The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Archive for the ‘Announcements’ Category

LingLunch 2/27 - Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron (Northwestern)

Speaker: Oriana Kilbourn-Ceron (Northwestern)
Title: Phonological variation at word boundaries: the effect of speech production planning
Time: Thursday, February 27th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Connected speech processes have played a major role in shaping theories about phonological organization, and how phonology interacts with other components of the grammar. Presenting evidence from English /t/-realizations and French liaison, we argue that the effect of lexical frequency on variability can be understood as a consequence of the narrow window of phonological encoding during speech production planning. By connecting the study of phonological alternations with the study of factors influencing speech production planning, we can derive novel predictions about patterns of variability in external sandhi, and better understand the data that drive the development of phonological theories.

Experimentalist Meeting 2/28 - Keny Chatain and Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Keny Chatain and Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: How to read possessives without uniqueness?
Time: Friday, February 28th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Possessives don’t always come with uniqueness inferences (cf Barker (1995)). We start by sharing our intuitions about the readings that non-unique possessives receive in quantified environments. These intuitions are our own, unstable, and go against a certain tradition of using possessives as a paradigmatic presuppositional item for projection tests. We are looking for a way to strengthen the intuitions or dismiss them, whatever the case may be. Help from the audience is welcome.

Colloquium 2/28 - Eva Zimmermann (Leipzig)

Speaker: Eva Zimmermann (Leipzig)
Title: Gradient Symbolic Representations and the Typology of Phonological Exceptions
Time: Friday, February 28th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-155

Abstract: The assumption of Gradient Symbolic Representations that phonological elements can have different degrees of activation (Smolensky and Goldrick, 2016; Rosen, 2016; Zimmermann, 2018, 2019) allows a unified explanation for the typology of phonological exceptions. The crucial theoretical mechanism for exceptional behaviour are gradient constraint violations: The activation of a phonological element in an underlying morpheme representation determines 1) how much the element is preserved by faithfulness constraints and 2) how much it is penalized by markedness constraints. I argue that this simple mechanism predicts the attested typology of phonological exceptions. Two cases studies from Molinos Mixtec and Finnish show why such an account should be preferred over alternative analyses of exceptionality.

The assumption that morpheme-specific phonological behaviour within one language arises from gradient differences in the activity of phonological elements makes at least four prediction that set the account apart from alternative approaches to exceptionality based on autosegmental defectivity (=ASD; e.g. Lieber, 1987; Tranel, 1996; Zoll, 1996) or lexically indexed constraints (=LIC; e.g. Pater, 2006; Flack, 2007; Mahanta, 2012). First, it offers a symmetric account for four commonly distinguished types of exceptional morphemes: 1) exceptional triggers for a process that is otherwise not regular, 2) exceptional non-triggers for a general phonological process, 3) exceptional undergoers of a process that is otherwise not regular, and 4) exceptional non-undergoers of a general phonological process. In contrast, an account based on LIC cannot predict the existence of exceptional non-triggers (Smith, 2017) that have indeed be argued to be non-existent (e.g. Finley (2010) for vowel harmony). In this talk, I will strengthen the arguments for the existence of exceptional non-triggers (Smith, 2017; Hout, 2017) and discuss a new pattern in the tonal phonology of Molinos Mixtec where certain tones fail to trigger an otherwise regular tone spreading (Hunter and Pike, 1969). Second, a GSRO account predicts that exceptional elements can be exceptional for multiple processes. Such an instance can also be found in Molinos Mixtec: The tones that are exceptional non-triggers for a spreading process are also exceptional non-undergoers of an otherwise regular tone association process. A representational account where the gradient activity of the tones is the explanation for exceptional behaviour predicts exactly such an accumulation of exceptional behaviour. Third, a GSRO account predicts different degrees of exceptionality. This point is illustrated with a case study of Finnish where an exceptional repair for heteromorphemic /ai/ sequences can be observed (Anttila, 2002; Pater, 2006). Certain /i/-initial suffixes are exceptional triggers for a repair process but the type of repair (assimilation /pala-i/→[paloi], deletion /otta-i/→[otti], or variation between both /taitta-i/→[taittoi]∼[taitti]) depends on the nature of the preceding /a/-final morpheme. Such degrees of exceptionality for /a/-final morphemes are easily captured under GSRO and LIC but are more difficult to predict under ASD. And fourth, it predicts implicational relations between exceptionality classes within a language. If, for example, one morpheme class is an exception and fails to trigger/undergo process P2 but regularly triggers/undergoes process P1, then it is impossible under the gradience account that yet another morpheme class is only exceptional for P1 but not P2 if both refer to the same phonological structure. The typology of exceptions seems to confirm such general restrictions.

MIT-Haiti Initiative on International Mother Tongue Day 2020

On International Mother Tongue Day 2020, YouTube’s Twitter feed promoted to its 72 million subscribers the recently launched YouTube channel of the MIT-Haiti Initiative, which can be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCg-WXl8PbfZuZUWyuOCqHRg.  

On that day (February 21, 2020), YouTube’s main showcase on Twitter was a bold project led by linguists who care about every single mother tongue on the planet (https://wikitongues.org/), whose YouTube channel can be found here at https://www.youtube.com/user/WikiTongues. Wikitongue’s goal is to produce videos of every language spoken on the planet.  Here’s the tweet from YouTube: https://twitter.com/YouTube/status/1230921304166977537?s=20 Please help make it go viral!


ECO-5 is a venue for graduate students from five East Coast universities (UMass, MIT, Harvard, UConn, and UMD) to present their current, original work in syntax. This year, ECO-5 was held on February 22 at Harvard, featuring the following talks from our department:

Danfeng Wu (4th year): Syntax of either in either…or… sentences

Tanya Bondarenko (3rd year): Inverse in Passamaquoddy as Feature Gluttony

Luiz Fernando Ferreira (visiting student): The relation between pied-piping and DPs in Karitiana (joint work with Karin Vivanco (Unicamp))


Website: https://sites.google.com/view/eco-5

LFRG 02/19 - Tanya Bonderanko (MIT)

Speaker: Tanya Bonderanko
Title: Hyperraising and Logical Form: evidence from Buryat
Time: Wednesday, 02/19, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461


Abstract: Languages differ in whether they allow hyperraising to object:  movement of an argument of an embedded finite clause into the matrix clause.  Languages like Buryat (Mongolic) allow such movement, languages like English don’t:

(1) a. bair            badm-i:jɘ-1  [CP   t-1   sajan-i:jɘ    zura-xa       gɘʒɘ]    han-a:
          Bair.NOM  Badma-ACC                  Sajana-ACC draw-FUT  COMP  think-PST

          `Bair thought that Badma will draw Sajana.’
b. *Bair thought Badma-1 [CP that t-1 will draw Sajana].

The question that arises is: what determines whether a language allows hyperraising to object?

In this work in progress, I would like to propose that the relevant factor is  the semantic type of the clause. I adopt  Kratzer’s (2013) approach to semantics of attitude verbs and follow Deal (2018) in analyzing hyperraising as (potentially covert) raising into a theta-position. I propose that CPs come in two kinds: some, like Buryat CPs, denote properties of events (<vt>-CPs), others, like English CPs, denote properties of individuals (<et>-CPs). I argue that only <vt>-CPs can be hyperraised out of: due to the semantics of movement into a theta-position I propose, hyperraising out of <et>-CPs creates a type mismatch. This account automatically captures such properties of hyperraised arguments as inability to undergo reconstruction, obligatoriness of de re interpretation, and impossibility of indexical shifting.

LingLunch 2/20 - Luiz Fernando Ferreira (MIT/Universidade de São Paulo)

Speaker: Luiz Fernando Ferreira (MIT/Universidade de São Paulo)
Title: What challenges do our theories on the x-marking of counterfactuals face?
Time: Thursday, February 20th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Counterfactual sentences are usually marked with what looks like a special tense/aspect/mood morphology. For instance, English CFs always bear past morphology and auxiliary woll as illustrated in (01).

(01) a. If Angelica is at MIT, Kai is happy. (non-CF)
b. If Angelika were at MIT, Kai would be happy. (CF)

Von Fintel & Iatridou (2019) calls the exceptional morphology used in CF environments X-marking. There are many proposals that try to explain what is the semantic contribution of X-marking (see Iatridou, 2000, Ippolito, 2002; 2003; 2013; Arregui, 2005; von Fintel & Iatridou, 2019; von Prince, 2019). I will present some crosslinguistic data and analyse how well those proposals fare.

The first challenge we will address is how the temporal orientation of a CF sentence is determined. I look at data from Karitiana (Tupi) and Daakaka (Oceanic) which do not distinguish between present/past/future readings. Based on ideas from Iatridou (2009), I argue for a mirror principle on tense according to which CFs mirrors the temporal orientation of non-CFs sentences.

