The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 28th, 2016

Syntax Square 11/27 - Kenyon Branan & Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)

Speakers: Kenyon Branan & Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: Against strength and weakness: Contiguity in Bùlì
Time/date: Monday, November 28, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Optionality in Ā-movement has been modeled as the optional presence of a strong feature on C, requiring the wh-phrase it Agrees with to move to its specifier. Recent work [Richards (2016)] models optionality in Ā-movement as true optionality, so long as the choice of movement or not satisfies a condition on prosodic representations, called Contiguity. In this talk, I present novel data from Buli, a Gur language spoken primarily in Ghana, that provides a strong argument for the latter view of optionality. In Buli, wh-phrases may remain in-situ, so long as they are not separated from end of the sentence by a prosodic boundary of any sort. This restriction on wh-in-situ is explained straightforwardly given the Contiguity-theoretic approach, but would require the introduction of an additional constraint on prosodic representations under the “optional feature” approach.

LFRG 11/30 - Verena Hehl

Speaker: Verena Hehl (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, November 30th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Discussion of: “On the meaning of some focus-sensitive particles” (Ippolito 2007).

In the paper Ippolito argues that the aspectual, marginality, and concessive uses of ‘still’ and ‘already’ in (1), (2) and (3) can be reduced to the following three classes of focus-sensitive particles: additive particles like ‘too’, scalar particles like ‘even’, exclusive particles like ‘only’.

(1) John is still/ already cooking.
(2) (a) Compact cars are still safe; subcompacts start to get dangerous.
      (b) (Compact cars are still safe.) Subcompacts are already dangerous.
(3) (Even) if the doctor tells him not to, Harry will still run the marathon.

The paper then features a (non-uniform) compositional analysis of the presuppositions triggered by ‘still/ already’ that sheds (new?) lights on the focus-sensitive particle ‘again’.


Ling-Lunch 12/1 — Amy Rose Deal

Speaker: Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Tittle: Dedicated de re attitude reports
Date/Time: Thursday, December 1/12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Indefinites occurring in attitude complements can typically be read either de dicto or de re. This choice is commonly treated as a true ambiguity, involving two separate sets of truth conditions corresponding to two distinct LFs, rather than (say) as a case of generality or underspecification based on a single LF. Is the ambiguity approach the correct one? In particular, are there LFs in which indefinites occurring in attitude complements must obligatorily be construed de re? I argue that there are indeed. My argument comes from Nez Perce attitude reports in which the attitude verb shows apparent long distance agreement with a DP inside the attitude complement. This DP must be read de re. The de re reading, I argue, derives from an LF in which the res argument moves into the matrix clause covertly; that is, Nez Perce manifests a (syntactically well-behaved) version of res-movement. Notably, there does not exist an equally syntactically distinguished variety of attitude reporting reserved for de dicto readings. Indefinites that may be read de dicto in Nez Perce may also typically be read de re, without morphosyntactic consequences, as in English. I suggest, then, that the true ambiguity at the level of LF may be between a dedicated de re LF and an LF which is general enough to support either de re or de dicto attitudes.

Juliet Stanton — paper published at Language

Congratulations to Juliet Stanton, a fifth year student graduate, on the publication of her article Learnability Shapes Typology: The Case of the Midpoint Pathology! (The paper can be viewed here.)

The midpoint pathology (in the sense of Kager 2012) characterizes a type of unattested stress system in which the stressable window contracts to a single word-internal syllable in some words, but not others. Kager (2012) shows that the pathology is a prediction of analyses employing contextual lapse constraints (e.g. *ExtLapseR; no 000 strings at the right edge) and argues that the only way to avoid it is to eliminate these constraints from Con. This article explores an alternative: that systems exhibiting the midpoint pathology are unattested not because the constraints that would generate them are absent from Con, but because they are difficult to learn. This study belongs to a growing body of work exploring the idea that phonological typology is shaped by considerations of learnability.

Jonathan Bobaljik: Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Congratulations to distinguished alum Jonathan Bobaljik (PhD 1995), Professor of Linguistics at the University of Connecticut, on being elected a 2016 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science! The AAAS recognize individuals for their contributions to science and technology.

Enoch Aboh’s visit: December 7—9

Save the date: Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam) will visit our department in December and will give two talks.

  • The role of vulnerable interfaces in language change: the case of the C-, and D-systems
    • Date: Wednesday, December 7
    • Time: 2—5pm
    • Location: TBA
    • Reading: Chapters 5-6 of Enoch (2015),  The Emergence of Hybrid Grammars: Language contact and change
  • The emergence of serial verb constructions
    • Date: Friday, December 9
    • Time: 1:30—3:15pm
    • Location: TBA
    • Reading: chapter 7 of Enoch (2015)

For more information, please contact Michel DeGraff (degraff@mit.edu).

