The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 9th, 2019

Welcome to our newest faculty member: Athulya Aravind

Last week, WHAMIT welcomed new graduate students and new visitors. This week, we add our enthusiastic welcome to the newest faculty member in the department: Athulya Aravind, who co-directs our Language Acquisition Lab and is a researcher in first language acquisitions and syntax. Athulya, of course, is not a stranger to the department, having received her PhD here in 2018. In between, she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Lab for Developmental Studies at Harvard. We are delighted to that Athulya has joined us!

Phonology Circle 9/9 - Erin Olson (MIT)

Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)

Title: Loanwords and the Perceptual Map: A perspective from MaxEnt learning

Date/Time: Monday, 9/9 5:00-6:30pm

Location: 32-D8​31

The goal of phonological learning algorithms has largely been to arrive at a constraint ranking or weighting which is consistent with the data on which it is trained (Tesar & Smolensky, 2000, a.o.). However, phonological theorists have long understood that there should be additional conditions on such a ranking or weighting, whereby some constraints should always be ranked/weighted higher than others — e.g., the P(erceptual) Map of Steriade (2001). Two models which are successful in achieving both goals are those of Wilson (2006) and White (2013), who construct models which are capable of incorporating the PMap as an additional condition (bias) on learning. Both models are successful in capturing the behaviour of adult speakers when they are explicitly asked to learn a phonological process from data, and are successful in replicating results expected from the PMap. However, each model makes a different prediction when attempting to model the knowledge speakers have before being presented with data about a novel process. A real-world example of this situation comes from loanword phonology, where speakers are tasked with repairing phonologically marked structures without ever having encountered such structures — or the appropriate repair to such structures — in their native language. The model proposed by Wilson (2006) predicts that such speakers should behave as if they have no PMap-like bias, while that of White (2013) predicts that such a bias is indeed present.
In this talk, I will present the results of a variety of experiments which aim to test these hypotheses by modelling the phonological knowledge of a speaker of Cantonese, who must infer how to properly repair illicit phonological structures from English loanwords without ever having encountered the relevant structure in their native vocabulary. In Experiment 1, it will be established that, for a reasonable set of constraints, learning from only native language data is insufficient for arriving at a weighting that is also consistent with the attested loanword repairs of that language. Thus, a substantive, PMap-like bias will be imposed over the chosen constraint set in order to attempt to improve the model. Experiment 2 will show that encoding the bias in the manner proposed by Wilson (2006) is also insufficient for arriving at a weighting that predicts the loanword data. Experiment 3, in contrast, will show that encoding the bias in the manner proposed by White (2013) is successful, thus confirming the hypotheses outlined above.

MorPhun 9/11 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron

Title: Narcissistic allomorphy in Santiago Tz’utujil (joint work with Paulina Lyskawa & Rodrigo Ranero)

Time: Wednesday, 9/11 5pm - 6:30pm

Location: 32-D831

Abstract: The realization of imperfective aspect in Santiago Tz’utujil varies depending on the phi features of agreeing arguments: (i) 3sg abs triggers allomorphy; (ii) 1sg abs or erg triggers allomorphy, even (apparently) long-distance. The former is common in other K’ichean Mayan languages’ aspect morphology; however, the latter is unattested, including in other Tz’utujil dialects. Santiago Tz’utujil is a head-marking ergative language, and (in)transitive verbs have the following template: asp-abs-(erg)-stem. Imperfective aspect has three allomorphs triggered by adjacent abs agreement: k-/_1sg, n-/_3sg, and nk- elsewhere.

(1) a. K-in-oq’a’. impfv-1sg.abs-cry ‘I cry.’ b. Nk-at-oq’a’ impfv-2sg.abs-cry ‘You cry’ c. N-Ø-oq’a’ impfv-3sg.abs-cry ‘He/she cries.’

Interestingly, 1sg erg also triggers k-, even though there is a linearly intervening abs—1sg k- trumps all other allomorphs.

(2) K-Ø-in-chop. (*n-Ø-in-chop) impfv-3sg.abs-1sg.erg-touch. `I’m touching you.’

I’ll discuss the data in more detail, and its potential implications for debates surrounding locality restrictions in allomorphy.

The Language Acquisition Lab hosts a 2-day training 9/12

The Language Acquisition Lab will be hosting a training session for the set-up and use of Eye-Link eye-trackers on Thursday, 9/12 and Friday, 9/13. Our tentative agenda for training is as follows:

Thursday AM: System installation. This will take about 2-3 hours.

Thursday PM: Training on system architecture and functionality, and practice setting up participants and calibrating the system. This will take about 3-4 hours.

Friday AM: Training on experimental programming and data analysis. This will take about 3-4 hours.

Friday PM: Discussions on more advanced topics in programming/data analysis, additional practice in using the system, and/or any final issues/questions.

Please contact Cindy Torma (crtorma@mit.edu) for more information.

Colloquium 9/13 - Beata Moskal (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)

Speaker: Beata Moskal (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)

Title: Phonological consequences of morphological domains

Time: Friday, September 13, 3:30-5:00pm

Location: 32-155

Starting from a broad typological survey, I explore a range of asymmetries between lexical and functional items, and propose that at the heart of these asymmetries is the fact that there is more structure in lexical items than functional items. Morphologically, I identify universal restrictions on suppletion patterns (for nominals): (i) in nouns, number-driven suppletion is common, whilst case-driven suppletion is unattested, bar a few apparent counterexamples that I discuss, and (ii) in contrast to lexical nouns, pronouns commonly supplete for both number and case. I further show that the discrepancy between functional and lexical items is reflected phonologically. Although dominant prefixes for vowel harmony and lexical stress assignment have been claimed to be universally unattested, I show that they in fact do exist, but only in functional items and not lexical items. This asymmetry mirrors the suppletion asymmetry, and again reflects that there is more structure in lexical than in functional items.

MIT @ Sinn und Bedeutung 24

Keny Chatain, Naomi Francis, and Frank Staniszewski presented at Sinn und Bedeutung 24 in Osnabrück. Sinn und Bedeutung 24 was hosted by the Institute of Cognitive Science and the Institute of Philosophy at Osnabrück University, Germany. Members of our department presented the following:

MIT alum also in attendance included Despina Oikonomou, and Roni Katzir.