The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 11th, 2024

Syntax Square 3/12 - Shota Momma (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Shota Momma (UMass Amherst)
Title: A theory of structure building in speaking
Time: Tuesday, March 12th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Partly due to our free will, our ability to produce sentences is notoriously hard to study. Existing theories of sentence production are not very good at capturing how speakers assemble structurally complex sentences that involve syntactically interesting phenomena. In this talk, I attempt to fill this gap by developing a theory of sentence production that integrates well with theories of syntax. This model aims to capture the production of sentences involving various syntactic phenomena, including raising, control, and wh-movement dependencies, and suggests a close parallelism between locality domain for syntactic computations and planning units in sentence production. The proposed theory makes counter-intuitive predictions about the time-course of sentence formulation as well as one of the most well-studied phenomena in sentence production: structural priming. I present experimental evidence confirming those predictions.

LF Reading Group 3/13 - Caroline Heycock (University of Edinburgh) & Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Caroline Heycock (University of Edinburgh) & Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: When to revisit? investigating (un)ambiguity in temporal clauses
Time: Wednesday, March 13th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Ever since the seminal work of Geis in the 1970s, it has been known that temporal adverbial clauses in English (and a number of other languages) show the same kind of ambiguities as also observed in wh-questions and (even more relevantly) relative clauses, so that a sentence like “She arrived just when I predicted she would arrive” can mean either that her arrival coincided with my act of predicting, or with the time given in the prediction. This follows fairly directly from an analysis of such temporal adverbial clauses as a type of free relative clause denoting a definite description of a time, which can be formed syntactically by A’-movement of a temporal operator, or whatever analysis is given to such long-distance dependencies. Here we’d like to report on joint work in progress (Caroline Heycock, Elise Newman, Rob Truswell) where we investigating cases of temporal clauses where long-distance movement seems to be either excluded or at the least heavily disfavoured, and exploring the possibility that the data motivate a distinction between temporal clauses that are descriptions of time intervals and those that are descriptions of events.

Phonology Circle 3/11 - Levi Driscoll

Speaker: Levi Driscoll
Title: Ludika: Playing with Feet
Time: Monday, March 11th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: We present a description and formal analysis of a novel English-based ludling called Ludika. Starting from clear cases with direct cues to foot structure, we argue that meaningless bits are affixed to the right edge of surface English feet in Ludika. We then use Ludika as a diagnostic of foot structure in more ambiguous contexts such as initial stressless light syllables (po‘tato). Evidence from Ludika aligns with Kiparsky’s (1979) characterization of these initial stressless syllables as unstressed degenerate feet, rather than syllables adjoined to feet in a recursive structure (Jensen 2000, Davis & Cho 2003, Kager 2012) or stray syllables (Ito & Mester 2009). We also leverage phrasal data to illustrate that function words in phrases behave just like feet elsewhere in Ludika, suggesting that they are neither stray syllables in phonological phrases (Selkirk 1996) nor syllables adjoined to content words as part of a recursive prosodic word structure.

Colloquium 3/15 - Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: A blocking effect in Hindi-Urdu
Time: Friday, March 15th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-141

Abstract: In this talk, I will present a blocking effect in Hindi-Urdu that could be characterized as Poser blocking, namely a word winning over a phrase. This blocking arises in the context of deverbal adjectives and its analysis has implications for the representation of adjectives as a syntactic category and the structure of verbal derivations in Hindi-Urdu.

Many languages have specialized morphology that can verbalize adjectives. In English, for example, -en can combine with a number of adjectives (e.g. flatten, redden). Hindi-Urdu lacks verbalizing morphology of this sort but it has another device that allows for productive verbalization of adjectives. This very productive device involves the light verbs ho ‘be’ and kar ‘do’. There is, however, a restriction on the application of this very productive device: the class of deverbal adjectives cannot be verbalized via the light verb strategy. I propose that we can see verbalization as being blocked by the existence of equivalent lexical verbs; hence the characterization in terms of Poser blocking.

However I do not derive this effect by appealing to the notion of Poser blocking as a primitive. Instead I explore a derivational system where the `blocked’ cases are simply not derived; instead the derivational process delivers the corresponding lexical verbs. The derivational system I set up has a surprising feature: a semantically contentless categorizing head needs to be treated as a last resort element that is inserted countercyclically.

Chango and Flynn & Lust in MIT News!

A couple of pieces in recent MIT News featuring department members: 

First-year MITILI student Soledad Chango taught an exciting language course on her native language, Kichwa/Quechua during the IAP. MIT News covered the language course here: https://news.mit.edu/2024/investigating-and-preserving-quechua-0228

MIT News also recently highlighted a paper on linguistic and Alzheimer’s disease published by faculty Suzanne Flynn and research affiliate Barbara Lust, among other co-authors. Read more here: https://news.mit.edu/2024/how-cognition-changes-before-dementia-0229

Roversi accepted for publication at NLLT

More great news about fourth-year graduate student Giovanni Roversi: Giovanni’s paper “Possession and syntactic categories: An argument from Äiwoo” has been accepted for publication at Natural Language and Linguistic Theory! In the paper, Giovanni observes that the Äiwoo language doesn’t contain possessives like “my” or “her(s)”. Instead, all it has is a possessive verb, so that “my dog” is more literally something like “the dog that I have”, and “his sister” is “the one he has as a sister”. This empirical fact ends up having repercussions for our theories of syntactic categories: something that we thought was usually nominal can actually be verbal as well. Congratulations, Giovanni!

You can read the pre-print on lingbuzz here: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/006565. 

Here’s how we recently congratulated Giovanni in the department:

Roversi @ GLOW in Asia 14

Fourth-year graduate student Giovanni Roversi presented at the biannual GLOW in Asia 14 which took place at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, March 6 to March 8, 2024. Giovanni presented his work “Condition C, Anti-cataphora, and “Reverse Crossover” in Äiwoo”. 


Pesetsky @ NLP and Linguistics Workshop

Last Saturday (March 1), faculty David Pesetsky presented a talk titled “Is there an LLM challenge for linguistics? Or a linguistics challenge for LLMs?” at a one-day workshop Magdalen College, University of Oxford. The workshop entitled “Does ChatGPT know language as humans do?” was organized by our own recent alum Danfeng Wu

Rawski @ Caltech

This past weekend, visiting professor Jon Rawski was invited to the “Algebraic Models of Generative Linguistics” workshop at the Merkin Center for Pure and Applied Mathematics at Caltech. 

Workshop description: “This meeting brings together theoretical linguists, mathematicians, mathematical physicists, and computational linguists, for informal discussions on algebraic models of the Merge operation in generative linguistics, models of the syntax-semantics interface, and models of semantic spaces, along with the question of their realization in large language models.”