The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 17th, 2016

Special October 19 update: MIT Linguistics faculty statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline

The linguistics faculty have issued the following statement on an ongoing event of importance:

We, the current and emeritus Linguistics faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, join our colleagues in the Linguistics departments at UC Berkeley and Yale in expressing our support for the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and other tribal nations and people in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Working as we do in a scholarly discipline that draws on the cultural heritage and intellectual property of indigenous people worldwide, and being aware that linguists have not always collaborated ethically with those whose languages we study, we are especially conscious of the need to respect Native cultural autonomy, sovereignty, and rights to self-determination. The Dakota Access Pipeline would cross the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Missouri River. The Dakota Access Pipeline project impinges on indigenous communities’ rights to land, clean water, health, and cultural preservation, including language. We call on our leaders to respect the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and ask the national linguistics community to add its voice in support of this urgent need.

MIT Linguistics faculty, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Cambridge, Massachusetts
October 19, 2016

Standing Rock website
List of MIT Linguistics faculty
Berkeley statement
Yale statement

click here for this week’s regular issue of Whamit!

LFRG 10/19 - Naomi Francis

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, October 19 , 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Discussion of: On Negative Yes/No Questions (2004)

In this week’s LF Reading Group, Naomi Francis will be discussing Romero and Han’s 2004 paper on biased questions.

Pictures from NELS47

As posted about in last week’s issue, NELS47 took place Oct. 14-16 at UMass Amherst. Here are some pictures from the conference dinner:

From L-to-R: Chris Baron, Michelle Yuan, Kenyon Branan, Chris O'Brien, Ted Levin, Aron Hirsch
(From L-to-R: Chris Baron, Michelle Yuan, Kenyon Branan, Chris O’Brien, Ted Levin, Aron Hirsch)

From L-to-R: Ted Levin, Sam Zukoff, Coppe van Urk, Athulya Aravind, Aron Hirsch
(From L-to-R: Ted Levin, Sam Zukoff, Coppe van Urk, Athulya Aravind, Aron Hirsch)

Syntax Square 10/17 - Nico Baier

Speaker: Nico Baier (UC Berkeley)
Title: Unifying Anti-Agreement and Wh-Agreement
Date/Time: Monday, Oct. 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In many languages, phi-agreement is sensitive to the A’-movement of its controller. Some languages, such as Abaza, exhibit ‘wh-agreement’, an effect in which dedicated agreement morphology cross-references extracted arguments (Chung and Georgopoulos 1988). In other languages, such as Tarifit Berber, extracted arguments cannot control full agreement. This is known as ‘anti-agreement’ (Ouhalla 1993). These two effects have previously been treated as distinct. Wh-agreement is viewed as normal result of Agree with a goal bearing a wh-feature (Georgopoulos 1991, Watanabe 1996, a.o.). Anti-agreement is generally taken to reflect a disruption of agreement in the syntax proper (Schneider-Zioga 2007, Ouhalla 1993, a.o.). In this paper, I argue that this traditional wisdom is incorrect and that wh-agreement and anti-agreement are in fact two instantiations of the same phenomenon. Both effects are the result of a phi-probe copying both phi- and wh-features from a goal. Patterns of anti-agreement and wh-agreement arise when partial or total impoverishment applies to the [phi+wh] feature bundle in the morphological component, blocking insertion of an otherwise appropriate, more highly specified agreement exponent.

Phonology Circle - 10/17 Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: The effect of schwa duration on pre-schwa lowering in French
Date/Time: Monday, October 17, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


In some European French varieties, mid vowels are realized as open-mid before schwa and in closed syllables (e.g. hôtelier [ɔtəlje], optique [ɔptik]), and as close-mid otherwise (e.g. hôtel [otɛl]). Why do syllables followed by schwa pattern with closed syllables? It is often proposed that this is related to schwa being a short vowel (e.g. Durand 1976, Selkirk 1977, Anderson 1982). In this presentation, I report the results of a production experiment with 10 French speakers which support this hypothesis. The probability of pre-schwa lowering is shown to be inversely correlated to schwa duration: as the mean schwa duration of a speaker decreases, the probability that she will lower mid vowels before schwa increases. This relationship is modeled in a stochastic OT grammar with two pairs of conflicting constraints: *LongSchwa vs. *ShortV to regulate schwa duration, and *HighMidV/{_C.C, _.CV[-long]} vs.*LowMidV to regulate mid vowel quality. Schwa duration and mid vowel quality interact because the constraint *HighMidV/{_C.C, _.CV[-long]} bans high mid vowels before short vowels. I propose that this constraint has a perceptual motivation: a consonant preceded by a high vowel and followed by a short vowel or a consonant is particularly hard to perceive, and therefore phonologically marked.

ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 10/18 — Teodora Mihoc

Speaker: Teodora Mihoc (Harvard)
Title: More evidence of heterogeneity in the class of comparative and superlative numeral modifiers
Date/Time: Tuesday, October/18, 1—2pm
Location: 32-D461

Ling-Lunch 10/20 — Alëna Aksënova (Stony Brook)

Speaker: Alëna Aksënova (Stony Brook)
Tittle: Morphotactics and phonology as subregular languages
Date: Thursday, October 20th
Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

The main idea of this talk is to show which formal language classes might be the best fit for phonology and morphotactics, and to show how certain typological gaps can be predicted by the characteristics of these formal languages.

For a long time it was assumed that both phonological and morphological patterns are regular (Kaplan & Kay 1994, Beesley & Karttunen 2003). Recently, Heinz (2011, 2012, 2013) showed that this characterization is too general: although the regular class is sufficiently expressive, it is not restrictive enough. For example, typologically non-existent patterns such as First-Last Harmony (harmony happens only between the first and the last vowel in a word) and Sour Grapes Harmony (harmony applies only if it can be applied to the whole word) are regular. Weaker formal languages classes are needed to accurately capture the computational properties of phonology.

Based on recent research (Aksënova et al. 2016) I argue that morphotactics does not require the whole power of regular languages, either. I show which subclasses of regular languages are needed to account for morphotactics, present specific typological gaps and derive them from rigorous computational complexity results. This computationally grounded approach to phonology and morphology also provides a new perspective on acquisition, and raises many new research questions.

MIT @ AMP 2016

The 2016 edition of the Annual Meeting on Phonology will be held at the University of Southern California from October 21st to October 23rd. MIT will be represented by the following talks/posters:

Adam AlbrightSour grapes cyclicity: Derivational gaps in Yiddish [poster]

Erin Olson (3rd-year graduate student) — Intermediate markedness in phonological acquisition [poster]

Juliet Stanton (5th-year graduate student) — Segmental blocking in dissimilation: An argument for co-occurrence constraints

Benjamin Storme (5th-year graduate student) — The effect of French schwa on mid vowels: Cyclicity and variant correspondence [poster]

Sam Zukoff (5th-year graduate student) — Onset skipping in the serial template satisfaction model of reduplication

Furthermore, Bruce Hayes (UCLA, PhD ‘80) is among the invited speakers.

Report on the MIT-Haiti Initiative

Faculty member Michel Degraff sends this article on the MIT-Haiti Initiative (available in both English and Kreyòl) published in the MIT Faculty Newsletter, with the following blurb:

In this article, Prof. Haynes Miller (MIT Mathematics Department) reports on his engagement in the MIT-Haiti Initiative. This report is timely in light of current recovery efforts in Haiti after the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. The sort of projects described in this article is what Haiti needs the most: education projects that can, at long last, preempt the man-made disasters that have been accruing, on top of natural disasters, in 2 centuries of neo-colonial exclusion, mis-education and mis-management in Haiti.