The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 25th, 2016

Jonathan Bobaljik Wins Guggenheim Fellowship

Congratulations to our very distinguished 1995 PhD alum, Jonathan Bobaljik, of the University of Connecticuty, on winning a Guggenheim fellowship to study endangered languages.

Syntax Square 4/26 - Nick Longenbaugh

Speaker: Nick Longenbaugh (MIT)
Title: Medium-distance movement
Date: Tuesday, April 26th
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm
Place: 32-D461

Many filler-gap dependencies traditionally analyzed as involving A’-movement of a null operator show constraints on the gap site that are not observed with other types of A’-movement (Stowell 1986; Cinque 1990; Rezac 2006; a.o.) wh-question formation, finite relative clause formation). In this talk, I focus on four such cases: degree-clauses, purpose clauses, non-finite relatives, and tough-movement. In each of these constructions, intervening finite clauses (but not infinitives) degrade object gaps and completely block subject gaps. I term this constrained movement medium-distance movement (MDM).

(1) Intervening finite CPs degrade object gaps
a. ?(?)That book was hard [Inf to convince Sally [CP that John wrote t]].
b. ??Sally was too smart [Inf to convince Arthur [CP that the professor had failed t]].
c. ??I chose this piano [Inf to convince Bill [CP that Mozart had practiced on t]].
d. ?(?)I’m looking for a book [Inf to convince Sue [CP that Roth would love t]]

(2) Intervening finite CPs block subject-gaps
a. *John was hard [Inf to convince Sally [CP t wrote that book]].
b. *Sally was too smart [Inf to convince Arthur [CP t failed the test]].
c. *I chose Sue [Inf to convince Bill [CP t won the race]].
d. *I’m looking for an author [Inf to convince Sue [CP t wrote this book]]

I argue that the constraints on MDM arise due to type-theoretic constraints on the interpretation of the top link in the relevant movement chain. I show that in each of the four cases under discussion, the top link in the movement chain must be interpreted as a predicate over individuals (type ). Adopting van Urk’s (2105) type-driven approach to the A/A’-distinction, where A- and A’-movement differ in the type of abstraction they are associated with at LF, this precludes precluding any pure A’-movement step in the course of the derivation of these constructions. Instead, I suggest, following van Urk (2015) and Longenbaugh (2016), that the relevant mechanism is composite A/A’-movement, and that finite CPs (but not infinitives) are islands for such movement in English. MDM out of a finite clause is thus island-violating movement, which captures Cinque’s (1990) observation that MDM shows the same constraints as wh-island-violating movement. This analysis both provides a straightforward explanation of the constrained nature of the movement involved in these constructions and furnishes new evidence for the ubiquity of composite A/A’-movement in natural language.

Ling Lunch 4/28 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: Coordination and constituency paradoxes
Time: Thursday, April 28th, 12:30-1:50 pm
Place: 32-D461

In Hirsch (2015), I discuss empirical diagnostics for hidden structure in examples like (1a), and argue for a “conjunction reduction” analysis, where (1a) involves vP conjunction rather than DP conjunction, (1b) (CR, cf. Schein 2014). Diagnostics involve the distribution of adverbs (cf. Collins 1988), available interpretations of VP ellipsis, and observed scope readings (cf. Partee & Rooth 1983).

(1) a. John saw every student and every professor.
b. John [t saw every student] and [t (saw) every professor].

In this talk, I employ these same empirical tests to identify a class of constituency paradoxes. I consider cases where `DP and DP’ appears to be singled out as a constituent — (pseudo)-clefts (2a), right node raising (2b), and examples with `both’ apparently adjoining to `DP and DP’ (2c) — and demonstrate that tests for hidden structure still come out positive in these cases.

(2) a. It’s a table and a chair that John saw.
b. John likes and Mary hates a table and a chair (respectively).
c. John saw both a table and a chair.

