The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 9th, 2016

Phonology Circle - two meetings


Speaker: Mingqiong (Joan) Luo (Shanghai International Studies University)
Title: Opacity in MC Nasal Rhymes—-Phonetics and Phonology
Date/Time: Monday, May 9, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Cross-linguistically speaking, nasal place assimilation is quite common when the nasal is followed by a consonant. English and Japanese have plenty of examples for it. However, although it is well-known that Mandarin Chinese (MC) has two nasal phonemes in the coda place: /n/ and /ŋ/, there is very few literature on what exactly happens to the nasal place in VN.CV context, when the nasal is followed immediately by a consonant. This research explored this problem by conducting a phonetic experiment and using R to analyze the data. Results show that (i) there is no place assimilation in MC VN.CV context; (ii) nasal place contrast has been neutralized in the citation form; (iii) the only cue to nasal place contrast in MC nasal rhymes is vowel-nasal transitional formant 2; (iv) there is opacity in Chinese nasal rhymes, ever since the citation form, and it can be captured by the following two rules in order:

(a) V/N backness agreement: V → V [αback] / _N[αplace]#

(b) Nasal place deletion: N[α place] → N[0 place] / _#


Speaker: Juliet Stanton & Sam Zukoff (MIT)
Title: Prosodic Misapplication in Copy Epenthesis and Reduplication
Date/Time: Friday, May 13, 1:00–2:00pm
Location: 32-D831

The term copy epenthesis refers to patterns of vowel epenthesis in which the featural value of the inserted vowel co-varies with context, “copying” the features of a neighboring vowel (e.g. /pra/ → [para], /pri/ → [piri]). This paper focuses on a class of cases in which the similarity between copy vowels and their hosts extends beyond featural resemblance, and how the existence of these effects informs the analysis of copy epenthesis – and by extension, the analysis of copying phenomena more generally. In particular, we show that copy vowels and their hosts strive for identity not only in all segmental features, but in all prosodic properties as well – and that this drive for prosodic identity can cause the misapplication of prosodic properties (i.e. stress, pitch, length). To explain these effects, we propose that copy vowels and their hosts stand in correspondence with each other (Kitto & de Lacy 1999). We show that this correspondence-based approach naturally extends to a class of similar misapplication effects in reduplication, and argue that the empirical overlap between the phenomena signals a formal similarity. In this way, the paper develops Kitto & de Lacy’s (1999) suggestion that copying, phonological and morphological, is mediated by correspondence constraints (cf. Kawahara 2007).

Syntax Square 5/10 - Colin Davis & Justin Colley

Speaker: Colin Davis & Justin Colley
Title: A new approach to Turkish nominalized clauses (WAFL test-run)
Date: Tuesday, May 10th
Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm
Place: 32-D461

In this talk, we account for the properties of several clause types in Turkish, where we see alternations between genitive and nominative subjects in several circumstances. We make use of two primary tools: 1 - A configurational system of case (Marantz 1991, Levin & Preminger 2014) in which nominative and genitive are reflexes of the unmarked case, respectively in the clausal domain and the nominal domain. 2 - A dynamic view of phasal domains (Den Dikken 2007, Alexiadou et al 2014, Wurmbrand 2013) in which in some circumstances, phasehood shifts its structural position. Taking these concepts together, if nominative and genitive are domain sensitive realizations of the same case specification, we expect that this case will be realized differently in some scenarios where, by phase extension, the relevant domain changes. We argue that this general idea can make sense of a variety of facts about the morphology of Turkish nominalizations, among these some unique traits of nominalizations in adjunct contexts, and contrasts between subjunctive and indicative nominalizations. (Kornfilt 2006)

LFRG 5/11 - Zuzanna Fuchs

Speaker: Zuzanna Fuchs (Harvard)
Time: Wednesday, May 11, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Topichood and split DPs in Georgian: movement or base-generation?

Discontinuous (or split) DPs have been reported in several languages, including Polish, Russian, German, Warlpiri, Mayan Yucatec, and others. In these constructions, material external to the DP can intervene between a head noun and one or more of its modifiers. While the null hypothesis for split DPs is subextraction out of the DP, a range of evidence for Georgian (adjective scope reconstruction, Principle C binding effects, and more) appears to argue against such an analysis for the Georgian data, suggesting instead that one part of the split may be base-generated in a topic position. Additionally, case concord interacts with split DPs in Georgian in a peculiar way that existing accounts of split DPs cannot account for: (1) for some modifiers, case concord is ungrammatical in continuous DPs but obligatory in split DPs and (2) the dative and accusative cases on modifiers are null in continuous DPs but are realized as -s in split DPs — a form restricted to the dative and accusative on head nouns in continuous DPs. In this talk, I present the arguments against subextraction for Georgian DPs and give an NP-ellipsis account of the case concord facts.


