The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 7th, 2016

ESSL/LacqLab 3/7 - Athulya Aravind and Aron Hirsch  

This week’s ESSL/LacqLab weekly meeting will feature two short presentations - one on language acquisition, by Athulya Aravind, and one on processing, by Aron Hirsch. The meeting will take place on Monday, March 07, 1:00-2:00 PM, in 32-D831.


Phonology Circle 3/7 - Erin Olson  

Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)
Title: Intermediate markedness: a case for using gradual OT learners
Date: Monday, March 7th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

In the phonological acquisition literature, it has been observed that there are some children who acquire marked structures of the target language in a two-step fashion: they go through a stage where they are only able to produce the marked structure in some privileged position(s) within the word before being able to produce that structure in the full range of positions allowed in the target language. It is commonly assumed that the intermediate stage is due to the ranking Positional Faithfulness >> Markedness >> General Faithfulness (Tessier 2009). However, if this characterization is adopted, gradual OT learners such as the GLA (Boersma 1997, Magri 2012) will not predict that children should ever go through such a stage (Jesney & Tessier 2007, 2008; Tessier 2009). This failure to predict an intermediate stage has been used to argue that gradual OT learners either must be modified (Tessier 2009) or abandoned in favour of using HG (Jesney & Tessier 2007, 2008).

In this talk, I will show that gradual OT learners as currently formulated are capable of predicting such stages, so long as positional Markedness is an option for their characterization. I will also examine cases where description of a privileged position within the word cannot be reduced to positional Markedness, and will show that while reference to positional Faithfulness can still guide children’s productions, it can do so while ranked much lower than would be necessary under previous analyses. Since gradual OT learners can properly model such intermediate stages, their existence should not be used as an argument for preferring one learning algorithm over another.


Syntax Square 3/8 - Michelle Yuan  

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Wh-movement to complement position in Kikuyu (and cross-linguistically)
Date: Tuesday, March 8th
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm (the previously announced time was incorrect)
Place: 32-D461

In Kikuyu (Northeast Bantu; Kenya), wh-questions are formed by moving a wh-word to the left periphery of any clause (matrix or embedded) or by leaving it in situ. In the cases of overt movement, the wh-word surfaces with a left-peripheral focus morpheme, which I take to occupy Foc in an articulated CP (Rizzi 1997). The main claim of this talk is that wh-movement in Kikuyu, triggered by an EPP property on Foc, lands in the complement of Foc, rather than in Spec-FocP (as is usually assumed); I’ll refer to this kind of movement as Undermerge, following Pesetsky (2007, 2013). Undermerging to complement position allows the focus morpheme, analyzed here as a focus operator (cf. Abels & Muriungi 2008), to directly take the wh-word as its semantic argument. I additionally demonstrate that this analysis accounts for some seemingly unrelated properties of Kikuyu such as the morphosyntactic behaviour of negation. This proposal for Kikuyu dovetails with previous work on association with focus via covert movement (Wagner 2006, Erlewine & Kotek 2014) and also lets us draw novel parallels with similar-looking phenomena from Turkish (Özyıldız 2015) and Navajo (Bogal-Allbritten 2013, 2014). Finally, I extend the Kikuyu facts to Cable’s (2007, 2010) Q theory of wh-movement/pied piping and show how this extension lets us explore the nature of the relationship between the Q particle and the higher interrogative C it forms a dependency with.


LFRG 3/9 - Paul Crowley  

Speaker: Paul Crowley (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, March 9, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: A puzzle with contrastive polarity

Contrastive stress is commonly taken to indicate F-marking in the syntax, which is licensed under conditions that apply in the focus semantic domain (Rooth 1992, Schwartzchild 1999). This talk will be concerned with a puzzle relating to the licensing conditions on the contrastive stress appearing in expressions like (1), represented in CAPS.

(1) John didn’t read a singleNPI book that MARY DID read.

