The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 15th, 2024


This year, the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL42) took place at UC Berkeley on April 12—14. MIT was well-represented by the following current and very recently graduated students:

  • Yeong-Joon Kim (5th year): Overapplication opacity as a consequence of phonetic faithfulness
  • Fulang Chen (PhD, 2023): Generalized composite probing in Mandarin
  • Ido Benbaji-Elhadad (5th year): Specific-opaque readings relative to tense and DP-internal quantification over times
  • Anastasia Tsilia (3rd year) & Zhuoye Zhao: Why is then incompatible with the present?
  • Gurmeet Kaur & Yash Sinha (5th year): Gender asymmetry as a window into the mechanism of mixed concord
  • Ido Benbaji-Elhadad (5th year) & Omri Doron (5th year): Relevance as a dynamic constraint
  • Yurika Aonuki (2nd year): Minimum-standard predicates as resultatives and measure phrase interpretations
  • Zachary Feldcamp (2nd year): Precedence-sensitive A-movement in locative inversion
  • Stanislao Zompì (PhD, 2023) & Zhouyi Sun (2nd year): *ABA in Multidimensional Paradigms: A Harmonic Grammar-based account
  • Danfeng Wu (PhD, 2022): The absolute and contextual forms of ‘one’ and ‘two’ in Mandarin Chinese
  • Magdalena Lohninger & Ioannis Katochoritis (1st year): Between topics and subjects: an A’/A typology of Austronesian pivots
  • Itai Bassi (PhD, 2021): Pathological Questions, focus, and unacceptable ellipsis

(Photo credit: Fulang Chen. Missing: Anastasia, Zach, Yash, Yeong-Joon—-as indicated on the piece of paper in the photo.)

Rawski @ Yale

On Friday, April 12, visiting faculty Jon Rawski was invited to give a talk at the Computional Linguistics at Yale (CLAY) talk series, where he presented joint work with Zhouyi Sun, 2nd year grad student in our department.
Title: Tensor Product Representations of Regular Languages and Transformations
A crowning achievement of connectionist modeling in linguistics embedded symbolic structures using tensors as an intermediary to neural computation, relying on fixed “role decompositions” like substrings, subtrees, etc. At the same time, work in descriptive complexity has created a flexible unified ontology for finite structures, and tight links between regular languages and transformations which represent an upper bound for linguistic computation. I will use finite model theory to characterize objects like strings, trees, graphs, and even input-output pairs as relational structures. Logical statements meeting certain criteria over these models define various classes of formal languages and transformations. The semantics of such statements can be compiled into tensors, using multilinear maps as function application for evaluation. I show how this works for varieties of First-order and Monadic Second-Order definable languages and transformations.

MIT @ Göttingen Locality Workshop

Last week, Elise Newman presented and co-presented two talks at the Workshop on Locality at the University of Göttingen. Her solo talk was entitled “When wh-phrases are their own interveners, and she also presented a joint talk with Rob Truswell (based on even more joint work with Caroline Heycock), enitled “When to revisit? Investigating (un)ambiguity in temporal clauses”. Ksenia Ershova presented a talk based on joint work with Nikita Bezrukov, entitled “Moving away from antilocality: A defense of very local movement”. Several MIT alumni also presented at the workshop: Kenyon Branan, Mitya Privoznov, and Susi Wurmbrand.

