The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 25th, 2021

Bondarenko presents at MECORE workshop

Last week, fifth-year student Tanya Bondarenko presented at the kickoff workshop of MECORE — an international project to investigate the semantics of clausal embedding crosslinguistically — with a talk entitled titled “When clauses are Weak NPIs: polarity subjunctives in Russian”. 

MorPhun 10/27 - Boer Fu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: When is a compound not a compound? A tone sandhi diagnostic
Time: Wednesday, October 27th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: Due to the one-to-one mapping between syllables and morphemes in Mandarin Chinese, disyllabic words are usually described as a compound of two morphemes. I present evidence from a phonological process, tone 3 sandhi, to show that not all disyllabic words are learned as compounds by the speaker. The tone 3 sandhi rule takes any disyllabic words with the UR /3-3/and turns it into [2-3] in SR. I argue that learners do not always infer a /3-3/ UR from an [2-3] SR, and that many words listed as /3-3/ in the dictionary are actually stored as /2-3/ by the speaker. In particular, it is words that are not transparently compositional (e.g. animal and plant names, abstract nouns, place names) that are prone to this type of “mis-learning”. I show that a reduplication diagnostic on [2-3] SR items can tell us whether a disyllabic word is a compound or not.

Syntax Square 10/26 - Giovanni Roversi (MIT)

Speaker: Giovanni Roversi (MIT)
Title: Possessives in Äiwoo as relative clauses
Time: Tuesday, October 26th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: I will present preliminary work on possessive structures in Äiwoo (Oceanic; Solomon Islands). I will argue that a possessive construction like “my dogs” really underlyingly is a relative clause from which the theme is being extracted, i.e. “the dogs [such that] I have (them)”. I will present converging evidence from agreement morphology, voice morphology, and syntax and word order facts, and I will argue that a relative clause-based analysis is able to both account for and capture a few facts/generalizations that would otherwise remain unexplained.​

Phonology Circle 10/25 - Adam Albright (MIT) & Donca Steriade (MIT)

Speaker: Adam Albright (MIT) & Donca Steriade (MIT)
Title: Discussion: Rasin and Katzir (2016, 2020)
Time: Monday, October 25th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: We will discuss two recent papers by Ezer Rasin and Roni Katzir. Rasin and Katzir (2016) On Evaluation Metrics in Optimality Theory (LI 47) describes an application of the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL) as an evaluation metric for OT. MDL is a framework that rewards analyses that can encode the analysis and data as compactly as possible. In the original formulation of OT (Prince and Smolensky 1993/2004), grammars are total rankings of a universally fixed set of constraints (CON), so do not differ in size in any interesting way; Rasin and Katzir propose to allow language-particular constraint sets, and show that MDL learning can favor grammars and lexicons that restrictively characterize the data. Rasin and Katzir (2020) A conditional learnability argument for constraints on underlying representations (J. Linguistics 56) examines more closely the way in which the MDL approach achieves a restrictive grammar. It argues that the evaluation metric favors analyses that include constraints on underlying representations, contrary to the usual OT assumption of Richness of the Base.

Best abstract award for Christopher Legerme!

First-year graduate student Christopher Legerme has won the NWAV Student Abstract Award for research on Haitian determiners completed as part of his MA program at the University of Toronto, presented at NWAV under the title “Creole on the Cusp: Phonological Variation and Change in Haitian Determiners.”  See the online newsletter of the Linguistics Department at Toronto for more, including quotes from his reviews.  

Congratulations Christopher!!

LingLunch 10/28 - David Pesetsky (MIT)

Speaker: David Pesetsky (MIT)
Title: Clause Size Revisited: Kinyalolo’s Constraint as the engine behind Exfoliation phenomena
Time: Thursday, October 28th, 12:30pm–1:50pm

Abstract: In earlier work (Pesetsky 2019/2021), I argued that clauses of reduced size are derived from full and finite clauses in the course of the syntactic derivation, thus reviving a proposal from the first decade of research in generative syntax (abandoned on grounds that no longer hold water in contemporary syntactic models). I presented a set of derivational opacity arguments in favor of the derivational view: properties of reduced clauses including infinitivals that are difficult to explain if reduced clauses are born that way — but are natural and easy to explain as by-products of an early derivational stage in which they are full and finite. The overall approach also unified phenomena normally not viewed as related: grouping under one explanation the special behavior of subjects in nonfinite clauses with the so-called complementizer-trace effect observed under Ā-movement from finite clauses. I will review these results and take them to be sound.

