The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 18th, 2022

LF Reading Group 4/20 — Adele Mortier (MIT)

This week, our very own Adele Mortier is giving a talk at LFRG as practice for her upcoming conference talk at GLOW!


Speaker:  Adele Mortier (MIT)

Date and time: Wednesday 4/20, 1-2pm

Place: 32-D461

Title: It’s Tough to be Pretty: semantic relatedness between tough- and pretty-predicates


Abstract: Tough (1a) and pretty (1b) predicates are two classes of predicates that can take an infinitival clause as complement.
(1) a. Suzi is tough to please. (TC)
(1) b. Roses are pretty to look at. (PC)
The main contrast between the two classes is that tough-constructions allow an “it-variant” (2b)[Rosenbaum, 1967]; while pretty-constructions do not.
(2) a. It is tough to please Suzi. (it-TC)
(2) b. * It is pretty to look at roses. (it-TC)
Another difference is that, unlike pretty predicates, tough-predicates do not seem to take their subject as a semantic argument (3):
(3) Joseph is tough to please. =/=> Joseph is tough.

In this talk, we argue that the matrix subject in TCs is in fact, a proper semantic argument of the tough-predicate, as already suggested by [Bayer, 1990] and [Fleisher, 2015]. We call this argument the reference argument, and understand it as the causer of the toughness of the event denoted by the embedded clause. We argue that this analysis of “tough” can be extended to it-TCs, by showing that English and French it-TCs are not pure expletive constructions but rather extraposed constructions, whereby the reference argument (“it”) refers to the embedded clause (“it”-extraposition, [Rosenbaum, 1967]). We then establish that tough and pretty have the same basic argument structure, modulo some reversal of the argument order: tough takes its subject as reference and states the toughness of the event denoted by the embedded clause, while pretty takes the embedded clause as reference and states the prettiness of its subject. Assuming that pretty imposes an individual-restriction on its subject, this account allows to explain the ungrammaticality of it-PCs.

In brief, our approach develops a more fine-grained and unified semantics for tough and pretty, avoiding lexical ambiguity as posited by [Keine and Poole, 2017] in the case of TCs. It also allows to explain the (un)availability of an it-variant in those constructions. The existence of a reference argument in TCs ends up providing additional support for a base-generation account of tough-constructions.

LingLunch 04/21 — Sigwan Thivierge (Concordia University)

Speaker: Sigwan Thivierge (Concordia University)

Title: Phases as phi-intervention

Time: Thursday 04/21 12:30-2pm

Location: https://mit.zoom.us/j/96062313339 (gathering in 32 D-461)

This talk focuses on the notion of phases in syntactic theory, and offers a reanalysis of certain phases as instances of (phi-)intervention. Under the standard view, phases are syntactic structures that are opaque to operations originating outside of the phase. I will argue that certain instances of phasehood derive from the ‘phase’ head bearing a phi-probe: the phi-features on the probe intervene for agreement, which results in phase-like effects. In this way, phases are reducible to a more general locality issue. The empirical data in favour of this claim comes from the Georgian agreement system. I show that subjects in Georgian are base-generated in different positions, depending on whether they fall under the basic agreement paradigm or the inverse agreement paradigm. In the basic, subjects are introduced above the ‘phase’ head and are the closest goal for Agree operations that originate outside the phase domain. In the inverse, subjects are introduced below the ‘phase’ head; in this case, the phi-features that are associated with the phi-probe on the phase head constitute the closest goal for Agree. These results suggest that phasehood is an epiphenomenon, and that the interior of the ‘phase’ is accessible even after the phase is complete.