The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 20th, 2020

Syntax Square 4/21 - Athulya Aravind (MIT)

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Locality in Malayalam anaphor binding
Time: Tuesday, April 21st, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Dravidian long-distance anaphors (LDAs) pose a locality puzzle. Though they generally show strong anti-locality in binding — they cannot be bound by a local antecedent — in select environments, this requirement seems to be relaxed, licensing what looks like local binding. Drawing primarily on data from Malayalam, I will show that this apparent exceptionality is only apparent. The relevant environments involve a periphrastic progressive construction, comprising of a light verb and a PP embedding a nominalized complement. This bifurcation of the clause means that there is no selective “anti-anti-locality” in Dravidian LDA: LDA in these languages is uniformly anti-local.

LF Reading Group 4/22 - Ido Benbaji, Omri Doron, Margaret Wang (MIT)

Speaker: Ido Benbaji, Omri Doron, Margaret Wang (MIT)
Title: Reduplication in Hebrew as a Diagnostic for Antonym Decomposition
Time: Wednesday, April 22nd, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Abstract: In recent years, it has become increasingly common to decompose what have been called marked members of antonym pairsinto a negation operator and the corresponding unmarked pair member (henceforth: negative and positive adjectives, cf. Büring 2007, Heim 2006; 2008). This approach contrasts with theories that, at least implicitly, assume the negative component in adjectives is lexicalized in their core meaning. We argue, based on evidence from Modern Hebrew reduplication, that we need a mixed analysis incorporating both approaches: some negative adjectives must be syntactically decomposable, while others are necessarily syntactically simplex. This approach makes testable predictions regarding constructions that have been argued to involve syntactic decomposition of the adjectives they contain, such as cross-polar anomalies and Rullmann ambiguities. We show that, as predicted if they indeed require decomposition, non-decomposable adjectives are unavailable in such constructions.

MorPhun 4/22 - Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Title: Partial concord and the noun phrase structure
Time: Wednesday, April 22nd, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: This paper is devoted to the phenomenon of partial concord. Partial concord in a feature F is a situation when the noun phrase contains an element distinct from the head noun (e.g. a cardinal numeral or a determiner) such that modifiers c-commanding this element always realize F, while modifiers c-commanded by this element only realize F if the element itself does not. The paper assumes that this element introduces F into the noun phrase structure and calls it the locus of F. The paper argues that two well known morpho-syntactic phenomena, which have been previously treated in different ways, both fall under the same generalization and constitute a single phenomenon: partial concord. These are the lack of Number marking in noun phrases with cardinal numerals in Estonian and some other languages and the strong vs. weak distinction in adjectival paradigms in German (and Icelandic). The former phenomenon is captured as partial concord in Number and the latter phenomenon is captured as partial concord in Case. The paper puts forward a theory that derives partial concord building on the feature realization mechanism from Schlenker (1999) and the rule of feature deletion from Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993). Building on Bayırlı (2017), the paper proposes two cross-linguistic parameters that determine whether a language has full concord, partial concord or no concord in a given feature.

LingLunch 4/23 - Suzana Fong (MIT)

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: Feature licensing and the number interpretation of bare nominals in Wolof
Time: Thursday, April 23rd, 12:30pm - 2pm

Abstract: Several languages allow for their nominals to occur without any functional morphology, including determiners and number. They are dubbed ‘bare nominals’ (BNs). BNs are often number-neutral, i.e., there is no commitment to a singular or plural interpretation. In Wolof, however, BNs are singular. This can be argued based on, e.g. the impossibility of saturating a collective predicate, on the fact that they must be referred to by a singular pronoun and that they cannot be the antecedent of plural reflexives. However, a plural interpretation becomes available when a nominal-internal plural feature is exponed in the form of complementizer or possessum agreement. The generalization is that BNs in Wolof are singular, unless plural morphology is exponed. I propose an extension of Béjar & Rezac’s (2003) Person Licensing Condition to number: a marked number feature (i.e. plural) must be licensed by Agree. BNs in Wolof can in principle be singular or plural. In the absence of a nominal-internal probe that Agrees with the plural feature of the BN, the Number Licensing Condition (NLC) is violated, causing the derivation to crash. Unmarked number, i.e., singular, is stipulated not to obey the NLC, so the derivation converges, yielding a singular BN. However, if there is a number probe, which is realized as complementizer or possessum agreement, the NLC is satisfied, allowing a derivation to converge where the BN is plural. If correct, this analysis accounts for the typologically unusual behavior of BNs in Wolof and provides empirical support for the view that valued features are responsible for nominal licensing (Kalin: 2017; 2019).

