The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 30th, 2020

Syntax Square 12/1 - Bruna Karla Pereira (UFVJM)

Speaker: Bruna Karla Pereira (UFVJM)
Title: Silent nouns and gender agreement in Brazilian Portuguese copular sentences
Time: Tuesday, December 1st, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: This work in progress investigates nominal agreement in sentences such as (1), in Brazilian Portuguese (BP), where the subject is feminine whereas the adjective, in the predicate position, is masculine. While current proposals (Rodrigues and Foltran 2013, 2014, and 2015, Conto 2016, Siqueira 2017, and Martin et al. 2020) focus on the “disagreement” between the subject and the adjective, I argue that there is agreement between the adjective and a silent noun, in the internal structure of the post-copula DP. This proposal is coherent with a broader project on constructions with apparent mismatch of agreement in BP (Pereira 2016a, 2016b, 2017, and 2018).

(1) Moto                           é  perigoso.                          (Family conversation, Belo Horizonte, 11/19/2020)
      Motorcycle-FEM.SG is dangerous-MASC.SG
      A motorcycle is dangerous.

Kayne (2005, 2019), Pesetsky (2013), and Höhn (2016) consider the existence of a null category to account for the apparent mismatch of agreement, respectively, in number in Italian and French, in gender in Russian, and in person in Spanish and Greek. Likewise, I assume that a pronominal null category, in the DP predicate, triggers the gender agreement in sentences like (1). Therefore, the predicate of the copular sentence is not simply an adjective, but a DP made up with an indefinite null pronoun (algo ‘something’) plus an adjective, as observed in (2) and (3). This silent (pro)noun bears masculine gender features (and singular number) and triggers agreement in gender with the adjective. In this operation (Pesetsky and Torrego 2007), the adjective (probe), containing uninterpretable gender features, becomes valued [uF val] via agreement with the silent noun algo (goal), containing interpretable and valued gender features [iF val].

(2) Moto                           é  [DP (ALGO)              perigoso                       ].
      Motorcycle-FEM.SG is         (SOMETHING) dangerous-MASC.SG
      A motorcycle is (something) dangerous.

(3) [DP D [AgrP (ALGOMASC)i Agr [AP perigosoMASC A [NP ti]]]].

In sum, this analysis demonstrates that there is no “disagreement”, in the copular sentences at stake, but agreement between the adjective and a silent noun, in the internal structure of the post-copula DP.

Phonology Circle 11/30 - Canaan Breiss (UCLA)

Speaker: Canaan Breiss (UCLA)
Title: Between Grammar and Lexicon: New Experimental Evidence for Lexical Conservatism
Time: Monday, November 30th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: In this talk I will discuss my dissertation research on Lexical Conservatism (Steriade 1997, et seq.), a theory of the relationship between lexicon and grammar which holds that markedness-improving phonological alternations are enabled by the presence of phonologically-optimizing morphologically-related forms in the lexicon. For example, English cómpensate undergoes rightward stress shift when affixed with -able, to yield compénsable, while phonologically-similar ínundate does not (ínundable, *inúndable): Lexical Conservatism holds that this is due to the presence of a phonologically-optimizing morphologically-related form compéns-(atory), while there is no similar form with a stem allomorph inúnd-. Noting this correlation, however, does not provide the detailed information necessary for a fully fleshed-out phonological model, nor a thorough understanding of how the grammar interacts with the lexicon when forming novel words. Drawing on two experiments on English and a third on Spanish, I demonstrate that Lexical Conservatism is robust in the laboratory setting, but holds as a probabilistic tendency rather than as a rule. That is, I find that we observe both the markedness-avoiding behavior pointed out by the original discussion of Lexical Conservatism in Steriade (1997), but that the likelihood of this behavior is responsive to processing factors like the accessibility of the Remote Base, as manipulated by priming. This implies a dynamic trading relationship between the phonological grammar and the lexicon that is not well-captured by extant theories of lexicon-phonology interaction. I discuss which of these findings we might want to incorporate into a phonological theory, and propose a model couched in a Maximum Entropy framework (Goldwater & Johnson 2003) to account for the phonological facts, while allowing principled integration of lexical characteristics that are, I argue, better thought of as non-phonological.

