The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 1st, 2016

MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, Spring 2016  

The colloquium series talks are held on Fridays at 3:30pm. Please check the Colloquium webpage for any updates.

  • February 5: Junko Ito , UC Santa Cruz
  • February 19: Seth Cable , UMass Amherst
  • March 4: Veneeta Dayal, Rutgers
  • March 11: Elliott Moreton, UNC
  • April 1: Bruce Hayes, UCLA
  • April 15: Amy Rose Deal, Berkeley
  • April 22: Roni Katzir, Tel Aviv University
  • May 6: Daniel Buring , University of Vienna
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    Course announcements, Spring 2016  

    24.956 Topics in Syntax: Finiteness and clause size

    Instructor: David Pesetsky
    Tuesdays 2-5
    Room: 32-D461
    website: http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp16/24.956 (nothing there yet, sorry!)

    We too easily become used to facts about language that should strike us as strange. One of these is the menagerie of clause types and clause sizes in the world’s languages that are categorized with ill-understood labels such as infinitive, non-finite, gerund, nominalized, large, small, restructuring, defective, and more.

    I come to this class with a germ of an idea with two parts, the first of which is familiar, the second of which is probably novel:

    Many (ambitious version: all) of these distinctions should be reduced to distinctions in clause size — specifically, given a universal hierarchy of clausal projections, which one is the highest in a given clause? This is familiar to us from analyses in which raising infinitives differ from English for-infinitives merely in the addition of a complementizer layer, and restructuring infinitives differ from their non-restructuring counterparts in the absence of (all or most) layers above the verbal domain. One can imagine extending the spirit of such proposals to other clause-type distinctions as well.

    Non-full-size clauses are often (ambitious version: always) created derivationally, as an obligatory concomitant of movement from that clause. In a nutshell: if an extended version of Erlewine’s (2015) version of an Anti-locality condition is correct, an element α that has merged in the higher clausal domain cannot exit the clause by first moving to its edge (because such movement is too short). Either some process must render the phase transparent (Branan 2015; Rackowski & Richards 2005), which I will try not to assume — or else α itself must already occupy the phase edge. My proposal: if Anti-locality prevents you from moving to the phase edge, make the phase edge come to you! — by deleting the structure that separates you from it. In the most ambitious version of the proposal, this is the source of all infinitives and other reduced clauses. In a deep sense, this proposal is a return to standard theories of clausal complementation before Bresnan’s dissertation, in which distinctions between finite and non- finite clauses were the result of syntactic transformations, and absent in the base. This similarity will be discussed.

    In Raising constructions, for example, on this view, it is not a property of certain small infinitives that they trigger Raising, but rather a property of Raising that it triggers the creation of an infinitive. An array of mysterious absences that correlate with movement may have a similar source: doubly-Filled COMP effects, that-trace phenomena, and anti-agreement, to begin with. The proposal also interacts with Halpert’s (2015) work on the interaction of raising with the distribution of clausal φ-features. And yes, if all infinitives are created by movement of their subject (or similar high element), we are committed to the notorious Movement Theory of Control — so we have to join the effort to understand how the many objections to that proposal might be surmounted.

    I will begin the class with a very rough look at the proposal and some of its motivations — but the class as a whole will not be devoted to developing the proposal per se, but rather to learning about the phenomena that it (or any other proposal on this topic) should cover, and the most promising approaches that have been developed.

    Schedule for the first two weeks of the semester:

    • Week 1: my germ of an idea
    • Week 2: Raising and ECM — a closer look

    Topics to be covered in the other weeks include:

    • Anti-agreement (credit: Nico Baier for suggesting readings)
    • Complementizer-trace effects
    • Clausal cartography (Rizzi 1999 and work in that tradition)
    • Restructuring (including both Wurmbrand’s older book and most recent work)
    • Bantu hyper-raising and clausal φ-features (including Halpert’s most recent work)
    • Raising in languages without non-finite clauses (guest speaker: Sabine)
    • English for-infinitives and their distribution
    • Gerunds and “nominalized” clauses cross-linguistically
    • Movement Theory of Control (including lots of Landau)
    • (No ordering of topics implied yet. Schedule to be determined after the first class.)


    As an experiment, this class will have something of the spirit of Syntactic Models, in that I am not requiring a final paper or squibs.

    Instead, I will ask for:

    • weekly submission of a comment or question+discussion based on that week’s reading
    • co-presentation of one or two of the papers assigned during the term (how many depends on registration numbers)
    • investigation and short presentation or co-presentation of an issue connected to the class topics in a language or language family of your choice — your presentation + detailed handout will be sufficient to fulfill this requirement.

