The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

LingPhil Reading Group 2/12 - on Cappelen and Dever

Title: on Cappelen and Dever (2013)
Date and time: Monday, February 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

Nathaniel  Schwartz (MIT) will present on chapter 4 of Cappelen and Dever’s The Inessential Indexical. 

The idea: Indexicals figure prominently in opaque contexts. For instance, if I am (unbeknownst to myself) spilling sugar all over the grocery store, I can believe that the messy shopper is spilling sugar without believing that I am spilling sugar—even though “the messy shopper” and “I” are coreferential terms. Do indexicals in opaque contexts raise difficulties for theories of content beyond those raised by opacity generally? In particular, is the Fregean account of opacity particularly difficult to implement in cases involving indexicals? The authors say no to both questions.

This meeting will not be pre-read.


Syntax Square 2/13 - Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)

Speaker: Emily Clem (UC Berkeley)
Title: Ergative case as agreement with multiple heads
Date and time: Tuesday February 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The mechanisms underlying ergative case assignment have long been debated, with two main view emerging in the literature: 1) ergative is an inherent case assigned by a transitive v to an agent, 2) ergative is a dependent case assigned to a DP that c-commands another DP within a case domain. In this talk, I present novel data from Amahuaca (Panoan; Peru), in which ergative case is sensitive to the position of the transitive subject. The interaction of movement and morphological case assignment in Amahuaca cannot easily be captured by current inherent or dependent case theories. Ergative is not assigned in a theta-position, as predicted by an inherent case account, nor is it dependent on whether the subject and object DPs are in the same case domain, as predicted by a dependent case account. Instead, I argue for an account of ergative case as exponing Agree operations between a DP and two distinct functional heads, v and T. This approach is able to account for the Amahuaca data, while incorporating key insights from both inherent and dependent case theories of ergativity. I further demonstrate that this view that takes case to be the exponence of multiple features is able to be extended to account for elements of Amahuaca’s case-sensitive switch reference system. The Amahuaca data thus suggest that ergative case can be viewed as a feature bundle, rather than an atomic case feature, and that morphological ergative marking arises as the exponence of structural relationships between multiple heads and a nominal.


MIT Colloquium 2/16 - Lucas Champollion (NYU)

Speaker: Lucas Champollion (NYU)
Title: Two switches in the theory of counterfactuals: A study of truth conditionality and minimal change
Time: Friday, February 16th, 3:30-5pm 
Place: 32-155

I report on a comprehension experiment on counterfactual conditionals based on a context involving two switches (joint work with Ivano Ciardelli and Linmin Zhang). We found that the truth-conditionally equivalent clauses (i) switch A or switch B is down and (ii) switch A and switch B are not both up make different semantic contributions when embedded in counterfactual antecedents. Assuming compositionality, this contradicts the textbook view that meaning can be identified with truth conditions. This finding has a clear explanation in inquisitive semantics: truth-conditionally equivalent clauses may be associated with different propositional alternatives, each of which counts as a separate counterfactual assumption. Related results from the same experiment challenge the common Stalnaker-Lewis interpretation of counterfactuals as involving minimizing change with respect to the actual state of affairs. We propose to replace the idea of minimal change by a distinction between foreground and background for a given counterfactual assumption: the background is held fixed in the counterfactual situation, while the foreground can be varied without any minimality constraint. (This talk presents work reported in a paper to appear in the journal Linguistics and Philosophy. Preprint at http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003200.)


Welcome to Spring 2018!

Welcome to the first edition of Whamit! for Spring 2018! After our winter hiatus, Whamit! is back to regular weekly editions during the semester.

Whamit! is the MIT Linguistics newsletter, published every Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Elise Newman, Mitya Privoznov, Neil Banerjee, and Itai Bassi.

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6pm.

Best wishes for the new year!


New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Spring 2018

A warm welcome to the new visitors in our department for this spring!
Visiting Scholars
  • Angelo Mercado (Grinnell College): “I am an Associate Professor of Classics at Grinnell College (Iowa) and participate in our interdepartmental Linguistics Concentration. My areas include Greek and Latin language, comparative Indo-European philology, and linguistic poetics and metrics. I continue to chip away at describing the metrical systems in Italic. Other work in progress pertain to the role of word stress in Classical Latin epic, and the development of Indo-European accent and meter, separately and together.”
Visiting Students
  • Emily Clem (University of California, Berkeley). Her research investigates the interactions between syntax, semantics, and morphology. She is currently working on case and switch-reference in Amahuaca, a Panoan language on which she conducts fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon.
  • Zhuo (Cindy) Chen (The Graduate Center, City University of New York). Her main research interest in semantics lies in wh-indefinites, and more generally, in what their behavior reveals about plurality, distributivity and polarity.’


In addition, the majority of Fall 2017 visiting scholars and students continue with us this semester. A full list of current visitors can be found here.


Winter news

We have several items of winter news from students and faculty:

  • As usual, many our faculty members, students and alumni participated in the Linguistic Society of America’s 2018 Annual Meeting (see detailed account at our other post).
  • In Berlin, Germany, MIT was represented at the Endpoints 2018 workshop at Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Tanya Bondarenko presented a poster “Results, Repetitives and Datives: towards an account of cross linguistic variation” and Malka Rappaport-Hovav (PhD’84) gave an invited talk “(Non)Causative and (non)scalar spatial states”.
  • Meanwhile in Paris, France, our second year student Keny Chatain talked about “Local contexts for anaphora” at the LANGUAGE seminar at his alma mater Ecole Normale Superieure.
  • Speaking of bringing linguistics to the masses, one of MIT undergraduate students, Jessica Sun (‘18, Course 3) posted a new, very short and very educational video on language evolution, mentioning some of our own. In particular it overviews in two minutes (for those who are too lazy to read about it) the integration hypothesis, proposed in Shigeru Miyagawa et al’s “The emergence of hierarchical structure in human language”.
  • As linguistic life goes on, the real life intervenes with all its brutal cruelty. Our first year student Tanya Bondarenko’s bag got stolen in Berlin with her passport and other documents. Tanya is safely back in Moscow now, but it is going to take time, before she gets a new passport and visa. We all hope that, despite all the childish rubbish that our international politicians love to play at, Tanya will get her documents back soon and will be with us, before we completely dive in the Spring semester (MIT linguistics and philosophy department, as well as ISO are going to help with that). As for Tanya’s bag, we wish it to land somewhere in good hands.
  • On the bright side, speaking of the harmony of good and evil, Tanya Bondarenko also received a young researchers’ grant from Russian Academy of Sciences for her master thesis from Moscow State University.

Course Announcements: Spring 2018

Course Announcements in this post:

  • 24.942 Topics in the grammar of a less familiar language
  • 24.954 Pragmatics in Linguistic Theory
  • 24.956 Topics in Syntax
  • 24.963 Linguistic Phonetics
  • 24.964 Topics in Phonology
  • 24.966J Laboratory on the Physiology, Acoustics, and Perception of Speech
  • 24.979 Topics in Semantics
  • 9.19/9.190 Computational Psycholinguistics


24.942 Topics in the grammar of a less familiar language

  • Instructors: Kenstowicz, Richards
  • Schedule: M 2-5pm
  • Room: 32-D831

This year’s Less-Familiar Language will be Wolof (Niger-Congo, Atlantic).  We’ll spend the semester learning about Wolof’s structure (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics), and practicing techniques for working with a native speaker of a language to learn about that language.


24.954 Pragmatics in Linguistic Theory

  • Instructor: Fox
  • Schedule: T 10am-1pm
  • Room: 32-D461

Formal theories of context-dependency, presupposition, implicature, context-change, focus and topic. Special emphasis on the division of labor between semantics and pragmatics. Applications to the analysis of quantification, definiteness, presupposition projection, conditionals and modality, anaphora, questions and answers. 


24.956 Topics in Syntax

  • Instructor: Richards
  • Schedule: T 2-5pm
  • Room: 32-D461

This course will be an exploration of the relation between syntax and phonology, in the framework of Contiguity Theory (Richards 2016).  We’ll start by familiarizing ourselves with the main claims of Contiguity Theory, both in the 2016 book and in work done since.  This is an approach that posits a different kind of relation between syntax and phonology than is usually assumed; in particular, the syntax can be motivated to perform operations by the need to create phonologically well-formed objects.  We’ll discuss the implications of this approach for the architecture of the grammar.  Other topics of discussion will include the distribution of overt movements of various kinds, EPP effects, intervention effects, and conditions on pied-piping.


24.963 Linguistic Phonetics

  • Instructor: Flemming
  • Schedule: MW 10-11:30am
  • Room: 56-180

The study of speech sounds: how we produce and perceive them and their acoustic properties. The influence of the production and perception systems on phonological patterns and sound change. Acoustic analysis and experimental techniques.

We will be considering three fundamental questions:

  • How do we produce speech?
  • How do we perceive speech?
  • How does the nature of these processes influence the sound patterns of languages?

We will also be learning experimental methods and analytical techniques that enable us to address these (and other) questions.


24.964 Topics in Phonology

  • Instructor: Feldman, Katzir, Levy
  • Schedule: TR 5-6:30pm
  • Room: T 32-D461, R 46-5165

Learning and Linguistic Representations

Models of unsupervised language learning are central to understanding human cognition and replicating it in machines.  Computational advances and the availability of large speech and text corpora make it more tractable than ever before to build and evaluate such models.  This seminar considers the rich latent structures that are present in human language, and recent computational work in unsupervised learning that can provide insight into what those structures are like and whether and how they might be learned.  Seminar participants will take turns leading discussions of original research papers.  The seminar is open to graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and well-prepared, highly-motivated undergraduates.  Participants should have a strong background in at least one of two areas: (i) linguistic representation; (ii) computational approaches to learning, and should have an interest in gaining expertise in the other area.  In addition to participating in and taking turns leading seminar discussions, registered students may be required to complete periodic homework assignments and will write a final paper, either individually or in a group, that relates to unsupervised learning of linguistic knowledge.


24.966J Laboratory on the Physiology, Acoustics, and Perception of Speech

  • Instructor: Braida, Shattuck-Hufnagel, Choi
  • Schedule: TR 11am-1pm
  • Room: 35-308

Experimental investigations of speech processes. Topics include computer-aided waveform analysis and spectral analysis of speech; synthesis of speech; perception and discrimination of speech-like sounds; speech prosody; models of speech recognition; speech development; analysis of atypical speech; and others. Recommended prerequisite: 6.002, 18.03, or 24.900. 


24.979 Topics in Semantics

  • Instructor: Fox, Heim, Schwarzschild
  • Schedule: R 2-5pm
  • Room: 32-D461

We will begin this seminar with a discussion of issues that arise in the semantics of plurality: when is a predicate true of a plural definite description and when is it false?, are there cases where it is neither true nor false (cases of homogeneity)?, Is there anything interesting to say about when a sentence which neither true nor false is taken to be true, how do answers to these questions bear on the semantics of various constituents dominating a plural definite description?, etc. We will then move to discuss other areas of grammar where similar questions have been raised (questions, generics, conditionals, neg-raising). This, as usual, will likely take us to problems that are not directly related to those with which we will start. 


9.19/9.190 Computational Psycholinguistics

  • Instructor: Levy
  • Schedule: MW 9:30-11am
  • Room: 46-4199

Over the last two and a half decades, computational linguistics has been revolutionized as a result of three closely related developments: increases in computing power, the advent of large linguistic datasets, and a paradigm shift toward probabilistic modeling. At the same time, similar theoretical developments in cognitive science have led to a view major aspects of human cognition as instances of rational statistical inference. These developments have set the stage for renewed interest in computational approaches to human language acquisition and use. Correspondingly, this course covers some of the most exciting developments in computational psycholinguistics over the past decade. The course spans human language comprehension, production, and acquisition, and covers key phenomena spanning phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics. Students will learn technical tools including probabilistic models, formal grammars, neural networks, and decision theory, and how theory, computational modeling, and data can be combined to advance our fundamental understanding of human language acquisition and use.

This course is open to undergraduate and graduate students in Brain & Cognitive Sciences, Linguistics, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science, and any of a number of related disciplines. Enrollees should have (i) one semester of programing experience (ideally Python, fulfillable e.g. by 6.00), plus (ii) either (a) one semester of probability/statistics/machine learning (e.g., 6.041B or 9.40) or (b) one semester of linguistics. The undergraduate section is 9.19, the graduate section is 9.190. Required work will include problem sets, exams, and (for enrollees in 9.190) a final project.  Postdocs and faculty are also welcome to participate!

The course will meet twice a week; course format will be a combination of lecture, discussion, and in-class exercises as class size, structure, and interests permit.


MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, Spring 2018

Colloquium talks will be held on Fridays from 3:30-5pm unless otherwise noted. Please visit the colloquium webpage for more details and updates. All questions should be directed to the colloquium organizers, Yadav Gowda and Danfeng Wu.


LingLunch 2/8: Petr Kusliy (UMass-Amherst)

Speaker: Petr Kusliy (UMass-Amherst)
Title: English Present tense is relative: evidence from VP-fronting
Date and time: Thursday, February 8, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

English Present-under-Past attitude reports are commonly believed to have only the so-called double-access reading (Smith 1978). Roughly, this means that the eventuality described in the embedded clause of the attitude report must overlap the time of the matrix eventuality as well as the utterance time. Present-under-Past attitude reports in languages like Japanese or Russian besides the double-access reading also allow for the so-called simultaneous reading (the embedded eventuality is contemporaneous with the matrix eventuality but not necessarily with the utterance time). The lack of the simultaneous reading in Present-under-Past attitude reports in English lead many researchers to believe that English Present tense is crucially different from Present tense in Japanese or Russian (e.g. Ogihara, 1989; von Stechow, 2003). According to this view, English Present is indexical (i.e. always indicates a time that overlaps the utterance time). Present tense in Japanese and Russian is relative because the time it indicates does not have to overlap the utterance time and can be simultaneous with a local temporal anchor.

In this talk, I focus on the interactions between simultaneous and double-access readings, on the one hand, and VP- and CP-fronting, on the other. To my knowledge, these interactions have never been examined in the literature on tense. I present new data showing that (i) fronted VP versions of Present-under-Past attitude reports allow for a simultaneous reading (together with a double-access reading); (ii) fronted CP versions of Present-under-Past attitude reports do not allow for a simultaneous reading and only have a double-access reading, (iii) in the fronted CP, as well as fronted VP versions of the famous Kamp-Abusch sentences, the most embedded Past does not have a simultaneous interpretation and has to backshift.

I discuss these data and propose an account that contains the following claims: (a) English Present tense has a relative interpretation just like Present tense in Japanese and in Russian; (b) if a tense in a complement CP has a relative interpretation, its temporal anchor is CP-external (not a lambda abstract in the left periphery of the CP); (iii) in a fronted construction, the highest tense cannot be vacuous.


Syntax Square 2/6 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: A copy-based analysis of either in either…or… constructions
Date and time: Tuesday February 6, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

While it has been observed since Larson (1985) that either can occur in many different positions in either…or… constructions, no proposal successfully accounts for its various surface positions and restrictions on its distribution. In this talk I argue that the dual identity of either as both a disjunction marker and focus-sensitive operator requires it to c-command both the disjunction phrase and the focused elements. And I argue that it achieves this goal by origination in a c-commanding position relative to the focused constituent, followed by upward movement to c-command disjunction, and that the occurrences of either in different positions are copies in the same movement chain. Not only does this analysis successfully account for the distribution of either with respect to islands, but it also makes a few predictions. For instance, because these eithers are identical copies in a movement chain, when an independent restriction bans one of them, other copies can still surface to save the sentence.


Spring 2018 Reading groups

LingPhil Reading Group (LPRG) will be reprising this semester on Mondays, 1:00-2:00pm, in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Reading list and contact information can be found on the group’s website.

Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays, 5:00–6:30pm, in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Please contact Erin Olson and/or Rafael Abramovitz if you would like to reserve a slot.

Syntax Square will be held at the old time-slot: Tuesdays, 1:00-2:00pm, in 32-D461 (the 4th floor seminar room). As always, we welcome works in progress, presentation of papers on topics of interest, practice talks, etc. Please contact Suzana Fong and/or Mitya Privoznov if you would like to give a talk.

LF Reading Group meets on Wednesdays, 1:00-2:00pm in 32-D461. As always, rough ideas, work in progress, practice talks, and presentations of papers from the literature are all very welcome. To reserve a slot, contact Naomi Francis or Tanya Bondarenko.

Ling-Lunch is held on Thursdays, 12:30-1:50pm in 32-D461. Anyone who wishes to present their own linguistics-related research is welcome, although preference will be given to members of the MIT linguistics department. Please contact Cora Lesure or Ömer Demirok to reserve a date.


LF Reading Group 12/13 - Sarah Zobel (University of Tuebingen/MIT)

Speaker: Sarah Zobel (University of Tuebingen/MIT)
Title: Do weak adjunct ‘as’-phrases restrict individual quantifiers?
Date and time: Wednesday December 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The central observation in the literature on free adjuncts is that weak adjuncts can be understood as restricting temporal and modal quantifiers (see Stump 1985): weak adjuncts co-occurring with these types of quantifiers are ambiguous between a restricting and a non-restricting, causal-adverbial-clause like meaning, as in (1-a). Strong adjuncts, in contrast, can only have a non-restricting interpretation, as in (1-b).

