The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 15th, 2017

Phonology Circle 5/15 - Mitya Privoznov

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Title: Russian stress in inflectional paradigms
Date/Time: Monday, May 15, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

All analyses of Russian stress agree that it is contrastive. This is easily shown by the existance of minimal pairs, like zámok ‘castle’ vs. zamók ‘padlock’. Hence, at least some information about stress has to come from the lexical entries for individual morphemes. The question is: what kind of information? Most analyses, starting with Jakobson (1963), Zaliznyak (1967) and Halle (1973), assume that there is an underlyingly specified feature [+/-stress], cf. Zaliznyak (1985), Melvold (1990) and Alderete (1999). These theories distinguish between three types of morphemes in Russian: stressed, unstressed and “right-stressed”. The latter type is underlyingly accented, but, in Halle (1973)’s terms, it invokes a specific rule that shifts stress from the morpheme itself to the next syllable to the right (cf. Zaliznyak (1985)’s rightward marking). In this talk I am going to argue that instead of introducing the right-shifting stress rule we could assume that the stress feature, apart from having [+str] and [-str] values, can also be unspecified. This will give us the desired three-way distinction: morphemes can be stressed, unstressed and unspecified for stress. I am going to show that in a combination with StressLeft constraint (cf. Melvold (1990)’s BAP principle) and some independently needed auxiliary assumptions about morpheme dominance, this would derive the desired result.

Syntax Square 5/16 - Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Towards a unified analysis of associative plurals and plural pronouns in Inuktitut
Date and time: Tuesday May 16, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I present work in progress on associative plurals and Plural Pronoun Constructions in Inuktitut. I propose that associative plurals and plural pronouns share a common internal syntax; evidence comes from the existence of so-called ‘extended associatives’—associative plurals modified by a comitative phrase, just like PPCs—and the observation that these constructions systematically interact with PPCs. I suggest that the correct analysis for these constructions in Inuktitut seems to roughly correspond to the one proposed by Vassilieva & Larson (2005) for plural pronouns, which are taken to be built from a singular pronoun and an additional unsaturated element (thus, “we” = “I + other(s)”). However, along the way, I’ll also introduce various puzzles for this proposal.


LFRG 5/17 - Hanzhi Zhu

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)
Title: Building expectation into an account of still and already
Date and time: Wednesday May 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I’ll explore properties of particles like still, already, and German erst / Mandarin cái ‘only just, only … so far’. In particular, I will argue for the claim that some of these particles give rise to an earlier/later-than-expected inference (discussed in Löbner 1989, van der Auwera 1993, Michaelis 1996, inter alia).

1. Asha is already asleep.
Inference: Asha is asleep earlier than expected.

2. a. Bart qiutian cai lai.
Bart autumn erst come
b. Bart kommt erst im Herbst
Bart come erst in autumn
“Bart will only just come in autumn.”
Inference: Bart’s coming in autumn is later than was expected.

I’ll propose an account which directly builds this inference into their presuppositional content. I’ll then discuss the advantages of such an account over previous proposals (Krifka 2000, Ippolito 2007), as well as the challenges that it faces.


[cancelled] Ling-Lunch 5/18 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Cyclic Linearization and Intermediate Stranding: English Possessor Extraction and Beyond
Date/Time: Thursday, May 18th/12:30-1:50pm
Room: 32-D461

In this work, I argue that the Cyclic Linearization view of phases (CL, Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014) accurately constrains pied-piping/stranding, incorporating unexamined facts from the English possessor extraction (PE) construction, first noted in Gavruseva & Thornton (2001). McCloskey (2000) showed that West Ulster English all can be stranded by wh-movement, not only in the base position, but in an intermediate one also, which he takes as evidence for successive-cyclic movement:

(1). What (all) did he say [CP t (all) that we should buy t (all)]?

Intriguingly in contrast, Postal (1974) noted that English prepositions cannot be stranded in intermediate positions:

(2). (To) who do they believe [CP t (*to) that the students spoke t (to)]?

A Puzzle: West Ulster English all and English prepositions are both strandable elements in principle. Why then is only the first capable of IS? This, as McCloskey noted, is mysterious.

Another IS context is the English PE construction, a colloquial option for many speakers. Long-distance PE out of non-subject DP, such as whose money in (3), requires IS of that DP in the embedded spec-CP. Why does English tolerate IS in PE derivations, but not with prepositions? This fact compounds the puzzle.p>

(3). Who did they say[CP [ts money John stole t]? (PE with object pied-piping)

Solution: Chomsky (2001, inter alia) and CL both offer theories of how phases and their spellout determine the properties of successive-cyclic movement. Whereas Chomsky’s conception of phases does nothing to rule out preposition IS, leaving Postal’s puzzle and related facts mysterious, I argue that CL gets the facts right, predicting (1-3). This solution also predicts a generalization about IS, stated in (4).

(4). Intermediate Stranding Generalization (ISG, Predicted by CL)
IS is possible when what pied-pipes, and then is stranded, was adjoined to the right of the mover.

This generalization fits the fact that IS is possible for the strandable all of West Ulster English and [‘s NP] in possessor-extracting English, as these items follow the moving wh-word. (4) rules out IS of prepositions, which precede a mover they are adjoined to. I argue that (4) is cross-linguistically robust, fitting all cases of IS I’ve so far found.


MIT at SALT 27

Over the weekend, Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 27 was held at the University of Maryland. On May 11, there was a workshop on Meaning and Distribution at UMD as well. MIT was represented at both!

Pranav Anand (PhD ‘06) was an invited speaker at SALT, and spoke on Facts, alternatives, and alternative facts, and Beth Levin (PhD ‘83 EECS) was an invited speaker at the workshop, and spoke on The Elasticity of Verb Meaning Revisited. In addition, MIT had several students, alumni, and faculty presenting both talks and posters.




Save the date: Ling-Lunch 5/22 - Jay Keyser

Mark you calendar! Jay Keyser will give a special Ling-Lunch talk on Monday, May 22.

Speaker: Jay Keyser
Title: Music, Poetry, Painting and Easter Eggs
Date/Time: Monday, May 22/12:30-1:50pm [notice the exceptional time!]
Location: 32-D461

This talk takes the view that modernism in the so-called sister arts of music, poetry and painting resulted from the abandonment of sets of rules that characterized each genre and that were shared by the artist and his/her audience. Rules governing meter and tonal music are reasonably well understood. I propose a way to think about “rules” for the third genre, painting. These rules define a natural aesthetic, ’natural’ in that the rules are shared by the artist and his or her audience in the way that the rules of one’s natural language are shared by speaker and listener.

I suggest that the esoteric direction that the sister arts took in the period cultural historians call “Modernism” is a direct result of abandoning the natural, i.e. shared aesthetic for private formats whose origins can be found in the 14th century.

Finally, I will speculate on the similarity between what happened to the arts at the turn of the 20th century and what happened in science after the publication of Principia Mathematica two centuries earlier.