The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 8th, 2019

Syntax Square 4/9 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Prefer the less specified form: Evidence from Lebanese Arabic
Time: Tuesday, 4/9, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

For languages with resumptive pronouns (RPs), an Economy principle has been proposed that prefers gap realization whenever possible (e.g. Shlonsky 1992, Pesetsky 1998, McDaniel and Cowart 1999, Sichel 2014, and Rasin 2016). In Hebrew, for instance, the A’-trace in a raising relative clause is realized as a gap, unless an island blocks the movement, in which case an RP is inserted in the trace position. Because an RP has more internal structure than a gap, this Economy principle can then be stated either as a preference for the leastspecified form or the preference for the less specified form.

In this preliminary and informal discussion I argue that the latter formulation of the Economy principle is correct. I present evidence from Lebanese Arabic, which has a richer resumption strategy than Hebrew and can use an independent morpheme (“strong” pronouns), a clitic (“weak” pronoun), or an epithet in resumption (Aoun et al. 2001). The strong pronoun and the epithet have more morphological complexity than the weak pronoun. When coindexed with a quantificational antecedent (a wh-phrase or a quantifier), the strong pronoun and the epithet have the same distribution on the one hand, while the weak pronoun and the gap pattern together and have a wider distribution on the other hand. Strikingly, a weak pronoun alternates with a wh-gap in non-island contexts, and the wh-antecedent can be reconstructed to the position of the weak pronoun (Aoun and Benmamoun 1998). Based on these facts I argue that the Economy principle is a comparative one rather than a superlative one, preferring the less specified form whenever possible. In the case of Lebanese Arabic, it prefers a gap and a weak pronoun rather than a strong pronoun and an epithet.

LF Reading Group 4/10 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron (MIT)
Title: Entailments, implicatures, and absolute adjectives
Time: Wednesday, April 10th, 1-2PM
Location: 32-D461

Absolute adjectives like straight and bent give rise to interesting entailments and implicatures when they occur in degree constructions; the [a] and [b] examples below are comparatives, and the [c] examples are degree achievements.

  1. [a] Bar A is straighter than it was before.
    [b] Bar A is straighter than Bar B is.
    [c] Bar A straightened.
  2. [a] Bar C is more bent than it was before.
    [b] Bar C is more bent than Bar B is.
    [c] Bar C bent

(1a) and (1c) entail that Bar A wasn’t completely straight before; (1b) entail that Bar B isn’t completely straight. However, (1a) and (1b) seem to imply that Bar A isn’t completely straight, whereas (1c) seems to imply that it is completely straight (now). The examples in (2) are similar. All three entail that Bar C is bent (now). (2a) seems to imply that Bar C was already bent, and (2b) seems to imply that Bar B is also bent. However, (2c) seems to imply that Bar C wasn’t bent before. 

I’ll argue that this implied content really is implicature, rather than entailment or presupposition, and explore and expand on accounts of some (but not all) of these implicatures (e.g. Kennedy 2007). Furthermore, I’ll explore various possibilities for the apparent reversal in implicature with degree achievements, and argue that none of the obvious solutions are quite appealing. I leave open for now, however, a positive account of these data. 

Phonology Circle 4/10 - Jonathan Bobaljik (Harvard)

Speaker: Jonathan Bobaljik (Harvard University), joint work with David Koester (University of Alaska Fairbanks), Chikako Ono (Chiba University), and G. D. Zaporotskij
Title: Text setting in an Itelmen khodila (song)
Time: Wednesday 10th, 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: available here

CompLang 4/11 - Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Presenter: Yadav Gowda (MIT Linguistics)
Paper to read: Tanenhaus et. al (1995)
Time: Thursday, 4/11, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165

Tanenhaus et. al 1995 is an influential paper arguing that language processing is (a) incremental and (b) provides us with an argument against the modularity of syntax. I will review their arguments and explore related questions, including, but not limited to: What defines a module? Why should/shouldn’t cognitive scientists propose modules? What should we take to be neurological/psychological evidence of a module?

Lectures by Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky will be giving two lectures at MIT this week.

Location : 37-212
Times : Wednesday 10th of April & Friday 12th of April

Hoping to see you there!

Newell Lewey accepts position at University of Maine at Machias

Our alum Newell Lewey has accepted a position of adjunct instructor at the University of Maine at Machias, where he will teach Intro to Passamaquoddy and Public Speaking. Congratulations, Newell! Kuli-kiseht!

Richards @ Princeton Symposium on Syntactic Theory

Norvin Richards spent April 5-6 at the Princeton Symposium on Syntactic Theory (PSST), as did recent alumna Michelle Yuan. The theme of this year’s meeting was “counterexamples”. Norvin reports the following feeling:
“[I’m] trying not too think too hard about the fact that, when the organizers tried to think of people whose theories have lots of counterexamples, they apparently thought of [me] right away.”

Yuan to UC San Diego

We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Michelle Yuan (PhD 2018), who received her PhD from our department last summer, has accepted a tenure-track Assistant Professor position in the Department of Linguistics at the University of California at San Diego. Also joining UCSD faculty is Emily Clem, who is currently finishing at Berkeley and was a visitor at MIT in Spring 2018. Congratulations to both!