The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 1st, 2017

Phonology Circle 5/1 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: A Case for Morpheme Structure Constraints from Koryak Labials
Date/Time: Monday, May 1, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

One of the central departures of Optimality Theory and its descendants from earlier models of generative phonology is the principle of the Richness of the Base (ROTB), which holds that the set of inputs to the grammar lacks language-specific properties (Prince and Smolensky 2004). Since the set of ranked constraints is the only locus of crosslinguistic variation in these models, morpheme structure constraints (MSC) (Stanley 1967, Chomsky and Halle 1968 et. seq.) are inadmissible. In this talk, I present an argument against this view based on the distribution of labials in Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan). In this language, v and w contrast prevocalically (1-2), but are neutralized to w elsewhere (3).
  1. wutku ‘here’ vs. vutq-ə-vut ‘darkness’
  2. e-wejulʔ-et-ke ‘not scared’ vs. ɣənt-ev-e ‘you ran’
  3. waɲav-at-ə-k ‘to speak’, but waɲaw ‘word’, a-waɲaw-ka ‘without words’
For morphemes like the root in (3), we can set up the root-final segment in the UR as v, but morphemes with an underlying final w, giving rise to a putative pattern *waɲaw ~ waɲaw-at-ə-k, do not exist. While these facts are straightforwardly captured by an MSC banning w morpheme-finally, as well as by equivalent machinery like morpheme-level filtering, analyses assuming ROTB without intermediate filtering are unable account for them.

Syntax Square 5/2 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Outward-Sensitive Phonologically Conditioned Allomorphy in Koryak
Date and time: Tuesday May 2, 1—2pm
Location: 32-D461

In realizational theories of morphology like Distributed Morphology, syntactic operations are taken to apply to structures that lack phonological information, which then needs to be inserted at some later point in the derivation. A question we can then ask is whether there are any principled restrictions on how this insertion proceeds. One influential answer comes from Bobaljik (2000), who argues that vocabulary insertion is cyclic and phase-based: vocabulary items are inserted bottom-up within phases, and bottom-up from phase to phase. This makes predictions about restrictions on allomorphy determined at vocabulary insertion because it entails that, when a morpheme is undergoing insertion, only phonological information is present about the nodes below it, and only morphosyntactic information is available about those above it. This view predicts, then, that outward-looking allomorphy can be only conditioned by morphosyntactic features, and inward looking allomorphy by only conditioned by phonological/morphological features. In line with this prediction, cases of outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy are very scarce, the only clear example that I know of coming from Deal and Wolf (2014). In this presentation of work in progress, I will provide partial support for cyclic spellout. In particular, I will present 3 cases of allomorphy from the Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Kamchatka) verb-word, and will argue that they are outward-looking and phonologically conditioned, contrary to one of the claims of cyclic spellout. Based on this, I will argue that the phase-internal part of cyclic spellout is either false as a universal or unfalsifiable: these patterns of allomorphy pattern cannot be captured by it, but a theory of phonology sufficiently powerful to account for them negates cyclic spellout’s predictive power. However, I will argue that the predictions of phase-by-phase cyclicity are, in fact, borne out: in none of these cases can morphemes trigger allomorphy across a phase boundary, even if they are linearly adjacent to each other.

LFRG 5/3 - Athulya Aravind

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Against a unified treatment of obligatory presupposition effects
Date and time: Wednesday May 3, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Since its original conception, the principle Maximize Presupposition (Heim 1991, Sauerland 2003) has been recruited to explain why the use of certain presupposition triggers is obligatory in contexts that satisfy their presuppositions (1).

1. a. The/#A sun is shining.
b. I washed both/#all of my hands.
c. Does your dog have a bushy tail/#bushy tails?

In this talk, I re-examine one type of “obligatory presupposition” environment, involving additive particles (2), and argue that they do not fall within the purview of Maximize Presupposition (contra e.g. e Amsili and Beyssade, 2006, Chemla 2008, Singh 2008).

2. a. Sue went to the party. John went to the party #(too).
b. Jenn went to the movies yesterday. She went #(again) today.

