The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 25th, 2019

Syntax Square 2/26 - Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University)

Speaker:  Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University)
Title: Syntax in the shadow of evolution: Stepping stones into hierarchy, Move, recursion, and coordination
Time: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

It is often stated that the nature of human language cannot be fully understood without reference to its evolution. Here I consider how one such (theoretically grounded) reconstruction of syntax may lead to a deeper understanding of attested syntactic phenomena, both those well-supported in syntactic theory (e.g. the small clause foundation of sentences), and those which remain largely unresolved (e.g. islandhood). The reconstruction leads to a proto-syntax characterized as flat, symmetric, intransitive, and static (without Move). Arguably, these rigid but robust beginnings still pervade the fabric of modern syntax, intertwined and interspersed with more modern forms, producing some intricate effects and echoes of the past, including islandhood. I will consider a variety of approximations of such proto-syntactic structures in modern languages, as well as intermediate/ambivalent forms, with the focus on the parataxis-coordination-subordination dimension (the intransitive-middle-transitive dimension was discussed in last semester’s Syntax Square talk). Both of these continuums/progressions are of relevance to the gradual emergence of the hallmarks of modern syntax, and each is characterized by ambivalent and overlapping intermediate forms. The postulated approximations of proto-syntax not only exhibit different syntactic behaviors relative to their (more) hierarchical counterparts, but they also rely on different processing strategies when investigated in neurolinguistic experiments. 
This is a practice talk for one of the three lectures to be given in Tokyo and Kyoto, Spring School in EvoLinguistics, March 2019.

LF Reading Group 2/27 - Maša Močnik & Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)

Speakers: Maša Močnik & Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Building Attitudes in Koryak
Time: Wednesday, February 27th, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk we explore the attitude verb ivyk from Koryak, a highly endangered Chukotko-Kamchatkan language of the Russian Far East. Ivyk looks like a variable-force variable-flavour attitude verb: it can be translated by (at least) say, tell/order, think, allow for the possibility, hope, fear, and wish (though not, for example, imagine). We will focus primarily on the division of labour between the doxastic readings (think, allow for the possibility) and the desiderative readings (hope, fear, wish) and argue, following Bogal-Allbritten (2016), against a lexical ambiguity or an underspecification analysis of the various readings.

Phonology Circle 2/27 - Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)
Title: Superheavy avoidance in meter
Time: Wednesday (2/27), 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


Superheavies are known to be marked, as demonstrated by processes such as closed syllable shortening. Additionally, metrists have reported that poets disprefer locating superheavies in cadences, that is, in line endings, where the meter is strictest (e.g. Hoenigswald 1989 on Vedic and 1991 on Homeric). I verify this finding using broader and better controlled statistical tests and extend it to certain other languages. I add that superheavy avoidance, though strongest in the cadence, is evident throughout the line. Moreover, it is gradient; for instance, ultraheavies are even more strongly avoided relative to their baseline incidence.

To analyze superheavy avoidance, one could simply index *Superheavy to the relevant constituents (e.g. *Superheavy_cadence) and call it a day, as I have previously. This is unsatisfactory in a few ways. First, as such, it doesn’t capture gradient weight, though it could easily be augmented by stringent or scalar mapping to fix that (cf. Ryan 2011). Second, in general, marked structure is not avoided in cadences. For example, in Vedic, codas, retroflexes, and vowel hiatus are all marked, but none is avoided in cadences. Thus, we shouldn’t open the door to constraints like NoCoda_cadence and Onset_cadence; rather, we should explain why specifically overweight is a problem. Third, not all quantitative traditions exhibit superheavy avoidance, so we should explain its confinement to certain languages/meters. I attempt to address all of these questions through an analysis in terms of phonetic lapse (Stanton 2019).

Fong published in Glossa

Congratulations to fourth-year student Suzana Fong, on the publication in Glossa of her article entitled “Proper movement through Spec-CP: An argument from hyperraising in Mongolian”! Glossa is an open-access journal, so you can read the abstract and download the paper at https://www.glossa-journal.org/articles/10.5334/gjgl.667/.  

Ling-Lunch 2/28 - Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT Linguistics)
Title: Why extraposition is rightward
Time: Thursday, 2/28, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461


In this work in progress, I’ll offer an approach to some word order puzzles about extraposition. Fox & Nissenbaum (1999) proposed that extraposition is derived by covert movement to the right, followed by late merge (Lebeaux 1999, a.o.) to that covert rightward position. Even if we accept that string-vacuous movement can in some sense have linear direction, this account does not straightforwardly apply to extraposition from phrases that undergo overt leftward movement. One of my central concerns will be this issue. I’ll argue that we can derive the possibility of extraposition from overtly moved phrases as well as covertly moved ones, without stipulating a linear direction to covert movement, through the interaction of the following concepts. #1: Spellout linearizes entire phases at once, and must not generate ordering contradictions (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, a.o.). #2: Late merge can only apply to the linear edge of a phase (NIssenbaum 2000). #3. Late merge can apply even to embedded phases (Fox 2017). Removing the hypothesis that covert movement is ordered provides insight into why extraposition fails when its source DP is deleted by ellipsis (Takahashi & Ohtaka 2017). This account leads to difficulty in deriving William’s Generalization (=the height of an extraposed phrase determines the scope of its “source”), without a more constrained notion of how extraposition is ordered, which I won’t have time to tackle here.

Experimental Syntax & Semantics Lab Meeting 3/1 - Julien Musolino (Rutgers)

Speaker: Julien Musolino (Rutgers University)
Title: Studying Language Acquisition during the Preschool years: Do we need a new paradigm?
Time: Friday, 3/1, 2-3pm
Location: 32-D831


The preschool years have been a particularly fruitful developmental period for research on language acquisition for two main reasons. The first is that preschoolers are sophisticated language users and can therefore be tested on a range of complex linguistic phenomena of interest to linguists and psycholinguists. The second is that in spite of their linguistic savvy, preschoolers have often been found to differ systematically from adults in their linguistic behavior. Over the past several decades, these observations have led to the emergence of a dominant framework to study language acquisition during the preschool period, accompanied by a wealth of empirical findings. Its historical significance and usefulness notwithstanding, there are strong signs today that this framework needs to be fundamentally revised. In this presentation, I will introduce the standard framework, showcase some of its main applications, and discuss its limitations and the need for a new paradigm.

MIT @ 4th Workshop on Turkic and Languages in contact with Turkic

NYU hosted the 4th edition of the Tu+ workshop on February 16-17. Two current MIT graduate students presented talks: