The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 4th, 2024

Phonology Circle 3/4

Phonology Circle will meet on March 4, 5-6.30pm, in the 8th floor conference room for a logistical meeting. Be there or be square!

Benbaji-Elhadad @ Tel Aviv University

On February 22, 2024, our fifth-year grad student Ido Benbaji-Elhadad gave an invited talk at the interdisciplinary colloquia series organized by the Linguistics Department at Tel Aviv University. 

Title: Specific-opaque readings and the temporal interpretation of noun phrases

Abstract: Szabó (2010,2011) argues that in addition to their de dicto, de re and third readings, DPs in intensional contexts can have a fourth, specific-opaque reading in which their determiner scopes above an intensional operator while their restrictor is nevertheless interpreted opaquely, in the intensional environment created by the operator. Szabó provides examples of specific-opaque readings relative to the three main intensional operators, namely, attitudes, modals and tense, as evidence that natural language makes available a general, unrestricted mechanism to derive such “split” readings for DPs in intensional environments. We focus on specific-opaque readings relative to modals and tense and show that neither supports that conclusion; i.e., that both are restricted in meaningful ways and should be derived without a general mechanism. The discussion serves to highlight the ways in which modal and temporal operators differ with respect to the availability of the specific-opaque reading for DPs in the intensional environments that they create, providing new evidence that worlds and times differ in the kind of mechanisms that introduce them to the semantic composition.

Minicourse 3/6, 3/7 - Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)

Speaker: Heidi Harley (UofA)
Time: Wednesday, March 6th, 1 - 2:30pm and Thursday, March 7th, 12:30pm - 2:00pm
Location: Day 1: TBA; Day 2: 32-D461
Day 1: ‘flavors’ of v,  causation and ‘teleological capability’
I present some background work by me and Folli to situate the context in which we came to the object drop problem, looking first at the evidence for different types of v with different selectional properties (or perhaps for different interpretations of v in different structural contexts) and then at the idea that the ‘Agent’ role associated with vDO is not associated with animacy or intentionality, but only with what Higginbotham 1997 dubbed ‘teleological capability.’ I may touch on the notions of ‘ballistic’ vs ‘entraining’ causation in recent work with Copley.
Day 2: Do roots select arguments?
I present some of my past work on verb roots, argument structure and event structure, with particular attention to whether or not roots select and compose with internal arguments, paying special attention to the structural source of ‘Incremental Theme’-style  derivations of telicity via homomorphic mapping. 

Colloquium 3/8 - Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)

Speaker: Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)
Title: Object drop, intention, and event individuation (joint work with Raffaella Folli)
Time: Friday, March 8th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-141

Abstract: We introduce a pattern of interaction between object drop and the animacy of the external argument in English, particularly with verbs of contact. Object drop produces an agentivity/animacy constraint on the newly intransitive verb, which doesn’t exist in the transitive equivalent. Compare John pushed the car to the curb and The glacier pushed the boulder to the sea. The former, but not the latter, allows for object drop: At the signal, John pushed! vs #In winter, the glacier pushed.

Our analysis follows Martí 2015, according to which object drop instantiates noun incorporation of a null indefinite N. As with all noun incorporation, this tends to yield a ‘conventionalized’ denotation for the VP—compare Michael lifted the glass with Michael lifted.

In both object drop and (overt) noun incorporation contexts, the denotation of the object nominal is nonreferential—no object participant in the verbal event is introduced. Instead, the object nominal is integrated into the predicate denotation via some flavor of predicate restriction or predicate modification (Chung & Ladusaw 2004, e.g.) We contend that the absence of an event participant creates a challenge for the application of the predicate by the speaker. A predicate which has been subject to object drop or noun incorporation, then, lacking an event participant, does not pick out the same class of events that the transitive verbal predicate does. Instead, we contend, intentionality is recruited to derive the sortal content of the verbal predicate. Martin 2015 showed that an agent’s intention by itself can constitute aa so-called “indicative property”, providing enough individuating properties to license the application of a change-of-state predicate in nonculminating contexts even when the change of state encoded by the verb has not yet begun to occur. Without an intentional agent, she shows, such ‘Zero-CoS’ readings of telic predicates are unavailable, since no indicative properties which can identify the ongoing event as an instance of the predicate exist until the CoS actually begins to occur. Intentions, then, can identify events even when ‘normal’ event identification criteria, such as the configuration of participants or the existence of a CoS, do not apply. This, we propose, is why the subjects of such predicates have to be (intentional) Agents—it’s because without intention, the indicative properties necessary for application of the predicate cannot be identified. This also lets us understand why object drop contexts so often produce such specialized ‘conventionalized community activity’ readings—it’s a subcase of the wider case where simply intending to execute an action of a particular type yields enough indicative properties to license predication. We term this effect the ‘Goal Oriented Condition’ on object drop. This condition on event individuation in turn constrains the types of subject argument that are compatible with object drop contexts, since external arguments must be ‘teleologically capable’ of executing the event type denoted by the predicate. In the case of intentionally individuated event types, the only kind of external argument that has the relevant teleological properties are animate Agents.


Over the weekend, the linguistics department at UMass Amherst hosted the annual ECO-5 workshop. ECO-5 is a workshop for graduate students of five departments on the East Coast (UMass, Harvard, UConn, UMD, MIT) to present work in progress to each other. This year, MIT was represented by two second-year graduate students, Zachary Feldcamp and Bergül Soykan:

  • Zachary Feldcamp: Evidence for low base-generation of PP in locative inversion
  • Bergül Soykan: Plural Marked Interrogatives in Turkish