The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 28th, 2022

Industry workshop (11/30) - Dr. Sherry Yong Chen

who: Dr. Sherry Yong Chen
when: 11/30, 2pm
where: virtual talk (contact Hadas for zoom link)
what: Sherry got her PhD in linguistics from MIT, where she worked on semantics/pragmatics and language acquisition. She currently works as a Knowledge Engineer at Amazon - Alexa AI. In her role, she creates ontological designs to expand Alexa’s question-answering abilities, performs data analyses to understand existing gaps, and does program management for her team’s event coverage. Most recently, she worked on Alexa’s QnA coverage for the midterm election.

To learn more about her team: https://www.amazon.jobs/en/locations/sba-california

Sherry came to the US as an international student, and has experience in navigating the job market and the immigration processes.

Colloquium (12/2) - Sandhya Sundaresan (Stony Brook University)

Speaker: Sandhya Sundaresan (Stony Brook University)
Title: Reconciling replicative & non-replicative processes in syntax
Time: Friday December 2, 3:30pm, 32-141


Many grammatical phenomena are replicative in the following sense: the featural information pertaining to some element A in a syntactic domain D is repeated on some other element B which stands in a c-command relation with A in D. For instance, in cases of clausal φ-agreement, the φ-features of a clausal argument (subject and/or object) are replicated on the clausemate verb. The syntactic operation of Agree in Minimalism (Chomsky, 2001) is specifically designed to capture grammatical replicativeness. This follows from the idea, hardwired into Agree, that syntactic relationships are fundamentally asymmetric, involving dependencies between an independent element and a dependent counterpart. The idea is that the defectiveness of a probe for some (potentially unary) set of features α triggers valuation/checking of α, under c-command, by a local goal which is specified for α. The only possible output of such an Agree operation is a representation involving replication of α across the probe & goal. Under a strongly Minimalist worldview, it is further assumed that all syntactic relationships are derived by Agree, understood in the sense above. This yields the following state-of-affairs: 1. All syntactic relationships are derived via Agree, and; 2. The only possible output of Agree is feature-replication across the Agreeing elements. Ergo. All syntactic relationships must be featurally replicative.

In this talk, I will argue that such a scenario strongly undergenerates. Partially and fully non-replicative processes in grammar do exist – a fairly uncontroversial point. Perhaps more controversially, I argue that a (proper) subset of non-replicative phenomena are (narrowly-)syntactic in nature (piggybacking on prior work in Bobaljik, 2008; Preminger, 2014; Levin, 2015; Yuan, To Appear, showing that case- marking (i) feeds φ-agreement; (ii) is syntactic, and (iii) involves case-competition, not case-licensing). Such cases are fatal to the strongly Minimalist world-view described above since they clearly cannot be derived under Agree, as it stands.

To accommodate these problematic cases, I develop a radically revised model of Agree (renamed RELATE to avoid ambiguity) which abandons the idea that syntactic relationships are (asymmetric) dependencies. RELATE is grounded on the notion that syntactic dependencies are restricted by a generalized OCP constraint that two syntactically local objects cannot be featurally indistinguishable at the interfaces (along the lines of Richards, 2010, with significant deviations). The corollary to this is that a syntactic link between two nodes A & B for some feature α must output a representation where A & B remain distinguishable at LF/PF wrt. some relevant feature β, where β ̸= α. I show that the new powerful algorithm also accurately predicts some long-observed replicative vs. non-replicative differences at LF and PF between local and long-distance anaphora crosslinguistically (Faltz, 1977; Jackendoff, 1992; Lidz, 2001; Reuland, 2011) as well as distinctness effects in predicate-nominal and small clause constructions (Longobardi, 1994; den Dikken, 2007). I believe the model may also be fruitfully extended to capture certain cases of switch-reference (e.g. in Washo, Arregi and Hanink, 2021) and cases of so-called “subset control” (Ackema and Neeleman, 2013) including of partial obligatory control.


Minicourse (11/29-30) - Sandhya Sundaresan (Stony Brook University)

Modeling subset-superset relations in shifty variation

Sandhya Sundaresan, Stony Brook University

Sandhya Sundaresan will be here at MIT on an extended visit, during which she will teach a minicourse and give a colloquium talk next Friday. The minicourse is now set to happen on Tuesday, Nov 29 and Wednesday Nov 30, 12:30-2pm. The description of the minicourse is attached below. I will let you all know if she tells me there’s any suggested reading for it. 

This mini-course will look at shifty variation in two types of shifty phenomena: (i) perspectival anaphora: i.e. constructions where an anaphor targets the mental or spatial perspective of a salient in- dividual that is not a participant of the utterance-context (Nishigauchi, 2014; Sundaresan, 2018b; Char- navel, 2019), and (ii) indexical shift, delineating cases where the reference of an intensionally embedded indexical pronoun is evaluated relative to the parameters of the intensional predicate rather than wrt. the parameters of the utterance-context (Schlenker, 2003; Deal, 2020; Sundaresan, 2018a).

