The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 5th, 2016

Welcome to the Fall 2016 semester!

Today, Tuesday September 6, is Registration Day. Whamit!, the MIT Linguistics Department Newsletter, appears every Monday during the semester (Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Suzana Fong, Michelle Yuan, and Sophie Moracchini.

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6 pm. At the beginning of the semester, we’re particularly interested in news about what members of the department did during the summer break.

Hope to see you all at the departmental lunch, 12pm at the 8th floor lounge!

Welcome to our new students!

Welcome to the new students who are joining the graduate program!

Neil Banerjee

“I’m from Mississauga, Ontario. I was born in West Bengal in India, but I’ve lived in Canada since I was four and so have become very fond of the cold. In June I received a B.Sc. in Mathematics and Linguistics from the University of Toronto. My main linguistic interests are the syntax and semantics of the INFL domain. So far I’ve worked on the syntax of historical English and the semantics of epistemic modals cross-linguistically. My main non-linguistic interests are hiking, flags, maps, and Star Trek.”

Christopher Baron

“I’m originally from the suburbs of Chicago, which you’ll hear in my accent pretty quickly. I received a BA in linguistics and a BA in philosophy at UMass Amherst, where I wrote a thesis on attitude ascriptions. I spent this last year at the University of Maryland as a Baggett Fellow, where I did some language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and fieldwork. I’m primarily interested in semantics and its interfaces, especially in Kaqchikel and other Mayan languages. In my spare time, I love cooking, running, and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.  I am also a classically trained clarinetist, and make a mean loaf of banana bread.”

Keny Chatain

“I was born and grew up in Tours (France), in the Loire valley, amid a bunch of Renaissance castles, but I studied in the Quartier Latin in Paris at ENS. I initially got a BA in maths there, before turning to linguistics, by doing a cognitive science master degree. Last year, I decided to take a year off to visit MIT, and MIT got me. My main interest lies in semantics, pragmatics. I have a special sympathy for pronouns, demonstratives, anything anaphoric, referential in general. I also have a dilettante interest in the Arabic language, literal and dialects, mainly Egyptian. Outside academia, I enjoy reading novels and poems, listening to cheesy French pop, I have a passive hobby of hiking, and a soft spot for French classical theater (attending, mind you).”

Yadav Gowda

“I’m from Illinois, specifically the part that’s in the Upper Midwest, so my æshes are all over the place. I completed a BA in linguistics in 2014 at the University of Chicago, which stoked my interest in a few areas: morphology, argument structure, and the intersection of theoretical computer science and linguistics (especially syntax). Apart from linguistics, I enjoy cooking, watching videos of otters, and Scavving.”

Cora Lesure

“I grew up in Annapolis Maryland before attending McGill University in Montreal. I finished my B.A in linguistics last December and have since been working in the McGill Fieldwork Lab. There I have been researching Chuj (Mayan) morphophonology and aiding in the development of orthographic conventions. My main theoretical interests include prosody and morphophonology and I hope to continue working with Mayan. My non-academic interests are rather eclectic, but some highlights include garage rock, knitting, calligraphy, and the collected works of J.R.R Tolkien.”

Newell Lewey

“Currently enrolled in the MIT Linguistics Masters Program with a focus on Indigenous Language (Passamaquoddy).

Newell was the Community Planner for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. He helped coordinate research and develop lines of funding for the Tribe with the twin goals of community economic development and job creation. Newell also has a background in Information Technology and expertise with all aspects of computer hardware and software. Over the past 15 years, Lewey has trained many Tribal entities and individual clients in the use and functioning of various office products, personal computers and networks. Newell is also a part time Language Immersion apprentice for the Passamaquoddy Immersion School.  Language learning and teaching has been a life long dream that is coming true. Newell has also been accepted into MIT’s Linguistics Master program; this will benefit him greatly in years to come when teaching the language.

Newell is serving his second elected term as Tribal Councilor for the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe. The Council is the sole governmental structure for the Tribe and works to effect positive change for all who live in Sipayik. The Tribal Council is responsible for the development and implementation of policy and procedural issues. Lewey’s experience as a Councilor has taught him that good governance requires careful attention to the will of the people and a commitment to listen very carefully.

