The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 26th, 2024

Ukhengching Marma featured on 7000 languages

Our MITILI student Rani Ukhengching Marma was recently featured on 7000.org for International Mother Language Day. The feature highlights the important work that Ukheng is doing to preserve and protect her native language Marma. Some of this work is ongoing right now as part of her MA thesis work, but Ukheng also shares about her commitment to language and cultural preservation beyond the dissertation. Read more here: https://www.7000.org/post/our-global-community

Syntax Square 2/27 - Christopher Legerme (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Legerme (MIT)
Title: Movement Dependencies and Existential HAVE constructions in Haitian Creole
Time: Tuesday, February 27th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: For this upcoming Syntax Square, I will be presenting content from two papers which are relevant for an unresolved puzzle of Haitian Creole syntax: 1. Takahashi and Gracanin-Yuksek’s (2008) Morphosyntax of Movement Dependencies in Haitian Creole and 2. Myler’s (2018) Complex copula systems as suppletive allomorphy. Here’s the puzzle. The Haitian Creole (HC) sentence kimoun ki te genyen is ambiguous.

1. (a) Ki moun *(ki) te genyen?
      WH person COMP PST win.
“Who won?” (lit. Which person that won?)

(b) Ki moun *(ki) te genyen?
WH person COMP PST have
“Who was there?” (lit. Which person that had?)

The surfacing of the complementizer ki after a wh-moved phrase is claimed to be symptomatic of subject extraction (Koopman 1982, DeGraff 2001, Takahashi and Gracanin-Yuksek 2008). Therefore, it’s puzzling that ki obligatorily surfaces in (1b) given how the suppletive allomorphy approach (Myler 2018) deals with the syntax of existential “copula” constructions like the following:

2. (a) Te genyen yon moun
      PST have a person
        “There was a person.” (lit. had a person)

(b) Yon moun *(ki) sanble (ki/∅/*ke) te genyen
INDF person COMP seem COMP PST have
“There seemed to be a person.” (lit. A person that seems that had)

Note that in (2b), the second ki is optional. To my knowledge, these facts of HC are unexplained in the literature. Related facts are the obligatory presence of ki with moved thematic arguments of certain (transitive?) verbs like jwe “play” or anbrase “hug”.

   3. (a) (Se) gita ki t ap jwe nan pak la
it.is guitar COMP PST PROG play in park the
“GUITAR was playing in the park.” (lit. (It is) GUITAR that was play in the park)

(b) (Se) ti moun yo ki t ap anbrase
It.is small person PL COMP PST PROG hug “THE KIDS were hugging” (lit. (It is) THE KIDS that was hug)

HC apparently doesn’t show subject inversion (DeGraff 1992: 48) nor English-style passive morphology (Deprez 1992: 208). Still some verbs inflect depending on whether its external argument is agentive or thematic, that is, there are verbs in HC that alternate between a transitive and intransitive form (DeGraff 2001: 75).

4. (a) Mwen fè/*fèt kabann lan rapid-rapid maten an
1SG make bed the fast-fast morning the “I made the bed very quickly this morning.” (DeGraff 2001: 75)

5. (b) Kabann lan *fè/fèt rapid-rapid maten an
bed the made fast-fast morning the
“The bed was made very quickly this morning.” (DeGraff 2001: 75)

I do not have a solution to these puzzles, but I will present the analyses of complementizer ki and existential HAVE sentences of Takahashi and Gracanin-Yuksek (2008) and Myler (2018), respectively, to show how exactly a sentence such as (1b) is puzzling given the theories advanced in those papers, and I will speculate that the correct solution could come from how one might handle the null expletive there and complementizer agreement in the language.

LF Reading Group 2/28 - Omri Doron (MIT)

Speaker: Omri Doron (MIT)
Title: Disjunctive inferences and presupposition projection
Time: Wednesday, February 28th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Multiplicity and Homogeneity (demonstrated in 1 and 2 below) are cases of a truth value gap: the negated sentences in (1b) and (2b) are stronger than what we would get by applying logical negation to the sentences in (1a) and (2a). Evidence gathered in recent years indicates that these truth value gaps are the result of disjunctive presuppositions triggered by the (in)definite plural NPs. Both sentences in (1) presuppose that either Jack saw more than one horse or no horse, and both sentences in (2) presuppose that either Mary read all of the books or none of them. However, it is still unclear how these presuppositions come about. In this talk, I propose that they are the result of presuppositional exhaustification applied at the NP level, and show that their disjunctive nature can be cashed out as a consequence of the properties of presupposition projection from the environments in which they are generated.

(1) a. Jack saw horses.
Inference: Jack saw more than one horse.
b. Jack didn’t see horses.
Inference: Jack saw no horses.

(2) a. Mary read the book.
Inference: Mary read all of the books.
b. Mary didn’t read the books.
Inference: Mary read none of the books.