The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 11th, 2019

Syntax Square 2/12 - Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Davis (2019) vs. Bošković (2018)
Date and Time: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this presentation I’ll compare a paper of mine about stranding with another by Bošković about movement from moved elements, which has some overlap. A reviewer wants me to find some advantages, but it’s a bit complicated. I have some thoughts, but I hope that the audience will help. This will be an informal presentation with interruption encouraged.

LingLunch 2/14 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Syntax of either in either…or… sentences
Date and time: Thursday, 2/14, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Either in either…or… sentences can appear as the sister of a disjunction phrase (1), higher than the sister of a disjunction phrase (2)-(4), or lower (5)-(6), assuming the disjunction phrase is rice or beans in all these examples (based on observations by Larson (1985), Schwarz (1999), Han and Romero (2004), den Dikken (2006), a.o.).

(1) John will eat either rice or beans.

(2) John will either eat rice or beans.

(3) John either will eat rice or beans.

(4) Either John will eat rice or beans.

(5) John will either eat rice or he will eat beans.

(6) John either will eat rice or he will eat beans.

I propose an analysis of either that accounts for its distribution in these three types of sentences. I argue that there are two copies of either in an either … or … sentence. Either originates inside the disjunction phrase, and later moves (overtly or covertly) to be the sister of the disjunction phrase. In the meantime, ellipsis may delete material in the second disjunct that is identical to its counterpart in the first disjunct.

These independent ingredients of the proposal, namely the movement of either and ellipsis, may interact with each other and create complicated empirical results. In particular, I will discuss four empirical generalizations about either that the current proposal account for successfully while alternative proposals fall short.

I speculate, based on similarities between this analysis of either and previous analyses of focus-sensitive operators (e.g. Cable (2007) and Hirsch (2017)), that all focus-sensitive operators have what I call bipartite syntax: there are two instances of the operator in a sentence, one structurally higher than the other. The lower copy is semantically inert, and must c-command the focus from a local position. The higher copy agrees with a probe and/or marks semantic scope.

CompLang 2/14 - Peng Qian (MIT BCS)

CompLang will resume this Spring semester. The group will be meeting on Thursdays at 5pm, in MIT room 32-370. There is something new this semester: in addition to the regular invited talks, the group will be hosting discussions on foundational topics in the language sciences. Each of these new meetings is centered around a reading, selected as a springboard for fruitful interdisciplinary discussion and debate. You can find the talk and reading schedule for this semester online on the CompLang website.

This week, the group will read and discuss “Structures, not strings: linguistics as part of the cognitive sciences”. Details follow below. 

Paper to readStructures, not strings: linguistics as part of the cognitive sciences by Everaert et al. (2015)

Presenter: Peng Qian (MIT BCS)

Date and time: Thursday, 2/14, 5-6pm

Location: 32-370

Details: This review paper views human language as a computational system in the mind, primarily for the expression of thoughts. With several examples from semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology, this paper illustrates the central role of hierarchical structures, not linear properties of strings, in formulating an explanatory and theoretical characterization of linguistic knowledge. 
We would like to invite you to join us in thinking and discussing the insights and critical aspects of the arguments outlined in this review paper, and how different perspectives, alternative approaches, and interdisciplinary methodologies could enrich our inquiry and understanding of human language.


The East Coast Syntax Workshop (ECO5) took place at the University of Maryland this year on Saturday (February 9th). Suzana Fong (4th year) was there to represent MIT ; she gave a a talk entitled “CONCORD vs. INDEX number in Wolof bare nominals ”. She reports: “Not only did I get useful feedback on research in progress, I was also happy to see again fellow linguists from past editions of the workshop and meet UMD students and faculty.