The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 30th, 2015

Video about Haitian Creole

This video is a short overview of the science and data that show why children’s native languages are necessary for learning how to read. In the case of Haiti, Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”), as the native language of all Haitians, should be the cornerstone of literacy projects.

In the first part of this video, Prof. Stanislas Dehaene at the Collège de France provides an overview of findings from neuroscience about “pillars” in the human brain that help us learn how to read. In the second part of he video, Michel DeGraff analyzes the implications of these findings for Haiti, especially regarding how Haitian children are learning (or not learning) how to read. One conclusion is that Kreyòl is an indispensable tool for learning to read in Haiti, though it is, by and large, not used as such, with most children being taught in a language that they do not know, namely French. Such efforts to teach Haitian children in French are, by and large, unsuccessful—-unsurprisingly so, given the neuroscience that is explained in this video.


Phonology Circle 11/30 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: The distribution of R in French and Haitian: evidence for the role of perception
Date: Monday, November 30th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

The distribution of R in French and Haitian (a French-based creole) is sensitive to the post-R context: R only occurs pre-vocalically and before glides in Haitian, R is subject to deletion in word-final position in fast speech in French. The constraint rankings corresponding to these generalizations are pictured in (1a) and (1b) respectively.


a. Haitian: *R#, *RC > Max(C) > *RV, *RG

b. French: *R# > Max(C) > *RC, *RV, *RG

In this talk, we test the hypothesis that these rankings have a perceptual basis (see Russell Webb 2010). According to this hypothesis, R is deleted preferentially in contexts where it is less perceptible. We present the results of a perception experiment with French speakers testing whether R is more perceptible pre-vocalically than pre-consonantally (see *RC > Max(C) > *RV in Haitian) and pre-consonantally than word-finally (see *R# > Max(C) > *RC in French).


Syntax Square 12/1 - Snejana Iovtcheva

Speaker: Snejana Iovtcheva (MIT)
Title: Distinguishing ‘non-core’ external possessors from possessor raising in Bulgarian
Date: Tuesday, December 1st
Time: 10:00am-11:00am
Place: 32-D461

Bulgarian has several different ways to convey possessive relation between two nominal phrases: the possessor can be expressed (i) with a DP-internal adjectival possessive pronominal as in (1), (ii) with a Dative clitic as in (2), and (iii) with a na-marked full nominal expression as in (3):

(1) (Az) xaresvam [DP negov-a-(ta) nov-a naučn-a statij-a]
I like.1SG his -SGf-the new-SGf scientific.SGf article.SGf
‘I like his new scientific article’

(2) (Az) xaresvam [DP nov-a-*(ta) mu naučn-a statij-a]
I like.1SG new-SGf-the he.DAT scientific.SGf articleSGf.
‘I like his new scientific article’

(3) (Az) xaresvam [DP nov-a-*(ta) naučn-a statij-a na professor-a]
I like.1SG new-SGf-the scientific.SGf article.SGf of professor.SGm-the
‘I like the professor’s new scientific article’

The main distinction between the adjectival possessive pronominals and the clitic possessor is that the clitic possessors can engage in external possessive structures, whereas adjectival possessors are locally fixed to their head-nouns and cannot appear outside the DP (5):

(4) (Az) mu xaresvam [DP nov-a-*(ta) naučn-a statij-a]
I he.DAT like.1SG new-SGf-the scientific.SGf articleSGf.
‘I like his new scientific article’

(5) *(Az) neg-ov-a xaresvam [DP nov-a-(ta) naučn-a statij-a]

