The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 19th, 2018

LingPhil Reading Group 2/20 - on Lassiter (2018)

Title: on Lassiter (2018) - Talking about higher-order uncertainty
Date and time: Tuesday February 20th, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

This paper is for a Festschrift for Lauri Karttunen. In it, Lassiter discusses a property of epistemic modals in English that differentiates them from the S5 modal operators: the fact that they can be nested in a non-trivial way.

Note the meeting date for this week’s LPRG is on a Tuesday. Maša will be presenting.


LF Reading Group 2/21 - Itai Bassi (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Redefining EXH
Date and time: Wednesday February 21, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

One of the challenges for the grammatical theory of Scalar Implicatures (SIs), which takes SIs to arise as a result of an operator EXH in the syntax, is to explain their rather restricted distribution under negation (Fox and Spector 2013). For example, (1) might be analyzed as involving embedded SI, but this meaning requires a distinguished pitch contour (Meyer 2016). 
1) Debbie didn’tH* talk to her mother ORL+H* her father… she talked to both.
(coherent only under or-but-not-and meaning for “or”; infelicitous if default intonation is used instead)
In the first part of the talk I will suggest a way to understand the limited distribution of embedded SIs under negation. My proposal is based on the observation (Horn 1989) that presupposition cancellation under negation exhibits a similar pattern:
2) Mary isn’tH* late to the meeting AGAINL+H* … she has never been late before!
3) Mary didn’tH* STOPL+H* smoking… she never used to!
4) Mary can’tH* possibly climb THEL+H* tree in the garden… because there are two of them!
Capitalizing on this observation, I’ll propose to reduce (1) to (2-4). I redefine EXH in a trivalent setting to represent that it carries a presupposition, and I assume that a ‘local accommodation’ operation (Heim 1983) can neutralize the presupposition of EXH locally, but that this possibility is not freely available.
In the second part of the talk I will show that my proposal accounts for a seemingly unrelated phenomenon in the realm of SIs which is considered problematic for current theories and has been discussed in Chierchia (2004). 



LingLunch 2/22: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (UMass-Amherst)
Title: A scalar presupposition for already
Date and time: Thursday, February 22, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

The particles still and already are commonly thought of and analyzed as particles that mirror the other (Löbner 1989, Krifka 2000, Ippolito 2007, inter alia).  The particle still has been robustly argued to have an additive presupposition in the same vein as particles like too.  Previous accounts attempt to formulate already as also having an additive presupposition, capturing the putative duality of the two particles However, I argue that such approaches are untenable, motivated by asymmetries between the two particles as exemplified in the following pair: 

(1)  You wake up after a full night of sleep, estimating that it’s 7am. You check your clock.
       Wow, it’s already 9am!
(2)  You wake up after a full night of sleep, estimating that it’s 9am. You check your clock.
       #Wow, it’s still 7am!
I propose that already does not have an additive presupposition but instead an even-style scalar ’likelihood’ presupposition enriched with an exhaustivity operator.  This analysis will offer empirical improvements over previous analyses, notably in its ability to capture the earlier-than-expected inference conveyed by already.     

ESSL/LAcqLab 2/23 - Sherry Yong Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Sherry Yong Chen (MIT)
Title: Anaphoricity, Presuppositions, and Memory Retrieval Processes
Date and time: Friday February 23, 2-3pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with E. Matthew Husband (Oxford))

The anaphoric view of presupposition treats the trigger too analogously to anaphoric expressions such as pronouns and VP ellipses, where “anaphoric” is taken to mean “requiring a contextually provided antecedent” (Kripke, 1990/2009; van der Sandt, 1992; Zeevat, 1992; Beck, 2007; a.o.).

(1) John went swimming. Mary went swimming too.

Previous work has suggested that the processing of anaphoric expressions involves a memory retrieval process, where the memory representation of an antecedent is retrieved via direct access by using a content-addressable mechanism: comprehenders are able to directly access the representation of an antecedent, without serially searching through irrelevant intermediate materials before finding the desired representation in memory (Foraker & MeElree, 2007; Martin & McElree, 2008, 2011; cf. Dillon et al, 2014). We investigate the memory retrieval processes that underlie the real-time comprehension of the anaphoric trigger too. Using the Drift Diffusion Model, we show that the memory representation of the antecedent content that satisfies the presupposition of too is also retrieved via a direct access manner.

