The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 2/25 - David Pesetsky (MIT)

Speaker: David Pesetsky (MIT)
Title: Lack of ambition
Time: Thursday, February 25th, 12:30pm – 1:50pm
Location: Zoom
Abstract: In this talk, I suggest a non-standard strategy for explaining the limited range of semantics available to constructions in which certain elements of a normal finite TP are phonologically absent. These include English AUX-drop questions (Fitzpatrick 2006) and infinitival clauses (Wurmbrand 2014), where the proposal suggests an answer to some particularly vexing questions arising from the derivational (“Exfoliation”) theory of infinitivization that I have advanced elsewhere (Pesetsky 2019/2021). The core idea attributes apparent restrictions on the constructions themselves to restrictions on a hearer’s creativity in positing possible identities for material deleted in the speaker’s derivation (“hearer” here understood as an abstract concept, including self-monitoring by the speaker). The key principle is the following:

Principle of Unambitious Reverse Engineering (PURE)
When determining the identity of unpronounced material in the course of “reverse ­engineering” a speaker’s syntactic derivation, the language system of the hearer considers only the minimally semantically contentful possibilities compatible with the morphosyntactic environment.

Fitzpatrick, Justin M. 2006. Deletion through movement. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 24:399–431. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11049-005-3606-3

Pesetsky, David. 2019/2021. Exfoliation: towards a derivational theory of clause size. Unpublished ms., MIT. https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004440

Wurmbrand, Susi. 2014. Tense and aspect in English infinitives. Linguistic Inquiry 45:403–447. https://doi.org/10.1162/ling_a_00161