The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 4th, 2023

MInicourse 12/5, 12/6 — Benjamin Spector (Institut Jean Nicod (CNRS-ENS-EHESS)

Speaker: Benjamin Spector (Institut Jean Nicod (CNRS-ENS-EHESS)
Title: Varieties of dynamic semantic, and a non-dynamic alternative
Time: Tuesday, Dec 5, 1-2:30pm and Wednesday, Dec 5, 1-2.30pm
Location: 32-D461
Dynamic semantics is a major formal framework to model anaphora in natural languages.
We’ll start with (a version of) classical dynamic semantics for anaphora which does not account for the possibility of anaphora in ‘bathroom sentences’ (`Either there is no bathroom, or it is upstairs’), and then move to more recent proposals that do. We will also discuss how recent approaches in ‘plural dynamic semantics’ deal with so called quantificational subordination (‘Everybody read a book, and everybody liked it’). I will then move to some work of my own in which I give a static (non-dynamic) reconstruction of what I take to be the major intuitions behind dynamic accounts. I will include a discussion of what makes a proposal static or dynamic. 

LingLunch 12/7 - Ksenia Ershova (MIT)

Speaker: Ksenia Ershova (MIT)
Title: What’s in a (polysynthetic) phase: Dynamic domains, spellout and locality
Time: Thursday, December 7th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: INTRODUCTION This talk demonstrates how languages with complex morphology (=polysynthetic languages) can help tease apart rules which apply purely in the syntax from interface conditions which determine how linguistic structure is pronounced. The two types of rules nontrivially interact with each other, making it difficult to determine the division of labor in languages like English, which don’t make use of complex morphology. The results of the study highlight the importance of understudied, typologically diverse languages for our understanding of human linguistic competence.

ABSTRACT Since Chomsky (2000), constraints on locality have been defined in terms of phasehood. One explanation for the opaqueness of phases for syntactic operations has been to treat them as potential goals and, correspondingly, interveners for Agree with elements inside the phase (Rackowski and Richards 2005, etc.). On the other side, a broad consensus has been to connect phasehood to the timing of spell-out: syntactic structure is sent to PF cyclically, and a constituent which has been spelled out is no longer visible for higher syntactic derivations (Uriagereka 1999, Chomsky 2001, 2008, etc.). Building on this intuition, a number of approaches have identified phases as salient domains for defining prosodic rules (e.g. Newell 2008, Dobashi 2013).

Based on data from West Circassian, I argue for an integrated theory of phasehood which combines both approaches. West Circassian provides evidence for the existence of two partially overlapping, but independent notions of syntactic domain: (i) spellout domains which are relevant for defining rules of syntax-to-prosody mapping, and (ii) locality domains, which serve as interveners for Agree. The two types of domains display different properties: prosodic domains are spelled out wholesale, together with the head and the edge of the constituent, while locality domains are equidistant to higher probes with their edge, allowing for successive-cyclic movement out of them. Both types of domains are dynamic (cf. den Dikken 2007; Gallego 2010; Bošković 2014), but in different ways and under distinct conditions. Prosodic domains are defined by the boundaries of the extended projection: for example, an NP behaves as a prosodic constituent even in the absence of D. The opaqueness of locality domains, on the other hand, is relativized to a given probe – if the probe has independently agreed with the head of a locality domain, the corresponding domain no longer displays phasehood properties in relation to that probe.

As a polysynthetic language, West Circassian provides a unique window into the dichotomy between the two types of syntactic domains due to the parameters which derive its complex morphology. In the domain of syntax-to-prosody mapping, polysynthetic languages allow for systematic mismatches between syntactic and prosodic phrasing (e.g. Compton and Pittman 2010; Barrie and Mathieu 2016) – certain phrases correspond to phonological words and are thus identifiable as prosodic domains. The sensitivity of locality domains to Agree is observable due to obligatory agreement between heads of the same extended projection, which, among other things, drives concatenation of verbal heads to form complex wordforms – in certain well-defined configurations, this agreement renders locality domains transparent for probing, thus confirming Agree-based approaches to phasehood.