(02) Karitiana
dinheiro tyyt y-aki-p, dibm/kabmat/koot yjxa-jyt-ahy-t yjxa cerveja-ty
money have 1.sg-cop-? tomorrow/now/yesterday 1.pl.inc-cf-drink-nfut 1.pl.incl beer-obl
`If I had money, we would have a beer tomorrow’
`If I had money, we would have a beer today.’
`If I had had money, we would have had a beer yesterday.’

(03) Daakaka
Nye na bwe dimyane ka ebya-ok we pwer kyun, na=t ka pini or
1sg 1sg cont want asr wing-3sg-poss pot stay just 1sg=dist fly fill place
‘I wish I had wings, I would fly arounf everywhere.’

The second challenge I will address is the semantic contribution of the tense and the modal in CFs. Proposals which assume tense is the responsible for conveying CF (Iatridou, 2000, 2009; von Prince, 2019) do not explain the role of the modal element. Proposals in which assume tense is real and that it shifts one’s perspective to the past (Ippolito, 2002, 2003, 2013, von Prince, 2019), fail to account for non-historical counterfactuals (i.e. counterfactuals in which the antecedent is always true no matter how far in the past you go). I assume that CFs always have a modal element that quantifies over possible worlds and tense is real. However, it is not a perpective shifter, but it restricts the quantification to possible worlds with a past similar to the actual world (Arregui, 2005).

In my account, past is a necessary element to convey CF. CF markers are either a modal restricted to the past or the spell-out of the modal element plus tense.

LangAcq/ESSL Meeting 02/21 - Martin Hackl (MIT)

Speaker: Martin Hackl
Title: On Detecting Haddock’s Puzzle
Time: Friday 02/21 2-3pm
Location: 32-D831

Haddock’s Puzzle is a famous problem regarding the following types of sentences:

(In a situation where there are two hats, one with a rabbit in it)
(1) *The happy rabbit is in the hat. (Violates uniqueness presupposition l

(2) The rabbit in the hat is happy.

The puzzle lies in the fact that sentence (2) is more acceptable than (1) despite the fact that the uniqueness presupposition is still violated. I discuss methods we have tried and are considering in the effort to detect and manipulate this effect via online crowdsourcing.

MorPhun 2/12 - Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)
Title: Arregi & Pietraszko (2020), “The ups and downs of head displacement”
Time: Wednesday, February 12th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Arregi & Pietraszko (2020) propose a theory of head displacement that replaces traditional Head Movement and Lowering with a single syntactic operation of Generalized Head Movement. They argue that upward and downward head displacement have the same syntactic properties: cyclicity, Mirror-Principle effects and blocking in the same syntactic configurations. They also study the interaction of head displacement and other syntactic operations arguing that claimed differences between upward and downward displacement are either spurious or follow directly from out account. Finally, they argue that their theory correctly predicts the attested crosslinguistic variation in verb and inflection doubling in predicate clefts.

Syntax Square 2/11 - Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT)

Speaker: Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT)
Title: How the politeness marking –des-/-mas- functions as phi-feature agreement in the syntax of Japanese
Time: Tuesday, February 11th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Based on Chomsky’s Uniformity Principle (Chomsky 2001), Miyagawa (2010, 2017) proposed that all languages share the same set of grammatical features, and that these features are overtly manifested in every language. I called it Strong Uniformity. Japanese poses a clear challenge to Strong Uniformity since it is traditionally considered as a language without any phi-feature agreement. In Miyagawa (2012a, 2017) it is argued that the politeness marking –des-/-mas- is a form of phi-feature agreement that is the same as the so-called allocutive agreement found in a variety of languages including Basque, Tamil, and Thai. In this paper, I will look in detail at how the allocutive agreement functions as phi-feature agreement in the syntax of Japanese by drawing on the study of Uchibori (2007, 2008) and Yamada (2019).

LingLunch 2/13 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: The future since Stump
Time: Thursday, February 13th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: English temporal adjunct clauses typically show past-under-past (1) and present-under-future (2), irrespective of the temporal connective used. The examples in (2) have come to be known as Stump’s pattern, based on Stump’s(1985) observation that the present tense in the adjunct clause has a future-shifted interpretation.

(1) Past under past a. I waved when I saw/see him. b. I saw him before he saw/sees me. c. I saw him after he saw/*sees me.

(2) Present under future a. I will wave when I see/saw him. b. I will see him before he sees/saw me. c. I will see him after he sees/*saw me.

Sharvit (2013) and von Stechow and Grønn (2013) propose that future-shifted present is a deleted tense, licensed by a present tense operator on woll in the matrix clause. Adjunct tenses are otherwise proposed to be evaluated with respect to utterance time. I discuss a counterexample to Stump’s pattern that poses a problem for this theory: since-adjuncts in future perfect clauses show past, not present, and still allow future-shifting. This future shifted past appears not to be a deleted tense, but is rather interpreted with respect to a future time instead of utterance time. Similar facts can be demonstrated for other temporal connectives as well.

(3) By this time next year, mom will have visited twice since I bought/*buy my new bike. (bike-buying time can be in the future)

To account for these facts, I propose that the evaluation time of an adjunct is compositionally determined by its adjunction site. The presence of the perfect in the matrix clause offers an additional adjunction site below tense, allowing the adjunct to scope under the matrix tense operator. In a future perfect, this means that the adjunct clause can take a future time as its evaluation time, thus licensing a past operator that introduces a future event (like we find in embedded clauses).

The reason a low adjunction position is only available in future perfect clauses, but not simple future clauses, is because of the meaning of the temporal connectives. Interpretation of before/since with respect to the same evaluation time as their complement clauses results in contradiction. Therefore, I argue that complement clauses of before/since must QR to receive an evaluation index from a higher head. This always results in a tense-deletion configuration for matrix simple future clauses, but a shifted interpretation in future perfect.

LangAcq/ESSL Lab Meeting 2/14: Athulya Aravind and Cindy Torma (MIT)

Speaker:​ Athulya Aravind and Cindy Torma
Title: Decomposing ​both
Time: Friday, February 14th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D831 (8th Floor Conference Room)

The acquisition trajectories of semantically complex quantifiers can be a fruitful window into understanding the primitives and construction principles involved in natural language quantification. As a case study, we investigate the acquisition of the English quantifier both, which involves (i) universal quantification and (ii) a duality presupposition. We examine 2-and-3-year-olds’ understanding of both given an understanding of universal quantification and number knowledge, probed using the corresponding expressions all and two. I’d like to discuss some preliminary results, where it looks like children hypothesize candidate meanings for both that comprise only a subset of its component meanings or where the pieces are assembled in non-adult ways.​

Colloquium 2/14 - Benjamin Bruening (University of Delaware)

Speaker: Benjamin Bruening (University of Delaware)
Title: The Algonquian Prefix is an Affix, Not a Clitic: Implications for Morphosyntax
Time: Friday, February 14th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-155

Abstract: The “consensus” in the literature is that the prefix that appears on independent order verbs in Algonquian languages is a pronominal clitic. I show that this prefix is an agreement affix, not a clitic, according to every diagnostic for clitics versus affixes that has ever been proposed. This then has significant implications for syntactic theories of morphology. The prefix always appears on the highest verbal element in the clause, while all other inflection instead goes on the lowest verbal element. In order to account for the placement of the prefix, higher verbal elements have to block affixation to lower ones; but then it is impossible to get the suffixes on the lowest verbal element. No existing accounts of verbal morphology based on head movement, lowering, Mirror Theory, or phrasal movement can account for the verbal morphology. I propose an alternative where a complex head can be built by external merge according to the clausal hierarchy, inserted low, and then copied head-by-head as the clausal spine is built, without movement.

Syntax Square 2/4 - Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)
Title: On some Distinctness effects in the English DP
Time: Tuesday, February 4th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk, I focus on several apparently arbitrary quirks of English nominal constructions, such as the contrasts between this tall a person and *a this tall person, between any taller a person and *an any taller person, and between what color car and *a what color car / *what color a car. I argue that all these contrasts follow straightforwardly from Richards’ (2010) Distinctness condition, banning any Spell-Out domain in which two nodes of the same type are in an asymmetric c-command relation. I also suggest that, under slightly less trivial assumptions, the Distinctness-based account might also be extended to the contrast between a three year old kid and *a three years old kid. I then conclude with a few more speculative remarks building toward a general theory of Distinctness repairs.

LingLunch 2/6 - Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou (MIT)

Speaker: Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou (MIT)
Title: Unasked Questions
Time: Thursday, February 6th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Since Hamblin 1958, many linguists have considered the denotation of a question to be a set of propositions. But what is it that compels the hearer to respond to a question? The by far most common answer is ‘pragmatics’. The general idea is that, as the natural response to an assertion is to consider whether you want to accept it (i.e. add the proposition to the common ground), the response to being confronted with a set of propositions is to be compelled to choose among them. We argue that a number of languages have a way of marking a question that seems to affect the question’s meaning in a way that is illuminating to the above issue. These markers include Greek araye, Turkish acaba, Japanese naa. We show that across these unrelated languages, these markers have surprisingly similar results. We argue that all these results reduce to one: a question marked this way imposes no obligation on the hearer to answer the question. This means that a set of propositions does not automatically and in and of itself bestow an obligation on the hearer to answer it. We discuss the significance of this finding for current theories of questions.

