The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 1st, 2021

LingLunch 3/4 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Syntax and prosody of either…or… sentences
Time: Thursday, March 4th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm

Abstract: This talk presents an investigation of how the linguistic system maps hierarchical syntactic structure onto linear prosodic structure, with either…or… sentences as a critical case study. To do this, I exploit the fact that either…or… sentences can involve ellipsis, a process that renders some syntactic structure unpronounced. For example, the analysis for (1) involves ellipsis (the struck-through text in (2)). In addition to the syntactic-semantic arguments for ellipsis, I will present evidence from a prosodic experiment, where I found that predictions of this syntactic analysis had measurable prosodic correlates in people’s utterances. I will argue that prosodic structure reflects syntactic structure more closely than some theories previously claimed. These phenomena provide a suitable environment to investigate the syntax-prosody mapping process further: we may ask whether silent material (specifically elided material) is directly represented in prosodic structure. Preliminary results suggest that elided material is represented in prosody, despite having no phonological content. This work has implications for both the syntax-prosody mapping and syntactic theory. First, it supports a derivational view of the syntax-prosody mapping which makes elided material available to prosody. Second, this study is part of a larger program of creating a new domain of argumentation in syntax: I believe that we can draw evidence for syntactic claims not only from traditional sources, but also from prosodic/phonetic experiments. 

(1) Either Pat will eat rice or beans.

(2) Either Pat will eat rice or she will eat beans.