The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 21st, 2020

LF Reading Group 9/23 - Ying Gong and Elizabeth Coppock (BU)

Speaker: Ying Gong and Elizabeth Coppock (BU)
Title: Mandarin Has Degree Abstraction After All
Time: Wednesday, September 23rd, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: According to Beck et al. (2004), not all languages with degree predicates have degree abstraction. A language with a negative setting of their degree abstraction parameter (DAP) is one in which degree variables cannot be bound in the syntax. Mandarin, along with Japanese, Yoruba, Mòoré, and Samoan, is argued to be a [-DAP] language with degree predicates Beck et al. (2010). Recent work, however, has argued for degree abstraction in Japanese (Shimoyama, 2012; Sudo, 2015), and Yoruba (Howell, 2013). We argue that Mandarin has degree abstraction too, contra Krasikova (2008), Beck et al. (2010) and Erlewine (2018). We rebut the previous arguments and present positive evidence from degree questions, wh-correlatives (subequatives), scope interactions with modals (exactly-differentials and little-sentences), and attributive comparatives.

LingLunch 9/24 - Boer Fu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: Negation Scoping and Focus in Mandarin Biased Questions
Time: Thursday, September 24th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm

Abstract: The role of negation in biased yes/no questions has been under much discussion in the literature. I present evidence from the 4-way readings of Mandarin negative yes/no questions, which support Romero & Han’s (2004) VERUM operator account. A question like (1) can have 4 different readings, depending on the placement of focus and boundary tone.

(1) ta bu     chi niurou ma
     he NEG eat beef     MA
(a) ‘Doesn’t he eat beef?’ Focus on ‘eat’, H% Biased question
(b) ‘Does he not eat beef?’ Focus on NEG, H% Surprised question
(c) ‘He eats beef.’ Focus on ‘eat’, L% Rhetorical question
(d) ‘He doesn’t eat beef.’ Focus on NEG, L% Negative dogmatic assertion

The contrast between readings (a) and (b) has its parallel in English biased questions, the Outside-NEG reading vs. Inside-NEG reading (Ladd 1981). Romero & Han (2004) analyzes the contrast to stem from a difference in scoping between negation and VERUM, a silent operator. In this talk, I show that in Mandarin, VERUM can be pronounced at PF as ​shi, and displays overt scoping with negation that confirms Romero & Han’s prediction of the two readings. And when the Mandarin VERUM is optionally silent, focus can cue the negation scoping at LF, via association with focus (Rooth 1985).

Colloquium 9/25 - Yimei Xiang (Rutgers)

Speaker: Yimei Xiang (Rutgers)
Title: Higher-order readings of wh-questions and the disjunction–conjunction asymmetry
Time: Friday, September 25th, 3:30pm - 5pm

Abstract: In most cases, a wh-question calls for an answer that names an entity in the set denoted by the extension of the wh-complement. However, evidence from questions with necessity modals and questions with collective predicates argues that sometimes a wh-question must be interpreted with a higher-order reading, in which this question calls for an answer that names a generalized quantifier.

This talk investigates the distribution and the compositional derivation of these higher-order readings. I observe that questions in which the wh-complement is singular-marked or numeral-modified can be answered by elided disjunctions but not by conjunctions. I further present two ways to account for this disjunction—conjunction asymmetry. In the uniform account, these questions admit disjunctions because disjunctions (but not conjunctions) may satisfy the atomicity requirement of singular-marking and the cardinality requirement of numeral-modification. In the reconstruction account, the wh-complement is syntactically reconstructed, which gives rise to local uniqueness and yields a contradiction for conjunctive answers.

If time permits, I will also talk about the constraints on what generalized quantifiers may serve as semantic answers to wh-questions.

Relevant materials:

Xiang, Yimei. 2020. Higher-order readings of wh-questions. Forthcoming in Natural Language Semantics. https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004859

MIT @ AMP2020

The 2020 edition of the Annual Meeting on Phonology (AMP), hosted by the Linguistics Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, took place virtually on September 18-20, 2020. MIT was well represented by students, faculty, and alumni.

Current MIT-ers:

  • Danfeng Wu (5th year): There is no post-focal de-phrasing in English
  • Fulang Chen (4th year): On the left-/right-branching asymmetry in Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi
  • Anton Kukhto (3rd year): Munster Irish stress and the problem of mixed defaults
  • Trevor Driscoll (1st year), Chris Golston (California State University Fresno) & Zachary Metzler (California State University Fresno): A foot-based ludling reveals English foot structure
  • Edward Flemming (faculty): Sibilant retraction


  • Juliet Stanton (PhD 2017) gave a plenary talk: Rhythm is gradient: evidence from -ative and -ization
  • Benjamin Storme (PhD 2017): Against the Law of Three Consonants in French: Evidence from judgment data
  • Sam Zukoff (PhD 2017): Huave mobile affixation and the Mirror Alignment Principle
  • Tingyu Huang (University of Hong Kong) & Young Ah Do (PhD 2013): Directionality of disyllabic tone sandhi across Chinese dialects is conditioned by phonetically-grounded structural simplicity
  • Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009): Pulling apart ME and SHG