Experimentalist Meeting 2/7

Please join us for our first Experimentalist Meeting of the spring semester! We will be discussing current and future projects in the ESSL and Language Acquisition Lab. Those who have an active project, or are interested in conducting research in either lab this semester are strongly encouraged to attend.


Schedule: 2pm-3pm, Friday, February 7th

Room: 8th Floor Conference Room (32-D831) (Please note this location is different from last semester!)

Fong @ ELBA 2020

This week (February 3-7), fifth-year student Suzana Fong is teaching a summer course (sic) at ELBA (Escuela de Lingüística de Buenos Aires), “a Linguistics Summer school organized by graduate and undergraduate students from Argentina”. Her class is under the rubric “Advanced Topics in Syntax” and is entitled “Hyperraising in Mongolian and the A vs A-bar distinction // The syntax and semantics of bare nominals in Wolof (and cross-linguistically)”. We wish wecould be there to take it!

CreteLing 2020

The 4th Crete Summer School of Linguistics will be taking place from July 18​ to July 31, 2020, at the University of Crete in Rethymnon.

Current MIT faculty Adam Albright, Athulya Aravind, Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Shigeru Miyagawa, Norvin Richards, and Donca Steriade will be teaching classes at CreteLing, along with alumni and colleagues from around the world. With four parallel sessions, this year’s offerings include more courses than ever before. There will also be two workshops at the summer school: Speech-Accompanying Gestures (organized by Patrick Grosz and Sarah Zobel), and Covert Modality (organized by Tim Stowell and Roumyana Pancheva).

Full information (including details on the student early application due April 5th), can be found on the school website (http://linguistics.philology.uoc.gr/cssl20/index.php).

Course Announcements: Spring 2020

Course announcements in this post:

  • 24.979 Topics in Semantics
  • 24.964 Topics in Phonology: Sentence Prosody


24.979 Topics in Semantics: Getting High: Scope, Projection, and Evaluation Order

This seminar will provide a venue for discussing various mechanisms for scope-taking and projection, taking as our starting point continuations - a perspective on scope-taking developed by Chris Barker and Chung-chieh Shan. We will attempt to develop a solid working knowledge of the relevant mechanics, as well as arrive at a comprehensive empirical assessment of their advantages and drawbacks in selected areas of application. These will include quantifier scope, variable binding, cross-over, and presupposition projection, paying particular attention to linearity effects which continuations are designed to handle in a principled manner.

Listeners are welcome, as always. Requirements for credit will be detailed in the first session.


24.964 Topics in Phonology: Sentence Prosody

Different ways of pronouncing the same sentence can convey different messages. The properties of pronunciation that modify meaning in this way are referred to as sentence prosody. There are three components of prosody: intonational melody, prominence and phrasing. These components will be introduced through an overview of English prosody and ToBI transcription. Then we will investigate each component in more detail, exploring their phonetics and phonology, and their relationships to syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, drawing on data from a variety of languages.


Special issue of Snippet for Uli Sauerland

In honor of MIT alum Uli Sauerland’s 50th birthday, a special issue of Snippets has just been published here.

The issue was edited by Patrick Elliott, Andreea Nicolae, and Yasu Sudo, and includes contributions by a broad range of current MIT faculty, and alumni.

Miyagawa, Wu & Koizumi published in Glossa

Congratulations to our colleague Shigeru Miyagawa , fourth-year student Danfeng Wu, and distinguished alum Masatoshi Koizumi (PhD 1995) on the New Year’s Eve publication of their paper entitled “Inducing and blocking labeling” in Glossa!


Alaska Native language groups convene to translate census materials​

Our grad student Annauk Olin was recently at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, where she was joined by a group of about 25 people represented the Gwich’in, Inupiat, Yup’ik, and Koyukon cultures from Alaska. They gathered to translate materials for the 2020 Census. She says in an interview:

“I think this is a pretty revolutionary movement that we’re working on because it acknowledges that our languages are our birthright and that means that our languages should be spoken in all the different facets of our lives…… When we’re translating Census material into Inupiaq or Denaakk’e (the Koyukon language) or Yup’ik that means that we are telling different agencies that our languages matter and that we prefer to and we require that we communicate in our languages across our communities and with federal or state institutions.” 

The full interview can be read here.

Winter semi-hiatus

Whamit! will be on its Winter (semi-)hiatus from now until the start of the Spring semester. Weekly posts will resume on February 3rd, 2020. 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!

Phonology Circle 12/9 - Danfeng Wu (MIT) & Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT) & Yadav Gowda (MIT)
Title: Focus and penultimate vowel lengthening in Zulu
Time: Monday, December 9th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Many Bantu languages exhibit fixed placement of focus at the Immediately-After-the-Verb (IAV) position, which has been argued to be related to this position’s prosodic prominence. Elements in this position appear at the edge of a prosodic phrase, and are subject to penultimate vowel lengthening, which we take to be a form of phrasal stress which occurs at the right edge of every prosodic phrase. We present evidence from a production study in Zulu showing that the degree of penultimate vowel lengthening at the IAV is greater than at any other prosodic phrase edge, lending phonetic support to the claim that the IAV is prosodically prominent.

Syntax Square 12/10 - Yadav Gowda (MIT) and Danfeng Wu (MIT), Run Chen (MIT)

Speakers: Yadav Gowda (MIT) and Danfeng Wu (MIT), Run Chen (MIT)
Title: LSA Practice talks: Intervention in Wolof Clitic Climbing and Superiority Effect in Albanian Multiple Wh-movement
Time: Tuesday, December 10th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Title: Intervention in Wolof Clitic Climbing
Authors: Yadav Gowda & Danfeng Wu
Abstract: Clitic movement from an embedded infinitive (‘clitic climbing’) is a hallmark property of restructuring (Rizzi 1978 i.a.). We show data from Wolof which shows clitic climbing requires linear adjacency of verbal heads — that is, nothing can intervene linearly between the embedded verb and the matrix verb. The relationship of such ‘verb clustering’ phenomena to restructuring, and how verb clusters arise, is still the subject of debate (Wurmbrand 2017). Our data contributes to this debate, showing a) in a language which doesn’t exhibit other ‘verb clustering’ phenomena (e.g. reordering verbal heads, morphology sharing), linear adjacency is required for restructuring; b) contrary to expectations, linear adjacency in Wolof restructuring constructions doesn’t arise through complex head-formation (pace Haider 2003, supporting Wurmbrand 2007). Furthermore, we argue that both this simple linear adjacency requirement and `verb clustering’ phenomena are driven by Selectional Contiguity (Richards 2016).

Title: Superiority Effect in Albanian Multiple Wh-movement
Author: Run Chen
Abstract: This study examines the order of wh-phrases in Albanian multiple wh-questions. Despite SVO and OVS orders, I argue that Albanian wh-movement follows the Superiority Effect, through a mechanism generating a rightmost highest specifier. OVS order constructions are subject to Haplology Effect and Word Order Freezing, showing the presence of a multiple wh-fronting step in the derivation. The study highlights a general observation of opacity and cross-linguistic wh-question environment. Linear order does not reveal hierarchical structure, as a typically leftmost wh-phrase is pronounced rightmost. This rightward wh-movement analysis may explain future findings of languages claimed to not follow the Superiority Effect.

LFRG 12/11 - Frank Staniszewski

Speaker: Frank Staniszewski
Title: A variable force analysis of positive polarity neg-raising modals

Time: Wednesday, December 11th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: I argue that data like (1) show that the modals should and supposed to can give rise to weak existential-like readings, which are not predicted under current approaches.

      (1)       Context: Walking through tunnels to a talk on campus, we find ourselves in a basement area among                                     potentially dangerous supplies (obviously not the best place to be).

                  a.  Should we be down here? / Are we supposed to be down here?
                  b. I ’m not sure that we should/are supposed to be down here.
                  c. I don’t know if we should/are supposed to be down here.

Intuitively, the speaker is not asking if this is the optimal place to be. Instead the modal statement can be paraphrased with ‘is it okay to be down here?’. In work in progress, I sketch an analysis that builds on earlier proposals in which modals interact with the polarity system (Iatridou & Zeijlstra 2013, Homer 2015). Motivated by the new data, I suggest a revised approach, adopting insights from work on variable force modals (Deal 2011), as well as free-choice (Fox 2007, Bassi & Bar-Lev 2016, a.o.) that assumes an underlying weak meaning that undergoes strengthening in upward-entailing environments, but stays weak in downward-entailing environments. I also show how this revised approach can explain interactions of these modals with negation that motivated the previous polarity-sensitive analyses.

