The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 8th, 2017

Phonology Circle 5/8 - Ting Huang (MIT)

Speaker: Ting Huang (MIT)
Title: On the Unreleased Stops in Taiwanese Southern Min
Date/Time: Monday, May 8, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-124

Unreleased stops, lacking a burst, have been claimed to have low perceptibility and are more likely to neutralize place contrasts (Stevens 1994; Ohala 2001), which has been supported by examining no-burst VC fragments spliced from released stops. The common consensus is that stop perception relies on two sources of acoustic cues: (i) formant transition and (ii) spectral frequency of burst noise. It is clear that the latter cue is absent in unreleased stops, and therefore the hypothesis is that the cues of formant transition will be enhanced. This study investigates the acoustic correlates of VC (where C=unreleased stops p̚, t̚, k̚) in Taiwanese Southern Min. We argue that the cues of VC are not totally diminished or undistinguishable. Moreover, different morphoprosodic structures (VC-V vs. VC#V vs. VC#C) further complicate the dispersion of stop contrasts in this study, which will also be discussed in this talk. A further comparison of stop cues exhibits that the coronal and dorsal are contrastive in terms of vowel duration and quality. This may be related to the asymmetrical behaviors of consonant-to-consonant assimilation in several languages (e.g. English and Korean) and diachronic changes of stop contrasts in Chinese Phonology.

Syntax Square 5/9 - Karin Vivanco

Speaker: Karin Vivanco (MIT and the University of São Paulo)
Title: Inverse voice in Karitiana
Date and time: Tuesday May 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The goal of this talk is to present a new analysis of the inverse voice morpheme {ti-} in Karitiana, a Tupian language spoken in Brazil. This morpheme arises in three different constructions: object WH- questions, object focus constructions, and object relative clauses (Landin 1984, Landin 1987, Storto 1999, 2005). It also changes the agreement pattern of transitive verbs, that otherwise behave in an ergative-absolutive fashion. For this reason, some {ti-} constructions have been regarded as split-ergativity contexts (Storto 2005).

In the analysis proposed here, objects in {ti-} constructions would be adjuncts located outside of the verbal phrase. Furthermore, {ti-} would be a nominal element generated as the complement of a transitive verb, being later incorporated into it and changing its valency. Specifically, I argue that a verb marked with {ti-} becomes intransitive, a claim that can be supported by diagnoses of (in)transitivity such as the copular and the passive construction (Storto 2008, Rocha 2011, Storto and Rocha 2015). This intransitive status would in turn account for the change of agreement patterns without resorting to split-ergativity.

Finally, I also claim that this proposal can account for the presence of {ti-} in WH- constructions and for a semantic requirement that has not been previously described.


LFRG 5/10 - Daniel Margulis

Speaker: Daniel Margulis (MIT)
Title: Quantifier float with overt restriction
Date and time: Wednesday May 10, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Example (1) demonstrates quantifier float. The quantifier each intuitively quantifies over individual parts of the subject they, but the two are not linearly adjacent. The Hebrew quantifier kol has to be overtly restricted, even when it floats: (2) is ungrammatical without exad ‘one’ or a full NP like student.

1. They have each read a different book.

2. hem kar’u kol *(exad) sefer axer
they read each one book other
“They each read a different book.”

I will discuss several syntactic and semantic puzzles posed by the construction in (2) and their implications for the analysis of quantifier float.


Rajesh Bhatt at MIT

Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst) will be making an extended visit this week. In addition to his colloquium talk on Friday, he’ll be giving a mini course on Thursday on the theory of indefinites in Hindi-Urdu and its implications for polarity and movement cross-linguistically:

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: Hindi-Urdu Indefinites, Polarity and Movement
Date/Time: May 11th, 11:30am-2:30pm
Place: 32-D461 (tentative)

[joint work with Vincent Homer, UMass]

Typically, Positive Polarity Items (PPIs), e.g. ‘would rather’, cannot be interpreted in the scope of a clausemate negation (barring rescuing or shielding) (Baker 1970, van der Wouden 1997, Szabolcsi 2004 a.o.):

1a. John would rather leave.
1b. *John wouldn’t rather leave.

The scope of most of them is uniquely determined by their surface position. But PPI indefinites are special: they can surface under negation and yet yield a grammatical sentence under a wide scope interpretation:

2. John didn’t understand something. ok: SOME > NEG;*NEG > SOME

Here we address the question of the mechanism through which a PPI of the `some’ type takes wide scope out of an anti-licensing configuration. One possibility is (covert) movement, another is mechanisms that allow indefinites to take (island-violating) ultra-wide scope such as choice functions (Reinhart 1997). The relevant configurations that have motivated choice functions for other languages can be set up for Hindi-Urdu too.
We can therefore assume that a device that generates wide-scope for indefinites without movement is available in Hindi-Urdu too. We show that in Hindi-Urdu at least, this device is unable to salvage PPIs in the relevant configuration. Only good old fashioned overt movement does the needful. If we think of overt movement in Hindi-Urdu as being the analogue of covert movement elsewhere, then the Hindi-Urdu facts are an argument that it is movement, albeit covert, that salvages PPIs in English too, not alternative scope-shifting devices. We explore whether the conclusion from Hindi-Urdu does in fact extend to English.

MIT Colloquium 5/12 - Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: Polar Questions, Selection and Disjunction: clues from Hindi-Urdu ‘kyaa’
Time: Friday, May 12th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

[joint work with Veneeta Dayal, Rutgers] Hindi-Urdu has an optional marker ‘kyaa’ that appears in polar and alternative questions. We delineate its properties distinguishing from the homophonous thematic ‘kyaa’ (what); in particular we locate it in ForceP. We demonstrate that its distribution in embedded environments is similar to that of embedded inversion in English. Then we use `kyaa’ to argue that projection of alternatives (as in Alternative and Inquisitive Semantics) is constrained by the syntax. In particular, A-bar movements lead to `closure’ of alternatives, making them inaccessible. Consequently we expect a bleeding relationship between such movements and operations that depend upon alternatives such as alternative questions. Finally we also explore interactions between the intonational marking of Y/N questions and syntax.

MIT @ CamCoS 6

The 6th Cambridge Comparative Syntax conference (CamCoS 6) took place on 4—6 May. Michelle Yuan (4th year grad student) gave the talk Object agreement and clitic doubling across Inuit: Evidence from Inuktitut ABS objects


Michel DeGraff at the UN

This Friday, Michel DeGraff will be presenting his paper, Language, education, human rights, equal opportunity & sustainable development: Haiti as a case study, at the United Nations symposium on Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations!