The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 8th, 2016

LFRG 2/10 - Despina Oikonomou

Speaker: Despina Oikonomou
Time: Wednesday, February 10, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Imperatives are existential modals; Deriving the must-reading as an Implicature

The diverse interpretation of Imperatives has been a long-lasting puzzle in the literature (Wilson & Sperber 1988, Han 2000, Schwager 2006 / Kaufmann 2012, Portner 2007, Condoravdi & Lauer 2012, von Fintel & Iatridou 2015). For example, the sentence in (1) is interpreted as permission in a context where the Addressee wants to open the window and as command/request in an out-of-the-blue context where a Professor asks a student to open the window:

(1) Open the window.

In this talk I argue that Imperatives involve an existential modal, drawing evidence from scopal ambiguities in the presence of other quantificational elements such as only and few (cf. Haida & Repp 2011). I show that the need for a covert existential operator in Imperatives is evident in languages like Greek where overt movement resolves scopal ambiguities. The universal reading is explained on the basis of two factors; i) lack of a stronger scalar counterpart as opposed to overt modals (cf. Deal 2011) ii) strengthening via an implicature derived in the presence of certain Focus Alternatives (cf. Schwager 2005). If time permits, I will discuss some other covert modals (unembedded subjunctives in Greek and dispositional middles) which also seem to be ambiguous between an existential and a universal reading and suggest that the present analysis can be extended in these environments as well.

Ling Lunch 2/11 - John Kingston

Speaker: John Kingston (UMass Amherst)
Title: When Do Words Influence Perception? Converging Evidence that the Ganong Effect is Early
Date: Thursday, February 11
Time: 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

(joint work with Amanda Rysling, Adrian Staub, Andrew Cohen, and Jeffrey Starns)

Ganong (1980, JEP:HPP, 6, 110-125) first showed that listeners prefer to categorize ambiguous stimuli from a word-nonword continuum with the category corresponding to the word endpoint. Fox (1984, JEP:HPP 10, 526-540) showed that this preference, the so-called “Ganong effect,” was stronger in slower than faster responses, perhaps because it takes time for a word to be activated and for that activation to feed back on the phonemic decision process. Subsequent work has failed to replicate Fox’s finding (see Pitt & Samuel, 1993, JEP:HPP, 19, 699-725, for additional evidence and a metanalysis). We present evidence using four different designs, free response, response signal, eye tracking, and gating, that words are instead activated and influence categorization as soon as the listener hears supporting acoustic evidence.