MorPhun 12/11 - Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Sudo (2014): “Dependent plural pronouns with Skolemized choice functions”
Time: Wednesday, December 11th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: I will discuss Yasutada Sudo’s (2014) paper entitled “Dependent plural pronouns with Skolemized choice functions”. The paper’s abstract follows below:

“The present paper discusses two interesting phenomena concerning phi-features on plural pronouns: (i) plural pronouns that denote atomic individuals (‘dependent plural pronouns’), and (ii) plural pronouns with more than one binder (‘partial binding’). A novel account of these two phenomena is proposed, according to which all occurrences of phi-features are both semantically and morphologically relevant. For such a ‘uniformly semantic account’ of phi-features, dependent plural pronouns constitute a theoretical challenge, while partial binding is more or less straightforwardly accounted for. In order to make sense of the semantic effects of the phi-features on dependent plural pronouns, the following idea is pursued: the phi-features on a dependent plural pronoun reflect the range of values that the pronoun takes, rather than the particular value it denotes at a time. This idea is implemented in a compositional semantics by making use of (Skolemized) choice functions. An appealing feature of the present account is that, unlike its predecessors, it accounts for dependent plural pronouns without c-commanding antecedents in essentially the same way as for those with c-commanding antecedents. It is also shown how this account of dependent plural pronouns can straightforwardly be augmented with set indices to account for partial binding.”

LingLunch 12/12 - Maša Močnik and Rafael Abramovitz (MIT); Filipe Hisao Kobayashi and Enrico Flor (MIT)

Speaker: Maša Močnik and Rafael Abramovitz (MIT); Filipe Hisao Kobayashi and Enrico Flor (MIT)
Title: A Variable-Force Variable-Flavor Attitude Verb in Koryak; Coordinating Complete Answers: The case of Tanto-Quanto Conjunction
Time: Thursday, December 12th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: We enrich the typology of modal expressions with the attitude verb ivək from Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan), which shows a wide range of flavors (doxastic, bouletic, assertive, directive) and is the first documented variable-force attitude verb. Variation in both domains goes against the universal that modal items can’t vary in both force and flavor (Nauze 2008). We use the existential-universal doxastic-assertive variation to argue against this generalization. For the bouletic flavor, we show that it is triggered by the material in the embedded clause; we propose a new technical way of composing the bouletic flavor at LF.


We discuss a coordination strategy found in Portuguese and Italian which we call Tanto-Quanto Conjunction (TQC). The semantic properties that distinguish this construction from run-of-the-mill and-conjunction are the focus of this paper. TQC imposes a discourse related requirement on its conjuncts, namely that they each be a complete answer to a question raised in the discourse. We propose an analysis of TQC where each of its conjuncts falls under the scope of a focus sensitive operator which, by means of an answerhood operator, checks that its prejacent satisfies this requirement. Full paper at: https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004906.

Syntax Square 12/3 - Suzana Fong (MIT)

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: The syntactic distribution of bare nominals in Wolof
Time: Tuesday, December 3rd, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this research in progress, I try to analyze the positions where a bare nominal (BN) in Wolof (Niger-Congo) can or cannot occur. An example of BN in the object position of a transitive verb can be found in (1).

(1) Roxaya jang-na xibaar. Roxaya read-NA.3SG newspaper ‘Roxaya read a newspaper.’

So far, the following generalizations have emerged:

(2) i. A BN can be the object of a transitive verb, but it has to be adjacent to that verb. ii. There are clauses where another lower argument can be introduced, namely, a causee, an applied argument, or a dative argument. In that case, a BN can be the theme argument, but it no longer obeys the aforementioned adjacency condition. iii. BNs cannot be the other lower argument (i.e. causee, anapplied argument, or a dative argument), irrespective of adjacency with the verb. iv. BNs cannot be the subject of a finite clause. v. BNs can be the subject of a nonfinite clause (more precisely, a bare perceptual complement). vi. BNs can be focused/clefted. vi. A BN direct object that is modified by a relative clause can bleed the adjacency requirement. However it still cannot be the subject of a finite clause.

(2-ii) and (2-vi) are strikingly similar to a pattern that Branan (to appear) analyzes in Kikuyu. This presentation will be an exercise in applying Branan’s (to appear) proposal to Wolof BNs. I will introduced auxiliary ingredients as needed.

Mini Course: Yasutada Sudo (UCL)

We are happy to announce that Yasutada Sudo will be visiting the department this week and will teach two mini-courses (details below).
Speaker: Yasutada Sudo (UCL)
Title: (Non-eliminative) Dynamic Semantics
Time: Wednesday 1:00-2:30, Thursday 12:30-2
Location: 32-D461
Abstract: My mini-course will be about (Non-eliminative) Dynamic Semantics. No prior familiarity with dynamic semantics is required (for those who are enrolled in Patrick & Roger’s Pragmatics, there will be some redundant content). I will focus on two topics:

- Lecture 1: Redundancy in Pragmatics.
A basic dynamic semantic system will be introduced as a formulation of Stalnakerian Pragmatics. We will discuss Mayr & Romoli’s (2016) Disjunction Problem, and a solution to it that makes use of non-eliminativity.
- Lecture 2: Discourse Referents.
We will enrich the dynamic semantics with ‘discourse referents’ so as to account for anaphora. We will discuss issues about plurality, especially so-called ‘quantificational subordination’.

Experimentalist Meeting 12/6 - Elise Newman (MIT) and Yadav Gowda (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT) and Yadav Gowda (MIT)
Title: Children can ‘even’: the learning trajectory of an English scalar particle
Time: Friday, December 6th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 36-156 (NOTE: This is a a different location than normal!)

Abstract: Kim 2011 argues that children learn ‘even’ later than ‘only’, showing no evidence of learning ‘even’ in the 4-5 year old range. We argue that Kim’s results are unreliable due to flaws in her experimental design. We show that controlling for those factors reveals evidence of learning in children ages 4-5: children ages 4-5 show considerably more adult-like comprehension of ‘even’ than 3 year olds, with justifications that suggest they recognize the need for scalar reasoning in interpreting ‘even’. In addition to this finding, we report two additional results. First, children show two types of non-adult like behavior, one of which looks like guessing (and is unstable, disappearing by age 6), and the other of which co-occurs with justifications that indicate scalar reasoning (and is stable through age 6). This suggests that there is a learning space children consider when hypothesizing meanings for ‘even’. Second, there appears to be somewhat of a polarity effect: children show higher rates of adult-like behavior in negative environments than positive environments. Evidence from child production of ‘even’ as well as child-directed use of ‘even’ suggests that the latter finding may be a frequency effect in the input; adults produce higher rates of negative ‘even’ than positive ‘even’.

Colloquium 12/6 - Yasutada Sudo (UCL)

Speaker: Yasutada Sudo (UCL)
Title: Implicatures with Discourse Referents
Time: Friday, December 6th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-155

Abstract: Theories of discourse anaphora represent discourse referents separately from propositional content (Karttunen 1976, Heim 1982, Kamp 1983, among others). It is then natural to expect discourse referents to play a role in generating pragmatic inferences, but most current pragmatic theories seem to ignore them. In this talk I will discuss how discourse referents (should) behave in the computation of implicatures, by looking at plurality inferences of plural indefinites, and scalar and ignorance implicatures triggered in the scope of indefinites.

LF Reading Group 11/27 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron (MIT)
Title: States in the semantics of degree achievements
Time: Wednesday, November 27th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Adjectives are typically analyzed as measure functions ( functions) or degree-individual relations ( functions); alternative analyses posit they are (neo)davidsonian state predicates ( functions). I argue that the interaction between degree achievement verbs and source/goal PPs, as in (1), supports the state predicate view.

(1) The gap widened from 3 inches to 9 inches.

Phonology Circle 11/25 - Laura McPherson (Dartmouth)

Speaker: Laura McPherson (Dartmouth)
Title: Anti-alignment, melodies, and the OCP in Poko tone
Time: Monday, November 25th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Poko (Skou, PNG) lexical tone melodies are built off of three contrastive tone levels (L, M, H) in addition to ∅. Melodies consist of 0-2 tones, which may be either associated or floating. A puzzling aspect of Poko tone is the lack of level L or H melodies, despite the presence of M, LM, MH, and LH. In the first half of this talk, I show that the distribution of tones in lexical melodies is accounted for with anti-alignment constraints, banning initial H and final L, with exceptional faithfulness to the underlying association of H tones (i.e. tones cannot associate automatically). Accounting for both associated and floating tones necessitates two domains of anti-alignment: the stem and the tone melody. The second half of the talk addresses challenges in postlexical tone, including the association (or non-association) of floating tones, the realization of toneless stems, and the simplification of rising tones. Both the inventory of lexical melodies and the behavior of postlexical tone point to active OCP constraints for L and H tones in Poko.

Patrick Elliott in Nantes

Patrick Elliott gave an invited talk, “Nesting habits of flightless wh-expressions”, on Monday Nov 25 at a workshop in Nantes entitled “complex multiple wh-constructions”.