In describing himself, Lewey writes, ‘I am a father and grandfather who is concerned about my families’ future and that of all the generations of all our People who are yet to come. I have been in recovery and following the traditional ways of the Passamaquoddy for more than twenty nine years.  In the past I have done work and volunteered with Native youth in many summer camp and fitness programs. I have also been a mentor and coach to Native youth in three Native American Olympic Games. I have also participated in and helped coordinate more than ten sacred runs which were done in an effort to unite the Wabanaki people of the Northeast. I have done some volunteering at a few of the Maine Correctional Institution in order to support the recovery of Native American prisoners.’”

Elise Newman

“I was born and raised in the city of Chicago, otherwise known as ‘the Chi’, ‘Chi-town’, ‘the Windy City’, ‘Chi-beria’, ‘Is that even a city?’ (used by New Yorkers), etc. Between high school and college, I spent a year on exchange in Germany where I learned German and became interested in syntax. I recently graduated from MIT with a B.S. in both Physics and Linguistics, and decided to pursue a PhD in linguistics. My main interests are currently in syntax, and seem to be localized to verb-tense interactions in the vaguest sense. Outside of academia, I enjoy playing soccer, singing in vocal ensembles, pottery, and being outside in any capacity.”

Frank Staniszewski

“I’m originally from Wisconsin, and attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where I studied Spanish and Japanese, and also was lucky enough to see a few impromptu late night Prince performances at Paisley Park. After two years at the U of M, I decided to take a leave of absence and move to Los Angeles, where I worked as a musician and songwriter before returning to academics to finish my B.A. in linguistics at UCLA in 2015. My primary interests are in syntax and semantics, with a focus on questions relating to modality, negation, NPIs, and neg-raising. While at UCLA, I worked on negative and positive polarity items in Japanese, and neg-raising in English. I’m excited to continue working in these areas at MIT, and look forward to learning about new topics in areas that I have yet to explore. I am also a lover of music (writing, playing, and listening), reading, and stand up comedy.”

Danfeng Wu

“I was born and raised in Shanghai, China, and did my undergraduate studies at Columbia University with a B.A. in economics and mathematics, during which I studied abroad in Paris and interned in Hong Kong. After that I worked in Mumbai, India for two years in the automobile industry. Despite the detour, I have always been interested in linguistics, and am grateful to have the opportunity to study it formally. I’m very curious in general and like to ask lots of questions. I’m particularly intrigued by syntax and phonology. Puzzled by problems such as the English expletive there and ellipsis, I look forward to exploring them further at MIT, and getting to know more new fields such as experimental and computational linguistics.”

New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Fall 2016

Visiting Faculty/ Postdoctoral Associate

  • Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University). His research interests are Semantics, Syntax, Learnability and Computational Linguistics.
  • Loes Koring (Postdoctoral Associate at MIT). As her website tells us: “My research is in syntax, semantics and its acquisition and processing. I use experiments (such as the Visual World Paradigm, self-paced reading, but also off-line techniques) to get a better understanding of the structure of language and how our brain processes these structures.”

