The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 19th, 2018

LingPhil Reading Group 3/19 - on Forbes 2018

Title: on Forbes (2018)
Date and time: Monday March 19th, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

This week’s paper is Graeme Forbes’ An Investigation of a Gricean Account of Free-Choice ‘Or’, available here.  Pre-read is gently suggested but not expected.

Kelly will be presenting the paper.

Phonology Circle 3/19 - Rafael Abramovitz and Adam Albright (MIT)

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz and Adam Albright (MIT)
Title: Deriving allomorphic contingencies
Date and time: Monday, March 19, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, we report on two loosely-related things we’ve been thinking about in connection with a handbook chapter on allomorphy that we are working on. First, we consider the analysis of portmanteau in Lakhota (Siouan). Lakhota verbs show both subject and object marking, but the combination of 1sg subject with 2nd person object is marked with a single, distinct affix /chi-/. Data from marking on embedded verbs shows that although /chi-/ indicates a subject/object combination, it must actually be analyzed as 2nd person object marker that is used in 1sg subject contexts. This is consistent with the hypothesis that portmanteau is actually complex contextual allomorphy of both heads (null + special allomorph). Moreover, the conditioning context for /chi-/ appears to be the morphosyntactic (featural) context of 1sg subject, and not the specific 1sg subject marker that it normally replaces. This is consistent with Bobaljik’s hypothesis that outward-looking contextual allomorphy is sensitive to morphosyntactic structure. The conditioning context appears to be non-local (in a higher XP), but evidence from stress and root allomorphy supports an analysis in which the root and both agreement suffixes have undergone head-movement to a single projection. Next, we discuss a case of cross-template blocking found in the Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan) verb, whereby the appearance of the 3PL agreement marker /-w/ blocks the appearance of the general PL morpheme /-la/. Given that /-w/ is more peripheral in the verb-word than /-la/, this appears to be a case of outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy, which is incompatible with Bobaljik (2000)’s hypothesis that vocabulary insertion proceeds cyclically. We argue that a reanalysis of these facts consistent with Bobaljik’s proposal is possible, but that it nonetheless requires some element of countercyclicity in the form of countercyclic application of impoverishment rules. 

Syntax Square 3/20 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana
Title: Obligatory Controlled Subjects in Buli
Date and time: Tuesday March 20, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

It has long been noted that PRO makes no contribution to PF, as it is phonetically null. Several approaches to control have been developed based on this conclusion. These theories could be put into two broad categories. Under one (Bresnan 1978, 1982, Chierchia 1984, Dowty 1985, Jackendoff and Culicover 2003, a.o) this has been taken as evidence that there is no syntactic representation of this element. Under the other (Chomsky 1981, Manzini 1983, Landau 2000, 2001, 2013, 2015 a.o) PRO is syntactically present but its nullness is due to the licensing properties of the controlled structure. In this paper, I present data from Buli a Mabia (Gur) language spoken in Sandema (Ghana) that argue against theories that deny the syntactic presence of PRO. I argue that Buli is a language where PRO is overtly expressed and conclude that phonetic nullness is not an inherent property of PRO.

Judith Tonhauser at MIT

We are pleased to announce that Judith Tonhauser will be visiting this week. In addition to a colloquium talk on Friday, she will offer a mini course on Wednesday and Thursday, details below:

Speaker: Judith Tonhauser (Ohio State University)
Title: Methods in semantic/pragmatic research
Time: Wednesday, March 21st, 12:30pm-2pm; Thursday, March 22nd, 12:30pm-2pm
Place: 32-D461

Eliciting data from theoretically untrained speakers, as part of one-on-one elicitation or experiments, is a critical skill in research on meaning. In this mini-course, we’ll discuss two fundamental issues in empirically-driven research on meaning: first, on 3.21, we’ll talk about what constitutes a piece of data, how our theoretical hypotheses bear on the question of which response task to use or what to include in the context of a piece of data; second, on 3.22, we’ll address what constitutes empirical evidence, in particular which kinds of hypotheses are supported by different types of minimal pairs.

MIT Colloquium 3/23: Judith Tonhauser (Ohio State University)

Speaker: Judith Tonhauser (Ohio State University)
Title: Categorical and gradient distinctions between content: Implications for theories of speaker presuppositions
Time: Friday, March 23rd, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

One classic categorization of clause-embedding predicates is based on introspective judgments about what follows from utterances of sentences like those in (1) and their interrogative variants in (2). First, the content of the clausal complement in these examples, that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds, is taken to logically follow from (1a) with _be right_ and (1b) with _know_, but not from (1c) with _believe_. Thus, the content of the clausal complement of _be right_ and _know_ is classified as an entailment, but not that of _believe_. Second, the content of the clausal complement tends to follows from the interrogative variant with _know_ in (2b), but not from the variants with _be right_ in (2a) or with _believe_ in (2c). Thus, because the content of the clausal complement of _know_ tends to project from under the question operator, _know_ is a ‘factive’ predicate and its complement is a presupposition, but because the content of the clausal complement of _be right_ and _believe_ is not projective, these are ‘non-factive’ predicates and their complements are not presuppositions.

(1) a. Kim is right that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds.

  1. Kim knows that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds.
  2. Kim believes that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds.

(2) a. Is Kim right that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds?

  1. Does Kim know that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds?
  2. Does Kim believe that wasps lay their eggs in ladybirds?

In this talk, I present experimental evidence that suggests that distinguishing entailed from non-entailed clausal complements may not be as central to empirically adequate theories of speaker presupposition as sometimes assumed. Moreover, evidence from experiments and a corpus study challenges the categorical distinction between ‘factive’ and ‘non-factive’ predicates and instead suggests that projectivity is a gradient property of utterance content. In addition to discussing the implications of these findings for theories of projective content, I will deliberate on how they bear on the larger issue of categorical versus gradient generalizations about meaning.


The 49th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL 49) will be held at Michigan State University from March 22-25, 2018. Colin Davis (3rd-year), Kenyon Branan (5th-year) , and Abdul-Razak Sulemana (4th-year) will give talks, and Kenyon and Abdul-Razak will also present a poster.