The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 23rd, 2017

LingPhil Reading Group 10/23 - on Fodor & Sag 1982

Title: Discussion of Fodor & Sag 1982: Referential and Quantificational Indefinites
Date and time: Monday October 23, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The formal semantics that we have proposed for definite and indefinite descriptions analyzes them both as variable-binding operators and as referring terms. It is the referential analysis which makes it possible to account for the facts outlined in Section 2, e.g. for the purely instrumental role of the descriptive content; for the appearance of unusually wide scope readings relative to other quantifiers, higher predicates, and island boundaries; for the fact that the island-escaping readings are always equivalent to maximally wide scope quantifiers; and for the appearance of violations of the identity conditions on variables in deleted constituents. We would emphasize that this is not a random collection of observations. They cohere naturally with each other, and with facts about other phrases that are unambigously referential. We conceded at the outset of this paper that the referential use of an indefinite noun phrase does not, by itself, motivate the postulation of a referential interpretation. Our argument has been that the behavior of indefinites in complex sentences cannot be economically described, and certainly cannot be explained, unless a referential interpretation is assumed. It could be accounted for in pragmatic terms only if the whole theory of scope relations and of conditions on deletion could be eliminated from the semantics and incorporated into a purely pragmatic theory. But this seems unlikely.

The discussion will be led by Keny.


Phonology Circle 10/23 - Edward Flemming (MIT)

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Stochastic Harmonic Grammars
Date/Time: Monday, 23 October, 5:00-6:30pm 
Location: 32-D831

MaxEnt grammars have become the tool of choice for analyzing phonological phenomena involving variation or gradient acceptability. MaxEnt grammars are a probabilistic form of Harmonic Grammar in which harmony scores (sums of weighted constraint violations) of candidates are mapped onto probabilities (Goldwater & Johnson 2003). But MaxEnt grammar is not the only proposal for deriving probabilities from Harmonic Grammars – one alternative is Noisy Harmonic Grammar (Boersma & Pater 2016), in which variation is derived by adding random ‘noise’ to constraint weights, and further variants of this scheme are discussed by Hayes (2017). I will report on an investigation into the properties of these stochastic grammar formalisms, with the ultimate goal of identifying predictions that could be used to evaluate them empirically.

In spite of the superficial differences between MaxEnt and Noisy Harmonic Grammar, they can both be formulated as NHGs where the noise is added to the harmony scores of each candidate. This common format facilitates analysis and comparison of the two formalisms. The differences identified are difficult to assess empirically, but in the absence of evidence in favor of NHG, MaxEnt is to be preferred for its simplicity and tractability.



Syntax Square 10/24 - Sherry Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Sherry Chen (MIT)
Title: Double topicalization, I find really interesting
Date and time: Tuesday October 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Whether Chinese topics are syntactically constrained remains a debatable issue. In this talk, I present on-going work suggesting that in double topicalization constructions, the base- generated topic must precede the moved topic, and if both topics are derived via movement, the two intersecting movement paths must be in a “nested” relation (i.e. the Path Contain ment Constraint, Pesetsky (1982)). This challenges the view that Chinese topics are only constrained by a semantic “aboutness” relation with the comment clause (cf. Xu and Lan- gendoen, 1985), and provides new cross-linguistic evidence for PCC effects (see Appendix).

For the second part of this talk, I discuss a new puzzle regarding topicalization in embedded environments. Specifically, I observe that for certain predicates in non-asserted contexts (Hooper & Thompson, 1973; Miyagawa, to appear), embedded topicalization is possible only if the matrix subject binds a pronoun or a reflexive ziji in the embedded clause. 


LF Reading Group 10/25 - Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)
Title: Mandarin cai: ‘only’ and what else?
Date and time: Wednesday October 25, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The Mandarin focus particle cái has (at least) three readings: a scalar only reading (1), a temporal reading (2), and an “only if” conditional (3).

1. Lee is only/merely a novice.
2. John arrived only at midnight.
3. Only if the weather’s good will I go jogging.

I’ll explore existing accounts of the semantics of cai. Although the exclusive component of this particle is generally agreed upon, accounts differ on how to treat the additional meaning component(s) that the various readings of cai contribute.


Ling-Lunch 10/26 - Deniz Özyıldız (UMass-Amherst)

Speaker: Deniz Özyıldız (UMass-Amherst)
Title: The interaction between factivity and prosodic structure in Turkish attitude reports
Date/Time: Thursday, October 26, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk articulates two puzzles raised by the interaction between the availability of the factive inference in Turkish attitude reports, and their prosodic structure.

Puzzle 1: Where is a trigger?
For a class of attitude reports, we observe the following contrast. 1a) and 1b) are string identical. The position of the sentences Nuclear Pitch Accent (on the matrix verb in 1a), on the embedded object in 1b), seems to correlate with the availability of the factive inference (available in 1a), unavailable in 1b)).

1a) Aybike [Dilara’nin Ankara’da oldugunu] BILIYOR.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ know.PRES
  Aybike knows that Dilara is in Ankara (factive).