To resolve the paradoxes, I propose derivations of (2a)-(2c) which again involve hidden structure above the DP. Finally, I show how the proposal for (2c) may extend beyond apparent DP conjunction to provide an explanation for certain data involving apparent `CP coordination’: (3), where `or’ is interpreted as scoping above the intensional predicate, and observations from Bjorkman (2013).

(3) CNN believes either that Trump will be president or that Hillary will be. (or > believe, *believe > or)

Morris Halle in the Annual Review of Linguistics

Read Mark Liberman’s paper about Morris Halle in the Annual Review of Linguistics. Here is the abstract:

Morris Halle has been one of the most influential figures in modern linguistics. This is partly due to his scientific contributions in many areas: insights into the sound patterns of English and Russian, ideas about the nature of metered verse, ways of thinking about phonological features and rules, and models for argumentation about phonological description and phonological theory. But he has had an equally profound influence through his role as a teacher and mentor, and this personal influence has not been limited to students who follow closely in his intellectual and methodological footsteps. It has been just as strong—or stronger—among researchers who disagree with his specific ideas and even his general approach, or who work in entirely different subfields. This appreciation is a synthesis of reflections from colleagues and former students whom he has formed, informed, and inspired

Phonology Circle 4/25 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: The loi de position and the acoustics of Southern French mid vowels
Date: Monday, April 25th
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

Southern French is often described as having a syllable-based distribution of tense and lax mid vowels, traditionally known as the loi de position: tense mid vowels occur in open syllables and lax mid vowels in closed syllables. But there is disagreement among authors as to (i) whether the loi de position holds across contexts (Is it limited to stressed syllables? Is it limited to certain consonantal contexts?) and (ii) whether there is durational difference between tense and lax mid vowels (with tense mid vowels being longer). These debates are reflected in dictionaries, which show conflicting phonetic transcriptions of mid vowels (e.g. Ecossais “Scottish” and accoster “touch land” are transcribed as [ekosɛ] and [akɔste] in the Lexique 3.80, in accordance with the loi de position, but as [ekɔsɛ] and [akɔste] in the TLF).

To answer these questions, I will present two acoustic experiments investigating the realization of French oral vowels in different syllabic/segmental/stress contexts. The results support the view that the loi de position holds both in stressed and unstressed syllables and across a range of consonantal contexts (before [r], [l], and [s]). However, the tense/lax distinction is not necessarily accompanied by a durational difference, suggesting that closed syllable vowel laxing and shortening do not always go together, contrary to what has been assumed in most phonological accounts of the loi de position.

ESSL/LacqLab 4/25 - Cassandra Chapman

Speaker: Cassandra Chapman
Time: Monday, April 25, at 1:00 PM
Place: 32-D831
Title: Processing of logical form structure: Evidence from binding

Previous psycholinguistic work on filler-gap dependencies demonstrates that the left-to-right incremental parser is sensitive to the syntactic dependency holding between a wh-filler and its gap position. However, little work has investigated how the parser might resolve constructions in which a phrase must be interpreted in a distinct structural position (i.e., in its logical form, or LF, position) from where it appears on the surface. The interpretation of three different types of DPs (namely, anaphors, pronouns and proper names) provide a tool to investigate LF structure in real-time. In three self-paced reading experiments, we examined how these DPs are processed in sentences where the anaphor or pronoun linearly preceded its antecedent. Results suggest that the parser searches for an antecedent as soon as it finds an unbound anaphor (Principle A) but that no such search occurs for pronouns (Principle B). Greater processing difficulty is also incurred when names are first introduced compared to pronouns, which can be explained by current models of variable binding: pronouns can enter the derivation with an index whereas an index needs to be created for names to serve as binders. In this talk, we propose a processing model which makes predictions about when processing difficulty will arise based on the current semantic theories.

LFRG 4/29 - Paul Marty

Speaker: Paul Marty (MIT)
Time: Friday, April 29, 2-3pm
Place: 32-D831
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.