At the same time, however, the specific proposal that I advanced to explain how clauses become reduced and why is a much less settled matter. In that earlier work, I proposed a rule of “Exfoliation” that applies whenever a movement-inducing probe contacts a goal across a CP clause boundary, and that goal does not occupy the edge of its clause. Exfoliation peels away the clausal layers between the goal and the CP edge as needed, thus permitting extraction. This proposal, however, required at least three kinds of additional innovations to do its job: (1) an anti-locality restriction that prevents the goal from simply moving to the desired edge; and (2) a toP distinct from TP, so that infinitives may be said to differ from finite clauses in whether TP had been stripped away, as well as a similar novel head between T and C, to explain the behavior of complementizer-trace effects in languages like French and Bùlì; and (3) an “Exposure Condition” that suppresses the pronunciation of these novel heads when Exfoliation does not take place.

This talk tentatively explores an alternative. I will ask whether subjects might not be obligatorily extracted by successive-cyclic movement through Spec,CP after all (so there is no anti-locality restriction — just the opposite!) — and whether it could be the configuration created by hyper-local movement itself that triggers clause reduction. On this view it is not movement across the clause boundary itself, but the necessary precursor, local movement to spec,CP, that mandates reductions of elements such as C and T in the clausal spine. As it happens, just such a proposal has been advanced in a partly (but not totally) different set of contexts by Kinyalolo (1991), Carstens (2003, 2005), Oxford (2020) and others: in configurations where two adjacent heads agree with the same element, one or the other of these heads characteristically reduces (“Kinyalolo’s Constraint”). I will explore a potential new narrative for clause reduction based on this idea. This alternative appears to eliminate all three of the extra assumptions listed above that are necessary on the Exfoliation approach — with additional dividends for the unification of anti-Agreement phenomena (Ouhalla 1993, 2005; Baier 2018; and others) with the broader picture.

Athulya Aravind honored for outstanding advising during pandemic

Our colleague Athulya Aravind has been honored by MIT as one of 15 faculty singled out for their outstanding and utterly crucial support of our graduate students during the pandemic period.  Read more here: https://news.mit.edu/2021/fifteen-mit-faculty-honored-committed-caring-1022.  To quote the key passage:

Throughout the pandemic, numerous faculty members have stepped up to support and guide their graduate students in unique and impactful ways, through efforts such as championing diversity, equity, and inclusion programs within their departments; respecting students’ mental health concerns and finding appropriate ways to accommodate them; and fostering community within their advising groups and departments.

We are thrilled and indeed moved, but not surprised in the slightest.  As the article linked above makes clear, it was graduate students themselves who nominated the recipients of this award, and participated in the selection process. Congratulations, Athulya!  

Linguistics and Social Justice Seminar 10/25 - Kadian Walters (UWI Mona), Celia Blake (UWI Mona), & Hubert Devonish (UWI Mona)

You are invited to participate in our discussion this week, Tuesday, October 26, 2-5pm ET, on “Linguistics and Social Justice: Language, Education & Human Rights”  (MIT Linguistics, Graduate Seminar, 24.S96).  Please contact Michel <degraff@mit.edu> for information about Zoom link and readings.  NB: We are committed to creating an inclusive and accessible environment in our seminar. If you need assistance for accommodations or accessibility in order to fully participate, please email degraff@MIT.EDU so that we can work out adequate arrangements.
The theme this Tuesday, October 26, is “Language Rights and Justice for all in the Caribbean” and all three of our guests are from the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica.

Our discussion will start with a presentation by Kadian Walters on linguistic discrimination in Jamaica on the part of customer service representatives in government offices and agencies.  Prof. Walters will also discuss her efforts for the respect of language rights by Jamaican Police, the National Housing Trust and other public agencies. 
Celia Blake will then address language rights within the Commonwealth Caribbean legal systems, and specifically her work on linguistic equity with judges across the region. 

Hubert Devonish will discuss:  (i)  bilingual education in the context of the 2018 National Standards Curriculum; (ii) the preparation and on-the-job training of community language translators for Covid-19 public service announcements in Guyana.

Kadian Walters’, Celia Blake’s and Hubert Devonish’s efforts are all framed by the Charter on Language Rights in the Creole speaking Caribbean.