The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 2nd, 2023

Retreat 9/30

The first-ever Linguistics Retreat was held at Endicott House this past Saturday! Activities featured a hike at Wilson Mountain Reservation, indoor games, a showing of Tenet, soccer, and badminton. See photos below. 

Thanks to all the organizers —- Shrayana, Bergül, Cooper, Danny, Suzanne —- who made this a great day! 



MIT was well represented at the Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics 17 (WAFL 17), held on September 27-29 at the National University of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar. Current students, faculty members and alumni presented talks and posters:

Eunsun Jou (5th year): “Positional restriction on case assignment: Evidence from Korean nominal adverbials” (talk)

Yeong-Joon Kim (5th year): “A Generative Phonetic Approach to the Sound Change in Kyengsang Korean” (talk)

Norvin Richards (faculty): “Placing wh-phrases in Altaic: a Turkish case study” (invited talk)

Mamoru Saito (PhD 1985): “Null arguments in EA languages revisited: Ellipsis or Pronoun” (invited talk)

Isaac Gould (PhD 2015) and Sam Alxatib (PhD 2013): “The diagnostic status of non-negative contexts for negative concord: The view from Turkish” (talk)

Lisa Bylinina, Natalia Ivlieva (PhD 2013) and Alexander Podobryaev (PhD 2014): “Balkar participle da and domain maximality” (talk)

Sam Alxatib (PhD 2013) and Yasutada Sudo (PhD 2012): “Temporal ‘made’ in Japanese and its interaction with aspect and polarity” (poster)

Dmitry Privoznov (PhD 2021): “Causatives: A modal account” (talk)

Here’s a group photo of some of the presenters, along with faculty member Shigeru Miyagawa who is WAFL’s co-founder (with Jaklin Kornfilt).

Syntax Square 10/3 - Scope-marking in Georgian and the impossibility of long-distance movement (Part 2)

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko (Harvard)
Title: Scope-marking in Georgian, and the impossibility of long-distance movement
Time: Tuesday, October 3rd, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this work in progress, I present some observations about long-distance dependencies in Georgian. Georgian is a language that lacks long-distance wh-movement, (1): wh words cannot be extracted across a finite clause boundary. To express the meaning of a long-distance question, a construction with wh scope marking is used, (2), where a wh-expression in the embedded clause co-occurs with the wh-word ra “what” in the matrix clause.

(1) ​ Long-distance wh extraction
*ra-s1       pikrobs  mariami,       [rom     t1  č’ams      šota]?
what-ACC thinks  Mariam.NOM   COMP     is.eating    Shota.NOM
‘What does Mariam think that Shota is eating?’

(2) ​ Wh scope marking
ra-s       pikrobs  mariami,       [rom     ra-s        č’ams    šota]?
what-ACC thinks  Mariam.NOM   COMP  what-ACC  is.eating  Shota.NOM
‘What does Mariam think that Shota is eating?’

In this talk I argue that the construction in (2) does not involve a long-distance dependency: the two wh-expressions are not part of the same movement chain. I propose that a version of the indirect dependency approach (Dayal 1994) can account for the properties of wh scope marking in Georgian: the two wh-words undergo movement in each of their respective clauses to a position between VoiceP and TP (Borise 2023), and then the embedded CP is adjoined to the matrix one.

If this analysis is on the right track, it suggests that true long-distance dependencies are absent in Georgian, and the question is: why? At the end of the talk, I will offer some speculations I have, and solicit suggestions on where to look for the answer.

Phonology Circle 10/2 - Bingzi Yu (MIT)

Speaker: Bingzi Yu (MIT)
Title: Studying naturalness bias in transmission and communication with ALL experiments
Time: Monday, October 2nd, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Phonetic substance is believed to affect phonological grammar through acquisition. Patterns with a clear phonetic motivation are considered more natural and also typologically more frequent. While the hypothesis suggests a bias towards more natural patterns, experimental evidence has been inconsistent. In this talk, I will report the results of two Artificial Language Learning (ALL) experiments. With vowel harmony (natural) and vowel disharmony (unnatural) as the target patterns, the two experiments investigated naturalness bias in the context of transmission and communication. The first experiment found a similar decreasing tendency of both patterns over time, whereas the second one revealed a bias effect during interaction. The mixed results show the weakness of naturalness bias, in line with previous work, and highlight the impact of communicative context on the functioning of bias.

Colloquium 10/6 - Natalie Weber (Yale University)

Speaker: Natalie Weber (Yale University)
Title: Resolving prosodic structure inside of polysynthetic words
Time: Friday, October 6th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-141


Over the last decade there has been a renewed interest in domain-delimited phonological processes and their correspondence with syntax (cf. Selkirk 2011; and overviews in Bennett & Elfner 2019; Elfner 2018; Elordieta 2008, Scheer 2011). Mismatches between phonological domains and syntactic constituents constitute a strong argument for an indirect theory of phonology, where phonological processes are delimited by a prosodic structure which is distinct from syntactic structure (Downing 1999; Hayes 1989; Inkelas 1993; Nespor & Vogel 2007/1986; Pierrehumbert & Beckman 1988; Selkirk 1986; Selkirk 1984). However, even within this framework there are open questions about the visibility and directionality of syntactic and prosodic constituents. This talk addresses two:

  1. Modularity of syntax and phonology? Many recent theories allow morphosyntactic and prosodic representations to correspond within the same computational architecture (e.g. Alignment Theory: McCarthy & Prince 1994, Selkirk 1996, Werle 2009; Wrap Theory: Kabak & Revithiadou 2009, Truckenbrodt 1996, 1999; Match Theory: Elfner 2012, Selkirk 2011). Other theories require some amount of modularity (e.g., Scheer 2011; MSO-PI-PO: Itô & Mester 2023; Lee & Selkirk 2023).
  2. Serial or parallel resolution of prosodic structure? Many recent theories implicitly or explicitly allow phonological derivation across a phonological representation which includes all prosodic categories at once (e.g., most theories of Prosodic Phonology, Nespor & Vogel 2011/1986, Selkirk 2011). Other theories require serial computation of prosodic categories from the innermost to the outermost (e.g., Cophonologies by Phrase: Sande et al. 2020; Stratal OT: Bermúdez-Otero 1999, Kiparsky 2000, 2008).

Prosodic structure within Blackfoot
This talk focuses on phonological processes within the verb in Blackfoot (Algonquian), a polysynthetic language. I argue that prosodic structure in Blackfoot shows that modularity and serial derivation must be maintained. The analytic framework I adopt is similar in some ways to Stratal OT (Bermúdez-Otero 1999, Kiparsky 2000, 2008), but without the same assumptions of how morphosyntactic structure maps to prosodic structure. The reason is that there is independent syntactic evidence in Blackfoot that the stem and the verbal complex are constructed in phrasal syntax. This in turn suggests that prosodic structure “within the word” may arise from the same kinds of correspondences with syntax that occur at the phonological phrase level.