Whamit!

The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 13th, 2017

Phonology Circle 3/13 - Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)  

Speaker: Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)
Title: Learning to mark exceptionality in probabilistic OT
Date/Time: Monday, March 13, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract:

In this work in progress, I seek to simulate how the language-learning infant learns that certain words are exceptions to their phonological grammar. Existing learners that assign exceptionality marking to words in OT (Becker 2009, Coetzee 2009) are non-probabilistic, making them unable to represent within-word variation (Coetzee and Pater 2011; see Temkin-Martínez 2010 for the necessity of representing both variation and exceptionality). The logic of those learners – comparing (pairwise) ranking conditions between words – cannot be applied to most existing probabilistic OT learners (e.g., Boersma 1997, Goldwater and Johnson 2003). I present an extension of Jarosz’s (2015) Expectation Driven Learning approach that is able to embody this logic and induce exceptionality labels. The efficacy of this approach is tested on several mini-case studies, including the case of default and exceptional Dutch stress (Kager 1989).
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Syntax Square 3/14 - Colin Davis  

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction and Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday March 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract:

Continuing from my previous Syntax Square, I analyze English possessor extraction, which is interestingly restricted. One such restriction that becomes apparent in long-distance possessor extraction is that non-subject DPs must be pied-piped to the edge of their clause for PE out of them to be licit:
  1. *Who do they think [John likes [t’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do they think[[t’s cake] John likes t]? (PE from pied-piped object)
I argue that this and other restrictions result from an adjacency condition between possessor and the Saxon genitive (cf. Gavruseva & Thornton 2001) which interacts with phase-by-phase linearization of syntactic structure (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014). Along the way, this analysis provides further evidence for Ko’s claim that specifiers of a head cannot be rearranged, finds an explanation for a general lack of spec-vP stranding in English, and additionally, an independent argument from linearization that expletive there originates in vP.
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LFRG 3/15 - Robert Pasternak  

Speaker: Robert Pasternak (Stony Brook/MIT)
Title: Want comparatives and the natural language metaphysics of desire
Date and time: Wednesday, March 15, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract:

Bach (1986) famously argues that part of the task of model-theoretic semantics is to engage in what he refers to as natural language metaphysics: in short, the determination of what sorts of objects and relations must be included in our model in order to account for the full range of possible meanings in natural language. In this talk, I will propose a natural language metaphysics of desire states—-and a semantics of want to go with it—-in which the intensity of desire tracks the part-whole relations of a desire state in a particular dimension. This is based on two independent observations from the literature. The first is that want can appear in comparatives in which the intensity of desire is being compared (Villalta 2008, Lassiter 2011):

1. Ann wants to leave more than Mary wants to stay.

The second observation is that verbal comparatives require that the measure functions used track part-whole relations of eventualities (Nakanishi 2007, Wellwood et al. 2012, Wellwood 2015). Hence, (2) can be a comparison of the time or distance of Ann’s and Mary’s running (since a running event covers more time/distance than its proper parts), but not the speed:

2. Ann ran more than Mary did.

If this constraint is to hold more generally, and if want comparatives—-which by all appearances are verbal comparatives—-allow for a comparison of intensity, then intensity of desire must track part-whole relations of desire states. After illustrating what such a natural language metaphysics might look like, as well as how the denotation of want interacts with the part-whole structure of such states, I then show how this view can be folded in with von Fintel’s (1999) broadly Hintikkan semantics of want, in which the denotation of want universally quantifies over bouletically ideal worlds.

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Talk 3/16 - Robyn Orfitelli  

Speaker: Robyn Orfitelli (University of Sheffield)
Title: Middle Class Acquisition
Time: Thursday March 16, 12:30 – 2:30 pm
Room: 32-D461

Abstract:

One of the most discussed puzzles in language acquisition is that children learning English (and a typologically diverse array of other languages) are delayed in acquiring adult comprehension of verbal passives and subject-to-subject raising (1a-b), but show very early comprehension of numerous other forms of A-movement, including subject-to-object raising and unaccusatives (2a-b).

I have previously argued that the cause of this split is that the sentences in (1) violate locality restrictions on movement, making them impossible for young children to derive, while the sentences in (2) do not violate these restrictions. In this talk, I present data from three studies investigating the acquisition of the A-movement that derives the middle voice (3), and a related structure with similar properties (4). Both (3) and (4) are structurally ambiguous: the nominative subject may be interpreted as either the external argument (reading i) or internal argument (reading ii) of the predicate, making these ideal test cases for locality-based intervention accounts.

Collectively, the data from the three studies suggest that children have no difficulty representing internal arguments as subjects, despite their non-canonical alignment, and the extreme rarity of sentences like (3) and (4) in child-directed speech. I discuss the significance of these findings for both our understanding of A-movement acquisition, and for our understanding of implicitly represented arguments in syntactic/semantic structure.

  1. a. Amber was seen by Graham.
    b. Amber seems to Graham to be lying.
  2. a. Amber believes Graham to be lying.
    b. Amber arrived.
  3. Adorable kittens sell easily.
    i. Adorable kittens make particularly talented sales-cats.
    ii. Adorable kittens can easily be sold.
  4. Scientists make great parents.
    i. (Mad) scientists create great parents (a la Dr. Frankenstein).
    ii. Scientists are generally great parents.
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MIT @ GLOW  

The 40th edition of GLOW (Generative Linguistics in the Old World) will take place later this week (March 15—17) at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. As usual, MIT will be represented by many current students and alumni.

Hagit Borer (PhD ‘81) is the invited speaker of the main conference.

There will also be workshops during GLOW. Laura Downing and Lisa Cheng (PhD ‘91) organized the workshop Syntax-Phonology Interface – What does Phonology need to know about Syntax and vice versa. Eulàlia Bonet (PhD ‘91) will be the invited speaker and will give the talk Phases and prosodic domains in exponence and phonology. At the same workshop, Nomi Erteschik (PhD ‘73), Gunlög Josefsson & Björn Köhnlein is presenting the work titled Mainland Scandinavian Object Shift, Match Theory and Prosodic Displacement.

Hamida Demirdache (PhD ‘91) and Janet Grijzenhout organized the workshop Heritage Language Knowledge and AcquisitionHeritage Language Knowledge and Acquisition. Esther Rinke, Cristina Flores & Pilar Barbosa (PhD ‘95) will give the talk Null objects in Heritage Portuguese and Jiyoung Choi & Hamida Demirdache the talk Experimentally investigating intervention effects in adult, child and Heritage Korean

Ezer Rasin will take in part in special workshop called The Interface Within, presenting the work titled ‘Predictions of a phonological architecture with stress encapsulation’.

Finally, GLOW is also hosting a special workshop to honor the retirement of Hans Bennis. Timothy Stowell (PhD ‘81) is one of the invited speakers, talking about ‘Government by Agreement’.

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A new linguistic summer school in Crete  

Several faculty (Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, and Shigeru Miyagawa) will be teaching at the Crete Summer School of Linguistics at the University of Crete, in the beautiful city of Rethymnon, from July 10 to July 21, 2017.

Kai will be teaching a class on modals and conditionals, Sabine will be teaching an Introduction to Syntax class, and Shigeru will be teaching two classes, one on the topic of his recent monograph, Agreement Beyond Phi, and one on language and animal communication in evolution.

Full information (including details on the application due April 10th), can be found on the summer school website.

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