The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 20th, 2017

Phonology Circle 3/20 - Joan Mascaró Altimiras (UAB)  

Speaker: Joan Mascaró Altimiras (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona/MIT)
Title: Stress Dependent Harmony and Featural Affixation: Metaphony in Romance
Date/Time: Monday, March 20, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

Stress-dependent harmony in Romance (aka metaphony) has been usually analyzed as a case of phonological spreading from/licensing of a final trigger affecting the stressed vowel. In cases in which the trigger has become opaque, either an abstract analysis (Calabrese 1985, 1998) or a morphological analysis (featural affixation or similar; Kaze 1989, Finley 2009) has been proposed. The determination of trigger-target interactions has been analyzed as determined by a prosodic domain (the foot, Hualde 1989, Flemming 1994) or as licensing of features in a weak position (Cole 1998, Majors 1998, Walker 2005). In this talk, I will examine all these possibilities and suggest that even in transparent cases an analysis in terms of featural affixation cannot be ruled out given current empirical evidence, and that the original analyses in terms of foot domains might be a more appropriate solution.

Syntax Square 3/21 - Kenyon Branan  

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: Contiguity Preservation: Another Look at Defective Intervention
Date and time: Tuesday March 21, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Some languages, like English, allow raising across an experiencer in sentences like [John seems to me to be intelligent]. Other languages, like Icelandic, don’t. In this talk, I will attempt to build a theory that will predict whether or not a language will allow raising across an experiencer. This theory will not make reference to the notion of defective intervention, which has commonly been used to account for the facts in Icelandic. I show that a number of other syntactic properties correlate with the “allows raising across a dative property”, and that these properties can be explained straightforwardly with Richards’ (2016) Contiguity. I then propose a requirement that Contiguity relationships may not be broken in the same phase they are created, and show that this accounts for the fact that English-like languages allow raising across a dative, but not Icelandic-like languages. Finally, I attempt to extend the account to English tough-constructions.

LFRG 3/22 - Itai Bassi  

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Phi features on focus-bound pronouns: a semantic account
Date and time: Wednesday March 22, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Some researchers (Kratzer 1998, Heim 2008, a.o.) have argued that phi features on bound pronouns are not (always) semantically interpreted. Their presence, it is claimed, is a PF-only phenomenon, perhaps as a reflex of an agreement relationship with the binder of their pronoun. One motivation for this conclusion comes from focus constructions like (1). The point is that under standard assumptions about binding and about the meaning of phi features, the phi features on my better not be semantically active, or else the right interpretation of (1) would not be derived.

1. Only I brushed my teeth.

But other authors (Jacobson 2012, Sauerland 2013) have taken a more semantic view, capitalizing on the observation that (1) is a focus construction. On this approach the phi-features in (1) do contribute their usual meaning, but only at the level of the regular semantic value of the expression and not at the level of its focus semantic value.

The goal of this talk is to develop a novel account of focus constructions like (1) within the semantic approach. The core of the proposal is that (1) involves F-coindexation between the two pronouns:

2. Only [I]F1 brushed [my]F1 teeth.

My account builds on Kratzer’s (1991) version of focus semantics, where focused phrases carry an indexed F-feature. I will propose that the grammar has a mechanism that allows a focused phrase to share its F-index to matching pronouns. The fact that phi-features contribute only to the regular semantic value will be derived in this system.

I will show how the phenomenon of split binding (Rullmann 2004), which is problematic to PF accounts, can be handled in my theory rather straightforwardly.

Finally, I will try to independently motivate the notion that focus dependencies like (1) makes the dependent pronoun (silently) F-marked.


Talk 3/22 - Loes Koring  

Speaker: Loes Koring (MIT)
Title: Looking for structure in strings
Time: Wednesday March 22, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Room: 32-D461

The class of intransitive verbs poses an interesting puzzle for the language-acquiring child. The child has to work out which of these verbs project an unergative and which an unaccusative syntax. The puzzle here is that, in many languages, the surface strings these verbs give rise to, do not provide any (useful) information regarding their underlying structure. A potential complicating factor is that there are reasons to think that young children are not able to project an unaccusative structure in which the internal argument has moved up to subject position. In this talk, I will use the Visual World Paradigm to probe more directly into the underlying structure children assign to sentences with unaccusative verbs by looking at children’s processing signatures for these sentences. The results from the eye-tracking experiments I present are not only informative regarding (the acquisition of) unaccusativity, but the paradigm itself opens up a new way to uncover the underlying structures of different strings (and thus to tease apart competing hypotheses about the structure). Finally, I will discuss the implications of these results with respect to how we think about (the acquisition of) constraints on structural alternations verbs can participate in.

