The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 3rd, 2016

Syntax Square 10/3 - Hisashi Morita

Speaker: Hisashi Morita (Aichi Prefectural University, current MIT visiting scholar)
Title: Morphology is misleading, but syntax is not: The Syntax of Coordination in
Japanese and Korean

Date/Time: Monday, October 3, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

My talk presents a somehow unnoticed but simple analysis of coordination involving coordinating particles such as ka ‘or’, mo ‘and’, and toka ‘and/or’ in Japanese and to ‘also’ and (i)na ‘or’ in Korean. Analysis of coordinating phrases in Japanese and Korean has been controversial. For example, Johannessen (1996) proposes the following structure for a disjunction phrase such as Ken-ka Mary ‘Ken or Mary’:

(1) [CoP [Co’ Ken [Co KA]] Mary]

There are several problems with a structure such as (1). First, it assumes a right-branching specifier, which is either non-existent or extremely rare, if any. Secondly, if coordinators such as ka and mo represent disjunction and conjunction respectively as in or and and in English, one instance of ka and mo should be sufficient when there are two disjuncts or conjuncts, but as in (2), two (identical) particles appear when coordinating two phrases, the phenomenon of which is called conjunction (or disjunction) doubling:

(2)a. Ken-KA Mary(-KA)-ga kita.
-or (-or) -Nom
‘Ken or Mary came.’

b. Ken-MO Mary-MO kita.
came -and -and came
‘Both Ken and Mary came.’

As far as I know, no existing accounts have successfully explained why two coordinators are necessary in Japanese and Korean.

The third problem is concerned with difference between Japanese and Korean. It has been known that when ka, a disjunction particle, merges with a wh-element in Japanese, an existential quantifier follows, such as dare-ka (who-or) ‘someone’. However, in Korean, if the disjunction particle, (i)na, follows a wh-element, a free choice is generated. The last problem is how the same coordinator, i.e. toka, can mean conjunction or disjunction in Japanese as follow:

(3) Ken-ga hon-o go-satu-TOKA roku-satu-TOKA yonda.
-Nom book-Acc five-Cl-toka six-Cl-toka read
‘Ken read sets of books of five and six and more.’
‘Ken read five or six books.’

The problems above can be straightforwardly explained once we assume that the structure of coordination consists of two projections: CoP and FocP, and the particles we hear may not be real coordinators (i.e. not carrying semantic functions), but simply agreement reflexes.

Phonology Circle 10/3 - Aleksei Nazarov

Speaker: Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)
Title: Learning parametric stress without domain-specific mechanisms
Date/Time: Monday, October 3, 5:00-6:30
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Gaja Jarosz (UMass))

A parametric approach to the acquisition of stress (Dresher and Kaye 1990, Hayes 1995) is attractive for defining a small learning space. However, previous approaches (Dresher and Kaye 1990, Pearl 2007, 2011) have argued that domain-general learners, such as the Naïve Parameter Learner (NPL; Yang 2002), are not sufficient for learning stress parameters, and that UG contains domain-specific mechanisms for individual parameters: substantive “cues” as well as a parameter acquisition order. We argue that these conclusions are premature, and we instead propose to modify the non-selective way in which parameters are updated in the NPL.

Our proposed Expectation Driven Parameter Learner (EDPL) augments the NPL with a (linear-time) Expectation Maximization component along the lines of Jarosz (2015). Without using domain-specific mechanisms, we show that the novel EDPL performs very well (96% accuracy) on a representative subset of the typology defined by Dresher and Kaye (1990), while the NPL performs very poorly (4.3% accuracy). This suggests that UG can be kept simpler (parameters only, instead of parameters + cues + order) if the learner is allowed to process individual data points more thoroughly.


LFRG 10/5 - Itai Bassi

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, October 5 , 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Discussion of: Ellipsis, Economy and the (Non)uniformity of Traces (LI, 2016)

Itai will be presenting a recent paper by Troy Messick and Gary Thoms Ellipsis, Economy and the (Non)uniformity of Traces (LI, 2016), which argues for the elimination of the constraint MaxElide from the theory of ellipsis.

