The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 11th, 2016

Amy Rose Deal at MIT  

Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley) is visiting the department this week. In addition to her Colloquium talk on Friday, she will give two talks:

Title: Cyclicity and connectivity in Nez Perce relative clauses
Time: Wednesday, 04/13/2016, 1:00-2:30pm (note special time)***
Venue: 34-304
Abstract: This talk centers on two aspects of movement in relative clauses, focusing on evidence from Nez Perce.

First, I argue that relativization always involves cyclic A’ movement, even in monoclausal relatives. Rather than moving directly to Spec,CP, the relative element moves there via an intermediate position in an A’ outer specifier of the TP immediately subjacent to relative C. Cyclicity of this type suggests that the TP sister of relative C constitutes a phase — a result whose implications extend to “highest subject restriction” effects in resumptive relatives as well as an ill-understood corner of the English that-trace effect.

Second, I argue that Nez Perce relativization provides new evidence for an ambiguity thesis for relative clauses, according to which some but not all relatives are derived by a head-raising. The argument comes from connectivity and anticonnectivity in morphological case. These new data complement the range of standard arguments for head-raising, which draw primarily on connectivity effects at the syntax-semantics interface.

***Unfortunately, this time conflicts with Giorgio Magri’s lecture. Also, this is the usual LFRG time, which will instead take place on Friday.

Title: Interaction and satisfaction: toward a theory of agreement
Time: Thursday, 04/14/2016, 5:00-6:30pm (note special time)
Venue: 36-155 (note special location)

The operation Agree has typically been modelled as a device for repairing specific lexical deficiencies by feature transfer: [uF] on a head causes the head to probe, and transfer of [F] from a goal causes probing to stop. In this talk, I start with a different conception of Agree, one based not on lexical deficiencies (i.e. u-features) but on the ability to create redundancy. Probes, I propose, interact with (copy) all phi features they encounter until such point as they meet a satisfaction (halt) condition. A probe satisfied by a rather specific feature, such as [addressee], will nevertheless interact with the full phi-set, resulting in a “more than you bargained for” system of agreement. My primary empirical case for such a system comes from complementizer agreement in Nez Perce. I show how the theory is able to model not only the conditions on agreement with the complementizer, but also the workings of agreement in relative clauses and the non-interaction of agreement with A-scrambling.


Giorgio Magri at MIT  

In the next two weeks, Giorgio Magri will give a series of four informal presentations about learnability in OT. The times and locations are listed below, and a description of the topics follows. (Meetings 1 and 3 will be special meetings of 24.981 and 24.964, respectively)

Topic 1: Idempotency, chain shifts, and learnability
Time: Monday 4/11 11am-1pm
Place: 32-D461
Reading: https://sites.google.com/site/magrigrg/home/idempotency

A grammar is idempotent if it yields no chain shifts. I will give a ”reasoned” overview of the OT literature on chain shifts. The idea is that idempotency holds if all the faithfulness constraints satisfy a certain idempotency faithfulness condition(IFC). You can study formally which faithfulness constraints satisfy the IFC and which do not. Once you have your list of faithfulness constraints that do not satisfy the IFC, you can synopsize the various accounts for chain shifts in OT based on which faithfulness constraint they pick from that list. This little bit of theory of idempotency/chain shifts might have some implications for learnability. From a learnability perspective, a chain shift (a->e->i) is not necessarily problematic, as long as it is ”benign”, in the sense that the typology explored by the learner contains another grammar which is idempotent (no chain shifts) and makes the same phonotactic distinctions ([a] illicit; [e, i] licit). The obvious reason is that a phonotactic learner can simply assume he is learning the latter grammar instead of the former. These considerations lead to the following question: is it true that all chain shifts are benign? I don’t know. Yet, I have some ideas on how to use the results of the theory of idempotency to try to establish that. Existing inventories of chain shifts (like the one compiled by Moreton) might provide the empirical basis to address the question. Dinnsen also has a long list of child case studies with chain shifts that might be interesting to look at.

Topic 2: Idempotency, the triangular inequality, and McCarthy’s (2003) categoricity conjecture
Time: Tuesday 4/12 3-5pm
Place: 24-115 (**** Note special place)
Reading: https://sites.google.com/site/magrigrg/home/idempotenceoutputdrivenness

The IFC mentioned above is a fairly abstract and weird-looking condition on the faithfulness constraints. I will suggest that it admits nonetheless a very intuitive interpretation. Here is the idea. Faithfulness constraints intuitively measure the ”phonological distance” between URs and SRs. Thus, it makes sense to ask whether they satisfy axiomatic properties of the notion of distance. One such property is the ”triangular inequality”, which says that the distance between A and C is smaller than the distance between A and B plus the distance between B and C. I will argue that the IFC turns out to be equivalent to the requirement that faithfulness constraints satisfy the triangular inequality (properly readapted). In other words, OT idempotency holds when the faithfulness constraints have good ”metric properties”. Crucially, I can establish this equivalence for faithfulness constraints which satisfy a slightly stronger version of McCarthy’s (2003) categoricity generalization. Is it true that the faithfulness constraints which are relevant for natural language phonology satisfy this stronger categoricity generalization? I don’t know. But the ones I have started to look at seem as they do. The connection between the IFC and the triangular inequality is strengthen in the case of HG, because in that case it holds for any faithfulness constraint, not only for the categorical ones.

