The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 3rd, 2018

Extended visit and mini-course: Emily Elfner (York University)

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

Speaker: Emily Elfner (York University)
Time: Wednesday, December 5th, 1pm-2:30pm; Thursday, December 6th, 12:30pm-2pm
Place: 32-D461

In recent years, there has been considerable renewed interest in debates regarding the syntax-prosody interface and the source of prosodic domains. Broadly speaking, there are two types of approaches to the “discovery” of prosodic domains: an “intonation first” model, which derives prosodic domains on the basis of observable phonological processes (such as intonational patterns, gradient phonetic markers to prosodic boundaries, and domain-sensitive phonological processes), and a “syntax first” model, which derives prosodic domains on the basis of syntactic constituent structure. Within these two extremes, most approaches to the syntax-prosody interface will assume a middle ground, with an implicit assumption that both syntax and phonology should be taken into account in the positing and diagnosing of prosodic domains. However, modelling the exact contribution of each part has proven to be difficult to determine and subject to some debate.

In this mini-course, I will provide an overview and critical analysis of a current “hybrid” approach to the syntax-prosody interface, Match Theory (Selkirk 2011), which incorporates a direct approach to syntax-prosody mapping under the guise of Prosodic Hierarchy Theory. Match Theory may be considered to be a “syntax first” model because it assumes that the origin of prosodic domains lies in the syntactic component, and that these are mapped onto the phonological component, specifically, the prosodic hierarchy, via a family of violable MATCH constraints. However, because these constraints are violable and evaluated in the phonological component (as in an OT model), mismatches, as observed via domain-sensitive phonological processes, can be accounted for systematically using violable prosodic markedness constraints that interact with the relevant MATCH constraints. Thus, while prosodic domains are mapped directly from syntactic structure, resulting in recursive prosodic domains, phonological and intonational processes can still be used as evidence to help diagnose and define the edges and scope of prosodic domains. The positing of prosodic domains is thus approached from both sides (syntax and phonology), meeting in the middle. This approach to the syntax-prosody interface has important consequences for our understanding of the syntax-prosody interface and the continuing role of the prosodic hierarchy in accounting for phrase-level phonological processes.

SNEWS 2018

SNEWS happened this Sunday at UMass Amherst.

  • Christopher Baron (3rd year) presented “Different measures for degree achievements”. His hand-out can be found here.
  • Filipe Kobayashi and Sherry Chen (2nd year) presented “Are adnominal and adverbial distributive numerals the same? Perspectives from Mandarin Chinese.” Their handout can be found here: https://sherrylinguist.files.wordpress.com/2018/12/numnum_snews2018.pdf

LingPhil Reading Group 12/07 (Friday 1pm) – Ninan on Ninan (2012) (from last week)

Dilip Ninan (Tufts University)’s talk about his 2012 paper Counterfactual attitudes and multi-centered worlds has been reported to this week.
Please join us on Friday 7th 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.

Syntax Square 12/4 - Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Speaker: Yadav Gowda
Title: Clausal downstepping and extraposition
Date and Time: Tuesday, December 4, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I’ll argue for a surprising condition on the prosody of embedded CPs, which I’ll call Clausal Downstepping:

(1) Clausal Downstepping: All phonological material within a CP must be immediately downstepped with respect to the phonological material of the head which immediately projects over it.

Downstep is a cross-linguistically attested phenomenon in which high tones within a prosodic domain are lowered with respect to preceding high tones, triggered at specific points within an utterance. It has been well-established that in many languages, downstep has a strong connection to syntactic and prosodic structure. I’ll give a brief primer on the relevant prosodic background and show the varying ways that (1) is satisfied cross-linguistically.

Next, I’ll argue that (1), along with the inherently left-to-right nature of downstep, provides an explanation for the commonly attested phenomenon of clausal extraposition. Clausal extraposition, a phenomenon seen in many SOV (German, Hindi, Turkish, Persian) and VOS (Malagasy, Toba Batak) languages, involves clausal objects obligatorily appearing in a peripheral position (2) despite normal objects appearing in a non-peripheral position (3) .

(2) a. Frank hat mir erzählt [dass die Eintracht Meister wird]
          Frank has me told [that the Eintracht champion becomes]
          ‘Frank told me that Eintracht will become champions.’
      b. * Frank hat mir [dass die Eintracht Meister wird] erzählt
(3) a. Frank hat mir [die Wahrheit] erzählt.
          Frank has me [the truth] told
          ‘Frank told me the truth.’
      b. * Frank hat mir erzählt [die Wahrheit].

Furthermore, I’ll argue that (1) provides better empirical coverage of the surface distribution of CPs in these languages than previous prosodic, syntactic, and semantic accounts.

CompLang 12/6 - Emma Nguyen (UConn Linguistics)

Speaker: Emma Nguyen (UConn Linguistics)
Title: Using developmental modeling to specify learning and representation of the passive in English children
Date and time: Thursday, 12/6, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165

Complete knowledge of the passive takes significant time to develop in English children. Building on prior work identifying the importance of lexical factors for this process, we specify a Bayesian learning model that can capture experimentally-observed passivization behavior in five-year-olds, given child-directed speech to learn from. Through this developmental model, we identify (i) how English children may be integrating lexical feature information, and (ii) how costly they may view the passive structure to be.

Fieldwork Reading Group 12/6 - Emily Elfner

The next meeting of the fieldwork group is happening on Thursday. Emily Elfner will talk about recording procedures and equipment.

Time: Thursday, 12/6, 5-6pm
Place: 32D-831
Speaker: Emily Elfner
Topic: Recording in the field

MIT Colloquium 12/7: Emily Elfner (York University)

Speaker: Emily Elfner (York University)
Title:  The Syntax-Prosody Interface
Time: Friday, December 7th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

In this talk, I discuss word- and phrase-level prominence in two languages which may be characterized as “polysynthetic”: Kwak’wala (North Wakashan: BC, Canada) and Inuktitut (Eskimo-Aleut; Northern Canada). Polysynthetic languages are typically described as such in terms of their morphosyntactic characteristics: allowing complex morphological “words” which blur the lines between words, phrases, and clauses. In recent years, researchers have argued that complex words may be analyzed using the same syntactic tools used for less agglutinative languages, proposing that the unusually complex “words” result from the ways in which such structures are spelled out phonologically (e.g. Compton & Pittman 2010). This assumption places the onus on the syntax-phonology interface to account for notions like what constitutes a word, notions that were previously thought to be determined by a language’s morphological and syntactic properties.

Kwak’wala and Inuktitut share similarities in terms of their word-level systems of prominence: both show evidence of a single (tonal) prominence within each word-level domain, but little evidence of prosodic structure within that domain: no secondary stress or evidence of alternating metrical structure, as would be expected of foot structure, nor any apparent sign of word-internal morphophonological domains. What does this mean for theories of prosodic structure in which prosodic constituents are derived from syntactic structure? In other words, why do “words” spell-out as large domains in languages like Inuktitut or Kwak’wala, but smaller domains in languages like English? This talk will explore some preliminary answers to these questions on the basis of these two case studies.

Partly based on joint work with Patricia A. Shaw (Kwak’wala), Anja Arnhold (Inuktitut), and Richard Compton (Inuktitut).