The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 20th, 2017

2/21, Tuesday: talk by Alexis Wellwood

This Tuesday 2/21 at 5:30-7:30pm Alexis Wellwood from Northwestern University will give a talk on “Meaning, vision, and acquisition” in the room 32D-461.

Speaker: Alexis Wellwood (Northwestern University)
Title: Meaning, vision, and acquisition
Date and time: Tuesday, February 21, 5:30-7:30pm
Location: 32-D461


LFRG 2/22 - Masha Esipova

Speaker: Masha Esipova (New York University/MIT)
Title: Focus on what’s (not) at issue: co-speech gestures, presuppositions, and supplements under Contrastive Focus
Date and time: Wednesday, February 22, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I would like to discuss some of my work in progress (or, as of very recently, in regress) on the interaction of various types of non-at-issue content with Contrastive Focus.

This project started out as a reaction to the debate on the status of the inferences triggered by co-speech gestures between Ebert & Ebert (2014), who claim that those inferences are supplemental, and Schlenker (2015, to appear), who argues that they are presuppositional. We will start from an observation that sometimes co-speech gestures seem to be making an at-issue contribution, in particular, under Contrastive Focus. We will then explore the data on how co-speech gestures, presuppositions, and supplements (in particular, non-restrictive relative clauses and appositives) interact with Contrastive Focus, and will see that while those data don’t necessarily settle the debate on the status of co-speech gestures, they shed some light on how different types of non-at-issue content come to have at-issue uses.

Ling-Lunch 2/23 - Zheng Shen

Speaker: Zheng Shen (UConn)
Title: Multi-Valuation and the Agreement Hierarchy
Day: Thursday, February 23
Time: 12:45pm—1:50 [please note the different time]

In this talk I present arguments for treating cross-linguistic agreement patterns of multi-valuation (Shen to appear) as an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy (Corbett 1979).

The nominal right node raising construction in (1) has been argued to involve a single probe that is valued by multiple goals; that is, it involves multi-valuation. In contrast to the multi-valued N in (1), a T node that’s valued by two singular features can be spelled out as plural in summative agreement in (2) (Grosz 2015). Thus there is an asymmetry between multi-valued N and multi-valued T which remains unaccounted for.

(1) This tall and that short student(*s) are a couple.

(2) [Sue’s proud that Bill __ ] and [Mary’s glad that John __ ] have/has traveled to Cameroon.

I argue that this asymmetry is an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy (Corbett 1979 et sq, Smith 2015). Cross-linguistically, three out of the four logically possible patterns of multi-valued Ns and Ts are attested (3), parallel to the original Agreement Hierarchy observed for collective nouns. I will discuss other positive consequences of this proposal, in particular regarding the agreement patterns of multi-valued adjectives and determiners reported in King and Dalrymple 2004.

Multi-valued NMulti-valued T

MIT Colloquium 2/24 - Rachel Walker (USC)

Speaker: Rachel Walker (USC)
Title: Temporal Structure in Phonology
Time: Friday, February 24th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

In phonological structure, the segment root node is classically the locus of temporal organization for sub-segmental units, such as features, governing their sequencing and overlap (e.g. Clements 1985, Sagey 1986). Segment root nodes also classically mediate hierarchically between moras and sub-segmental elements, and by structurally identifying segments, roots figure in the calculation of weight-by-position, where coda consonants are assigned a mora (Hayes 1989). In this talk, I discuss evidence from phonotactic patterns that motivate an enriched representation of temporal relations, where coordination is represented directly among sub-segmental elements. Weight-by-position is also calculated over this sub-segmental temporal structure. In light of these representations, I consider implications for segment roots and suggest that root nodes be eliminated in favor of a set-based understanding of segments, extending set-based notions of feature classes (Padgett 2002).

Rachel Walker at MIT (2/22-2/24)

Rachel Walker will be here for an extended visit from 2/22-2/24. In addition to her colloquium on Friday, she will also be teaching a mini-course on Wednesday and Thursday. Details are below.

Speaker: Rachel Walker
Title: Sub-segmental Representation

  • Wednesday 2/22: 1-2:30pm in 36-112
  • Thursday 2/23: 4-5:30pm in 36-155


In this course, we will examine the representation of sub-segmental elements in light of patterns involving the neutralization of vowel quantity contrasts in the context of coda consonants. A case study of patterns of vocalic neutralization in General American English, supported by a real-time MRI study of speech articulation, will motivate a phonological representation of sub-segments as gestures (Browman & Goldstein 1986 et seq.). Key advantages that gestures offer are the representation of temporal coordination among sub-segments and encoding of goal articulatory states that may be blended under conditions of overlap. A phonological approach will be developed that governs sub-segmental temporal relations, formalized in terms of optimality theoretic constraints, building on proposals of Davidson (2003) and Smith (2016). Cross-linguistic predictions for patterns of vowel quantity neutralization in other languages and dialects will be considered.

Save the dates: FASAL 2017

The 7th Annual Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL) will be hosted at MIT March 4-5, 2017. The conference offers a platform to discuss formal and experimental approaches to natural language from the perspective of South Asian Linguistics.

The program is available here. The invited speakers are Miriam Butt (Konstanz), Ashwini Deo (Ohio State) and Norvin Richards (MIT).

We ask that those who are planning to attend to please register. There is no registration fee.


MITWPL 81 - Papers on Morphology

MIT Working Papers in Linguistics is pleased to announce the publication of its 81st volume, Papers on Morphology, available at the MITWPL webstore. Edited by Snejana Iovtcheva and Benjamin Storme, the volume contains the following contributions:


DeGraff at the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences

Michel DeGraff participated in a panel, with Ann Charity Hudley, Christine Mallinson and Mary Bucholtz, at the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences. The panel was about Leveraging Linguistics for Broadening Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM). Michel’s abstract is available here, and photos are available on Michel’s Facebook wall.


New Student Fellowship In Honor of Yuki Kuroda

Linguistic Society of America has established a new student fellowship in honor of our own alumnus S.-Y. (Yuki) Kuroda (1934-2009), a former Professor Emeritus at UCSD; MIT dissertation from 1965 “Generative Studies in The Japanese Language”, supervised by Noam Chomsky. Sige-Yuki Kuroda, known most universally as Yuki, is considered by many the father of modern Japanese linguistics. From LSA: “His work showed that not only could Japanese be fruitfully analyzed using the theory of generative grammar, but that it could play an important role in extending and expanding that theory.”