The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 26th, 2015

Phonology Circle 10/26 - Takashi Morita

Speaker: Takashi Morita (MIT)
Title: Bayesian Learning of Lexical Classes in Japanese
Date: Monday, October 26th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32D-831



Syntax Square 10/27 - No meeting this week

There will be no Syntax Square meeting this week.


Fieldwork Support Group 10/28

Last year we had the first two meetings of the “fieldwork lab” — an informal cross-departmental support group for students at Harvard and MIT who are doing independent fieldwork or are interested in getting (re)started. We are hoping to revive the group and restart our meetings.

To recap from our past meetings, it seems to us that there’s not much dialogue between the different students who do fieldwork, nor is there much information on the logistical/practical aspects of fieldwork (like funding, equipment, travel, etc.). We think it would be good to have something ongoing, self-sustainable, and student-organized beyond the field methods courses that are offered at either department.

We’re having our first meeting to brainstorm ideas on what this group can do to be maximally useful to everyone involved - so, our first meeting will be:

When: Wednesday October 28th, 5:30-7pm (there will be food!)

Where: MIT, 32-D831

If you can’t attend but would like to be a part of this, or you have any questions, please email Michelle Yuan or TC and we’ll include you on our future communications.


Ling Lunch 10/29 - Adam Szczegielniak

Speaker: Adam Szczegielniak (Rutgers University)
Title: Phase by Phase Givenness: The case of P-omission and Island alleviation in multiple remnant sluicing
Time: Thurs 10/29, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461


LFRG 10/30 - Isa Kerem Bayirli

Who: Isa Kerem Bayirli (MIT)
When: Friday, October 30, 2-3:30pm
Where: 32-D461
Title: On the absence of free choice-type inferences in some Turkish constructions

I will talk about the absence of free choice-type inferences in the context of several expressions in Turkish. The complex disjunction `ya…ya…’ and complex conjunction `hem…hem…’ do not give rise to free choice-type effects (i.e. strenghtening to wide scope conjunction) in contexts in which their simple versions do. To capture these observations, we will need to revise the conditions on the distribution of the exh operator and on the proper use of these two constructions.

Zukoff at the UCLA Indo-European Conference

Fourth-year student Sam Zukoff gave a talk last weekend at the UCLA Indo-European conference WeCIEC 2015, entitled “Repetition Avoidance and the Exceptional Reduplication Patterns of Indo-European”. You can read the handout here.


Juliet Stanton in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

Congratulations to 4th-year student Juliet Stanton, whose paper “Predicting distributional restrictions on prenasalised stops” has just been published in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory!

Previous studies on prenasalized stops (NCs) focus mainly on issues of derivation and classification, but little is known about their distributional properties. The current study fills this gap. I present results of a survey documenting positional restrictions on NCs, and show that there are predictable and systematic constraints on their distribution. The major finding is that NCs are optimally licensed in contexts where they are perceptually distinct from plain oral and nasal stops. I provide an analysis referencing auditory factors, and show that a perceptual account explains all attested patterns.

Spectrogram-prenasalized-consonant”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.


“Why only us?” - New Berwick & Chomsky book to appear

Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky co-wrote a book about language evolution to appear in January, 2016 from MIT Press. Here is an overview of the questions covered by the book (from the MIT Press website):

We are born crying, but those cries signal the first stirring of language. Within a year or so, infants master the sound system of their language; a few years after that, they are engaging in conversations. This remarkable, species-specific ability to acquire any human language—“the language faculty”—raises important biological questions about language, including how it has evolved. This book by two distinguished scholars—a computer scientist and a linguist—addresses the enduring question of the evolution of language.

Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky explain that until recently the evolutionary question could not be properly posed, because we did not have a clear idea of how to define “language” and therefore what it was that had evolved. But since the Minimalist Program, developed by Chomsky and others, we know the key ingredients of language and can put together an account of the evolution of human language and what distinguishes us from all other animals.

Berwick and Chomsky discuss the biolinguistic perspective on language, which views language as a particular object of the biological world; the computational efficiency of language as a system of thought and understanding; the tension between Darwin’s idea of gradual change and our contemporary understanding about evolutionary change and language; and evidence from nonhuman animals, in particular vocal learning in songbirds.