In this talk, we focus on a construction involving what Heim (1994) dubs “nested which phrases”, as illustrated by the example in (1). In (1) the in-situ which-phrase “which Russian novel” appears to be itself contained within the complex which-phrase headed by “novel”, which overly moves to its scope position.

1. Which Russian novels by which exiled authors did you read?

Questions with nested which-phrases are puzzling in a number of respects. Sudo (2017) observes that nested which-phrases lack what he calls a “complete de re reading”. This is easiest to see when (1) is placed in an embedded context, as in (2). Suppose I reserve a part of my bookshelf for Russian novels, and Andy doesn’t know what kind of books they are or who wrote them, but knows which ones I haven’t opened (e.g., because they are clean). Sudo observes that (2) isfalse in such a context; when we replaced the nested which-phrase with an indefinite however, the sentence is true. I refer to this as Sudo’s puzzle.

2. Andy knows which Russian novels by which exiled authors I’ve read.

3. Andy knows which Russian novels by exiled authors I’ve read.

Along similar lines, Elliott (2015) observes that nested which-phrases lack a pair-list interpretation. This is easiest to see by embedding a question with nested which-phrases under a predicate which biases a pair-list interpretation of a multiple question, such as “to reel off”. I refer to this as Elliott’s puzzle.

4. Andy reeled off which Russian novel I read on which day of the week.

5. # Andy reeled off which Russian novel by which exiled author I read.

Both Sudo’s puzzle and Elliott’s puzzle, I argue, suggest that the in-situ wh-phrase can’t scope independently of the container. Otherwise, we’d expect nested which-phrases to pattern with other in-situ wh-phrases and give rise to (a) de re readings, and (b) pair list interpretations. In this talk, we argue that the scope of the nested which-phrase is trapped within the containing DP. This straightforwardly rules out a pair-list interpretation. In order to rule out the complete de re interpretation, we develop a generalised version of the scope theory of intensionality, where only expressions at the edge of a pied-piped constituent may be interpreted de re.

Workshop website: https://anamariafalaus.org/workshop/

Phonology Circle 11/18 - Sherry Yong Chen & Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Speakers: Sherry Yong Chen & Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
TitleTones and Tone Sandhi in Longyou (Wu) Chinese
Date/Time: Monday (11/18), 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831
AbstractThis presentation is a progress report on our investigation of the tones and tone sandhi of the Southern Wu dialect of Longyou (Western Zhejiang Province). We document the Longyou tonal correspondences with Middle Chinese, their F0 shapes in citation form as well as four major sandhi changes appearing in disyllabic compounds. Longyou appears to be very conservative: the eight-tone system from Middle Chinese which splits into higher and lower registers, and the correlation between tonal registers and onset voicing, are both preserved intact. Time permitting, the data are considered in the light of recent typological studies of tone sandhi and tone change in the East Asian languages. ​

Syntax Square 11/19 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Mayan agent focus and the interaction between merge and agree (continued)
Time: Tuesday, November 19th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: (Continued from 11/5) In this week’s edition of Syntax Square, I will discuss Mayan Agent Focus from the perspective of Coon, Baier, Levin 2019. In their paper, they propose that examples like (1), where a subject has been wh-extracted, are ungrammatical due to the so called Ergative Extraction Constraint (EEC).

(1) *Maktxel max y-il ix ix? who pfv A3s-see clf woman intended: ‘Who saw the woman?’

They propose that the EEC is active in some Mayan languages due to the fact that the object moves higher than the subject, and is a more local target for agree by a higher probe. While typically A’-movement is insensitive to intervening nominals, they argue that Mayan A’-probes are relativized to seek D features as well as wh/focus features (a mixed A/A’ probe). The result is that whenever a subject is marked with wh/focus features, the relevant probe searching for those features first agrees with the internal argument before finding the subject, and thus becomes gluttonous, which leads to a crash. The only way to pronounce (1) is to insert the agent focus morpheme in place of agreement with the moved subject.

(2) Maktxel max-ach il-on-i? who pfv-b2s see-AF-itv ‘Who saw you?’

On their approach, the agent focus morpheme licenses extraction of an ergative subject by blocking movement of the internal argument to a higher position, thus preventing the object from ever c-commanding the subject. In other words, the EEC is active in some Mayan languages, and agent focus appears in these languages only to prevent violations of the EEC.

This locality approach to the EEC and agent focus in Mayan is attractive because it builds on structural considerations that are well motivated by the Mayan literature and accounts for the fact that agent focus is sensitive to certain properties of the internal argument. However, their analysis of agent focus struggles to handle cases of multiple extraction where agent focus is present, thus suggesting that agent focus and the EEC may not be so tightly related. I will therefore propose the beginnings of a reanalysis of agent focus (very much still in progress) that builds off of their structural assumptions but disentangles agent focus from the EEC.

My proposal assumes a theory of merge and agree along the lines of Longenbaugh (2019), with the additional assumption that all merge tucks in (Richards 2005). These assumptions tightly constrain the order in which multiple specifiers may appear, given a head with particular selectional and EPP requirements. The result is that the subject is always the outer specifier of vP, unless it is more featurally specified than the internal argument, in which case the order of specifiers becomes reversed. In exactly these cases of reversal, both v and T end up agreeing with the same DP, namely the internal argument. I argue that these cases co-occur with the presence of agent focus because the morphology rejects haplology.

LF Reading Group 11/20 - Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)

Speaker: Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)
Title: A half baked Hungarian bagel of scalar additive particles
Time: Wednesday, November 20th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk I look at the distribution of two Hungarian particles akár and is, which can separately and together give rise to scalar additive inferences. I am particularly concerned with the question what kind of NPI akár is.

MorPhun 11/20 - Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)
Title: Božič (2019): “Strictly local Impoverishment: An intervention effect”
Time: Wednesday, November 20th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: Languages that exhibit systematic patterns of morphological syncretism must involve a rule that derives such syncretism as a `deep’ property of the grammar, according to Harley (2008) and Nevins (2011). They show that, within Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993), this needs to be derived by Impoverishment (Bonet 1991, Noyer 1992, Halle & Marantz 1994), which as a context-sensitive operation deletes feature F in the context of F. Nevins (2011) discusses Ljubljana Slovenian, and posits Impoverishment of the DUAL-number contrasts in the context of feminine gender. However, Nevins’ argument is only based on the relevant morphological paradigms in isolation and only their nominative Case forms. This papers provides more empirical context, viz. entire morphological paradigms from Ljubljana Slovenian, and also the interaction of the relevant syncretism with agreement patterns. While the agreement patterns confirm the post-syntactic nature of Impoverishment, the full morphological paradigms show that Impoverishment is systematically blocked in certain Case forms: while Impoverishment applies in the context of flexional morphology, it fails to do so in the context of agglutinative morphology. This pattern of blocking can be captured as an intervention effect if Impoverishment is limited to considering a strictly local Xº as context, viz. the closest Xº available in the c-command domain.

LingLunch 11/21 - Damian Blasi (Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study)

Speaker: Damian Blasi (Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study)
Title: The case for next-gen models of language change
Time: Thursday, November 21st, 12:30pm - 1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Drawing robust generalizations from language change data has been, with a few exceptions, a challenging task riddled with concerns about generalizability. A number of models of language change (inspired on diverse dynamics and frameworks from evolutionary dynamics to Bayesian learning) have opened the door to a particularly elegant solution to this problem, which I refer to as the bias-to-structure model. This general framework consists in detecting instantaneous biases in humans when learning, using or transmitting language or language-like behavior, and using the direction of the bias jointly with the worldwide distribution of the relevant linguistic structure as a way of arguing for robust history-independent pathways for language change. This popular approach has been deployed for explaining patterns involving trade-offs between morphological and syntactic marking of grammatical functions, the linear order of NP modifiers and the emergence of compositionality and regular morphological paradigms, among others. In this presentation I will summarize a number of challenges associated with this approach, ranging from the empirical adequacy of these language change models, to the generalizability of linguistic biases in the laboratory and the reliability of cross-linguistic frequency as an indicator of species-wide preferences. I conclude that, in spite of the fact that these approaches have helped moving forward our discussions and have yielded a plethora of interesting observations, concerns about ecological validity merit a re-examination of alternative models of language change.

