The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 28th, 2016

Sabine Iatridou receives an honorary doctorate

Heartfelt congratulations to our colleague Sabine Iatridou, who received an honorary doctorate from the University of Crete last Wednesday — a great honor!! See the link for the official announcement. Here is the announcement of the event by the university, and here is a link to the coverage in the local paper.


ESSL/LacqLab 3/28 - Brian Dillon

Speaker: Brian Dillon (UMass)
Title: Which noun phrases is this verb supposed to agree with… and when?
Date and time: Monday, March 28, in 32-D831, 1:00-2:00 pm

The study of agreement constraints has yielded much insight into the organization of grammatical knowledge, within and across languages. In a parallel fashion, the study of agreement production and comprehension have provided key data in the development of theories of language production and comprehension. In this talk I present work at the intersection of these two research traditions. I present the results of experimental research (joint work with Adrian Staub, Charles Clifton Jr, and Josh Levy) that suggests that the grammar of many American English speakers is variable: in certain syntactic configurations, more than one NP is permitted to control agreement (Kimball & Aissen, 1971). However, our work suggests that this variability is not random, and in particular, optional agreement processes are constrained by the nature of the parser. We propose that variable agreement choices arise in part as a function of how the parser stores syntactic material in working memory d uring the incremental production of syntactic structures.

Phonology Circle 3/28 - Kevin Ryan

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard)
Title: Strictness functions in meter
Date/Time: Monday, March 28, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Meters can vary in strictness along several dimensions, four of which I’ll illustrate using the Finnish Kalevala, though the principles are arguably universal.
1. Strictness increases across constituents such as the line (couplet, etc.), such that exceptions are most frequent at the beginning and taper off towards the end.
2. Although the meter is conventionally described as regulating only stressed syllables, I show that degree of regulation correlates with degree of stress, such that violations of the meter are more tolerated for more weakly stressed syllables, but not fully ignored.
3. Although conventionally described as binary, the meter evidently treats weight as gradient, such that the more the duration of a syllable deviates from its metrical target, the more the mapping is penalized.
4. Word boundaries are increasingly avoided towards the end of the line (beyond prose baselines). The conventionally recognized prohibition on line-final monosyllables is only the most extreme manifestation of this tendency.
In all four cases, strictness of mapping (i.e. how much a violation of the meter is “felt”) is modulated by some scale such as position in the line, stress level, or duration. I discuss how such modulations of strictness can be modeled in a maxent or logistic constraint framework and some resulting typological predictions.

Syntax Square 3/29 - Kenyon Branan

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: Real object agreement in Tigre
Date: Tuesday, March 29th
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm
Place: 32-D461

Whenever the phi-features of an argument are cross-referenced by a morpheme in the verbal complex, the question arises: is this morpheme an agreement morpheme, or is it a doubled clitic. Recently, instances of object cross-referencing have been argued to be clitic doubling (Woolford 2008, Preminger 2009, Nevins 2011, Kramer 2014), raising the question of whether or not languages ever allow for true object agreement. I’ll argue, based on a variety of diagnostics, that object cross-referencing in Tigre appears to be a real instance of Agree.

LFRG 3/30 - Daniel Margulis

Speaker: Daniel Margulis (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, March 30, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831

Daniel Margulis will discuss Champollion’s (2016) paper titled Overt distributivity in algebraic event semantics.


Ling Lunch 3/31 - Naomi Francis

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Scope in negative inversion constructions: Evidence from positive polarity item modals
Time: Thursday, March 31th, 12:30-1:45 pm
Place: 32-D461

Negative inversion is a construction that involves the preposing of a negative expression and obligatory subject-auxiliary inversion (e.g. `Under no circumstances are you to buy another pet giraffe’). Collins and Postal (2014) claim that the preposed negative element takes scope over everything else in the clause. I show that, while the negative expression does take scope over quantificational DPs, deontic modals should, must, and to be to, which have been argued to be positive polarity items (PPIs) (Iatridou & Zeijlstra 2013), are able to outscope it. I argue that this can be explained if PPI modals undergo covert movement to escape environments where they are not licensed, as proposed by Iatridou and Zeijlstra (2013) and Homer (2015). This picture is complicated by the fact that epistemic PPI modals behave differently from their deontic counterparts in negative inversion constructions. Furthermore, there is interspeaker variation in the acceptability of epistemic PPI modals in these constructions; at least two patterns of data are attested. I propose that these facts can be captured if we allow certain aspects of the Epistemic Containment Principle (von Fintel & Iatridou 2003) to vary across speakers.


Reading group 3/31 - Hayes, Wilson, and Shisko (2012)

Paper: Hayes, Wilson, and Shisko (2012) “Maxent Grammars for the Metrics of Shakespeare and Milton” Language 88.4, pp. 691-731
Time: Thursday, 03/31/2016, 5:00-6:30 PM
Venue: 32-D461


MIT at ACAL 47

Two of our graduate students and two recent alums presented their work at the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL) last week in Berkeley.

  • Second-year student Abdul-Razak Sulemana presented a papret on “Wh-in-situ and intervention in Bùlì”.
  • Third-year student Kenyon Branan spoke about “Abstract dependent case: evidence from Kikuyu”
  • Claire Halpert (PhD 2012) of the University of Minnesota was a plenary speaker. Her topic was “Surmountable Barriers”
  • Newly minted alum Isaac Gould (PhD 2015) co-presented (with Tessa Scott) a talk on “Two derivations for amba relative clauses in Swahili”

Colloquium 4/1 - Bruce Hayes

Speaker: Bruce Hayes (UCLA)
Title: Stochastic constraint-based grammars for Hausa verse and song
Date: Friday, April 1st
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

I pursue a long-standing tradition in phonology, namely appeal to poetic metrics as a testing ground for ideas more broadly applicable in phonology as a whole. The research I will describe is from an ongoing collaboration with Russell Schuh of UCLA.

The rajaz meter of Hausa is based on syllable quantity. In its dimeter form, it deploys lines consisting of two metra, each with six moras. A variety of metra occur, and the analytical challenge is to single out the legal metra from the set of logically possible metra. Our analysis, framed in maxent OT, does this, and also accounts for the statistical distribution of metron types — varying from poem to poem — within the line and stanza. We also demonstrate a law of comparative frequency for rajaz and show how it emerges naturally in maxent when competing candidates are in a relationship of harmonic bounding.

Turning to how verse is sung, we observe that rajaz verse rhythm is always remapped onto a sung rhythm, and we consider grammatical architectures, some serial, that can characterize this remapping. Lastly, we develop a maxent phonetic grammar, adapting the framework of Edward Flemming, to predict the durations of the sung syllables. Our constraints simultaneously invoke all levels of structure: the syllables and moras of the phonology, the grids used for poetic scansion, and the grids used for sung rhythm.


DeGraff at BCLL#3

Faculty member Michel DeGraff gave a 2-hour keynote workshop at the Third Bremen Conference on Language and Literature in Colonial and Postcolonial Contexts.