The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 24th, 2020

Phonology Circle 2/24 - Enes Avcu (MGH/Harvard)

Speaker: Enes Avcu (MGH/Harvard)
Title: Using Cognitive Neuroscience to Understand Learning Mechanisms: Evidence from Phonological Processing
Time: Monday, February 24th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: My dissertation work studies different learning mechanisms of phonological processing by conducting behavioral and neurophysiological experiments in the artificial grammar learning paradigm. The main goal is to identify the phonological computations that give rise to the complex combinatorics underlying human languages by providing new knowledge about whether linguistic constraints that are learned in laboratory situations are directly “channeled” into incremental, real-time phonological predictive processing. To this end, my research uses behavioral and neurophysiological measures (EEG/ERPs) to test the predictions of phonological computations. In this talk, I will present the results of some of my experiments designed to investigate non-adjacent dependencies between two phonemes in a word. My results will reveal that systematic consequences of phonological computations can be detected during word processing via EEG/ERPs. I will illustrate that the learning outcome (either behavioral or neural) depends on the specific learning mechanism (domain-specific vs. domain-general) and the computational complexity of the patterns​​.

LF Reading Group 02/26 - Patrick Elliott (MIT)

Speaker: Patrick Elliott
Title: Exceptional de re via exceptional scope
Time: Wednesday, 02/26, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461


Abstract: In this talk, I’ll develop a flexible take on the Scope Theory of Intensionality (STI), where exceptional
de re interpretations are derived via recursive scope-taking (Dayal 1996, Charlow 2019, Demirok 2019). The
flexible STI avoids undergeneration issues associated with, e.g., Keshet’s (2010) split intensionality, while also
avoiding overgeneration issues associated with the Binding Theory of Intensionality (BTI) (Percus 2000). I’ll show in detail how the flexible STI provides a straightforward account of Bäuerle’s Puzzle, which cannot be accounted for under existing versions of the STI, as demonstrated by Grano (2019).

Note: although this is not a practice talk, this material will be presented at WCCFL 38, so critical feedback and presentational suggestions are very welcome!

MorPhun 2/26 - Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Guseva & Weisser (2018), “Postsyntactic reordering in the Mari nominal domain”
Time: Wednesday, February 26th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: We argue that the unusual morphological template in the noun phrase of Meadow Mari should be derived on the basis of a simple, semantically transparent syntax. In accordance with the Mirror Principle, the analysis we propose derives the actual surface order of morphemes in Mari by means of two postsyntactic reordering operations: A lowering operation and a metathesis operation. Evidence for this account comes from a process called Suspended Affixation. This process is known to delete the right edges of non-final conjuncts under recoverability. We show however, that Suspended Affixation in Mari does not apply to the right edges of surface orders. Rather, the right edges of an intermediate postsyntactic representation are relevant. Suspended Affixation applies after some but not all postsyntactic operations have applied. Thus, the account we present makes a strong argument for a stepwise derivation of the actual surface forms and thus for a strongly derivational architecture of the postsyntactic module.

LingLunch 2/27 - Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron (Northwestern)

Speaker: Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron (Northwestern)
Title: Phonological variation at word boundaries: the effect of speech production planning
Time: Thursday, February 27th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Connected speech processes have played a major role in shaping theories about phonological organization, and how phonology interacts with other components of the grammar. Presenting evidence from English /t/-realizations and French liaison, we argue that the effect of lexical frequency on variability can be understood as a consequence of the narrow window of phonological encoding during speech production planning. By connecting the study of phonological alternations with the study of factors influencing speech production planning, we can derive novel predictions about patterns of variability in external sandhi, and better understand the data that drive the development of phonological theories.

Experimentalist Meeting 2/28 - Keny Chatain and Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Keny Chatain and Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: How to read possessives without uniqueness?
Time: Friday, February 28th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Possessives don’t always come with uniqueness inferences (cf Barker (1995)). We start by sharing our intuitions about the readings that non-unique possessives receive in quantified environments. These intuitions are our own, unstable, and go against a certain tradition of using possessives as a paradigmatic presuppositional item for projection tests. We are looking for a way to strengthen the intuitions or dismiss them, whatever the case may be. Help from the audience is welcome.