1b) Aybike [Dilara’nin ANKARA’da oldugunu] biliyor.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ know.PRES
  Aybike believes that Dilara is in Ankara (non-factive).

Faced with this contrast, we must ask: Is it the prosodic structure of an attitude report that is driving the availability of the factive inference? Or is it the availability of the factive inference that has an effect on prosodic structure? The former option is appealing, but I argue for the latter. 1a) and 1b) are associated with two distinct semantic representations. Prosody follows. But how?

Puzzle 2: Getting from presupposed to given?
In out of the blue contexts, non-factive attitude reports must be realized with embedded NPA.

2a) What’s up?
  Aybike [Dilara’nin ANKARA’da oldugunu] saniyor.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ believe.PRES
  Aybike believes that Dilara is in Ankara.

2b) What’s up?
  #Aybike [Dilara’nin Ankara’da oldugunu] SANIYOR.
  (Out because the embedded clause isn’t given.)

On the other hand, in out of the blue contexts, factive attitude reports are realized with matrix verb NPA.

3a) What’s up?
  Aybike [Dilara’nin Ankara’da oldugunu] unuttu.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ forget.PST
  Aybike forgot that Dilara is in Ankara.

3b) What’s up?
  #Aybike [Dilara’nin ANKARA’da oldugunu] unuttu.
  (Out because a contrastive interpretation is triggered, but not licensed in context.)

There is mixed evidence as to whether presupposing a proposition p makes the clause that denotes p given (which would explain why the NPA migrates to the matrix verb in 3). Kallulli (2006, 2010) argues that it does. Others argue that presupposition and givenness are two independent dimensions of meaning (Wagner 2012, Rochemont 2016, Buring 2016). Do the Turkish facts offer a way out? We will see.


CompLang 10/26 - Jon Gauthier (MIT BCS)

Speaker: Jon Gauthier (MIT BCS)
Title: What does NLP tell us about language?
Date/Time: Thursday, October 26, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 46-5165

Many state-of-the-art models in natural language processing achieve top performance in challenging shared tasks while doing little to explicitly model the syntax or semantics of their input. In light of these results, I will attempt to pitch two of my own past projects in natural language processing with a philosophical spin. I first present a model which reduces syntactic understanding to a by-product of more general pressures of semantic accuracy. I next present evolutionary simulations in which word meanings spontaneously arise due to nonlinguistic cooperative pressures. We close with potentially heretical and hopefully interesting discussion on the ideal relationship between AI engineering and cognitive science.

MIT Colloquium 10/27 - Mark Baker (Rutgers)

Speaker: Mark Baker (Rutgers)
Title: Allocutive Agreement and Indexical Shift in Magahi: A Wedge into the Ghostly Operators at the Clausal Edge
Time: Friday, October 27th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155
In this talk I focus on the phenomenon of allocutive agreement in Magahi, an Indo-Aryan language of North Eastern India, and how it interacts with indexical shift.  Allocutive agreement is known to occur in a fairly small set of languages (Basque, Japanese, Tamil, …) in which the finite verb varies in form depending on who the sentence is addressed to.  Like previous researchers, I argue that there is a syntactic representation of the addressee (“Hr”) in the periphery of the clause which can be the goal of an Agree operation.  More specifically, I claim that allocutive agreement in Magahi happens then finite V+T moves (optionally) from T to Fin, where it gains access to Hr.  Unlike other languages, allocutive agreement in Magahi can happen in a wide range of embedded clauses. Interesting in itself, this also makes it possible to study the interaction between allocutive agreement and the phenomenon of indexical shift: using pronouns like “I” and “you” in embedded clauses to refer to the subject and object of the matrix clause.  I show that indexical pronouns in Magahi shift if and only if allocutive agreement shifts. I use this to develop an analysis in which “Hr” (and similarly “Sp”, a representation of the speaker) is the vehicle of indexical shift—not a sui generis nonnominal context shifting operator, as in most previous analyses of indexical shift.  More specifically, indexical shift happens in the special case where the “Hr” of an embedded clause is controlled by the goal argument of a higher clause rather than by the “Hr” of the higher clause, and then binds a second person pronoun in the embedded clause.  This brings the analysis of indexical shift more in line with how logophoric pronouns have been analyzed in West African languages in the tradition of Koopman and Sportiche 1989 (contrary to the distinction drawn between the two by Deal (2017)).  I give further support to the syntactic control-and-binding style analysis of indexical shift by showing that the antecedent of a shifted first person pronoun needs to be not just the semantic author of the content of the embedded clause, but the syntactic subject of the matrix clause in both Magahi and Sakha—parallel to logophoric phenomena and complementizer agreement in Niger-Congo languages.

DeGraff at Cornell Lecture Series

Michel DeGraff (faculty) gave a talk Cornell University as part of a new lecture series on language and inequality. On October 20th,
Michel presented Language, Education and (In)equality in Haiti: Struggling Through Centuries of Coloniality, a talk which focuses on linguistic inequality and the exclusion of “local languages” in education. While at Cornell, Michel also gave a colloquium talk on Thursday titled Walls vs. Bridges Around Creole Languages and Their Speakers. More details can be found at the Cornell Chronicle.