehension and the production of passives, including the passives of both actional and non-actional verbs, in children as young as three. In this talk I will present a proposal from Snyder & Hyams (2015) that aims to make sense of these inconsistencies. A key observation is that the studies finding early success are precisely the ones that motivate a discourse-related feature such as [+Topic] or [+Focus] on the derived subject. The Snyder-Hyams account combines Rizzi’s (2004) version of Relativized Minimality with proposals from Collins (2005) and Grillo (2007); and leads to a number of novel predictions, as I would like to discuss.

Ling Lunch 10/15 - Bruna Karla Pereira & Eloisa Pilati

Note: There will be two shorter talks this week.

Time: Thursday, October 15, 12:30-1:45pm Place: 32-D461

Speaker: Bruna Karla Pereira (UFVJM; CAPES Foundation - Ministry of Education of Brazil)
Title: Speech Act Phrase in Brazilian Portuguese: possessive agreement with the addressee

This talk presents an initial hypothesis to analyze agreement in dialectal Brazilian Portuguese (BP) data, such as (1) and (2). In (1), while noun and number receive a plural morpheme, the possessive does not. In contrast, in (2), while noun and determiner do not receive a plural morpheme, the possessive does.

(1) Amanhã ele verá dois serviços seu (Belo Horizonte, September 10th 2015)
Tomorrow he see-FUT two-PL task-PL your-SG
Tomorrow he is coming to see your two works.

(2) Para eu avaliar o pedido seus, vou precisar de mais dados (Belo Horizonte, June 15th 2015)
To I evaluate the-SG request-SG your-PL, go-FUT need of more data
In order to evaluate your request, I will need some more data.

In standard BP, possessive ‘seu(s)’ agrees in number with the noun and may refer to either 2nd person plural or 2nd person singular, as it is shown in (3) and (4), resulting in ambiguity. This is not the case in European Portuguese (EP) where, on the one hand, ‘vosso(s)’ is for 2nd person plural and, on the other hand, ‘teu(s)’ is for 2nd person singular.

(3) Preciso de seus favores (‘seus’ = ‘de você’ or ‘de vocês’)
Need-I of your-PL favor-PL (your = ‘of you-SG’ or ‘of you-PL’)
I need your favors (favors from you or from you guys)
(4) Preciso de seu favor (‘seu’ = ‘de você’ or ‘de vocês’)
Need-I of your-SG favor-SG (your = ‘of you-SG’ or ‘of you-PL’)
I need your favor (a favor from you or from you guys)

Therefore, looking at the data in (1) and (2), we observe that ‘-s’ is added to the possessive pronoun when thespeaker addresses to a plural ‘you’, and no ‘-s’ is added when the speaker addresses a singular ‘you’, which clearly seems to be an instance of agreement with the addressee.

Several works have shown not only how syntax codifies discourse participants but also how syntactic operations may be displayed in their scope. Firstly, according to Tsoulas and Kural (1999), indexical pronouns ‘I’ and ‘you’ arevariables bound by operators, respectively, SPEAKER and ADDRESSEE, that are situated above C in the syntactic structure. Secondly, Speas and Tenny (2003) suggest that speaker and hearer are functional projections inside SAP, proposal that is further developed by Haegeman and Hill (2011) with West Flemish data. Thirdly, Miyagawa (2012) showsthat verbal politeness marker ‘-mas-’, used to formally address the hearer in Japanese, “is in fact an implementation of second person agreement”. In this case, the probe moves from C to SAP for checking phi-features.

Having said that, I will investigate (1) and (2) as an instance of agreement between possessive and hearer, being the latter (c)overtly realized as vocative in SAP. As a consequence, vocative number phi-feature, in the speech act domain, is probably what triggers possessive number agreement inside the DP, in the sentential domain.

Speaker: Eloisa Pilati (University of Brasilia)
Title: Locative pronouns as subjects in Brazilian Portuguese

The goal of this presentation is to account for the licensing of locative DPs and deictic adverbs in subject position in Brazilian Portuguese (henceforth, BP), taking into consideration specifically the status of third person null subjects/ inflection in this language. Following Pilati & Naves 2011, 2013 and Pilati, Naves & Salles 2015, I will show a unified analysis for the phenomena, which concern the current discussion on Brazilian Portuguese (BP) as a partial null subject language (cf. Holmberg 2010). The proposal is that third person inflection on the verb, unlike first and second person inflection, is unable to license referential definite null subjects, although it is able to license a (null) locative adverb/ pronoun in preverbal position. The emergence of the constructions with locatives in subject position is due to the possibility of filling the subject position with a locative pronoun/adverb or a locative DP, on the assumption that third person inflection in BP is no longer referential (cf. Rabelo 2010).

List of alumni updated

The department website has been updated with links to the many alums of the graduate program in Linguistics — plus download links to their dissertations and theses. Please let us know of any errors (or, if you are an alum yourself, changes requested).


Several students, faculty and alumni presented talks and posters at the 2015 Annual Meeting on Phonology in Vancouver this weekend:

Adam Albright & Youngah Do: Paradigm uniformity in the lab: prior bias, learned preference, or L1 transfer?

Juliet Stanton: Environmental shielding is contrast preservation

Gillian Gallagher: Vowel height and dorsals: allophonic differences cue contrasts

Ezer Rasin: Constraints on URs and blocking in nonderived environments

Logical Form Reading Group 10/16 - Milena Sisovics

Speaker: Milena Sisovics (MIT)
Time: Friday, October 16, 2-3:30
Place: 32-D831
Title: The ironic use of dürfen: an analysis in terms of ordering source adjustment

Click here to read the abstract.

Reading list

Four of this summer’s dissertations are now available to read!

Renewed congratulations to all!! And here they are (again).


Haitian educators and MIT faculty develop Kreyòl-based teaching tools

“Six veteran educators from Haiti — two biologists, two physicists, and two mathematicians — were on campus recently to work closely with MIT faculty to develop and hone Kreyòl-based, technology-enhanced pedagogical tools for STEM education. This interdisciplinary and intercultural exchange was the most recent effort of the MIT-Haiti initiative, founded in 2010 by MIT professor of linguistics Michel DeGraff.”

Read more here.