(1) a. As a 10-year-old, Peter liked gingerbread. (weak)
(Possible: When Peter was 10 years old, he liked gingerbread. [interaction with [PAST])
(Possible: Since Peter is 10 years old, he liked gingerbread.)

b. Being 10 years old, Peter liked gingerbread. (strong)
(Not possible: When Peter was 10 years old, he liked gingerbread. [interaction with [PAST])
(Possible: Since Peter is 10 years old, he liked gingerbread.)

In this talk, I address the question whether weak adjuncts (using `as’-phrases), as in (2), can be understood as restricting nominal quantifiers, and, if not, how the intuitive interpretations found with these examples can be accounted for.

(2) a. As a child, every guest likes gingerbread.
b. As tourists, most visitors own cameras.

I show that the intuitive interpretation of the examples in (2) are not compatible with these `as’-phrases restricting the quantifiers `every guest’ and `most visitors’ in the same manner as observed for temporal and modal quantifiers. I propose that the intuitive interpretation found in these cases is the result of two properties of the ‘as’-phrases: (i) they associate with the individual quantifiers via Non-Obligatory Control, which I analyze similar to discourse anaphora, and (ii) they are not interpreted in the scope of their associated individual quantifiers.


Simplicity Workshop videos

Videos of talks from the MIT Workshop on Simplicity in Grammar Learning are now available online! If you would like to see the talks, visit the workshop website.


Whamit! Winter Hiatus

Whamit! will be on its Winter (semi-)hiatus from now until the start of the Spring semester. Weekly posts will resume on February 5th, 2018. In the mean time, we will have rolling posts, publishing breaking MIT Linguistics news as it happens. Thanks to all our contributors, editors, and you dear readers!

See you next year!


Syntax Square 12/5 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Don’t go over the edge: More constraints on stranding at edges
Date and time: Tuesday December 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Moving phrases can sometimes leave material behind in phase edges they pass through, a phenomenon I term “edge stranding” (ES). Davis (In prep) shows that the sorts of elements capable of ES are predicted given Cyclic Linearization and a theory of movement as driven by c-command-constrained Agree. In this talk, I extend those findings to make predictions about when a given edge is available as a site for stranding. In essence, I predict that specifiers crossed by a phase-exiting movement step are unavailable for ES, hence the title of this talk. I focus on stranding at vP, which interacts with both subject movement and verb movement. This approach makes good predictions about ES in West Ulster English, Korean, and Japanese, but requires more work to understand facts from Polish and Dutch.


LF Reading Group 12/06 - Tiaoyuan Mao (MIT)

Speaker: Tiaoyuan Mao (MIT)
Title: Mandarin Chinese -ne revisited: Its basic properties and derivation
Date and time: Wednesday December 6, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Mandarin Chinese sentence final particles (SFPs) were, are and will be a hotly-debated topic. The vast majority of studies concentrate on the head-directionality, optionality and multiple semantic interpretation of SFPs, such as the first two issues fall within the domain of FOFC (the Final-Over-Fianl Constraint)(Biberauer, Holmberg and Roberts 2014; Sheehan, Biberauer, Roberts and Holmberg 2017) and Pan and Paul (2016), a.o. In this talk, I will focus on -ne, the most complicated Mandarin SFP, trying to demonstrate a tentative proposal to resolve the tension among different projects about the head-directionality and syntactic derivation of -ne, and to interpret the multiple meanings of -ne in a principled way.


MIT Colloquium 12/8 - Jason Riggle (UChicago)

Speaker: Jason Riggle (University of Chicago)
Title: The co-grammar of English: interjections and other formulaic language
Time: Friday, December 8th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

Most sentences are unique … except the ones that aren’t. The frequency distribution in any corpus of natural language has a famously `long tail’ filled with unique phrases only ever used once.  Conversely, the other end of the distribution is filled with endless repetitions of familiar and formulaic phrases used to manage conversation (yeah, mhm, oh, y’know, right, okay, well), express reactions (aw man, wow, cool, whoa, yuck, yikes, phew), and serve social scripts (good morning, thanks, fuck off, I’m sorry).    

We observe three quirky properties that seem to be peculiar to the frequent and formulaic phrases at the fat end of the distribution. 
    1) phones — phones/phonotactics/phonation outside the productive phonology 
    2) tones — phrase-specific intonational contours and floating intonational contours
    3) emblems — manual gestures with highly conventionalized meaning that occur with (and substitute for) verbal equivalents 

These properties tend to occur together and seem to be restricted to the elements at the fat end of the distribution. We propose that this be explained by positing a co-grammar for English that operates over frequent and formulaic phrases. In addition to accounting for the presence and distribution of properties (1-3) a co-grammar makes it possible to account for an over-abundance of surface regularities in the fat end of the distribution (e.g., prosodic doubling: hear hear, there there, come come, now now, aye aye, nix nix, etc.) and the presence of proto-morphology in patterns which seem compositional but not productive ({welp, nope, yup, yep}, {wowza, yowza, wowzers, yowzers, yeppers, yuppers, right-o, neat-o}, {whatevs, natch, obvs, obvi}).



SNEWS2017@MITThe Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) took place at MIT on Saturday. Two MIT students participated. Filipe Kobayashi (1st year) presented When modals scope below the progressive, and Keny Chatain (2nd year) presented The referentiality of generic indefinites: evidence from anaphora.

SNEWS 2018 will take place at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Photo credit: Dóra Takács


Syntax Square 11/28 - Elise Newman

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Middles produce easily if you have enough stuff
Date and time: Tuesday November 28, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

It has been proposed in the literature that Anti-locality (Abels 2003, Erlewine 2016) can help us understand a number of subject-object asymmetries in A-bar movement. However, it has been stipulated that such a restriction cannot exist for A-movement due to the idea that subjects move string-vacuously to Spec TP. In this talk, I argue that such subject-object asymmetries also occur with A-movement, and that they also can be explained by Anti-locality. I propose that middles are a direct reflection of this, as can be seen by regarding novel facts about middle formation that previous semantic accounts cannot explain. 
Middles look like inchoative unaccusatives except for a few key differences:
  • They have unexpressed external arguments
  • They have an adverb restriction
(1) a. The ice melted (quickly) (all by itself).
     b. The book read *(quickly) (*all by itself).
I propose that objects of middles move through the canonical subject position on their way to Spec TP. The adverb restriction is a result of the object’s sensitivity to Anti-locality as it undergoes this movement chain. The two (arguably 3) types of adverb restrictions pattern with how embedded the object is at the beginning of the derivation.

LF Reading Group 11/29 - Moshe Bar-Lev (HUJI)

Speaker: Moshe Bar-Lev (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Title: Don’t mind the gap: an implicature account of Homogeneity
Date and time: Wednesday November 29, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I will present an implicature-based view of Homogeneity with definite plurals (following Magri 2014’s lead) in which the universal meaning definite plurals give rise to in positive sentences is the result of implicature calculation, while the existential meaning they give rise to in negative sentences reflects the basic meaning.

The proposed account builds on the implicature approach to free choice disjunction, which I claim behaves similarly to Homogeneity. Given this perspective, Non-maximal readings of definite plurals can be taken to follow from the context-sensitivity of implicature calculation, and neither-true-nor-false judgments can be the result of context-indeterminacy. This is in contrast with a view in which they motivate semantically encoding a truth-value gap (recently Križ 2016).

To support the implicature-based account I will discuss asymmetries between positive and negative contexts in children’s interpretation of definite plurals (Tieu et al. 2015), non-maximal readings, and neither-true-nor-false judgments (Križ & Chemla 2015).


CompLang 11/30 - Takashi Morita (MIT) & Timothy O’Donnell (McGill)

Speaker: Takashi Morita (MIT) & Timothy O’Donnell (McGill)
Title: Bayesian learning of Japanese sublexica
Date/Time: Thursday, November 30th, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 46-5165

Languages have been borrowing words from each other.
A borrower language often has a different list of possible sound sequences (phonotactics) from a lender’s.
While loanwords may be reshaped so that they fit to the borrower’s phonotactics, they can also introduce new sound patterns into the language.
Accordingly, native and loanwords can exhibit different phonotactics in a single language and linguists have proposed that such a language’s lexicon is better explained by a mixture of multiple phonotactic grammars: words are classified into sublexica (e.g. native vs. loan), and words belonging to different sublexica are subject to different phonotactic constraints.
This approach, however, raises a non-trivial learnability question: Can learners classify words into correct sublexica?
Words are not labeled with their sublexicon, so learners need to infer the classification.
In this study, we investigate Bayesian unsupervised learning of sublexica.
We focus on Japanese data (coded in international phhonetic alphabet), whose sublexical phonotactics has been proposed in linguistic literature.
It will turn out that even a simple Dirichlet process mixture of ngram leads to remarkably successful classification.


Zukoff at Grinnell College

Sam Zukoff (PhD ‘17, post-doc) gave an invited talk at Grinnell College last week. The handout for the talk, entitled Reduplication in Ancient Greek, is available on Sam’s website, here.


Syntax Square 11/21 - Stanislao Zompí (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompí
Title: *ABA in case morphology and what it may teach us
Date and time: Tuesday November 21, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this presentation, I try to lay out a comprehensive survey of *ABA effects in case morphology, with an emphasis on case syncretism, case-based wholesale suppletion, and case-based stem-formative allomorphy. Building on work by Baerman et al. (2005), McFadden (2017), and Smith et al. (2017), I claim that all three of these phenomena are constrained by the following universal: No Vocabulary-Insertion rule can apply to both an inherent case and an unmarked core case (nominative/absolutive) without also applying to another core case (accusative/ergative). The case hierarchy that such *ABA effects motivate is thus one where the ergative consistently occupies the same ‘middle field’ as the accusative, instead of patterning with inherent cases. This offers a new kind of argument against approaches that treat the ergative as just another inherent case, and it favors instead those case-assignment theories that do put ergative and accusative in the same box. Prominent among these is Marantz’s (1991) dependent-case theory, whereby accusative and ergative are both treated as dependent cases—i.e. assigned to nominals that stand in an asymmetric c-command relation to another as-yet-caseless nominal nearby (cf. also Yip et al. 1987). In this light, I reinterpret Marantz’s disjunctive case-assignment hierarchy as a proper containment hierarchy: [[[UNMARKED] DEPENDENT] INHERENT].


MIT-Haiti Initiative and Google team up

The MIT-Haiti Initiative, dedicated to making STEM education accessible to Haitians in Kreyòl, their native language, has gained a new ally: Google. As part of an expansion to Google Translate, Google and the MIT-Haiti Initiative have teamed up to add scientific and technical terminology, including recent coinages, to the translation software’s database. Now anyone can access translations of technical terms in Kreyòl, greatly expanding the reach of the technical terminology the Initiative works on creating and disseminating. More details can be found at MIT News.


LF Reading Group 10/25 - Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)
Title: Mandarin cai: ‘only’ and what else?
Date and time: Wednesday October 25, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The Mandarin focus particle cái has (at least) three readings: a scalar only reading (1), a temporal reading (2), and an “only if” conditional (3).

1. Lee is only/merely a novice.
2. John arrived only at midnight.
3. Only if the weather’s good will I go jogging.

I’ll explore existing accounts of the semantics of cai. Although the exclusive component of this particle is generally agreed upon, accounts differ on how to treat the additional meaning component(s) that the various readings of cai contribute.


Syntax Square 10/17 - Carrie Spadine (MIT)

Speaker: Carrie Spadine (MIT)
Title: Tigrinya attitude reports: arguments for syntactic perspective [NELS practice talk]
Date and time: Tuesday October 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk presents novel data from Tigrinya (Semitic) for a perspectival projection (“PerspP”) in the left periphery of the clause. Previous works (Speas 2004, Sundaresan 2016, and others) have argued that such a projection is necessary to account for morphosyntactic phenomena that is sensitive to discourse and pragmatic factors, such as evidentiality marking, indexical shift, and perspectival anaphora. However, the existing proposals that make use of this projection extrapolate its existence from indirect factors, like auxiliary choice, agreement, and binding. Tigrinya can realize this projection overtly; the head Persp is spelled out as “ilu”, and introduces a perspective holder argument in the specifier of PerspP.

The construction under discussion also has the novel property of allowing indexical shift in root clauses. If indexical shift relies on a semantic property of the matrix verb in shifty construction (as proposed in (Munro et al. 2009) for Matses), this would be unexpected. Instead, this data suggests that indexical shift is a property of certain types of clauses, and the compatibility or incompatibility of certain verb classes with shifty embedded clauses is the result of selectional restrictions on clause size, rather than the particular semantics of those verbs.


LFRG 10/18 - Alexander Wimmer (Universität Tübingen)

Speaker: Alexander Wimmer (Universität Tübingen)
Title: Outscoping exclusion
Date and time: Wednesday October 18, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The Chinese focus particle jiù is known to have both exclusive and nonexclusive readings, and to carry an evaluative component of easiness (Hole 2004, Liu 2016). I follow Liu (2016) in assuming that jiù has an exclusive assertion and a scalar presupposition according to which the prejacent ranks lowest on a scale of alternatives.

My first aim is to support this presupposition, and to check whether it should be supplemented by the truth of jiù’s prejacent.

I then want to consider the option of getting the nonexclusive reading by having a covert existential modal take scope above jiù at Logical Form, reducing the particle’s exclusiveness to a mere possibility. This option is inspired by a passage in Beck & Rullmann (1999), who decompose sufficiency into the components POSSIBLE and ONLY.

Ling-Lunch 10/19 - Justin Colley (MIT) + Ezer Rasin (MIT) & Roni Katzir (MIT, TAU)

This week’s Ling-Lunch consists of two NELS practice talks
Date/Time: Thursday, October 12, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Speaker: Justin Colley (MIT)
Title: Object movement derives object preference

Some languages exhibit object preference, in which agreement is with the object, if possible, and otherwise with the subject. For example, in Erzya Mordvin (Uralic), person agreement is with the object if it is 1st or 2nd person (1a), and otherwise the subject (1b) (Béjar 2003; Georgi 2010).

1) a. kunda-d-ad-yz
   I/we/(s)he/they catch you(pl).

 b. kunda-s-y-k
   You(pl) catch him/her.

Object preference is problematic for a theory of Agree in which a Probe agrees with the closest c-commanded Goal (Rizzi, 1991; Chomsky, 2000, 2001). If a Probe c-commands the subject, then all things being equal, the result is expected to be subject agreement.

There are two kinds of theories of object preference. One is a low Probe theory, in which object-preferring Probes are on v, with extra assumptions invoked to explain the possibility of subject agreement (Béjar and Rezac, 2009; Lomashvili & Harley, 2011). I will argue instead for a movement theory, in which object-preferring Probes are high, and object preference is the result of movement above the subject (Bruening, 2001). Evidence for object-preferring Probes being high comes from cross-linguistic generalisations about morpheme ordering and suppletion. Evidence for movement of the object comes from various sources, including variable binding, word order, differential object marking, and the behaviour of unaccusatives.

Speaker: Ezer Razin (MIT) and Roni Katzir (MIT, TAU)
Title: Rule-based learning of phonological optionality and opacity

Optionality and opacity pose obvious challenges for the child learning the phonology of their ambient language: a process to be acquired loses support because of environments in which it was supposed to apply but didn’t (both optionality and counterfeeding opacity) or in which it wasn’t supposed to apply but did (counterbleeding opacity). Not surprisingly, no learners in the literature can handle optionality or opacity distributionally, from unanalyzed input data alone. Children, however, do manage to acquire optionality and opacity in a variety of languages (Dell 1981, McCarthy 2007). This talk shows how optional processes and opaque interactions (including both counterfeeding and counterbleeding) can be acquired using the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL; Solomonoff 1964, Rissanen 1978). Specifically, we use an adaptation of Rasin & Katzir 2016’s MDL learner (originally used for OT phonology) to rule-based phonology and show how it applies to various cases of optionality and opacity. We then show simulations on artificial-language data illustrating the mechanization of the idea.


ESSL/LAcqLab 10/5 - Emma Nguyen + William Snyder (UConn)

Speaker: Emma Nguyen (UConn) & William Snyder (UConn)
Title: It’s hard to coerce: a unified account of Raising-Past-Experiencers and Passives in Child English
Date/Time: Thursday, October 5, 5-6PM
Location: 32-D831

Snyder & Hyams (2015) adopt an idea from Gehrke & Grillo (2009) to account for children’s delay of non-actional passives: the problem is children’s inability to perform “semantic coercion” that non-actional verbs require before passivization. Orfitelli (2012) finds a tight correspondence between any given child’s ability to comprehend some non-actional passives and the same child’s ability to comprehend raising-past-experiencers like “John seems to Mary to be nice”. Yet, it is unclear how the idea of semantic coercion can extend to raising-past-experiencers.