Also, the LFRG slot next week (Oct 12) is free for the taking. If you have anything you’d like to present, please tell Daniel Margulis or Itai Bassi soon!


Ling-Lunch 10/6 — Ömer Demirok

Speaker: Ömer Demirok (MIT)
Title: Free Relatives and Correlatives in Wh-in-situ [practice talk]
Date: Thursday, October 6
Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In English (and many other languages), a wh-structure as in (1) can be construed as a free relative or as an interrogative complement. Cecchetto and Donati (2015) refer to this phenomenon as labeling ambiguity and predict that this sort of ambiguity is precluded in wh-in-situ languages, as illustrated in the hypothetical example in (2). This prediction is borne out in many wh-in-situ languages (e.g. Turkish, Laz). However, Polinsky (2015) shows that Tsez has wh-FRs with the pattern in (2).

(1) Sue knows/ate [what John cooked]

(2) “Sue knows/*ate [John cooked what]”

In this talk, I propose a semantic typology for interrogative pronouns that can predict whether a given wh-in-situ language will necessarily lack wh-FRs or not (under the compositional analysis of FRs in Caponigro 2004). In particular, I make the prediction that wh-in-situ languages that compose wh-questions via Hamblin alternatives will necessarily lack wh-FRs (as the composition of a wh-question will not generate a semantic predicate) whereas wh-in-situ languages that rely on covert movement to compose their questions may have wh-FRs. Using intervention effects and island-sensitivity as diagnostics, I show that this prediction holds.

In the second part of the talk, I address the question why some wh-in-situ languages (e.g. Turkish, Laz) have the distribution in (3). A relativization-based analysis of wh-correlatives (3b) in genuinely wh-in-situ languages would constitute a counterexample to my proposal. However, I show that there is in fact evidence in favor of a question-based semantic composition for (3b) (Rawlins, 2013, Hirsch 2015), as would be expected under the proposed typology.

(3) a. * “Sue eats [John cooks what]” (in-situ wh-FR)

b. OK “John cooks what, Sue eats that” (in-situ wh-correlative)


Michel DeGraff @ Territorialities and the Humanities conference

The Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil) is hosting the UNESCO-sponsored conference Territorialities and the Humanities (October 4—7). Michel DeGraff is one of the invited speakers and he will give a talk at the panel ‘Identities and Languages’. The conference is also part of the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais.


Mini-course — Na’ama Friedmann (Tel Aviv University)

Na’ama Friedmann (Tel Aviv University) will be teaching a mini-course in our department beginning October 7th. The topics covered include SLI (specific language impairment), dyslexia, critical period, hearing impairment and their relevance for the study of syntax and morphology, among others.

  • Dates:
    • Friday October 7, 2—5 PM
    • Tuesday October 11, 6—9 PM
    • Friday October 14, 2—5 PM
    • Tuesday October 18, 6—9 PM
    • Friday October 21, 2—5 PM
  • Location: 32D-461

FASAL @ MIT - Call for papers

Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL) 7
March 4-5, 2017
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Abstracts are invited for talks on any aspects of the syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology or processing of South Asian languages. The conference will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on March 4 and 5, 2017.

Invited Speakers:
Ashwini Deo (Ohio State)
Miriam Butt (Konstanz)
Norvin Richards (MIT)

Submission Details
Abstracts, including references and data, should be limited to two single-spaced pages (A4 or US Letter) with 1-inch (2.5cm) margins and a minimum font size of 11pt. One person can submit at most one abstract as sole author and one abstract as co-author. Abstracts should be submitted through EasyChair by December 2 at the following URL:https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=fasal7.

Abstract deadline: Dec. 2, 2016
Notification: Jan. 6, 2017
Conference: March 4-5, 2017
Any questions about the workshop can be directed to fasal7@mit.edu
Conference website: http://fasal.mit.edu