The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 10th, 2023

MorPhun 4/13 - Stan Zompì (MIT)

Speaker: Stan Zompì (MIT)
Title: *ABA in multidimensional paradigms
Time: Thursday, April 13th, 5pm - 6:30pm


The last decade and a half has witnessed a lot of research about *ABA universals—generalizations like “If a nominative and the corresponding dative have the same exponent, then the corresponding accusative has that exponent too” (Caha 2009; Smith et al. 2019). Most of the work on these universals has only focused on one ‘paradigm column’ at a time, by checking a given paradigm’s NOM.SG, ACC.SG, and DAT.SG, for example, with no heed to whether any of the exponents under scrutiny would also show up in that paradigm’s NOM.PL, ACC.PL, or DAT.PL. Recent literature, however, has pointed out that inspecting full paradigms is crucial to our understanding of *ABA, especially because some classic accounts that derive *ABA column-internally turn out to also make predictions about what may or may not happen across columns, and those predictions often appear to be wrong. In the domain of case, two proposals have recently been advanced to try and fix the problem: Christopoulos & Zompì’s (2022) and Caha’s (2023). I’ll argue that the former undergenerates (as Caha points out), whereas the latter overgenerates and, in so doing, misses a generalization. The challenge is to develop a theory whose power falls halfway between the two. To this end, I will explore the idea that exponents may both be underspecified and be overspecified with respect to their exponenda, and that each of these departures from a perfect match is penalized without necessarily being fatal—an intuition I will implement optimality-theoretically in terms of violable MAX and DEP constraints. I will argue that this derives the desired generalizations, and discuss some theoretical choice points and the (scant) evidence that might bear on them.

LF Reading Group 4/12 - Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Title: CAUSE and causation in verb semantics. A modal account
Time: Wednesday, April 12th, 1pm - 2pm


In this talk, I will discuss the causation component in the lexical semantics of verb-like elements. More specifically, I will talk about four types of lexical items: (1) actuality entailing modals (see, e.g., Nadathur 2019, 2020); (2) verbs ‘make’ and ‘let’ (see, e.g., Raffy 2021); (3) morphological causatives (see, e.g., Lyutikova et al. 2006); (4) accomplishments (see, e.g., Dowty 1979, Kratzer 1996, Pylkkanen 2002, Ramchand 2008, Tatevosov 2008). All four of them have been argued to involve a causation component in their lexical meaning. Usually, causation is analyzed either as a relation between propositions (e.g., Dowty 1979) or events (e.g., Davidson 1967, Parsons 1990, Harley 1996, Pylkkanen 2002, Ramchand 2008) or as a force, which constitutes a separate ontological entity (e.g., Copley and Wolff 2014, Copley and Harley 2015, Raffy 2021). In the talk, I will try to argue for a modal account of the causation component in the lexical semantics of these items. According to this account, a causal operator is a modal quantifier with variable force (universal or existential) and fixed flavor. It is anchored to a situation (in terms of Kratzer 2007) and its domain of quantification includes all the causal chains initiated by the counterparts of the anchor situation in different possible worlds. I will try to show that this account adequately accounts for (1) the entailment relations between different causative predicates (e.g., ‘make’ and ‘let’, different interpretations of causatives); (2) underspecification of the causing situation (Agent vs. Causer theta-role, the causation by omission reading); and finally (3) the distribution of (anti)-actuality and (anti)-culmination entailments across aspectual contexts and negation.

Exp/Comp 4/14 - Qiu, Puvipalan & Tieu (University of Toronto)

Time: Friday, April 14th, 3.30-5pm 
Speakers: Jimmy Qiu, Vaishnavy Puvipalan & Lyn Tieu (University of Toronto)
Location: The talk will be virtual (on Zoom) but we will still be meeting in 32-D831!