Colloquium 2/28 - Eva Zimmermann (Leipzig)

Speaker: Eva Zimmermann (Leipzig)
Title: Gradient Symbolic Representations and the Typology of Phonological Exceptions
Time: Friday, February 28th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-155

Abstract: The assumption of Gradient Symbolic Representations that phonological elements can have different degrees of activation (Smolensky and Goldrick, 2016; Rosen, 2016; Zimmermann, 2018, 2019) allows a unified explanation for the typology of phonological exceptions. The crucial theoretical mechanism for exceptional behaviour are gradient constraint violations: The activation of a phonological element in an underlying morpheme representation determines 1) how much the element is preserved by faithfulness constraints and 2) how much it is penalized by markedness constraints. I argue that this simple mechanism predicts the attested typology of phonological exceptions. Two cases studies from Molinos Mixtec and Finnish show why such an account should be preferred over alternative analyses of exceptionality.

The assumption that morpheme-specific phonological behaviour within one language arises from gradient differences in the activity of phonological elements makes at least four prediction that set the account apart from alternative approaches to exceptionality based on autosegmental defectivity (=ASD; e.g. Lieber, 1987; Tranel, 1996; Zoll, 1996) or lexically indexed constraints (=LIC; e.g. Pater, 2006; Flack, 2007; Mahanta, 2012). First, it offers a symmetric account for four commonly distinguished types of exceptional morphemes: 1) exceptional triggers for a process that is otherwise not regular, 2) exceptional non-triggers for a general phonological process, 3) exceptional undergoers of a process that is otherwise not regular, and 4) exceptional non-undergoers of a general phonological process. In contrast, an account based on LIC cannot predict the existence of exceptional non-triggers (Smith, 2017) that have indeed be argued to be non-existent (e.g. Finley (2010) for vowel harmony). In this talk, I will strengthen the arguments for the existence of exceptional non-triggers (Smith, 2017; Hout, 2017) and discuss a new pattern in the tonal phonology of Molinos Mixtec where certain tones fail to trigger an otherwise regular tone spreading (Hunter and Pike, 1969). Second, a GSRO account predicts that exceptional elements can be exceptional for multiple processes. Such an instance can also be found in Molinos Mixtec: The tones that are exceptional non-triggers for a spreading process are also exceptional non-undergoers of an otherwise regular tone association process. A representational account where the gradient activity of the tones is the explanation for exceptional behaviour predicts exactly such an accumulation of exceptional behaviour. Third, a GSRO account predicts different degrees of exceptionality. This point is illustrated with a case study of Finnish where an exceptional repair for heteromorphemic /ai/ sequences can be observed (Anttila, 2002; Pater, 2006). Certain /i/-initial suffixes are exceptional triggers for a repair process but the type of repair (assimilation /pala-i/→[paloi], deletion /otta-i/→[otti], or variation between both /taitta-i/→[taittoi]∼[taitti]) depends on the nature of the preceding /a/-final morpheme. Such degrees of exceptionality for /a/-final morphemes are easily captured under GSRO and LIC but are more difficult to predict under ASD. And fourth, it predicts implicational relations between exceptionality classes within a language. If, for example, one morpheme class is an exception and fails to trigger/undergo process P2 but regularly triggers/undergoes process P1, then it is impossible under the gradience account that yet another morpheme class is only exceptional for P1 but not P2 if both refer to the same phonological structure. The typology of exceptions seems to confirm such general restrictions.

MIT-Haiti Initiative on International Mother Tongue Day 2020

On International Mother Tongue Day 2020, YouTube’s Twitter feed promoted to its 72 million subscribers the recently launched YouTube channel of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg-WXl8PbfZuZUWyuOCqHRg.  

On that day (February 21, 2020), YouTube’s main showcase on Twitter was a bold project led by linguists who care about every single mother tongue on the planet (https://wikitongues.org/), whose YouTube channel can be found here at https://www.youtube.com/user/WikiTongues. Wikitongue’s goal is to produce videos of every language spoken on the planet.  Here’s the tweet from YouTube: https://twitter.com/YouTube/status/1230921304166977537?s=20 Please help make it go viral!


ECO-5 is a venue for graduate students from five East Coast universities (UMass, MIT, Harvard, UConn, and UMD) to present their current, original work in syntax. This year, ECO-5 was held on February 22 at Harvard, featuring the following talks from our department:

Danfeng Wu (4th year): Syntax of either in either…or… sentences

Tanya Bondarenko (3rd year): Inverse in Passamaquoddy as Feature Gluttony

Luiz Fernando Ferreira (visiting student): The relation between pied-piping and DPs in Karitiana (joint work with Karin Vivanco (Unicamp))


Website: https://sites.google.com/view/eco-5