The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 21st, 2019

Phonology Circle 10/21 - Anton Kukhto (MIT)

Speaker: Anton Kukhto (MIT)
Title: Discussion of Smolensky and Goldrick (2016): “Gradient Symbolic Representations in Grammar: The case of French Liaison”
Time: Monday, October 21st, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: “Longstanding theoretical debates about whether structure A or structure B is the correct analysis of phenomenon X are commonplace. For example, at the juncture of two words W1 and W2, French liaison consonants alternate with zero. Theories of French phonology have long debated whether the consonant is associated with W1 or W2. In this work, we argue for an alternative approach. Phenomena X is not accounted for by either A or B, but rather a conjunctive blend of structures A and B. This notion of ‘blend of structures’ is formalized using Gradient Symbolic Representations, symbol structures in which a particular position is generally occupied by a sum of gradient symbols, each symbol having a partial degree of presence: its activity. The grammatical consequences of a Gradient Symbolic Representation are the sum of the consequences of all the symbols blended to form it; the consequences of a symbol – e.g., the costs of constraint violations – are proportional to its activity. The proposed grammatical computation consists of optimization with respect to a numerical weighting of familiar phonological constraints from Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar, straightforwardly extended to evaluate Gradient Symbolic Representations. We apply this general framework to French liaison consonants, blending together elements of previous proposals to give a single analysis that covers a wide range of data not previously explicable within a single theory.”

Syntax Square 10/22 - Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: The nature of overlapping A-bar chains as revealed by parasitic gaps (NELS practice)
Time: Tuesday, October 22nd, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: The intricate properties of parasitic gaps (PGs) have long enriched research on the syntax of (A-bar) movement (Engdahl 1983, Nissenbaum 2000, Legate 2003, Overfelt 2015, Branan 2017, Kotek & Erlewine 2018, Fox & Nissenbaum 2018). In this work, I use PG licensing in English to reveal a novel generalization about derivations where two A-bar movement chains pass through vP. 

Generalization: If XP1 and XP2 move to become A-bar specifiers of vP such that XP1 c-commands XP2, then the final surface position of XP1 c-commands the final surface position of XP2.

While this is surprising for some theories of movement, I argue that it is a natural consequence of Cyclic Linearization (CL; Fox & Pesetsky 2005, a.o.), which predicts that the relative order established for the constituents of a given phase must be preserved throughout the derivation. I also show that CL interacts with the distribution of covert movement to yield Pesetsky’s (1982) Path Containment Condition (PCC).

LF Reading Group 10/23 - Vincent Rouillard (MIT)

Speaker: Vincent Rouillard (MIT)
Title: An Alternative Based Analysis of Temporal in-Adverbials
Time: Wednesday, October 23rd, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Following the idea that polarity sensitivity in language results from the logical relation between alternatives, I analyze the changing polarity sensitivity of temporal in-adverbials as the result of a change in the logical structure of alternatives. More precisely, I compare the lack of polarity sensitivity of such modifiers in (1), where they specify the length of an event, with their status as NPIs in (2), where they assign a left-boundary to the Perfect Time Span.

(1) a. Mary wrote the paper in minutes. b. Mary didn’t write the paper in minutes.

(2) a. *Mary has had a seizure in years. b. Mary hasn’t had a seizure in years.

I propose to understand the emergence of polarity sensitivity in (2) as resulting from an interaction between aspect and alternatives. Aspect creates a logical relationship between the alternatives of the sentences in (2), a relationship absent from the alternatives to the sentences in (1).

MorPhun 10/23 - Philip Shushurin (NYU)

Speaker: Philip Shushurin (NYU)
Title: A head movement approach to second position clitics: The case of Russian polar particle li
Time: Wednesday, October 23rd, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: In many languages of the world, certain clitics are restricted to appear in the second position of the clause. Russian polar particle li, for instance, cannot follow branching phrases (2) and cannot contain focussed material to its right (3).

(1) Kvartiru li Anna kupila?
apartment LI Anna bought
`Did Anna buy an apartment?’

(2) *Doroguju kvartiru li Anna kupila?
expensive apartment LI Anna bought
int. `Did Anna buy an expensive apartment?’

(3) Doroguju li kvartiru Anna kupila?
expensive LI apartment Anna bought
`Did Anna buy an expensive apartment?’ — OK
`Did Anna buy an expensive apartment?’ — not possible

I suggest that the ban on phrasal constituents in the pre-li position is a consequence of the Head Movement Constraint: the associated constituent must head move and left-adjoin to li, which is supposed to be the head of the polarity phrase (Sigma) merged directly above the associated constituent. Phrasal constituents, like the one in (2) are unable to do so yielding ungrammaticality. Only those constituents that move to li can get polar interpretation, explaining the pattern in (3). The resulting complex head (X+li) acts as a constituent largely equivalent to a wh-word: at later stages of the derivation, it is attracted to the left periphery of the clause. li can be seen as an analogue of a wh-morpheme, which merges with different morphemes to form a wh-word. Treating X+li as a constituent allows to reduce the second position requirement of li to the left edge requirement on the X+li, a requirement often postulated for wh-words. Next, I show that X+li is different from wh-words in that X+li must always be at the left edge of the DP, while wh-words need not to. I suggest several explanations of this asymmetry.


The 50th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 50) will be hosted at MIT this week, from October 25–27.

Several of our current students will give talks or present posters:

And here are some of the alumni who will also present their work:

To celebrate the golden jubilee of NELS, alum Paul Kiparsky (PhD 1965) will give a special plenary address reflecting on the last 50 years in linguistics.