The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Course announcements: Spring 2022

Course announcements in this post:

  • 24.943: Syntax of a Language Family: Turkic and their neighbours
  • 24.956: Topics in Syntax: The Syntax of Agree(ment)
  • 24.964 Topics in Phonology: Phonological grammars as integrated systems: Yiddish and Romanian
  • 24.979 Topics in Semantics: Discourse referents inside and out


24.943 Syntax of a Language Family: Turkic and their neighbours

  • Instructors:   Rafael Abramovitz, Dmitry Privoznov
  • Time:              Tuesdays 10:00am-1:00pm
  • Room:            32-D461
  • Description:

This class will be dedicated to the syntax of Turkic languages (with some short excursions to Uralic, Mongolic and Chukotko-Kamchatkan). We will discuss some topics in linguistic theory into which we believe that these languages can provide a useful insight.

The first part of the class will be dedicated to case studies (“studies of case”) and related topics: the structure of DP/NP and of a (finite, nominalized, relative) clause. We will discuss three cases of differential case marking and what these might tell us about the theory of case/Case/Kase/χase/ɣase/ʁase/ʔase… and the dependent vs. abstract case debate. First, we will discuss the differential case marking of the possessor in a noun phrase or Differential Possessor Marking, in relation to the NP/nP/PossP/DP-structure and the structure of nominalized relative clauses and the syntactic position of their subjects. Second, we will discuss the differential case marking of the object in a transitive clause or Differential Object Marking and object agreement in Uralic. Third, we will discuss the differential case marking of the subject in argument nominalizations or Differential Subject Marking.

In the second part of the class we will talk about the syntax and semantics of argument alternating suffixes. In particular, we will talk about the causative construction (variable case of the Causee) and the passive construction (passivized unaccusatives).

The third part of the class will be dedicated to focus and information structure. We will talk about local scrambling, the SOV-OSV word order alternation and the preverbal focus position (with some discussion of the Turkic variant of wh in-situ).

  • Requirements:

Weekly readings and participation, one question about one of the readings every week by email, a Ken Hale style research proposal in place of a final paper.

  • Tentative list of topics:

    – Background

    I Case studies

    – Differential Possessor Marking (DPM)

                   – Turkic ezafe

                   – The NP/nP/DP-structure

                   – Nominalized relative clauses

                   – Subjects of nominalized relative clauses

    – Differential Object Marking (DOM)

                   – The dependent case for Sakha

                   – The abstract case for Tatar

                   – Object (pseudo)incorporation

                   – Object agreement and DOM in Uralic and beyond

    – Differential Subject Marking (DSM)

                   – Nominalized clausal arguments

                   – DSM in Turkish and Balkar nominalizations

    II Argument alternations

    – Causatives and the case of the Causee

    – Causal passives

    III Clausal structure and focus

    – Preverbal focus

    – Wh-in-situ


24.956 Topics in Syntax: The Syntax of Agree(ment)

  • Instructors:   Amy Rose Deal, David Pesetsky
  • Time:              Tuesdays 2:00-5:00pm
  • Room:            32-D461
  • Website:        https://canvas.mit.edu/courses/13433
  • Description:

This seminar will focus on the syntax of long-distance dependencies. Of special interest is the proposal that all such dependencies are derived via a single grammatical operation, Agree. In the first part of the course, we aim to delimit basic properties of this operation with special reference to phi-Agree, clitic doubling, and movement. Empirical phenomena of special interest involve hierarchical agreement systems, PCC effects, mixed A/A’ phenomena, and locality effects (phases, Keine’s “horizons”). In the second part of the course, the logic connecting agreement to movement will be explored further, as we look carefully at the proposal for a more indirect link between the two advanced in Longenbaugh’s (2019) MIT dissertation, as modified and developed in Newman’s (2021) dissertation — as well as what might be needed to connect clause reduction phenomena with independent discoveries concerning the syntax of agreement such as Kinyalolo’s Generalization.

  • Course requirement #1 (all attendees): weekly online discussion contributions

This class will work best if those attending it are engaged enough to think about the topics both outside of class and in class itself.  With this in mind, we would like to strongly encourage students who wish to attend to register for the class.  If you want to attend faithfully but do not want to write a paper, we ask that you register as a listener and at least fulfill the posting assignment below.  It’s not onerous, and should in fact be fun.

By Friday evening each week, every student participating in the class should post a question or comment about what we have been discussing and/or reading on our Piazza discussion board. (There is a Piazza tab on the Canvas site.)  The ideal question/comment shows some substantive thinking about the topic, e.g. discussion of possible answers, the significance of the question, or other thoughts that clarify the contribution and might spark discussion. This is also a place to think about possible connections between what we have read/discussed and other work with which you are familiar or curious to learn more about.