These findings contribute to a growing body of empirical evidence suggesting that the memory representations of discourse dependencies formed during language comprehension are content-addressable in nature. They also raise an interesting question: a direct access mechanism is generally assumed to be cued-based; in the case of pronouns, morpho-syntactic cues such as gender and number features may serve as cues, but what cues are being exploited in the case of presupposition triggers? Finally, we discuss how the current study opens up further questions related to discourse structure, presupposition accommodation, and context update.


Invited talk 2/23 - Shayne Sloggett (Northwestern)

Speaker: Shayne Sloggett (Northwestern)
Title: Understanding reflexives: Combining psycholinguistic and theoretical perspectives
Time: Friday, February 23th, 3:30-5pm 
Place: 32-D461

Should evidence from real-time sentence comprehension routines inform our grammatical models? In this talk I present evidence that they should, drawing on recent findings from investigations of on-line reflexive reference resolution. Reflexive pronouns in English are grammatically constrained to refer to local referents which agree with the reflexive’s morphosyntactic features (Chomsky, 1986; Pollard & Sag, 1992; Reinhart & Reuland, 1993; i.a.), and many studies in sentence processing have found that comprehenders initially consider only these referents when determining a reflexive’s antecedent (Nicol & Swinney, 1989; Sturt, 2003; Dillon, Xiang, Dillon, & Phillips, 2009; i.m.a.). However, some recent work has found that comprehenders entertain long-distance reference when local referents present a particularly poor morphosyntactic match (Parker & Phillips, 2017). This raises an interesting question: are such findings the result of a processing mistake, or rooted in grammatical principles? I present evidence from two sets of studies which suggest the latter, demonstrating that native English-speaking comprehenders are less willing to entertain long-distance interpretations in the presence of an indexical (first/second person) pronoun. Notably, this pattern of behavior bears a striking resemblance to the “person blocking” phenomenon associated with the Mandarin long-distance reflexive “ziji” (Huang & Liu, 2001). In light of these findings, I propose a unified treatment of Mandarin and English reflexives which claims that comprehenders consider long-distance referents which could act as logophoric antecedents. Thus, by approaching the study of reflexive reference from theoretical and psycholinguistic perspectives simultaneously, insights from each inform the other. Moreover, this proposal has strong implications for both our understanding of real-time reflexive comprehension, and our grammatical models of reflexive binding. First, it suggests that the adoption of a long-distance interpretation in English does not reflect a processing “error”, but rather the function of a grammatically available, but otherwise dispreferred, alternative (c.f. Parker & Phillips, 2017). Second, it assigns a processing-based explanation to the fact that English speakers generally do not take such interpretations, rather than a grammatical one. Finally, the proposed model is more consistent with a specification of Binding Theory in terms of locality and c-command, rather than predicates, supporting recent theoretical work on French (Charnavel & Sportiche, 2016) which has reached similar conclusions.


WAFL 14 @ MIT - Call for papers

The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT will be hosting the 14th edition of WAFL, the Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics. The workshop will take place on October 19–21, 2018.

Abstracts are invited for presentations on topics dealing with formal aspects of any area of theoretical Altaic linguistics, including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, or pragmatics. The deadline for abstract submission is March 30, 2018. 

Additionally, there will be a workshop in honor of Shigeru Miyagawa on October 18, 2018.

The organizing committee can be reached at wafl14@mit.edu. More information can be found on the workshop’s website.


Takács at Linguistic Evidence 2018

Linguistic Evidence 2018 took place at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, February 15-17 and Dóra Kata Tákacs (first-year) presented a poster: On the presuppositional behavior of two sub-classes of factive predicates.


ESSL/LAcqLab and friends Winter Hike

The annual ESSL/LAcqLab and friends Winter Hike happened on Sunday.  The hikers climbed Mount Pemigawassett in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Thanks to Martin for the photos.

Hiking up Mount Pemigawassett
Hiking up Mount Pemigawassett

At the summit
At the summit. From left to right: Ishani Guha, Sophie Moracchini, Jaehyun Son, Danfeng Wu, Milena Sisovics, Maša Močnik, Leo Rosenstein, Keny Chatain, Sherry Chen, Dan Pherson, Jie Ren, Martin Hackl