The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 5th, 2021

Syntax Square 4/6 - Colin Davis (USC)

Speaker: Colin Davis (USC)
Title: The immobility of English possessive pronouns: On portmanteau formation and the timing of spell-out
Time: Tuesday, April 6th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: In this research, I use new facts about possessor extraction in colloquial English to analyze the morpho-syntax of English possession, and explore several related consequences about the syntax-morphology relationship. As Davis (2019, a.o.) describes, in colloquial speech about half of native English speakers allow A-bar extraction of a possessor which strands the Saxon genitive morpheme [’s] and the rest of the possessed DP in a lower clause (1):

(1). Who1 do you think [ __1 ‘s cat] is the cutest?

Such extraction is possible in principle for all varieties of WH-movement. Many speakers also can achieve such extraction by topic/focus fronting (2):

(2). I don’t think John’s cat is particularly cute, but MARY1, I’ve always said [ __1 ‘s cat] is really adorable.

Based on data from about a dozen native speakers who independently accept sentences like (1) and (2), I report that similar fronting extraction is unavailable for possessive pronouns (3):

(3). * I don’t think John’s cat is particularly cute, but YOUR1, I’ve always said [ __1 (’s) cat] is really adorable.

The same contrast can be identified using clefting rather than topic/focus fronting. I argue that this restriction emerges from the fact that such possessive pronouns are portmanteau morphemes that correspond to both the possessive D, and the possessor pronoun in its specifier. Under this account, such morphemes do not correspond to a syntactic constituent, and thus are expected to be immobile. Beyond clarifying our understanding of English possessive morpho-syntax, I argue that these results provide new evidence that one morpheme can span across multiple adjacent syntactic nodes, and also deepen our understanding of the timing and nature of phase spell-out.

LFRG 04/07/2021 — Jad Wehbe (MIT)

Speaker: Jad Wehbe (MIT)
Title: An Implicature Account of Actuality Entailments

Time: Wednesday, April 7th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract — An Implicature Account of Actuality Entailments: 

 Actuality Entailments (first discussed by Bhatt, 1999; Hacquard, 2006) arise when the prejacent is present-oriented with respect to the evaluation time of a circumstantial possibility or necessity modal (Matthewson, 2012; Kratzer, 2011). This talk will focus on a puzzle that arises from the interaction of AEs with negation. Namely, negated actualized modals give rise to what Hacquard (2009) calls a non-actuality entailment, an entailment that the event did not occur in the actual world. Taken together, the facts about actualized modals in positive and negative environments require an account of AEs that includes an implicature or presuppositional component. This talk will explore an implicature account of AEs (see Homer, 2019; Alxatib, 2020 for a presuppositional account), proposing that the basic uniform meaning of modal auxiliaries involves existential quantification over a time interval. When the prejacent is present-oriented with respect to the modal perspective, this basic meaning straightforwardly derives non-actuality entailments under negation. In positive sentences, a strengthened meaning is derived by the calculation of an implicature that is modeled after Bar-Lev’s (2020) account of homogeneity with definite plurals. I will show that the proposed implicature account can predict the differences in meaning between actualized possibility modals, actualized necessity modals and their non-modal counterparts, while deriving actuality entailments and non-actuality entailments.​

Colloquium 4/9 - Heejeong Ko (Seoul National University)

Speaker: Heejeong Ko (Seoul National University)
Title: Late Adjunction after Spell-out: Evidence from Right-Dislocation
Time: Friday, April 9th, 7pm - 8:30pm

Abstract: In this talk, I closely examine the syntax of postverbal adjuncts (PAs) in Korean – which received relatively little attention, in comparison to postverbal arguments in right dislocation (cf. Ko 2015, Yoon 2016, Park and Kim 2016 for Korean; Abe 2019 for Japanese). In the first part of the talk, I aim to establish empirical evidence against major approaches to right-dislocation which treat PAs as a consequence of rightward movement, PF-ellipsis, or English-type extraposition. Further developing Ko (2015), I propose that PAs in Korean are late-adjoined to the host after Spell-out via concatenation (Hornstein and Nunes 2008, cf. Müller’s (2017) reassociation, Ishii’s (2017) self-pair Merge; cf. Fox and Nissenbaum 1999, Fox 2017, Overfelt 2017 for Late Merge in English extraposition). I show that this proposal not only explains intricate puzzles concerning PAs, but also captures the interesting fact that the syntax of PAs is regulated by a general constraint on sideward movement in inter-arboreal domains. Evidence for my claim is drawn from various tests which involve right root effects, island effects, depth of embedding in LBE, NPI licensing, and scope/binding in postverbal domains in Korean. Theoretically, the current research provides novel support for the existence of non-conventional Merge in natural languages: concatenation (Merge without integration in syntax) and inter-arboreal Merge (Merge across different workspaces). I also suggest that typological differences between Korean PAs and English adjunct extraposition can be attributed to two factors: i) the timing of Late Merge and ii) strict head-finality in syntax & massive agglutination in Korean morphology.