The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 17th, 2023

Syntax Square 4/18 - Giovanni Roversi (MIT)

Speaker: Giovanni Roversi (MIT)
Title: Adjectival “concord” in North Sámi is not concord (and it’s two different phenomena)
Time: Tuesday, April 18th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Adjectives in North Sámi only inflect for case and number when they are predicative and
in case of NP ellipsis (NPE), and carry invariant morphology otherwise. I argue that the two contexts where they are inflected need two different accounts, and that neither of them reflects genuine nominal concord. In the NPE case, the morphology showing up on the adjective is the result of a stranded affix configuration caused by eliding the nP. I show that predicative adjectives, although they’re inflected, cannot be reduced to a case of NPE, but must get case/number features from a different source. I also propose an account of the adjectival morphology both when inflected and when not inflected.
— This is a practice talk for CLS, so I aim to talk for 20 minutes.

LF Reading Group 4/19 - Omri Doron (MIT)

Speaker: Omri Doron (MIT)
Title: Hebrew nominal sentences wear their reconstruction on their sleeve
Time: Wednesday, April 19th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Hebrew nominal sentences (with NP/AP as a predicate) sometimes contain what looks like a pronoun between the subject and the predicate (“Pron”), which agrees with the subject:

(1) dana (hi) gvoa
Dana (Pron.3FSG) tall
“Dana is tall”

Doron (1983) analyzes Pron as the realization of agreement features in I⁰, which is still considered the standard analysis of Pron. I point out that this analysis is unable to account for Pron’s complicated distribution and interpretative effects, and argue for an alternative analysis of Pron as a resumptive pronoun. I then show that Pron’s syntactic properties can be used to test different hypotheses in the literature regarding reconstruction effects.

LingLunch 4/20 - Janek Guerrini (Institut Jean Nicod, ENS)

Speaker: Janek Guerrini (Institut Jean Nicod, ENS)
Title: Revisiting kind predication
Time: Thursday, April 20th, 12:30pm - 2pm

Abstract: It is well-known that referential plurals support both collective predication with predicates of pluralities (‘the students are numerous’) and distributive predication with predicates of individuals (‘the students are blond’). Kind-referring plurals also support ‘collective’ kind predication, as in ‘birds are widespread’ (Carlson, 1977). However, with predicates of individuals, as in ‘birds fly’, it is usually assumed that there is no direct, distributive application of the predicate to the kind, but instead generic quantification on members of the kind (Krifka et al, 1995; Chierchia, 1998 a.o.). In this work, I argue that in sentences with predicates of individuals, kind-denoting plurals actually give rise to both logical forms: one that features generic quantification, and one that involves distributing a property directly over members of the kind. I then show how this insight resolves a number of long-standing puzzles in genericity.

Devon Denny to UC San Diego!

Our recent MIT Indigenous Languages Initiative (MITILI) alum, Devon Denny (S.M., 2022) has accepted an offer to join UC San Diego’s Linguistics PhD program! He will be jointly supervised by Michelle Yuan (PhD, 2018) and Emily Clem. Devon plans to continue working on topics in the syntax of his native language, Navajo. Congratulations to UC San Diego and congratulations to Devon—-we’re so proud of you!

Annual joint Linguistics/Philosophy colloquium 4/21: Pranav Anand (UC Santa Cruz)

Speaker: Pranav Anand (UC Santa Cruz - Linguistics)
Title: Faultless disagreement and narrative structure: a view from the historical present
Time: Friday, April 21, 3-5pm
Location: 32-141
This talk reports on joint work with Maziar Toosarvandani on the interaction of the historical present tense and the so-called faultless disagreement property of subjective expressions like predicates of personal taste (PPTs). Assertive disagreements with PPTs are often understood as matters of opinion, disagreements with no one at ‘fault’ regarding an objective matter of fact. We begin from a somewhat complicated case where such disagreements seem to be matters of fact: joint oral narratives in the historical present, as exemplified in (1). Historical present is a stylistic device employed to describe a past moment using the present tense, and narratives containing historical present usages are known to move back and forth between (canonical) past and (historical) present frequently. Interestingly, the choice of tense impacts judgments of faultlessness: when a disagreement is in the canonical past (2a’), the typical sense of faultlessness obtains. But when the disagreement is in the historical present (2a), the judgment of faultlessness does not (and A and B are often taken to be disagreeing about some fact of their narrative).
a. C: [talking to A and B] How was your vacation?
b. A: Well, after we arrive in Paris, we take a bus to the Normandy coast. We visit an apple orchard.
c. B: They have their own cider. It’s delicious!
a. A: No, it isn’t delicious. [non-faultless disagreement]
a’. A: No, it wasn’t delicious. [faultless disagreement]
We propose an account for the contrast in (2) that relies on an interaction of the semantics of tense (framed in terms of a bicontextual semantics like that of Macfarlane and Sharvit) and the structure of narrative as a genre (phrased in terms of Labov & Waletzky’s distinction between the complication and evaluation of a narrative).