MIT Colloquium 12/02 - Maribel Romero (Universität Konstanz)

Speaker: Maribel Romero (Universität Konstanz)
Title: On the many readings of ‘many’
Time/date: Friday, December 2, 3:30-5pm
Location: 32-155

Partee (1989) and a long tradition thereafter distinguish two readings of many and its antonym few: the cardinal reading (1a) and the proportional reading (1b), with n and ρ as context- dependent parameters. These readings are exemplified against scenario (2). Sentence (3) is judged true in virtue of its cardinal reading and sentence (4) in virtue of its proportional reading:

(1) Many Ps are Q.
a. CARDINAL reading: |P∩Q| > n, where n is a large natural number.
b. PROPORTIONAL reading: |P∩Q| : |P| > ρ, where ρ is a large proportion.

(2) Scenario: All the faculty children were at the 1980 picnic, but there were few faculty children back then. Almost all faculty children had a good time.
(3) There were few faculty children at the 1980 picnic.
a. Cardinal: true in (2)
b. Proportional: false in (2)

(4) Many (of the) faculty children had a good time.
a. Cardinal: false in (2)
b. Proportional: true in (2)

Additionally, Westerståhl (1985) famously noted a third interpretation of many, known in the literature as the ‘reverse’ proportional reading (see also Herburger 1997, Cohen 2001). This is exemplified in (5)-(6). Sentence (6) is judged true in scenario (5) in virtue not of its cardinal or proportional reading, but in virtue of its reverse proportional reading paraphrased in (6a) and formulated in (7):

(5) Scenario: Of a total of 81 Nobel Prize winners in literature, 14 come from Scandinavia.
(6) Many Scandinavians have won the Nobel Prize in literature.
a. Intuitive paraphrase of the reverse proportional: ‘Many of the Nobel Prize winners are Scandinavians ’

(7) Many Ps are Q.
REVERSE PROPORTIONAL reading: |P∩Q| : |Q| > ρ, where ρ is a large proportion.

This third reading is problematic for semantic theory no matter whether many is treated as a determiner or as adjectival in nature. If treated as a (parametrized) determiner (cf. Hackl 2000), the lexical entries corresponding to the three readings above will be as in (8). While the cardinal and proportional lexical entries (8a)-(8b) obey Conservativity, defined in (9), the reverse proportional reading (8c) does not, thus challenging the Conservativity Universal (Keenan & Stavi 1986, cf. Barwise & Cooper 1981:U3):

(8) Many as a parametrized determiner:
a. Cardinal:
b. Proportional:
c. Reverse proportional:

λdd. λP. λQ. |P∩Q| ≥ d
λdd. λP. λQ. |P∩Q| : |P| ≥ d λdd. λP. λQ. |P∩Q| : |Q| ≥ d

(9) A determiner denotation f is conservative iff, for any sets of individuals P and Q: f (P)(Q)=1 iff f (P)(P∩Q)=1

If treated as adjectival (cf. Hackl 2009), the lexical entries corresponding to the cardinal and proportional reading can be formulated as in (10a)-(10b). But a serious compositionality problem arises for the reverse proportional reading, since a proportion over |Q| has to be computed while having no λQ-argument in the adjectival entry (10c):

(10) Many as adjective:
a. Cardinal:
b. Proportional:
c. Reverse proportional:

λdd. λP. λxe. P(x) ∧ |x|≥d
λdd. λP. λxe. P(x) ∧ |x|:|P| ≥ d λdd. λP. λxe. P(x) ∧ |x|:|Q| ≥ d ???

Treating many as a determiner, Romero (2015) decomposes many into the determiner stem MANY plus the degree operator POS, and derives the reverse proportional reading from the conservative proportional entry (8b) and independently motivated association patterns of POS. The present talk extends Romero’s analysis in two new directions. First, POS is allowed to associate not just with overt elements in the sentence but also with a world variable. This move, necessary to account for examples like (11), allows us to derive certain difficult cases of apparent reverse proportional readings remaining in the literature. Second, Romero’s (2015) analysis is extended to attributive uses like (12). Using the adjectival entries in (10a)- (10b) and allowing the same association possibilities for POS as in non-attributive uses, different readings are predicted and shown to arise.

(11) For what I had wished for, few students came.

(12) The many demonstrators protested loudly.