The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 9th, 2018

Announcement: Memorial for Morris Halle

A memorial for Morris Halle will take place at MIT on Saturday, May 5, 2018.  So we can estimate the number of attendees, please register at the following site if you are planning to come:


The exact time and location will be announced once they have been determined — by email to those who have registered as well as on the MIT Linguistics website, here on Whamit, and on our Facebook page.  We hope to livestream the event, and make the video available online, but these details will also be confirmed in a later announcement.


LingPhil Reading Group 4/9 - on Stalnaker 2004

Title: on Stalnaker (2004)
Date and time: Monday April 9th, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

This week’s paper is Stalnaker’s Assertion Revisited: On the Interpretation of Two-Dimensional Modal Semantics, available here

Christopher will be presenting the paper.


Phonology Circle 4/9 - Yunjing Li (Tianjin\MIT)

Speaker: Yunjing Li (Tianjin Foreign Studies University & MIT)
Title:  Rule Interaction in Mandarin Tonal Phonology
Date and time: Monday, April 9th, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

In Mandarin Chinese, there are some rules governing tone sandhi changes. In some cases, more than one rule may be applicable, hence rule interaction occurs.

This talk will introduce some basic facts about Mandarin tonesand their representation, followed by a description of the interaction between the Third Tone Sandhi Rule and the Neutral Tone Rule in disyllabic words. The ordering of these two rules causes phonological opacity. An analysis in the framework of Harmonic Serialism is proposed.

Syntax Square 4/10 - Sze-Wing Tang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong/MIT)

Speaker: Sze-Wing Tang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong/MIT)
Title: On the Syntax of Sentence-final Elements
Date and time: Tuesday, April 10, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Insights of Ross (1970) of the analysis of the clausal periphery have been revived under the cartographic approach (Rizzi 1997, 2004, Cinque 1999, see also Speas 2004, Tenny 2006, Hill 2007, Miyagawa 2012, 2017, and Wiltschko and Heim 2016). The goal of this talk is twofold. First, it is argued that there should be two distinct syntactic layers in the clausal periphery that are dedicated to “grounding” and “responding” (Wiltschko and Heim 2016), respectively, by examining the grammatical properties of the Mandarin sentence-final particle (“SFP”) ma and Cantonese SFP ge and the “h-family”. Second, it is argued that some sentence-final expressions, such as tags in tag questions in English should be in the highest syntactic position and form a coordination structure with a silent head, in the sense of Kayne (2016). A hierarchical structure/ordering “Proposition > SFP > Tag” is proposed, which may serve as a working hypothesis to study the syntax of speech act cross-linguistically.


LF Reading Group 4/11 - Frank Staniszewski (MIT)

Speaker: Frank Staniszewski (MIT)
Title: Wanting, Acquiescing, and Neg-raising
Date and time: Wednesday, April 11, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I argue that neg-raised (NR) readings for negated sentences containing want are the result of want expressing an underlying weak (existential) quantificational force, which gives rise to the globally strong meanings under negation. To derive the universal interpretation that is attested for non-negated want, then, I adopt Bassi & Bar-Lev (2016)’s treatment of bare conditionals, and hypothesize that want undergoes strengthening in a manner analogous to Free Choice disjunction, as analyzed in Fox (2007).

As evidence for this view, I examine a puzzling paradigm discussed in Homer (2015), in which want appears to show scopal ambiguity w.r.t. the presuppositional adverbial no longer. I show how assuming an underlying existential semantics for want, motivated by a new observation about the data, provides a solution to the puzzle.

Homer’s puzzle: Assuming that the negative adverbial no longer presupposes that the proposition denoted by the clause that is in its scope used to be true, sentence (1a) is ambiguous between narrow and wide scope of want w.r.t. no longer (Homer 2015).

(1) a. Consumers no longer want to be kept in the dark about food.
b. I no longer want to be called an idiot.

Homer suggests that on its most salient reading, want takes wide scope over no longer, as it is not assumed that consumers ever had a desire to be kept in the dark about food, or that the speaker of (1b) used to want to be called an idiot. The absence of want from the presupposition of no longer on the most natural reading is taken to be evidence that want can QR over no longer, which is consistent with additional evidence that want may be a ‘mobile positive polarity item’ (PPI).

I provide evidence against a QR approach, and suggest that want is indeed within the scope of no longer in sentences like (1a-b). While I agree that they don’t presuppose that consumers used to have a desire to be kept in the dark (or be called an idiot), the meaning of want is not entirely absent from the presupposition. Instead, (1a-b) appear to require the weaker assumption that consumers in some way used to ‘be willing to’ or ‘be OK with’ being kept in the dark (or being called an idiot).

In the spirit of von Fintel and Iatridou (2017)’s discussion of weak variants of imperatives, I refer to these asacquiescence readings, which in addition to being detected in the presupposition of no longer, can also be detected in sentences like (2a-b).

(2) a. If you want to wait here for a minute, I’ll be right back.
b. Do you wanna give me a hand with this box?

The acquiescence readings in (2a-b), as well as the attested NR readings for want in other DE environments (sentential negation, scope of no NP, restrictor of comparatives/superlatives) suggest that an analogy with free choice is on the right track. There are, however, some DE environments (restrictor of no NP, additional questions/conditionals) that don’t show the predicted pattern. I address these, and other problems, and suggest possible solutions. I also explore how this analysis could extend to other priority modals, like should and for-infinitival relative clauses.


LingLunch 4/12 -  Matthew Tyler (Yale) and Michelle Yuan (MIT)

Speaker: Matthew Tyler (Yale) and Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Nominal-clitic case mismatches (WCCFL Practice Talk) 
Date and time: Thursday, April 12, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

When arguments are clitic-doubled, the clitic and the nominal it doubles typically bear the same case feature. However, recent theoretical work on clitic-doubling, including but not limited to so-called ‘Big DP’ analyses (e.g. Uriagereka 1995, Nevins 2011, Kramer 2014) treats clitics and nominals as separable entities in the syntactic derivation. Given this background, we propose that under the right syntactic conditions, nominals and their clitics should be able to mismatch in case features. In particular, we identify and investigate two classes of mismatch, which form the mirror image of each other. In Choctaw (Muskogean), nominals acquire case features that their associated clitics lack, while in Yimas (Lower-Sepik; data from Foley 1991), clitics acquire case features that their associated nominals lack. We argue that these mismatches are the consequence of case-assignment operations that target nominals or clitics individually.

The availability of such targeted case-assignment operations is contingent on the language creating the right syntactic configurations. In Choctaw, nominals may be individually targeted for a round of NOM/ACC case-assignment because clitics are doubled at a low position on the clausal spine—by the time that NOM/ACC case is assigned at TP, clitics have already separated from their nominal associates. And in Yimas, while nominals are morphologically unmarked (ABS), clitics may be individually targeted for a round of ERG/ABS case-assignment because they adjoin to the same functional head: following Yuan (2017), multiple clitics adjoined to the same head may employ case-assignment as a dissimilation strategy.