Visiting scholars

  • Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Japan). She writes: “I am interested in phonology and phonetics with a focus on East Asian languages, especially Korean.”
  • Ken Hiraiwa (Meiji Gakuin University). He describes his interests as including Case and Agreement, Clausal Architecture, Syntax-PF Interface and Number Capacities.
  • Esther Clarke (Durham University). She writes on her website: “I gained my PhD from the Centre for Social Learning and Cultural Evolution at St Andrews University where I studied wild white-handed gibbons in Thailand. In particular I focused on their anti-predatory behaviour and vocalisations and used the comparative approach to describe my findings in relation to the evolution of primate vocal communication in general, including human language.Now I am studying captive gibbon vocalisations and reproductive endocrinology and examining the role of the endocrine system on the primate vocal apparatus.”
  • Hisashi Morita (School of Foreign Studies, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan). His themes of research include the syntactic and semantic aspects of Wh-questions in natural language, the syntactic and semantic effect of focus and the contrastive study of English and Japanese relative clauses.
  • Ting Huang (National Tsing Hua University). Her areas of interest are language acquisition, psycholinguistics, the development of semantics-pragmatics interface and emergent literacy.
  • Amy Rose Deal (University of California, Berkeley). She writes on her website: “I am a syntactician and a semanticist. I am also a fieldworker. The big questions that interest me concern cross-linguistic variation: How much variation is there in syntax? How much is there in semantics? How can we tell syntactic and semantic variation apart?My research on these questions largely draws from findings in the syntax and semantics of Nez Perce, a Sahaptian language of the Columbia River Plateau. Some of the particular topics I have worked on recently are: modals, the mass/count distinction, shifty indexicals, ergativity - including split ergativity and syntactic ergativity -, (complementizer) agreement and the operation Agree, possession and possessor raising, relative clauses, outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy, how we reason about the raw data of fieldwork.”

Visiting students

  • Karin Camolese Vivanco (University of São Paulo). Her areas of interest are Linguistics, Theory of Grammar, Generative Grammar, Syntax.

Summer news

We have several items of summer news from students and faculty:

  • For the second year in a row, a group from MIT visited the University of Brasilia (August 15-18) for minicourses and invited talks in connection with their annual Congresso Internacional de Estudos Linguísticos (CIEL)— this year, joined by some distinguished alums! This year’s participants were MIT faculty Adam Albright and David Pesetsky, fifth-year grad student Juliet Stanton, and alums Karlos Arregi (PhD ‘02) of the University of Chicago and Andrew Nevins (PhD ‘05) of University College London. More details here: http://www.lefog.pro.br/?page_id=1429
  • ‘Song of the human’ by the British composer Pete M. Wyer composed under a commission from Arts Brookfield is premiering in the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center in New York City on October 12, with an installation to follow starting on October 15. One source of the idea for this original orchestral and choir piece came from MIT faculty Shigeru Miyagawa’s Integration Hypothesis. More details about the composition and the event here: http://www.artsbrookfield.com/event/songofthehuman/
  • Faculty Michel Degraff reports: “During two weeks in June (June 13-24), the MIT-Haiti Initiative team was in the town of Limonade, in Northern Haiti. In collaboration with the Campus Henry Christophe, Limonade, of Haiti’s State University (“CHCL-UEH”), we had a 4-day workshop on Kreyòl-based and active-learning of science and mathematics. The workshop was attended by 43 professors in math, physics, chemistry and biology. We also spent a week of intensive consultation with CHCL-UEH faculty and administration, working on improvement of curricula, active-learning materials and interactive pedagogy in science, mathematics and Haitian Creole. One outcome was the creation of a teaching-and-learning center at CHCL-UEH. This work was funded, in part, by CHCL-UEH, the National Science Foundation and by the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.” More information about the collaboration and pictures can be found here and here.
  • Michel Degraff also attended the 2016 Meeting of the Society of Caribbean Linguistics, held Aug. 1-6, 2016 at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where he gave a keynote talk, “A Workshop on Language & Liberation: The MIT-Haiti Initiative as case study of ‘Caribbean SPEAKERS to the world,” and took part in a panel on “The Linguist as Public Intellectual.” Michel adds that he “also had the opportunity to discuss with authorities at Jamaica’s Ministry of Education on the importance of Jamaican Creole for improving education outcomes in Jamaica.” Pictures of the conference can be found here, and interviews given by Michel can be found here and here.

Summer defenses

Warm congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators:

  • Despina Oikonomou: Covert modals in root contexts
  • Ayaka Sugawara: The role of Question-Answer Congruence (QAC) in child language and adult sentence processing
  • Suyeon Yun: A theory of consonant cluster perception and vowel epenthesis

Despina and Suyeon will begin post-doctoral positions at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Toronto respectively, while Ayaka is currently an associate professor (lecturer) at Mie University.

