The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 11th, 2019

LF Reading Group 11/13 - Itai Bassi (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Sloppy names and competition
Time: Wednesday, November 13th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Roeper (2006) discovered that proper names, as well as definites and indefinites, can have sloppy readings in focus and ellipsis contexts (thought to be impossible since at least Geach 1962). In a class reunion after 20 years, one can say:

(1) Only MARY still looks like Mary. (based on Roeper 2006)

…and mean that no one other than Mary looks now the way they did 20 years ago. I will offer an account of what allows non-pronominals to have sloppy interpretations in focus contexts, following an independent proposal of mine (Bassi 2019) on how focus structures are generated and interpreted (a revision of Kratzer 1991’s theory of focus). The theory also has to say what makes examples like (1) special, i.e. why sloppy readings of names are so restricted. A key observation is that it is impossible to convey exactly what (1) conveys in the context by means of a pronoun/reflexive instead of the second “Mary”: the “herself” version doesn’t allow a reading where the appearances of the subject and object are evaluated in different times (a fact about which I will speculate). I will thus propose a competition principle which implies that to express a sloppy interpretation, one is required to choose a pronominal element over its full DP counterpart, if the denotation is unaffected. I’ll show some predictions this proposal makes, in English and cross-linguistically, and try to corroborate them. I’ll discuss possible ways to derive the competition principle from something more general (Minimize Restrictors!), but that will turn out to be quite tricky.

MorPhun 11/13 - Anton Kukhto (MIT)

Speaker: Anton Kukhto (MIT)
Title: Bennett (2017): ‘Output optimization in the Irish plural system’
Time: Wednesday, November 13th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: In this paper I argue that a subpattern of Irish plural allomorphy should be analyzed as output optimizing in character. Specifically, I claim that stress-sensitive alternations between the plural suffixes -(e)anna and -(e)acha are conditioned by constraints on metrical well-formedness. This analysis connects with independent facts about the the prosodic prominence of [ax] sequences in Irish phonology. I further argue that an explanatory analysis of these patterns must make use of the notion of surface optimization. Alternative frameworks that eschew surface-oriented optimization mechanisms fail to account for synchronic and diachronic properties of the Irish plural system.

LingLunch 11/14 - Ted Gibson (MIT BCS)

Speaker: Ted Gibson (MIT BCS)
Title: Extraction from subjects: Differences in acceptability depend on the discourse function of the construction
Time: Thursday, November 14th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: (reporting work by: Anne Abeillé (CNRS; U Paris), Barbara Hemforth (CNRS; U Paris), Elodie Winckel (CNRS; U Paris; Humboldt University, Berlin, Edward Gibson)

In order to explain the unacceptability of certain long-distance dependencies — termed syntactic islands by Ross (1967) — syntacticians proposed constraints on long-distance dependencies which are universal and purely syntactic and thus not dependent on the meaning of the construction, e.g., wh-question vs. relative clause (Chomsky 1977, 2006 a.o.). If so, this has the consequence that such constraints may be impossible to learn, and hence were argued to be part of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar. In this paper, we investigate the “subject island” constraint across constructions in English and French. In particular, we compare extraction out of nominal subjects with extraction out of nominal objects, in relative clauses and wh-questions, using similar materials across constructions and languages. We find that unacceptable extractions from subjects involve (a) extraction from wh-questions (in both languages); or (b) preposition stranding (in English). But the extraction of a whole prepositional phrase from subjects in a relative clause, in both languages, is as good or better than a similar extraction from objects. Following Erteschik-Shir (1973) and Kuno (1987) among others, we propose a theory of extraction that takes into account the discourse status of the extracted element in the construction at hand: the extracted element is a focus (corresponding to new information) in wh-questions, but not in relative clauses. The focus status conflicts with the non-focal status of a subject (usually given or discourse old). We argue that most previous discussions of islands rely on the wrong premise that all extraction types behave alike. Once different extraction types are recognized as different constructions (Croft, 2001; Ginzburg & Sag, 2000; Goldberg, 2006; Sag, 2010), with their own discourse functions, one can explain different extraction patterns depending on the construction. We conclude that crosslinguistic variation has been exaggerated and cross-construction variation underestimated.

Experimentalist Meeting 11/15 - Fulang Chen (MIT) and Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)

Speaker: Fulang Chen (MIT) and Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)
Title: Interactin of negation and universal quantification in the grammar of 4-year-olds
Time: Friday, November 15th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Aravind et al (2017) investigate children’s acquisition of universal quantification (every) and find that 4-year-olds stop saying “Yes” when they are asked whether (1) is true, given a picture where all but one cowboy is riding a horse (i.e. when there is an extra agent, a cowboy not riding a horse). However, 4-year-olds also start to make quantifier-spreading errors, where they say “No” to (1) when every cowboy is riding a horse but there is an extra object, a horse not being ridden by a cowboy.

(1) Every cowboy is riding a horse.

In this on-going experiment, we explore the interaction of negation and universal quantification in the grammar of 4-year-olds by asking them whether a sentence like (2) is true when they are given a picture where there is an extra agent (e.g. a picture with three giraffes each drinking a milkshake and a giraffe not drinking a milkshake) or an extra object (e.g. a picture with three giraffes each drinking a milkshake and a milkshake not being drunk by a giraffe).

(2) This is a picture where not every giraffe is drinking a milkshake.

The preliminary results replicate Aravind et al’s (2017) findings, suggesting that negation does not interact with universal quantification in a way that prevents 4-year-olds from making quantifier-spreading errors.

We propose that not and every are two independent, scope-taking elements in the grammar of 4-year-olds. To flesh out the syntactic and semantic properties of negation and universal quantification, we will address two theories of quantifier-spreading, Roeper et al (2005) and Denic and Chemla (2018), and discuss modifications need to be made to accommodate the preliminary results in our experiment.

Kobayashi and Rouillard @ LENLS 16

Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd year) and Vincent Rouillard (3rd year) gave a talk, “Tying Free Choice in Questions to Distributivity”, on Nov 10th at LENLS 16 in Japan.

Kobayashi and S. Chen @ BUCLD 44

Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd year) and Sherry Yong Chen (3rd year) presented a poster at BUCLD 44 this weekend: 

F. Kobayashi, S. Chen, L. Rosenstein, M. Hackl: Comprehending and: Development Path of English Conjunction in Child Language​