The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 12th, 2016

Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group

The Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group (LPRG, ‘lip-erg’) will be meeting on a weekly basis on Mondays at 1pm in the 7th floor seminar room. This reading group will discuss papers in philosophy of language, semantics, pragmatics, logic, etc. which will be of interest to philosophers and linguists, with the hope of (a) learning new things and (b) fostering more collaboration between the two sides of the department.

LPRG is pre-read and so there will be an expectation that you have read the paper. Each session will have a discussion leader who will direct the conversation in an informal way.  The kinds of papers discussed in past meetings and a (not exhaustive) list of papers of interest can be found on the website here. If you would like to be on the mailing list, email David Boylan (dboylan@mit.edu), Matt Mandelkern (mandelk@mit.edu), or Maša Močnik (masa.mocnik@gmail.com).

The first meeting will be next week on Monday 12th at 1pm, with Matt Mandelkern leading discussion on Cariani and Santorio’s paper on ‘will’.

Syntax Square - open dates

The following dates are open for Syntax Square (happening on Mondays, 1-2pm in room 32-D461). Please contact this semester’s organizers, Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and/or Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu), to reserve a spot.

  • Sept: 12, 19
  • Oct: 3, 17 31
  • Nov: 7, 14, 28
  • Dec: 12

Phonology Circle 9/12 - Ezer Rasin

Speaker: Ezer Rasin (MIT) Title: The stress-encapsulation universal and phonological modularity Date/Time: Monday, September 12, 5:00-6:30pm Location: 32-D831

Cross-linguistically, the distribution of segmental features is often conditioned on the position of stress. In American English, for example, [t] is flapped between a preceding stressed vowel and a following unstressed vowel (políDical vs. politícian), voiceless stops are aspirated at the onset of a stressed syllable (opphóse vs. opposítion), stressless vowels undergo reduction (át@m vs. @tó mic), and [h] is deleted before an unstressed, non-initial vowel (vé[h]icle vs. vehícular). As noted by Blumenfeld (2006), stress-segmental interactions in the other direction are almost non-existent: stress is sensitive to supra-segmental features such as syllable structure and tone, but – to the exclusion of sonority – it is never sensitive to any segmental features (such as voicing, continuancy, place of articulation, and so on). My main claim is that reported sonority-sensitive stress patterns do not require direct reference to sonority. The claim will be based on a review of the sonority-driven stress literature and a re-evaluation of some of the reported cases. The result is that Blumenfeld’s list of universal asymmetries between stress and segmental features becomes a generalization over all features: the distribution of stress is never conditioned on segmental features. I refer to this result as the “Stress-encapsulation Universal”. The stress-encapsulation universal is surprising under existing theories of phonology: rule-based theories of stress (e.g., Halle and Vergnaud, 1987) have used rules that make direct reference to segment quality, and even if reference to segment quality is avoided, the fact that stress rules would consistently ignore the same information in their input (segmental features) would be left as an accident. In Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky, 1993), stress and segmental processes are computed in parallel: output markedness constraints that trigger stress-sensitive segmental processes are symmetric and may be used to (undesirably) trigger quality-sensitive stress. Given such constraints, standard Optimality Theory has no general way of banning quality-sensitive stress processes. I will show that the stress-encapsulation universal can be derived in a modular architecture of phonology where a stress-computation module is encapsulated from the rest of the system. In this modular architecture, the input to the stress module excludes representations of segmental features, and outside of the stress module, stress representations cannot be changed. I will propose a concrete theory of the interface to the stress module within a serial rule-based framework and discuss its predictions regarding indirect effects of segmental features on the position of stress, including vowel invisibility to stress and effects on stress through syllable structure. Finally, I will evaluate alternative explanations for the universal, including non-modular phonological explanations (such as fixed constraint rankings within OT) and explanations that attribute the universal to extra-phonological factors.

ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 9/13 — Loes Koring

The Experimental Syntax and Semantics and Language Acquisition Labs are resuming weekly meetings, starting this Tuesday, September 13. This week features Loes Koring, who will talk about the projects and potential projects that she will be working on here for the next year. If you are interested in experimental work, in syntax or semantics or language acquisition, please come! Also, there will be pizza provided!

ESSL/LacqLab Meeting

  • Date: 09/13/2016 (Tuesday)
  • Time: 1:00-2:00 pm
  • Venue: 32-D461

Ling-Lunch 9/15 - Norvin Richards (MIT)

Speaker: Norvin W Richards (MIT)
Title: Deriving Contiguity
Date/Time: Thursday, September 15/12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Richards (2016) presents an account of the distribution of various types of overt movement and linear adjacency requirements. One of the central claims I make there is that the construction of prosodic structure begins in the narrow syntax, and that the syntax can be motivated by prosodic considerations to perform syntactic movement operations.

Central to the account is a claim that Agree and selection relations must affect prosody in certain ways. I claim that just in structures involving Agree or selection, the general laws governing the mapping of syntax onto prosody are overridden by a special condition (called Generalized Contiguity) which dictates that the participants in Agree or selection must share a prosodic domain of a certain kind.

In this talk I will review some of the results of Richards (2016), and then try to show that these results can be derived without making any special stipulations about the pros/odic representation of Agree or selection relations. A modified version of Match Theory (Selkirk 2009, 2011, Elfner 2012, 2015, Clemens 2014, Bennett, Elfner, and McCloskey 2016), which makes general claims about how dominance relations in syntax are mapped onto prosody, turns out to be sufficient, if paired with approaches to Agree and selection that posit multidominance structures resulting from Agree relations (Frampton and Gutmann 2000, Sag et al 2003, Pesetsky and Torrego 2007, among others). The resulting theory is more restrictive than the one in Richards (2016).


The 7th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America Conference (GALANA) was held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign September 8-10. The program included talks and posters by:

  • Fourth year student Athulya Aravind and faculty Martin HacklVariation in the acquisition of presupposition triggers (poster)
  • Jason Borga (UConn) and William Snyder (PhD ‘95, BCS): On passives in English, and causatives in French
  • Emma Nguyen (UConn) and William SnyderThe (non)-effect of pragmatics on children’s passives
  • Ava Irani (UPenn) and Charles Yang (PhD ‘00, CS): Control, raising, and the problem of generalization


MIT @ Sinn und Bedeutung

The 21st edition of Sinn und Bedeutung was hosted by the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, on September 4—6. Several MIT students, alumni and visitors gave talks or presented posters.