MorPhun 4/18 - Juan Cancel (MIT)

Speaker: Juan Cancel (MIT)
Title: Unexpected Syncretisms: A Look at the Nganasan Case and Subjective Agreement Paradigms
Time: Thursday, April 18th, 5pm - 6pm
Location: 32-D769

Abstract: Nganasan (Szeverényi, Várnai, and B. B. Wagner-Nagy 2002, B. Wagner-Nagy 2018) seems to have a near-exact, cross-paradigmatic syncretism between the NOM exponents of the Case Paradigm and 3rd Person exponents of the Subjective Agreement (The relevant syncretic exponents are highlighted):

Nganasan (Reduced) Case Paradigm
(B. Wagner-Nagy 2018, pg.191-193)

   NOM   ACC   GEN 
 SG       (-m)     ∅
 DU    -Kəj  *-Ki  *-Ki
 PL         -j     -ʔ

Nganasan Subjective Agreement Paradigm:
(B. Wagner-Nagy 2018, pg.229)

   1st   2nd    3rd 
 SG   -m    -ŋ    
 DU   -mi   -ri   -gəj 
 PL -mUʔ -rUʔ  

*In the grammar, ACC.DU and GEN.DU have a “ghost” consonant at the end.

I will argue for the following three things:

1) NOM.DU /-Kəj/ and 3rd.DU /-gəj/ are in fact the same exponent, meaning that we can argue that NUM is the morphosyntactic feature behind the syncretism and that there is no contextual allomorphy (Bonet & Harbour 2012) between nominal and verbal stems in the CONTEXT of NOM and 3SG.

2) The apparent syncretism between NOM.SG, ACC.SG and GEN.SG /-∅/ is superficial in nature since phonological phenomena such as Syllabic Gradation and Epenthesis clearly distinguish word-paradigms involving NOM.SG /-∅/ from word-paradigms involving ACC.SG and GEN.SG /-∅/.

3) The apparent syncretism between NOM.PL and GEN.PL /-ʔ/ is also superficial for similar reasons, but in light of the typology of epenthesis and vowel harmony (Finley 2008), GEN.PL /-ʔ/ is better understood as being /-Vʔ/, where V is a vowel that participates in vowel harmony.

Finally, one can see similar syncretisms in the Case and Subjective Agreement Paradigms of Tundra Nenets (Nikolaeva 2014, pg. 57, 59, 61, 78) and Forest Enets (Siegl 2013, pg. 121-124), suggesting that this cross-paradigmatic syncretism is more widespread in the Samoyedic language family.

Syntax Square 4/16 - Janayna Carvalho (UFMG)

Speaker: Janayna Carvalho (UFMG)
Title: Generic null impersonals in Brazilian Portuguese and structure removal
Time: Tuesday, April 16th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this presentation, I explore some sentential properties of generic null impersonals in Brazilian Portuguese (BP). In particular, I look for an explanation for two of their properties: a) their restricted modal readings; b) their apparent ban on sequence of tense readings. I argue that these two disparate properties are due to the removal of part of the functional sequence of these clauses, due to a conflict between two probes – C and T – that could potentially value the external argument in these sentences.

LingLunch 4/18 - Sarah Payne (Stony Brook University)

Speaker: Sarah Payne (Stony Brook University)
Title: Marginal Sequences as a Window into Phonotactic Acquisition
Time: Thursday, April 18th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Most current theories of phonotactic learning (e.g., Hayes & Wilson 2008, Chandlee et al. 2019) assume a close relationship between attestation and licitness. Under such accounts, a sequence is licit only if its subcomponents (e.g., sequences of phones or feature bundles) are all attested in the input; illicit sequences are thus those that contain some unattested subcomponent. Under such theories, however, what is the status of marginal sequences (e.g., English ?[#sf])? Constraint-based views posit that marginal sequences are illicit but attested, making them an exceptional subclass of illicit sequences. However, marginal sequences pattern much more closely with licit sequences than illicit ones in terms of repairs in borrowings and in terms of production and perception errors, suggesting that they may instead be an exceptional subclass of licit forms. I argue for a theory of the phonotactic grammar in which attested sequences are divided into productive/licit ones and unproductive/marginal ones. I present a syllable-based computational learning model that learns a binary classification of attested forms into marginal or licit. When evaluated on English complex onsets, I show that this model matches well with human judgments, outperforming the model of Hayes & Wilson (2008) while accounting for the unique behavior of marginal sound sequences.