The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 27th, 2020

Phonology Circle 4/27 - Danfeng Wu & Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu & Yadav Gowda (MIT)
Title: Practice Talks for Speech Prosody 2020
Time: Monday, April 27th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: Zoom link: https://mit.zoom.us/j/97125338615?pwd=Q1VIcFJjVXNlRit4ZzBoYStjRmR1UT09
Password: 003447

Title: Focus and penultimate vowel lengthening in Zulu
Authors: Danfeng Wu and Yadav Gowda
Many Bantu languages exhibit fixed placement of focus at the Immediately-After-the-Verb (IAV) position, which has been argued to be related to this position’s prosodic prominence. Elements in this position appear at the right edge of a prosodic phrase, and are subject to penultimate vowel lengthening, which we take to be a form of phrasal stress which occurs at the right edge of every prosodic phrase. Previous literature has claimed that in Zulu, focus cannot be the most prominent element in a sentence. We present evidence from a production study in Zulu showing the contrary, i.e. the degree of penultimate vowel lengthening at the IAV/vP-final position is greater than at any other prosodic phrase edge, lending phonetic support to the claim that this position is prosodically prominent in a sentence. We further show that the vP-final position is prominent regardless of whether or not it is focused, which implies that Zulu has a fixed position that realizes sentential prominence.

Title: Durational cues to stress and phrasing in post-focal contexts in English
Author: Danfeng Wu
I study two questions in English prosody through an investigation of post-focal contexts: i) whether an intermediate phrase must have a pitch accent; and ii) whether phrasal stress should be distinguished from pitch accent. The post-focal contexts are good test grounds for these questions because they are claimed to undergo ‘deaccentuation’, i.e. they lack pitch accents. This paper shows with results from a production study that intermediate phrase boundaries are preserved post-focally, implying that intermediate phrases do not have to contain pitch accent. Furthermore, there is no durational evidence that indicates the existence of phrasal stress in the absence of pitch accent.​

Syntax Square 4/28 - Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Interleaving A’- and A-movement in Brazilian Portuguese
Time: Tuesday, April 28th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: In this (very informal) presentation, I discuss configurations found in Brazilian Portuguese in which A’-movement of a DP across a clause-embedding unaccusative verb triggers phi-agreement with it. I show that verbal agreement is actually a reflex of there being an A-movement step in the derivation of these sentences. We therefore seem to be faced with a violation of the Ban on Improper Movement: A-movement can be shown to have applied to a DP that has already been A’-moved. I discuss two possible analyses of these facts: one in which the Ban on Improper Movement is relaxed, and another which resorts to composite A/A’-movement.

MorPhun 4/29 - Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Person and predication in Koryak
Time: Wednesday, April 29th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: Linguists across theoretical persuasions have noted that person has a more limited distribution of agreement possibilities than number and gender. Baker (2008) proposes that this has a universal structural explanation: the subject of adjectival or nominal predication, he argues, does not merge directly with an adjectival or nominal head, but instead with a higher head Pred(icate). The lack of person agreement on non-verbs emerges when that structural assumption is combined with the Structural Condition on Person Agreement (SCOPA), which bans 1/2 person agreement on a head if the bearer of those features does not merge with that head. In this paper, I present novel data from Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan), which I argue to be the most plausible attested counterexample to SCOPA, as nouns (1) and adjectives (2) (among others) in predicative position do show covarying person morphology.

(1) (ɣəmmo) čawčəva-jɣəm
‘I am a Koryak.’

(2) (ɣəčči) n-ə-mejŋ-iɣi
‘You are big.’

However, I will argue that in Koryak, Pred itself bears uninterpretable phi-features, and once it has agreed with the subject of predication, these features spread to Pred’s complement by concord, thus defusing a possible counterexample to Baker’s theory.

LF Reading Group 4/29 - Tanya Bondarenko & Itai Bassi (MIT

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko & Itai Bassi (MIT
Title: In favor of identity semantics of clausal embedding: Evidence from Russian
Time: Wednesday, April 29th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: In this talk we argue with evidence from CP disjunction and CP conjunction that complementizer that (and its counterparts in Russian and Hebrew) is not semantically vacuous, contra some theories of clausal embedding, and (therefore) that the meaning of ‘that TP’ isn’t equal to ‘TP’. Specifically, we show that CP disjunction lacks a reading it is expected to have if complementizer that were vacuous; likewise for conjunction (at least in Russian and Hebrew). We propose that these data call for a theory of clausal embedding that assigns meanings to complementizers, treats CPs as predicates of Contentful entities (Kratzer 2006, 2013) and takes the relation between the content of Contentful entities and embedded propositions to be that of equality (Elliott 2017). Such a theory gives the correct meaning for a CP disjunction, and predicts CP conjunctions to be strictly impossible: strings of the form “V COMP p and COMP q”, on this theory, could only arise from an underlying matrix-verb conjunction reduction parse: “V COMP p and V COMP q”. Finally, we will discuss that English is different from Russian in sometimes allowing unexpected readings for the “V COMP p and COMP q” strings. We will sketch a solution to this puzzle that links the unexpected reading to the ability of English CPs to undergo nominalization without any overt nominal morphology.

LingLunch 4/30 - Mitya Privoznov and Justin Colley (MIT)

Speaker: Dmitry Privoznov and Justin Colley (MIT)
Title: On the topic of subjects
Time: Thursday, April 30th, 12:30pm - 2pm

Abstract: In this talk we will focus on two seemingly unrelated phenomena. These are (a) passive construction in Khanty (Uralic, Finno-Ugric), similar to Voice Marking in Austronesian languages, e.g. Atayal; and (b) local A-scrambling in Balkar (Altaic, Turkic), i.e. SOV vs. OSV word order alteration, similar to local A-scrambling in Russian or Yiddish. We will argue that both phenomena involve the same kind of movement with mixed A- and A’-properties, which has the same effect on the information structure (promotes Topics) and targets the same syntactic position - Spec,TP. We will propose an analysis that relies on Composite Probes and accounts for the properties of individual languages, as well as the cross-linguistic variation. In a nutshell, the Probe for Topics, which is situated above the subject position in languages like English (i.e. the C head), is attached lower on the clausal spine in languages like Khanty or Balkar. Namely, in Khanty and Balkar the Probe for Topics forms a Composite Probe with T (responsible for the subject position). The difference between Khanty and Balkar comes from the two sub-Probes of T probing together vs. separately.