Experimentalist Meeting 11/22 - Masoud Jasbi (Harvard)

Speaker: Masoud Jasbi (Harvard)
Title: Nativism vs. Constructivism: The Case of Disjunction
Time: Friday, November 22th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Disjunction has been a major source of insight for theories of meaning and language acquisition. Both nativist and constructivist theories have claimed that children’s development of disjunction conforms to their predictions. What are nativist and constructivist accounts of disjunction acquisition? How often do children hear disjunction in their parents’ speech? in what contexts? What type of learning model can succeed in learning the interpretations of disjunction from child-directed speech? In this talk, I review previous theories of disjunction acquisition and present the results of a study on naturalistic recordings of parent-child interactions. The results suggest that children may learn to interpret a disjunction by partitioning their form-meaning mappings based on salient cues that accompany a disjunction in child-directed speech. In order to better understand the distribution of “or” in parents’ and children’s speech, I collected statistics of its use across speakers, ages, and contexts. The results show that children start producing “or” between 18-30 months and by 42 months their productions plateau at a constant rate. I also show that the most likely interpretation of “or” in child-directed speech is exclusive disjunction. However, exclusive interpretations correlated with a rise-fall intonation, and logically inconsistent propositions. In the absence of these two cues, “or” was commonly not exclusive. Our computational modeling suggests that a hypothetical learner can successfully interpret an English disjunction by mapping forms to meanings after partitioning the input using the set of salient cues in the context of the utterance. I discuss the implications of this work for current theories of word learning and language acquisition.

Colloquium 11/22 - Ezra Keshet (University of Michigan)

Speaker: Ezra Keshet (University of Michigan)
Title: Pronouns in 3-D
Time: Friday, November 22nd, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-155

Abstract: This talk aims to demystify dynamic logic by tracing the development of a new plural logic step-by-step through 3 dimensions of meaning:

  1. Storing and retrieving single discourse referents (akin to names), each suitable for later reference via pronouns:
    Arthur saw Beth. She waved to him.
  2. Repeating this process along multiple parallel paths to explain pronoun reference to an antecedent indefinite (cf. Groenendijk & Stokhof 1991):
    A man saw a woman. (= Arthur saw Beth or Arthur saw Dara or Charlie saw Beth or Charlie saw Dara …)
    She waved to him.
  3. Accessing values along multiple paths at once to derive plural pronoun values and other more exotic effects (cf. van den Berg 1996):
    Every student donated a book. (= Arthur donated W&P and Beth donated C&P and Charlie donated P&P …)
    They are on that shelf. [they = W&P, C&P, P&P, …]

I will argue, perhaps unsurprisingly, that my new logic is simpler than existing analyses, while handling the same data plus new empirical cases. For instance, the logic can handle a class of sentences where a plural pronoun in the nuclear scope of a quantifier seems to refer to the very value being constructed by that nuclear scope, as in (4). I will propose that such cases relate to a straightforward account of reflexives such as each other.

(4) Almost every North Atlantic country agreed in a treaty that an attack on one of them constitutes an attack on all of them. [them = only the treaty signatories]


The Language Acquisition Workshop in New England took place at MIT last Sunday. Two groups of MIT students presented their work:


Sherry Yong Chen & Filipe His Kobayashi: Comprehending and: Lessons from Children’s Understanding of English Conjunction

Fulang Chen & Dóra Kata Takács: Interaction of negation and universal quantification in the grammar of 4-year-olds

Spadine defends!

Congratulations go to Carolyn Spadine, who defended her dissertation entitled “The structure of attitude reports: representing context in grammar” last week. The empirical core of her dissertation is a set of fascinating findings concerning Tigrinya, a Semitic language spoken in Eritrea. Tigrinya speakers can introduce a clause with an inflected element “ʔil-” that can translate the English verb ‘say’ (or ‘believe’) and take a subject of its own — but turns out not to be a verb at all, but a perspectival complementizer (a kind of subordinating conjunction) with a very different syntax and semantics. Clauses introduced by “ʔil-” also show the phenomenon called “indexical shift”, by which the meaning of pronouns such as “I” and “you” is not fixed as in English, but varies with context. Most excitingly, the syntax of indexical shift in Tigrinya can yield agreement mismatches, with a first or second person subject cooccuring with a third person verb — but only under very particular circumstances. Carrie’s dissertation shows how the details of these phenomena in Tigrinya support a novel theory of how pronouns come to be first or second person in the first place. Congratulations, Carrie!!


Abramovitz @ Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky conference

Last weekend, fifth-year student Rafael Abramovitz was an invited plenary speaker at an international conference in Petropavlosk-Kamchatsky (the administrative center of Kamchatka) devoted to “The Preservation and Development of the Native Languages and Culture of Indigenous Minorities of the North, Inhabiting the Territory of the Kamchatka Region”. Rafael’s research focuses on the syntax, morphology, and phonology of Koryak, an endangered Chukotko-Kamchatkan language with about 1,700 speakers. The title of Rafael’s plenary talk (in Russian) was “Formal Linguistics and the Koryak Language” (Формальная лингвистика и корякский язык), and he also presented a second talk entitled “Problems of Koryak Language Instruction:” (Проблемы обучения корякскому языку).

While on Kamchatka, Rafael gave a fantastic interview to local media, in Russian, in which he describes how his interest in the language was awakened by the discovery of a Russian-language Koryak grammar in the library at the University of Chicago (where he received his undergraduate degree), and stresses the importance of studying and documenting languages like Koryak both for for the benefit of its speakers and for the benefit of the science of language. Watch his interview at either of the following links:


Rafael tells us that the structure behind him during this interview is a yayanga, the traditional dwelling of the reindeer-herding Koryaks.

LF Reading Group 11/13 - Itai Bassi (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Sloppy names and competition
Time: Wednesday, November 13th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Roeper (2006) discovered that proper names, as well as definites and indefinites, can have sloppy readings in focus and ellipsis contexts (thought to be impossible since at least Geach 1962). In a class reunion after 20 years, one can say:

(1) Only MARY still looks like Mary. (based on Roeper 2006)

…and mean that no one other than Mary looks now the way they did 20 years ago. I will offer an account of what allows non-pronominals to have sloppy interpretations in focus contexts, following an independent proposal of mine (Bassi 2019) on how focus structures are generated and interpreted (a revision of Kratzer 1991’s theory of focus). The theory also has to say what makes examples like (1) special, i.e. why sloppy readings of names are so restricted. A key observation is that it is impossible to convey exactly what (1) conveys in the context by means of a pronoun/reflexive instead of the second “Mary”: the “herself” version doesn’t allow a reading where the appearances of the subject and object are evaluated in different times (a fact about which I will speculate). I will thus propose a competition principle which implies that to express a sloppy interpretation, one is required to choose a pronominal element over its full DP counterpart, if the denotation is unaffected. I’ll show some predictions this proposal makes, in English and cross-linguistically, and try to corroborate them. I’ll discuss possible ways to derive the competition principle from something more general (Minimize Restrictors!), but that will turn out to be quite tricky.

MorPhun 11/13 - Anton Kukhto (MIT)

Speaker: Anton Kukhto (MIT)
Title: Bennett (2017): ‘Output optimization in the Irish plural system’
Time: Wednesday, November 13th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: In this paper I argue that a subpattern of Irish plural allomorphy should be analyzed as output optimizing in character. Specifically, I claim that stress-sensitive alternations between the plural suffixes -(e)anna and -(e)acha are conditioned by constraints on metrical well-formedness. This analysis connects with independent facts about the the prosodic prominence of [ax] sequences in Irish phonology. I further argue that an explanatory analysis of these patterns must make use of the notion of surface optimization. Alternative frameworks that eschew surface-oriented optimization mechanisms fail to account for synchronic and diachronic properties of the Irish plural system.

LingLunch 11/14 - Ted Gibson (MIT BCS)

Speaker: Ted Gibson (MIT BCS)
Title: Extraction from subjects: Differences in acceptability depend on the discourse function of the construction
Time: Thursday, November 14th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: (reporting work by: Anne Abeillé (CNRS; U Paris), Barbara Hemforth (CNRS; U Paris), Elodie Winckel (CNRS; U Paris; Humboldt University, Berlin, Edward Gibson)

In order to explain the unacceptability of certain long-distance dependencies — termed syntactic islands by Ross (1967) — syntacticians proposed constraints on long-distance dependencies which are universal and purely syntactic and thus not dependent on the meaning of the construction, e.g., wh-question vs. relative clause (Chomsky 1977, 2006 a.o.). If so, this has the consequence that such constraints may be impossible to learn, and hence were argued to be part of Chomsky’s Universal Grammar. In this paper, we investigate the “subject island” constraint across constructions in English and French. In particular, we compare extraction out of nominal subjects with extraction out of nominal objects, in relative clauses and wh-questions, using similar materials across constructions and languages. We find that unacceptable extractions from subjects involve (a) extraction from wh-questions (in both languages); or (b) preposition stranding (in English). But the extraction of a whole prepositional phrase from subjects in a relative clause, in both languages, is as good or better than a similar extraction from objects. Following Erteschik-Shir (1973) and Kuno (1987) among others, we propose a theory of extraction that takes into account the discourse status of the extracted element in the construction at hand: the extracted element is a focus (corresponding to new information) in wh-questions, but not in relative clauses. The focus status conflicts with the non-focal status of a subject (usually given or discourse old). We argue that most previous discussions of islands rely on the wrong premise that all extraction types behave alike. Once different extraction types are recognized as different constructions (Croft, 2001; Ginzburg & Sag, 2000; Goldberg, 2006; Sag, 2010), with their own discourse functions, one can explain different extraction patterns depending on the construction. We conclude that crosslinguistic variation has been exaggerated and cross-construction variation underestimated.

