The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 16th, 2017

Syntax Square 10/17 - Carrie Spadine (MIT)

Speaker: Carrie Spadine (MIT)
Title: Tigrinya attitude reports: arguments for syntactic perspective [NELS practice talk]
Date and time: Tuesday October 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk presents novel data from Tigrinya (Semitic) for a perspectival projection (“PerspP”) in the left periphery of the clause. Previous works (Speas 2004, Sundaresan 2016, and others) have argued that such a projection is necessary to account for morphosyntactic phenomena that is sensitive to discourse and pragmatic factors, such as evidentiality marking, indexical shift, and perspectival anaphora. However, the existing proposals that make use of this projection extrapolate its existence from indirect factors, like auxiliary choice, agreement, and binding. Tigrinya can realize this projection overtly; the head Persp is spelled out as “ilu”, and introduces a perspective holder argument in the specifier of PerspP.

The construction under discussion also has the novel property of allowing indexical shift in root clauses. If indexical shift relies on a semantic property of the matrix verb in shifty construction (as proposed in (Munro et al. 2009) for Matses), this would be unexpected. Instead, this data suggests that indexical shift is a property of certain types of clauses, and the compatibility or incompatibility of certain verb classes with shifty embedded clauses is the result of selectional restrictions on clause size, rather than the particular semantics of those verbs.

LFRG 10/18 - Alexander Wimmer (Universität Tübingen)

Speaker: Alexander Wimmer (Universität Tübingen)
Title: Outscoping exclusion
Date and time: Wednesday October 18, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The Chinese focus particle jiù is known to have both exclusive and nonexclusive readings, and to carry an evaluative component of easiness (Hole 2004, Liu 2016). I follow Liu (2016) in assuming that jiù has an exclusive assertion and a scalar presupposition according to which the prejacent ranks lowest on a scale of alternatives.

My first aim is to support this presupposition, and to check whether it should be supplemented by the truth of jiù’s prejacent.

I then want to consider the option of getting the nonexclusive reading by having a covert existential modal take scope above jiù at Logical Form, reducing the particle’s exclusiveness to a mere possibility. This option is inspired by a passage in Beck & Rullmann (1999), who decompose sufficiency into the components POSSIBLE and ONLY.

Ling-Lunch 10/19 - Justin Colley (MIT) + Ezer Rasin (MIT) & Roni Katzir (MIT, TAU)

This week’s Ling-Lunch consists of two NELS practice talks
Date/Time: Thursday, October 12, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Speaker: Justin Colley (MIT)
Title: Object movement derives object preference

Some languages exhibit object preference, in which agreement is with the object, if possible, and otherwise with the subject. For example, in Erzya Mordvin (Uralic), person agreement is with the object if it is 1st or 2nd person (1a), and otherwise the subject (1b) (Béjar 2003; Georgi 2010).

1) a. kunda-d-ad-yz
   I/we/(s)he/they catch you(pl).

 b. kunda-s-y-k
   You(pl) catch him/her.

Object preference is problematic for a theory of Agree in which a Probe agrees with the closest c-commanded Goal (Rizzi, 1991; Chomsky, 2000, 2001). If a Probe c-commands the subject, then all things being equal, the result is expected to be subject agreement.

There are two kinds of theories of object preference. One is a low Probe theory, in which object-preferring Probes are on v, with extra assumptions invoked to explain the possibility of subject agreement (Béjar and Rezac, 2009; Lomashvili & Harley, 2011). I will argue instead for a movement theory, in which object-preferring Probes are high, and object preference is the result of movement above the subject (Bruening, 2001). Evidence for object-preferring Probes being high comes from cross-linguistic generalisations about morpheme ordering and suppletion. Evidence for movement of the object comes from various sources, including variable binding, word order, differential object marking, and the behaviour of unaccusatives.

Speaker: Ezer Razin (MIT) and Roni Katzir (MIT, TAU)
Title: Rule-based learning of phonological optionality and opacity

Optionality and opacity pose obvious challenges for the child learning the phonology of their ambient language: a process to be acquired loses support because of environments in which it was supposed to apply but didn’t (both optionality and counterfeeding opacity) or in which it wasn’t supposed to apply but did (counterbleeding opacity). Not surprisingly, no learners in the literature can handle optionality or opacity distributionally, from unanalyzed input data alone. Children, however, do manage to acquire optionality and opacity in a variety of languages (Dell 1981, McCarthy 2007). This talk shows how optional processes and opaque interactions (including both counterfeeding and counterbleeding) can be acquired using the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL; Solomonoff 1964, Rissanen 1978). Specifically, we use an adaptation of Rasin & Katzir 2016’s MDL learner (originally used for OT phonology) to rule-based phonology and show how it applies to various cases of optionality and opacity. We then show simulations on artificial-language data illustrating the mechanization of the idea.