Building on previous work (Krifka 1999, Saebo 2004, Bade 2016), I will first propose an account for the effects in (2), on which insertion of additives is one strategy (among many) to circumvent inconsistencies arising from uncancellable exhaustivity inferences. I will then present experimental results from both adults and children that offer support for a non-unified treatment of obligatory presupposition effects.

Ling-Lunch 5/4 - Amanda Rysling

Speaker: Amanda Rysling (UMass Amherst)
Title:  Preferential early attribution in segmental perception
Date/Time: Thursday, May 4th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Recognizing the speech we hear as the sounds of the languages we speak requires solving a parsing problem: mapping from the acoustic input we receive to the sounds and words we recognize as our language. The way that listeners do this impacts the phonologies of the world’s languages.

Most work on segmental perception has focused on how listeners successfully disentangle the effects of segmental coarticulation. An assumption of this literature is that listeners almost always attribute the acoustic products of articulation to the sounds whose articulation created those products. As a result, listeners usually judge two successive phones to be maximally distinct from each other in clear listening conditions. Few studies (Fujimura, Macchi, & Streeter, 1978; Kingston & Shinya, 2003; Repp, 1983) have examined cases in which listeners seem to systematically “mis-parse” (Ohala, 1981; et seq.), hearing two sounds in a row as similar to each other, and apparently failing to disentangle the blend of their production. I advance the hypothesis that listeners default to attributing incoming acoustic material to the first of two phones in a sequence, even when that material includes the products of the second phone’s articulation. I report studies which show that listeners persist in attributing the acoustic products of a second sound’s articulation to a first sound even when the signal conveys early explicit evidence about the identity of that second sound. Thus, in cases in which listeners could have leveraged articulatory information to begin disentangling the first sound from the second, they did not do so. I argue that this behavior arises from a domain-general perceptual bias to construe temporally distributed input as evidence of one event, rather than two.

These results support a new conceptualization of the segmental parsing problem. Since listeners necessarily perceive events in the world at a delay from when those events occurred, it may be adaptive to attribute the incoming signal to an earlier speech sound when no other determining information is available. There are cases in which listeners do not disentangle the coarticulated acoustics of two sequential sounds, because they are not compelled to do so. Finally, I argue that this has affected the phonologies of the world’s languages, resulting in, for example, predominantly regressive assimilation of major place features.

MIT Colloquium 5/5 - Jon Gajewski (UConn)

Speaker: Jon Gajewski (UConn)
Title: It’s not syntax, I don’t think: neg-raising and parentheticals
Time: Friday, May 5th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

English allows a construction in which a sentence contains a parenthetical with a clausal gap, as in (i). I will refer to phrases such as I think in (i) as clausal parentheticals. Typically, clausal parentheticals cannot be negative, cf. (ii).
(i) There is beer in the fridge, I think.
(ii) *There is beer in the fridge, I don’t think.
It has been noted that when the clausal parenthetical contains a neg-raising predicate, an apparent doubling of a negation in the main clause is allowed, as in (ii).
(ii) There is no beer in the fridge, I (don’t) think.
This doubling has been taken to be an argument in favor of syntactic approaches to neg-raising, as in Ross (1973) and Collins & Postal (2014). I will defend an analysis of the doubling in (ii) that is compatible with a semantic/pragmatic approach to neg-raising, as in Horn 1989, Gajewski 2007, Romoli 2013.


The University of Calgary organized this year’s West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. 1st year grad student Neil Banerjee (Trouble with attitudes and the future) and Heidi Harley (PhD ‘95) were keynote speakers and several current students and alumni presented their work:

Hanzhi Zhu (3rd year grad student): Desonorization in Kyrgyz: Licensing by cue, not syllable contact

Nico Baier (UC Berkeley) & Michelle Yuan (4th year grad student): Deriving anti-agreement with bound variables: feature transmission and impoverishment

Rafael Nonato (PhD ‘14) Skewed AGREE: accounting for a closest-conjunct effect with semantic implications

Ivona Kučerová (PhD ‘07) & Adam Szczegielniak (Rutgers): A dual theory of roots: Evidence from gender-marking languages

Benjamin Bruening (PhD ‘01) & Eman Al Khalaf (U. Jordan): No argument-adjunct distinction in reconstruction for binding Condition

Neil during his keynote [thanks Hanzhi for the picture!]