The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 18th, 2024

Irene Heim honored with Rolf Schock Prize!

Our emerita colleague Irene Heim has been honored as the recipient of the Rolf Schock Prize for Logic & Philosophy — sharing the prize with Hans Kamp of the University of Stuttgart, for their “(mutually independent) conception and early development of dynamic semantics for natural language.”

As described by the awarding organization:

“The Rolf Schock Prize is unusual in that it rewards both logic and philosophy, mathematics, visual arts and music. The laureates are selected through a unique collaboration between three Swedish royal academies: the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. The final decision is made by The Schock Foundation.”

The Schock prize is thus as close to a Nobel Prize as our field offers, a splendid and overwhelmingly well-deserved honor for our colleague. Not only did Irene lay the intellectual foundation for much modern work in semantics, she was also a key founder of the semantics program in Linguistics at MIT, and one of the field’s greatest teachers. You can read more about Irene’s contributions to semantics and to our department in the biographical sketch with which a 2014 volume honoring her work began, here: https://semanticsarchive.net/…/CrnicPesetskySauerland.pdf

Congratulations Irene! Your work enriches and honors us all.

Irene Heim


Syntax Square 3/19 - Keely New (MIT)

Speaker: Keely New (MIT)
Title: There’s no deletion in meN-deletion
Time: Tuesday, March 19th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In Indonesian/Malay, there is an optional verbal prefix meN- which is widely taken to be the subject voice marker since it correlates with subject voice SVO word order, and when it is present, only the subject may be A’-extracted. In object voice OSV word order, meN- is obligatorily absent, and only the object may be A’-extracted. The well-known “meN-deletion” generalisation is, therefore, that movement of the object over the verb in Indonesian/Malay results in deletion of meN (Saddy 1991, Fortin 2006, Aldridge 2008, Cole et al. 2008, Sato 2012, Georgi 2014 among others). Under such a perspective, the optional absence of meN- in subject voice is derived from a separate process from the obligatory absence of meN in object voice. Most analyses remain silent on the optionality of meN in subject voice. In this talk, I argue against a view where “meN-deletion” is triggered by movement of a DP across the verb. Drawing from data in Jakartan Indonesian, I propose that the choice between flavours of functional Voice/v head is one-to-one with the overt presence/absence of meN- prefix on the verb. In doing so, I argue that word order in Indonesian/Malay is but an epiphenomenal correlate of voice in the language.

LF Reading Group 3/20 - Lorenzo Pinton (MIT)

Speaker: Lorenzo Pinton (MIT)
Title: Exclusive disjunction in bilateral logic: Hurford Disjunctions as evidence for split connectives in natural language
Time: Wednesday, March 20th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: “Disjoint Hurford Disjunctions” (DHD; Amir Anvari, p.c.) are a novel class of examples of deviant disjunctions that resemble Standard Hurford Disjunctions (SHD; Hurford, 1974), but don’t present any classical entailment (or overlap) relation between the two disjuncts:

(1) SHD: # John lives in Paris, or he lives in France.

(after Hurford, 1974)

(2) DHD: # John lives in Paris and he’s married, or he lives in France and he’s single.

(Amir Anvari, p.c.))