The 34th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics was held from April, 29 to May, 1st in the Universiy of Utah. Three second year grad students gave talks or presented posters:

  • Omer Demirok. A compositional semantics for Turkish correlatives and its implications.
  • Daniel Margulis. Expletive negation is an exponent of only.
  • Naomi Francis. Modal scope in negative inversion constructions.

Ling Lunch 5/12 - Alexandru Nicolae

Speaker: Alexandru Nicolae (Romanian Academy - University of Bucharest)
Title: The syntactic configurations of Romanian modal verbs: modals and phases
Time: Thursday, May 12th, 12:30-1:50 pm
Place: 32-D461

The distributional and interpretative properties of the Romanian modal verbs `putea’ (‘can, be able to’) and `trebui’ (‘must, have to’) indicate that the modal verbs have a uniform syntactic behavior, in spite of superficially different syntactic configurations (the monoclausal configuration / the biclausal configuration) in which they appear: (i) they are subject raising verbs, which (ii) select a phasal complement. With respect to the biclausal configuration, in contrast to previous literature, which claims that the embedded subjunctive is a “reduced” / “truncated” / “defective” CP in order to derive the subject raising effect, we show that the subjunctive CP is a fully articulated domain from a structural point of view; hence, the subject raising effect has to be derived in a different manner. As for monoclausal configuration (in which the modal verb selects a non-finite complement), we show (i) that, in spite of the different morphosyntactic realization of the complements of the modal verb (bare short infinitive, participle, supine), they are structurally isomorphic, in the sense that the non-finite complement projects up to v-Voice, and (ii) that the [modal verb + nonfinite complement] is a restructuring configuration. Furthermore, the Romanian data suggest that the restructuring effect might actually fall out of minimality (verb movement considerations).

Colloquium 5/13 - Roni Katzir

Speaker: Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University)
Title: On the roles of anaphoricity and relevance in focus
Date: Friday, May 13rd
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

The placement of accent on elements in sentences interacts both with the felicity of sentences in their conversational context — so-called free focus (FF)—and, in the presence of certain operators, with the truth conditions and presuppositions of sentences—so-called association with focus (AF). For example, John DRINKS tea is acceptable as a response to John sells tea but not to John drinks coffee (FF); and John only DRINKS tea, with the AF operator ‘only’, can entail that it is false that John sells tea but not that it is false that he drinks coffee. It is commonly assumed that focus-sensitivity in both FF and AF is related to focus alternatives, sets of sentences that are identical to the original modulo focus-marked constituents (e.g., {John drinks tea, John buys tea, John sells tea, …} for John DRINKS tea). Moreover, this connection is often taken to be anaphoric: in FF, the focus alternatives of a sentence are required to have a contextually salient element or subset (Jackendoff 1972, Rooth 1992, Schwarzschild 1999); and in AF, focus alternatives are matched against an anaphoric element that determines the domain restriction of an operator like ‘only’ (Rooth 1992, von Fintel 1994).

My goal in this talk is to argue that the role of anaphoricity in focus sensitivity is more limited than commonly thought and that the main factor, both in FF and in AF, is relevance to a question (in the sense of Groenendijk & Stokhof 1984). I start by reviewing several empirical puzzles for Rooth 1992 and Schwarzschild 1999. These puzzles suggest a central role for questions in focus sensitivity, though they do not help choose between relevance and anaphoricity to a question. I proceed to present the details of a relevance-based account of focus sensitivity, building on Fox 2007’s architecture in which the grammar, enriched with a silent exhaustivity operator, is responsible for all specialized alternative-sensitive computations, while the pragmatic component does not perform such computations and is mostly limited to disambiguating between parses and determining possible values for contextual variables. Finally, I use an extension of Wagner 2005’s ‘convertible’ paradigm to argue that the dependence of focus sensitivity on questions in both FF and AF must be one of relevance rather than anaphoricity. The argument relies on a crucial difference between the two mechanisms: anaphoricity can pick up arbitrary sets of alternatives, while relevance, due to contradiction avoidance, is sometimes incapable of making selections that would lead to arbitrary alternative-based inferences.