The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 18th, 2017

Linguistics-Philosophy Reading Group 09/18 - on Ninan; Kelly Gaus and Thomas Byrne

Speaker: Kelly Gaus and Thomas Byrne
Title: Discussion on (Ninan 2015) Two Puzzles about Deontic Necessity
Date and time: Monday September 18, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The deontic modal must has two surprising properties: an assertion of must p does not permit a denial of p, and must does not take past tense complements. I first consider an explanation of these phenomena that stays within Angelika Kratzer’s semantic framework for modals, and then offer some reasons for rejecting that explanation. I then propose an alternative account, according to which simple must sentences have the force of an imperative.

Phonology Circle 9/18 - Suyeon Yun (UToronto)

Speaker: Suyeon Yun (University of Toronto)
Title: Allophonic variation of the word-initial liquid in Korean dialects
Date and time: Monday, September 18, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This study presents large-scale production data of the word-initial liquid allophones in North and South Korean dialects. In South Korean dialects, liquids cannot occur in word-initial position, and Sino-Korean word-initial liquids undergo deletion (e.g., /Lipjəl/ → [ipjəl] ‘parting’) or nasalization (e.g., /Lotoŋ/ → [notoŋ] ‘labor; Iverson & Kim 1987, a.o.). It is reported, however, that the initial liquid /l/ or /r/ in recent English loanwords may be realized as [ɾ] (e.g., Lee 1999) or as [l] (Seo 2004). On the other hand, in North Korean dialects, word-initial liquids are retained (e.g., Bae 2011) albeit based on a small number of Sino-Korean words. This study examines the allophonic variation of the word-initial liquid in North Korean as well as in South Korean, involving a considerable number of words, both Sino-Korean and loanwords, and participants that consist of different age groups. 35 speakers of North Korean defectors who speak Northern Hamkyeong dialect and 20 speakers of Seoul Korean read 41 /L/-initial words in isolation. Results show that the most common variant of the word-initial liquid is the tap [ɾ], and there are also several conditioned and free allophonic realizations, including the trill [r], approximant [ɹ], lateral [l], nasal [n], and stop [t]. The current data serve as an interesting case of variation, in which one phonemic liquid /L/ shows a lot of variability in its phonetic realizations as a result of the interactions between universal phonological constraints (rhotics occur less frequently and stops occur more frequently before /i/ than before other vowels (cf. Hall & Hamann 2010)), different lexical stratifications ([n] occurs more frequently in Sino-Korean than other loans), and speakers’ exposure to L2 ([r] occurs more frequently for Russian L2 speakers and [l] occurs more frequently for English L2 speakers).

Syntax Square 9/19 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: E2P2: The Extended Extended Projection Principle
Date and time: Tuesday, September 19, 1:00-2:00pm
Location: 32-D461

Current definitions of EPP properties stipulate a preference for checking features via specifier creation rather than merging as a complement. I argue that this is an unnecessary stipulation, and that we can generalize EPP properties such that they may be satisfied by either specifier creation or complementation. I will use facts about English V to T movement and do-support to motivate this extension of the EPP. I propose a syntactic account of V to T movement, which builds off of Matushansky (2006), in conjunction with this new extension of EPP (henceforth E2P2) to explain not only facts about the English auxiliary system, but also facts about the interaction between negation and auxiliary verbs, and negation and non-finite T. I will discuss how this view can also extend to T to C movement, as well as notions about Anti-locality.

LFRG 09/20 - Keny Chatain (MIT)

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Defining local contexts for anaphora
Date and time: Wednesday September 20, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Schlenker (2008, 2010) has shown how one can define an incremental notion of local context for presupposition. This removes the need for encoding projection behaviour in particular lexical entries, as in Dynamic Semantics. In subsequent unpublished work, Schlenker attempts to apply the same ideas to define an incremental notion of local context relevant to anaphora. The proposal, while broad in its empirical coverage, falls short of predicting existential/universal readings of donkey anaphora. It also predicts that universal quantifiers introduce singular discourse referents, just as indefinites.

In work-in-progress, I pick up on this project and show how one could deal with the exceptionality of indefinites, taking stock on their alternative semantics, and sketch ideas on how to produce the weak/strong distinction.

Ling-Lunch 9/21 - Jessica Rett (UCLA)

Speaker: Jessica Rett
Title: Explaining ‘EARLIEST’
Date and time: Thursday, September 21, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

The semantics of degree constructions has motivated the implementation of a MAX operator, a function from a set of degrees to its maximal member (von Stechow 1985, Rullmann 1995, a.o.). This operator is unsatisfying: it’s arbitrary (cf. MIN), and therefore not explanatory. There have thus been several calls to reduce MAX to a more pragmatic principle of maximal informativity (Dayal 1996, Beck & Rullmann 1999, Fox & Hackl 2007, von Fintel et al. 2014).

