The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 27th, 2023

The first Inupiaq working group meeting on 3/2

On Thursday, March 2, 1pm, MIT Indigenous Languages Initiative (MITILI) alum Annauk Olin (S.M. 2021) will lead the first Inupiaq working group meeting. On Thursday and at future meetings, the group will aim to piece together grammatical aspects of the Inupiaq language, specific to the Native Village of Shishmaref. All are welcome to join: for more information, please contact Annauk (annauk@mit.edu).  

Phonology Circle 2/27 - Boer Fu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: Mandarin Glide Segmentation: A Language Game Experiment
Time: Monday, February 27th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: The acquisition of a phonological grammar requires the segmentation of audio input into individual consonants and vowels as a first step. Segmentation is often taken as a given in the study of alphabetical languages, but triggers much debate in Mandarin phonology, especially around the prenuclear glide G in the syllable template CGVX (e.g. [j] in [ɕjɑŋ] ‘fragrance’). Some scholars treat the glide as an independent segment (e.g. Lin 1989). Others claim it is a secondary articulation of the onset (e.g. Duanmu 2007). Still others argue it is nothing more than a natural CV transition (e.g. Ladefoged & Maddieson 1996). These proposals for glide segmentation assume uniform segmentation among Mandarin speakers. I present a language game experiment that shows there is much speaker variation in glide segmentation. The language game is based on Chinese fanqie secret languages (see Chao 1931). In the experiment, Mandarin speakers are asked to swap the onsets of a disyllabic word, in order to encode it as a secret message. For example, [kʰa fej] ‘coffee’ is encoded as [fa kʰej]. What a speaker chooses to do with the glide can inform us of their segmentation of the sound.

Lorenzo Pinton @ S-Babble

On February 21, 2023, our second-year student Lorenzo Pinton gave a talk at S-Babble, a syntax-semantics discussion group at UC San Diego. 


Title: Numerous” relative clauses: permutation invariance, anti-restrictiveness, triviality

Abstract: It’s been observed that gather-like and numerous-like predicates give rise to different felicity patterns when combined with plural quantifiers (Kroch, 1974; Dowty et al., 1987; Champollion, 2010; Amiraz, 2021):

1)  a.    All the students gathered.

     b.  #All the students are numerous.

In this work, I aim to provide an analysis for similar data brought about by restrictive relative clauses:

2)  a.    Jack only talked to the students that gathered.

     b.  #Jack only talked to the students that were numerous.

While gather can be felicitously applied in a restrictive construction (2a), numerous cannot (2b). First, I will argue, through Italian data, that the problem is really tied to restriction, rather than relative clauses in general. Second, I will claim that predicates like numerous have a specific property, permutation invariance (i.e. the fact that such predicates only care about the cardinality of a group, and not about the specific members that compose that group). This property is problematic when numerous is combined with pluralized predicate, where pluralization is defined as the star operator (Link, 1984). In particular, I will show that when a pluralized predicate modified by numerous combines with the definite article the, it generates triviality, which leads to infelicity (Gajewski, 2002). A positive outcome of this solution is that it  predicts the puzzling data in (3), namely the fact that (2b) becomes good if students is modified by another predicate:

3)  Jack only talked to the gathered students that were numerous.

In fact, we can assume that, when gathered students is not pluralized, it will feed numerous plural individuals (since it is a collective predicate), without leading to triviality. In the presentation I will discuss the conclusion that this solution seems to suggest: namely that pluralization is a rather free operation, which is syntactic in nature and its application is governed by certain logical properties, like avoiding triviality. I would like to conclude showing some problems that might be lurking in the proposed solution, and possible extensions of this solution to the plural quantifiers puzzle in (1) that the literature has focused on so far.


(Thanks to JJ Lim for the screenshot!)


Over the weekend, some of us (Bergül Soykan, Katie Martin, Keely New, and Cora Lesure) participated in a very fun and stimulating installment of ECO-5 hosted by the University of Connectiticut in Storrs. ECO-5 is a venue for graduate students from five East Coast universities (UMass, MIT, Harvard, UConn, and UMD) to present their ongoing, original work in linguistics.