The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 12th, 2016

Miyagawa in MIT News

Faculty Shigeru Miyagawa is featured on MIT News’ top page: his work on language evolution inspired a musical piece, which premiered in NYC’s World Financial Center. The full article is here.

Syntax Square 12/12 - Kenyon Branan

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: Predicate fronting and copy pronunciation
Time/date: Monday, Dec. 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

“Predicate doubling” has been seen as a strong argument for copy theories of movement. However, it also poses a challenge for such theories, since they must explain why two copies of a fronted predicate are pronounced, but not two copies of a fronted nominal. In this talk, I’ll try to give a simple explanation of this difference between predicates and nominals, where an independent requirement on the syntax-prosody mapping overrides the usual requirement that multiple copies. After doing that, I’ll tell you about some other outcomes when you assume such a system.

Phonology Circle 12/12 - Edward Flemming

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Boundary tones in Mandarin Chinese intonation
Time: Monday, December 12th, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Helen Nie (MIT)

Mandarin Chinese echo questions present an interesting test case for intonational theory because they are distinguished from declaratives by intonation alone, but it is not obvious that the intonational distinction can be characterized in terms of the familiar elements of intonation. There are no obvious pitch accents or boundary tones distinguishing echo questions from corresponding declaratives because F0 movements are primarily determined by lexical tones, so final F0 is rising if the lexical tone of the final syllable is rising, and falling if the tone of the last syllable is falling. Instead echo questions are distinguished from declaratives by an optional increase in overall pitch range and modifications to the final tone that have been characterized as a further expansion of pitch range, since high targets are raised but low targets may not be.<\p>

We provide evidence that these modifications to the final tone are in fact due to the presence of a high boundary tone, but its realization differs from familiar boundary tones because it is realized simultaneously with the final lexical tone. The conflict between the simultaneous demands of lexical tone and boundary tone are resolved by compromise between their conflicting targets, an analysis formalized in terms of weighted constraints.


LFRG 12/14 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: Constructing pseudo-clefts
Time/date: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, I present data with implications for the syntax and semantics of specificational pseudo-clefts: cases where the post-copular XP contains an adverbial, e.g. (1).

(1) a. What Obama approved was [this bill and, with difficulty, that bill].
b. What Obama approved was [this bill and possibly that bill].

First, I relate these data to a syntactic debate. Illustrating with the simple pseudo-cleft in (2), one approach posits just the structure apparent in the surface string, (2a) (e.g. Jacobson 1994, Sharvit 1999, Caponigro & Heller 2015), while a second approach takes the overt post-copular material to be the remnant of a full clause otherwise elided, (2b) (e.g. Ross 1972, den Dikken et al. 2000, Schlenker 1998/2003).

(2) What Obama approved was this bill.
a. [what Obama approved was [this bill]]
b. [what Obama approved was [<Obama approved> this bill]]

I argue that clausal structure is required to host certain adverbs, so data like (1) provide new evidence for ellipsis. In particular, the structure for (1a) has this bill and that bill the remnants of two separate elided clauses, conjoined by and; the PP is adjoined to the TP in the second conjunct. Other tests adapted from Hirsch (2015) further support ellipsis.

Second, I will show that the adverb data pose a challenge for current approaches to the semantics of pseudo-clefts (citations above), and explore a new compositional analysis which crucially relies on the syntactic results in the first part of the talk.