Intriguing differences between before and after have caused some to posit an EARLIEST operator in the temporal domain (Beaver & Condoravdi 2003, Condoravdi 2010). This operator is unsatisfying for similar reasons (cf. LATEST), and some have suggested it, too, can be redefined in terms of informativity (Rett 2015). However, recent cross-linguistic evidence (reported here) complicates the reduction of EARLIEST to `maximize informativity’: while counterparts of `before’ and `after’ across languages share many foundational semantic properties, they appear to differ in a principled way in how certain before constructions are interpreted. I discuss this and other related observations with respect to the future of a domain-general `maximize informativity’ program.

ESSL/LAcqLab 9/22 - Laurel Perkins (UMD)

Speaker: Laurel Perkins (University of Maryland)
Title: Perceiving Transitivity: Consequences for Verb Learning
Date and time: Friday, September 22nd, 2pm-4pm
Location: 32-D461

There is a paradox in language acquisition concerning the perception of the input. If learners can veridically parse the input, then there is nothing to learn from it; but if they cannot parse the input, then it is unclear how they avoid faulty inferences about structure, or even learn from it at all (Valian 1990, Fodor 1996). In this talk, I examine how children deal with their input, given only partial knowledge of the target grammar. Specifically, I focus on the intersection of transitivity, wh-movement, and verb learning.
Infants can use a verb’s distribution in transitive and intransitive clauses to draw inferences about its meaning (e.g. Fisher et al., 2010) and its argument-taking properties (Lidz, White, & Baier, 2017). In this talk I’ll address two questions about the nature of these inferences. First, are infants’ inferences about verb meaning best characterized as one-to-one matching between arguments in a clause and participants in an event described by that clause (Naigles, 1990; Fisher et al., 2010)? To differentiate this participant-to-argument matching hypothesis from other possibilities, we investigate whether children think an intransitive clause could be a good fit for a two-participant event. Second, at early stages in development, infants may not recognize transitivity in certain “non-basic” clauses, like What did Amy fix? (Gagliardi, Mease, & Lidz, 2016). If a learner does not yet recognize that what stands for the object of fix, might she erroneously infer that fix does not require an object? We probe when infants are able to recognize the transitivity of non-basic clauses like wh-object questions, and how infants who do not yet have that ability might learn to “filter” non-basic clauses from the data they use for verb learning. Thus, learners may be able to overcome the limits of partial knowledge by unconsciously filtering data that may lead to faulty inferences about their grammar.

MIT Simplicity Workshop

The MIT Workshop on Simplicity in Grammar Learning will take place on September 23, 2017 in 32-155. The workshop will bring together members of MIT’s Linguistics and Brain & Cognitive Sciences departments to share current work that revisits the relevance of simplicity criteria in the study of language. Visit the website for more information.

MIT at AMP 2017

The Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP) 2017 took place at New York University over the weekend and MIT was well represented by students, faculty, and alumni.

Current MIT-ers:


Singer/Songwriter BIC at MIT

Haitian poet, singer & song-writer Roosevelt Saillant, better known as B.I.C. Tizon Dife (B.I.C. = Brain. Intelligence. Creativity) is one-of-a-kind Haitian artist, and he’s giving a free concert at MIT.

B.I.C. is one of the best known and most creative and prolific artists in Haiti. He has been writing and singing his poems for the past 20 years. B.I.C.’s songs, now taught at Haitian universities, reveal a unique philosophy of development and justice. His trenchant criticism about, and positive messages for, Haitian society are expressed in mordant, yet beautiful, lyrics in his native Haitian Creole, replete with word play and rhyme crafting. His songs—a mix of hip hop, rap, folk and traditional Haitian rhythms—express a profound love for his Haiti, along with an active engagement for the defense of human rights.

Thanks to a grant from Arts at MIT, B.I.C. is visiting MIT to help develop digital poetry in Kreyòl with Prof. Michel DeGraff (MIT Linguistics, Inisyativ MIT-Ayiti / MIT-Haiti Initiative) and Prof. Nick Montfort (MIT Comparative Media Studies / Writing), and he will present a concert that will include some discussion, and will be free and open to the public. Details are available on the facebook page, and repeated below.

Date: Tuesday, September 19, 5:15 pm
Location: 32-155

B.I.C.’s music can be sampled via: https://g.co/kgs/wDXfU6