The current paper concentrates on the external datival possessors (of the type in (4)) with the aim to distinguish between raised possessors (syntactic movement) and clausal base-generated possessors. That there is a need for this distinction has been already pointed out in a paper by Cinque and Krapova (2009). Their claim, however, is based on the valency frame of the verb and is limited to externally-generated inalienable body part relations. In a first step, the contribution of the current paper is to enlarge the empirical data to include well-accepted external alienable possession and to offer diagnostics, such as (i) possibility to doubly mark the possessor, (ii) possessive relation to indefinite DPs, and (iii) possessive relation to DPs within PPs. As it is shown, the novel data are able to sharpen the contrast between both structures and capture the intuitions of native speakers, thus allowing for informed investigation. With this background, the paper then proceeds to advance a claim that externally-generated possessors arise not due to the verb type and its ability to assign secondary theta roles, but due to the pragmatic context and the degree of ‘affectedness’ in the sense of Bar-Asher Siegel and Boneh (2015)’s ‘Affected Datives’. The current paper proposes that while Bulgarian can independently raise possessor clitic out of the DP into the clausal clitic domain, when ‘affectedness’ is given in the context, functional heads of Pylkkanen’s (2002, 2008) ‘high applicatives’, produce possessive readings that are contextually added to the entire proposition. These applicative (dative) arguments are not only different from ‘core’ dative arguments of verbs (as in give, put, etc.) but are also different from ‘core’ possessive arguments that start their syntactic live within the DP. Clausal idioms with external possessors that lack DP-internal variants and locality effects that show sensitivity to the pragmatic context further substantiate the current claim.


Ling Lunch 12/3 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: A case for conjunction reduction — Part II
Time: Thursday, December 3rd, 12:30-1:45 pm
Place: 32-D461

The conjunction operator ‘and’ can apparently conjoin a range of different expressions:

(1) a. [John danced] and [John sang]
b. b. John [hugged] and [pet] the dog.
c. John saw [every student] and [every professor]

A possible starting hypothesis about the semantic analysis of and holds that and makes a parallel contribution to the connective & of propositional logic. If so, ‘and’ must compose with two expressions denoting truth-values. This is consistent with (1a), but incorrectly predicts (1b) and (1c) to be uninterpretable. This talk will focus on examples like (1c), and address the question: what mechanisms does the grammar make available to parse (1c), and do they localize in the syntax or in the semantics?

The semantic approach rests on type-ambiguity: and has a flexible type and so can directly conjoin a range of expressions, including quantificational DPs (‘DP analysis’; e.g. Partee & Rooth 1983). The syntactic approach holds that and in (1c) does not conjoin DPs, but rather larger constituents of type t (‘Conjunction Reduction; CR’; e.g. Ross 1967, Schein 2014).

The goal of the talk is to build a case for CR. Theoretically, I demonstrate that a CR analysis of (1c) “follows for fee” from independently proposed syntactic mechanisms, in particular Johnson’s (1996, 2009) syntax for gapping (Wilder 1994, Schwarz 1998, 1999, 2000). Empirically, I introduce data which CR can account for, but the DP analysis cannot, supporting the theoretical prediction that CR is available. Finally, I discuss empirical arguments for a strengthened conclusion that CR is not only an ‘available’ analysis of apparent DP conjunction, but is the only available analysis.


MIT/Harvard Fieldwork Support Group

The MIT/Harvard fieldwork support group will be meeting again this Tuesday, 6-7:30pm, at 32-D831. We will discuss two readings on fieldwork methodology:

Matthewson, L. 2004. On the methodology of semantic fieldwork. IJAL 70: 369-415.

Davis, Gillon, and Matthewson. 2014. How to investigate linguistic diversity: Lessons from the Pacific Northwest. Manuscript.


Ivona Kučerová granted tenure at McMaster University

We are delighted to announce that our distinguished alum Ivona Kučerová (PhD 2007) has been granted tenure at McMaster University! Srdečně gratulujeme k tomuto velkému úspěchu!!


John McCarthy elected a Fellow of the AAAS

Congratulations to our alum John J. McCarthy (PhD 1979), who has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science! John is Distinguished University Professor, Vice-Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School at UMass Amherst. He is one of the most eminent researchers in phonology, a pioneer in the development of Optimality Theory and renowned for many contributions to multiple areas of linguistics.

Of the now 40 AAAS Fellows in Linguistics and Language Science (Section Z), 13 are alumni of our PhD program. The roster of Fellows also includes three members of our faculty, David Pesetsky (PhD 1982), emeritus professor Wayne O’Neil — and Institute Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky (in the Anthropology Section, since Linguistics did not have a section of its own at the time of his election).