The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 11th, 2023

Lecture series 12/11-12/15 - Matilde Marcolli (CalTech)

We are pleased to announce a series of five lectures by Prof. Matilde Marcolli. The lectures will be based on three recent papers by Matilde co-authored with Bob Berwick and Noam Chomsky. The talks will be hybrid. Contact Amir Anvari for any questions. 

Title: Mathematical Structure of Syntactic Merge: An Algebraic Model for Generative Linguistics 

Abstract: This series of lectures is based on work in collaboration with Noam Chomsky and Robert Berwick. The main goal is to present a mathematical formulation of Chomsky’s theory of Merge and the Strong Minimalist Thesis, and show how various aspects of the theory fall naturally into place in terms of the algebraic structure. We will discuss how one can think, in this light, about Externalization, about the difference between older forms of Minimalism and the new SMT, and about the interface between syntax and semantics.

Papers: [https://arxiv.org/abs/2311.06189], [https://arxiv.org/abs/2306.10270], [https://arxiv.org/abs/2305.18278]

Times and Locations:

  • Monday 11th of December: Room 32-D461, Time 12-1:30pm 
  • Tuesday 12th of December: Room 32-D831, Time 1-2:30pm
  • Wednesday 13th of December: Room 32-D461, Time 10-11:30am
  • Thursday 14th of December: Room 32-D461, Time 1-2:30pm
  • Friday 15th of December: Room 32-D461, Time 1-2:30pm

Please note the differences, both in time and location, of the lectures on different days.


LF Reading Group 12/13 - Johanna Alstott (MIT)

Speaker: Johanna Alstott (MIT)
Title: Trying and failing to count in dense intervals
Time: Wednesday, December 13th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this LSA practice talk, I offer a semantic analysis of a puzzling restriction on the distribution of ordinal numbers in English: while the temporal adverbials “at first” and “at last” are felicitous, putting any other ordinal in this environment is degraded (#at second, #at sixth). I know of no previous literature that discusses “at first”/”at last” or the unacceptability of #at second, #at third, etc. My analysis of “at first” and “at last” builds on the notion that assertions are relativized to a salient time interval, known in the literature as topic time (Klein 1994). On my semantics, “at first” and “at last” further relativize an assertion to a salient subinterval of the topic time that shares an infimum (first point) or supremum (last point) with it. On the assumption that time-intervals are dense, the infelicity of #at second, #at third, etc. follows from this semantics. Since “at first” and “at last” invoke the infimum and supremum of a time-interval (respectively) on my semantics, #at second will attempt to invoke the second (i.e. second earliest) point of a time-interval. Invoking the infimum or supremum of a (closed) dense interval is coherent, but invoking the second earliest point (the point closer to the infimum than any other) is not. My analysis makes interesting predictions about the interaction of “at first”/”at last” with present tense and with frame adverbials, and it paves the way for an account of why ordinals are forbidden in related “at”-modifiers with superlatives (e.g. at most vs. #at second most).