    If you find the class topic interesting and plan to attend, please consider registering! My hope is that people who attend will be active participants, and without the burden of a final research paper will find it more attractive to register — so they truly involve themselves in these fascinating topics.

    24.979 Topics in Semantics

    Instructors: Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Roger Schwarzschild
    Time and room: F10-1 (32-D461)
    Readings: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp16/24.979/materials.html

    1. Nominal semantics (first 4 or 5 sessions)

    In the first third of the seminar, Roger will explore some issues in nominal semantics. In the stative clause “Jack is a lawyer”, the noun ‘lawyer’ describes a state that Jack is in. That’s a reason to posit a state-argument for the noun. On a neo-Davidsonian analysis, that would be the only argument the noun has. We’ll explore the motivation and consequences for adopting the idea that (simple) nouns are 1-place predicates of states (= the N-state hypothesis).

    • I. We’ll review discussion of neo-Davidsonianism – the hypothesis that syntactic arguments are not semantic arguments but rather combine via thematic roles.
    • II. Simple nouns divide into count nouns and mass nouns. We’ll eventually want see what the N-state hypothesis allows us to say about this distinction. In part II, we’ll take a look at analyses of mass nouns, particularly those that try to treat mass nouns as plurals.
    • III. The N-state hypothesis and: how to combine a predicate with a noun phrase argument, the semantics of number marking, mass-count, counting, thematic-roles.

    Reading for the first classes: Parsons 1995 and then Chierchia 1998.

    2. Counterfactual marking (remainder of the semester)

    In the final two thirds of the seminar, Sabine and Kai will look at counterfactual marking, both its morphosyntax and its contribution to meaning. Counterfactual marking occurs, of course, in “counterfactual” conditionals, but also in wishes, in some expressions of weak necessity, and elsewhere. There are already some readings on the Stellar site.

    Class requirements include two squibs on the two topic areas and will be discussed further in the first meeting.

    Auditors are welcome to pick and choose their attendance.


    A conference in honor of Ken Wexler  

    The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT is organizing a conference on the occasion of Ken Wexler’s retirement, to honor and celebrate his foundational, lasting contributions to the field. We will host a two day conference at MIT, with colleagues and friends in linguistics and cognitive science presenting work connected to or inspired by Ken’s research. The conference will take place April 30-May 1, 2016, and will be preceded by a reception on the evening of April 29. The conference, as well as the reception, are open to the public and all are welcome!


    Syntax Square - call for presentations  

    This semester, Syntax Square will be meeting on Tuesdays. There is no Syntax Square meeting this week, please contact the organizers Carrie Spadine (cspadine@mit.edu) and/or Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot. Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. The following dates are still open:

    February: 9
    March: 8, 28
    April: 5, 19, 26
    May: 3, 10, 17


    Ling Lunch 2/4 - Christopher Tancredi  

    Speaker: Christopher Tancredi (Keio University)
    Title: The Grammar of TOPIC, FOCUS and Givenness
    Date: Thursday, February 4
    Time: 12:30-1:45pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Theories of contrastive topic, focus and Givenness overlap to a high degree in what phenomena they explain. Each theory, however, uses its own primitives to explain its share of the phenomena. This suggests the possibility of reducing the number of primitives appealed to and also eliminating one or more of the explanations in favor of the other(s). I argue in this talk that such a reduction is not possible. The argument is made by showing that Givenness cannot be reduced to a side effect of focus or of contrastive topic, and nor can the revers reduction be made, and finally by showing that focus and contrastive topic show distinct phonological behavior that requires their being differentiated in the syntax. I finally show how this result is consistent with the analysis of focus and contrastive topic of Constant 2014.

    Colloquium 2/5 - Junko Ito  

    Speaker: Junko Ito (UC Santa Cruz)
    Title: Doubling up or remaining single—gemination patterns in Japanese loanwords
    Date: Friday, Feb 5th
    Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
    Place: 32-141

    In Japanese, a language whose native system employs consonant length contrastively, the distribution of geminates (/pp/, /dd/, /mm/, etc.) as opposed to singletons (/p/, /d/, /m/, etc.) in loanwords raises an interesting question: How is it determined in adaptations from English, a language with no contrastive length distinctions? Starting with the seminal work of Lovins (1975), who offered an insightful analysis of some of the gemination patterns in Japanese loanwords, there is a wealth of literature and research in more recent decades focusing on different aspects that include not only phonological, but also phonetic (acoustic and articulatory), experimental, as well as corpus studies. The goal of this research (in collaboration with Armin Mester and Haruo Kubozono) is to develop an optimality-theoretic analysis that accounts for all previously established generalizations as well as new factors that have emerged in the course of our own investigation. Whether or not a given consonant is geminated depends on a host of segmental factors that are the result of a family of anti-gemination and prosodic faithfulness constraints, ranked at different points within the OT constraint hierarchy. Finally, it appears that significant higher-level prosodic factors that are part of the native system are also at work, and explain many details of the gemination pattern that are rooted neither in faithfulness to the source word nor in segmental features.


