The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 26th, 2018

MorPhun 11/26 - Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz
Title: Successive-Cyclic Wh-Movement Feeds Case Competition in Koryak
Date and time: Monday 11/26, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

Recent debate surrounding theories of ergative case has centered on two types of analyses: ergative as a dependent (configurational) case (Yip et. al. 1987, Marantz 1991, Baker 2015, a.o.), and ergative as an inherent case (Nash 1996, Woolford 1997, a.o.). On the former, ergative case is assigned to the external argument of a transitive verb by case competition: it `competes’ for case assignment with another nominal in the same phase, and is assigned ergative because it is the higher of the two. On the latter, ergative is assigned to the external argument of a transitive verb by being merged as the specifier of an agentive vP. In this paper, I present new evidence for the configurational analysis of ergative case from Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan), showing that movement of absolutive wh-words into higher case domains triggers dependent case in the higher domain, as well as in intermediate domains along the movement path. This is easily accounted for on the dependent case analysis, but cannot be captured if ergative marking is tied to thematic roles, as the inherent case view holds.


Extended visit and mini course: Martina Martinovic (University of Florida)

We are delighted to announce that Martina Martinovic will be here for an extended visit, during which she will give a mini course in two parts, details below.

Speaker: Martina Martinovic (University of Florida)
Time: Wednesday, November 28th, 1pm-2:30pm; Thursday, November 29th, 12:30pm-2pm
Place: 32-D461

It is a long-standing observation that syntactic features can be differently distributed over the functional spine. The strong cartographic approach commonly follows the “one property, one feature, one head” principle (e.g., Kayne 2005; Cinque and Rizzi 2010), however, the reality of cross-linguistic variation has made it clear that the bundling of features often cannot be achieved via traditional syntactic processes (such as head movement). Various bundling parameters and other mechanisms have been proposed to account for the variation in feature distribution (e.g. the “Split-IP” parameter, Thráinsson 1996, Bobaljik & Thráinsson 1998; the “Voice-bundling” parameter, Pylkänen 2002, 2008; feature “scattering”, Giorgi & Pianos 1996; etc.). Particularly popular in the last decade have been modifications of the Feature Inheritance model  (Chomsky 2005, 2008; Richards 2007, 2011), proposing that Feature Inheritance is obviated under certain conditions (e.g. Ouali 2006, Fortuny 2008, Legate 2011, Gallego 2014, Aldridge 2015, 1017).

In this mini-course we will focus on the properties of the clause-peripheral layers, commonly known as CP and TP, the cross-linguistic variation in how features traditionally associated with C and T are distributed over functional heads, and how this advances our understanding of how syntactic structures are built. The bulk of the data will come from Wolof and will explore the Head-Splitting approach developed in Martinović 2015. We will discuss recent extensions of this proposal (e.g. Erlewine 2018), and other data that might be amenable to similar treatment, with the goal of identifying a possible unified approach.


Syntax Square 11/28 - Justin Colley and Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Speaker: Justin Colley and Mitya Privoznov
Title: Voice marking in Khanty
Date and Time: Tuesday, November 27, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
In this talk we will discuss an “Austronesian” phenomenon of voice marking in a Uralic language Khanty (Northern dialect). In particular, we will look at the Khanty morpheme -a/-i, usually called ‘passive’ in descriptive grammars. There are several features that make the Khanty ‘passive’ not passive-like. Firstly, arguments other than the Theme can promote to the subject position. Secondly, all the noun phrases that do not promote to the subject position surface with a special case (called locative). Thirdly, the ‘passive’ morpheme has an effect on the information structure of the sentence. Finally, the ‘passive’ morpheme follows the tense morphemes, which is atypical for argument structure changing passives that are usually put at the vP/VoiceP level.

There are several questions to explain. First, what is the semantic contribution and the syntactic position of the ‘passive’ morpheme? Second, what is the source of the locative case? Third, what type of movement is the promotion to subject in ‘passive’?

We will discuss some ideas of how we can deal with these data. All of them involve one basic assumption: the ‘passive’ morpheme is a composite probe ala Coon and Bale (2014) or van Urk (2015). It is T with a Topic feature on it. The problem is the locative case. Is it assigned by the composite T? Is it assigned independently? There will be several open questions and cryings out for help.

