The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, August 31st, 2020

Welcome to Fall 2020!

Welcome to the first edition of Whamit! for Fall 2020! After our summer hiatus, Whamit! is back to regular weekly editions during the semester.

Whamit! is the MIT Linguistics newsletter, published every Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Cater Fulang Chen, Sherry Yong Chen, and Eunsun Jou.

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6pm.

Welcome to ling-20!

Welcome to the students who are joining our graduate program!!!

Devon Brett Denny I come from Monument Valley, Utah which is a part of the Navajo Nation. I received a B.A. in Linguistics and certification in TESOL at the University of Utah. I like to listen to/play music, cook, and learn about other cultures. I have been working as an ESL teacher in Salt Lake City for three years and have taught in Taiwan for two separate summers. With these experiences, I have an understanding of what language acquisition looks like on the surface and want to shift my focus onto something more personal. With the Navajo language in decline, I want to do my part in language maintenance by discovering effective ways to interpret linguistic description and make available materials more accessible for second language learners. ​

Trevor Driscoll I was born and raised in California and I received my BA and MA in linguistics at California State University, Fresno. I am primarily interested in metrical phonology, American languages, fieldwork, and the phonetics-phonology interface. The majority of my research focuses on foot structure and typology and Siouan and Eskimo-Aleut languages.

Katherine Diane Martin  I was born and raised in Toronto, and then moved to the States to get my BA in linguistics at Yale before moving back to Canada to work towards an MA in linguistics at the University of British Columbia.  At UBC, I started working with speakers of Gitksan, a Tsimshianic language spoken in northern-central BC. I am interested in syntax, semantics, and their interface(s), particularly with regards to information structure and negation. Outside of linguistics, I enjoy reading science fiction, knitting and physically preventing my dog from eating my laptop charger.

Giovanni Roversi I have grown up in a small town in Northern Italy – not the gorgeous area with the mountains: rather, the flat mosquito-filled industry-heavy plain right south of that. As a teenager I decided it got too hot down there, so I moved to a similarly-sized town in Northern Norway – the gorgeous area with the mountains, 250 km/whatever that is in miles north of the Arctic Circle. I finished growing up there, and then I moved to Oslo to get a BA and an MA in linguistics. Altogether I have spent two thirds of my life so far in Italy and one third in Norway, so you can decide yourself where you consider me to be from. When it comes to linguistics I have mostly explored morphosyntax-adjacent issues like affix order, agreement, hierarchy effects, voice, valence and argumenthood. As I thoroughly enjoy working on understudied languages, my main piece of work has been on Äiwoo, an Oceanic language from the Solomon Islands. I have also worked a bit on the native Italian dialect of my home region, Emilian (which I am half a speaker of). My favorite ways of procrastinating and postponing linguistic work include playing the piano, nerding about cooking/eating and the realm of drinks (coffee, tea, and what more there is), and watching some series.

Jad Wehbe I was born and raised in Lebanon. I received my B.A. in Linguistics and Mathematics from Harvard in 2019. Since then, I have been working in the Linguistics department at the University of Maryland as a Baggett fellow. I am generally interested in semantics, pragmatics, philosophy of language, and language acquisition, but I am also hoping to learn more about the interface between syntax and semantics. In terms of specific topics, I have worked on the interaction between modality, tense and aspect, the acquisition of questions/rising declaratives, and I have recently been looking into how counterfactuals are expressed cross-linguistically. Outside of Linguistics, I really enjoy playing board games and watching movies. I was also involved in a lot of education-related public service work in the Boston area during college, so I am hoping to continue doing that when I am back. 

Welcome to visitors!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to this semester’s visitors.

Visiting Professor

Bruna Karla Pereira (Universidade Federal dos Vales do Jequitinhonha e Mucuri)

Bruna Karla Pereira carried out her Ph.D. (2011) at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG) with a full year as a visiting graduate student (2010) at the University of Cambridge (UK). In addition, she developed her post doctoral research (2016), as a visiting scholar, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, USA). In her Ph.D., she was interested in the Minimalist Program, especially in the cartography of syntactic structures and its implications for the analysis of light adverbs, such as ‘lá’ in Brazilian Portuguese (BP). In her postdoc, she investigated universals in nominal agreement that determine the DP-internal distribution of the plural morpheme in order to account for structures of non-standard BP with possessives, wh-determiners and cardinals. During her education, she was awarded funding from CNPq, FAPEMIG, and CAPES. Concerning her teaching experience, after having worked at the Universidade Federal de Lavras (2011-2013), with a temporary contract, she is currently a permanent professor at the Universidade Federal dos Vales do Jequitinhonha e Mucuri (2013 onwards) where she has been conducting research on Syntax with emphasis on Generative Grammar. Her CV is available both in Portuguese and English, respectively, at the following links: <http://lattes.cnpq.br/2671430917722911> and <https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4958-8621>.

