The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Phonology Circle 2/22 - Kenyon Branan  

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: A purely prosodic approach to intervention
Date: Monday, February 22nd
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

The simple intervention effect can be charactarized as a ban on wh-words appearing to the right of words bearing focus. I will argue that simple intervention effects arise as the result of conflicting prosodic requirements, and that the most well attested repair, leftward scrambling of the wh-element, results in a better-formed prosodic structure. I will show that the simple intervention effect is a particular instance of a more general phenomenon, looking primarily at Japanese and Korean. I will also show that this approach predicts that languages with different prosodic requirements on focus-bearing items should not have intervention effects. I look at Egyptian Arabic, which has all of the syntactic ingredients necessary to produce the intervention effect, but nonetheless does not. I show that the prosody of focus in Egyptian Arabic leads us to expect this

Syntax Square 2/23 - Bruna Karla Pereira  

Speaker: Bruna Karla Pereira (UFVJM; CAPES Foundation- Ministry of Education of Brazil)
Title: The plural morpheme in BP nominal concord

This talk is focused on number nominal concord in non-standard Brazilian Portuguese (BP). I will start by analyzing structures with the wh-determiner ‘ques’ (1) and end by examining the pattern of nominal concord in other structures too.

(1) Ques coisa interessante! (Nunes, 2007, p. 13)
What-PL thing interesting
‘How interesting those things are!’

Concerning the syntactic derivation of (1), ‘ques’ is a head that checks φ-features in D, while the DP to which it belongs moves, from the predicate position of a Small Clause, to check illocutionary force in the Spec,CP (Pereira, 2014). Concerning the system of concord, non-standard BP marks, with the plural morpheme, either only D or D plus its most adjacent element, leaving the other elements unmarked. This fact has two consequences: as a D, ‘ques’ licenses φ-features, as opposed to previous predictions (Vidor; Menuzzi, 2004); as a morpheme that may appear more than once in the DP (Castro; Pratas, 2006, p. 18), ‘-s’ cannot be “singleton”, as opposed to current assumptions (Costa; Figueiredo Silva, 2006). In addition, besides structures with ‘ques’, data from dialectal BP show that other wh-words may be inflected (2); so does the indefinite article, followed by the numeral ‘meio(a)’ and a singular NP (3).

(2) Quantos que custa isso?
How-much-PL that cost it
‘How much does it cost?’

(3) Nossa reunião pode ser daqui a umas meia hora?
Our meeting may be from-here to some-PL half hour-SG
‘Could we have a meeting within half an hour?’

Therefore, apparent φ-feature “mismatches” will be addressed in order to investigate the system of nominal concord (Baker, 2008; Norris, 2014; Höhn, 2015) in BP.


LFRG 2/24 - Mora Maldonado  

Speaker: Mora Maldonado (ENS-MIT)
Time: Wednesday, February 24, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Understanding plural ambiguities. An experimental perspective.
(Joint work with Emmanuel Chemla and Benjamin Spector)

Sentences that involve plural expressions, such as numerical expressions, give rise to systematic ambiguities. For example, the sentence Two boys have three balloons can either mean that there are two boys who, between them, have three balloons (cumulative reading) or that there are two boys who each have three balloons (distributive reading).

In this set of studies, we explore the online comprehension of plural ambiguous sentences using both a mouse-tracking and a priming paradigm. While priming effects help us detecting the representations involved in the derivation of different readings, mouse-paths inform us not only about the preference of particular interpretations, but also about whether the derivation of one reading is a necessary step for the derivation of the other.

Overall, our findings suggest that (i) abstract semantic representations corresponding to different readings of plurals can give rise to priming effects; and (ii) primitive readings of plural ambiguous sentences are processed automatically, even when alternative representations are later selected.


LingLunch 2/25 - Paul Crowley  

Speaker: Paul Andrew Crowley (MIT)
Title:Imparallel VP ellipsis
Date/Time:Thursday February 25/12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk will be concerned with a class of VP ellipsis expressions illustrated by the sentence in (1) where VP ellipsis is licensed despite an imparallelism between the antecedent VP and the interpretation the ellipsis site. CAPS indicates obligatory contrastive accenting.

(1) JOHN is expecting NOT to pass the exam but MARY IS .

The imparallelism is attributed to the presence of the negation within the matrix VP in the first conjunct, which is acting as the antecedent to an elided VP that does not contain that negation. Under no formulations of the identity conditions on ellipsis—whether syntactic or semantic—is the ellipsis in (1) expected.

The proposed analysis of the effect, which will be referred to as Imparallel VP Ellipsis (IVPE), will not treat it as a case of non-identity tolerance but rather as an illusion of non-identity created by an LF opacity effect. It will be proposed that the problematic negation in the first conjunct is situated outside of the antecedent VP at LF, where the identity conditions on ellipsis are taken to apply. It will be shown that this assumption is necessary in order to resolve an additional problem of imparallelism that arises where IVPE appears in ACD environments in which VP ellipsis and an NPI are both licensed despite having prima facie conflicting scope requirements.

Assuming that the negation is really situated high at LF, the task of deriving IVPE expressions will then be split into two pieces. The first is to explain why the negation is pronounced low when it is high at LF. The second is to explain why is the negation interpreted with narrow scope when it is high at LF. An account of the first question will be shown to come from the assumption that there is a syntactic Neg-raising operation active in a single-output grammar that creates Neg copy chains, which are interpreted separately by each interface component. An answer to the second question will come from a generalization that will be observed for the IVPE phenomenon where the effect is only felicitous if the verb heading the antecedent and elided VPs is a Neg Raising verb. By treating the Neg Raising phenomenon as the result of a pragmatic strengthening effect which gives the negation narrow scope in the truth conditions post-derivationally, we can account for the disconnect between the LF and output truth conditions in IVPE expressions. Independent evidence will be provided for this approach to Neg Raising, which involves cases of VPE similar to (1) but lacking the problematic imparallelism.

Finally, two points of overgeneration will be shown to come from the assumptions used here in light of the Neg Raising generalization on IVPE and a means of overcoming them will be proposed by way of pragmatic principles.


2nd Annual Linguistics-Philosophy Joint Colloquium 2/26 - Zoltán Gendler Szabó  

Speaker: Zoltán Gendler Szabó (Yale)
Time: Talk: 3:30-4:30; Q&A: 4:30-5:30
Place: 32-141
Title: Semantic Categories

A good deal of contemporary semantics for natural language is based on a simple type-theory inspired by Frege’s ideas. This type-theory categorizes all linguist expressions on the basis of the kind of semantic value they have: it tells us that the semantic value of proper name is an object, the semantic value of a declarative sentence is a truth-value, the semantic value of a common noun is a function from objects to truth-values, and so on. Doing semantics this way has two main drawbacks: it commits us to a semantic categorization that seems gerrymandered both from the point of view of syntax and the point of view of ontology, and it imposes severe expressive limitations on the languages we can interpret. The drawbacks are the result of two fundamental assumptions: that every linguistic expression has exactly one semantic value and that there is exactly one semantic relation linking linguistic expressions and semantic values. I will argue that abandoning these assumptions is a good idea.