The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 30th, 2018

Halle memorial - May 5

Details about the memorial for Morris Halle, including a registration link, can be found at http://linguistics.mit.edu/hallememorialservice/.  If you are planning to attend, please register by this Wednesday if possible, so we can anticipate attendance. 


Phonology Circle 4/30 - Nabila Louriz & Michael Kenstowicz

Speakers: Nabila Louriz (Hassan-II, Casablanca) and Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: On the adaptation of vowels in French loanwords into Moroccan Arabic
Date/Time: Monday, 30 April 2018, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

 Moroccan Arabic has a simple three-vowel phonemic system /i, u, a/ plus epenthetic schwa. The vowels appear as /e, o, ɑ/ in the context of an emphatic (pharyngealized) consonant. As shown by examples such as boîte > /bwaT/ ‘tin can’ (cf. /bwiyT-a/ diminutive), French loanwords with /o, a/ (and sometimes /e/) are regularly borrowed with pharyngeal consonants—a striking example of enhancement dubbed “reverse engineering” in Kenstowicz & Louriz (2009). In this presentation we briefly review this finding and then focus on the adaptation of French nasal vowels. Three contexts are considered. Word-medial nasal vowels are adapted as oral vowel plus homorganic nasal consonant: congé [kɔʒ̃e] ‘holiday’ appears as /kuɲʒi/. Word-final nasal vowels sometimes appear with a nasal consonant and at other times as a simple vowel with no trace of nasality: Fr bouchon [buʃɔ̃] ‘bottle stopper’ > MA /buʃun/ but bâtiment [batimã] ‘building’ > MA /baTima/. Finally, word-initial vowels are often deleted: infirmier ‘nurse’ > /fərmli/. Our discussion focuses on some of the factors that may underlie the variation.


Syntax Square 5/1 - Tanya Bondarenko & Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko & Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Parasitic gaps, covert pied-piping, and left branch extraction in Russian [FASL practice]
Date and time: Tuesday, May 1st, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

A well-known trait of Slavic languages is left branch extraction (LBE), the A’-movement of elements out of the left edge of the nominal phrase. While much of Slavic allows LBE, languages like English do not, requiring pied-piping of the entire nominal phrase instead.  This difference presents a puzzle for syntactic theory, which we argue is clarified by the behavior of parasitic gaps (PGs; Engdahl 1983, Nissenbaum 2000) in Russian (Ivlieva 2007). We argue that patterns of PG licensing in LBE derivations teach us that LBE involves covert pied-piping of the containing NP, rather than true extraction out of NP.  This result unites the syntax of Russian with non-LBE languages, indicating that both are subject to something like Ross’ (1967/1986) Left Branch Condition (LBC). Consequently, LBE in Russian must be (at least in the cases under discussion) derived by a PF operation like scattered deletion (Fanselow & Ćavar 2005, Bošković 2015). This finding suggests that the difference between languages that allow so-called LBE, and those that do not, is the availability of this operation at the PF interface in the first group.

Ryan Bennett at MIT

We are pleased to announce that Ryan Bennett will be visiting MIT this week. In addition to a colloquium talk on Friday, he will also be giving a mini course on Wednesday and Thursday, details found below.

Speaker: Ryan Bennett (UCSC)
Title: The sound patterns of Kaqchikel (Mayan): phonology, morphology, phonetics, and the lexicon
Time: 12:30-2:00 , Wednesday 5/2 and Thursday 5/3
Place: 32-D461

In this mini-course, I report on two projects investigating the sound structure of Kaqchikel (Mayan). The first talk analyzes prosodic differences between prefixes in Kaqchikel. Prefix phonotactics provide evidence for abstract, recursively-nested prosodic structure. Importantly, alternative analyses using morphologically-oriented mechanisms to capture this data make problematic predictions about the broader morphology. The second talk considers perceptual confusions between plain and glottalized stops in Kaqchikel, arguing that such confusions owe, in part, to the statistical structure of the language (e.g. phoneme distributions, and their acoustic similarity in spontaneous speech). Connections to sound change are also discussed, along with practical issues in running corpus studies and field experiments with under-documented and under-resourced languages.


MIT Colloquium 5/4: Ryan Bennett (UCSC)

Speaker: Ryan Bennett (UCSC)
Title: Incorporation, focus and the phonology of ellipsis in Irish
Time: Friday 5/4, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

This talk analyzes a pattern of misalignment between syntax, semantics, and phonology in modern Irish. This mismatch turns on the interaction between focus and ellipsis, as realized in clauses with pronominal subjects. We argue that ellipsis can be over-ridden when phonological—-rather than semantic—-requirements of focus need to be satisfied. This motivates a theoretical framework in which post-syntactic computation involves the parallel optimization of at least some aspects of morpho-syntax and prosody. The analysis relies on a kind of head movement (from a specifier to a higher head) which is predicted by bare phrase structure, but little-documented.




The 54th annual meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society was held over the weekend. The following members of our community presented: