The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch 9/27 - Itai Bassi (MIT); Keny Chatain (MIT)

We again have 2 presentations as practice talks for NELS: 
Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Fake Indexicals: the grammar of variable binding
Date and time: Thursday, 9/27, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In (1), ’my’ can function as a bound variable and doesn’t have to refer to the speaker – it is a “Fake Indexical”. Fake Indexicality has been used in recent decades as a probe into investigating how the logical mechanism of variable binding interacts with syntactic and morphological mechanisms in natural language. In the first part of the talk I will motivate and present an analysis of (1) (building on Bassi and Longenbaugh 2017) on which the “fake” indexical is a true indexical, and more generally that bound-variable pronouns always have their phi-features interpreted in this construction. I will show new evidence from English that supports this analysis over existing accounts within the “minimal pronoun” approach (Kratzer 2009, Wurmbrand 2017) which take bound pronouns to have features only on the surface, without being interpreted. 

(1) I am the only one who takes care of my children (based on Partee 1989)
     bound reading: for every x other than me, x can’t take care of x’s children
In the second part of the talk I will turn to some cross-linguistic variation in this domain. In German a bound indexical reading analogous to (1) is not available, (2); but it is available if the pronoun is embedded deeply enough, (3) (Kratzer 2009). Following insights by Wurmbrand and Kratzer, I suggest that the difference between English (1) and German (2) lies in the absence or presence of gender marking on relative pronouns. I’ll propose that variable-binding obligatorily translates to agreement between the binder and the bindee, which leads to a spell-out crash in (2) but not in (1) because of a ban on realizing 1st person on gender-marked (relative) pronouns. This agreement operates only locally, stopping at a CP boundary, which explains the difference between (2) and (3). Cross-linguistic predictions will emerge from the details of the analysis which I will try to substantiate using novel data from French and Hebrew.
(2) Ich bin die   einzige  die  meine Kinder  versorgt    (bound reading impossible)
        I   am the.F  only   who.F my     children  takes.care.of 
(3) Ich bin die    einzige die     [jemand    kennt  [der meine Kinder versorgt]]   (bound reading possible)
        I   am the.F  only   who.F [someone knows  [who  my      children takes.care.of]]
Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Wide-scope distributivity
Date and time: Thursday, 9/27, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I analyse data of the form (1-3), where a referential expression is interpreted with wide scope and a distributive interpretation. This data is mysterious under the standard assumption that distributive readings arise from a covert element D operating on predicates, since the relevant predicate in (1-3) can only be formed by an island-escaping movement.

1. Context: I just got the results from our new experimental drug on the 17 participants we recruited.
Sentence: Either the drug made them sick or it made them sleepy (but it didn’t cure anyone).
Reading: Each of the participants was either made sick or sleepy by the drug

2. Context: Four 3D printers are currently working. They are printing different objects and my therefore finish at different times.
Sentence: When the printers are done, they will emit a loud screeching noise.
Reading: for each of the printers, when it is done, it will emit a loud screeching noise.

3. Sentence: Unless Clinton and Trump don’t want me to, I will give them a mic.
Reading: for each of Clinton and Trump, unless he or she wants me to, I won’t give him or her a mic.

I argue that this data motivates the existence of an index-based covert “all”-operator. Since it is based on indices, this operator can be remote from the plurality it distributes over, even separated from it by a scope island, accounting for (1-3). Further evidence for this operator will come from its ability to license dependent plurals (up to intervention effects). Finally, I will show how we can make sense of the restriction on the type of expressions that can show this wide-scope distributivity (i.e. referential expressions), tying it to their anaphoric nature.