    Phonology Circle - call for presentations  

    This semester, Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays. Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. The following dates are still open:

    February: 8, 16, 22, 29
    March: 14, 28
    April: 4

    Please contact Juliet Stanton (juliets@mit.edu) and/or Sam Zukoff (szukoff@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.


    MIT at the LSA meeting in Washington  

    Last weekend, many MIT and recently MIT linguists converged on Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the LSA.

    (photos: mitcho Erlewine)

    Several current students, faculty and recent grads gave talks and posters at the LSA, including:

    • Richard Futrell (Brain & Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Adam Albright (Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Peter Graff ‘12 (Intel Corporation), Timothy J. O’Donnell (Brain & Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Subsegmental structure facilitates learning of phonotactic distributions”
    • Michelle Yuan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Ruth Brillman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Zuzanna Fuchs (Harvard University): “Inuktitut mood-agreement interactions as contextual allomorphy”
    • Ryo Masuda (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “The learnability of tone-voicing associations and the absence of place-sensitive tonogenesis”
    • Michelle Yuan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Subordinate clause types and the left periphery in Gikuyu”
    • Miriam Nussbaum (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Tense and scope in superlatives”
    • Suyeon Yun (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Non-native cluster perception by phonetic confusion, not by universal grammar”
    • Theodore Levin ‘15 (University of Maryland): “Unmarked case is unvalued case: Default Voice in Formosan restructuring”
    • Hadas Kotek ‘14 (McGill University), Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine ‘14 (National University of Singapore): “Unifying definite and indefinite free relatives: evidence from Mayan”
    • Patrick Jones ‘14 (Harvard University): “Tonal mobility and faithfulness in Kikuyu”
    • Youngah Do ‘13 (Georgetown University), Elizabeth Zsiga (Georgetown University), Jonathan Havenhill (Georgetown University): “Naturalness and frequency in implicit phonological learning”
    • Jonah Katz ‘10 (West Virginia University), Sarah Lee (University of California, Berkeley): “Cue integration and fricative perception in Seoul Korean”
    • Nicholas Baier of UC Berkeley, who spent the Fall as a much-appreciated visiting student with us, presented a talk of “Deriving partial anti-agreement” (the First Place Student Abstract Award Winner — congratulations!).
    • From McMaster University, Cassandra Chapman, a visiting student last Spring, and Ivona Kucerova ‘07 presented a talk on “Structural and semantic ambiguity of why-questions: an overlooked case of weak islands in English”

    Very recent grad Coppe van Urk ‘15 (Queen Mary University), who did not give a talk, couldn’t stay away, nor could several of our current students who attended just for the fun. And as always, many many MIT alums from decades past attended and presented talks, too numerous to mention.


    Patrick Grosz and Pritty Patel-Grosz at the University of Oslo  

    We have just received the great news that our alumni Patrick G. Grosz (PhD 2011) and Pritty Patel-Grosz (PhD 2012) have accepted tenured Associate Professor positions at the University of Oslo. Congratulations, Patrick and Pritty!


    Books and papers  

    • We are thrilled to take note of the publication of a book by our very recent alum (and very recent colloquium speaker) Claire Halpert (PhD 2012), from Oxford University Press! The book is called Argument licensing and agreement. More information is available here.
    • Congratulations also to 4th-year student Juliet Stanton on the acceptance for publication in Language of her paper “Learnability shapes typology: the case of the midpoint pathology”! A pre-publication version of her paper can be downloaded here. Another paper of Juliet’s has just appeared in Linguistic Inquiry: “Wholesale Late Merger in Ā-Movement: Evidence from Preposition Stranding”. A prepublication version can also be downloaded here.
    • Congratulations to 4th-year student Sam Zukoff, whose paper “The Reduplicative System of Ancient Greek and a New Analysis of Attic Reduplication” has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry! Download a pre-publication version at either lingbuzz or Sam’s webpage.