Pinker (1989) argues the “core” of the English passive is the verb’s dyad of Agent-Patient theta-roles, with counterparts in other fields, like Perceiver-Perceptum. We propose that the locus of development is the ability to coerce a theta-role like Perceiver/Possessor into Agent. If a similar type of semantic coercion is necessary for raising-past-experiencers, children are delayed with both raising-past-experiencers and non-actional passives because they are late to master semantic coercion.


Happy news from Despina

Congratulations to Despina Oikonomou (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin, PhD ‘16) who just gave birth to son Nicholas! Mother and child are both doing well! Thanks to Sabine for passing on the photo.


MIT Simplicity Workshop

The MIT Workshop on Simplicity in Grammar Learning will take place on September 23, 2017 in 32-155. The workshop will bring together members of MIT’s Linguistics and Brain & Cognitive Sciences departments to share current work that revisits the relevance of simplicity criteria in the study of language. Visit the website for more information.


Singer/Songwriter BIC at MIT

Haitian poet, singer & song-writer Roosevelt Saillant, better known as B.I.C. Tizon Dife (B.I.C. = Brain. Intelligence. Creativity) is one-of-a-kind Haitian artist, and he’s giving a free concert at MIT.

B.I.C. is one of the best known and most creative and prolific artists in Haiti. He has been writing and singing his poems for the past 20 years. B.I.C.’s songs, now taught at Haitian universities, reveal a unique philosophy of development and justice. His trenchant criticism about, and positive messages for, Haitian society are expressed in mordant, yet beautiful, lyrics in his native Haitian Creole, replete with word play and rhyme crafting. His songs—a mix of hip hop, rap, folk and traditional Haitian rhythms—express a profound love for his Haiti, along with an active engagement for the defense of human rights.

Thanks to a grant from Arts at MIT, B.I.C. is visiting MIT to help develop digital poetry in Kreyòl with Prof. Michel DeGraff (MIT Linguistics, Inisyativ MIT-Ayiti / MIT-Haiti Initiative) and Prof. Nick Montfort (MIT Comparative Media Studies / Writing), and he will present a concert that will include some discussion, and will be free and open to the public. Details are available on the facebook page, and repeated below.

Date: Tuesday, September 19, 5:15 pm
Location: 32-155

B.I.C.’s music can be sampled via: https://g.co/kgs/wDXfU6


Another visiting scholar - Senem Şahin

This is a follow up on last week’s post about our visiting scholars this semester. Happy circumstances led to a delay in bringing you information about Senem Şahin. Here is her description below. Good luck Senem!

Senem Şahin  (Universität Augsburg): graduated from Hacettepe University in Ankara (Turkey), Department of English Language Teaching in 2002. She holds a M.A. and PhD degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) from the University of Munich (Germany), specializing on nonverbal communication, intercultural communication and teacher training. She has been teaching and researching as associate professor at the Chair of TEFL at Augsburg University (Germany) since 2010. Her teaching experience includes courses about individual differences, intercultural learning, research methods, and multilingualism in TEFL. Her current research projects focus on bilingual education, second and third language acquisition, and multilingualism.



Phonology Circle 9/11 - Roni Katzir (TAU & MIT) and Ezer Rasin (MIT)

Speaker: Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University & MIT) and Ezer Rasin (MIT)
Title: Learning opacity, optionality, and abstract URs using Minimum Description Length
Date and time: Monday, September 11, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

We discuss two posters that we will present at the Annual Meeting on Phonology 2017:

1. Acquiring opaque phonological interactions using Minimum Description Length

Opacity poses an obvious challenge for the child learning the phonology of their ambient language: a process to be acquired loses support because of environments in which it was supposed to apply but didn’t (e.g., counterfeeding) or in which it wasn’t supposed to apply but did (e.g., counterbleeding). Not surprisingly, no learners in the literature can handle opacity distributionally, from unanalyzed input data alone. Children, however, do manage to acquire opacity in a variety of languages (Dell 1981, McCarthy 2007). This talk shows how opaque interactions (including optionality, counterfeeding, and counterbleeding) can be acquired using the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL; Solomonoff 1964, Rissanen 1978). Specifically, we use an adaptation of Rasin & Katzir 2016’s MDL learner (originally used for OT phonology) to rule-based phonology and show how it applies to various cases of opacity. We then show simulations on artificial-language data illustrating the mechanization of the idea.

2. Minimum Description Length subsumes Free Ride effects in UR learning

Human learners have been argued to infer URs that are sometimes different from their corresponding surface representation (SR) even without being forced to do so by an alternation. McCarthy (2005) proposes the Free Ride Principle (FRP), which allows the learner to extend non- identical mappings in alternating forms to non-alternating forms. Recently, Rasin & Katzir (2016) proposed Minimum Description Length (MDL) as an evaluation metric for OT. The present work shows how MDL supports the induction of nonidentical URs both in cases that have motivated the FRP and in cases that have been argued to involve nonidentical URs in the absence of supporting alternations (and are thus outside the scope of the FRP). As a result, the FRP is redundant.


Syntax Square 9/12 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Title: Ellipsis As A Diagnosis Of Movements In The Expletive There and It Sentences
Date and time: Tuesday, September 12, 1:00-2:00pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I present an argument from ellipsis that there and it are initially merged within vP or lower in the structure. I adopt Takahashi and Fox’s (2005) proposals concerning MaxElide and parallelism and Hartman’s (2011) extension of their proposal. Hartman attributes the contrast between TP-ellipsis and VP-ellipsis of (1) to an interaction between A-movement of the subject and wh-movement.

(1) John will buy something, but I don’t know what (*he will).

Building on his analysis, I show that there and it behave just the same:

(2) There will be something in the room, but I don’t know exactly what (*there will).

(3) We all know that it will be possible for scientists to achieve something in ten years, but we don’t know what (*it will be).

By showing that the expletives behave exactly like non-expletive subjects across the entire ellipsis paradigm, I argue that they are similarly base generated internal to the vP.

My analysis suggests that semantically vacuous elements can create variable-binding configurations at LF by movement, similar to the effects created by the movement of a null operator previously proposed in semantics. This also adds to Hartman’s observation that semantically vacuous movement of otherwise contentful elements creates the same effects, such as head movement. Movement brings about semantically relevant consequences in a mechanical way, independent of the semantics with which they may interact.


Ling-Lunch 9/14 - Ted Gibson (MIT)

Speaker: Ted Gibson (MIT)
joint work with Richard Futrell, Julian Jara-Ettinger, Kyle Mahowald, Leon Bergen, Sivalogeswaran Ratnasigam, Mitchell Gibson, Steven T. Piantadosi, and Bevil R. Conway
Title: Color naming across languages reflects color use
Date and time: Thursday, September 14, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

What determines how languages categorize colors? We analyzed results of the World Color Survey (WCS) of 110 languages to show that despite gross differences across languages, communication of chromatic chips is always better for warm colors (yellows/reds) than cool colors (blues/greens). We present the first analysis of color statistics in a large databank of natural images curated by human observers for salient objects, and show that objects tend to have warm rather than cool colors. These results suggest that the cross-linguistic similarity in color-naming efficiency reflects colors of universal usefulness, and provide an account of a principle (color use) that governs how color categories come about. We show that potential methodological issues with the WCS do not corrupt information-theoretic analyses, by collecting original data using two extreme versions of the color-naming task, in three groups: the Tsimane’, a remote Amazonian hunter-gatherer isolate; Bolivian-Spanish speakers; and English speakers. These data also enabled us to test another prediction of the color-usefulness hypothesis: that differences in color categorization between languages are caused by differences in overall usefulness of color to a culture. In support, we found that color naming among Tsimane’ had relatively low communicative efficiency, and the Tsimane’ were less likely to use color terms when describing familiar objects. Color-naming among Tsimane’ was boosted when naming artificially colored objects compared to natural objects, suggesting that industrialization promotes color usefulness.

Welcome to Fall 2017!

Welcome to the first edition of Whamit! for Fall 2017! After our summer hiatus, Whamit! is back to regular weekly editions during the semester.

Whamit! is the MIT Linguistics newsletter, published every Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Yadav Gowda, Mitya Privoznov, Neil Banerjee, and Itai Bassi.

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6pm.


Welcome to ling-17!

We’d like to extend a warm welcome to the students who are joining our graduate program this year!

Daniel Asherov

I’m from the greater Tel Aviv area in Israel. I received my B.A. in Linguistics at Tel Aviv University, where I worked on defaultness in Hebrew morphology,  acquisition of rhotics, and phonology of heritage speakers. In my M.A., also at Tel Aviv University, I primarily worked on the role of prosody in the interpretation of constructions with ‘or’. At present, I am particularly curious about the division of labor between phonetics and phonology, and all aspects of prosodic prominence. In my free time I enjoy language learning, especially through interaction with language exchange partners.

Tanya Bondarenko

I was born and have lived my whole life in Moscow, where I finished Bachelor’s and Master’s programs in linguistics at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU). I am interested in various topics of syntax and semantics, for example in how can subjects of embedded clauses of some languages receive accusative case marking, what mechanisms are responsible for clause reduction, or why repetitive adverbs like ‘again’ have different meanings in structures with dative arguments in different languages. I enjoy doing fieldwork a lot – I have participated in MSU’s expeditions into Balkar (Turkic) and Buryat (Mongolian) languages and have done fieldwork on Georgian on my own. When I am not doing linguistics, I enjoy snowboarding, learning to do acrobatics and artistic gymnastics, and watching and discussing films.

Cater Chen

I was born and raised in Beijing, China. I received a B.Sc. in Psychology and an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Toronto. I’ve worked on the morphology and syntax of several nominal constructions (both phrases and compounds) in Mandarin Chinese and English, and I’m generally interested in argument structure, locality (in movement), nominalization, and things about Roots. Outside of Linguistics, I enjoy reading and writing prose and poems, solving math and logic puzzles, and listening to post-rock music. I bike and hike when I’m back home. Sometimes I have ice cream or cake for lunch/dinner.

Sherry Chen

I was born and raised a little town called Longyou, located in southeastern China. I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Hong Kong, during which time I studied abroad in Melbourne, Australia. After that I did an MPhil in general linguistics at the University of Oxford, where I was advised by E. Matthew Husband and became fascinated by various topics including tense, event structure, and presupposition. My two years at Oxford has been an magical experience, which ultimately brought me to the decision of pursuing a PhD in linguistics. My main research interests lie in syntax, semantics, and their interface interfaces, involving both theoretical and experimental inquiry. While not working, I spend my time cooking and taking long walks. I think coffee and platypus are the two best things in the world.

Boer Fu

I was born in Fuxin, China. It’s a tiny town right next to Inner Mongolia. But I would consider my hometown to be Shanghai, because I have lived there since I was 4 and I have long lost my velar nasal because of it (only in Mandarin and only after certain vowels). I went to UCLA for my undergrad and did a bit of research on Mongolian vowel harmony. I came to Boston to escape the burning sun of SoCal, and to explore more of phonology. I’m also interested in historical linguistics, especially the question of how sound changes over time. When I’m not doing linguistics, you’ll probably hear me going on and on about Harry Potter and Liverpool FC (it’s a soccer team). I also love politics, maps, cats, and Agatha Christie.

Filipe Kobayashi

I’m from a small town in Brazil called Petrópolis. I received a BA in Portuguese language and literature from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Last year, I moved to Canada to do an MA in Hispanic linguistics at the University of Toronto. I’m interested in semantics, syntax and their interfaces. Currently, I am particularly puzzled by epistemic indefinites and the licensing of polarity items. In my free time, I enjoy reading, watching TV series and trying to play the guitar.

Vincent Rouillard

I grew up in Montreal, where I obtained my B.A. in linguistics from McGill University.  I am most interested in semantics and pragmatics, although I hope to extend my research into syntax. My work so far has focused on so-called presuppositional implicatures, which are inferences generated when speakers utter a sentence for which there are presuppositionally stronger alternatives. Outside of academia, I like to sit at my computer all day.

Dóra Takács

I grew up in a small industrial town in Hungary. I got my B.A. in German studies with a minor in mathematics from the University of Szeged. I have recently finished my M.A. in linguistics at the University of Göttingen. I am interested in semantics and pragmatics in general, and propositional attitude verbs, presuppositions and anaphora in particular. I am excited to continue working on these topics as well as extending my linguistic horizon in the coming years at MIT.

Christopher Yang

I was born and raised in San Jose, California. I attended UCLA and received a BA in linguistics with a specialization in computing. My main interests in linguistics center around phonology, in particular Optimality Theory, opacity, and syllable theory, as well as learning and learnability. I am currently investigating the effects of syllable structure on certain opaque interactions in Korean. Outside of linguistics, I am an avid gamer, lover of superhero films, and enjoy hiking and woodworking.

Stanislao Zompì

I was born and grew up in the South-East of Italy, a few miles away from the awesome Ionian shores of Apulia. I then moved to Tuscany to study, and earned both my BA and my MA from the University of Pisa. During those university years, however, I also managed to travel around a good deal, spending some months as an Erasmus student in Paris and London, then taking part in a couple of EGG schools in Eastern Europe, and finally arranging to write my MA thesis at the University of Geneva. In that thesis, I focused on so-called *ABA patterns in case morphology, and on what they may tell us about the way that cases are assigned. I’m also interested in syntax and morphology more generally, and I hope to get a grasp also of semantics and phonology in the years to come. Outside linguistics, I enjoy good literature (especially short stories), reading and debating about politics, and binge-watching TV series.

New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Fall 2017

Visiting Faculty

  •  Naomi Feldman (University of Maryland): “I’m visiting this year from the University of Maryland.  My research is in computational psycholinguistics.  This means I use computational models to try and understand how people learn and process language, drawing on methods and insights from a number of fields: linguistics, cognitive science, computer science, engineering.  Most of my research looks at how people’s processing of speech becomes specialized for their native language, but in recent collaborations with students, I’ve also looked at questions in morphology and syntax acquisition.”
Visiting Scholars
  • Michiko Bando (Shiga University): “My research interests are morphology and syntax of Japanese complex predicates, and recently I am also interested in syntax of Japanese and English relative clauses.”
  • Yunjing Li (Tianjin Foreign Studies University): “I’m an associate professor from Tianjin Foreign Studies University, China. I got my Ph.D degree in linguistics from Nankai University.  My research interests lie primarily in doing phonological and/or phonetic studies on Chinese dialects. Feel free to contact me if you want to discuss with me linguistic things or anything else.”
  • Senem Şahin  (Universität Augsburg)
  • Ryosuke Shibagaki (Nanzan University). His research interests include Lexical Semantics and Syntax
  • Jaehyun Son (Duksung Women’s University): “I am interested in the accent types and their correspondences in Korean and Japanese. For now, I am focusing on Korean accentual dialects through field work. Research on the Korean accent has been carried out within the Korean linguistics community, but in that context, the Korean accent system has traditionally been compared to the tone system of Chinese, in which pitch contours are syllabic. In contrast, Japanese researchers have proposed that the Korean accent system should be analyzed from the point of view of word-level and phrase-level accentual systems seen in Japanese dialects. One possible reason for this difference of opinion is that recently in Japan, despite the growing influence of the accentual systems of Tokyo Japanese and the dialects of other major cities, a great variety of smaller dialects have been observed and documented, and as a result of this work researchers have discovered accent types that have played a crucial role in uncovering the history and evolution of the Japanese accentual system. In Korea, on the other hand, accent has been lost in the regions surrounding and including Seoul (the national capital) but there are still dialects, mainly in the south-eastern regions of the Korean peninsula, that retain an accentual system and can shed light on the history of accent in Korea. For the present study, I took the Japanese-oriented view rather than the traditional Chinese oriented view and analyzed the accentual systems of Korean dialects using data from a purely synchronic field survey of several locations across the Korean-speaking region. The field survey includes dialects that have already been documented by Korean and Japanese researchers, but by including the whole Korean-speaking region in its scope and using a new theoretical framework, the current study was able to highlight the shortcomings of previous work.”
  • Sze Wing Tang (The Chinese University of Hong Kong). His research interests lie primarily in Chinese syntax, theoretical approaches to the study of Chinese dialects, and comparative grammar. Topics he is currently working on include the syntax of the sentence-final expressions and the micro-parametric variation of functional categories under a cartographic approach.
  • Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College): “I am a phonologist with a strong interest in syntax. Currently, I am doing a joint work on how Japanese learners of English as a foreign language perceive prosody, how it is different from native speakers of English, and whether the learners’ levels of English matter. Also, I have been working on the relation between lexical classes and phonological phenomena related to syllables and other prosodic structures. My past work includes those on the syntax of multiple nominative constructions in Japanese and on pitch contours of Japanese speakers in relation to syntactic constructions.”
Postdoctoral Associates
  • Tiaoyuan Mao (Beijing Foreign Studies University). His research interests include syntax, semantics-pragmatics interface,and language acquisition.
  • Sarah Zobel  (University of Tübingen): “My main research interests lie in formal semantics and pragmatics (and everything in between). The two main lines of research I am currently pursuing are the description and analysis of the interpretational possibilities of German `als’-phrases and English `as’-phrases, as well as the semantics and pragmatics of German discourse particles (contrasting Federal German and Austrian German varieties). I have also worked on pronouns and modality/genericity. In addition to my theoretical work, I am interested in corpus linguistic and experimental methods, which I both apply in my research (as far as my skills permit).”
Visiting Students
  • Moshe E.Bar Lev (Hebrew University of Jerusalem):“My main research interests are Semantics and Pragmatics and their interface. I currently work on Free Choice and Homogeneity phenomena, and I’m also interested in Tense semantics cross-linguistically.”
  • Kasia Hitczenko (University of Maryland):
    I’m a 4th year grad student at the University of Maryland, advised by Naomi Feldman, and will be spending the full academic year at MIT. My research is in computational psycholinguistics, with a focus on modeling how infants learn the sound system of their language. I’m looking forward to meeting everyone!
    Alexander Wimmer (Universität Tübingen): “I am a second-year PhD student at the University of Tübingen, Germany, where I am a member of „ObTrEx“, a project that investigates obligatory presupposition triggers from an experimental or crosslinguistic perspective. My research interests lie in crosslinguistic semantics, especially in quantification over alternatives and Chinese language. Besides linguistics, I enjoy walking and all kinds of movies.”