In order to unify (1) and (2) under the ‘Hurford disjunction’ label, we have to make certain assumptions about how conjunction and disjunction work, and examples like (2) might therefore be particularly revealing of what type of logic is at play in language and reasoning. In this talk I will extend Bilateral State-based Modal Logic (BSML) from Aloni (2022) with an exclusive disjunction (ED). ED will be “classically” defined as supporting the disjunction of its disjuncts and rejecting their conjunction. Crucially, in BSML, supported disjuncts and rejected conjuncts are defined in a split way, and have therefore an ‘independent life’ from one another (for instance, to reject (A ⋀ B) you need to be able to reject A and B independently). I will claim that ED - implemented in a system that rules out zero models by default (i.e. BSML* from Aloni, 2022) - is a better predictor of assertability conditions of disjunction in natural language compared to both the classical logic and the standard BSML definitions of disjunction. First, equipping BSML* with ED provides a unified and direct semantic explanation to both standard Hurford Disjunctions and “Disjoint Hurford Disjunctions”. Second, ED yields the correct ‘uniqueness’ interpretation for sentences with multiple disjuncts, which has been a major challenge for past proposals of natural language disjunction as inherently exclusive. I will conclude the talk with possible challenges to the present system by showing that (i) conjunctions are not always split and we need a device to capture these cases (possibly along the lines of subject matter, from Truthmaker semantics (Fine, 2017)) and that (ii) assuming ED as the standard meaning for disjunction actually clashes with some results in Aloni (2022) (wide scope free choice) and Degano et al. (2023) (absence of exclusivity in production tasks). Time permitting, I will briefly sketch in-progress solutions to solve the conflicts.

Phonology Circle 3/18 - Yeong-Joon Kim (MIT)

Speaker: Yeong-Joon Kim (MIT)
Title: Overapplication opacity as a consequence of phonetic faithfulness
Time: Monday, March 18th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: This study contributes to the understanding of opacity by identifying substantive restrictions on counterbleeding interactions and proposing a novel analysis tied to these typological generalizations. A typological survey of counterbleeding-on-environment instances reveals an asymmetry in the types of opaque processes involved, with assimilation and consonant-induced vowel processes being the most common. A novel account of phonological opacity is suggested to deal with this asymmetrical distribution of the opacified processes. The basic idea for explaining this observed asymmetry is that most opaque interactions have a functional rationale, that of preserving phonetic properties of lexical entries (e.g., Flemming 2008). The approach can also account for overapplication opacity in feeding interactions, such as self-destructive feeding in Japanese, which is problematic for classical Optimality Theory.

LingLunch 3/21 - Ksenia Ershova (MIT) and Nikita Bezrukov (UPenn)

Speaker: Ksenia Ershova (MIT) and Nikita Bezrukov (UPenn)
Title: Moving away from antilocality: A defense of very local movement
Time: Thursday, March 21st, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Most syntactic research assumes that syntactic dependencies are subject to locality constraints: agreement and movement cannot cross certain elements (bounding nodes, phase boundaries, elements which bear the same features, etc.). A growing body of work also argues that there are antilocality constraints which impose a lower bound on syntactic dependencies – movement, and perhaps Agree, must cross a certain type of boundary. Focusing primarily on Spec-to-Spec Antilocality (Erlewine 2016 et seq.), which states that movement from Spec,XP “must cross a maximal projection other than XP”, we argue that such constraints are unlikely to be part of Universal Grammar. The argument is three-fold. First, we briefly discuss the trajectory of antilocality theories and argue that they were originally proposed as responses to theoretical idiosyncrasies which don’t extend beyond the frameworks that they are couched in. Second, we focus on one of the most discussed empirical motivations for antilocality theories – constraints on subject extraction – and suggest that this data can be analyzed in other ways, while antilocality approaches fall short in explaining the patterns. And finally, we present a case study of possessor relativization in West Circassian which demonstrates that Spec-to-Spec Antilocality makes the wrong empirical prediction: very local movement exists.

MIT Linguistics @ Spring Spark

On Sunday, March 17, Christopher Legerme, Cora Lesure, Elhana Sugiaman (a Harvard Graduate School of Education master’s student), and Arun Wongprommoon (an MIT M.Eng student) taught 64 7th-10th graders at Spring Spark, an educational enrichment program run by MIT students. As part of their work for 24.S95 Linguistics in K-12 Education, Elhana and Christopher designed and taught “How to Be a Linguistic Detective” and Cora and Arun designed and taught two sections of “Making Waves: An Introduction to Phonetic Speech Analysis”. Maya Honda attended their classes and can vouch for the wonderful job that they did of enthusiastically sharing their knowledge and passion for linguistics with the Spark students.