The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 13th, 2020

LF Reading Group 4/15 - Patrick Elliott (MIT)

Speaker: Patrick Elliott (MIT)
Title: Discussion of Chierchia’s (2020) “Origins of weak crossover”
Time: Wednesday, April 15th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Weak Crossover (WCO) has occupied a central role in syntactic theory since at least Postal’s (1971) foundational work, and remains largely mysterious to this day. An illustration of WCO is given in (1b) - interpreting the pronoun “his” as a bound variable is impossible, despite the fact that the quantifier “everyone” can take scope over the pronoun. It’s tempting to conclude that scope can’t feed binding, but (1c) shows that this can’t be quite right - scope can feed binding, just so long as the binder *precedes* the pronoun.

1. a. Everyone1 likes his1 mother
b. *his1 mother likes everyone1
c. [Everyone1’s mother] likes him1.

In a recently published Natural Language Semantics paper, Chierchia (2020) attempts to provide an explanation for WCO on the basis of an independently motivated approach to the semantics of anaphora — *dynamic semantics* (Heim 1982, Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991, etc.). In order to do so, Chierchia proposes a departure from orthodox dynamic semantics - predicates, rather than arguments, are taken to induce binding. Chierchia argues convincingly that an approach to WCO grounded in dynamic semantics is empirically superior to existing alternatives, as, in addition to the core phenomena, it can account for, e.g., the possibility of binding into adjuncts.

I’ll outline the essential components of Chierchia’s approach to WCO, as well as assessing its empirical adequacy. Ultimately, I’ll argue that Chierchia’s approach has a fatal flaw - it fails to account for the fact that existential scope can feed anaphora, while still feeding WCO effects. In the latter part of the presentation, I’ll sketch a possible way forward.

LingLunch 4/16 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Stripping and but
Time: Thursday, April 16th, 12:30pm - 2pm

Abstract: Standard analyses of clausal ellipsis (sluicing, fragment answers, and stripping) involve movement (of the remnant, the element that survives ellipsis, out of the ellipsis site) and deletion. For example, in the stripping example in (1), the remnant Chris moves out of the ellipsis site and the TP gets deleted:

(1) Pat left, (but) not Chris_i [TP 〈t_i left〉].

While movements in general respect island constraints, clausal ellipsis is known to be able to evade islands despite involving movement (especially famous is the island-insensitivity of sluicing). There have been different analyses for why sluicing and fragment answers may be island-insensitive (Merchant (2004), Griffiths and Liptak (2014) and Barros et al. (2014)). Because these analyses were proposed for clausal ellipsis in general, they should extend to stripping as well. The first part of this talk evaluates these three analyses with novel data from stripping. The data are consistent with Barros et al., but not with the other two accounts, thus supporting Barros et al.’s analysis (all movements are island-sensitive, and apparent island evasion is due to another parse that does not actually involve any island-violating movement) over the others.

The second part of the talk starts from the novel observation that while stripping without but can apparently evade islands (complex NP island in (2) and left branch island in (4)), stripping with but cannot (3) & (5).

(2) They hired someone who speaks French yesterday, not German.

(3) *They hired someone who speaks French yesterday, but not German.

(4) They bought a blue car, not green.

(5) *They bought a blue car, but not green.

I argue that it is the presence of but that causes the ungrammaticality. But in English is lexically ambiguous, and the meanings relevant to (2)-(5) are counterexpectational but (which has the implication that generally, if the first conjunct holds, the second conjunct does not) and semantic opposition but (which does not have this implication) (see e.g. Winter & Rimon (1994), Jasinskaja & Zeevat (2008, 2009), Toosarvandani (2014)). I argue that these two buts have different syntax too. Specifically, counterexpectational but (but not semantic opposition but) bans stripping, and semantic opposition but (but not counterexpectational but) requires parallel conjuncts.

Sabine Iatridou named a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow

Congratulations to Sabine Iatridou for being named one of the 2020 class of Guggenheim Fellows! You can read more at the Guggenheim site and in the Boston Globe.


The 43rd Generative Linguistics in the Old World (GLOW) conference is taking place (virtually) at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin from April 8th to 20th, 2020.  MIT is represented by many graduate students and alumni.

  • Itai Bassi & Justin Colley (MIT): p-word Integrity: a new condition on ellipsis at the syntax-phonology interface
    (abstract) (project page)
  • Peter Grishin (MIT): Scrapping clauses with clausal anaphors
    (abstract) (project page)
  • Tatiana Bondarenko & Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT): Leftover Agreement: Spelling out Kartvelian number
    (abstract) (project page)
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (MIT): Hyperraising and Logical Form: evidence from Buryat
    (abstract) (project page)
  • Filipe Hisao Kobayashi & Sherry Yong Chen (MIT): Quantifying over thematic roles: Mandarin distributive numerals and reciprocals
    (abstract) (project page)
  • Maša Močnik & Rafael Abramovitz (MIT): Variable-force variable-flavor attitude verb in Koryak
    (abstract(project page)
  • Danfeng Wu & Yadav Gowda (MIT): Focus and penultimate vowel lengthening in Zulu
    (project page)

MIT alumni also presented at GLOW 43 including:

  • Idan Landau (PhD 1999): The Predicative Default of Controlled Adjuncts
    (abstract) (project page)
  • Omer Demirok (PhD 2019) : A pied-piping theory of exceptional de re: Scoping after all                            (abstract) (project page)
  • İsa Kerem Bayırlı (PhD 2017) : A new generalization over determiner denotations                           (abstract)

… plus: one of the workshops (on the legacy of Chomsky’s “Remarks on Nominalization”) was co-organized by Hagit Borer (PhD 1981).

DeGraff @ MIT’s J-WEL Connections 2020

Prof. Michel DeGraff (MIT Linguistics) and Prof. Haynes Miller (MIT Mathematics) participated in MIT’s J-WEL Connections 2020 conference and gave a progress report on the MIT-Haiti​ Center for innovation in Haitian education.  This is a project for the crowdsourcing, curating and sharing of educational material in Haitian Creole (Kreyòl) as a catalyst for active learning in Haiti, in all disciplines and at all levels.  The ultimate goal is to open up access to quality education in Haiti as a model for other communities in the Global South whose languages have been excluded from formal education. According to UNESCO, this linguistic barrier affects some 40% of the world’s population. 
WHAMIT readers are invited to subscribe to the Facebook page of the MIT-Haiti Initiative for future updates: