The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 4th, 2017

LingPhil Reading Group 12/4 - on Pietroski 2015

Title: Discussion of Pietroski 2015: Framing Event Variables
Date and time: Monday December 4, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

I find myself writing two papers that are due around the same time. This one develops an objection, based on Davidson’s (1967a) analysis of action reports, to truth-theoretic accounts of linguistic meaning. The other one is about the relevance of Liar Paradoxes for such accounts; see Pietroski (forthcoming). In both papers, the first numbered sentence is (1).

(1) The first numbered sentence in “Framing Event Variables ” is false.

But here, (1) is simply a reminder of a familiar difficulty for the idea that declarative sentences of a Human Language have truth conditions; where for these purposes, a Human Language is a spoken or signed language that any biologically normal child can acquire given an ordinary course of linguistic experience. In my view, (2) and (3) present further difficulties for this idea.

(2) Alvin chased Theodore gleefully and athletically but not skillfully.

(3) Theodore chased Alvin gleelessly and unathletically but skillfully.

Following Davidson and others, I think action reports have “eventish ” logical forms like (2a-3a).

(2a) ∃e[Chased(e, Alvin, Theodore) & Gleeful(e) & Athletic(e) & ~Skillful(e)]

(3a) ∃e[Chased(e, Theodore, Alvin) & Gleeless(e) & Unathletic(e) & Skillful(e)]

We can stipulate that these existential generalizations—sentences of an invented language—have recursively specifiable truth conditions, and that ‘Chased(e, x, y)’ is true of <α, β, γ> if and only if α was an event of β chasing γ. But as we’ll see, there are good reasons for denying that (2) and (3) exhibit the specified truth conditions. There are potential replies. But I argue that they are implausible, especially given the many independent illustrations (e.g., via Kahneman and Tversky) of how human judgments are affected by linguistic framing.

The discussion will be led by Christopher Baron.

Syntax Square 12/5 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Don’t go over the edge: More constraints on stranding at edges
Date and time: Tuesday December 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Moving phrases can sometimes leave material behind in phase edges they pass through, a phenomenon I term “edge stranding” (ES). Davis (In prep) shows that the sorts of elements capable of ES are predicted given Cyclic Linearization and a theory of movement as driven by c-command-constrained Agree. In this talk, I extend those findings to make predictions about when a given edge is available as a site for stranding. In essence, I predict that specifiers crossed by a phase-exiting movement step are unavailable for ES, hence the title of this talk. I focus on stranding at vP, which interacts with both subject movement and verb movement. This approach makes good predictions about ES in West Ulster English, Korean, and Japanese, but requires more work to understand facts from Polish and Dutch.


LF Reading Group 12/06 - Tiaoyuan Mao (MIT)

Speaker: Tiaoyuan Mao (MIT)
Title: Mandarin Chinese -ne revisited: Its basic properties and derivation
Date and time: Wednesday December 6, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Mandarin Chinese sentence final particles (SFPs) were, are and will be a hotly-debated topic. The vast majority of studies concentrate on the head-directionality, optionality and multiple semantic interpretation of SFPs, such as the first two issues fall within the domain of FOFC (the Final-Over-Fianl Constraint)(Biberauer, Holmberg and Roberts 2014; Sheehan, Biberauer, Roberts and Holmberg 2017) and Pan and Paul (2016), a.o. In this talk, I will focus on -ne, the most complicated Mandarin SFP, trying to demonstrate a tentative proposal to resolve the tension among different projects about the head-directionality and syntactic derivation of -ne, and to interpret the multiple meanings of -ne in a principled way.


LingLunch 12/7 - Suzana Fong (MIT)

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: A featural and edge-based analysis of hyper-raising
Date and time: Thursday, December 7, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Hyper-raising (HR) consists in raising a subject of an embedded finite clause into the subject or object position in the embedding clause (Ura 1994, Tanaka 2002, Yoon 2007, Nunes 2008, Halpert & Zeller 2015, Halpert 2016, Bondarenko 2017, Deal 2017, Zyman 2017, a.o.). Because the clause a DP hyper-raises from is a finite CP, this introduces a challenge to common assumptions about the phasehood of this type of domain. Moreover, both the position a DP hyper-raises from and the landing site in the matrix clause are case-marked. This introduces a challenge to common assumptions about case assignment.