Topic 3: Tesar’s characterization of opacity based on output-drivenness
Time: Wednesday 4/13 1-3pm
Place: 32-D461

Tesar (2013) develops an extremely difficult theory of his notion of output-drivenness. Intuitively, this notion is meant to capture opaque interactions (or at least a subset thereof) without resorting to rules, namely in a way which is consistent with constraint-based frameworks. I will present a reconstruction of (a slight generalization of) Tesar’s theory of output-drivenness which (I personally submit) is quite simpler than his original formulation. This reconstruction builds on the results on the faithfulness triangular inequality anticipated above. What is the actual relationship between Tesar’s notion of output-drivenness and opacity? I don’t know—and Tesar does not seem to really care about that after all (that is indeed not what his book is really about). I would be very interested in going through a list of opaque cases (like the list in Baković’s paper) and see how they fare from the classifying perspective of output-drivenness. The task is not trivial, because (as we will see), the definition of output-drivenness has a free parameter which needs to be ”set by the user”. Furthermore, I think that this little project might potentially turn out to be quite interesting for the following reason. We know that opacity is hard to get in OT and it has indeed motivated all kind of advanced technology. Tesar has a fresh approach to it. He cares about learnability, not opacity. He starts from the assumption that opacity is bad for learnability and thus he wants to put opacity aside. This means that he needs to develop constraint conditions which ensure that the grammars in the corresponding typology are output-driven and thus display no opacity. Since opacity is hard to get, you might expect that Tesar has an easy job in characterizing constraint sets which forbid opacity. That turns out not to be the case: Tesar’s task turns out to be very difficult—-even though he makes a number of additional simplifying assumptions (one-to-one correspondence relations, only three faithfulness constraints, etcetera). Thus, it looks like opacity in OT is at the same time hard to get and hard to avoid!! I wonder whether understanding this surprising tension might lead to any new insights on opacity in OT.

Topic 4: The Merchant/Tesar theory of inconsistency detection for learning underlying forms
Time: Thurs 4/21 3-5pm
Place: 32-D461


ECO-5 at MIT on Saturday April 16  

On Saturday, April 16 MIT will host this year’s ECO5 student syntactic workshop. It is a yearly small conference where graduate students from five East Coast departments (Harvard, UConn, UMass, UMaryland and MIT) can present their ongoing or completed work on syntactic issues to a friendly crowd of faculty and students, which rotates between the five co-organizing departments.

This year it is MIT’s turn to run things, and you can find a program here.

The workshop starts at 9:15am on Saturday, and will continue until around 6pm.

See you there!


Syntax Square 4/12 - Norbert Corver  

Speaker: Norbert Corver (Utrecht)
Title: small but BIG: Augmentative schwa in the morphosyntactic build of Dutch
Date: Tuesday, April 12th
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm
Place: 32-D461

The abstract is available here.


Ling Lunch 4/14 - Despina Oikonomou  

Speaker: Despina Oikonomou (MIT)
Title: Sloppy pro in Greek: an E-type analysis
Time: Thursday, April 14th, 12:30-1:50 pm
Place: 32-D461

It has been observed that null subjects (NSs) in Japanese allow a sloppy interpretation whereas NSs in Romance languages do not (Oku 1998). This difference has led to the idea that NSs in Japanese-type languages is an instance of argument ellipsis whereas in Spanish-type languages they are silent pronouns (Oku 1998, Saito 2007, Takahashi 2007). However, Duguine (2014) provides empirical evidence for the availability of sloppy readings in Spanish and Basque NSs and argues for a unitary approach of NSs as Argument DP-Ellipsis.

In this talk, I show that sloppy readings are also available in Greek NSs (1), but I provide evidence against a DP-Ellipsis analysis. I argue instead that the sloppy NSs in Greek are E-type pronouns (`paycheck’ pronouns (Cooper 1979)) in the sense of Elbourne’s (2001) approach.

(1) A: i   Maria ipe   oti     to   agapimeno tis       fagito ine o musakas.
+++ the Maria said that the favorite     her.Poss food is the moussaka
+++ ‘Maria said that her favorite food is moussaka.’