MIT Workshop on Exhaustivity 2016

MIT Linguistics will be hosting a Workshop on Exhaustivity on Saturday, September 10, 2016, organized by alumni Luka Crnič (PhD ‘11), Roni Katzir (PhD ‘08), and Raj Singh (PhD ‘08).

The following faculty and alumni will be giving talks, with commentaries by Danny Fox (faculty, PhD ‘98) and Uli Sauerland (PhD ‘98):

  • Marie-Christine Meyer (PhD ‘13): Grice and Grammar: How cooperative are weak sentences?
  • Andreas Haida and Tue Trinh (PhD ‘11): A plea for (no) monsters
  • Giorgio Magri (PhD ‘09): Blindness and Hirschberg’s contextually ordered alternatives
  • Wataru Uegaki (PhD ‘15): ‘Wonder’ and embedded exhaustivity

Additionally, several faculty, alumni, and students will be presenting posters:

  • Sam Alxatib (PhD ’13): *onlyonly
  • Moshe E. Bar-Lev and Danny FoxOn the global calculation of embedded implicatures
  • Natasha Ivlieva (PhD ‘13) and Sam Alxatibvan Benthem’s problem, exhaustification, and distributivity
  • Hadas Kotek (PhD ‘14): Untangling Tanglewood using covert focus movement (joint work with Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, PhD ‘14)
  • 5th year student Lilla MagyarWhat is at issue? Exhaustivity of structural and morphological DP focus in Telugu
  • Despoina Oikonomou (PhD ‘16): Deriving the strong-reading of Imperatives via Exhaustification

Linguistics colloquia for the academic year

The MIT Linguistics Colloquium schedule for the Fall and Spring. All talks are on Fridays, 3:30-5:00 p.m. For further information, please contact the organizers for this year, Erin Olson and Nicholas Longenbaugh.

Fall 2015:

Spring 2016:

Fall 2016 reading groups: Call for presentations

Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays, from 5-6:30pm in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. Light refreshments will be provided. Please contact Juliet Stanton (juliets@mit.edu) and/or Rafael Abramovitz (rafabr@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

  • September: 19
  • October: 3, 31 (Oct. 17 is reserved for AMP practice)
  • November: (7), 14, 21, 28
  • December: 12

Syntax Square will be meeting on Mondays 1-2pm in 32-D461. The organizers welcome both presentations on polished projects and informal discussions. Please contact this semester’s organizers, Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu) to reserve a slot.

Language Acquisition/ESSL lab meetings will be on Tuesdays, from 1-2pm in 32-D461. Presentations are informal and we welcome work-in-progress as well as completed work! Please contact Leo Rosenstein (leaena@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

LFRG will be meeting on Wednesdays from 1-2pm in 32-D831. LFRG is an informal, weekly semantics and syntax/semantics interface group. Rough ideas, work in progress, practice talks and discussion of papers from the literature are most welcome. Remaining open dates for presentations are listed below; please contact Daniel Margulis (dmarg@mit.edu) and/or Itai Bassi (ibassi@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

  • September: 14, 21, 28
  • October: 12
  • November: 2, 9
  • December: 14

Ling-Lunch is a series of weekly talks, held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm. It is open to all linguistics topics and everybody is welcome to present their work, though preference is given to members of the MIT Linguistics Department. Contact this semester’s organizers, Abdul-Razak Sulemana (abdulraz@mit.edu), Mitya Privoznov (dpriv@mit.edu) & Suzana Fong (sznfong@mit.edu), to reserve a slot.