To circumvent the phase problem, I follow van Urk (2015)’s featural definition of syntactic positions. Specifically, I propose that the complementizer of HR sentences has A-features (i.e. not A-bar). The A-features in the HR complementizer trigger the movement of the subject to the edge of the embedded clause, [Spec, CP] (cf. Tanaka 2002, Takeuchi 2010, Zyman 2017, a.o.). As a consequence of being at the edge of a phase, the embedded subject is accessible to a probe in the dominating phase. This allows the embedded finite subject to be accessed by a matrix probe (T or v).

The postulation of features in C will be argued for by HR to object in Mongolian. As first discussed by Hiraiwa (2005) and Bondarenko (2017) regarding Japanese and Buryat, respectively, an embedded finite subject can receive accusative case while remaining in the embedded clause. I will call ‘medial-raising’ this variety of HR, where the accusative subject does not exit the embedded clause. In a canonical, non-HR sentence, if the embedded nominative subject contains a locally-bound reflexive, the reflexive cannot be bound by the matrix subject. However, in the medial-raised counterpart, binding is possible. [Spec, CP] is a position that can account for the dual properties of medial-raising: it is still inside the embedded clause, but it extends the binding domain of the medial-raised subject, and allows it to receive accusative case from the matrix v. [Spec, CP] will also be relevant to provide an explanation to the interaction between HR and (seemingly) long distance scrambling in Mongolian.

Also following van Urk (2015), I assume that probes can also come in a composite, A/A-bar variety. If HR is triggered by A-features in C and if there can be composite probes, we may expect for there to be an instance of HR that is triggered by composite probes. I tentatively analyze data from Kipsigis and Imbabura Quechua as this type of HR. In these languages, what seems to undergo HR is an embedded argument that is lower than the subject. This creates an additional minimality problem. If this lower argument bears the features that the composite probe in C is looking for, while the subject does not, the minimality question is avoided.

To circumvent the case problem, I first try to show that HR consists of a multiple case checking (Béjar & Massam 1999, a.o.). I propose that the same DP can be assigned more than one case, as long as it is able to move from one domain of case assignment into another (cf. Levin 2016). Under this view, we can characterize HR as an instance of movement across domains of case assignment.


MIT Colloquium 12/8 - Jason Riggle (UChicago)

Speaker: Jason Riggle (University of Chicago)
Title: The co-grammar of English: interjections and other formulaic language
Time: Friday, December 8th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

Most sentences are unique … except the ones that aren’t. The frequency distribution in any corpus of natural language has a famously `long tail’ filled with unique phrases only ever used once.  Conversely, the other end of the distribution is filled with endless repetitions of familiar and formulaic phrases used to manage conversation (yeah, mhm, oh, y’know, right, okay, well), express reactions (aw man, wow, cool, whoa, yuck, yikes, phew), and serve social scripts (good morning, thanks, fuck off, I’m sorry).    

We observe three quirky properties that seem to be peculiar to the frequent and formulaic phrases at the fat end of the distribution. 
    1) phones — phones/phonotactics/phonation outside the productive phonology 
    2) tones — phrase-specific intonational contours and floating intonational contours
    3) emblems — manual gestures with highly conventionalized meaning that occur with (and substitute for) verbal equivalents 

These properties tend to occur together and seem to be restricted to the elements at the fat end of the distribution. We propose that this be explained by positing a co-grammar for English that operates over frequent and formulaic phrases. In addition to accounting for the presence and distribution of properties (1-3) a co-grammar makes it possible to account for an over-abundance of surface regularities in the fat end of the distribution (e.g., prosodic doubling: hear hear, there there, come come, now now, aye aye, nix nix, etc.) and the presence of proto-morphology in patterns which seem compositional but not productive ({welp, nope, yup, yep}, {wowza, yowza, wowzers, yowzers, yeppers, yuppers, right-o, neat-o}, {whatevs, natch, obvs, obvi}).



SNEWS2017@MITThe Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) took place at MIT on Saturday. Two MIT students participated. Filipe Kobayashi (1st year) presented When modals scope below the progressive, and Keny Chatain (2nd year) presented The referentiality of generic indefinites: evidence from anaphora.

SNEWS 2018 will take place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Photo credit: Dóra Takács