The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 25th, 2017

LPRG 9/25 - on Stone 1994

Title: Discussion on (Stone 1994) The reference argument of epistemic must
Date and time: Monday September 25, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

Epistemic must is used to present a conclusion. In this paper, I explore the hypothesis that this should be modeled computationally using the notion of argument presented by Simari and Loui. An utterance of must p in conversational context K is interpreted as asserting that the argument ‹A,p› is justified in K. The parameter A provides a set of reasoning rules which, along with factual premises from which they derive p, must be salient in K for the utterance to be felicitous.

Simari and Loui’s formulation describes a relationship of defeat between arguments. Thus, in this account as in previous ones, the conclusions presented by epistemic must may be defeasible. This proposal improves on previous accounts in three key respects. First, the criterion that the argument be justified ensures that the speaker believes p when uttering must p. Second, the requirement that the speaker intend the hearer to recover the argument helps to explain the distribution and of must in discourse and the accommodation sometimes involved in understanding uses of must. Third, the link between the claim made by must and a specific argument correctly predicts the variation in apparent force of the modal in different contexts: it varies according to the strength of the argument and the speaker’s intentions in providing the argument.

Because this interpretation for must incorporates restrictions based on salience into a frame- work designed to be relatively tractable, it may be uniquely suited for implementation.

The discussion will be lead by Maša Močnik.


Phonology Circle 9/25 - Kasia Hitczenko (UMD & MIT)

Speaker: Kasia Hitczenko (UMD & MIT)
Title: Exploring the efficacy of normalization in the acquisition and processing of the Japanese vowel length contrast
Date/Time: Monday, September 25, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Infants must learn the sound categories of their language and adults need to map particular acoustic productions they hear to one of those learned categories. These tasks can be difficult because there is often a lot of overlap between the acoustic realizations of different categories that can mask which sounds should be grouped together. Previous work has proposed that this overlap is caused, at least in part, by systematic and predictable sources of variability, and that listeners could learn about the structure of this variability and normalize it out to help learn from and process the incoming sounds. In this work, we further explore this idea of normalization, by applying it to the problem of Japanese vowel length contrast – a contrast that current computational models fail to learn due to high overlap between short and long vowels. We find that, at least in the way it is implemented here, normalizing out systematic variability does not substantially improve categorization performance over leaving acoustics unnormalized. We then present an alternative path forward by showing that a strategy that uses both non-acoustic and acoustic cues to categorize the sounds is better able to separate the short and long vowels.

Ling-Lunch 9/28 - Naomi Francis (MIT)

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: There’s something odd about presupposition-denying even
Date/Time: Thursday September 28, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk will explore a puzzle about even. Even can be used in denials of presuppositions, but only when it is below negation in the surface string, as shown in (1).

1. A: Did Kenji bring his wife to the picnic?
  B: He isn’t even married!
  B’: #He’s even unmarried/a bachelor!

I show that this asymmetry is not straightforwardly reducible to independent properties of even or of presupposition denials, but is instead a property unique to sentences that are both presupposition denials and contain even. I present a solution to this puzzle that makes crucial use of the additive presupposition of even. This presupposition is controversial; I argue that the evidence used to challenge its presence does not show what it is usually claimed to show, and that when examined more closely these data turn out to be an argument in favour of the additive presupposition rather than against it. I show that this asymmetry is not unique to English and sketch crosslinguistic implications of the proposed analysis.


CompLang 9/28 - Ray Jackendoff (Tufts)

Speaker: Ray Jackendoff (Tufts)
Title: Morphology and Memory
Date/Time: Thursday, September 28, 5:00-7:00pm
Location: 46-5165

(in collaboration with Jenny Audring)

We take Chomsky’s term “knowledge of language” very literally. “Knowledge” implies “stored in memory,” so the basic question of linguistics is reframed as

What do you store in memory such that you can use language, and in what form do you store it?

Traditionally – and in standard generative linguistics – what you store is divided into grammar and lexicon, where grammar contains all the rules, and the lexicon is an unstructured list of exceptions. We develop an alternative view in which rules of grammar are lexical items that contain variables, and in which rules have two functions. In their generative function, they are used to build novel structures, just as in traditional generative linguistics. In their relational function, they capture generalizations over stored items in the lexicon, a role not seriously explored in traditional linguistic theory. The result is a lexicon that is highly structured, with rich patterns among stored items.

We further explore the possibility that this sort of structuring is not peculiar to language, but appears in other cognitive domains as well. The differences among cognitive domains are not in this overall texture, but in the materials over which stored relations are defined – patterns of phonology and syntax in language, of pitches and rhythms in music, of geographical knowledge in navigation, and so on. The challenge is to develop theories of representation in these other domains comparable to that for language.


MIT at Manitoba Person Workshop

The Manitoba Workshop on Person happened in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba on Friday and Saturday. This was the tenth annual workshop in a series dedicated to the syntax and semantics of person. The invited student speaker was our very own Michelle Yuan (5th year) who gave a talk about Plural person and associativity. MIT was also very well represented by our alumni and former visitors: both keynote speakers were graduates and at least one co-author on every invited talk was either a graduate of or a visitor to our department!


Happy news from Despina

Congratulations to Despina Oikonomou (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, PhD ‘16) who just gave birth to son Nicholas! Mother and child are both doing well! Thanks to Sabine for passing on the photo.