By Monday evening each week, every student should post a reply or followup to the post of at least one other student.  These too should go beyond “I agree” or “Wow!”, and attempt to answer the question asked or develop a theme from the original posting. The goal of this is to work collaboratively toward a deeper understanding of course topics and a richer view of how course topics integrate with other areas of linguistic inquiry.

These contributions need not be long or formal (a few sentences will sometimes be fine), but should be thoughtful. 

  • Course requirement #2 (registered students): final paper + presentation of project

By the end of the week after Spring break, every registered student should pick a topic related to the class (the instructors are happy to help) and submit a short prospectus for their final paper, stating the problem to be explored and why it is interesting.  The final 1-2 weeks will be reserved for students to present their projects.  The final paper itself will be due at the end of the semester.

  • Hybridity policy

Obviously, if you are ill or do not pass the daily symptom screener, stay home; we will work with you to make sure that you miss as little as possible. Please be in touch to let us know about the situation. Similarly, if one of the instructors is unable to attend due to COVID related reasons, we will be in touch to make alternative arrangements for class. If you are not ill/unable to attend due to health reasons or MIT policy, we expect you to be in class each week. Our experiences over the past few semesters have taught us that classes like these work best if we are all together in the same classroom.  So: catch the bus on time, get plenty of sleep the night before, and join us for class in the seminar room!  


24.964 Topics in Phonology: Phonological grammars as integrated systems: Yiddish and Romanian

  • Instructors:   Adam Albright, Donca Steriade
  • Time:              Mondays 2:00-5:00pm
  • Room:            32-D461
  • Description:
The first major work in generative phonology contained a broad-coverage analysis of a single language (Chomsky and Halle 1968 The Sound Pattern of English). While the focus of SPE was arguably elsewhere, its effort to exhaustively cover all English processes pertaining to stress and vocalism was a necessary proof of concept for a generative grammar, since the hypothesis that grammars consist of sets of ordered rules can only be tested by showing that one ordering is fully consistent with all the data. The result was compelling, because it showed that a range of interacting properties of English phonology could be broken down into a set of rules, many of which had consequences for multiple processes.
Broad-coverage analyses of single languages have been pursued less commonly in constraint-based frameworks, but they remain every bit as important.  OT postulates that grammars consist of ranked hierarchies of constraints, so the hypothesis to be tested is that the entire system—including the segmental inventory, static phonotactic and prosodic patterns, alternations, and morphophonology—can be characterized by a consistent constraint hierarchy.  This is a more stringent requirement than the rule ordering requirement, since a single SPE-style rewrite rule corresponds to a ranking of three or more constraints in OT, so it is easy to write combinations of rules or rule orderings that cannot be expressed with a single consistent constraint ranking.  
In this class, we have two objectives: we want to test the extent to which the phonological grammar of a language is integrated, in the sense that all processes can be characterized by a single, consistent hierarchy; and we want to start a tradition of writing more-or-less complete phonological analyses. We will examine two languages: Yiddish and Romanian. 
The OT literature to date has used various analytical techniques that conceal the relative of lack of integration in a system. See 1-2 below. There is also the rule-based alternative, summarized in 3,  in which the issue of integration arises only in the very different sense that a single rule order obtains.
    1. The grammar may employ multiple levels of evaluation (as in Stratal OT; Kiparsky 2000) or multiple grammars associated with different morphological constructions (as in Cophonologies; Inkelas and Zoll 2005, Inkelas 2016, Sande et al. 2020), containing distinct rankings
    2. There may be constraints indexed to specific morphemes (Pater 2009) or to lexical classes (Ito and Mester 1995) which differ in their rankings from analogous unindexed constraints.
    3. Different processes require different sub-rankings, in a way that can be captured by rules, but not OT constraint hierarchies
We will explore which of these and other devices seem necessary in the larger scale analyses of Yiddish and Romanian that we will build.
  • Requirements:
Regular readings and participation, a final paper exploring process integration in a language of your choice (collaborations are encouraged), two in-class presentations during the semester, reporting progress on the final paper.
  • Tentative list of topics:
1. Background
a. Segmental inventory
b. Basic phonotactic restrictions
c. Lexical strata
2. Stress
a. Basic stress pattern
b. Lexical strata
c. Morphologically complex words: derivation vs. inflection
d. Allomorphy
3. Consonant clusters
a. Initial, medial and final clusters
b. Degemination
c. Loan adaptation, lexical strata
d. Underlying vs. derived clusters
e. Alternations: derivation vs. inflection
f. Allomorphy: proclitic ‘es’, suffixes
4. Voicing
a. Voicing in final position
b. Voicing assimilation vs. epenthesis in clusters, by position
c. Morpheme-internal vs. cross-boundary assimilation
d. Part of speech (noun and verb roots vs. others)
1.      Basics
a.       Morpho-syntactic structure
b.       Segment inventory and major phonotactics. Loan adaptation.
c.       Stress, stress matching in the meter
2.     Hiatus and nuclei
a.     Evidence: lexicographic,  metrical, spelling variation
b.     Invariant and variable glides
c.     Palatals and palatal glides: ʃi̯a, ʃe̯a vs. ʃa; ce̯a vs. ci̯a vs. ca
d.     Rhythmic glide adjustments
e.     Structure of diphthongs: weight-stress and rhyme domains
3.     Stress-dependent reduction,  harmony, derived environments
4.     Consonants
a.     Palatalization, Assibilation
b.     L Palatalization
c.     Cluster simplification
Part 2: interactions with morpho-syntax
5.     Phonology of paradigm structure: nominals
a.     Declension classes
b.     Obliques and plurals
c.     Inflection dependence in denominal derivatives
6.     Verbal paradigms
a.     Conjugation classes, theme vowels, basic endings
b.     Directional Paradigm Uniformity: the perfect
c.     Anti-homophony: imperatives, subjunctives, imperfects/perfects
d.     Agentives and gerunds
Part 3: Productivity

