The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, June 8th, 2020

Summer Talk Series 6/11 - Boer Fu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: Negative Yes/No Questions in Mandarin
Time: Thursday, June 11th, 12:30pm - 2pm

Abstract: An utterance in the shape of a negative yes/no question in Mandarin Chinese can have 4 different readings, depending on its prosody.

(1) zhe bu shi burudongwu ma

this neg is mammal ma

Reading A: “Isn’t it a mammal?” Biased question reading

Reading B: “It’s not a mammal?” Surprised question reading

Reading C: “It’s a mammal. (It’s obvious.)” Rhetorical “question” reading

Reading D: “It’s not a mammal. (It’s obvious.)” ​Negative obvious statement

Two prosodic cues disambiguate between the 4 readings, boundary tone and focus. Readings A & B have a high boundary tone, and are thus real questions. Whereas readings C & D have a low boundary tone, are are thus assertions. Readings A & C place the focus on the content word “mammal”, while readings B & D place it on negation. I argue that the difference in focus placement corresponds to a scoping difference of negation. Negation can occupy two syntactic positions in Mandarin (Xiang 2013). Focused negation is lower, while unfocused negation is higher. In the real question readings A & B, the relative position of negation and the VERUM operator (Romero & Han 2004) determines which preposition (p or ¬p) is being double-checked, just like preposed negative yes/no questions in English. In the assertion readings C & D, negation scopes relative to a mystery obviousness operator, which leads to two opposite assertions, p and ¬p.

ABRALIN lecture, June 14, 2020, 1pm

Michel DeGraff will give a live lecture as part of the Brazilian Linguistics Association online conference series “Abralin ao Vivo – Linguist Online”.  
The lecture is titled:
Black lives will not matter until our languages also matter:
The politics of linguistics and education in post-colonies
(The abstract is in the description box of YouTube link)
During the lecture, people will be able to send comments and ask questions in a chat at YouTube link to the live transmission: https://youtu.be/-M91rn4Tr_Q
In light of this difficult quarantine period, the “Abralin ao Vivo” series is designed to give students and researchers free access to state-of-the-art discussions on the most diverse topics related to the study of human language.
Abralin ao Vivo is a joint project of the Brazilian Linguistics Association (abralin.org) in collaboration with the Permanent International Committee of Linguists (ciplnet.com), the Asociación de Lingüística y Filología de América Latina (mundoalfal.org), Sociedad Argentina de Estudios Lingüísticos (sael.com.ar), the Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée (aila.info), the Societas Linguistica Europaea (societaslinguistica.eu), the Linguistic Society of America (linguisticsociety.org), the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (lagb.org.uk), the Australian Linguistic Society (als.asn.au/) and the British Association for Applied Linguistics (baal.org.uk).   

For more information about Abralin ao Vivo - Linguists Online, please visit: aovivo.abralin.org. For updates on the event’s programme, follow Abralin at instagram.com/abralin_oficial. All the lectures are also available on Abrali’n YouTube channel: youtube.com/abralin.