Experimentalist Meeting 12/4 - Sherry Yong Chen (MIT), Christine Soh (UPenn), Athulya Aravind (MIT)

Speaker: Sherry Yong Chen (MIT), Christine Soh (UPenn), Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Intermediate Wh-Copies in a Non-Wh-Copying Language
Time: Friday, December 4th, 2pm - 3:30pm

Abstract: A core issue within current theories of movement is to explain the conditions that drive and constrain the phonological realization of copies left by movement. Although the moved item syntactically and semantically occupies two positions, in languages including English only the highest copy is pronounced, while all lower copies are deleted. At the same time, multiple copy spell-out is attested in many languages, and is also found in the grammars of children acquiring English, a language where we otherwise do not find such phenomena. English-acquiring preschoolers produce long-distance wh-questions with an extra medial wh-word, as in (1) (Thornton 1990, Lutken et al. 2020), a result taken by some to be indicative of the realization of intermediate copies in children’s grammar:

(1) a. Who do you think who is in the box?
b. What do you think what she brought?

In this work-in-progress, we ask whether English-speaking adults respond differently to violations of copy spell out rules from other kinds of ungrammaticality, to see if there is continuity between adult and child grammars in their treatment of intermediate copies. We will present two experiments where we compare adults’ behavioral responses to sentences like (2a) and (2b). Neither is a well-formed sentence of English and both have a corpus frequency of 0. (2a), however, can be construed as a syntactically well-formed structure that violates constraints on copy spell-out, in contrast to (2b) whose infinitival complement does not provide an intermediate landing site for movement.

(2) a. Who did the consultant expect who the new proposal had pleased?
b. Who did the consultant expect who the new proposal to have pleased?

Pilot results are less-than-promising. We’d like to reflect on some of our operationalization assumptions in light of these results, and would welcome comments and suggestions on how to improve our approach.

Colloquium 12/4 - Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla (UBC)

Speaker: Candace Kaleimamoowahinekapu Galla (UBC)
Title: Hawaiian language-based digital realities and futures
Time: Friday, December 4th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Zoom link: (Please email ling-coll-org@mit.edu for more information)

Abstract: This presentation discusses the realities of digital technologies – the “promise”, potential, complexities and hindrances – that Indigenous peoples face when engaging in language reclamation, revitalization, maintenance, and education. For language learners and speakers that choose contemporary pathways, digital technologies provide creative, interactive, and/or immersive opportunities for language learning, teaching, and being. Examples of digital technologies that are adopted and adapted for Indigenous language work will be shared to demonstrate how digital tools are used in the Hawaiian language context to bridge language learners and speakers, facilitate access towards resources, and create and develop relevant materials and content that is centered in community.

Colin Philips elected AAAS Fellow

Congratulations to our brilliant and accomplished alum Colin Philips (PhD 1996) on his election (announced last week) as Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science — for “outstanding contributions to psycholinguistics, advocacy for Linguistics and Language Science, superior mentorship and teaching, and a vision of what linguistic education should be”. Colin is a Professor of Linguistics at the University of Maryland, where he also heads the Language Science Center. Congratulations on this well-deserved honor!!
There are (now) 55 AAAS fellows in the Linguistics and Language Science section of that organization — of whom 18, about 1/3 of the total number, are MIT alums or faculty!

Suzana Fong defends

Suzana Fong successfully and brilliantly defended her dissertation entitled “The Number Interpretation and Syntactic Distribution of Bare Nominals in Wolof”. The public portion of the defense provoked question after question from the intrigued and enthusiastic listeners (there were so many questions left when we had to move on to the private portion!) — a sure sign that this is work to pay attention to! Congratulations Suzana! 

MIT @ Going Romance 34

The 34th Going Romance conference was held virtually by the laboratory “Structures Formelles du Langage” (CNRS/Université Paris 8).

Suzana Fong presented under the title “Distinguishing between explanatory accounts of the A/A’-distinction: the view from Argentinian Spanish Clitic Doubling”.

Some of our alums also gave presentations:

  • Benjamin Storme (PhD 2017): Deriving the gradient behavior of French liaison through constraint interaction
  • Bridget Copley (PhD 2002), Marta Donazzan, Clémentine Raffy: Characterizing French LAISSER using causal functions and scales
  • Beatriz Gómez-Vidal, Miren Arantzeta, Jon Paul Laka, Itziar Laka (PhD 1990): Eye-tracking the Unaccusative Hypothesis in Spanish