First LingLunch of Fall/2016 - Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine

  • Speaker: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore)
  • Title: ‘C-T head-splitting: Evidence from Toba Batak’
  • Date and time: September 8 (Thursday), 12:30pm-1:50pm
  • Location: 32-D461
I present new work on extraction and voice in Toba Batak, an Austronesian language of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Recent work has proposed a tight coupling between the traditional heads of C and T. I argue that patterns of multiple extraction in Toba Batak support the C-T head-splitting hypothesis—the idea that C and T begin as a single CT head and can split (Martinović, 2015). Although Batak has been previously described as only allowing extraction of one constituent at a time (Cole & Hermon 2008), I show that the simultaneous extraction of two constituents is possible, in very limited combinations. Exactly two patterns are possible: two DPs which are both formally focused (wh or with ‘only’) or a focused non-DP followed by a non-focused DP. I propose that C and T first try to probe together (as CT) for the joint satisfaction of their probes (focus and D features); if this fails, CT splits into C and T, which probe separately. This hypothesis is supported by the distribution of the particle na in two internally-consistent ideolects, which provides overt morphological support for the CT head-splitting view. I also discuss lessons for the analysis of Austronesian voice systems.

Course announcements, Fall 2016

Course announcements in this post:

  • Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) syntax (24.943)
  • Language Acquisition I (24.949/9.601)
  • Syntactic Models (24.960)
  • Topics in Phonology (24.964)
  • Topics in experimental phonology (24.967)
  • Topics in Semantics (24.979)
  • Computation and Linguistic Theory (24.S95)

24.943: Syntax of a Language (Family) — Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) syntax

  • Instructor: Michel DeGraff
  • Wednesdays 10AM—1PM
  • Room: 32-D461

I’d like to take as one starting point for this course this quote from a recent Facebook posting by our colleague Kai demystifying “stupidity”:

“… [Y]ou need to become used to feeling “stupid”. I mean this in an entirely non-disparaging sense: obviously, you’re not stupid. What it is is that you’re not completely understanding a complex topic. Of course, that is in fact the permanent condition of science. The whole point of science is to work at things we don’t understand and make some progress towards understanding, but that progress will then result in even more things we don’t understand….”


I’ve taken Kai’s caveat to heart while preparing materials for this class and feeling quite “stupid” about various puzzles of Haitian Creole syntax that beg for “progress toward understanding.”  So I’d like this seminar to take us through the memory lane of some puzzles that I’ve been thinking about for years, decades even. We’ll examine some the data and proposals in my and related publications on Haitian Creole, specifically on: clause structure, (non-verbal) predication, clefts, negation, noun-phrase structure, bare noun phrases, and serial verbs.  With the right questions, these old problems may well lead us to improved solutions, with their share of new questions…

We’ll invite participants to present and lead discussion on topics of their liking that may (indirectly) connect with the afore-mentioned areas of syntax and that can include relevant Haitian Creole data.  So the formal course requirements will include regular weekly participation, in-class presentations and a short paper  (~10 pages) which may well be a draft of something publishable.

My own papers for the course are already available on the “recent publications” section of my MIT website.  And we’ll assign readings from other authors as well, of course.  As we progress, I’ll make these papers available on the Stellar website for the course.

Toward the end of the semester, we’ll be getting help from a dear friend and co-author, Prof. dr. Enoch Aboh from the University of Amsterdam.  His most recent book is The Emergence of Hybrid Grammars: Language Contact and Change, from which we’ll read a couple of chapters—in time for Enoch’s visit, December 7–9.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, September 7, we’ll begin the seminar with a discussion of (very) basic issues, starting with general background about “Creole” languages, word order in Haitian Creole, etc.  The relevant paper for that is “Morphology and word order in ‘creolization’ and beyond” available here.

You may also want to look at another paper of mine that gives a general survey of the language—from John Holm’s 2007 book Comparative Creole Syntax.


24.949/9.601: Language Acquisition I

  • Instructor: Loes Koring
  • Mondays, 2—5
  • Room: 32-D461

The main goal of this course is to review a variety of topics in the acquisition (typical 1st language acquisition) of syntax and semantics. Throughout the course, we will survey various theories and examine their claims in light of empirical data and learnability theory. We will compare different methodologies to study language development and examine what type of information different types of data provide us with. More importantly, we will go over the cool, and puzzling, things children produce that are deviant from the target grammar, as well as interpretations that are available to children even though they are out for adult speakers of the target grammar, and, specifically, how these data inform linguistic theory and/or learnability theory. Apart from the topics I think are worth reviewing, there is room to discuss topics that participants of the class are particularly interested in.