+ B: i   Yoko ipe   oti ∅   ine to sushi.
++ the Yoko said that ∅ is the sushi
++ ‘Yoko said [it] is sushi.’
√Sloppy reading: Yoko said that Yoko’s favorite food is sushi.

Elbourne (2001) analyzes E-type pronouns as a determiner plus NP-Ellipsis. I show that sloppy interpretation becomes available when the antecedent involves a relational as opposed to a sortal noun. This contrast follows from Elbourne’s analysis; in relational nouns the possessor is an argument of the NP (Barker 1991), therefore it is present in the elided NP and can be bound. Object clitics behave in a similar way, allowing sloppy interpretations under certain conditions (cf. Giannakidou & Merchant 1997). A new question arises as to whether an E-type analysis of sloppy NSs is applicable in Japanese as well (Miyagawa 2015).


LFRG 4/15 - Paul Marty  

Speaker: Paul Marty (MIT)
Time: Friday, April 15th, 12-1pm
Place: 32-D461
Title: What it takes ‘to win’: a linguistic point of view

In this talk, I discuss and offer a solution to the `Puzzle of Changing Past’ presented in Barlassina and Del Prete (2014). This puzzle is based on the following true story:

The Rise And Fall Of Lance Armstrong: On 23rd of July 2000, Lance Armstrong is declared the winner of the 87th Tour de France by Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). However, on 22 October 2012, UCI withdraws all of Armstrong’s wins at Tour de France.

Now, consider the following sentence:
(1) Lance Armstrong won the 87th Tour de France.

The puzzle arises from the following observations. If the proposition expressed in (1) is evaluated before `22 October 2012’, then it is true; however, if it is evaluated after `22 October 2012’, then its negation is true. This is puzzling because it challenges the platitude that the truth/falsity of what we say about the past depends on how the past is and stands as it is once and for all, as exemplified in (2).

(2) Lance Armstrong was born in 1971.
a. If (2) is true at a time t in w, then for any t’ such that t’>t, (2) is true at t’ in w.
b. If (2) is false at a time t in w, then for any t’ such that t’>t, (2) is false at t’ in w.

One possibility is to consider this puzzle as a metaphysical one, and embrace Barlassina and Del Prete’s provocative conclusion that the past can change. Instead of taking this avenue, I will argue that this puzzle is linguistic in nature, and defend the platitude. In substance, I will propose that `win’-sentences of (1) involve a covert modality which can be thought of as the remnant of the original speech-act whereby the winner is `declared’ to be so (e.g., `It was declared that Lance Armstrong won the 87th Tour de France’). I will show how this view can account for sentences of (3), and in particular for the presence of the past tense morphology in the embedded clause.

(3) It is no longer the case that [Lance Armstrong won the 87th Tour de France].
(4) #It is no longer the case that [Lance Armstrong was born in 1971].

In the meantime, if you want to look at the original argument, Barlassina and Del Prete’s paper is available here.


Colloquium 4/15 - Amy Rose Deal  

Speaker: Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Title: Shifty asymmetries: toward universals and variation in shifty indexicality
Time: Friday, 04/15/2016, 3:30-5:00pm
Venue: 32-141

Indexical shift is a phenomenon whereby indexicals embedded in speech and attitude reports depend for their reference on the speech/attitude report, rather than on the overall utterance. For example, in a language with indexical shift, “I” may refer to Bob in a sentence like “Who did Bob think I saw?”. The last 15 years have seen an explosive growth in research on indexical shift cross-linguistically. In this talk, I discuss three major generalizations that emerge from this work, and present a theory that attempts to explain them. The account that I develop concerns the syntax of indexical shift along with its semantics, and has consequences for the linguistic encoding of attitudes de se. Throughout the talk I will exemplify indexical shift primarily, though by no means exclusively, with data from original fieldwork on Nez Perce.

ESSL/LaqLab Meeting 4/11  

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Children’s understanding of factive forget/remember
Date and time: Monday, April 11th, 1:00 to 2:00 PM
Venue: 32-D831

Children have been reported to have enduring difficulties with cognitive factives, even at an age when they don’t have generalized difficulties with (non-factive) attitude predicates or presupposition triggers. Specifically, children behave as if they don’t know that the veracity inference survives under negation. We examine 4-6-year-olds’ understanding of the factive verb-pair forget/remember and find two populations: one group (n=13) displays adult-like performance, while the other (n=19) appears to be treating factive predicates on par with their implicative counterparts. My goal for this talk will be twofold: (i) consider whether this pattern is indicative of an acquisition stage where children lack a factive representation for remember/forget and (ii) discuss ideas for follow-up experiments that could adjudicate between different interpretations of these results.