Whamit!

The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 27th, 2017

Syntax Square 2/28 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: Q-particles and the nature of Covert movement: evidence from Bùlì
Date and time: Tuesday February 28, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract:

It is a well known fact that wh-questions in many languages may contain an in-situ wh-phrase. The nature of this wh-phrase, however, has been a contentious issue in the literature. While some have argued that the in-situ wh-phrase undergoes covert movement at LF (Aoun, Hornstein, and Sportiche, 1981; Huang, 1982; Nishigauchi, 1990; Pesetsky, 2000, Richards, 1997; 2000; Nissenbaum, 2000; Cable, 2007; 2010; Kotek, 2014; 2016), others have argued against this view (Watanabe 1992; Chomsky 1995; Reinhart 1998). A well-known puzzle for proponents of covert movement are the apparent differences in island-sensitivity between overt and covert movement — leading Huang (1982), for example, to propose that island-sensitivity is a property of S-structure or PF but not LF. The goal of this paper is to show that wh-questions in Bùlì provide strong arguments for covert movement of wh-in situ that eliminate the need to posit any overt/covert differences in island-sensitivity cross-linguistically. The key to this demonstration is the distribution of an overt Q-marker in Bùlì, and Bùlì’s status as an in-situ language.

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LFRG 3/1 - Athulya Aravind and Ezer Rasin‏

Speakers: Athulya Aravind and Ezer Rasin‏
Title: The nature of the semantic stimulus: quantifier learning as a case study
Date and time: Wednesday March 1, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract:

Language acquisition involves making sense of unanalyzed input: the child brings to the task a hypothesis space, each point in which represents a grammar, and she chooses a point in that space that can generate the input. If two grammars G, G’ are compatible with the input and the child ends up converging on G, we can draw interesting conclusions regarding acquisition: it could be, for example, that G’ is outside of the child’s hypothesis space, or that the child is biased towards choosing G over G’. The literature on acquisition in syntax and phonology has identified cases where the input is not rich enough to eliminate alternatives to the adult grammar, suggesting that learning in those domains is non-trivial.

Our goal is to evaluate the richness of the input in semantics, and our case study is the acquisition of quantificational determiners. We address the following question: are there logically weaker or logically stronger alternatives to quantifier meanings that are compatible with the child’s input, or is the input rich enough to eliminate competing hypotheses? We report our preliminary conclusions from a study of several English CHILDES corpora:

  • Systematic truth-conditional evidence for ruling out logically weaker meanings does not seem to be available. Obvious candidates for providing such evidence like the direct rejection of a child’s utterance and the use of quantifiers in downward-entailing environments were either absent from most corpora or consistent with weaker meanings.
  • Contextual evidence for ruling out logically weaker meanings is available. We identify contexts where a weaker meaning for a quantifier would violate some pragmatic constraint. If children can use this contextual evidence early enough, then logically weaker meanings would be incompatible with the input.
  • With respect to logically stronger alternatives, the situation is quite different. We construct classes of quantifiers with complex, logically stronger meanings designed to be consistent with any finite number of utterances. If such quantifiers are in the child’s hypothesis space, then converging on adult meanings would require non-trivial induction.
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Thursday, 3/2 — talk by Victoria E. Mateu

Speaker: Victoria E. Mateu (UCLA)
Title: On the Acquisition of Raising and Control: A Cross-linguistic Study
Time: March 2 (Thursday), from 12:30 – 2:30
Room: 24-121
Abstract:

This study investigates the delays observed in the acquisition of raising with seem (e.g. Mary seems to John _ to be cautious) and control with promise (e.g. Mary promises John _ to be cautious). One prominent explanation for the difficulties with these constructions holds that it is related to the presence of the intervening argument. Crucially for this type of accounts, an intervener is possible with Spanish prometer ‘promise’, but not with the modal-like verb parecer ‘seem’. The experiments presented here were designed to answer the following questions: i) are the delays observed in these constructions due to intervention effects? If so, ii) are they grammar- or processing-based? and iii) if they are grammar-based, is the grammatical machinery used to by-pass the intervener the same in raising and control?

