The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 13th, 2023

Creteling 2023!

The 5th Crete Summer School of Linguistics, or ‘CreteLing’, will take place from July 15 to July 28, 2023 at the University of Crete in Rethymno, Greece.

As in other years, a number of current faculty, as well as current and former students will be involved.

Current MIT faculty Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, Shigeru Miyagawa, David Pesetsky, Norvin Richards, and Donca Steriade will be teaching classes, along with alumni Karlos Arregi, Paul Kiparsky, Ömer Demirok, Pritty Patel-Grosz, Doug Pulleyblank, and Philippe Schlenker. They will be joined by many wonderful colleagues from around the world.

Besides the wide range of courses offered across four parallel sessions, the summer school will feature two workshops: ‘Workshop on Language Acquisition’, organized by Artemis Alexiadou, Maria Teresa Guasti, and Uli Sauerland, and ‘Gender Markedness and Defaults’, organized by Luke Adamson. 

For more information, as well as the application form, please consult the school’s website: https://linguistics.philology.uoc.gr/cssl23/

LF Reading Group 3/15 - Ka-Fai Yip (Yale University)

Speaker: Ka-Fai Yip (Yale University)
Title: A compositional account of “only” doubling
Time: Wednesday, March 15th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Cross-linguistically, exclusive particles ‘only’ may be doubled with a single focus association, posing a problem for the Principle of Compositionality (Dutch: Barbiers 2014; German: Hole 2015; Korean: Lee 2005; Mandarin: Hole 2017, Sun 2021; Vietnamese: Hole 2017, Erlewine 2017; i.a.). The predominant account, operator-particle approach (Quek & Hirsch’s 2017; cf. Branan & Erlewine 2023), explains doubling of adverbial and adfocus particles by treating the latter as semantically vacuous concord markers that establish a syntactic dependency with the former. In this study, I focus on an understudied case of ‘only’ doubling of adverbial particles and sentence-final particles (SFPs) in Cantonese (Law 2004, Lee 2019), which is also attested in Mandarin (Erlewine 2011) and Vietnamese (Hole 2013). While I follow the tenet of the operator-particle approach that one particle is dependent on another one (which is an operator), I pursue a different route in two-dimensional semantics concerning at-issueness and argue that both particles have focus-sensitive contributions, distributed in different meaning dimensions. Specifically, the SFPs relate the focus alternative set quantified by adverbial ‘only’, the genuine exclusive operator, to the discourse by requiring the excluded alternatives to be contextually salient. Informally, the SFPs add a “contrastive” flavor to the exclusive focus. I further demonstrate how the dependency between the two particles may be accounted for by the semantics of the SFPs in terms of distinguishing excluded alternatives from the presupposed proposition, and offer a compositional analysis. I will also address issues raised by scalar readings and how to unify non-scalar and scalar uses in ‘only’ doubling.

Breakstone Speaker Series: Shane Steinert-Threlkeld

This week, Shane Steinert-Threlkeld (University of Washington) will give a colloquium talk and two-part minicourse as the first invited speaker of the Breakstone Speaker Series on Language, Mind, and Computation. This brand new speaker series is an interdisciplinary collaboration between faculty from MIT Linguistics, MIT Brain and Cognitive Sciences, and MIT CSAIL. The funding for the series comes in the form of a donation by Micha Breakstone (PhD, Hebrew University of Jerusalem). 

Abstracts and details about Shane’s visit can be found below. 

Colloquium: Unnatural Language Semantics

When: March 17, 3.30-5pm
Where: 32-141
Abstract: Unnatural language semantics is the study of the meaning of words and expressions in languages that are very unlike natural languages. In this talk, I will present several case studies about how unnatural language semantics can inform us about the structure of natural languages. In particular, I will explain and present several case studies of two methods for explaining semantic universals (shared properties of meaning across the languages of the world).  One method argues that, at the individual word level, such universals arise due to learnability.  The other method suggests that, at the language level, they arise due to optimally trading-off the competing pressures of simplicity and informativeness. The talk will conclude with some discussion about the connections between the two approaches as well as other applications where unnatural language semantics can be helpful.
Reception immediately following talk. RSVP here.

Mini-course: The Artificial Language Toolkit

When: March 15, 3-5pm; March 16, 12.30-2pm
Where: 32-D461
Abstract: This session will introduce the technique of analyzing semantic typology from the perspective of efficient communication, capturing the idea that natural languages optimally balance competing pressures to be simple and to be informative.  After introducing the general framework, we will look at one application in detail: indefinite pronouns.  In particular, we will walk through reproducing this paper in a new software library that we are developing called the Artificial Language Toolkit, which enables linguists and other researchers to provide typological data in easy-to-produce formats and then conducts various efficient communication analyses more-or-less automatically.
Paper on indefinite pronouns: http://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.13142
Artificial Language Toolkit (ALTK; still in active development): https://clmbr.shane.st/altk/

Spring Spark Practice Teaching Session

Date/Time: Wednesday, March 15, 5-6 pm
Location: Room 26-142
The students in 24.S95 Linguistics in K-12 Education—Aspen Abner, Christopher Legerme, Cora Lesure, Lorenzo Pinton, and Vincent Zu—have designed a mini-course that they will teach at MIT’s Spring Spark, a weekend of classes for 7th and 8th graders on March 18-19. The class is aptly named Linguistics: The Science of Language (see description below).
You are invited to the practice teaching session. Please come, participate, and give your feedback on the class. It’s your chance to be a 7th/8th grader again!
Class Description:
Linguistics: The Science of Language
Did you know that language, like all natural phenomena, can be observed and investigated in a scientific way? What is unique about language is that everyone has their own personal and infinite data set living inside their brain. Learn to examine that data the way a linguist would, and puzzle over things that you may not realize you know about the language that you use every day. Learn how linguistics, the science of language, relates to your world and what you’re interested in.