The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 4th, 2016

ESSL / LaqLab Meeting 4/4 - Sudha Arunachalam

Speaker: Sudha Arunachalam (BU)
Title: How do children learn the meanings of event nominals?
Date and time: Monday, April 4th, 1:00 to 2:00 PM
Venue: 32-D831

Abstract: In the literature on vocabulary acquisition, much attention has been paid to the conceptual and linguistic differences between early-acquired verbs (labels for actions) and early-acquired nouns (labels for objects and people) and how these pose different learning tasks for the child. Event nominals pose an interesting challenge in that some are relatively early acquired, like “party” and “nap,” but they pose the same conceptual difficulties that accompany verbs while lacking the linguistic supports offered by verb argument structure. I would like to have an informal discussion about how we might investigate children’s representations for these early event nominals and what underlies their abilities to acquire them.

Phonology Circle 4/4 - Donca Steriade

Speaker: Donca Steriade (MIT)
Title: ATB-shifts and ATB-blockage in vocalic plateaus
Date/Time: Monday, April 4, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

The abstract is available here.

Syntax Square 4/5 - Fabian Moss

Speaker: Fabian Moss (TU Dresden) (BU)
Title: Towards a syntactic account for harmonic sequences in extended tonality
Date and time: Tuesday, April 5, 1:00 to 2:00 PM
Venue: 32-D461

A fundamental aspect of Western music is tonal harmony, or tonality, a complex rule system for specifying a) acceptable combinations of notes and chords within a key through reference to the tonic, its tonal center, and b) relationships between different keys. This is usually called harmonic function. Implicit knowledge of harmonic functions enables listeners to form strong expectations about the harmonic structure of musical pieces. To account for this phenomenon, previous research points to hierarchical grammatical models similar to those used to account for linguistic structure. The harmonic structure in music of the common practice period (Bach to Beethoven) is well described by grammars which define harmonic functions as recursive, tonic-headed patterns. In extended tonality, the language of the romantic period (Schubert to Mahler), harmonic patterns can be formalized in terms of finite state automata or as finite cyclic groups of transformations acting on notes or chords. However, the relationship to hierarchical descriptions and thus the integration into cognitive models that account for the building of harmonic expectations faces several challenges:
  • How to deal with cyclic patterns?
  • Are local dependencies enough?
  • How to determine head(s) of phrases?
  • This talk will outline the conceptual framework for dealing with musical instances of extended tonality in order to draw connections to current cognitive models of tonal harmony. Musical examples that will be discussed include:
  • F. Liszt: 5 Klavierstücke S. 192, No. 2 (Lento assai)
  • L. v. Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 op. 125, mvt. 2 (Scherzo)
  • J. Brahms: Double Concerto in A-minor, op. 102, mvt. 2 (Andante)
  • G. Verdi: Messa da Requiem (Rex Tremendae)
  • A. Dvořák: Symphony No. 9 in E minor, Op. 95 “From The New World”, mvt. 2 “Largo”
  • A. Bruckner: “Ecce sacerdos magnus”, WAB 13
  • LFRG 4/6 - Mike Jacques

    Speaker: Mike Jacques (MIT)
    Time: Wednesday, April 6th, 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: Approximators and Exceptives

    There is a class of approximators (almost, nearly, practically) that have an anomalous distribution with quantifiers - approximator + universal quantifier is grammatical, while approximator + existential quantifier is ungrammatical. Consider the following data:

    a. Almost/Nearly/Practically every student is here
    b. Almost/Nearly/Practically no students are here
    c. *Almost/Nearly/Practically {some/most/the/5} students are here

    Previous analyses of these operators have failed to account for the distribution in (1). I argue that the key data point in trying to give a semantics for these approximators is their close relation with exceptive phrases. Consider the exceptive phrases with but in (2):

    a. Every student but John is here
    b. No student but John is here
    c. *Some/Most/5/the students but John are here

    In this talk, I argue that a precise semantics for these approximators can be given in terms of an exceptive semantics, where the exception itself is existentially quantified. I show that this semantics, coupled with pragmatic considerations of “closeness,” gives a straightforward prediction for approximators and quantifiers, which correctly accounts for the data in (1).


    The 46th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL 46) was held last week at Stony Brook University (SUNY).

    Third year student Sophie Moracchini & Aurore Gonzalez (Harvard) gave a talk about A morpho-semantic decomposition of French `le moindre’ into even + superlative.

    Visiting scholars Adina Dragomirescu & Alexandru Nicolae (Romanian Academy - University of Bucharest) presented on Interpolation in Old Romanian and IstroRomanian

    Three MIT alumni also presented talks: Dominique Sportiche ‘84 (UCLA) who gave a talk about Overt movement even with island resumptives and consequences; Richard Kayne ‘69 (NYU) about French HCI, Agree, and Clitic Doubling; and Viviane Déprez ‘89 (Rutgers), who gave a talk on Contextual and prosodic disambiguation of French concord and discord with Jeremy Yeaton.

    The full program and abstracts can be found here.

    Ling Lunch 4/7 - Adina Dragomirescu & Alexandru Nicolae

    Speaker: Adina Dragomirescu & Alexandru Nicolae (Romanian Academy - University of Bucharest)
    Title: Inflected `non-finite’ forms: The Romance inflected infinitive vs. the Romanian Supine
    Time: Thursday, April 7th, 12:30-1:50 pm
    Place: 32-D461

    In this talk we introduce the relevant data related to the inflected infinitive in the Romance languages and in languages from other families. We focus on the relation between inflected and non-inflected (regular) infinitives and on the origin of the inflected forms. The data presented make it difficult to give straightforward answers to questions like ‘what is an infinitive?’ or ‘how can we distinguish between an inflected infinitive and a subjunctive?’.

    We then turn to the data regarding the Romanian supine and the competition between supine, infinitive and subjunctive forms in Modern Standard Romanian. We also pay attention to the usage of the supine in the northern varieties of Romanian, which, in contrast to the standard supine allows clitics, negation and even person and number agreement. This suggests that the functional structure of the standard supine is reduced when compared to the northern varieties.

    Finally, we try to put all these data in the context of the ‘exfoliation’ hypothesis, presented by David Pesetsky in his class this semester. We show that the Romanian infinitive, like the inflected infinitive in other Romance languages, projects a full non-finite clausal domain, so that exfoliation is not relevant here. However, the standard supine (incompatible with subjects, clitics, and negation) obtains via exfoliation of the C domain, the higher projection being probably the MoodP, where de, the supine marker, is hosted. However, in the northern varieties, the supine is a CP, with de hosted by the C domain, and its functional domain contains at least NegP (where the negation is hosted), and a PersP (where clitics are hosted). Empirical arguments for distinguishing between ‘exfoliation’ and (Rizzi’s / Wurmbrand’s) ‘restructuring’ are also presented.

    Open issues: Is exfoliation relevant from a diachronic point of view? Is exfoliation reversible? What is the relation between grammaticalization and exfoliation?