The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Syntax Square 5/4 - Giovanni Roversi (MIT)

Speaker: Giovanni Roversi (MIT)
Title: Bárány & Sheehan (2021): Challenges for dependent case
Time: Tuesday, May 4th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: In this paper, Bárány and Sheehan take issue with the idea that Dependent Case can be the only manner of assigning case we need to assume to exist in grammar. To do so, they present two empirical challenges: i) case alternations in clitics in Romance causatives, and ii) global case splits. For the first one, an old insight by Kayne (1975) was that the causee clitic was ACC if the embedded predicate was intransitive, and DAT if it was transitive; this is readily explainable in a dependent case world. However, Bárány and Sheehan show how not only DPs, but also CPs and PPs can work as case competitors, triggering DAT on the causee clitic, which is problematic for a theory that holds that only nominals should be case competitors for other nominals. Then they discuss global case splits, that is, phenomena where the case of an argument is determined not only by properties of that argument, but rather by properties of more than one argument, e.g. both the subject and the object; the empirical basis comes from Kashmiri, Sahaptin and Wampis. They go through two possible Dependent Case approaches, one based on movement and one based on a fine-grained DP-periphery, and argue that both either can’t derive the data or can but at only at a great theoretical/complexity-wise cost. Instead, they propose a Case-by-Cyclic-Agree account for these data, that they claim works better than the Dependent Case ones.

Mini-course 5/5-5/6: Thomas Graf (Stony Brook University)

Speaker: Thomas Graf (Stony Brook University)
Title: Subregular linguistics for… well, linguists
Time: Wednesday, May 5, 12:30pm-2:00pm EDT, and Thursday, May 6, 12:30pm-2:00pm EDT

Abstract: Subregular linguistics is a recent research program that draws heavily from formal language theory but enjoys two noteworthy traits:

1.        the key concepts are intuitive and easy to visualize without the use of any mathematics, and

2.        its computational machinery is very sensitive to minor differences in empirical phenomena.

This makes it easier than ever before to pursue generative analysis through a computational lens, which in turn reveals unexpected parallels between language modules and provides computationally grounded third-factor explanations for various aspects of language.

This course will introduce you to the essential concepts of subregular linguistics and how you can apply them to your own research. We will start with string-based models of phonology and semantics (yes, semantics) and then generalize those ideas to trees in order to tackle syntax. Among other things, we will see how subregular linguistics i) derives Move from Merge; ii) explains the existence of island effects; iii) reveals cognitive parallels between vastly different language modules; iv) unifies seemingly unrelated phenomena like unbounded tone plateauing and complementizer wh-agreement. The mini-course will provide you with everything you need to get started on an empirically-minded journey down the subregular rabbit hole.

Colloquium 5/7 - Thomas Graf (Stony Brook University)

Speaker: Thomas Graf (Stony Brook University)
Title: Monotonicity as a third factor in syntax and morphology
Time: Friday, May 7th, 3:30pm - 5pm

Abstract: Monotonicity is a staple of semantics, but has occasionally also made an appearance in other domains (cf. Fox & Pesetsky 2005). In this talk, I argue that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that monotonicity plays a central role in morphology and syntax as a third factor that arises from learnability considerations. The approach posits underlying hierarchies, for instance positive < comparative < superlative for adjectival gradation, which are mapped into some other algebra, e.g. surface forms or degrees of acceptability. Requiring these maps to be monotonic rules out a large number of possible configurations.

This provides a unified perspective on a surprising number of phenomena: *ABA effects in morphology, the Person Case Constraint, the Ban Against Improper Movement, the Ban Against Improper Case, the Ban Against Excorporation, the Adjunct Island Constraint and the Coordinate Structure Constraint, their exceptions in the form of parasitic gaps and across-the-board movement, freezing effects, 3/4 splits in typology (e.g. with expletive negation), the absence of anti-omnivorous number, and much more. Crucially, monotonicity does not supplant existing analyses of these phenomena, it supplements them. Monotonicity is the high-level principle that ties the phenomena together, whereas existing analyses hash out how this abstract principle is operationalized in terms of the grammatical machinery.

Schwarzschild colloquium talk at Lomonosov Moscow State University

On April 28, Roger Schwarzschild gave a colloquium talk at the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Lomonosov Moscow State University under the title “Noun Meanings in a World of Events and States”.