Experimentalist Meeting 4/24 - Cater Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Cater Chen (MIT)
Title: Quantifier Spreading Under Negation
Time: Friday, April 24th, 2pm - 3pm

Abstract: Much research on children’s acquisition of universal quantification has observed a prevalent type of errors children make in response to a sentence like (1), which involves the universal quantifier every in the subject position and an indefinite object, in a scenario where every girl is riding a bike, but there is an “extra” bike that no girl is riding.

(1) Every girl is riding a bike.

Children, unlike adults, often judge a sentence like (1) to be wrong, and justify this answer by pointing to the “extra” object (Roeper & Matthei 1975; Roeper & de Villiers, 1991; Roeper et al. 2004; Philip 1995, 2011; Crain et al. 1996; Drozd 1996, 2001; Drozd & von Loosbroek 2006; Geurts 2004; Aravind et al. 2017; a.o.). We refer to this observation as quantifier-spreading (henceforth q-spreading) and this type of errors children make as exhaustive pairing (henceforth EP) errors. When the same sentence is used to describe a scenario where every girl except one is riding a bike, children can make another type of errors, which we refer to as underexhaustive errors, by judging the sentence in (1) to be right. Aravind et al. (2017) report from a longitudinal study that the disappearance of underexhaustive errors is accompanied by the emergence of EP errors. This finding suggests that children respond to the “extra” object scenario and the “extra” agent scenario alike: at early stages of development, they judge a sentence like (1) to be right in both “extra” object and “extra” agent scenarios, but as they age, they judge the same sentence to be wrong in both scenarios.

Two classes of accounts, the Event Quantification Account (Philip 1995; Roeper et al. 2004; a.o.) and the Weak Quantification Account (Drozd 2001; Geurts 2004; a.o.), attribute q-spreading and EP errors to non-adultlike interpretation of the universal quantifier every. Both accounts are challenged by another line of research demonstrating children’s knowledge of the asymmetry in the interpretations of the subject and object of a universally quantified sentence. Specifically, 3- to 5-year old children have been shown to know that every is downward-entailing in the restrictor (NP) (Gualmini et al. 2003) and not so in the nuclear scope (VP) (Boster and Crain 1993).

We take the disappearance of underexhaustive errors as a developmental hallmark that children have acquired the basic semantic properties of every — in particular that every is construed with a restrictor and a nuclear scope and it is downward-entailing in the restrictor and not so in the nuclear scope. Because much research on q-spreading has aimed to investigate children’s acquisition of universal quantification, little attention has been paid to the indefinite object in a sentence like (1). We will pursue a hypothesis that q-spreading and EP errors emerge from the interpretation of the indefinite object. Specifically, we will first review Denić and Chemla’s (2018) account for q-spreading which attributes EP errors to distributive inferences triggered by the indefinite object. We refer to this approach as the Distributive Inferences Approach. Then we will introduce a competing account in which indefinite objects project presuppositions which give rise to EP errors. We refer to this approach as the Presupposition Projection Approach. These two approaches make different predictions about whether children make EP errors when the sentence they are asked to judge involves wide-scope negation. We will demonstrate that distributive inferences go away, while presuppositions project, under negation. Therefore, while the Distributive Inferences Approach predicts that q-spreading should not be observed with sentences like (2) which involves wide-scope negation, the Presupposition Projection Approach predicts the opposite to be the case. We will present an experiment with children that supports the Presupposition Projection Approach.

(2) Not every girl is riding a bike.