Summer defenses

Our warmest congratulations to this summer’s shower of doctoral dissertators. From Aron Hirsch and Paul Marty’s semantics to Chris O’Brien, Isa Kerem Bayırlı and Ruth Brillman’s syntax and to Sam Zukoff and Ben Storme’s phonology. Between all the fields, a wide variety of topics and excellent defenses, it was truly a fruitful dissertation season. The department was celebrating with an as wide a variety of food and beverages: champagne, a cookie cake, sublime French wine and rakı.

  • Aron Hirsch: An inflexible semantics for cross-categorial operators
  • Benjamin Storme: Perceptual sources for closed-syllable vowel laxing and nonderived environment effects
  • Chris O’Brien: Multiple dominance and interface operations
  • Isa Kerem Bayırlı: The universality of concord
  • Paul Marty: Implicatures and the DP domain
  • Ruth, Brillman: Subject/non-subject extraction asymmetries: the view from tough-constructions
  • Sam Zukoff: Indo-European Reduplication: Synchrony, Diachrony, and Theory


Summer news

We have following summer news from students and faculty:

  • The biennial Summer Institute of the Lingusitic Society of America took place at the University of Kentucky from July 5 - August 1. Several faculty members and alumni taught classes:
    • Adam Albright (faculty): Phonology
    • Michel DeGraff (faculty): Creole Studies at the Intersection of Theory, History, Computation and Education
    • Claire Halpert (PhD ‘12, now at Minnesota): Clausal Arguments in Bantu and Beyond
    • Giorgio Magri (Phd ‘09, now at CNRS): Computational Phonology
    • David Pesetsky (faculty): Introduction to Syntax
    • Norvin Richards (faculty): Prosody and Syntax: Introduction to Contiguity Theory
    • Coppe van Urk (PhD ‘15, now at QMUL): Movement in Minimalism
    • Igor Yanovich (PhD ‘13, now at Tübingen): Statistical Inference for the Linguistic and Non-Linguistic Past
    Elise Newman (2nd-year) and Danfeng Wu (2nd-year) were attendees, and Danfeng also TAed David’s syntax class. Elise shares this group picture of some of the attendees, including MIT-ers Danfeng, Coppe, Norvin, Elise, Claire and David, and David shares this picture of a bourbon distillery.Some of the attendees of LSA Summer Institute 2017. Photo credits: Elise Newman.A bourbon distillery in Lexington, KY. Photo credits: David Pesetsky.
  • The CreteLing Summer School took place at the University of Crete in Rethymnon from July 10 to July 21, and many MIT faculty and alumni taught courses. Shigeru shares the picture below showing the view of Rethymnon from the accomodations at CreteLing. Marie-Christine Meyer (PhD ‘13, now at ZAS Berlin), Despina Oikonomou (PhD ‘16, now at Humboldt), and Uli Sauerland (PhD ‘98, now at ZAS Berlin) gave talks at the associated workshop. Rafael Abramovitz (3rd-year), Ömer Demirok (4th-year), and Maša Močnik (3rd-year) were TAs at CreteLing, while Snejana Iovtcheva (6th-year), and Tatiana Bondareko (1st-year) and attended. In addition, former visiting faculty Elena Anagnostopoulou (Crete) and Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen) also taught courses.
  • The ferris wheel in Toulouse.The European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information (ESSLLII 2017) took place at the University of Toulouse from July 17-28. Among the course instructors were: Philippe also gave an evening lecture on the scope of the field of semantics. Keny Chatain (2nd-year), Yadav Gowda (2nd-year), and Maša Močnik (3rd-year) attended, and Maša also presented a poster at the student session. Roger, who shared the picture of the ferris wheel to the right, reports “The school was well organized. The location, Toulouse, France, did not disappoint nor did the students and fellow lecturers. If the 2017 instantiation of ESSLLI was representative and you have an opportunity in the future to participate, grab it!”.
  • Some MIT linguists who happened to be in Toronto in August presented at the Dog Days VI Syntax Workshop at the University of Toronto. Bridget Copley (PhD ‘02, now at CNRS/Paris 8), Neil Banerjee (2nd-year), and Tova Rapoport (PhD ‘87, now at Ben Gurion) gave talks, while Bronwyn Bjorkman (PhD ‘11, now at Queen’s University) was a co-author on a talk and gave a keynote as well.
  • For the third year in a row, MIT has participated in the Congresso Internacional de Estudos Linguísticos (VI CIEL) at the University of Brasília. From August 23-25, Shigeru Miyagawa, Kai von Fintel, and Maria Luisa Zubizaretta (PhD ‘82, now at USC) taught mini-courses.
  • Maya Honda (Wheelock College) and Wayne O’Neil (faculty) have published an article in Revista LinguíStica. The article summarizes the past thirty years of their teaching linguistics, generally in non-traditional settings. The journal is open-access, and the article is available online here.
  • In June, David travelled to Utrecht University to participate in a dissertation defense by Heidi Klockmann, who was a visitor to the department in Fall 2014. Heidi’s dissertation is available here.
  • In August, the Workshop on Quirks of Subject Extraction was held at the National University of Singapore. The workshop was organized by Mitcho Erlewine (PhD ‘14, now at NUS). David was an invited speaker, and former visitors Nico Baier (UC Berkeley) and Amy-Rose Deal (UC Berkeley) also presented at the workshop.
  • Congratulations to Pritty Patel-Grosz (PhD ‘12) who has been promoted to the rank of full professor at the University of Oslo!
  • Colin Phillips (PhD ‘96, now at Maryland) was elected a 2018 Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America! Colin joins 37 other MIT linguistics alumni and faculty members who have been similarly honored. Congratulations to Colin and the other 2018 Fellows!

Fall 2017 Reading Groups

LPRG is the Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group, held Mondays from 1:00 to 2:00pm in 32-D769. Linguists and philosophers join forces to understand language and linguistics. We read and discuss old and new papers in the field (especially in formal semantics and philosophy of language). For more information visit the website or contact the organisers Christopher Baron or Maša Močnik.

Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays, from 5:00–6:30pm, in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). For those of you who are new to the department, Phonology Circle is the weekly phonology meeting group. It is an informal group, so we welcome presentations on all kinds of topics: work in progress, papers from the literature, recently defended generals papers or theses, practice talks, etc. Presenters need not be affiliated with MIT, though we give priority to current students, faculty, and visitors. Light refreshments will be provided. At this point, every Monday of the semester is open other than September 18 and November 13th. Please contact Erin Olson and/or Rafael Ambramovitz if you would like to reserve one. We will ask you for a title and an abstract closer to the date of presentation.

Syntax Square exists to facilitate the presentation or discussion of anything relating to syntax. Formal presentations are welcome, but not necessary. If there’s a bit of syntax you want to have a discussion about, sign up.

Syntax square will be meeting this semester on Tuesdays from 1-2pm in room 32-D461. If you would like to lead a discussion or give an informal presentation of your work, please contact Danfeng or Suzana.

LFRG is an informal, weekly semantics and semantics/syntax interface group. Rough ideas, work in progress, practice talks and presentation of papers from the literature are most welcome.

We will be meeting on Wednesdays 1-2pm, room 32-D461.

Please let Naomi or Mitya know if you would like to present.

Ling-Lunch is a series of weekly talks, held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm. It is open to all linguistics topics and everybody is welcome to present their work, though preference is given to members of the MIT Linguistics Department. Contact this semester’s organizers, Keny Chatain or Ömer Demirok to reserve a slot.


LFRG 08/30 - Marie-Christine Meyer

Speaker: Marie-Christine Meyer (ZAS Berlin)
Title: Sound Patterns of Exhaustification
Date and time: Wedensday August 30, 1:00-2:00pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk I will suggest a compositional semantics for certain intonational contours, arguing that the falling (LL%) and rising (LH%) boundary tones are what I call weak and strong exhaustification morphemes. These morphemes occur together with a L+H* pitch accent in constructions that have been studied under the names of Meta-linguistic Negation (e.g. Horn 1989), Contrastive Negation (e.g. McCawley 1991), and Contrastive Focus (e.g. Bolinger 1965, Rooth 1985), whereas intonational tunes like L+H*LH% have been studied in relation to their use as indicating speaker uncertainty and/or contrastive topics (e.g. Büring 1997, 2003). I will show how the semantic/pragmatic contribution of these intonational tunes across constructions is mediated by (i) the semantics of L+H* and LL% or LH% (ii) economy principles like Efficiency (Meyer 2013, 2015), (iii) quantifier domain restriction of LL% and LH%, which allows for the possibility of anaphora between the levels of presupposed and exhaustified (i.e. asserted) content (e.g. Karttunen & Peters 1979, von Fintel 1994) as well as contextual symmetry breaking of ALT (cf. Fox & Katzir 2011), and (iv) independent constraints on structural alternatives (Katzir 2007).

Zukoff appears in LI

Sam Zukoff has just had a paper titled The Reduplicative System of Ancient Greek and a New Analysis of Attic Reduplication published in Linguistic Inquiry!

The published version can be accessed through LI here. A pre-publication version is available on Sam’s site here.


DeGraff at SPCL

Michel DeGraff (faculty) gave a plenary talk at the Society for Pidgin and Creole Linguistics (SPCL) annual conference in Tampere, Finland, this week. His talk was titled “This soil is bad for certain kinds of flowers”: in search of post-colonial foundations for Creole studies. The abstract is available here.

Michel DeGraff giving a plenary talk at SPCL 2017
Photo credit: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (mitcho)


Whamit! summer hiatus

Whamit! will be on hiatus during the summer. The editors would like to thank all of you for reading, and all our contributors for sharing their news with us!

Weekly posts will resume September 5th, 2017, but we will certainly update you on an as-it-happens basis with any interesting news that comes our way before then. We hope everyone has an enjoyable summer. See you again in the fall!


LFRG 5/17 - Naomi Francis

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Turkish ki: A presupposition-challenging particle
Date and time: Wednesday May 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk explores the behaviour of the Turkish discourse particle ki. I argue that it serves to challenge presuppositions, just as Iatridou & Tatevosov (2016) propose for a use of even in questions. Pursuing a unified analysis of even and ki motivates modifications of Iatridou & Tatevosov’s (2016) original account, and raises a new puzzle about possible links between even, polarity sensitivity, and presupposition-challenging discourse moves.


Phonology Circle 5/15 - Mitya Privoznov

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Title: Russian stress in inflectional paradigms
Date/Time: Monday, May 15, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

All analyses of Russian stress agree that it is contrastive. This is easily shown by the existance of minimal pairs, like zámok ‘castle’ vs. zamók ‘padlock’. Hence, at least some information about stress has to come from the lexical entries for individual morphemes. The question is: what kind of information? Most analyses, starting with Jakobson (1963), Zaliznyak (1967) and Halle (1973), assume that there is an underlyingly specified feature [+/-stress], cf. Zaliznyak (1985), Melvold (1990) and Alderete (1999). These theories distinguish between three types of morphemes in Russian: stressed, unstressed and “right-stressed”. The latter type is underlyingly accented, but, in Halle (1973)’s terms, it invokes a specific rule that shifts stress from the morpheme itself to the next syllable to the right (cf. Zaliznyak (1985)’s rightward marking). In this talk I am going to argue that instead of introducing the right-shifting stress rule we could assume that the stress feature, apart from having [+str] and [-str] values, can also be unspecified. This will give us the desired three-way distinction: morphemes can be stressed, unstressed and unspecified for stress. I am going to show that in a combination with StressLeft constraint (cf. Melvold (1990)’s BAP principle) and some independently needed auxiliary assumptions about morpheme dominance, this would derive the desired result.

Syntax Square 5/16 - Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Towards a unified analysis of associative plurals and plural pronouns in Inuktitut
Date and time: Tuesday May 16, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I present work in progress on associative plurals and Plural Pronoun Constructions in Inuktitut. I propose that associative plurals and plural pronouns share a common internal syntax; evidence comes from the existence of so-called ‘extended associatives’—associative plurals modified by a comitative phrase, just like PPCs—and the observation that these constructions systematically interact with PPCs. I suggest that the correct analysis for these constructions in Inuktitut seems to roughly correspond to the one proposed by Vassilieva & Larson (2005) for plural pronouns, which are taken to be built from a singular pronoun and an additional unsaturated element (thus, “we” = “I + other(s)”). However, along the way, I’ll also introduce various puzzles for this proposal.


LFRG 5/17 - Hanzhi Zhu

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)
Title: Building expectation into an account of still and already
Date and time: Wednesday May 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I’ll explore properties of particles like still, already, and German erst / Mandarin cái ‘only just, only … so far’. In particular, I will argue for the claim that some of these particles give rise to an earlier/later-than-expected inference (discussed in Löbner 1989, van der Auwera 1993, Michaelis 1996, inter alia).

1. Asha is already asleep.
Inference: Asha is asleep earlier than expected.

2. a. Bart qiutian cai lai.
Bart autumn erst come
b. Bart kommt erst im Herbst
Bart come erst in autumn
“Bart will only just come in autumn.”
Inference: Bart’s coming in autumn is later than was expected.

I’ll propose an account which directly builds this inference into their presuppositional content. I’ll then discuss the advantages of such an account over previous proposals (Krifka 2000, Ippolito 2007), as well as the challenges that it faces.


Syntax Square 5/9 - Karin Vivanco

Speaker: Karin Vivanco (MIT and the University of São Paulo)
Title: Inverse voice in Karitiana
Date and time: Tuesday May 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The goal of this talk is to present a new analysis of the inverse voice morpheme {ti-} in Karitiana, a Tupian language spoken in Brazil. This morpheme arises in three different constructions: object WH- questions, object focus constructions, and object relative clauses (Landin 1984, Landin 1987, Storto 1999, 2005). It also changes the agreement pattern of transitive verbs, that otherwise behave in an ergative-absolutive fashion. For this reason, some {ti-} constructions have been regarded as split-ergativity contexts (Storto 2005).

In the analysis proposed here, objects in {ti-} constructions would be adjuncts located outside of the verbal phrase. Furthermore, {ti-} would be a nominal element generated as the complement of a transitive verb, being later incorporated into it and changing its valency. Specifically, I argue that a verb marked with {ti-} becomes intransitive, a claim that can be supported by diagnoses of (in)transitivity such as the copular and the passive construction (Storto 2008, Rocha 2011, Storto and Rocha 2015). This intransitive status would in turn account for the change of agreement patterns without resorting to split-ergativity.

Finally, I also claim that this proposal can account for the presence of {ti-} in WH- constructions and for a semantic requirement that has not been previously described.


Michel DeGraff at the UN

This Friday, Michel DeGraff will be presenting his paper, Language, education, human rights, equal opportunity & sustainable development: Haiti as a case study, at the United Nations symposium on Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations!


MIT Colloquium 5/5 - Jon Gajewski (UConn)

Speaker: Jon Gajewski (UConn)
Title: It’s not syntax, I don’t think: neg-raising and parentheticals
Time: Friday, May 5th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

English allows a construction in which a sentence contains a parenthetical with a clausal gap, as in (i). I will refer to phrases such as I think in (i) as clausal parentheticals. Typically, clausal parentheticals cannot be negative, cf. (ii).
(i) There is beer in the fridge, I think.
(ii) *There is beer in the fridge, I don’t think.
It has been noted that when the clausal parenthetical contains a neg-raising predicate, an apparent doubling of a negation in the main clause is allowed, as in (ii).
(ii) There is no beer in the fridge, I (don’t) think.
This doubling has been taken to be an argument in favor of syntactic approaches to neg-raising, as in Ross (1973) and Collins & Postal (2014). I will defend an analysis of the doubling in (ii) that is compatible with a semantic/pragmatic approach to neg-raising, as in Horn 1989, Gajewski 2007, Romoli 2013.

Welcome to our 2017 incoming graduate class!

Joining our graduate program next Fall will be 10 new students. They come to us from 8 different countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Russia, USA) and 8 different universities. We are so excited that you will be joining us — see you next September!

