The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 24th, 2016

Syntax Square 10/24 - Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Movement, doubling, and selection in Inuktitut noun incorporation
Date/Time: Monday, Oct. 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk presents ongoing work on noun incorporation in Inuktitut. Unlike languages with ‘classical’ noun incorporation (e.g. Mohawk), noun incorporation in Inuktitut is obligatory with a small class of verbs and is otherwise impossible with all other verbs (Sadock 1985, Johns 2007). It is standardly thought that this obligatoriness is motivated by wellformedness requirements on word-formation, though analyses vary in how exactly incorporation takes place (Johns 2007, Compton & Pittman 2010). In this talk, I discuss a number of additional, underanalyzed properties of Inuktitut noun incorporation that somewhat complicate the picture. These data suggest that incorporation may take place in some cases by movement, and other cases by base-generating the nominal at the incorporation site. In the latter cases, we find that the incorporated nominal may co-occur with an independent (non-identical) direct object. I suggest that incorporation in Inuktitut—whether by External or Internal Merge—involves Undermerge to the incorporating verb in v0 (Merge to complement position; Pesetsky 2007, 2013), and is moreover sensitive to the selectional requirements of v0.

Phonology Circle 10/24 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Opposite-edge reduplication without Anchor
Date/Time: Monday, October 24, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


Reduplication in Chukotkan languages (Chukchi, Koryak, Alutor, Kerek) has attracted attention in the phonology-morphology literature due to the fact that it copies to the opposite edge that it copies from (Riggle 2003, Nelson 2003, Inkelas 2008, i.a.), which has been used to argue for the necessity of Anchor constraints to place reduplicants. Building off of previous suggestions in the literature (most notably Kenstowicz (1976), as well as McCarthy and Prince (1996) and Nelson (2003)), I will argue that no reference to anchor constraints needs to be made, as both the size and the placement of the reduplicant fall out of segmental faithfulness and independently necessary constraints on the size of the prosodic word and the syllabification of roots. As a side-effect of this, the claim in Inkelas (2014) that Chukotkan languages use reduplication to spellout a case morpheme, a pattern otherwise unattested in the world’s languages, will turn out to be false: reduplication (sometimes) appears to spell out a case morpheme as a result of a conspiracy between minimality and the morphophonology of the absolutive singular. Based on this analysis, I will then present new data showing that reduplication systematically both underapplies and overapplies, and will suggest that Output-Output correspondence constraints (Kenstowicz 1996, Benua 1997, Albright 2010) are better able to capture these facts than Stratal OT (Bermudez-Otero 1999, Kiparsky 2000).

LFRG 10/26 - Frank Staniszewski

Speaker: Frank Staniszewski (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, October 26th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Partial Cyclicity and Restrictions on Neg-Raising


Partial cyclicity refers to the observation that for some but not all combinations of neg-raising predicates, neg-raising can apply cyclically, and a negation in the matrix clause can be interpreted as if it is taking scope in the most deeply embedded clause (Fillmore 1963, Horn 1971, Gajewski 2007). For example, cyclic neg-raising is available when ‘believe’ embeds ‘want’, but not when ‘want’ embeds ‘believe’.
 (1)      a.   I don’t believe John wanted Harry to die until tomorrow.
            b. *I don’t want John to believe Harry died until yesterday.
            (Gajewski (2007) based on Horn (1971))
            In this presentation of work in progress, I will attempt to expand the empirical domain of this phenomenon. I will discuss new evidence that suggests that examples of partial cyclicity are part of a wider class of restrictions on neg-raising, and that these restrictions are the result of temporal orientation: In general, NR is blocked in an embedded clause that can be understood as future-shifted or yet unknown from the perspective of the matrix tense. I hope to explore whether or not the new data can be explained by previous accounts of partial cyclicity, and if not, what revisions or new analyses could account for the more general phenomenon.

Ling-Lunch 10/27 — Veronica Boyce (MIT)

Speaker: Veronica Boyce, MIT (joint work with Athulya Aravind and Martin Hackl)
Title: Lexical and syntactic effects on auxiliary selection: Evidence from Child French
Date: Thursday, October 27
Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Auxiliary selection in periphrastic constructions poses a challenge for the learner who must learn if her language has auxiliary selection and if so, how to draw the line between HAVE-selecting and BE-selecting verbs. We investigate children’s understanding of the various factors involved in auxiliary selection in French by conducting a large-scale corpus study of child productions of passé composé.

In adult French, a set of unaccusative verbs and reflexive clitic constructions with SE select BE. With the class of unaccusatives, children were largely adult-like, but sometimes over-extended HAVE to BE. Crucially, over-extension errors are produced at earlier ages, suggesting a stage in development where the child has yet to converge on the right generalizations about French. Once past this stage, the child consistently selects the right auxiliary, even for newly acquired verbs.

Reflexive clitic constructions show a different acquisition trajectory from the unaccusatives. With 3rd person reflexives (se), children are adult-like 100% of the time. However, children erroneously select the HAVE-auxiliary over half of the time with 1st person (me). The high accuracy with 3rd-person reflexives suggests that children can rapidly make an inductive inference about auxiliary selection with reflexive clitic constructions, generalizing the pattern to an abstract syntactic configuration. We suggest that at the heart of the 1st person errors is the pronominal paradigm in French, which shows syncretism between object clitics and reflexives in the 1st/2nd person, and discuss how the child errors might point us to the right way of thinking about the paradigm.

Song of the Human premiere

“Song of the Human” is a composition by the British composer Pete Wyer, who was inspired by faculty member Shigeru Miyagawa’s work on the connections between human language and bird song. The premiere in the World Financial Center was on October 12, 2016. The composer and Shigeru were guests on a WNYC public radio show; the full segment is available online. Shigeru shared two pictures from the premiere.



Michel DeGraff’s report about the linguistic rights of children for the LSA

Michel DeGraff contributed to a report by the Linguistic Society of America on the protection of children’s rights in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is a report being compiled by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. DeGraff’s comments are formulated in the context of his work as director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative and as the representative of the LSA to the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences.

The report can be accessed here.

von Fintel travels

Faculty member Kai von Fintel just returned from ten days in Europe, where he talked about “The absence of certain ambiguities in some contexts” at the University of Tübingen, spent two days working on a secret project or two with fellow faculty member and co-author Sabine Iatridou, who is on sabbatical in Amsterdam, gave a public lecture on If and taught a class on “How to do conditional things with words” at the University of Manchester.