The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 10th, 2022

Industry workshop 10/12 - Ruth Brillman

The “careers for linguists” workshop will host our very own Ruth Brillman (PhD 2017), who is currently an engineering manager for Google Search and works right around the corner from us. She’ll join us in person for a Q&A about her path to industry.

When: Wednesday, 10/12, 2-3:30pm
Where: 32-D461 or on zoom (email me for a link)

Here is a short blurb from Ruth:

“I graduated from MIT with a PhD in Linguistics in 2017, where I specialized in syntax (primarily) and language acquisition. I’ve spent the past five years in industry, mostly working on NLP projects and building software informed by a structural understanding of language. Currently, I’m a software engineer at Google where I lead a small team focused on improving Google Search quality in lower-resource languages.”

New article in L&P — Aravind, Fox and Hackl

A new paper, Principles of presupposition in development, by Athulya Aravind, Danny Fox and Martin Hackl is just out in Linguistics & Philosophy! https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10988-022-09364-z

LingLunch 10/13: Meg Gotowski (MIT) and Kristen Syrett (Rutgers)

Speakers: Meg Gotowski (MIT) & Kristen Syrett (Rutgers)

Time: Thursday 10/13, 12:30-1:50pm

Zoom link: https://mit.zoom.us/j/96548700087

In-person location: 32-D461

Title: It is daxy to learn adjectives, and learning adjectives is daxy for everyone: Syntactic frames support the acquisition of adjective meaning.

Abstract: How do children learn the meaning of adjectives like fun or delicious? These are adjectives that are context-dependent and speaker-dependent, encoding both gradability and subjectivity. For this reason, subjective such as these adjectives pose a challenge for word learning, given that they do not have a fixed referent. An influential theory in the word learning literature is syntactic bootstrapping, which claims that learners recruit the syntactic environment in which a word is found in order to deduce its meaning (Landau & Gleitman 1985). While syntactic bootstrapping has been examined extensively in regard to verb learning (Gleitman 1990; Fisher 2002; Gleitman et al. 2005), adjectives have received considerably less attention—and previous studies have also conflated syntactic and semantic information (such as animacy, Becker et al. 2012). In this research, we focus on subjective adjectives as a case study for analyzing the influence of the syntax alone within the adjectival domain. We discuss the results of a word learning experiment modeled after the Human Simulation Paradigm (Gillette et al. 1999), during which participants were presented with a novel adjective in a set of syntactic frames. Each set of frames crucially reflected the unique distributional signature of five different subclasses of subjective adjectives (Bylinina 2014). Participants demonstrated a sensitivity to these frames, and reliably recruited the syntax in order to narrow down the potential meanings for the novel adjectives, offering responses consistent with the set of frames provided—while becoming increasingly confident in their responses after encountering the adjective across multiple frames.

Colloquium 10/14 - Magdalena Kaufmann (UConn)

Speaker: Magdalena Kaufmann (UConn)
Title: How to be impossible or remote
Friday October 14, 3:30pm

Abstract: Natural languages mark so-called subjunctive conditionals that allow speakers to specify consequences of states of affairs they present as unlikely or counterfactual. Different morphosyntactic strategies within and across languages show what often seem to be idiosyncratic interactions between temporal and modal information. Building on in-depth studies of individual languages and more fine-grained distinctions between types of hypotheticality, the recent literature sees a trend towards a distinction between unrealized past possibilities and co-temporal counterfactual states of affairs.

In this talk, I draw on novel data from Serbian (joint work with Neda Todorović) and German in comparison to English and Japanese (joint work with Stefan Kaufmann), to support this idea and develop a compositional analysis.

LF Reading Group 10/12 - Keely New (MIT)

We’re excited to welcome Keely at the first LFRG of the semester! The meeting will be in person, but we’ll set up OWL for people in the department who want to attend virtually.

Zoom link: https://mit.zoom.us/j/94298987190​
Speaker: Keely New (MIT)
Time: Wednesday 10/12, 1-2pm
In-person location: 32-D461

Title: Associative plurals and the plural pronoun construction

Abstract: In Burmese, a conjunction of associative plural DPs has an available reading where the named individuals in the conjunction internally satisfy the plural requirement. I call this the internal plural reading. The internal plural reading is reminiscent of what has been called the plural pronoun construction in Russian, Greek etc. In this talk, I present a post-suppositional semantics for Burmese associative plurals. In a nutshell, I propose that the named individuals in a conjunction of associative plurals can satisfy each other’s plural requirement if the associative plural has a meaning that is post-suppositional. I discuss the extent to which this post-suppositional analysis can be extended to the PPC, particularly in light of the empirical landscape regarding the availability of PPC and internal plural reading across and within languages.​

Exp/Comp Group 10/14 - Nur Lan (École Normale Supérieure and Tel Aviv University)

Exp/Comp Group (10/14, 2-3:30pm)
Speaker: Nur Lan (École Normale Supérieure in Paris and Tel Aviv University)
Title: Minimum Description Length Recurrent Neural Networks
Location: 8th floor conference room, 32-D831
Nur will be giving a talk on his recent paper on neural networks (find it here: https://direct.mit.edu/tacl/article/doi/10.1162/tacl_a_00489/112499/Minimum-Description-Length-Recurrent-Neural). Everyone welcome!

Roger Paul, SM ‘20: statement for Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2022

From the MIT front page, October 10, 2022 — Indigenous Peoples’ Day:

“The MIT Indigenous Languages Initiative provides tools to help graduates keep their communities’ threatened languages alive. For Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Roger Paul  (SM ’20) penned this expression of gratitude in Passamaquoddy, around the MIT theme of “mind, hand, and heart.”


Benbaji and Pesetsky at virtual ellipsis seminar

Fourth-year student Ido Benbaji and faculty colleague David Pesetsky presented a joint paper entitled “E-Extension and the Uniformity of Silence” at the international online You’re on Mute workshop on ellipsis last Friday (co-organized by Gary Thoms (NYU) and Danfeng Wu (PhD 2022)).