The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 18th, 2019

MorPhun 02/19 – Stan presents Harbour (2016)

Speaker: Stan Zompí
Title: discussion on Daniel Harbour’s 2016 book Impossible Persons
Time: Tuesday 02/19, 5-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


Phonology Circle 2/20 - Erin Olson presents Zuraw & Hayes (2017)

In this week’s meeting of Phonology Circle, we will discuss Zuraw & Hayes’s 2017 paper: “Intersecting constraint families: an argument for Harmonic Grammar”. Erin Olson will lead the discussion. The details follow:

Discussion leader: Erin Olson (MIT)
Paper: Zuraw, K., & Hayes, B. (2017). Intersecting constraint families: an argument for Harmonic Grammar. Language, 93(3), 497-548 (available here).
Time: Wednesday 02/20, 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


In the analysis of free variation in phonology, we often encounter the effects of intersecting constraint families: there are two independent families of constraints, each of which has a quantifiable effect on the outcome. A challenge for theories is to account for the patterns that emerge from such intersection. We address three cases: Tagalog nasal substitution, French liaison/élision, and Hungarian vowel harmony, using corpus data. We analyze the data patterns created by intersecting families using several formal frameworks, and find that an accurate account is best based on Harmonic Grammar (in one of its two primary quantitative implementations). Our work also suggests that that certain lexical distinctions treated as discrete by classical phonological theory (e.g., “h aspiré” vs. ordinary vowel-initial words of French) are in fact gradient and require quantitative treatment.


LingLunch 2/21 - Beste Kamali (Universität Bielefeld)

Speaker: Beste Kamali (Universität Bielefeld)
Time: Thursday 02/21, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Evidential bias found in certain polar questions is not well understood. I delineate a structural account based on parallel propositional alternatives, propositional alternatives to p that do not include not-p, but rather q, r etc. The evidence will come from Turkish, where evidentially biased PQs are differentiated from non-biased ones by the locus of clitic placement, and there are clearly testable intuitions of parallel propositional alternatives whenever the evidentially biased placement is used.


CompLang 2/21 - Sherry Chen (MIT Linguistics)

Speaker: Sherry Yong Chen (MIT Linguistics)
Title: The linguistics of one, two, three
Time: Thursday 02/21, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165

The interpretation of number words in context is of interest not only to linguists, but also logicians, psychologists, and computer scientists. In this talk, we will discuss some theoretical and developmental questions related to the linguistics of English numerals.

Bare numerals (e.g. two, three) present an interesting puzzle to semantic and pragmatic theories, as they seem to vary between several different interpretations: ‘at least n’, ‘exactly n’, and sometimes even ‘at most n’. We will examine how the availability of a particular interpretation seems to depend on the interaction between linguistic structure and contextual factors, and discuss three approaches that try to capture the relationship between these interpretations. 

Turning to the acquisition of bare numerals, developmental research suggests that preschoolers by the age of 5 are able to access ’non-exactly’ interpretations of a bare numeral in contexts where these interpretations are licensed, just like adult speakers. A natural hypothesis for this is that the knowledge of the full range of interpretations may come through a prior understanding of the meaning of explicit expressions such as ‘at least/at most’ in English. This turns out to be questionable, however, since it is also shown that 5-year-olds haven’t yet acquired the meaning of the expressions at least and at most yet. Time permitting, we will end with a discussion about what all this means for the development of numerical concept and/or language development in general.


Michel DeGraff writes foreword of “Decolonizing Foreign Language Education”

Michel DeGraff wrote the foreword to a recently published volume edited by Donaldo Macedo Decolonizing Foreign Language Education: The Misteaching of English and Other Colonial Languages. The foreword is entitled “Against apartheid in education and in linguistics: The case of Haitian Creole in neo-colonial Haiti “

More information about this volume can be found on Amazon and Google Play.


Michel DeGraff’s course on Creole languages and Carribean identities available on MIT OpenCourseWare

The materials and video recordings of the course “Creole languages and Carribean identities”, taught by Michel DeGraff in spring 2017, have been made available publicly at MIT OpenCourseWare. You can find them here.