Experimentalist Meeting 11/15 - Fulang Chen (MIT) and Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)

Speaker: Fulang Chen (MIT) and Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)
Title: Interactin of negation and universal quantification in the grammar of 4-year-olds
Time: Friday, November 15th, 2pm - 3pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Aravind et al (2017) investigate children’s acquisition of universal quantification (every) and find that 4-year-olds stop saying “Yes” when they are asked whether (1) is true, given a picture where all but one cowboy is riding a horse (i.e. when there is an extra agent, a cowboy not riding a horse). However, 4-year-olds also start to make quantifier-spreading errors, where they say “No” to (1) when every cowboy is riding a horse but there is an extra object, a horse not being ridden by a cowboy.

(1) Every cowboy is riding a horse.

In this on-going experiment, we explore the interaction of negation and universal quantification in the grammar of 4-year-olds by asking them whether a sentence like (2) is true when they are given a picture where there is an extra agent (e.g. a picture with three giraffes each drinking a milkshake and a giraffe not drinking a milkshake) or an extra object (e.g. a picture with three giraffes each drinking a milkshake and a milkshake not being drunk by a giraffe).

(2) This is a picture where not every giraffe is drinking a milkshake.

The preliminary results replicate Aravind et al’s (2017) findings, suggesting that negation does not interact with universal quantification in a way that prevents 4-year-olds from making quantifier-spreading errors.

We propose that not and every are two independent, scope-taking elements in the grammar of 4-year-olds. To flesh out the syntactic and semantic properties of negation and universal quantification, we will address two theories of quantifier-spreading, Roeper et al (2005) and Denic and Chemla (2018), and discuss modifications need to be made to accommodate the preliminary results in our experiment.

Kobayashi and Rouillard @ LENLS 16

Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd year) and Vincent Rouillard (3rd year) gave a talk, “Tying Free Choice in Questions to Distributivity”, on Nov 10th at LENLS 16 in Japan.

Kobayashi and S. Chen @ BUCLD 44

Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd year) and Sherry Yong Chen (3rd year) presented a poster at BUCLD 44 this weekend: 

F. Kobayashi, S. Chen, L. Rosenstein, M. Hackl: Comprehending and: Development Path of English Conjunction in Child Language​


Syntax Square 11/5 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Mayan agent focus and the interaction between merge and agree
Time: Tuesday, November 5th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this week’s edition of Syntax Square, I will discuss Mayan Agent Focus from the perspective of Coon, Baier, Levin 2019. In their paper, they propose that examples like (1), where a subject has been wh-extracted, are ungrammatical due to the so called Ergative Extraction Constraint (EEC).

(1) *Maktxel max y-il ix ix? who pfv A3s-see clf woman intended: ‘Who saw the woman?’

They propose that the EEC is active in some Mayan languages due to the fact that the object moves higher than the subject, and is a more local target for agree by a higher probe. While typically A’-movement is insensitive to intervening nominals, they argue that Mayan A’-probes are relativized to seek D features as well as wh/focus features (a mixed A/A’ probe). The result is that whenever a subject is marked with wh/focus features, the relevant probe searching for those features first agrees with the internal argument before finding the subject, and thus becomes gluttonous, which leads to a crash. The only way to pronounce (1) is to insert the agent focus morpheme in place of agreement with the moved subject.

(2) Maktxel max-ach il-on-i? who pfv-b2s see-AF-itv ‘Who saw you?’

On their approach, the agent focus morpheme licenses extraction of an ergative subject by blocking movement of the internal argument to a higher position, thus preventing the object from ever c-commanding the subject. In other words, the EEC is active in some Mayan languages, and agent focus appears in these languages only to prevent violations of the EEC.

This locality approach to the EEC and agent focus in Mayan is attractive because it builds on structural considerations that are well motivated by the Mayan literature and accounts for the fact that agent focus is sensitive to certain properties of the internal argument. However, their analysis of agent focus struggles to handle cases of multiple extraction where agent focus is present, thus suggesting that agent focus and the EEC may not be so tightly related. I will therefore propose the beginnings of a reanalysis of agent focus (very much still in progress) that builds off of their structural assumptions but disentangles agent focus from the EEC.

My proposal assumes a theory of merge and agree along the lines of Longenbaugh (2019), with the additional assumption that all merge tucks in (Richards 2005). These assumptions tightly constrain the order in which multiple specifiers may appear, given a head with particular selectional and EPP requirements. The result is that the subject is always the outer specifier of vP, unless it is more featurally specified than the internal argument, in which case the order of specifiers becomes reversed. In exactly these cases of reversal, both v and T end up agreeing with the same DP, namely the internal argument. I argue that these cases co-occur with the presence of agent focus because the morphology rejects haplology.

LF Reading Group 11/6 - Enrico Flor (MIT) and Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Enrico Flor (MIT) and Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Jacobson (2016): The short answer
Time: Wednesday, November 6th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: We’ll be presenting Jacobson’s (2016) “The short answer: implications for direct compositionality (and vice versa)”. The paper abstract (as well as the paper itself) can be found in the following link: https://muse.jhu.edu/article/621187/summary.

LingLunch 11/7 - Patrick Elliott (MIT) and Uli Sauerland (Harvard/ZAS)

Speaker: Patrick Elliott (MIT) and Uli Sauerland (Harvard/ZAS)
Title: Nuclear intervention: towards a unified account of weak islands and Beck-effects
Time: Thursday, November 7th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Cross-linguistically, negation gives rise to intervention effects with scope-marking and wh-in-situ. Prominent analyses attempt to explain this phenomenon in terms of alternative/inquisitive semantics (see, e.g., Beck 2006, Kotek 2017). This approach works well for intervenors which are clearly focus-sensitive, such as “only”, but for negation, it is stipulative (see, e.g., Mayr 2014 for critical discussion). In this talk we develop an alternative account which aims to unify intervention by negation with weak island effects. The analysis relies on the following assumptions: (i) scope-marking and wh-in-situ compose via the cyclic scope mechanisms proposed by, e.g., Dayal (1996) and Charlow (2017), (ii) Dayal’s Maximal Informativity presupposition (MaxInf) is checked locally at the question nucleus – crucially, it is blind to the wh-restrictor.

Colloquium 11/8 - Giorgio Magri (CNRS and University of Paris 8)

Speaker: Giorgio Magri (CNRS and University of Paris 8)
Title: What is the proper model of probabilistic phonology?​
Time: Friday, November 8th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-155

Abstract: Phonology has traditionally focused on categorical alternations. More recently, phonology has extended its empirical coverage to quantitative data such as gradient judgements and phonologically conditioned variation. This empirical extension requires a corresponding theoretical extension from categorical to probabilistic models of phonology. Perhaps the main open question in phonological theory in the next decade is how to properly characterize the probabilistic model underlying natural language phonology. This talk makes three contributions towards addressing this question. Part I provides a derivation of MaxEnt phonology from first principles. Part II (based on joint work with Arto Anttila) argues that MaxEnt nonetheless makes no sense as a model of probabilistic phonology because it severely over-generates. If even the best is not good enough, we better try something different. Part III starts to explore the alternative strategy of defining probabilistic phonological grammars by sampling from an underlying typology of categorical grammars. This class of models (which includes stochastic HG and OT) is shown to provide tight linguistic predictions and to have learnability properties comparable to those of MaxEnt. The talk is a commercial for a forthcoming textbook on categorical and probabilistic constraint-based phonology.​

NELS 50 a success!

The 50th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 50) was held at MIT. Here are some pictures:
People coming in for Kiparsky’s keynote (p.c. Kai von Fintel)
Paul Kiparsky giving a special plenary reflecting on the last 50 years in linguistics (p.c. David Pesetsky)
Thanks to all presenters and attendees, the main organizers, Neil Banerjee (4th year), Christopher Baron (4th year) and Dóra Kata Takács (3rd year), among other organizers, and the people in the main office, in particular, Mary Grenham and Aggie Fernandes, for making NELS 50 such a success!

WAFL 16 in Mongolia!

Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics (WAFL) 16 will be hosted by the National University of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, September 24, 25, 26, 2020. Our colleague Shigeru Miyagawa is one of the main organizers.

Abstracts are invited for 20-minute talks (plus 10-minute discussions) and for posters on topics dealing with formal aspects of any area of theoretical Altaic linguistics, including phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, or pragmatics. The term ‘Altaic’ is understood to include Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages, as well as Korean, Japanese, Ryukyuan, and Ainu.

Deadline for abstracts: April 2, 2020

Swenson book published!

Congratulations to our alum Amanda Swenson (PhD 2017) on the publication of her book “Malayalam Verbs: Functional Structure and Morphosemantics” by Mouton De Gruyter!

