The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 30th, 2017

LingPhil Reading Group 10/30 - on Jacobson 1995

Title: Discussion of Jacobson 1995: On the Quantificational Force of English Free Relatives
Date and time: Monday October 30, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The late 70’s and early 80’s witnessed considerable debate as to the correct syntactic analysis of free relatives in English and other languages with a similar construction: is the internal structure of an NP free relative basically like that of an ordinary NP, or is its internal structure instead like that of other wh constituents such as wh questions? The underlying concern surrounding this debate was whether the gap in a free relative could be analyzed as the result of wh movement; this question in turn, of course, bore on the status of Subjacency and on the feasibility of reducing a large class of phenomena to wh movement. But the correct syntactic analysis of free relatives also has significant implications for the syntax/semantics map and for the theory of NP meanings, and it is to this question that this paper is addressed. In particular, I wikk present some ecidence suggesting that English free relatives do indeed have the internal strcture of other wh constituents — they contain no overt lexical head and therefore also contain no overt quantificational element.1 Just how and why, then, du these have NP-type meanings and — given the claim that there is no overt lexical quantifier — what is it that supplies them with their particular quantificational force?

The discussion will be led by Kelly.


Phonology Circle 10/30 - Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: The Accent of Surnames in Kyengsang Korean: A Study in Analogy
Date/Time: Monday, October 30th, 5:00-6:30pm 
Location: 32-D831
(Joint work with Hyang-Sook Sohn)

The canonical Korean name consists of a monosyllabic surname followed by a disyllabic given name: Kim, Yu-na. The surname is normally not used alone and must be combined with a given name or title. As a result, underlying contrasts among high, low, and rising accents are partially neutralized in this phrasal context. This presentation reports and analyzes the tonal contours that arise when Kyengsang speakers are tasked with inflecting the surname by itself (Kim, Yu-na -> Kim, Kim-i, Kim-ɨl, etc.)—a type of wug-test. The results suggest that speakers take recourse to the most reliable rules underlying the lexical distribution of the accents relative to specific strata of the lexicon as well as to default rules of word-level inflection.


Syntax Square 10/31 - Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Verb-stranding vP Ellipsis in Russian: Evidence from unpronounced subjects
Date and time: Tuesday October 31, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this presentation of work in progress, I contribute to the debate on the status of verb-stranding verb phrase ellipsis (VVPE) in Russian with novel evidence from the interpretation of unpronounced subjects. I argue that a heretofore unnoticed construction involving a silent subject in clauses embedded under an attitude verb is the result of VVPE, supporting Gribanova (2013, 2017)’s conclusion that Russian has this type of ellipsis, contra Erteschik-Shir et. al. (2013) and Bailyn (2014). Based on a surprising ban on quantificational elements in the subject of the ellipsis sites, I propose a modification to Takahashi and Fox (2005)’s definition of parallelism domains to allow them to contain certain instances of unbound traces. The ban on quantificational subjects, as well as vehicle change from R-expressions to pronouns (Fiengo and May 1994), follows naturally from this modification.


LF Reading Group 11/01 - Frank Staniszewski (MIT)

Speaker: Frank Staniszewski (MIT)
Title: Modal ambiguity and neg-raising
Date and time: Wednesday November 1, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In a constrained range of environments, some modal operators appear to show an ambiguity in modal force between weak (existential) readings and strong (universal) readings. In English, this weak/strong ambiguity has been discussed with respect to For-Infinitival Relative clauses (Hackl and Nissenbaum (2010)). In this presentation based on work-in-progress, I will examine additional environments in which modal ambiguity can be detected. These include modal mismatches in sluicing (Klein (1985), Merchant (2001), Rudin (2017)), as well as instances in which weaker than expected meanings for want and should can satisfy the presupposition of anymore (based on observations by Keny Chatain p.c.). I will explore the hypothesis that these ambiguities are the result of an underlying weak semantics for the modal operators in question, and that this is the also source of their strengthened ‘neg-raised’ meanings under negation.


Ling-Lunch 11/2 - Asia Pietraszko (UConn)

Speaker: Asia Pietraszko (UConn)
Title: Obligatory clause nominalization in Ndebele
Date and time: Thursday November 2, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Clausal DP shells (CPs embedded directly in a DP) have been argued to have a different distribution than bare CPs (e.g. in-situ vs derived sentential subjects), which in turn led to treatments of clausal DP shell as a last resort phenomenon (e.g. Hartman 2012). In this talk, I present evidence for the existence of obligatory clausal DP shell. In Ndebele, a Bantu language of Zimbabwe, DP-contained CPs appear in non-derived positions, rendering the last resort status of a clausal DP shell unlikely in this language. Furthermore, I show that a DP shell must appear even in contexts where it is problematic, namely in N-complement clauses and relative clauses (Ndebele does not allow adnominals of category D). Instead of “dropping” the DP-shell in those contexts, extra functional structure is necessary to combine the clause with the head noun.


MIT at NELS 2017

NELS 2017 was held in Reykjavík, at the University of Iceland, from October 27th-29th. This NELS is the first one to not be on continental North America. However, Reykjavík is located on the edge of the North American tectonic plate, making this perhaps the most North-Eastern NELS possible while still (geologically) in North America.

A large contingent of MIT students participated in the conference:

Additionally, alums Karlos Arregi (PhD 2002), Bronwyn M. Bjorkman (PhD 2011), Julie Anne Legate (PhD 2002), Martina Gracanin-Yuksek (PhD 2007), Rafael Nonato (PhD 2014), Alexander Podobryaev (PhD 2014), Omer Preminger (PhD 2011), Coppe van Urk (PhD 2015), and Susi Wurmbrand (PhD 1998) all presented work, along with many friends and former visiting scholars.