Ling-Lunch 3/23 — Michelle Yuan  

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Against morphological diagnostics for object agreement vs. clitic doubling: Evidence from Inuktitut
Date/Time: Thursday, March 23, 12:30—1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

There has been much recent debate concerning the proper analysis of object agreement—whether it is true agreement (phi-feature valuation) or clitic doubling (a pronominal D0 co-referring with a DP). Various diagnostics have been put forth to determine whether a given “object-referencing morpheme” is one or the other (e.g. Preminger 2009, Nevins 2011, Kramer 2014). In this talk, I argue against the use of morphological diagnostics (as in Zwicky & Pullum 1983, also Nevins 2011) in discerning between the two, based on a comparison between Inuktitut and related Inuit languages (mostly West Greenlandic).

In Inuit, subject- and object-referencing morphemes surface as mood-sensitive portmanteaux; this has been previously taken as an argument for true object agreement in Inuit (Compton 2014). However, novel data from Inuktitut reveal that the Inuit languages actually display a split: while in West Greenlandic the object-referencing portion of these portmanteaux is underlyingly true agreement, in Inuktitut it is clitic doubling. Unlike West Greenlandic, Inuktitut displays a number of syntactic and semantic effects that strongly parallel the behaviour of pronominal object clitics cross-linguistically (e.g. Dobrovie-Sorin 1990, Cardinaletti & Starke 1999). I will moreover show that this split is not arbitrary, but falls within a broader pattern across Inuit.

Crucially, despite this contrast, the West Greenlandic and Inuktitut agreement paradigms are almost entirely identical; their morphological properties therefore have no bearing on the underlying syntax associated with these forms. To properly discern between agreement and clitic doubling, we must instead focus on syntactic and semantic diagnostics that specifically take into account the determiner/pronominal status of doubled clitics, i.e. that they are D0’s in a syntactic dependency with a co-referring DP (see, for example, Preminger 2009).


MIT LingPhil Colloquium 3/24 - Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)  

This Friday, Cleo Condoravdi will be giving our third annual MIT Linguistics and Philosophy Colloquium!

Speaker: Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)
Title: Conditional imperatives
Time: Friday, March 24th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

I present an analysis of imperatives as preferential commitments and show how preferential commitments get conditionalized in conditional imperatives, including imperatives in anankastic conditionals. The analysis allows for uses of modals and imperatives to be equivalent in their communicative effect, despite their different underlying semantics. It also accounts for a new observation about a crucial difference between modals and imperatives: while modals can be used to give advice on why a certain goal should be rescinded given the facts of the matter, imperatives cannot.

What I will talk about builds on three previous papers on imperatives and on anankastic conditionals (1, 2, 3), but there is no paper yet corresponding to the content of the talk and one does not need to be familiar with the previous work.

Juliet Stanton, new NYU Assistant Professor!  

We are thrilled to congratulate our very own Juliet Stanton for having accepted a tenure-track position of Assistant Professor in phonology at New York University, Department of Linguistics! Wonderful news!


LSA 2017 Institute Fellowship Award recipient — Elise Newman  

First year graduate student Elise Newman (also MIT S.B. 2016) has received an LSA 2017 Institute Fellowship Award to attend the 2017 Linguistic Institute at the University of Kentucky. Congratulations, Elise!


Precious Little at Central Square Theater  

‘Tis truly the year of the linguist in popular culture (if theatre can be considered popular culture). Central Square Theater’s current season includes a play about a linguist, which several of our own linguists attended on Saturday. Precious Little, written by Madeleine George, explores the mind of linguist faced with the fact that her child may never be able to learn a language. The piece is thought provoking and the linguist humour is on point. We all enjoyed it thoroughly, and would recommend the show to anyone interested in linguistics and theatre!