  • Daniel Asherov (Tel Aviv University)
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (Moscow State University)
  • Cater Chen (University of Toronto)
  • Sherry Chen (University of Oxford)
  • Boer Fu (UCLA)
  • Filipe Kobayashi (University of Toronto)
  • Vincent Rouillard (McGill)
  • Dóra Takács (University of Göttingen)
  • Chris Yang (UCLA)
  • Stanislao Zompí (University of Pisa)

Celebrating David Pesetsky @ 60

This Saturday, linguists from around the world gathered in Cambridge to celebrate the life and work of our very own David Pesetsky, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday. The workshop, organized in secret over the last year and half by Claire Halpert (PhD ‘12), Sabine Iatridou (PhD ‘91), Hadas Kotek (PhD ‘14), and Coppe van Urk (PhD ‘15) (with the generous help of Mary Grenham), included two lively panels on topics close to David’s heart, case and wh-questions, and two poster sessions which presented work from linguists that David has inspired over the many years. The breadth of topics covered during the workshop spoke not only to David’s intellectual curiosity, but also to his ability as a teacher and adviser.

In tandem with the workshop, MITWPL also produced a festschrift, A pesky set: Papers for David Pesetsky, which includes 60 papers on a diverse range of topics written by David’s students.

Thank you to everyone who worked to make this a success!









(Thank you to Athulya Aravind, Snejana Iovtcheva, Michel DeGraff, and Abdul-Razak Sulemana for providing photos.)

Further information on the workshop, including handouts and slides, can be found on the workshop website.


Welcome to the Spring 2017 semester!

Welcome to the first Whamit! edition of Spring 2017!

Whamit! is the MIT Linguistics newsletter. It is published every Monday during the semester. The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Suzana Fong, and as of Spring 2017, Neil Banerjee, Yadav Gowda, and Mitya Privoznov. Welcome Neil, Yadav and Mitya!

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6pm.

Our best wishes for an enjoyable semester!


Welcome to our new visitors!

Visiting Scholars

Mascaró received his PhD from our department. Currently, he is a professor at UAB and he works on phonological theory and descriptive phonology and morphology

“My research interests are in semantics, pragmatics (particularly formal and experimental approaches), and reasoning. Currently, I’m working on implicative verbs (in Finnish and English) and related issues, inlcuding actuality entailments on ability modals.”

Visiting Students

“I am a third year PhD student at NYU Linguistics. My research interests lie primarily in the area of semantics and pragmatics, and their interfaces with syntax and prosody. I am keenly interested in cross-modal phenomena, in particular, in sign language and gesture.”

“I’m a fourth-year PhD student at Stony Brook University specializing in semantics and its interfaces with pragmatics and syntax. More specifically, my work is primarily in intensionality, event semantics, gradability, and the pragmatics of co-speech gesture.”


Winter news

We have several items of winter news from students and faculty:

  • First and foremost, we are very happy to congratulate Amanda Swenson on the successful defence of her dissertation “The Morphosyntax and Morphosemantics of Malayalam verbs”.11336851_946035558749855_9007491336874171080_o-2
  • The most pressing world news of the winter affected MIT linguistic community as well. Our leaders can be smart or stupid, but, as a Soviet comedian once said, dealing with us, they have no idea of the class of professionals they are messing with, because we are quite accomplished at defending ourselves and our friends. Many members of MIT linguistic community participated in the Boston Women’s March, as well as in the protests against the President’s recent executive order. Faculty Wayne O’Neil reports: “On 21 January, I was among the ~175,000 at the Boston Women’s March. And on 29 January, I was with the ~20,000 at Copley Sq, protesting Trump’s illegal executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries.”
  • The linguistic life, however, goes on. Many our faculty members, students and alumni participated in the Linguistic Society of America’s 2017 Annual Meeting (see detailed account at our other post). As linguistics may at some point take its rightful place among such respectable high school disciplines as physics, The LSA Annual Meeting held an organized session on Getting high school students into linguistics - Current activities and future directions (7 January), where Wayne O’Neil presented a paper (‘This time is different’) at an LSA2017/Austin TX. The entire session will shortly appear on line.
  • Another faculty member Michel DeGraff was part of a panel on Language and Educational Justice organized by Prof. Anne Charity Hudley and Prof. Mary Bucholtz on January 6, 2016.
  • Michel DeGraff also took part in the General Assembly of the Akademi Kreyòl Ayisyen (“Haitian Creole Academy”) in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on December 15-18, 2016.
  • MIT was also represented at the Berkeley Linguistics Society. Michelle Yuan and former visiting student Nico Baier (UC Berkeley) presented “Anti-agreement with bound variables”. Omer Preminger (PhD 2011) gave a plenary talk titled “Privativity in Syntax”.
  • Meanwhile, in the Old World our faculty member Roni Katzir and our graduate student Ezer Rasin taught a mini-course in Paris on “Compression-based learning in phonology and semantics”. A description of the course is available here (phonology) and here (semantics). This would be specifically interesting for those who plan to attend Roni Katzir’s class “Special Topics: Learning and Learnability” (24.S96) offered this semester, as well as several LFRG sessions devoted to the explanatory adequacy in semantics (keep an eye on WHAMIT and LFRG announcements).
  • In Nijmegen, the Netherlands, Michel DeGraff taught a one-week course at the LOT Winter School of Linguistics (see also here) (January 9-13, 2017). He also gave the Schultink lecture, with the title “A Cartesian Creolist’s Agenda for Linguistics in the 21st century”. Abstract and more details are available here.
  • David Pesetsky gave a six-hour mini-course entitled “Exfoliation: towards a derivational theory of clause size” at the University of Bucharest on January 19-20 (just as the anti-government demonstrations were getting under way) at the invitation of Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin and Alexandra Cornilescu, and was delighted to reunite with our Spring 2016 visitors Alexandru Nicolae and Adina Dragomirescu.

Spring 2017 reading groups

Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays, from 5-6:30pm in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. Light refreshments will be provided. Please contact Rafael Abramovitz and/or Abdul-Razak Sulemana if you would like to reserve a slot.

  • February: 13, 27
  • March: 20
  • April: 24

Syntax Square will be meeting on Tuesdays, from 1-2pm in 32-D461 (the 4th floor seminar room). Rough ideas, works in progress and presentations of papers from the literature are very welcome! Please contact this semester’s organizers, Justin Colley or Danfeng Wu to reserve a slot. The following dates are still open:

  • February: 14
  • March: 7, 14, 21
  • April: 4, 11, 25
  • May: 2, 9, 6

LFRG will be meeting on Wednesdays from 1-2pm in 32-D461. LFRG is an informal, weekly semantics and syntax/semantics interface group. Rough ideas, work in progress, practice talks and discussion of papers from the literature are most welcome. Please contact this semester’s organizers Itai Bassi or Mitya Privoznov for more information.

LPRG will be on Wednesdays, 3:30-5pm in the 7th floor conference room. The Linguistics & Philosophy Reading Group is encouraging people planning to attend to sign up for presenting a paper or leading a discussion on a paper. Co-presenting is especially encouraged. Further questions can be directed to Chris Baron and/or Maša Močnik.

Ling-Lunch is a series of weekly talks, held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm. It is open to all linguistics topics and everybody is welcome to present their work, though preference is given to members of the MIT Linguistics Department. Contact this semester’s organizers, Keny Chatain and/or Suzana Fong, to reserve a slot.

  • April 20
  • May 4

MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, Spring 2017

Colloquium talks will be held on Fridays from 3:30pm - 5:00pm in 32-155 unless otherwise noted. Please check the colloquia webpage for details and any updates. For further information, please contact organisers Nick Longenbaugh or Elise Newman.


Syntax Square 10/24 - Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Movement, doubling, and selection in Inuktitut noun incorporation
Date/Time: Monday, Oct. 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk presents ongoing work on noun incorporation in Inuktitut. Unlike languages with ‘classical’ noun incorporation (e.g. Mohawk), noun incorporation in Inuktitut is obligatory with a small class of verbs and is otherwise impossible with all other verbs (Sadock 1985, Johns 2007). It is standardly thought that this obligatoriness is motivated by wellformedness requirements on word-formation, though analyses vary in how exactly incorporation takes place (Johns 2007, Compton & Pittman 2010). In this talk, I discuss a number of additional, underanalyzed properties of Inuktitut noun incorporation that somewhat complicate the picture. These data suggest that incorporation may take place in some cases by movement, and other cases by base-generating the nominal at the incorporation site. In the latter cases, we find that the incorporated nominal may co-occur with an independent (non-identical) direct object. I suggest that incorporation in Inuktitut—whether by External or Internal Merge—involves Undermerge to the incorporating verb in v0 (Merge to complement position; Pesetsky 2007, 2013), and is moreover sensitive to the selectional requirements of v0.

Special October 19 update: MIT Linguistics faculty statement on the Dakota Access Pipeline

The linguistics faculty have issued the following statement on an ongoing event of importance:

We, the current and emeritus Linguistics faculty of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, join our colleagues in the Linguistics departments at UC Berkeley and Yale in expressing our support for the Oceti Sakowin Oyate, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and other tribal nations and people in opposing the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Working as we do in a scholarly discipline that draws on the cultural heritage and intellectual property of indigenous people worldwide, and being aware that linguists have not always collaborated ethically with those whose languages we study, we are especially conscious of the need to respect Native cultural autonomy, sovereignty, and rights to self-determination. The Dakota Access Pipeline would cross the ancestral lands of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the Missouri River. The Dakota Access Pipeline project impinges on indigenous communities’ rights to land, clean water, health, and cultural preservation, including language. We call on our leaders to respect the sovereign rights of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and ask the national linguistics community to add its voice in support of this urgent need.

MIT Linguistics faculty, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy
Cambridge, Massachusetts
October 19, 2016

Standing Rock website
List of MIT Linguistics faculty
Berkeley statement
Yale statement

click here for this week’s regular issue of Whamit!


New MIT linguistics website

Please enjoy our great new website. Some of the personal pages are still works in progress (having been migrated from the old site), so we ask your patience about that — but we hope you are as happy with it as we are!




Ling-Lunch: call for open slots

As of now, the Ling-Lunch slot on September 22nd is still open. Other available dates are as follows:

  • October 6 for NELS practice talk
  • November 3
  • December 1

If you are interested in one of these dates, let Abdul-Razak Sulemana (abdulraz@mit.edu) Mitya Privoznov (dprivoznov@gmail.com),  and/or Suzana Fong (sznfong@mit.edu) know.

Ling-Lunch meetings are held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm in room 32-D461. The schedule can be found in the department’s calendar.


Conference announcement: SNEWS 2016

The Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) is an annual workshop for graduate students in Linguistics to present their research and receive feedback in an informal setting. Topics of presentation generally fall into any of the following categories (broadly defined): semantics, pragmatics, semantics/pragmatics interface, experimental and psycholinguistic investigations into semantic/pragmatic phenomena, etc. The workshop is meant to encourage the development and exchange of ideas through friendly interaction between students and faculty from different universities in the area. This year’s edition will be hosted by Brown University.

Those interested in presenting are asked to contact a designated person at their school by September 30th and send the title of their presentation by October 31st. MIT students are to contact  Naomi Francis ‎(nfrancis@mit.edu).


Call for Presenters: ESSL/LacqLab Meetings

The Experimental Syntax and Semantics and Language Acquisition Labs are looking for presenters for their lab meetings. Ideas and prospective experiments, ongoing work, or practice talks are all welcome, on any syntactic, semantic or acquisition-y sort of subject. The plan is to have a half hour presentation and half hour discussion on Tuesdays at 1pm.

Almost all presentation slots are currently open, so let Leo Rosenstein (leaena@mit.edu) know if you want one and when. People from outside MIT are welcome to present, but MIT students and visitors get first pick.


Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group

The Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group (LPRG, ‘lip-erg’) will be meeting on a weekly basis on Mondays at 1pm in the 7th floor seminar room. This reading group will discuss papers in philosophy of language, semantics, pragmatics, logic, etc. which will be of interest to philosophers and linguists, with the hope of (a) learning new things and (b) fostering more collaboration between the two sides of the department.

LPRG is pre-read and so there will be an expectation that you have read the paper. Each session will have a discussion leader who will direct the conversation in an informal way.  The kinds of papers discussed in past meetings and a (not exhaustive) list of papers of interest can be found on the website here. If you would like to be on the mailing list, email David Boylan (dboylan@mit.edu), Matt Mandelkern (mandelk@mit.edu), or Maša Močnik (masa.mocnik@gmail.com).

The first meeting will be next week on Monday 12th at 1pm, with Matt Mandelkern leading discussion on Cariani and Santorio’s paper on ‘will’.

Syntax Square - open dates

The following dates are open for Syntax Square (happening on Mondays, 1-2pm in room 32-D461). Please contact this semester’s organizers, Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and/or Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu), to reserve a spot.

  • Sept: 12, 19
  • Oct: 3, 17 31
  • Nov: 7, 14, 28
  • Dec: 12

Welcome to the Fall 2016 semester!

Today, Tuesday September 6, is Registration Day. Whamit!, the MIT Linguistics Department Newsletter, appears every Monday during the semester (Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Suzana Fong, Michelle Yuan, and Sophie Moracchini.

To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6 pm. At the beginning of the semester, we’re particularly interested in news about what members of the department did during the summer break.

Hope to see you all at the departmental lunch, 12pm at the 8th floor lounge!


New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Fall 2016

Visiting Faculty/ Postdoctoral Associate

  • Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University). His research interests are Semantics, Syntax, Learnability and Computational Linguistics.
  • Loes Koring (Postdoctoral Associate at MIT). As her website tells us: “My research is in syntax, semantics and its acquisition and processing. I use experiments (such as the Visual World Paradigm, self-paced reading, but also off-line techniques) to get a better understanding of the structure of language and how our brain processes these structures.”

Visiting scholars

  • Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Japan). She writes: “I am interested in phonology and phonetics with a focus on East Asian languages, especially Korean.”
  • Ken Hiraiwa (Meiji Gakuin University). He describes his interests as including Case and Agreement, Clausal Architecture, Syntax-PF Interface and Number Capacities.
  • Esther Clarke (Durham University). She writes on her website: “I gained my PhD from the Centre for Social Learning and Cultural Evolution at St Andrews University where I studied wild white-handed gibbons in Thailand. In particular I focused on their anti-predatory behaviour and vocalisations and used the comparative approach to describe my findings in relation to the evolution of primate vocal communication in general, including human language.Now I am studying captive gibbon vocalisations and reproductive endocrinology and examining the role of the endocrine system on the primate vocal apparatus.”
  • Hisashi Morita (School of Foreign Studies, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan). His themes of research include the syntactic and semantic aspects of Wh-questions in natural language, the syntactic and semantic effect of focus and the contrastive study of English and Japanese relative clauses.
  • Ting Huang (National Tsing Hua University). Her areas of interest are language acquisition, psycholinguistics, the development of semantics-pragmatics interface and emergent literacy.
  • Amy Rose Deal (University of California, Berkeley). She writes on her website: “I am a syntactician and a semanticist. I am also a fieldworker. The big questions that interest me concern cross-linguistic variation: How much variation is there in syntax? How much is there in semantics? How can we tell syntactic and semantic variation apart?My research on these questions largely draws from findings in the syntax and semantics of Nez Perce, a Sahaptian language of the Columbia River Plateau. Some of the particular topics I have worked on recently are: modals, the mass/count distinction, shifty indexicals, ergativity - including split ergativity and syntactic ergativity -, (complementizer) agreement and the operation Agree, possession and possessor raising, relative clauses, outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy, how we reason about the raw data of fieldwork.”

Visiting students

  • Karin Camolese Vivanco (University of São Paulo). Her areas of interest are Linguistics, Theory of Grammar, Generative Grammar, Syntax.

MIT Workshop on Exhaustivity 2016

MIT Linguistics will be hosting a Workshop on Exhaustivity on Saturday, September 10, 2016, organized by alumni Luka Crnič (PhD ‘11), Roni Katzir (PhD ‘08), and Raj Singh (PhD ‘08).

The following faculty and alumni will be giving talks, with commentaries by Danny Fox (faculty, PhD ‘98) and Uli Sauerland (PhD ‘98):

  • Marie-Christine Meyer (PhD ‘13): Grice and Grammar: How cooperative are weak sentences?
  • Andreas Haida and Tue Trinh (PhD ‘11): A plea for (no) monsters
  • Giorgio Magri (PhD ‘09): Blindness and Hirschberg’s contextually ordered alternatives
  • Wataru Uegaki (PhD ‘15): ‘Wonder’ and embedded exhaustivity

Additionally, several faculty, alumni, and students will be presenting posters:

  • Sam Alxatib (PhD ’13): *onlyonly
  • Moshe E. Bar-Lev and Danny FoxOn the global calculation of embedded implicatures
  • Natasha Ivlieva (PhD ‘13) and Sam Alxatibvan Benthem’s problem, exhaustification, and distributivity
  • Hadas Kotek (PhD ‘14): Untangling Tanglewood using covert focus movement (joint work with Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, PhD ‘14)
  • 5th year student Lilla MagyarWhat is at issue? Exhaustivity of structural and morphological DP focus in Telugu
  • Despoina Oikonomou (PhD ‘16): Deriving the strong-reading of Imperatives via Exhaustification

Linguistics colloquia for the academic year

The MIT Linguistics Colloquium schedule for the Fall and Spring. All talks are on Fridays, 3:30-5:00 p.m. For further information, please contact the organizers for this year, Erin Olson and Nicholas Longenbaugh.