Summer news 2020

We have some summer news to share with you:

  • Tracy Kelley (3rd year): “This summer I spent time teaching Wôpanâôt8âôk ‘Wampanoag Language’ to Tribal Elders for WLRP’s first remote Elders language class. We focused primarily on locatives, asking questions using the subordinative, and daily routine language. We also played interactive immersion games remotely, such as ômâsh! (Go Fish), Jeopardy, and Pictionary to reinforce our target vocabulary in a fun way.
    “Additionally, I continued research on nominalization and worked on my Wôpanâôt8âôk website which will be launching next month. The website is being developed to increase accessibility to Wôpanâôt8âôk for tribal families.  One of the components I’m most excited about is the audio! This will be our tribal nation’s first website for language learning.”
  • Patrick Elliott (visiting faculty): “I’ve finalized a number of manuscripts, including my paper on intensionality (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005107), and a response to Chierchia’s recent paper on weak crossover (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005297). I also have a paper to appear in the proceedings of WCCFL 38, which extends some material on continuation semantics from the appendix of my intensionality paper (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005297). More recently, Yasu Sudo and I gave a joint talk on crossover phenomena beyond anaphora at SALT 30 (https://osf.io/avms8/). More generally, I’ve been trying to teach myself about a bunch of topics, including epistemic modality and truthmaker semantics. If you’re interested in chatting about any of these things (or indeed anything else!) do get in touch - i’ve been desperately missing the random corridor interactions from the days of yore.”
  • David Pesetsky taught a two-week class on “The Unity of Movement” at the Virtual New York Institute — alas from his living room via Zoom rather than in non-virtual St. Petersburg, Russia as originally planned. 


The 30th Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT30) conference was hosted by Cornell University on August 17 – 20, 2020 and held online. Current students and alumni friends at the conference included:

Course Announcements: Fall 2020

Course announcements in this post:

  • 24.899: Topics in Linguistics and Philosophy
  • 24.949: Language Acquisition
  • 24.956: Topics in Syntax


24.899: Topics in Linguistics and Philosophy

  • Topic: Conditionals
  • Instructors: Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Justin Khoo
  • Linguistics TA: Enrico Flor
  • Philosopher TA: Kelly Gaus
  • Meetings: Thursdays, 2-5pm via Zoom (https://mit.zoom.us/j/99201184106). You will need a password to use the Zoom link. Registered students will receive the password via email. If you are not registered but would like to attend, please email one of the instructors.
  • Course site: https://canvas.mit.edu/courses/4156

About the Course:

This course aims to bring together our two sections to explore issues surrounding conditionals from the perspective of both philosophy and linguistics. We’ll discuss topics from foundational puzzles in the philosophy of language to cross-linguistic work on the syntax and semantics of conditional constructions. One of our larger goals will be to illustrate some areas for fruitful interaction between philosophy and linguistics.


24.949: Language Acquisition

This course focuses on the process by which native speakers of a language acquire the ability to speak and understand that language. We will cover some of the major results in the study of first-language acquisition, concentrating on morpho-syntax, semantics and pragmatics. The findings primarily come from English, but cross-linguistic differences in the phenomena of interest and corresponding differences in acquisition patterns are considered where appropriate. Of interest throughout is how these developmental data inform linguistic theory and/or learnability theory.

The requirements for participation in this course are that:
- You show up
- You participate in class discussion
- You send me a response (max 1pg) to readings for the coming class by Sunday evening at 6pm

If you are taking the course for credit, you must, in addition:
- develop an acquisition-related research topic of your own interest and give a brief in-class presentation on it. No write-up is required.

Schedule (subject to change):
Class 1, Sept 8:  introduction/foundations
Class 2,  Sept 15: words
Class 3, Sept 22: early syntax
Class 4,  Sept 29: root infinitives
Class 5, Oct 6: root infinitives
No class Oct 13 (Monday schedule)
Class 6, Oct 20: A-movement
Class 7, Oct 27: binding
Class 8, Nov 3: quantification
Class 9, Nov 10: definites, presupposition
Class 10, Nov 17: only/implicatures
Class 11, Dec 1: class presentations
Class 12, Dec 8: class presentations


24.956: Topics in Syntax

About the Course:

In this course, we will look at a series of issues related to how syntax interfaces with pragmatics and phonology. 

In the first half of the semester, we will look at how the syntactic representation of the speaker and the addressee assists in linking syntax to the discourse context. Using proposals by Speas and Tenny (2003), Wiltschko (2017), and especially Krifka (2019), we will look at such phenomena as allocutive agreement, sentential particles, question formation, and topicalization. Readings will be drawn from a variety of sources including Shigeru’s book manuscript, Syntax in the treetops.

In the second half of the semester, we will start talking about Contiguity Theory, an approach to syntax which allows the narrow syntax to make reference to certain kinds of facts about phonology.  The course won’t assume any familiarity with the theory; we’ll start by reviewing the theory in Norvin’s 2016 book, and work by various people on the interactions between syntax and prosody.  We’ll then try to improve and extend the 2016 theory; topics include head-movement and certain kinds of island phenomena.

Registered students will be asked to hand in a paper at the end of the class.​