References Barrie, M. & E. Mathieu. 2016. Noun incorporation and phrasal movement. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 34: 1–51. Bošković, Željko. 2014. Now I’m a phase, now I’m not a phase: On the variability of phases with extraction and ellipsis. Linguistic Inquiry 45.1.27–89. Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In R. Martin, D. Michaels & J. Uriagereka (eds.), Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax in honor of Howard Lasnik, 89–156. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In M. Kenstowicz (ed.), Ken Hale: A life in language, 1–52. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Chomsky, N. 2008. On phases. In Foundational issues in linguistic theory, eds. R. Freidin, C. P. Otero & M. L. Zubizarreta, 133–166. MIT Press. Compton, R. & C. Pittman. 2010. Word-formation by phase in inuit. Lingua 120: 2167–2192. den Dikken, Marcel. 2007. Phase extension: Contours of a theory of the role of head movement in phrasal extraction. Theoretical Linguistics 33.1–41. Dobashi, Yoshihito. 2013. Autonomy of prosody and prosodic domain formation: A derivational approach. Linguistic Analysis 38. 331–355. Gallego, Ángel J. 2010. Phase theory. John Benjamins. Newell, Heather. 2008. Aspects of the morphology and phonology of phases. Doctoral dissertation, McGill University. Rackowski, A. & N. Richards. 2005. Phase edge and extraction: A Tagalog case study. Linguistic Inquiry 36 (4): 565–599. Uriagereka, Juan. 1999. Multiple spell-out. In S. D. Epstein & N. Hornstein (eds.), Working minimalism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Colloquium 12/8 - Benjamin Spector (Institut Jean Nicod (CNRS-ENS-EHESS))

Speaker: Benjamin Spector (Institut Jean Nicod (CNRS-ENS-EHESS))
Title: Reasoning with Quantifiers, Lewisian Imaging and the Confirmation Paradox
Time: Friday, December 8th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-141

Abstract: From a normative point of view, the conclusions we can draw from a sentence of the form No A is B are the same as the ones we can draw from No B is A, because No is a symmetric determiner, and therefore these two sentence types are logically equivalent. I will present experimental evidence (based on joint work with Vincent Mouly) showing that people do not in fact reason in the same way with No A is B and with No B is A. In particular, people’s estimate of the number of As after processing No A is B is higher than after processing No B is A (and vice-versa for B). I will argue that this instantiates a more general property of restrictors: we tend not to revise our beliefs about the size of the restrictor set even when receiving information that would in fact warrant such a revision. I will argue that this effect can be explained if we make the following hypotheses:

- Belief update does not (always) correspond to probabilistic conditionalization, but can also proceed by Imaging, as defined by David Lewis (1976). In a nutshell, when revising our beliefs with a proposition S, our posterior degree of confidence in a certain proposition T corresponds to our prior degree of confidence in the conditional ‘If S, T’ (using Stalnaker’s semantics for conditionals), rather than to the conditional probability P(T|S).
- Restrictors tend to serve as anchors when we engage in conditional reasoning: when considering the different ways in which a quantified sentence could be true, we mentally keep constant the restrictor set. I will relate this both to the possibility of de re readings for restrictors and to recent experimental results about verification strategies for quantified statements (Knowlton, Pietroski, Williams et al. 2023).

I will show that how these findings and the proposed theory can shed light on the confirmation paradox (see also Rinard 2014): given a statement S of the form ‘All As are Bs’, people are more prone to think that an observation of an object that has both properties A and B ‘confirms’ S than they are to think that observing an object that is both not-B and not-A confirms S, and I will discuss, time permitting, further experimental results (based on joint work with Nicolas Poisson) pertaining to the confirmation paradox.

Selected References:

- Knowlton, T., Pietroski, P, Williams, A., Halberda, J & Lidz, J. (2023), Psycholinguistic evidence for restricted quantification. Nat Lang Semantics 31, 219–251. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11050-023-09209-w
- Lewis, D., (1976), Probabilities of Conditionals and Conditional Probabilities, Philosophical Review, 85(3): 297–315. doi:10.2307/2184045
- Rinard, S. (2014), A New Bayesian Solution to the Paradox of the Ravens, Philosophy of Science 81 (1):81-100 (2014)