As part of the course, you (registered students) will be working on your own language acquisition project, which requires you to think about theoretical proposals from an acquisition perspective (considering empirical data as well as learnability). An additional goal to the course is that you will acquire the skill of translating your research questions and related hypotheses into experimentally testable predictions. You will write a paper based on this, which can have the form of a well-developed research proposal (e.g. a way to test a prediction that follows from (your) analysis of a particular phenomenon), or an analysis of existing (production) data for instance, but many forms are imaginable. You will be guided through the process in individual meetings with the instructor at different stages.

Required for this course is that you:

  1. Attend and participate in the weekly lectures
  2. Prepare the lectures by reading the required materials (2-3 papers a week)
  3. Develop your own project and present your findings both as a paper and (briefly) in a presentation at the end of the course.

To prepare for the first class, please read Crain’s paper on language acquisition (pp. 597-612). You can download it via Stellar. There is no need to read all the commentaries to it, but you can, of course, if you like.

The required readings will be made available through the Stellar class website (some of them already are). To acquire the relevant background, I can recommend Guasti’s book on language acquisition (Guasti, M. T. (2004). Language acquisition: The growth of grammar. MIT Press.). Purchasing or reading this book is not obligatory for the course, but it is a great book to have as a reference if you’re interested in language acquisition.

The first class is on Monday September 12th.


24.960: Syntactic Models

  • Instructor: David Pesetsky
  • Tuesdays, 10—1
  • Room: 32‑D461

The course has twin goals:

First, it gives a quick introduction to at least two “frameworks” for syntactic research that compete with the Government-Binding/Principles & Parameters/Minimalist tradition in the current syntax world:  HPSG and Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG).  We work speedily through much of the HPSG textbook by Sag, Wasow and Bender, and also look at the LFG textbook by Bresnan, Asudeh, Toivonen and Wechsler.

Next, the class turns historical, tracing the development of generative syntax from Syntactic Structures (1957) up to the early 1980s, when HPSG and LFG first separated themselves off from the research program that became GB/P&P/Minimalism.   An overarching theme of the course is the issue of derivational vs. representational views of syntax — a theme that offers some surprising observations about who said what at various points in the history of the field, but also gives the course a focus relevant to the most current work.For a demonstration that the issue is live (including the hotly debated question of whether there even is a question), you need look no further than a 2014 on Norbert Hornstein’s blog, featuring Omer Preminger (who taught this very class in 2011).  See this post, which begins with links to earlier discussion on the blog that prompted that posting, and continues with millions of comments.

You can get a good sense of what the class will be like from its old Stellar pages — for example here.  I plan to follow essentially the same structure — plus the possibility of a guest lecture on “Simpler Syntax” by Ray Jackendoff (date to be arranged, fingers crossed).

As you may have heard, the sole requirements for the class are:

  1. regular attendance and participation;
  2. a few straightforward problem sets (finger exercises) in the first half of the class; and
  3. three class presentations or co-presentations (depending on numbers): of an HPSG paper, an LFG paper, and a paper from the period of generative semantics/interpretive semantics debates.

There is no paper required! (A major attraction in the past.) Many students have reported finding this class both fun and enlightening (and not just because there is no required paper). Ask some of your predecessors for their reviews.

The most important book to order right now is the following one: Sag, Wasow and Bender, Syntactic Theory — second edition (this is crucial).

Please start reading it in advance of the first class. Get as far as you can in it, so you come to the first class already somewhat prepared. This book is intended as an introduction to syntax for undergraduates, so you will find the early chapters go quickly. But the syntax it introduces is HPSG, so fairly soon you will be learning new things and tripping over unfamiliar notations.

The books we will be using later in the semester are:

Bresnan et al., Lexical-Functional Grammar — please note that this too is a second edition, which we’re using for the first time.

Chomsky, Syntactic Structures

Other readings (papers and excerpts from books) will be downloadable from the Stellar website for the class.

Since this Tuesday is just registration day, the first meeting will be September 13, i.e. next week.


