The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 9th, 2020

Syntax Square 3/10 - Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT) & Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT) & Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Inducing and Blocking Labeling
Time: Tuesday, March 10th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Japanese has functional elements with grammatical, semantic, or pragmatic functions. Case markers mark grammatical relations; the Q-particle clause-types the sentence as an interrogative; and the topic marker designates a phrase as the topic of the sentence. Along with these functions, we argue that these functional elements have a uniform function of assisting in the labeling of structures. There are two ways in which they do so. In one case, a functional element attaches to an item that cannot otherwise project to induce projection, extending Saito’s (2016, 2018) proposal. In the other case, a functional element attaches to an item that is projectable but requires the projection to be blocked, allowing a sister item to project. The Q-particle is an example of a functional element that, when attached to an otherwise unprojectable C, induces the C to project. In contrast, case markers attach to XPs, which are inherently projectable, and block them from projecting, allowing the sister element to project, following Saito. The same goes for topic marking. Across languages, many functional elements have this role of assisting in the labeling of structures. The Q-particle in Japanese, which allows the C to project, is similar to agreement in English and other languages, in which the agreement morpheme on T induces the T to project. Case marking, which blocks projection of a XP, is similar to augment vowels in Bantu, and it is no accident that these vowels have a case-like distribution.

MorPhun 3/11 - Masha Privizentseva (University of Leipzig/UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Masha Privizentseva (University of Leipzig/UMass Amherst)
Title: Nominal ellipsis reveals concord in Moksha Mordvin
Time: Wednesday, March 11th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: In some languages nominal modifiers generally do not show concord with the noun, but are inflected if the noun is elided. This inflection is often analyzed as stranded and cliticized affixes of an elided noun (see Dékány (2011), Saab & Lipták (2016), Ruda (2016), Murphy (2018), and Saab (2019)). On the basis of original data from Moksha Mordvin (Finno-Ugric), I argue that inflection under nominal ellipsis is best analyzed as nominal concord and that features are regularly present on a nominal modifier, but remain without morphological realization in non-elliptical contexts. The distribution of features follows from conditions on Spell-Out and types of features that can be spelled out. In particular, I suggest that shortly after valuation probe features are still identifiable as such and are therefore not subject to Vocabulary Insertion. Spell-Out applies to nominal modifiers right after probes responsible for concord are valued, so that features are exempt from realization. Concord is morphologically realized under ellipsis, because in this case there is an additional feature on a nominal modifier, which postpones Spell-Out.

LingLunch 3/12 - Kinjal Hiren Joshi (University of Oslo / MIT)

Speaker: Kinjal Hiren Joshi (University of Oslo / MIT)
Title: Optional Agreement and Information Structure in Surati Gujarati
Time: Thursday, March 12th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk, I present novel empirical evidence demonstrating optionality in agreement in the causative constructions of Surati Gujarati (A language that belongs to the Indo-Aryan language family). Further, I establish a relationship between information structure and agreement relationship and propose that dative case is a dependent (structural) case in Surati Gujarati. To account for both case alternation and the information structure-agreement relationship in Surati Gujarati I propose an object shift analysis. To conclude, I raise a larger theoretical question on the status of A vs A-bar movement as I propose a focus-driven object movement analysis.

Experimentalist Meeting 3/13 - Athulya Aravind (MIT) and Patrick Elliott (MIT)

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT) and Patrick Elliott (MIT)
Title: Probing Projection
Time: Friday, March 13th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Theories of presupposition projection make differential predictions about quantificational sentences with a presupposition trigger in the nuclear scope, e.g. “Every boy rides his bike to school”. Some theories suggest that such sentences require the presupposition in the nuclear scope be true of every member of the domain (“universal projection”; Heim 1983, Schlenker 2008, Charlow 2009 a.o.). Others have argued instead for a weaker requirement that the presupposition be true for some member of the domain (“existential projection”; Beaver 2001 a.o.). Yet others take a more nuanced view, where the nature of the presupposition varies with the choice of quantifier (Chierchia 1995, George 2008a, 2008b, Fox 2012, a.o.).

A major challenge for evaluating these theories is that there is little-to-no consensus on what the empirical facts are. As demonstrated by Chemla (2009), judgments vary across speakers, and this variance may reflect appeals to additional pragmatic processes. Even when theories coincide with respect to the predicted projection pattern in a given environment, they often diverge regarding which reading is treated as “basic”, and which is to be derived via some additional process, such as accommodation. Putting theories to the test requires a methodology for probing the presence of costly “extra-grammatical” processes implicit in deriving a given reading. In this talk, we will discuss a first attempt at doing so.


The 38th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics was held over the weekend, from March 6th to March 8th, at the University of British Columbia.  The following MIT grad students and  faculty members gave talks or presented posters:

  • Peter Grishin (2nd year): Scrapping clauses: an anaphor based approach
  • Colin Davis (5th year): Overlapping paths, parasitic gaps, and the path containment condition 
  • Patrick Elliott (Postdoctoral Associate): A flexible scope theory of intensionality 
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (3rd year) & Colin Davis (5th year): Long-distance scrambling in Balkar and the nature of edges
  • Rafael Abramovitz (5th year): Person and Predication in Koryak
  • Adam Albright (Faculty): Speakers avoid saying improbable words, but not exceptional words 
  • Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd year): Two ways of building reciprocity: A study of Mandarin Chinese reciprocals
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (3rd year) & Stanislao Zompi’ (3rd year): Leftover Agreement: Spelling out Kartvelian number

Gillian Gallagher (PhD 2010; now at NYU) gave a plenary talk: Synchronic knowledge of phonetically unnatural classes

In addition, many recent alumni also presented their work:

  • Kenyon Branan (PhD 2018; now at National University of Singapore) & Keely New (National University of Singapore): Pronominal paradigms in two varieties of English
  • Ivona Kucerova (PhD 2007; now at McMaster University), Cassandra Chapman (University of Toronto) & Keir Moulton (University of Toronto): How to value gender: lexicon, agree and feature transmission under ellipsis
  • Shoichi Takahashi (PhD 2006; now at Aoyama Gakuin): Agreement Insulators and Quantifier Float
  • Karlos Arregi (PhD 2002; now at University of Chicago) & Asia Pietraszko (University of Rochester): Unifying long head movement with phrasal movement: a new argument from spellout
  • Idan Landau (PhD 1999; now at Ben Gurion University): A Selectional Criterion for Adjunct Control
  • Heidi Harley (PhD 1995; now at University of Arizona) & Meg Harvey (University of Arizona): Hiaki echo vowels are motivated by phonotactics, not quantity