Fieldwork Reading Group 11/29 - Martina Martinović

Martina Martinović is going to answer all your questions about doing linguistics in the field and her personal fieldwork experience.

Time: Thursday Nov 29th, 5-6pm
Place: 32-D831
Speaker: Martina Martinović (University of Florida)


LingPhil Reading Group 11/30 (Friday 1pm) – on Ninan (2012) (special time, special guest!)

Dilip Ninan (Tufts University) has kindly agreed to talk about his 2012 paper Counterfactual attitudes and multi-centered worlds.
The meeting will take place on Friday 30th at 1pm in the 8th floor seminar room.
*Exceptionally, it is preferrable to have read the paper beforehand.*

Title : Counterfactual attitudes and multi-centered worlds

Author(s) : Dilip Ninan

Abstract :

Counterfactual attitudes like imagining, dreaming, and wishing create a problem for the standard formal semantic theory of de re attitude ascriptions. I show how the problem can be avoided if we represent an agent’s attitudinal possibilities using multi-centered worlds, possible worlds with multiple distinguished individuals, each of which represents an individual with whom the agent is acquainted. I then present a compositional semantics for de re ascriptions according to which singular terms are assignment-sensitive expressions and attitude verbs are assignment shifters.


MIT Colloquium 11/30: Martina Martinovic (University of Florida)

Speaker: Martina Martinovic (University of Florida)
Title: Bi-clausal progressives in Wolof (partly joint work with Marie-Luise Schwarzer)
Time: Friday, November 30th, 3:30pm-5pm
Place: 32-155

In many languages, clauses predicating location and progressive constructions are related. Progressives often develop from or contain locative markers/copulas, or entire locative constructions (Heine & Reh 1984, Heine et al. 1991, Demirdache & Uribe-Etxebarria 2000, Heine & Kuteva 2002). Much work has shown that progressive constructions are often bi-clausal, consisting of a locative clause that embeds a nominalized complement clause or an adjunct (Comrie 1978, Bybee et al. 1994, Fontanals & Simon 1999, Polinsky & Comrie 2002, Laka 2006, Salanova 2007, Coon 2010).

In this talk I discuss the syntax of default progressive construction in Wolof, which contain the element angi, in the literature most commonly considered to be progressive aspect. I reanalyze angi as a bimorphemic element composed of the A′-complementizer and a locative clitic. This is supported by the fact that progressive clauses can be extracted out of. Next, I propose that progressives in Wolof are biclausal, consisting of a locative clause that embeds a reduced imperfective infinitival clause. I give two pieces of evidence for this claim. First, PP modifiers can only follow the main verb in mono-clausal constructions in Wolof. In progressive constructions, however, they can precede the verb, suggesting that they are modifying a higher predicate. Second, progressive constructions cannot be negated, which would be puzzling under a mono-clausal analysis. A bi-clausal analysis straightforwardly accounts for this fact, because the two clauses that the progressives consist of — the locative clause and the reduced imperfective infinitival clause —  independently cannot contain negation. This work gives further cross-linguistic support for the bi-clausality of progressive structures, and enriches the typology of bi-clausal progressives.


DeGraff @ UHHilo

Michel DeGraff was at the University of Hawaii at Hilo (@UHHilo) during the week of November 12, visiting their Program in Linguistics which is part of the College of Hawaiian Language. Michel also gave a talk there on ” Haitian Creole for education, human rights & development.” The Program in Linguistics at UH Hilo has set up an inspiring example of collaboration among linguistics, language revitalization and teacher education. The Hawaiian language was nearly exterminated through US cultural genocide starting in the late 19th century when US marines overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy. Then the US banned the use of the Hawaiian language. In the early 1980s there were fewer than 50 children speaking Hawaiian. But now Hawaiian has been revitalized and counts some 10,000 speakers, especially thanks to the efforts of the College of Hawaiian Language’s laboratory schools, which start as early as in pre-schools (called “Pūnana Leo” in Hawaiian; i.e., “language nests”). These laboratory schools may well be the best examples of language-immersion schools in the context of language revitalization. For a sampling of images of these immersion activities, both at @UHHilo and in the laboratory schools, see Michel’s videos and photos on Facebook: