The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 29th, 2019

MorPhun 4/29 (at 12:30!): Hagen Blix (NYU) on Arabic agreement

Speakers: Hagen Blix (NYU)
Title: (Dis)continuous Bleeding: Cyclicity and Spans
Time: Monday, April 29th, 12:30-2pm (note the unusual time)
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Modern Standard Arabic verbal agreement shows two properties that I argue to have important implications for the theory of interpretative/post-syntactic morphology. Firstly, it shows affixes whose distribution cannot be described as natural classes in the SPE-style subset principle of Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993). In example (1), we see that the prefixal y/tencodes a gender contrast in the third person singular of the subjunctive.

(1) a. 3m.sg: y-aktub-a 
b. 3f.sgt-aktub-a

While this clearly suggests that at least one of the affixes spells out gender, both affixes occur in both genders if we look beyond the third person singular. In the third person plural, both genders occur with y (2), whereas the second person plural shows both genders with t (3), with both forms marking the gender distinction at the suffixal position.

(2) a. 3m.pl: y-aktub-uu
b. 3f.pl: y-aktub-na

(3) a. 2m.pl: t-aktub-uu
b. 2f.pl: t-aktub-na

This rules out an analysis of the initial contrast in (1) in terms of the subset principle alone. Halle (2000) offers an analysis in terms of impoverishment, with t as an elsewhere marker and neither affix spelling out gender, but these impoverishment rules violate otherwise established markedness constraints (Noyer 1992, Nevins 2011). In particular, Noyer (1992) argued that in case of a “feature clash”, only the feature lower on the hierarchy in (4) can be impoverished:

(4) Person > Number > Gender

Secondly, various affixes, including the aforementioned t occur either as prefixes or as suffixes on the verb, depending on the Tense/Aspect configuration (5-7). Puzzlingly, while the prefixal forms of 2m.sg and 3f.sg are identical (6a), (7a), their suffixal counterparts in the perfect are distinguished not by different affixes, but rather by the order in which they occur (6b), (7b).

(5) a. 1pl.sbjv: n-aktub-a
b. 1pl.perf: katab-n-aa(6) a. 2m.sg.sbjv: t-aktub-ab. 2m.sg.perf: katab-t-a(7) 3f.sg.sbjv: t-aktub-a3f.sg.perf: katab-a-t

This is unexpected from the perspective of any theory that argues that prefixhood and suffixhood are part of the vocabulary item/rule itself (Halle & Marantz 1993, Noyer 1992, Halle 2000).
In this talk, I will argue that the hierarchy Noyer (1992) described as governing Impoverishment actually describes an inverse of the f-seq of Arabic agreement, and that spellout operating on spans, regulated by a superset principle (Starke 2009), can capture the distribution of these affixes without recourse to Impoverishment. I then show that a movement-based, antisymmetry approach to linear order can derive the positional effects at PF (Kayne 1994, Kayne 2017, Koopman 2018, Julien 2002, Blix under review) in a way that characterizes the affixes that may appear in prefixal position as a uniform set (as opposed to an arbitrary collection of affixes, as in previous work), and allows us to connect their paradigmatic distribution with their linear one.

Syntax Square 4/30 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Revisiting the Rich Agreement Hypothesis (RAH)
Time: Tuesday, April 30, 1pm-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this week’s syntax square, I will lead an informal discussion about the Rich Agreement Hypothesis (henceforth RAH). RAH is an early approach to V to T movement, which argues that rich subject agreement on the finite verb conditions V to T movement in a language (Kosmeijer 1986, Pollock 1989, Platzack & Holmberg 1989, Holmberg & Platzack 1991, 1995, Roberts 1993, Rohrbacher 1994, Vikner 1995, 1997, Bobaljik 1995, Bobaljik & Thráinsson 1998, Koeneman 2000, Koeneman & Zeijlstra 2014, and others). I plan to discuss 1) how RAH has influenced theories of head movement (featuring Bobaljik & Thráinsson most prominently), 2) empirical claims about which languages have head movement and which do not, and 3) what value can be derived from this enterprise and what questions we should reformulate moving forward. One of the recalcitrant problems for RAH is the English auxiliary system, so we will (time permitting) touch on how to include English into the picture as well.