24.964: Topics in Phonology

  • Instructor: Donca Steriade
  • Topic: Syllables
  • Thursdays, 2—5
  • Room: 32-D461

The main goal of this course is to examine the evidence for syllable-based analyses of metrical weight, computed within and across words, and of segmental phonotactics. We compare these with analyses of metrical weight that rely on V-to-V intervals (units that go from the beginning of the nucleus to the beginning of the next nucleus or to the end of the domain, whichever comes first), supplementing the intervals with hypotheses about cue-based licensing of contrasts for the analysis of segmental phonotactics and correspondence phenomena. The focus is on the evidence, readily available or potential, that distinguishes syllables from intervals.

A secondary goal is to examine the history of earlier ideas about syllables and metrical quantity. Some less well-known earlier hypotheses have inherent interest and are supported empirically. I know of no accessible writings on the history of this subject. Anderson’s 1985 book on the history of phonology starts late (for syllables) and focuses on analyses of other phenomena. Goldsmith’s 2010 historically oriented handbook chapter on the syllable skips most significant writings before 1976 and lists claims without examining the content of arguments. The brief historical part of this course is an exercise in reconstructing linguistic arguments left implicit or formulated in unfamiliar styles, and an effort to avoid reinventing the wheel. It is also a partial answer to the request for a course in the history of phonology made by earlier generations.

Registered students do the readings, write a term paper or present the literature on some topic of interest to the class.

The schedule below is approximate. Participants interested in other syllable- or interval-related topics (e.g. articulatory realization or perception of  syllables; syllables in prosodic morphology; rhyming and alliteration and what they suggest about intervals) should let me know.

Current plan for what we do when appears below. Some of the readings, but not all, are up on the course website.

Sept 8
History of some of the older ideas about metrical quantity and syllables, from Dionysius Thrax to Kahn 1976
Sept 15
Sept 22
Categorical and gradient weight:  Broselow et al. 1997; Gordon 2007, Ryan 2011
Sept 29
Oct 6
Weight of onsets: Gordon 2005, Topintzi 2010, Ryan 2014
Oct 13
DS out of town – class moved to 12/15
Oct 20
Finer weight distinctions predicted by intervals
Oct 27
Intervals for weight categories (cont.): Hirsch 2014, Duarte-García 2014; Olejarczyk and Kapatsinski 2015
Nov 3
Weight and resyllabification: Hoenigswald 1949, Csér 2012
Nov 10
DS out of town – class moved to 12/22
Nov 17
Segmental consequences of resyllabification: TBA
Nov 24
Dec. 1
Phonotactics and syllables: weak codas, SSC, ambisyllabicity Kahn 1976, Lamontagne 1993; Wheeler 2005; Gerfen 2001; Howe and Pulleyblank 2001
Dec. 8
Phonotactics and syllables: syllable contact: Pons-Moll 2011
Dec. 15
Phonotactics and syllables: sesquisyllables: Kiparsky 2003, Watson
Dec. 22
Phonotactics and syllables: closed syllable shortening, syllables as domains for phonological processes: TBA



24.967: Topics in experimental phonology

  • Instructors: Adam Albright (albright@mit.edu), Edward Flemming (flemming@mit.edu)
  • Mondays 2—5pm
  • Room: 26-142

Course Description:

In the past decade, the field of phonology has increasingly looked to experimental results to confirm and extend its understanding of phonological patterns. In this course, we will examine some of the issues involved in deriving experimentally testable predictions from a theory, designing and running an experiment, and interpreting the results.