The sentence in (1) features two points of contrastive stress, on Mary and did. Stress on Mary expresses a contrast between the subjects of the matrix and relative clauses and stress on did indicates a contrast between the polarity of the two clause domains. Standard accounts of contrastive polarity assume that the accenting on did in the affirmative clause is associated with a covert affirmative head, which acts as the counterpart to the overt Neg (Chomsky 1955, 1957, Laka 1994). It will be shown that a parallel antecedent for the F-marked object containing the affirmative head in (1) can only be created by raising the object DP to scope above the negation at LF. However, the object DP cannot scope above the negation given that it contains an NPI which is only licensed within the scope of that negation.

It will be argued that the conflict in (1) must be resolved by assuming that contrastive polarity accenting does not indicate F-marking in the syntax and is licensed under different conditions than ‘normal’ contrastive accenting, e.g. contrastive subjects. Additional data will be offered as evidence for this. The rough beginnings of an analysis will be discussed, with many crucial details missing and many questions left unanswered. Lastly, contrastive polarity will be compared to another case of ‘abnormal’ contrastive accenting, contrastive voice, which raises independent questions. It will be suggested that these two types of accenting should be analyzed in a similar way.


Ling Lunch 3/10 - Amanda Swenson  

Speaker: Amanda Swenson (MIT)
Title: A Semantics for Malayalam Conjunctive Participles Constructions
Time: Thursday, March 10th, 12:30-1:45 pm
Place: 32-D461

Amritavalli & Jayaseelan (2005), Hany Babu & Madhavan (2003), a.o. raise the question of whether the traditional tense morphemes should be reanalyzed as aspect in Malayalam, making Malayalam a tenseless language. Conjunctive Participle/Serial Verb Constructions, (1), play a central role in this debate.

(1) a. njaan oru maanga pootticch-u thinn-u
I one mango pluck-U/I eat-PAST
‘I plucked and ate a mango.’ (Amritavalli & Jayaseelan 2005 p199: 37a)
b. mani avan-te katha karanj-u paranj-u.
Mani he-GEN tale cry-U/I tell-PAST
‘Weeping, Mani told his tale.’ (Gopalkrishnan 1985 p18: 8)

In this talk I assume, following Hany Babu & Madhavan (2003) and Asher & Kumari (1997) a.o., that the –u/i marker in Conjunctive Participles (`non-main verbs’) has a distinct temporal analysis from that of main verbs. In main verbs, –u/i is a past tense marker and in non-main verbs it is a semantically vacuous, frozen form (cf. Jayaseelan 2003). I propose an account for the way multi-verb constructions are temporally interpreted based on Stump (1985), thereby removing an argument for the claim that Malayalam is a tenseless language.


Colloquium 3/11 - Elliott Moreton  

Speaker: Elliott Moreton (UNC)
Title: Inside adult phonotactic learning
Date: Friday, March 11th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

Lab studies of phonological learning by adults (“artificial-language” studies) have become common in recent years as a way to test hypotheses about phonological inductive biases. However, not much is at present known about what participants are actually doing in the experiments. Do all participants approach the task in the same way? How does the experimental procedure affect the participants’ approach? Does the participant’s approach affect which patterns are easier or harder to learn? In this talk, we will discuss results from a series of phonotactic pattern-learning experiments that address these questions using both objective measures (e.g., proportion correct, reaction time, abruptness of the learning curve, etc.) and subjective ones (analysis of participants’ introspective reports). The main conclusion is that in any of a range of experimental conditions, two sub-populations emerge: implicit (intuitive, cue-based) and explicit (rational, rule-based) learners, and that the two learning modes can differ in sensitivity to different patterns: Rule-seeking amplifies an advantage which family-resemblance patterns enjoy over exclusive-or patterns. The existence and experimental signatures of implicit and explicit learning modes are very similar to what has been found in non-linguistic pattern learning; however, the effect of rule-seeking on relative difficulty is quite different. Implications will be discussed for both phonological theory and for the relationship between phonological and non-phonological pattern learning.

Adam Albright promoted Full Professor  

Our warmest congratulations to Adam Albright on his promotion to the rank of Full Professor!