The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 15th, 2016

Canada Research Chair for Jessica Coon

Great news — Jessica Coon (PhD 2010), Associate Professor of Linguistics at McGill, has been awarded a Canada Research Chair! Canada Research Chairs were created “to attract and retain some of the world’s most accomplished and promising minds. Chairholders aim to achieve research excellence in engineering and the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences.” Congratulations Jessica!!

P.S. In receiving this honor, Jessica joins another of our PhD alums at McGill, Michael Wagner (PhD 2005), another Canada Research Chair holder of whom we are proud.


Below is a statement from the MIT Linguistics Faculty on open access and the new journal Glossa. We’re following our colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Similar statements are being considered on other campuses. For background, you can consult this post at Language Log and a statement from Glossa’s editor-in-chief Johan Rooryck. [Update: See now also a similar statement from linguists across the University of California system.]

MIT Linguistics Faculty Statement of Support for Glossa

We, the undersigned linguistics faculty of MIT, state our strong support for the principle of open access to scholarly communication, as affirmed in the Open Access Policy of the MIT Faculty. In the context of this commitment, we also state our strong support for the editorial team that recently left the journal Lingua and started the fair open access journal Glossa. We firmly expect that Glossa will inherit and exceed the quality and reputation of the earlier journal. We applaud MIT’s support for the Open Library of Humanities, the organization that, together with the LingOA initiative, is underwriting Glossa. We pledge to further the aims of open access in our actions as editors, reviewers, and authors.

Adam Albright
Sylvain Bromberger
Noam Chomsky
Michel DeGraff
Kai von Fintel
Edward Flemming
Suzanne Flynn
Danny Fox
Martin Hackl
James Harris
Irene Heim
Sabine Iatridou
Michael Kenstowicz
Samuel Jay Keyser
Shigeru Miyagawa
Wayne O’Neil
David Pesetsky
Norvin Richards
Roger Schwarzschild
Donca Steriade
Kenneth Wexler

LFRG 2/17 - Yimei Xiang

Speaker: Yimei Xiang
Time: Wednesday, February 17, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Short answers, mention-some, and uniqueness: A hybrid approach for questions

This talk will discuss three issues related to the semantics of questions, including (i) the derivation of short answers, (ii) the variations of exhaustivity in diamond-questions like (1), and (iii) the dilemma between uniqueness (Dayal 1996) and mention-some (Fox 2013).

(1) Who can chair the committee?

First, to derive short answers grammatically, I propose a hybrid approach to compose the semantics of questions. Under this approach, the root denotation of a question is a topical property (a la categorial approaches), while then exercising an answerhood-operator returns a set of good propositional answers (like Hamblin-Karttunen semantics) or a set of good short answers. Second, to predict mention-some grammatically, I adopt Fox’s (2013) view that completeness amounts to maximal informativity instead of strongestness. I argue that the mention-some/mention-all ambiguity in a diamond-question comes from the absence/presence of a covert DOU-operator (viz., the covert counterpart of Mandarin dou) (compare Fox 2013). Third, to solve the dilemma between uniqueness and mention-some, I propose that the strongestness of a true short answer can be evaluated under any property that yields the same world partition (Groenendijk & Stokhof 1984) as the actual topical property.

Colloquium 2/19 - Seth Cable

Speaker: Seth Cable (UMass)
Title: The Curious Implicatures of Optional Past Tense in Tlingit (and Other Languages)
Date: Friday, Feb 19th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

Some languages appear to have a morpheme that combines the meaning of past tense with a variety of additional implications, the nature of which depend upon the aspectual marking of the verb. For non-perfective verbs (imperfective, habitual, future,etc.), the additional implication is that the event/state in question fails to extend into the present. For perfective verbs, however, the additional implication is either that (i) the result state of the event fails to extend into the present, or (ii) some natural, expected consequence of the event failed to occur. Importantly, unlike the superficially similar ‘cessation implicatures’ of past tense in languages like English, these aforementioned implications cannot be directly cancelled. Consequently, prior authors have viewed these additional inferences as semantic in nature, as being encoded directly in the lexical semantics of the morpheme (Leer 1991; Copley 2005; Plungian & van der Auwera 2006). Under this view, the morphemes in question express a special category of tense, one that has been labeled ‘discontinuous past’ by Plungian & van der Auwera (2006).

Through in-depth investigation of one such ‘discontinuous past’ marker in the Tlingit language, I argue that – to the contrary – the special inferences of these morphemes are not semantic, and are instead defeasible pragmatic inferences. Consequently, putative instances of ‘discontinuous past’ are in their semantics simply past tenses. I provide a formalized analysis of the pragmatic inferences associated with these past tenses, whereby they ultimately follow from (i) the optionality of the tense markers in question, and (ii) a special principle relating to the inherent topicality of the utterance time. The empirical and analytic results align well with a restrictive theory of cross-linguistic variation in tense semantics, one where the only tense categories across language are Past, Non-Future, and (maybe) Present (Cable 2013).

Ling Lunch 2/18 - Sam Zukoff

Speaker: Sam Zukoff (MIT)
Title: The Mirror Alignment Principle: Morpheme Ordering at the Morphosyntax-Phonology Interface (Part 1: Bantu)
Date: Thursday, February 18
Time: 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

Since at least Baker’s (1985) proposal of the “Mirror Principle”, it has been widely recognized that the linear order of morphemes within a morphologically complex word generally correlates with hierarchical syntactic structure (see also Muysken 1981). In morphologically complex words, morphemes which represent the exponents of morphosyntactic terminals that are lower in the syntactic tree generally surface closer to the root than those morphemes which are exponents of higher morphosyntactic terminals. A question that Baker does not directly explore in his original proposal is by what formal means this ordering relation is implemented in the grammar

In this talk, I outline a new proposal for implementing the Mirror Principle, which I refer to as the “Mirror Alignment Principle” (MAP). The MAP is an algorithm which translates c-command relations in the hierarchical (morpho)syntactic structure into ranking relations between Alignment constraints (McCarthy & Prince 1993) in the phonological component:

(1) The Mirror Alignment Principle:
If α c-commands β → Align-α » Align-β

By using ranked, competing Alignment constraints on different morphemes in this way, we can determine the surface order of morphemes through constraint interaction while still having a principled connection to the syntax.

I will demonstrate that this framework can straightforwardly generate Mirror Principle effects in Bantu, where differences in semantic scope between verbal derivational morphemes (Causative, Applicative, Reciprocal, Passive) correlate with differences in linear order. I will also address how the apparent counterevidence to the Mirror Principle posed by the so-called “CARP Template” (Hyman 2003) can be accommodated within the present proposal.