The class has several goals:

  • Consider the relation between phonological theory, empirical predictions, and experimental results
  • Gain practical knowledge in designing and carrying out experiments in the lab and on-line, and performing data analysis using R
  • Gain familiarity with some commonly used experimental paradigms, comparing what they can tell us about the linguistic system

The class will be organized around a set of phonological topics that have benefited from experimental investigation. These topics will serve to illustrate a variety of experimental and statistical techniques:

  • Perceptually-based biases for some alternations over others (The P-Map Hypothesis)
  • Generalization from the lexicon
  • Perceptual similarity
  • Phonetic underspecification


  • Readings and class participation
  • Regular assignments (modest and practical in nature)
  • Final project: designing (and perhaps piloting) an experiment


24.979: Topics in Semantics

  • Instructors: Danny Fox (fox@mit.edu), Roni Katzir (trifilij@mit.edu), Roger Schwarzschild (schild@mit.edu)
  • Tuesdays 2—5pm
  • Room: 32-D461

Course Description

The focus of this seminar will be on the semantics and pragmatics of intonational prominence with emphasis on these questions:

  • What are the mechanisms by which properties of surrounding discourse come to be reflected in the intonational contour of an utterance?
  • Do intonational prominences have a way of contributing to truth conditions independently of their interaction with surrounding discourse?

In the first part of the course we’ll discuss recent work on prosody and information structure, working together through chapters 6 and 7 of Meaning and Intonation by Daniel Büring (2016). Büring’s account has a constraint referring to givenness and a separate one for focus. We’ll look at works that aim to assimilate these two (eg. Rooth 1992, Schwarzschild 1999) to see how they integrate with Büring’s prosodic model.

Next, we’ll survey more recent evidence, both semantic-pragmatic and phonetic that argues that givenness and focus are irreducible one to the other. One  interpretation of this newer data views it as a species of association with focus, where the relevant operator is silent. We will devote some time to studying several species of association with focus and how it interacts with givenness.

From there, we will move on to contrastive topic which has been a fertile testing ground for theories of intonation and discourse.

  • Requirements
  • Readings and class participation
  • Final presentation and a final paper

Chapters 6 and 7 of Büring’s book are available on the course website.  If you are planning to take the course, please contact us to be added to the website and begin reading those chapters.


24.S95 Computation and Linguistic Theory

  • Instructor: Roni Katzir
  • Fridays 10—1
  • Room: 32-D461

In this class we will explore how the theory of computation helps us to understand language. We often rely on computational theories in building linguistic theories; here we will look at the broader framework of computation as well as a number of specific formalisms.

We begin with basic questions like: what is computation? what does a computational model look like? We start with decidability and the Chomsky Hierarchy of formal languages, as well as some parsing algorithms for regular and context-free grammars. We discuss the notions of weak and strong generative capacity, looking at context-sensitive node admissibility conditions, generalized phrase-structure grammar, and the Lambek calculus. We then turn to mildly context-sensitive formalisms, focusing on combinatory categorial grammars, tree-adjoining grammars, and minimalist grammars.

The second half of the class focuses on language processing. Drawing on the framework and formalisms from the first part of the class, we examine how the parser might work, starting with the classical proposals of Yngve and Miller & Chomsky and then proceeding to characterizations of the memory load on the processor in different parsing strategies. We also discuss approaches such as surprisal and entropy-reduction that relate processing difficulty to the information content of the current input element. Finally, we discuss the Strong Competence Hypothesis and its relation to representational questions such as whether non-canonical constituents should be part of the grammar.

Requirements: attendance and participation; reading; and a final paper.

Course website: http://piazza.com/mit/fall2016/24s95/home

Schedule (subject to change):

  • 9/9  Overview; Decidability
  • 9/16  Regular Languages I
  • 9/23  Regular Languages II; Context-Free Languages I
  • 9/30  Context-Free Languages II; Parsing I
  • 10/7  Parsing II;  Weak vs. Strong Generative Capacity
  • 10/14  Weakly Context-Free Models of Syntax I (Features)
  • 10/14  Weakly Context-Free Models of Syntax II (Lambek)
  • 10/21  Natural Language is not Context-Free; Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax I
  • 10/28  Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax II
  • 11/4  Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax III
  • 11/11  Early Computational Psycholinguistics
  • 11/18  Resource-Management Theories I
  • 11/25  Resource-Management Theories II; Experience-Based Theories I
  • 12/2  Experience-Based Theories II
  • 12/9  The (Strong) Competence Hypothesis