Title: An experimental investigation of the inferences of emoji

Schlenker (2018) proposes a typology of ‘co-speech’, ‘pro-speech’, and ‘post-speech’ gestures, distinguished by whether the gestures are ‘external’ (can be eliminated without affecting the acceptability of the sentence) or ‘internal’, and whether the gestures occupy their own timeslot. Pierini (2021) extends Schlenker’s typology to emoji, identifying a set of predictions for how emoji should be interpreted in different kinds of sentences. First, ‘co-text emoji’, which immediately follow written text (e.g., John didn’t train today 🏋️) trigger ‘cosuppositional’ inferences (conditionalized assertion-dependent presuppositions) that project from embedded environments (if John had trained today, weight-lifting would have been involved). Second, ‘pro-text emoji’, which fully replace words (e.g., The egg will not 🐣), have an at-issue semantics and can trigger standard presuppositions (the egg is currently unhatched). Finally, ‘post-text emoji’, separated from accompanying text by a pause (e.g., appearing in the subsequent text message), generate supplements, which are degraded in negative environments. In this talk, we will describe a set of studies that investigate and ultimately provide experimental support for the predictions made in Pierini (2021).

Phonology Circle 4/11 - Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard University)
Title: On quantitative clash and lapse: the Old Tamil taḷai system of metrical linkage
Time: Tuesday, April 11th, 5pm - 6:30pm


Quantitative meters are familiarly described using (more or less flexible) templates which specify which kinds of metrical feet — and thus which sequences of heavy and light syllables — are permitted in which parts of the line. Such templates reflect recurring (ar)rhythmic structures. The oldest Old Tamil meters (early first millennium) work rather differently, in that any kind of metrical foot (within certain size limits) can appear anywhere in the line. What makes each meter distinctive is primarily its taḷai “linkage,” i.e. syntagmatic constraints on feet (e.g. foot type X can occur anywhere, but wherever it occurs, it cannot be followed by foot type Y). This system, which cannot be reduced to a fixed underlying pattern of prominence, is apparently indigenously Dravidian, making it one of the world’s few independent origins of quantitative meter. I analyze taḷai in terms of quantitative clash and lapse (along the lines of *Heavy-Heavy and *Light-Light; cf. Steriade 2017), arguing that standard (prominence-based) clash and lapse are irrelevant. Taḷai is further important for generative metrics in that (1) while some meters avoid clash and lapse, others prefer it (contra language, with music); (2) taḷai operates more stringently across feet than within them (contra a claimed universal); and (3) taḷai operates on the metrical parse rather than on intrinsic linguistic weight (contra strong prosodic metrics).

LingLunch 4/13 - Will Oxford (MIT, University of Manitoba)

Speaker: Will Oxford (MIT, University of Manitoba)
Title: Contrastive, obligatory, and spurious voice
Time: Thursday, April 13th, 12:30pm - 2pm


Algonquian languages have a system of direct-inverse marking that is conditioned by a person hierarchy: 1/2 > 3 > 3′ > 3″ (where 3′ and 3″ represent obviative and “further obviative” third persons). Since a multi-level hierarchy such as this cannot be captured by a single feature, the apparent need to account for such hierarchies has led to some creative proposals about what syntax can do. I will argue that the Algonquian person hierarchy is in fact an illusion created by the use of marked voice morphology under three different conditions, which I refer to as “contrastive voice”, “obligatory voice”, and “spurious voice”. Each condition is responsible for one of the three rankings that make up the apparent hierarchy: the 3′ > 3″ ranking reflects contrastive voice, the 3 > 3′ ranking reflects obligatory voice, and the 1/2 > 3 ranking reflects spurious voice. I will show how this dissolution of the hierarchy improves our understanding of the data and explore its implications for formal models of voice and agreement.

Colloquium 4/14 - Ksenia Bogomolets (University of Auckland)

Speaker: Ksenia Bogomolets (University of Auckland)
Title: How to get rid of idiosyncrasy in lexical accent systems
Time: Friday, April 14th, 3:30pm - 5pm


Phonological theory usually draws a broad distinction between two types of (stress-)accent systems: phonologically predictable accent vs. lexical accent systems. Lexical accent languages are often assumed to employ various complex morphology-based strategies to deal with accent assignment and competition (e.g. Alderete 1999; Bogomolets 2020; Hayes 1995; Revithiadou 1999; van der Hulst 2014). Such complexity is then taken to warrant idiosyncratic rules/constraints, which makes lexical accent systems look quite irregular in comparison to the phonologically predictable accent systems. Considering data from a Uto-Aztecan language Choguita Rarámuri, I argue that the surface complexity of lexical accent systems falls out from cross-linguistically attested morpho-syntactic configurations, while the accent assigning systems themselves only require simple, predominantly phonology-driven rules. These rules crucially are active cross-linguistically as well and are highly comparable to those found in phonologically predictable accent systems.