The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 12th, 2018

LingPhil Reading Group 2/12 - on Cappelen and Dever

Title: on Cappelen and Dever (2013)
Date and time: Monday, February 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

Nathaniel  Schwartz (MIT) will present on chapter 4 of Cappelen and Dever’s The Inessential Indexical. 

The idea: Indexicals figure prominently in opaque contexts. For instance, if I am (unbeknownst to myself) spilling sugar all over the grocery store, I can believe that the messy shopper is spilling sugar without believing that I am spilling sugar—even though “the messy shopper” and “I” are coreferential terms. Do indexicals in opaque contexts raise difficulties for theories of content beyond those raised by opacity generally? In particular, is the Fregean account of opacity particularly difficult to implement in cases involving indexicals? The authors say no to both questions.

This meeting will not be pre-read.


Syntax Square 2/13 - Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)

Speaker: Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)
Title: Ergative case as agreement with multiple heads
Date and time: Tuesday February 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The mechanisms underlying ergative case assignment have long been debated, with two main view emerging in the literature: 1) ergative is an inherent case assigned by a transitive v to an agent, 2) ergative is a dependent case assigned to a DP that c-commands another DP within a case domain. In this talk, I present novel data from Amahuaca (Panoan; Peru), in which ergative case is sensitive to the position of the transitive subject. The interaction of movement and morphological case assignment in Amahuaca cannot easily be captured by current inherent or dependent case theories. Ergative is not assigned in a theta-position, as predicted by an inherent case account, nor is it dependent on whether the subject and object DPs are in the same case domain, as predicted by a dependent case account. Instead, I argue for an account of ergative case as exponing Agree operations between a DP and two distinct functional heads, v and T. This approach is able to account for the Amahuaca data, while incorporating key insights from both inherent and dependent case theories of ergativity. I further demonstrate that this view that takes case to be the exponence of multiple features is able to be extended to account for elements of Amahuaca’s case-sensitive switch reference system. The Amahuaca data thus suggest that ergative case can be viewed as a feature bundle, rather than an atomic case feature, and that morphological ergative marking arises as the exponence of structural relationships between multiple heads and a nominal.


MIT Colloquium 2/16 - Lucas Champollion (NYU)

Speaker: Lucas Champollion (NYU)
Title: Two switches in the theory of counterfactuals: A study of truth conditionality and minimal change
Time: Friday, February 16th, 3:30-5pm 
Place: 32-155

I report on a comprehension experiment on counterfactual conditionals based on a context involving two switches (joint work with Ivano Ciardelli and Linmin Zhang). We found that the truth-conditionally equivalent clauses (i) switch A or switch B is down and (ii) switch A and switch B are not both up make different semantic contributions when embedded in counterfactual antecedents. Assuming compositionality, this contradicts the textbook view that meaning can be identified with truth conditions. This finding has a clear explanation in inquisitive semantics: truth-conditionally equivalent clauses may be associated with different propositional alternatives, each of which counts as a separate counterfactual assumption. Related results from the same experiment challenge the common Stalnaker-Lewis interpretation of counterfactuals as involving minimizing change with respect to the actual state of affairs. We propose to replace the idea of minimal change by a distinction between foreground and background for a given counterfactual assumption: the background is held fixed in the counterfactual situation, while the foreground can be varied without any minimality constraint. (This talk presents work reported in a paper to appear in the journal Linguistics and Philosophy. Preprint at http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003200.)


DeGraff at University of Michigan and AAAS

Michel DeGraff recently gave two presentations:

  1. On January 18, 2018, Michel gave the inaugural Martin Luther King Jr. commemorative lecture for the University of Michigan’s Romance Languages & Literatures department. The Michigan Daily wrote an article about his lecture, which can be found here.
  2. On January 24, 2018, Michel gave an invited presentation Science & Human Rights Coalition meeting at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Slides from the meeting can be found here.