A striking property of shifty variation is that it is not random but implicationally ordered. For in- stance, the intensional environments that license perspectival anaphora are implicationally restricted in the following sense (an observation going back to Culy, 1994, based on an investigation of perspectival anaphora in 32 languages):

Speech > Thought > Knowledge > Direct perception

IMPLICATION: if an anaphor is licit in the scope of a certain predicate-class, it is necessarily also licit in the scope of all predicate-classes to its left on the hierarchy.

Analogously, the types of perspective-taking are also implicationally ordered (Sells, 1987):

(2) SOURCE (speaker) > SELF (attitude-holder) > PIVOT (spatio-temporal center): 
If a perspectival anaphor in a given language can be bound under a (predicate that provides a) PIVOT, it will also necessarily be licensed under SELF and, in turn, under SOURCE.

The hierarchy in (1) also regulates the availability of indexical shift (Sundaresan, 2012, 2018a; Deal, 2020) crosslinguistically. Variation in which indexicals may shift, both across languages and in a given environment, are also implicationally restricted. As discussed in Deal (2017, 24), there is no language (or individual structure) that shifts ‘you’ to the exclusion of ‘I’ or ‘here’ to the exclusion of ‘you’ (and ‘I’). But the reverse patterns are amply attested.

The shifty hierarchies described so far have all been documented in the literature. We will look at two additional types of implicational dependency which have been significantly less discussed (based on my recent work in Sundaresan, 2021): (a) implicational dependency between perspectival anaphora and indexical shift: I will present evidence showing that the availability of indexical shift in a given environment entails that of perspectival anaphora in that environment, but not vice-versa; (b) subset- superset relation in the internal structures of shifty vs. rigid indexicals crosslinguistically: I will argue (inspired by work on person restrictions in Raynaud, 2020) that shifty indexicals are weak pronouns with a nominal structure that lacks a D layer while rigid indexicals are strong pronouns whose structure subsumes that of shifty indexicals and contains a D layer.

We will look at how these implicational dependencies can be modelled in a selectional, monotonic syntax and explore their consequences for semantics. In so doing, we will also develop a tentative template of attitude shift which can capture these cross-cutting implications, both across the licensing environments and across the shifty elements.

Hungry Wugs (11/30) - Giorgio Magri (MIT)

Hungry Wugs is an undergraduate discussion group aimed to connect linguistics undergraduates and prospective students with the research going on in our department and broadly, in the field of linguistics, in an accessible way. They have an event this week: 
Hungry Wugs discussion group
Date/time: Nov 30, Wednesday, 6pm
Location: 32-D461
Although it is aimed to be accessible to undergraduates, the talk is open to everyone.
Our presenter this week is Prof. Giorgio Magri.
The title of the presentation is:

The shifted sigmoids generalization. 

A short summary of the talk:

This talk will illustrate the gist of current research in linguistics by discussing a recent, beautiful, mysterious empirical observation: the shifted sigmoids generalization (Hayes 2022). It says that, when four linguistic forms are the cross-product of two independent linguistic dimensions, the empirical frequencies of the four forms fall on two shifted sigmoids, as illustrated by the plots at https://linguistics.ucla.edu/people/hayes/GalleryOfWugShapedCurves/index.htm. I will introduce the generalization and present a couple of results that try to explain what it means and why it holds.

Dinner will be provided after the talk. We ask that prospective attendees RSVP (https://forms.gle/KK535oCqRrhb2Bns9) by Sunday Nov 27, to get a headcount for food.

LingLunch (12/1) — Norvin Richards (MIT)

Speaker: Norvin Richards (MIT)

Title: Finding Something to Lean On

Date & Time: Thursday 12/1, 12:30—:40PM

Location: 32-D461, https://mit.zoom.us/j/96057548137


A number of conditions have the effect that certain phrases are required to end with their heads (even in languages in which heads are not generally required to be final).  One such condition is the Head-Final Filter of Williams (1982), which requires APs modifying nouns to end in A:
1.  a proud (*of her daughter) woman
2.  a tough (*to solve completely) problem
Another condition, applying to languages in which nominal complements and APs both follow the noun, requires AP to immediately follow the noun (Giurgea 2009, Adger 2012, Belk and Neeleman 2017).  Adger (2012) gives the following Scottish Gaelic examples:
3.  an dealbh mòr brèagha [de Mhàiri]
  the picture big beautiful [of Mary]
4.  *an dealbh [de Mhàiri] mòr brèagha
A third such condition is the FOFC of Holmberg (2000), Biberauer et al (2014), and much other work, which bans a head-final phrase from having a head-initial phrase as its complement.  The complement of the head-final phrase, like the AP in (1-2) and the material preceding AP in (3-4), must end in its head.
In this talk I will outline an account of requirements of this kind, using conditions independently developed in Contiguity Theory (Richards 2010, 2016).  One of the goals will be, not only to account for the patterns described above, but to capture the exceptions; the existing literature on the FOFC, for example, has uncovered a number of apparent counterexamples, and the Head-final Filter is quite widespread but has some well-known exceptions (including Greek and Russian).​