The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 14th, 2016

Syntax Square 11/14 - Isa Bayirli

Speaker: Isa Bayirli
Title: On gender and concord
Time/date: Nov. 14, 2016, 1:00-2:00pm
Location: 32-D461

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Feature Assignment Rule (Pesetsky, 2013: 8) is defined for every grammar and that it is the only mechanism responsible for the concord phenomenon (i.e. the feature co-variance between a noun and the modifying adjectives)

(1) Feature Assignment (FA), version 1 of 6:
a.Copying: when α merges with β, forming [α β] with the label α, the grammatical features of α are immediately copied on β
b.Realization:…and are realized as morphology on all lexical head items dominated by β

Suppose, moreover, that in a language where the overt effects of the FA Rule is invisible (i.e. the non-concord languages), the NP (with all the AdjPs inside it) is a protected domain of some kind.

(2) The Absence of Concord: A language lacks concord on the adjectives only if the NP in this language is a protected domain

To support these suppositions, one would need to provide evidence of (at least) three types:

Type 1: Evidence indicating that concord is universally calculated over syntactic representations as implied by the FA Rule (with no reference to feature values)
Type 2: Evidence indicating that whenever we do not observe concord in a language, the NP in this language is, indeed, a protected domain
Type 3: Evidence indicating that whenever NP cannot be protected from the application of the FA Rule in a language we do observe concord in this language

Previously at Syntax Square, I presented evidence of Type 1 (The Concord Hierarchy) and of Type 2 (The Concord-Suspension Complementarity), both of which I will briefly summarize.

In this talk, I will present some evidence of Type 3. NPs can be protected from the features coming from the functional projections but not from the features that start on the noun head. That is, if a feature f starts out on the noun head, then the universality of the FA-rule implies that - in the usual case - it will show up on all the adjectives adjoined to the NP. Assuming the gender feature, in those languages where it is idiosyncratic, starts out on the noun head, we get:

(3) Idiosyncratic Gender Generalization (IGG): A language with an idiosyncratic gender system is a language with gender concord

I first discuss some evidence for the validity of IGG. I then report a typological survey based on World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) in support of the IGG generalization. I finally discuss some problematic cases (Gur languages of Niger-Kongo Family). I argue that the solution I sketch for these problematic cases are motivated on independent grounds.

Phonology Circle 11/14 - Cora Lesure

Speaker: Cora Lesure (MIT)
Title: La Morfología y la Ortografía del Chuj // Morphophonology and Orthographic Development in Chuj (Mayan)
Date/Time: Monday, November 14, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This is a practice talk for FAMLi 4 (Form and Analysis in Mayan Linguistics 4) where I will be giving the same talk but in Spanish. The aim of the talk is to present theoretically interesting work on Chuj morphophonology which is understudied, as well as illustrate the direct applications of this work to orthographic development. This is done through examining the disputed use of the grapheme `h’ as well as the disputed status of [h] as a phoneme. There are three prevailing ideologies:
1) [h] is not a phoneme and should not be used as a grapheme at all (Buenrostro 2013)
2) [h] is not a phoneme but is used as a grapheme word initially to indicate that glottal stop epenthesis has not occurred (Similar to its use in Q’anjob’al, Mateo Toledo 1995)
3) [h] is a phoneme and should be used as a grapheme word initially and intervocalically (Domingo Pascual 2007)

I examine the positions in which [h] has been reported, namely in word initial position as well as in the vowel initial allomorph of the second person singular ergative prefix: h-, and determine that it is minimally contrastive in specific contexts. Even when it is not present as a segment, due to interactions with the process of root initial glottal stop epenthesis, a contrast remains salient. For example:

1) tzek’i [ts’ek’i]
‘He passed by’

2) tz(h)ila’ [tsilaʔ]
‘You saw him’

Above, though both the 3rd person absolutive marker and the 2nd person ergative marker are phonologically null, only the ergative marker prevents glottal stop epenthesis. In (1) glottal stop epenthesis results in the imperfective aspect marker [ts] being pronounced ejective [ts’].


LFRG 11/16 - Milo Phillips-Brown

Speaker: Milo Phillips-Brown (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, November 16th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Some-things-considered desires

Lu has a test coming up. She believes she’ll pass only if she studies. Studying is boring.

  • (1) Lu wants to pass.
  • (2) But she doesn’t want to study.
  • (1) and (2) are fine together, but standard semantics for ‘want’ predict that they are incompatible. I’ll propose a way to make them compatible. My guiding idea is that when Lu considers what it would be like to pass but ignores what it would be like to study, she prefers passing to not; when she considers what it would be like to study but ignores what it would be like to pass, she prefers not studying to studying. These are some-things-considered (other-things-ignored) desires. We can model them with coarse worlds (= propositions), in place of worlds. Where defined, every proposition, or its negation, is true at a given world. But not every proposition, or its negation, is entailed by a given coarse world. When neither a proposition nor its negation is entailed by a coarse world, it is considered; otherwise it is ignored.

    Ling-Lunch 11/17 — Paul Crowley (MIT)

    Speaker: Paul Andrew Crowley (MIT)
    Tittle: Neg-Raising and Neg movement
    Date:Thursday, November 17
    Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    This talk will be concerned with the phenomenon known as Neg-Raising. All previous analyses of Neg-Raising fall into one of two main categories: syntactic and semantic/pragmatic. The syntactic approach derives the effect from a Neg movement operation in the syntax (Fillmore 1963) while the semantic/pragmatic approach derives the effect as an inference attributed to an excluded middle presupposition associated with all Neg-Raising predicates (Bartsch 1973). In this talk, a variety of known and novel data points are argued to indicate that both a Neg movement operation as well as an excluded middle presupposition are necessary to account for the full range data. It’s proposed that the Neg-Raising phenomenon should be attributed to the excluded middle and that the Neg movement operation is dependent on the presence of this presupposition.

    Colloquium 11/18 - Greg Kobele

    Speaker: Greg Kobele
    Title: The meaning of structure
    Time/date: Friday, November 18th, 2016, 3:30-5:00 pm
    Venue: 32-155

    One way of viewing syntactic structure is as a real object, something which is constructed and manipulated by the rules of grammar. I take this to be the prevailing view in the transformational tradition. An alternative perspective, found in the categorial tradition (incl Montague), is that syntactic structure is not real in this sense at all, but rather is a record, or a proof, of the way that the grammar licenses a particular sound-meaning pair. These different perspectives have lead to different analytical approaches to various phenomena, culminating for example in debates about LF-interpretation vs Direct Compositionality.

    I show (1) how to reformulate standard practice in minimalist syntax in these montagovian terms, (2) how the standard Heim and Kratzer LF-interpretation scheme can be faithfully recast in a directly compositional manner, and (3) how an ‘almost c-command’ approximation to bindability emerges when the basic repertoire of combinatory operations is extended to include the bind operator in the continuation monad (aka Buering’s Argument Saturation operation). A number of prominent theoretical issues find herewith an immediate and straightforward resolution, and this forces us as well to clarify what others might mean.

    Formal consequences of this perspective shift, such as efficient generation, incremental interpretation during parsing, and the efficient resolution of ellipsis in discourse processing are touched upon.