The results obtained from the raising experiments reveal that Spanish-speaking children comprehend raising sentences with the semi-modal verb parecer by age four, while English-speaking children experience difficulties with raising seem until at least age six – even when the intervening argument is not overtly produced. This cross-linguistic asymmetry suggests that the (overt or covert) intervening argument is the root of the difficulty. Consistent with intervention accounts, the results obtained from the control experiments reveal that both English- and Spanish-speaking children show difficulties comprehending control with promise/prometer until at least age six.

Regarding our second question, an in-depth look into the raising and control data reveal two different groups of children: i) below-chance group: children who lack the grammatical means to circumvent the intervening argument and ii) chance and above-chance group: children who have an adult grammar system but still experience difficulties due to their immature processing system. We refer to this as the Dual Source Intervention hypothesis.

Importantly for our third question, our results do not show a correlation between performance on raising and control in all children –some children perform below chance with raising and above chance with control and some vice-versa, showing a grammatical dissociation between these two constructions. This has important consequences for syntactic theories that claim that raising (with seem) and control (with promise) are derived similarly (e.g. by A-movement, Hornstein 1999, Boeckx & Hornstein 2004, i.a.; or Smuggling, Belletti & Rizzi 2013).

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MIT Colloquium 3/3 - Vera Gribanova (Stanford)

Speaker: Vera Gribanova (Stanford)
Title: Head movement, ellipsis, and identity
Time: Friday, March 3rd, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155
Abstract:

In this talk I examine paradigms of crosslinguistic variation concerning the the verbal identity condition in verb-stranding ellipsis, building on a recent proposal about the mechanisms that yield head movement configurations (Harizanov and Gribanova, 2017).

When phrasal material is extracted from ellipsis sites (e.g. in sluicing), violations of lexical identity of the extracted material are permitted under focus of that material (Schuyler, 2001; Merchant, 2001). This is usually attributed to the licensing condition on ellipsis (Rooth 1992, Heim 1997, Merchant 2001), which takes distinct variables inside the ellipsis domain and its antecedent to be identical. I focus on analogous paradigms with head movement out of ellipsis sites (yielding verb-stranding), which appear to lead to contradictory conclusions regarding the architectural status of head movement. Languages like Russian - among them Hungarian, European Portuguese, and Swahili - permit mismatches between extracted parts of the verbal complex and their corresponding antecedent components under focus, just as with phrasal extraction in sluicing. Languages like Irish and Hebrew do not permit such mismatches under any circumstances, pointing to a postsyntactic status for head movement: there is no genuine movement out of the ellipsis site, giving rise to a total identity requirement (Schoorlemmer and Temmerman, 2012; McCloskey, 2016).

A point of leverage into understanding these patterns comes from a proposal by Harizanov and Gribanova (2017), who argue in favor of a bifurcation, both empirical and theoretical, in head movement types. One type involves displacement of fully formed words to higher syntactic positions (e.g. verb second, long head movement). The other type constructs complex morphological words (e.g. affixation, compounding). They point out that the empirical properties of the two types are quite distinct, and justify a theoretical move in which they correspond to distinct operations, in distinct modules of the grammar. They propose that the operation responsible for upward displacement of heads is genuine syntactic movement (Internal Merge); on the other hand, word formation is the result of postsyntactic amalgamation, which has properties that are not associated with narrow syntax.

With this revised view in hand, we can revisit the paradoxical verbal identity patterns: we expect that mismatches in verb-stranding ellipsis will be permitted when head movement is syntactic, but not when it is postsyntactic. I present independently motivated analyses of Irish and Russian clause structure which support exactly this conclusion. Verb movement in Irish involves postsyntactic amalgamation only, predicting a strict lexical identity requirement. By contrast, verb movement in Russian involves both the syntactic and the postsyntactic head movement types, with one of the movement steps being syntactic and giving rise to the possibly of verbal mismatches in verb-stranding ellipsis.

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FASAL 7 on March 4-5

The MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy will be hosting the seventh annual Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL 7) workshop on March 4-5, 2017. The aim of this workshop is to provide participants with a platform to discuss formal or experimental approaches to syntax, semantics, phonology and morphology from the perspective of South Asian Linguistics.

The invited speakers are:

The full program can be found on the FASAL 7 website. Attendees are requested to register for the workshop. We hope to see you there!

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More on DP@60 at the SHASS blog

The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences has a great post up about the David Pesetsky@60 workshop! The post can be seen here.

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