24.979 Topics in Semantics: Discourse referents inside and out

  • Instructors:   Patrick Elliott, Amir Anvari
  • Time:              Mondays 10:00am-1:00pm
  • Room:            32-D461
  • Description:

“Consider a device designed to read a text in some natural language, interpret it, and store the content in some manner, say, for the purpose of being able to answer questions about it. To accomplish this task, the machine will have to fulfill at least the following basic requirement. It has to be able to build a file that consists of records of all the individuals, that is, events, objects, etc., mentioned in the text and, for each individual, record whatever is said about it. Of course, for the time being at least, it seems that such a text interpreter is not a practical idea, but this should not discourage us from studying in abstract what kind of capabilities the machine would have to possess, provided that our study provides us with some insight into natural language in general.” (Karttunen 1976)

The notion of a discourse referent emerged from the work of Lauri Karttunen and David Lewis (Karttunen 1976Lewis 1979), during a time of general optimism concerning connections between linguistic theory and artifical intelligence research. The central idea is that discourse participants introduce and manipulate variables corresponding to individuals mentioned over the course of a conversation. This powerful idea subsequently informed dynamic approaches to meaning, which essentially model anaphora as a powerful cross-referencing device (Heim 1982Groenendijk and Stokhof 1991). Frank Veltman crystalizes the ‘slogan’ of dynamic approaches to meaning as follows: “You know the meaning of a sentence if you know the change it brings about in the information state of anyone who accepts the news conveyed by it” (Veltman 1996). Irene Heim’s foundational work on file change semantics in the 80s lead to an explosion of insightful research applying this central idea to an impressive variety of empirical domains. At the same time, dynamic semantics incorporates powerful propietary mechanisms for manipulating contexts in an apparently arbitrary fashion, and even precompiles these mechanisms into the meanings of logical vocabulary such as “or”. In this seminar we’ll track developments in dynamic approaches to anaphora, starting from classical theories of (singular) pronouns and their indefinite antecedents, and eventually progressing to intricate theories of modality, plurality, and quantification. In parallel, we’ll consider what exactly dynamic semantics commits us to, both as a theory of content, and as a theory of how semantic composition proceeds. A central goal will be a re-assessment of Veltman’s slogan, in light of recent work that fine-tunes the division of labour between dynamic semantics and pragmatics (Elliott 2020bMandelkern 2020).

One of the themes of the seminar will be linguistic motivations for a rich notion of contexts, which goes beyond a “flat” model of information (Stalnaker 1976) and incorporates a notion of aboutness. Mid-way through the semester, we’ll take a break from anaphora and consider a set of empirical phenomena which motivate a different kind of enrichment. Thanks to Amir Anvari for providing the following summary:

“We will rehearse a host of puzzles that have been discussed in the literature on oddness (Singh 2008, Katzir & Singh 2014, Mayr & Romoli 2016, Mandelkern & Romoli 2018, Marty & Romoli 2021). The ambition is to provide a unified analysis for all these cases. We begin with the classical insight, as formulated by Katzir & Singh (2015), that “a good assertion is one that provides a good answer to a good question”: a good sentence is one that is about something. We explore the idea that the question that a sentence addresses in a given context is one that must be constructed in a principled fashion from sentence itself and its formal alternatives (Katzir 2007, Fox & Katzir 2011). If such a “formal background question” cannot be constructed, the sentence is not about anything and predicted to be odd. We will explore one implementation of this idea in the context of the puzzles mentioned.”

  • Requirements

Regular readings and participation, a squib, a short presentation of a paper/original research.