Fall 2015:

Spring 2016:


Fall 2016 reading groups: Call for presentations

Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays, from 5-6:30pm in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. Light refreshments will be provided. Please contact Juliet Stanton (juliets@mit.edu) and/or Rafael Abramovitz (rafabr@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

  • September: 19
  • October: 3, 31 (Oct. 17 is reserved for AMP practice)
  • November: (7), 14, 21, 28
  • December: 12

Syntax Square will be meeting on Mondays 1-2pm in 32-D461. The organizers welcome both presentations on polished projects and informal discussions. Please contact this semester’s organizers, Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu) to reserve a slot.

Language Acquisition/ESSL lab meetings will be on Tuesdays, from 1-2pm in 32-D461. Presentations are informal and we welcome work-in-progress as well as completed work! Please contact Leo Rosenstein (leaena@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

LFRG will be meeting on Wednesdays from 1-2pm in 32-D831. LFRG is an informal, weekly semantics and syntax/semantics interface group. Rough ideas, work in progress, practice talks and discussion of papers from the literature are most welcome. Remaining open dates for presentations are listed below; please contact Daniel Margulis (dmarg@mit.edu) and/or Itai Bassi (ibassi@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

  • September: 14, 21, 28
  • October: 12
  • November: 2, 9
  • December: 14

Ling-Lunch is a series of weekly talks, held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm. It is open to all linguistics topics and everybody is welcome to present their work, though preference is given to members of the MIT Linguistics Department. Contact this semester’s organizers, Abdul-Razak Sulemana (abdulraz@mit.edu), Mitya Privoznov (dpriv@mit.edu) & Suzana Fong (sznfong@mit.edu), to reserve a slot.


Course announcements, Fall 2016

Course announcements in this post:

  • Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) syntax (24.943)
  • Language Acquisition I (24.949/9.601)
  • Syntactic Models (24.960)
  • Topics in Phonology (24.964)
  • Topics in experimental phonology (24.967)
  • Topics in Semantics (24.979)
  • Computation and Linguistic Theory (24.S95)

24.943: Syntax of a Language (Family) — Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) syntax

  • Instructor: Michel DeGraff
  • Wednesdays 10AM—1PM
  • Room: 32-D461

I’d like to take as one starting point for this course this quote from a recent Facebook posting by our colleague Kai demystifying “stupidity”:

“… [Y]ou need to become used to feeling “stupid”. I mean this in an entirely non-disparaging sense: obviously, you’re not stupid. What it is is that you’re not completely understanding a complex topic. Of course, that is in fact the permanent condition of science. The whole point of science is to work at things we don’t understand and make some progress towards understanding, but that progress will then result in even more things we don’t understand….”


I’ve taken Kai’s caveat to heart while preparing materials for this class and feeling quite “stupid” about various puzzles of Haitian Creole syntax that beg for “progress toward understanding.”  So I’d like this seminar to take us through the memory lane of some puzzles that I’ve been thinking about for years, decades even. We’ll examine some the data and proposals in my and related publications on Haitian Creole, specifically on: clause structure, (non-verbal) predication, clefts, negation, noun-phrase structure, bare noun phrases, and serial verbs.  With the right questions, these old problems may well lead us to improved solutions, with their share of new questions…

We’ll invite participants to present and lead discussion on topics of their liking that may (indirectly) connect with the afore-mentioned areas of syntax and that can include relevant Haitian Creole data.  So the formal course requirements will include regular weekly participation, in-class presentations and a short paper  (~10 pages) which may well be a draft of something publishable.

My own papers for the course are already available on the “recent publications” section of my MIT website.  And we’ll assign readings from other authors as well, of course.  As we progress, I’ll make these papers available on the Stellar website for the course.

Toward the end of the semester, we’ll be getting help from a dear friend and co-author, Prof. dr. Enoch Aboh from the University of Amsterdam.  His most recent book is The Emergence of Hybrid Grammars: Language Contact and Change, from which we’ll read a couple of chapters—in time for Enoch’s visit, December 7–9.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, September 7, we’ll begin the seminar with a discussion of (very) basic issues, starting with general background about “Creole” languages, word order in Haitian Creole, etc.  The relevant paper for that is “Morphology and word order in ‘creolization’ and beyond” available here.

You may also want to look at another paper of mine that gives a general survey of the language—from John Holm’s 2007 book Comparative Creole Syntax.


24.949/9.601: Language Acquisition I

  • Instructor: Loes Koring
  • Mondays, 2—5
  • Room: 32-D461

The main goal of this course is to review a variety of topics in the acquisition (typical 1st language acquisition) of syntax and semantics. Throughout the course, we will survey various theories and examine their claims in light of empirical data and learnability theory. We will compare different methodologies to study language development and examine what type of information different types of data provide us with. More importantly, we will go over the cool, and puzzling, things children produce that are deviant from the target grammar, as well as interpretations that are available to children even though they are out for adult speakers of the target grammar, and, specifically, how these data inform linguistic theory and/or learnability theory. Apart from the topics I think are worth reviewing, there is room to discuss topics that participants of the class are particularly interested in.

As part of the course, you (registered students) will be working on your own language acquisition project, which requires you to think about theoretical proposals from an acquisition perspective (considering empirical data as well as learnability). An additional goal to the course is that you will acquire the skill of translating your research questions and related hypotheses into experimentally testable predictions. You will write a paper based on this, which can have the form of a well-developed research proposal (e.g. a way to test a prediction that follows from (your) analysis of a particular phenomenon), or an analysis of existing (production) data for instance, but many forms are imaginable. You will be guided through the process in individual meetings with the instructor at different stages.

Required for this course is that you:

  1. Attend and participate in the weekly lectures
  2. Prepare the lectures by reading the required materials (2-3 papers a week)
  3. Develop your own project and present your findings both as a paper and (briefly) in a presentation at the end of the course.

To prepare for the first class, please read Crain’s paper on language acquisition (pp. 597-612). You can download it via Stellar. There is no need to read all the commentaries to it, but you can, of course, if you like.

The required readings will be made available through the Stellar class website (some of them already are). To acquire the relevant background, I can recommend Guasti’s book on language acquisition (Guasti, M. T. (2004). Language acquisition: The growth of grammar. MIT Press.). Purchasing or reading this book is not obligatory for the course, but it is a great book to have as a reference if you’re interested in language acquisition.

The first class is on Monday September 12th.


24.960: Syntactic Models

  • Instructor: David Pesetsky
  • Tuesdays, 10—1
  • Room: 32‑D461

The course has twin goals:

First, it gives a quick introduction to at least two “frameworks” for syntactic research that compete with the Government-Binding/Principles & Parameters/Minimalist tradition in the current syntax world:  HPSG and Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG).  We work speedily through much of the HPSG textbook by Sag, Wasow and Bender, and also look at the LFG textbook by Bresnan, Asudeh, Toivonen and Wechsler.

Next, the class turns historical, tracing the development of generative syntax from Syntactic Structures (1957) up to the early 1980s, when HPSG and LFG first separated themselves off from the research program that became GB/P&P/Minimalism.   An overarching theme of the course is the issue of derivational vs. representational views of syntax — a theme that offers some surprising observations about who said what at various points in the history of the field, but also gives the course a focus relevant to the most current work.For a demonstration that the issue is live (including the hotly debated question of whether there even is a question), you need look no further than a 2014 on Norbert Hornstein’s blog, featuring Omer Preminger (who taught this very class in 2011).  See this post, which begins with links to earlier discussion on the blog that prompted that posting, and continues with millions of comments.

You can get a good sense of what the class will be like from its old Stellar pages — for example here.  I plan to follow essentially the same structure — plus the possibility of a guest lecture on “Simpler Syntax” by Ray Jackendoff (date to be arranged, fingers crossed).

As you may have heard, the sole requirements for the class are:

  1. regular attendance and participation;
  2. a few straightforward problem sets (finger exercises) in the first half of the class; and
  3. three class presentations or co-presentations (depending on numbers): of an HPSG paper, an LFG paper, and a paper from the period of generative semantics/interpretive semantics debates.

There is no paper required! (A major attraction in the past.) Many students have reported finding this class both fun and enlightening (and not just because there is no required paper). Ask some of your predecessors for their reviews.

The most important book to order right now is the following one: Sag, Wasow and Bender, Syntactic Theory — second edition (this is crucial).

Please start reading it in advance of the first class. Get as far as you can in it, so you come to the first class already somewhat prepared. This book is intended as an introduction to syntax for undergraduates, so you will find the early chapters go quickly. But the syntax it introduces is HPSG, so fairly soon you will be learning new things and tripping over unfamiliar notations.

The books we will be using later in the semester are:

Bresnan et al., Lexical-Functional Grammar — please note that this too is a second edition, which we’re using for the first time.

Chomsky, Syntactic Structures

Other readings (papers and excerpts from books) will be downloadable from the Stellar website for the class.

Since this Tuesday is just registration day, the first meeting will be September 13, i.e. next week.


24.964: Topics in Phonology

  • Instructor: Donca Steriade
  • Topic: Syllables
  • Thursdays, 2—5
  • Room: 32-D461

The main goal of this course is to examine the evidence for syllable-based analyses of metrical weight, computed within and across words, and of segmental phonotactics. We compare these with analyses of metrical weight that rely on V-to-V intervals (units that go from the beginning of the nucleus to the beginning of the next nucleus or to the end of the domain, whichever comes first), supplementing the intervals with hypotheses about cue-based licensing of contrasts for the analysis of segmental phonotactics and correspondence phenomena. The focus is on the evidence, readily available or potential, that distinguishes syllables from intervals.

A secondary goal is to examine the history of earlier ideas about syllables and metrical quantity. Some less well-known earlier hypotheses have inherent interest and are supported empirically. I know of no accessible writings on the history of this subject. Anderson’s 1985 book on the history of phonology starts late (for syllables) and focuses on analyses of other phenomena. Goldsmith’s 2010 historically oriented handbook chapter on the syllable skips most significant writings before 1976 and lists claims without examining the content of arguments. The brief historical part of this course is an exercise in reconstructing linguistic arguments left implicit or formulated in unfamiliar styles, and an effort to avoid reinventing the wheel. It is also a partial answer to the request for a course in the history of phonology made by earlier generations.

Registered students do the readings, write a term paper or present the literature on some topic of interest to the class.

The schedule below is approximate. Participants interested in other syllable- or interval-related topics (e.g. articulatory realization or perception of  syllables; syllables in prosodic morphology; rhyming and alliteration and what they suggest about intervals) should let me know.

Current plan for what we do when appears below. Some of the readings, but not all, are up on the course website.

Sept 8
History of some of the older ideas about metrical quantity and syllables, from Dionysius Thrax to Kahn 1976
Sept 15
Sept 22
Categorical and gradient weight:  Broselow et al. 1997; Gordon 2007, Ryan 2011
Sept 29
Oct 6
Weight of onsets: Gordon 2005, Topintzi 2010, Ryan 2014
Oct 13
DS out of town – class moved to 12/15
Oct 20
Finer weight distinctions predicted by intervals
Oct 27
Intervals for weight categories (cont.): Hirsch 2014, Duarte-García 2014; Olejarczyk and Kapatsinski 2015
Nov 3
Weight and resyllabification: Hoenigswald 1949, Csér 2012
Nov 10
DS out of town – class moved to 12/22
Nov 17
Segmental consequences of resyllabification: TBA
Nov 24
Dec. 1
Phonotactics and syllables: weak codas, SSC, ambisyllabicity Kahn 1976, Lamontagne 1993; Wheeler 2005; Gerfen 2001; Howe and Pulleyblank 2001
Dec. 8
Phonotactics and syllables: syllable contact: Pons-Moll 2011
Dec. 15
Phonotactics and syllables: sesquisyllables: Kiparsky 2003, Watson
Dec. 22
Phonotactics and syllables: closed syllable shortening, syllables as domains for phonological processes: TBA



24.967: Topics in experimental phonology

  • Instructors: Adam Albright (albright@mit.edu), Edward Flemming (flemming@mit.edu)
  • Mondays 2—5pm
  • Room: 26-142

Course Description:

In the past decade, the field of phonology has increasingly looked to experimental results to confirm and extend its understanding of phonological patterns. In this course, we will examine some of the issues involved in deriving experimentally testable predictions from a theory, designing and running an experiment, and interpreting the results.

The class has several goals:

  • Consider the relation between phonological theory, empirical predictions, and experimental results
  • Gain practical knowledge in designing and carrying out experiments in the lab and on-line, and performing data analysis using R
  • Gain familiarity with some commonly used experimental paradigms, comparing what they can tell us about the linguistic system

The class will be organized around a set of phonological topics that have benefited from experimental investigation. These topics will serve to illustrate a variety of experimental and statistical techniques:

  • Perceptually-based biases for some alternations over others (The P-Map Hypothesis)
  • Generalization from the lexicon
  • Perceptual similarity
  • Phonetic underspecification


  • Readings and class participation
  • Regular assignments (modest and practical in nature)
  • Final project: designing (and perhaps piloting) an experiment


24.979: Topics in Semantics

  • Instructors: Danny Fox (fox@mit.edu), Roni Katzir (trifilij@mit.edu), Roger Schwarzschild (schild@mit.edu)
  • Tuesdays 2—5pm
  • Room: 32-D461

Course Description

The focus of this seminar will be on the semantics and pragmatics of intonational prominence with emphasis on these questions:

  • What are the mechanisms by which properties of surrounding discourse come to be reflected in the intonational contour of an utterance?
  • Do intonational prominences have a way of contributing to truth conditions independently of their interaction with surrounding discourse?

In the first part of the course we’ll discuss recent work on prosody and information structure, working together through chapters 6 and 7 of Meaning and Intonation by Daniel Büring (2016). Büring’s account has a constraint referring to givenness and a separate one for focus. We’ll look at works that aim to assimilate these two (eg. Rooth 1992, Schwarzschild 1999) to see how they integrate with Büring’s prosodic model.

Next, we’ll survey more recent evidence, both semantic-pragmatic and phonetic that argues that givenness and focus are irreducible one to the other. One  interpretation of this newer data views it as a species of association with focus, where the relevant operator is silent. We will devote some time to studying several species of association with focus and how it interacts with givenness.

From there, we will move on to contrastive topic which has been a fertile testing ground for theories of intonation and discourse.

  • Requirements
  • Readings and class participation
  • Final presentation and a final paper

Chapters 6 and 7 of Büring’s book are available on the course website.  If you are planning to take the course, please contact us to be added to the website and begin reading those chapters.


24.S95 Computation and Linguistic Theory

  • Instructor: Roni Katzir
  • Fridays 10—1
  • Room: 32-D461

In this class we will explore how the theory of computation helps us to understand language. We often rely on computational theories in building linguistic theories; here we will look at the broader framework of computation as well as a number of specific formalisms.

We begin with basic questions like: what is computation? what does a computational model look like? We start with decidability and the Chomsky Hierarchy of formal languages, as well as some parsing algorithms for regular and context-free grammars. We discuss the notions of weak and strong generative capacity, looking at context-sensitive node admissibility conditions, generalized phrase-structure grammar, and the Lambek calculus. We then turn to mildly context-sensitive formalisms, focusing on combinatory categorial grammars, tree-adjoining grammars, and minimalist grammars.

The second half of the class focuses on language processing. Drawing on the framework and formalisms from the first part of the class, we examine how the parser might work, starting with the classical proposals of Yngve and Miller & Chomsky and then proceeding to characterizations of the memory load on the processor in different parsing strategies. We also discuss approaches such as surprisal and entropy-reduction that relate processing difficulty to the information content of the current input element. Finally, we discuss the Strong Competence Hypothesis and its relation to representational questions such as whether non-canonical constituents should be part of the grammar.

Requirements: attendance and participation; reading; and a final paper.

Course website: http://piazza.com/mit/fall2016/24s95/home

Schedule (subject to change):

  • 9/9  Overview; Decidability
  • 9/16  Regular Languages I
  • 9/23  Regular Languages II; Context-Free Languages I
  • 9/30  Context-Free Languages II; Parsing I
  • 10/7  Parsing II;  Weak vs. Strong Generative Capacity
  • 10/14  Weakly Context-Free Models of Syntax I (Features)
  • 10/14  Weakly Context-Free Models of Syntax II (Lambek)
  • 10/21  Natural Language is not Context-Free; Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax I
  • 10/28  Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax II
  • 11/4  Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax III
  • 11/11  Early Computational Psycholinguistics
  • 11/18  Resource-Management Theories I
  • 11/25  Resource-Management Theories II; Experience-Based Theories I
  • 12/2  Experience-Based Theories II
  • 12/9  The (Strong) Competence Hypothesis

MIT bound for Kentucky at next year’s LSA Institute

Book your seats now for the 2017 Linguistic Institute of the LSA! Among the many great courses just announced by the organizing team at the University of Kentucky are these classes by recent alumni and faculty:

  • Claire Halpert (PhD 2012) “Clausal Arguments in Bantu and Beyond”
  • Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009) “Computational Phonology”
  • Coppe van Urk (PhD 2015) “Movement in Minimalism”
  • Igor Yanovich (PhD 2013) “Statistical Inference for the Linguistic and Non-Linguistic Past: Linguistic Phylogenetics and Spatial Statistics”

… plus classes by some not-so-recent alumni too, including Mark Aronoff and John Goldsmith, and lots of other friends and colleagues from around the globe. A real must-go-to!

