The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 2nd, 2017

Ling-Phil Reading Group 10/2 - on Mourelatos 1978

Title: Discussion on Mourelatos 1978: Events, processes, and states
Date and time: Monday October 2, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The familiar Vendler-Kenny scheme of verb-types, viz., performances (further differentiated by Vendler into accomplishments and achievements), activities, and states, is too narrow in two important respects. First, it is narrow linguistically. It fails to take into account the phenomenon of verb aspect. The trichotomy is not one of verbs as lexical types but of predications. Second, the trichotomy is narrow ontologically. It is a specification in the context of human agency of the more fundamental, topic-neutral trichotomy, event-process-state.The central component in this ontological trichotomy, event, can be sharply differentiated from its two flanking components by adapting a suggestion by Geoffrey N. Leech and others that the contrast between perfective and imperfective aspect in verbs corresponds to the count/mass distinction in the domain of nouns. With the help of two distinctions, of cardinal count adverbials versus frequency adverbials, and of occurrence versus associated occasion, two interrelated criteria for event predication are developed. Accordingly, Mary capsized the boat is an event predication because (a) it is equivalent to There was at least one capsizing of the boat by Mary, or (b) because it admits cardinal count adverbials, e.g., at least once, twice, three times. Ontologically speaking, events are defined as those occurrences that are inherently countable.

The discussion will be lead by Christopher.


Phonology Circle 10/2 - Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ILCAA & MIT)

Speaker: Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ILCAA & MIT)
Title: A Sociophonetic Study of the Ternary Laryngeal Contrast in Yanbian Korean
Date/Time: Monday, 2 October, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This paper investigates the three-way tense-lax-aspirated laryngeal contrast for stop consonants in Yanbian Korean. Data from 61 speakers (DoB 1935-1992) finds three phonetic correlates dependent on laryngeal type, place of articulation, tone, gender, age, and sub-dialect. VOT has significantly shortened over apparent time. The difference between lax and tense is relatively small but still distinguished reliably.

We compare our Yanbian result with the sound changes reported for Seoul Korean, and analyze them based on the dispersion theory of contrast (Flemming 2004). We show that both the Yanbian and Seoul Korean developments were motivated by the same mechanism: minimizing articulatory effort (*Long VOT) while maximizing the number of contrasts (Maximize Contrasts) and the distinctiveness of contrasts (Mindist=VOT: Xms). An economy constraint (*Over-specify) is postulated to ban the ternary laryngeal contrast in the VOT dimension, which is over-differentiated, suggesting a change from ternary → binary distinction.

We point out that another alternative acoustic cue for the relevant laryngeal contrast existed before the VOT merger took place in both dialects. Thus, we conclude that Korean never had a laryngeal contrast based solely on the VOT dimension, and that the sound change that occurred in Seoul Korean is not a (typical case of) tonogenesis.


Ling-Lunch 10/5 - Sarah Zobel (Tübingen & MIT)

Speaker: Sarah Zobel (University of Tübingen and MIT)
Title: On the semantic variability of weak adjunct “as”-phrases
Date/Time: Thursday October 5, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Stump (1985) discusses the behavior of free adjuncts, like the sentence-initial adjuncts in (1). He observes that certain free adjuncts (which he calls “weak”) are interpreted as restrictors of co-occurring quantifiers (i.e., modals, adverbs of quantification, Gen/Hab), see (1a), while others (which he calls “strong”) only allow for a non-restrictive, causal interpretation, see (1b).

(1) a. Playing with his toys, Peter is often content. (weak)
   (Possible: When Peter is playing with his toys, he is often content.)

 b. Having three toy cars, Peter is often content. (strong)
   (Not possible: When Peter has three toy cars, he is often content.)

My work focuses on English “as”-phrases (and German “als”-phrases), which are weak adjuncts according to Stump’s distinction. Compare (1a) and (2).

(2) As a passenger of Lufthansa, Peter is often content. (weak)
  (Possible: When Peter is a passenger of Lufthansa, he is often content.)

Starting out with a straightforward analysis of the interactions between “as”-phrases and co-occurring operators (inspired by Stump 1985), I take a closer look at the restrictive possibilities of “as”-phrases (and weak adjuncts in general), and I show that these are in fact more restricted than previously assumed.


CompLang 10/5 - 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: Thursday, October 5, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 46-5165

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 acoustic cues and non-acoustic top-down information in categorization is better able to separate the short and long vowels.

ESSL/LAcqLab 10/5 - Emma Nguyen + William Snyder (UConn)

Speaker: Emma Nguyen (UConn) & William Snyder (UConn)
Title: It’s hard to coerce: a unified account of Raising-Past-Experiencers and Passives in Child English
Date/Time: Thursday, October 5, 5-6PM
Location: 32-D831

Snyder & Hyams (2015) adopt an idea from Gehrke & Grillo (2009) to account for children’s delay of non-actional passives: the problem is children’s inability to perform “semantic coercion” that non-actional verbs require before passivization. Orfitelli (2012) finds a tight correspondence between any given child’s ability to comprehend some non-actional passives and the same child’s ability to comprehend raising-past-experiencers like “John seems to Mary to be nice”. Yet, it is unclear how the idea of semantic coercion can extend to raising-past-experiencers.

Pinker (1989) argues the “core” of the English passive is the verb’s dyad of Agent-Patient theta-roles, with counterparts in other fields, like Perceiver-Perceptum. We propose that the locus of development is the ability to coerce a theta-role like Perceiver/Possessor into Agent. If a similar type of semantic coercion is necessary for raising-past-experiencers, children are delayed with both raising-past-experiencers and non-actional passives because they are late to master semantic coercion.


Miyagawa in new book on evolution

Shigeru Miyagawa’s article, “Integration hypothesis: A parallel model of language development in evolution,” just appeared in Evolution of the Brain, Cognition, and Emotion in Vertebrates (S. Watanabe, M. A. Hofman, T. Shimizu, eds.), Springer, pp. 225-247.

Congratulations Shigeru!