LF Reading Group 5/1 - Shumian Ye (MIT/Peking University)

Speaker: Shumian Ye (MIT/Peking University)
Title: Negated disjunctions in Mandarin revisited
Time: Wednesday, May 1st, 1-2PM
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk, I will argue that OR in Mandarin is neither an NPI nor a PPI, contra Crain (2012). First, when embedded by negations, certain disjunctions obligatorily take the narrow scope, while Hurford disjunctions obligatorily take the wide scope. Compare (1) with (2).

(1) ta mei quguo Beijing huo qita chengshi.
she NEG have.been Beijing OR other cities
Unique reading: She hasn’t been to Beijing or any other cities. (¬ > ∨)

(2) zhe ping jiu de jiage bu chaoguo shi kuai huo ershi kuai.
this CL wine DE price NEG exceed ten dollars OR twenty dollars
Unique reading: The price of this wine doesn’t exceed $10, or doesn’t exceed $20. (∨ > ¬)

Second, most negated disjunctions are ambiguous in Mandarin. Which reading is salient seems to depend on the higher modals and the contexts. Compare (3) with (4).

(3) ta kending mei quguo Beijing huo Shanghai.
she definitely NEG have.been Beijing OR Shanghai
Salient reading: She definitely hasn’t been to Beijing, nor to Shanghai. (¬ > ∨)

(4) ta keneng mei quguo Beijing huo Shanghai.
she maybe NEG have.been Beijing OR Shanghai
Salient reading: She maybe hasn’t been to Beijing, or hasn’t been to Shanghai. (∨ > ¬)

More crucially, the disjunctions can still take wide scope when the negated disjunctions are in the scope of a downward entailing operator, that is, OR in Mandarin cannot be rescued as a PPI (Szabolcsi 2004). After going through these arguments, I will take other modals into consideration and give a preliminary explanation for the contrast between (3) and (4), which mainly relies on two factors: 1) Interaction between different modals and ignorance/uncertainty inferences, 2) Competition between OR and AND.

Phonology Circle 5/1 - Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: Phonetic Correlates of the Stop Voicing Contrast in Javanese
Time: Wednesday (5/1), 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Previous studies of the Javanese [±voice] distinction find that in word-initial position the contrast is realized not in virtue of stop closure voicing or VOT but rather in the quality and pitch of the following vowel. Correlates include differences in the first and second formants as well as fundamental frequency and voice quality. In this study we extend this line of research by looking at the realization of the voicing contrast in a wider variety of contexts (word-initial, medial, and final) and tests of statistical significance of the data. The implications of our findings for the phonology of the language are also considered.

Ling-Lunch 5/2 - Kyongjoon Kwon (Sungkyunkwan University)

Speaker: Kyongjoon Kwon (Sungkyunkwan University)
Title: A phonologically null verb give in the Russian threat dative construction
Time: Thursday, 5/2, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

The central goal of this talk is to argue that the so-called Russian threat dative construction contains a phonologically null verb give. In the proposed ditransitive structure, the theme is an event denoted by a pronominalized verb that anaphorically refers to the verb phrase in the immediately previous speech. The pronominalized verb stem is phonologically realized through the incorporation of the null verb after a series of head movements. Under this proposal, the seemingly unmotivated or stipulated at the least dative case marked pronoun is well accounted for, i.e., as a recipient in the predication denoted by the ApplP. And the sentential meaning “I will give you/him/her/them back X ”, where X repeats a part of the previous speech, gives rise by implication to the threat effect. Finally, I propose that the posited null verb give, alongside overt forms, should be termed as “retortative” give, which expresses the idea of paying the interlocutor back with a similar response by retaliation.