P.S. Michel DeGraff is also giving one of the Institute’s three Forum Lectures!


Summer semi-break for Whamit!

This issue coincides with the end of the Spring semester at MIT. Until the beginning of the Fall semester next September, we will publish only occasionally, to announce talks and other events that may be scheduled over the the summer, and any other important news.

Thank you for being our readers during the 2016-2016 Academic Year!

Whamit’s 2015-16 Editors:
Adam Albright
Kai von Fintel
Lilla Magyar
Sophie Moracchini
David Pesetsky
Benjamin Storme


Amy Rose Deal at MIT

Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley) is visiting the department this week. In addition to her Colloquium talk on Friday, she will give two talks:

Title: Cyclicity and connectivity in Nez Perce relative clauses
Time: Wednesday, 04/13/2016, 1:00-2:30pm (note special time)***
Venue: 34-304
Abstract: This talk centers on two aspects of movement in relative clauses, focusing on evidence from Nez Perce.

First, I argue that relativization always involves cyclic A’ movement, even in monoclausal relatives. Rather than moving directly to Spec,CP, the relative element moves there via an intermediate position in an A’ outer specifier of the TP immediately subjacent to relative C. Cyclicity of this type suggests that the TP sister of relative C constitutes a phase — a result whose implications extend to “highest subject restriction” effects in resumptive relatives as well as an ill-understood corner of the English that-trace effect.

Second, I argue that Nez Perce relativization provides new evidence for an ambiguity thesis for relative clauses, according to which some but not all relatives are derived by a head-raising. The argument comes from connectivity and anticonnectivity in morphological case. These new data complement the range of standard arguments for head-raising, which draw primarily on connectivity effects at the syntax-semantics interface.

***Unfortunately, this time conflicts with Giorgio Magri’s lecture. Also, this is the usual LFRG time, which will instead take place on Friday.

Title: Interaction and satisfaction: toward a theory of agreement
Time: Thursday, 04/14/2016, 5:00-6:30pm (note special time)
Venue: 36-155 (note special location)

The operation Agree has typically been modelled as a device for repairing specific lexical deficiencies by feature transfer: [uF] on a head causes the head to probe, and transfer of [F] from a goal causes probing to stop. In this talk, I start with a different conception of Agree, one based not on lexical deficiencies (i.e. u-features) but on the ability to create redundancy. Probes, I propose, interact with (copy) all phi features they encounter until such point as they meet a satisfaction (halt) condition. A probe satisfied by a rather specific feature, such as [addressee], will nevertheless interact with the full phi-set, resulting in a “more than you bargained for” system of agreement. My primary empirical case for such a system comes from complementizer agreement in Nez Perce. I show how the theory is able to model not only the conditions on agreement with the complementizer, but also the workings of agreement in relative clauses and the non-interaction of agreement with A-scrambling.


Giorgio Magri at MIT

In the next two weeks, Giorgio Magri will give a series of four informal presentations about learnability in OT. The times and locations are listed below, and a description of the topics follows. (Meetings 1 and 3 will be special meetings of 24.981 and 24.964, respectively)

Topic 1: Idempotency, chain shifts, and learnability
Time: Monday 4/11 11am-1pm
Place: 32-D461
Reading: https://sites.google.com/site/magrigrg/home/idempotency

A grammar is idempotent if it yields no chain shifts. I will give a ”reasoned” overview of the OT literature on chain shifts. The idea is that idempotency holds if all the faithfulness constraints satisfy a certain idempotency faithfulness condition(IFC). You can study formally which faithfulness constraints satisfy the IFC and which do not. Once you have your list of faithfulness constraints that do not satisfy the IFC, you can synopsize the various accounts for chain shifts in OT based on which faithfulness constraint they pick from that list. This little bit of theory of idempotency/chain shifts might have some implications for learnability. From a learnability perspective, a chain shift (a->e->i) is not necessarily problematic, as long as it is ”benign”, in the sense that the typology explored by the learner contains another grammar which is idempotent (no chain shifts) and makes the same phonotactic distinctions ([a] illicit; [e, i] licit). The obvious reason is that a phonotactic learner can simply assume he is learning the latter grammar instead of the former. These considerations lead to the following question: is it true that all chain shifts are benign? I don’t know. Yet, I have some ideas on how to use the results of the theory of idempotency to try to establish that. Existing inventories of chain shifts (like the one compiled by Moreton) might provide the empirical basis to address the question. Dinnsen also has a long list of child case studies with chain shifts that might be interesting to look at.

Topic 2: Idempotency, the triangular inequality, and McCarthy’s (2003) categoricity conjecture
Time: Tuesday 4/12 3-5pm
Place: 24-115 (**** Note special place)
Reading: https://sites.google.com/site/magrigrg/home/idempotenceoutputdrivenness

The IFC mentioned above is a fairly abstract and weird-looking condition on the faithfulness constraints. I will suggest that it admits nonetheless a very intuitive interpretation. Here is the idea. Faithfulness constraints intuitively measure the ”phonological distance” between URs and SRs. Thus, it makes sense to ask whether they satisfy axiomatic properties of the notion of distance. One such property is the ”triangular inequality”, which says that the distance between A and C is smaller than the distance between A and B plus the distance between B and C. I will argue that the IFC turns out to be equivalent to the requirement that faithfulness constraints satisfy the triangular inequality (properly readapted). In other words, OT idempotency holds when the faithfulness constraints have good ”metric properties”. Crucially, I can establish this equivalence for faithfulness constraints which satisfy a slightly stronger version of McCarthy’s (2003) categoricity generalization. Is it true that the faithfulness constraints which are relevant for natural language phonology satisfy this stronger categoricity generalization? I don’t know. But the ones I have started to look at seem as they do. The connection between the IFC and the triangular inequality is strengthen in the case of HG, because in that case it holds for any faithfulness constraint, not only for the categorical ones.

Topic 3: Tesar’s characterization of opacity based on output-drivenness
Time: Wednesday 4/13 1-3pm
Place: 32-D461

Tesar (2013) develops an extremely difficult theory of his notion of output-drivenness. Intuitively, this notion is meant to capture opaque interactions (or at least a subset thereof) without resorting to rules, namely in a way which is consistent with constraint-based frameworks. I will present a reconstruction of (a slight generalization of) Tesar’s theory of output-drivenness which (I personally submit) is quite simpler than his original formulation. This reconstruction builds on the results on the faithfulness triangular inequality anticipated above. What is the actual relationship between Tesar’s notion of output-drivenness and opacity? I don’t know—and Tesar does not seem to really care about that after all (that is indeed not what his book is really about). I would be very interested in going through a list of opaque cases (like the list in Baković’s paper) and see how they fare from the classifying perspective of output-drivenness. The task is not trivial, because (as we will see), the definition of output-drivenness has a free parameter which needs to be ”set by the user”. Furthermore, I think that this little project might potentially turn out to be quite interesting for the following reason. We know that opacity is hard to get in OT and it has indeed motivated all kind of advanced technology. Tesar has a fresh approach to it. He cares about learnability, not opacity. He starts from the assumption that opacity is bad for learnability and thus he wants to put opacity aside. This means that he needs to develop constraint conditions which ensure that the grammars in the corresponding typology are output-driven and thus display no opacity. Since opacity is hard to get, you might expect that Tesar has an easy job in characterizing constraint sets which forbid opacity. That turns out not to be the case: Tesar’s task turns out to be very difficult—-even though he makes a number of additional simplifying assumptions (one-to-one correspondence relations, only three faithfulness constraints, etcetera). Thus, it looks like opacity in OT is at the same time hard to get and hard to avoid!! I wonder whether understanding this surprising tension might lead to any new insights on opacity in OT.

Topic 4: The Merchant/Tesar theory of inconsistency detection for learning underlying forms
Time: Thurs 4/21 3-5pm
Place: 32-D461


ECO-5 at MIT on Saturday April 16

On Saturday, April 16 MIT will host this year’s ECO5 student syntactic workshop. It is a yearly small conference where graduate students from five East Coast departments (Harvard, UConn, UMass, UMaryland and MIT) can present their ongoing or completed work on syntactic issues to a friendly crowd of faculty and students, which rotates between the five co-organizing departments.

This year it is MIT’s turn to run things, and you can find a program here.

The workshop starts at 9:15am on Saturday, and will continue until around 6pm.

See you there!



Below is a statement from the MIT Linguistics Faculty on open access and the new journal Glossa. We’re following our colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee. Similar statements are being considered on other campuses. For background, you can consult this post at Language Log and a statement from Glossa’s editor-in-chief Johan Rooryck. [Update: See now also a similar statement from linguists across the University of California system.]

MIT Linguistics Faculty Statement of Support for Glossa

We, the undersigned linguistics faculty of MIT, state our strong support for the principle of open access to scholarly communication, as affirmed in the Open Access Policy of the MIT Faculty. In the context of this commitment, we also state our strong support for the editorial team that recently left the journal Lingua and started the fair open access journal Glossa. We firmly expect that Glossa will inherit and exceed the quality and reputation of the earlier journal. We applaud MIT’s support for the Open Library of Humanities, the organization that, together with the LingOA initiative, is underwriting Glossa. We pledge to further the aims of open access in our actions as editors, reviewers, and authors.

Adam Albright
Sylvain Bromberger
Noam Chomsky
Michel DeGraff
Kai von Fintel
Edward Flemming
Suzanne Flynn
Danny Fox
Martin Hackl
James Harris
Irene Heim
Sabine Iatridou
Michael Kenstowicz
Samuel Jay Keyser
Shigeru Miyagawa
Wayne O’Neil
David Pesetsky
Norvin Richards
Roger Schwarzschild
Donca Steriade
Kenneth Wexler


MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, Spring 2016

The colloquium series talks are held on Fridays at 3:30pm. Please check the Colloquium webpage for any updates.

  • February 5: Junko Ito , UC Santa Cruz
  • February 19: Seth Cable , UMass Amherst
  • March 4: Veneeta Dayal, Rutgers
  • March 11: Elliott Moreton, UNC
  • April 1: Bruce Hayes, UCLA
  • April 15: Amy Rose Deal, Berkeley
  • April 22: Roni Katzir, Tel Aviv University
  • May 6: Daniel Buring , University of Vienna
  • Share

    Course announcements, Spring 2016

    24.956 Topics in Syntax: Finiteness and clause size

    Instructor: David Pesetsky
    Tuesdays 2-5
    Room: 32-D461
    website: http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp16/24.956 (nothing there yet, sorry!)

    We too easily become used to facts about language that should strike us as strange. One of these is the menagerie of clause types and clause sizes in the world’s languages that are categorized with ill-understood labels such as infinitive, non-finite, gerund, nominalized, large, small, restructuring, defective, and more.

    I come to this class with a germ of an idea with two parts, the first of which is familiar, the second of which is probably novel:

    Many (ambitious version: all) of these distinctions should be reduced to distinctions in clause size — specifically, given a universal hierarchy of clausal projections, which one is the highest in a given clause? This is familiar to us from analyses in which raising infinitives differ from English for-infinitives merely in the addition of a complementizer layer, and restructuring infinitives differ from their non-restructuring counterparts in the absence of (all or most) layers above the verbal domain. One can imagine extending the spirit of such proposals to other clause-type distinctions as well.

    Non-full-size clauses are often (ambitious version: always) created derivationally, as an obligatory concomitant of movement from that clause. In a nutshell: if an extended version of Erlewine’s (2015) version of an Anti-locality condition is correct, an element α that has merged in the higher clausal domain cannot exit the clause by first moving to its edge (because such movement is too short). Either some process must render the phase transparent (Branan 2015; Rackowski & Richards 2005), which I will try not to assume — or else α itself must already occupy the phase edge. My proposal: if Anti-locality prevents you from moving to the phase edge, make the phase edge come to you! — by deleting the structure that separates you from it. In the most ambitious version of the proposal, this is the source of all infinitives and other reduced clauses. In a deep sense, this proposal is a return to standard theories of clausal complementation before Bresnan’s dissertation, in which distinctions between finite and non- finite clauses were the result of syntactic transformations, and absent in the base. This similarity will be discussed.

    In Raising constructions, for example, on this view, it is not a property of certain small infinitives that they trigger Raising, but rather a property of Raising that it triggers the creation of an infinitive. An array of mysterious absences that correlate with movement may have a similar source: doubly-Filled COMP effects, that-trace phenomena, and anti-agreement, to begin with. The proposal also interacts with Halpert’s (2015) work on the interaction of raising with the distribution of clausal φ-features. And yes, if all infinitives are created by movement of their subject (or similar high element), we are committed to the notorious Movement Theory of Control — so we have to join the effort to understand how the many objections to that proposal might be surmounted.

    I will begin the class with a very rough look at the proposal and some of its motivations — but the class as a whole will not be devoted to developing the proposal per se, but rather to learning about the phenomena that it (or any other proposal on this topic) should cover, and the most promising approaches that have been developed.

    Schedule for the first two weeks of the semester:

    • Week 1: my germ of an idea
    • Week 2: Raising and ECM — a closer look

    Topics to be covered in the other weeks include:

    • Anti-agreement (credit: Nico Baier for suggesting readings)
    • Complementizer-trace effects
    • Clausal cartography (Rizzi 1999 and work in that tradition)
    • Restructuring (including both Wurmbrand’s older book and most recent work)
    • Bantu hyper-raising and clausal φ-features (including Halpert’s most recent work)
    • Raising in languages without non-finite clauses (guest speaker: Sabine)
    • English for-infinitives and their distribution
    • Gerunds and “nominalized” clauses cross-linguistically
    • Movement Theory of Control (including lots of Landau)
    • (No ordering of topics implied yet. Schedule to be determined after the first class.)


    As an experiment, this class will have something of the spirit of Syntactic Models, in that I am not requiring a final paper or squibs.

    Instead, I will ask for:

    • weekly submission of a comment or question+discussion based on that week’s reading
    • co-presentation of one or two of the papers assigned during the term (how many depends on registration numbers)
    • investigation and short presentation or co-presentation of an issue connected to the class topics in a language or language family of your choice — your presentation + detailed handout will be sufficient to fulfill this requirement.

    If you find the class topic interesting and plan to attend, please consider registering! My hope is that people who attend will be active participants, and without the burden of a final research paper will find it more attractive to register — so they truly involve themselves in these fascinating topics.

    24.979 Topics in Semantics

    Instructors: Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Roger Schwarzschild
    Time and room: F10-1 (32-D461)
    Readings: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp16/24.979/materials.html

    1. Nominal semantics (first 4 or 5 sessions)

    In the first third of the seminar, Roger will explore some issues in nominal semantics. In the stative clause “Jack is a lawyer”, the noun ‘lawyer’ describes a state that Jack is in. That’s a reason to posit a state-argument for the noun. On a neo-Davidsonian analysis, that would be the only argument the noun has. We’ll explore the motivation and consequences for adopting the idea that (simple) nouns are 1-place predicates of states (= the N-state hypothesis).

    • I. We’ll review discussion of neo-Davidsonianism – the hypothesis that syntactic arguments are not semantic arguments but rather combine via thematic roles.
    • II. Simple nouns divide into count nouns and mass nouns. We’ll eventually want see what the N-state hypothesis allows us to say about this distinction. In part II, we’ll take a look at analyses of mass nouns, particularly those that try to treat mass nouns as plurals.
    • III. The N-state hypothesis and: how to combine a predicate with a noun phrase argument, the semantics of number marking, mass-count, counting, thematic-roles.

    Reading for the first classes: Parsons 1995 and then Chierchia 1998.

    2. Counterfactual marking (remainder of the semester)

    In the final two thirds of the seminar, Sabine and Kai will look at counterfactual marking, both its morphosyntax and its contribution to meaning. Counterfactual marking occurs, of course, in “counterfactual” conditionals, but also in wishes, in some expressions of weak necessity, and elsewhere. There are already some readings on the Stellar site.

    Class requirements include two squibs on the two topic areas and will be discussed further in the first meeting.

    Auditors are welcome to pick and choose their attendance.


    A conference in honor of Ken Wexler

    The Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at MIT is organizing a conference on the occasion of Ken Wexler’s retirement, to honor and celebrate his foundational, lasting contributions to the field. We will host a two day conference at MIT, with colleagues and friends in linguistics and cognitive science presenting work connected to or inspired by Ken’s research. The conference will take place April 30-May 1, 2016, and will be preceded by a reception on the evening of April 29. The conference, as well as the reception, are open to the public and all are welcome!


    Syntax Square - call for presentations

    This semester, Syntax Square will be meeting on Tuesdays. There is no Syntax Square meeting this week, please contact the organizers Carrie Spadine (cspadine@mit.edu) and/or Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot. Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. The following dates are still open:

    February: 9
    March: 8, 28
    April: 5, 19, 26
    May: 3, 10, 17


    Interview with Michel DeGraff

    A three-part interview with Michel DeGraff was published in Woy Magazine.


    SNEWS — Conference announcement

    As you know, Harvard is hosting this year’s meeting of SNEWS - a semantics workshop that brings together graduate students in Linguistics from 6 schools.

    Date: Saturday, November 21, 2015
    Talks in: Harvard Yard, Boylston Hall 105

    The workshop program is now available on the website. All graduate students, visitors and faculty members are welcome to attend!


    Phonology Circle 10/19 - Discussion of Tessier & Jesney (2014)

    Erin Olson will be leading a discussion of the following paper: Tessier, Anne-Michelle & Karen Jesney (2014). Learning in Harmonic Serialism and the necessity of a richer base. Phonology 31.1, 155-178.


    Phonology Circle 9/28 - No meeting

    There will be no Phonology Circle meeting this week.


    Phonology Circle 9/14 - A reading group on Eric Bakovic’s book

    A reading group on Eric Bakovic’s 2013 book, Blocking and Complementarity in Phonological Theory, will have its first meeting Monday 5pm in 32-D831. The reading for this session is chapters 1-3 of the book.


    Welcome to the Fall 2015 semester!

    Today, Tuesday September 8, is Registration Day. Whamit!, the MIT Linguistics Department Newsletter, appears every Monday during the semester (Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Sophie Moracchini, Lilla Magyar, and Benjamin Storme.

    To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6 pm. At the beginning of the semester, we’re particularly interested in news about what members of the department did during the summer break.

    Hope to see you all at the departmental lunch, 12pm at the 8th floor lounge!


    Course announcements, Fall 2015

    24.956: Topics in Syntax: Agreement and Movement

    Instructors: Shigeru Miyagawa (miyagawa@mit.edu) and Norvin Richards (norvin@mit.edu)
    Time: Mondays 10-1
    Room: 32-D461

    In this seminar we will tackle some of the big syntactic questions: what Agree relations should we posit, and what effects do they have on structure and interpretation?

    The seminar will begin with discussion of various ways in which C, and particularly root C, has a special status as a starting point for the features that participate in Agree relations in the rest of the clause; topics here will include allocutive agreement, pro-drop, the syntax of ‘why’, and ga-no conversion. The discussion will take as a starting point Shigeru’s Strong Uniformity thesis.

    In the second half of the seminar we will turn to Norvin’s Contiguity Theory, which amounts to a family of proposals about how Agree and selection relations are mapped onto prosodic structure, and indirectly onto syntactic structure, driving movement operations and (we will see) determining the size of structures that can or must be moved. Topics for this half of the semester include pied-piping, the derivational history of A-bar operators, the effects of A-bar movement on nuclear stress, and the structure of DPs.

    24.915/24.963 Linguistic Phonetics

    Instructor: Edward Flemming
    Lecture: TR11-12.30
    Room: 56-169
    Stellar site: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa15/24.915/

    We will be considering three fundamental questions:

    • How do we produce speech?
    • How do we perceive speech?
    • How does the nature of these processes influence the sound patterns of languages?

    We will also be learning experimental methods and analytical techniques that enable us to address these (and other) questions.

    24.964 Topics in phonology: Harmonic Serialism

    Instructor: Edward Flemming (flemming@mit.edu)
    Time and place: Currently schedule for W 10-1 in 32D-461 but may be rescheduled

    A generative grammar is a mapping between two levels of representation. Is this mapping direct or indirect? A common answer in both phonology and syntax is that the mapping is indirect: there are intermediate steps in a derivation. In Optimality Theory (OT), however, the standard answer to date has been that the mapping is direct…The central insight of OT — candidate comparison by a hierarchy of ranked, violable constraints — is not necessarily tied to the direct-mapping architecture, however. A version of OT with indirect mapping is known as Harmonic Serialism (HS). It is in most respects similar to parallel OT, except that it posits serial derivations with intermediate steps. This single change has important empirical consequences…’ (McCarthy 2010).

    We will investigate the properties of Harmonic Serialist phonological grammars, and examine the evidence for serial vs. parallel evaluation in OT. Case studies will include opaque interactions between processes (e.g. stress assignment and syncope/epenthesis), ‘myopia’ in harmony, and positional and P-map faithfulness constraints. These are all interesting problem areas in phonological theory, and we will compare analyses of them based on serial and parallel versions of OT.

    24.979 Topics in Semantics

    Instructors: Danny Fox, Martin Hackl
    Time: Thursdays, 2-5
    Room: 24-461
    Stellar site: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa15/24.979/index.html

    This class will be centered on topics in the syntax and semantics of DPs. Traditional approaches to this area of research begin with the postulation of lexical items. determiners, with simple morpho-phonological properties – they are spelled out as the, some, every, etc — and familiar meanings [[the]], [[some]], [[every]]). We will discuss various phenomena that are puzzling from this perspective and might suggest a more indirect relationship between sound and meaning.

    Our first topic will be Hydras (e.g . every man and every woman who were introduced to each other…) where we will consider the possibility that words such as every do not directly carry the content of quantification but are rather indicative of its presence elsewhere in the structure (perhaps similar to inflection on verbs being indicative of the presence of distinct temporal operators). Another topic will concern various puzzles in the semantics of the which, likewise, might suggest a more indirect relationship between overt form and content. Among the puzzles we will look at is the semantics of superlatives, where DPs with the have been argued to be underlyingly indefinite: the semantics of the same, the only, and a well-known problem about the semantics of stacked definite descriptions (Haddock’s puzzle).

    Reading for first class are on Stellar (Champollion 2015, Fox and Johnson 2015)

    24.S95. Computation and Linguistic Theory

    Instructor: Professor Robert C. Berwick
    Time: Monday and Wednesday 1-2:30pm
    Room: 2-105

    Linguistics is sometimes construed as an important part of the “computational theory of mind.” But what about its computational aspect? How can we bring linguistics and computation together? Modern students of linguists often confront a dizzying array of questions that intersect with computational analysis. Does sideways Merge or multidominance structure impact computational complexity? Should syntactic features be encoded via arbitrary hierarchal structure, using ‘unification’ like “Simpler Syntax”? Is Simpler Syntax then really “simpler”? Are there any real computational differences between different theories like HPSG, TAGs, CCGs, and Minimalism or are they all just “notational variants”? Is there some way to formally characterize what makes a natural language natural? Is phonology really “different” from syntax? What about OT accounts and constraint-based systems vs. ordered/unordered rules? Do we need to pay attention to the classic learnability results from Gold? Does Bayesian analysis solve the poverty of the stimulus? This course will teach you the computational tools needed to answer these and many other questions from a computational point of view. It will guide you through both the classical and the more modern methods that examine linguistic theories from a computational perspective. No prior knowledge of computational theory will be assumed, but some familiarity with formalisms for syntax, phonology, or semantics, including some exposure to logic, would be very useful. If you don’t have this background, permission of the instructor is OK - please just ask!


    Linguistics colloquia for the academic year

    The MIT Linguistics Colloquium schedule for the Fall and early Spring. All talks are on Fridays, 3:30-5:00 p.m. For further information, please contact the organizers for this year, Athulya Aravind and Michelle Yuan.

    Fall 2015:

    Spring 2016 (partial):


    Summer news

    We have a few items of summer news from faculty and students:

    • Faculty Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou and alumni Karlos Arregi (PhD 2002) and Jonathan Bobaljik (PhD 1995) were elected 2016 Fellows of the Linguistic Society of America. This is our field’s highest honor, awarded each year to a small number of linguists for “distinguished contributions to the discipline”. This is truly fantastic news. Kai and Sabine join their faculty colleagues Noam Chomsky, Morris Halle, Irene Heim, David Pesetsky, and Donca Steriade, who have been honored as Fellows in previous years, as well as more than twenty alumni of the department. About a third of all LSA Fellows are MIT alumni or faculty. A full list of Fellows from MIT can be found here, and the full list of LSA Fellows can be found here.
    • Shigeru Miyagawa, Chris O’Brien, David Pesetsky, Juliet Stanton, and Donca Steriade taught three-day courses at the University of Brasilia in August that were attended by students and faculty from Brazil and Argentina. Donca, David, and Shigeru also gave presentations at the Congresso Internacional de Estudos Linguísticos III held at the U of Brasilia. One of the main organizers of the Brasilia events, Professor Eloisa Pilati, will be a visitor at MIT during this fall semester. Shortly after leaving Brasília, Shigeru gave a course at the University of São Paulo, and Juliet and Chris gave presentations at the University of Buenos Aires.
    • David Pesetsky and Michel DeGraff taught at the 2016 Summer Institute of the Linguistic Society of America, hosted by the University of Chicago. David taught two classes: a two-week seminar on Slavic Syntax and Semantics, co-taught with Sergei Tatevosov (a visiting faculty member in 2011-2012), and the introductory syntax class. Michel taught “Topics in Creole Studies: from Historical Linguistics to Computational Phylogenetics”. One of the two organizers of the LSA Institute this year was our own alum Karlos Arregi.
    • Juliet Stanton taught a short class on phonetics and phonology for high school students though HSSP, a program that allows students in grades 7-12 from all over New England to take classes at MIT. 24 students were registered for the class, including several who had taken the Introduction to Linguistics course taught in previous HSSP sessions.
    • Samuel Jay Keyser reports something that did not happen this summer, but is related to the question “What did you do this summer?”:

      Alistair Campbell was the author of Old English Grammar, one of the best philological (phonological) grammars of old English ever written. He was one of my tutors at Oxford when I was there in 1956-58. When he was a student, he was asked precisely the same question that you ask in your email, only the interrogator was the warden of his college. (I think it was Pembroke but I’m not sure.) It was an annual ritual called “the shaking of hands.”

      The conversation as reported on the Oxfordian grapevine, my vintage, went like this:

      Warden: Now tell me, Mr. Campbell. How did you spend your summer?

      Campbell: Sir, I spent the summer on the beach at Brighton pondering the Anglo-Saxon corpus.


    Summer defenses

    Congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators!

    • Isaac Gould: Syntactic Learning from Ambiguous Evidence: Errors and End-States
    • Gretchen Kern: Rhyming Grammars and Celtic Phonology
    • Ted Levin: Licensing without Case
    • Wataru Uegaki: Interpreting questions under attitudes
    • Coppe van Urk: A uniform syntax for phrasal movement: a Dinka Bor case study

    In the coming year, Isaac will be a visiting assistant professor at Kansas University, Gretchen will work as a linguist for a tech company in NYC, Ted will be a post-doc at Maryland, Wataru is a post-doc at the ENS in Paris, and Coppe will be a Lecturer (= an Assistant Professor) at Queen Mary University of London.





    Meet ling-15

    The members of ling-15, the incoming graduate class, have provided brief biographical notes for us. Welcome to them!

    Rafael Abramovitz: “I’m from Minneapolis, MN, and in June I finished my B.A. in Linguistics at the University of Chicago. Broadly speaking, I’m interested in phonology, syntax, and Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages. More specifically, I’m interested in dominant-recessive harmony systems, accidental (or “accidental”) homophony, case and agreement phenomena (particularly in ergative languages), and syntactic ergativity. In addition, I’m excited to learn more about computational phonology and formal semantics, two areas of linguistics which I have not yet had much exposure to.”

    Itai Bassi writes: “I was born and raised in a small Kibbutz in Israel. I got my B.A. in linguistics and philosophy from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where I also worked on my M.A. in linguistics. My main areas of interest are semantics, pragmatics and the syntax-semantics interface. I especially find NPIs, negative concord, modality and conditionals very intriguing. I feel honored to have the opportunity to develop my thinking on these issues at MIT. In my free time I enjoy watching sports and playing chess.”

    Justin Colley

    Colin Davis writes: “I was born in Colorado, but ended up getting a linguistics BA at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where I did a year of fieldwork research on the Turkic language North Azeri. From this I wrote a thesis attempting to account for several morphosyntactic puzzles in this language, which for brevity’s sake I won’t describe. I have a background in Japanese and am fond of the Altaic typology generally, but I’m interested in any language with fun morphosyntax. I occasionally like a little morphophonology as well, in moderation. At MIT I hope to do more fieldwork, get a grasp of semantics, and generally just make the most of everything. I’m hoping the Massachusetts winter is at least a bit more bearable than winter where I came from.”

    Suzana Fong: “I’m from Brazil. I did my undergrad studies at the University of São Paulo, where I received a B.A. in linguistics. I also received an M.A. there. I worked on gerund clauses in Brazilian Portuguese both as an undergrad and as an M.A. student. Right now, my major research interest is syntax, but, at MIT, I’m mostly looking forward to broadening my horizons and to working on areas I have had little or no contact with.”

    Verena Hehl: “As a Ravensburger (Ra-vens-bur-ger /ʁaːvənsbʊʁgɐ/ n 1 a native of the medieval town Ravensburg, Germany; 2 a German company that produces board games) I enjoy challenging puzzles of all sorts.
    Before discovering semantics I was mainly puzzling over structural approaches to theory formation in history, English literature and mathematics. Besides a teaching degree in these subjects, I hold an M.A. in English linguistics from the University of Tübingen. In Tübingen I was working as a lecturer and as a research assistant in a crosslinguistic research group that is studying the semantics of comparison constructions, focus and questions. While at MIT I hope to be puzzled by and puzzle out some of the many issues in formal semantics and at the syntax-semantics interface. When I am not doing semantics, I enjoy playing the viola, I love reading and I am interested in traveling, attending theater productions, and visiting history museums.”

    Maša Močnik: “I come from a small village in Slovenia. I did my undergrad in Ljubljana, studying English and French, and spent a year in Paris (Erasmus exchange). The last three years I was in Amsterdam — I did a master’s in logic and then taught a bit at the university. My primary interest is formal semantics, especially questions related to tense, aspect, and modality. When I have time, I like to read a good novel or poem, watch an older film (Wittertainment fan!), have a healthy meal, and run/cycle in nature.”

    Mitya Privoznov writes: “I’m from Russia. I was born and grew up in Moscow. I received my specialist degree in linguistics (it was a Russian equivalent to BA and sometimes to MA) at Moscow State University. I’ve done some field work on Turkish (Tatar, Balkar), Mongolic (Buryat) and Uralic (Khanty and Moksha) languages, though my specialist thesis was about Russian and German passive. Mostly I’m interested in argument structure, syntax-morphology interface and semantics, especially intensional semantics. In my free time I read, play the piano, cook and watch films and a bunch of series.”


    New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Fall 2015

    Visiting students

    • Keny Chatain (École Normale Supérieure (ENS)) works in Syntax and Semantics. He says: “I’m interested in formal descriptions of tense, mood and aspect of verbal systems across languages.”
    • Chingting Chuang (National Tsing Hua University)’s research interests include Phonetically-based phonology, language variation, language change, prosody. She says: “My research has primarily focused on prosodic manifestations of phonetic variation and language change. I have chosen Penang Hokkien, an understudied dialect of Southern Min Chinese spoken in Northwestern Peninsular Malaysia, as the language under investigation.”
    • Maria-Margarita Makri (University of York) says: “My research mainly focuses on the syntax and semantics of comparative constructions.” Interests and Research Description: Semantics, Syntax, Language Acquisition.
    • Tiaoyuan Mao (Beijing Foreign Studies University) says: “The object of my research is to propose a unified explanation for Chinese English learners’ morpho-syntactic development of C on the basis of the feature assembly theory (Chomsky 2001, 2008) and Feature Reassembly Hypothesis (Lardiere 2008, 2009). If possible, a minor revision of the feature assembly theory would be carried out in terms of improvement of the acquisition theory for the second language acquisition.”

    Visiting scholars


    Phonology Circle - Call for presentations

    This semester, Phonology Circle will be meeting on Mondays, from 5-6:30pm in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Presentations about work in progress, papers from the literature, and old squibs are every bit as welcome as practice talks. Please contact Juliet Stanton (juliets@mit.edu) and/or Sam Zukoff (szukoff@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.


    MLK Leadership Awards for DeGraff & Napier

    Congratulations to our faculty colleague Michel DeGraff and to linguistics major Alyssa Napier ‘16, 2015 faculty and undergraduate honorees of MIT’s Martin Luther King Leadership Award!!

    Michel, as readers of Whamit know well, is a founder and leader of the MIT Haiti Initiative, which has been working to actively promote the use of Kreyòl in STEM education in Haiti.  Alyssa is a double major in Linguistics and Chemistry, a 2014 Burchard Scholar, and co-chair of the Black Women’s Alliance. Last November, Alyssa wrote an eloquent article in the Tech about Ferguson, the Newbury Street march, “Black Lives Matter”, MIT and much more. We encourage you to read it!

    Congratulations to both!


    Kai von Fintel in MIT News

    In a recent article published by MIT News, Kai von Fintel shares his thoughts about semantics, open access in linguistics, and the role of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) at MIT. Here it is!