MorPhun 10/30 - Patrick Niedzielski (MIT)

Speaker: Patrick Niedzielski (MIT)
Title: Aksenova, Graf & Moradi (2016): Morphotactics as tier-based strictly local dependencies
Time: Wednesday, October 30th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: It is commonly accepted that morphological dependencies are finite-state in nature. Aksenova, Graf & Moradi (2016) argue that the upper bound on morphological expressivity is much lower. Drawing on technical results from computational phonology, they show that a variety of morphotactic phenomena are tier-based strictly local and do not fall into weaker subclasses such as the strictly local or strictly piecewise languages. Since the tier-based strictly local languages are learnable in the limit from positive texts, this marks a first important step towards general machine learning algorithms for morphology. Furthermore, the limitation to tier-based strictly local languages explains typological gaps that are puzzling from a purely linguistic perspective.

Phonology Circle 10/21 - Anton Kukhto (MIT)

Speaker: Anton Kukhto (MIT)
Title: Discussion of Smolensky and Goldrick (2016): “Gradient Symbolic Representations in Grammar: The case of French Liaison”
Time: Monday, October 21st, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: “Longstanding theoretical debates about whether structure A or structure B is the correct analysis of phenomenon X are commonplace. For example, at the juncture of two words W1 and W2, French liaison consonants alternate with zero. Theories of French phonology have long debated whether the consonant is associated with W1 or W2. In this work, we argue for an alternative approach. Phenomena X is not accounted for by either A or B, but rather a conjunctive blend of structures A and B. This notion of ‘blend of structures’ is formalized using Gradient Symbolic Representations, symbol structures in which a particular position is generally occupied by a sum of gradient symbols, each symbol having a partial degree of presence: its activity. The grammatical consequences of a Gradient Symbolic Representation are the sum of the consequences of all the symbols blended to form it; the consequences of a symbol – e.g., the costs of constraint violations – are proportional to its activity. The proposed grammatical computation consists of optimization with respect to a numerical weighting of familiar phonological constraints from Optimality Theory and Harmonic Grammar, straightforwardly extended to evaluate Gradient Symbolic Representations. We apply this general framework to French liaison consonants, blending together elements of previous proposals to give a single analysis that covers a wide range of data not previously explicable within a single theory.”


The 50th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 50) will be hosted at MIT this week, from October 25–27.

Several of our current students will give talks or present posters:

And here are some of the alumni who will also present their work:

To celebrate the golden jubilee of NELS, alum Paul Kiparsky (PhD 1965) will give a special plenary address reflecting on the last 50 years in linguistics.

Cora Lesure @ CILLA

Cora Lesure, 4th year (MIT), presented Restricciones de coocurrencia entre las consonantes glotalizadas en chuj at the 9th Conference on Indigenous Languages of Latin America. CILLA IX took place at the University of Texas at Austin on October 10-12th, 2019. You can view the CILLA IX program here.

Syntax Square 10/8 - Itai Bassi and Justin Colley (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi and Justin Colley (MIT).
Title: “P-word integrity”: a new condition on ellipsis
Time: Tuesday, October 8th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: We observe a curious restriction on the distribution of pronouns in ellipsis contexts, which can be illustrated with the following examples:

1) a.  I called Sheryl on Monday, and called her on Tuesday again.

    b.*I called Sheryl on Monday, and her on Tuesday again.

    c.  I called Sheryl₁ on Monday, and HER₂/HIM/Mary on Tuesday

The generalization that emerges is that if a head is gapped, its complement (if overt) must be contrastively focused. But we will show that the story is more complicated than that. We will propose that the facts follow from a phonological constraint on ellipsis: don’t elide sub-parts of a string that forms a phonological word. We will discuss the consequences of such a principle for the theory of ellipsis.

This is work in progress and we would appreciate any feedback!

MorPhun 10/9 - Nabila Louriz (Hassan II, Casablanca) and Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Speaker: Nabila Louriz (Hassan II, Casablanca) and Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: Verb formation in French loanwords in Moroccan Arabic
Time: Wednesday, October 9th, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: This presentation deals with verb formation of borrowings from French into Moroccan Arabic. The purpose is to examine the way the morphology of a Semitic language operates on loanwords from a Romance language. Two categories of borrowed verbs are distinguished in the corpus under investigation. First, there are verbs that are directly borrowed from French verbs (e.g. Fr. caler> MA [kala] “to stall”). The second category includes denominal verbs (e.g. Fr. Joint> MA [ʒwan] “joint”> [ʒwana] “to join”, Fr. cravatte> MA [gRafaTa] “tie”> [gəRfəT] “to wear a tie”). The first and second examples seem to operate on the base form of the French verbs and the borrowed noun, respectively. On the other hand, the third example appears to operate on the consonantal root extracted from the borrowed noun. This paper will explain this asymmetry and attempts a unified account highlighting the interface of morphology and phonology in the formation of loan verbs.

LingLunch 10/10 - Ethan Wilcox (Harvard)

Speaker: Ethan Wilcox (Harvard)
Title: Neural Network Models and the Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus: The Case of Filler—Gap Dependencies
Time: Thursday, October 10th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Recurrent Neural Networks (RNNs) are one type of neural model that has been able to achieve state-of-the-art scores on a variety of natural language tasks, including translation and language modeling (which is used in, for example, text prediction). In this talk I will assess how these models might way in to linguistic debates about the types of biases required to learn syntactic structures. By treating these models like subjects in a psycholinguistics experiment, I will demonstrate that they are able to learn the filler—gap dependency, and are even sensitive to the hierarchical constraints implicated in the dependency. Next, I turn to “island effects”, or structural configurations that block the filler—gap dependency, which have historically played a role in the Argument from the Poverty of the Stimulus. I demonstrate that RNNs are able to learn some of the “island” constraints and even recover some of their pre-island gap expectation. These experiments demonstrate that linear statistical models are able to learn some fine-grained syntactic rules, however their behavior remains un-humanlike in many cases.

Experimentalist Meeting 10/11 - Daniel Asherov (MIT)

Speaker: Daniel Asherov (joint work with Ezer Rasin & Roni Katzir)
Location: 32-D461
Time: Friday, October 11, 2:00-3:00pm
Title: Learning alternations from allophonic distribution

When learning a phonology of a language, the learner faces the task of discovering the language’s phonological alternations: the ways in which the shape of morphemes changes in a predictable way, usually to accommodate phonotactic requirements of the language. 

For example, in the grammar of Yamato Japanese s alternates with ʃ: the (bound) morpheme /hanas/ surfaces with ʃ before i[hanaʃ-imasu ‘talk non-past-polite’] and s otherwise [hanas-‘talk non-past’]. This alternation serves to repair the sequence si, which is prohibited in Japanese.

Computational learners of phonology make conflicting predictions with respect to the type of evidence required for positing an alternation such as the s~ʃ alternation in Japanese. 

One group of learners does not take economy into consideration (e.g. RIP/CD, Tesar & Smolensky 2000). Given a set of surface forms with the Yamato Japanese pattern, they are expected to correctly detect the prohibition on si. However, they can only learn the correct repair (s → ʃ /_i) if they are presented with direct evidence for the alternation in form of non-identical occurrences of the same morpheme (e.g. hanas-u + hanaʃ-imasu), with the information that these forms belong to the same paradigm.

Another group of learners is one where learners balance restrictiveness and economy (e.g. MDL, Rasin & Katzir 2016). Such a learner will only posit the prohibition *si when it would make the grammar and the description of the data more compact. In the case of a language like Yamato Japanese, the grammar can be made more compact by eliminating the sound ʃ from underlying representations and deriving it in the phonology. Such a learner predicts that it should be possible in principle to infer both the phonotactic prohibition (*si) and the correct repair (s → ʃ /_i) based on only Japanese-like surface forms, with no direct evidence for the alternation.

I will present an artificial language study with adult human learners which aims to test the applicability of these computational learners to human learning in a lab setting. I will start by presenting the design and results of a pilot study testing the conflicting predictions of the computational learners. We will then discuss a new design for a follow-up experiment.


Rasin, E., & Katzir, R. (2016). On Evaluation Metrics in Optimality Theory. Linguistic Inquiry47(2), 235–282.

Tesar, B., & Smolensky, P. (2000). Learnability in optimality theory. MIT Press.

MIT Linguists Visit Passamaquoddy Communities

A group of MIT linguists spent the last two weekends in the Passamaquoddy communities of Motahkomikuk and Sipayik (Indian Township and Pleasant Point), meeting with elders and learning about the Passamaquoddy language.  We’re very grateful to Newell Lewey (MITILI alum), Roger Paul (current MITILI student) and their families for introducing us to amazing people and places, and to the elders for giving us so much of their valuable time.  We’re looking forward to heading back north!  

The participants in the trips were Tanya Bondarenko (who took the attached photos), Colin Davis, Yadav Gowda, Peter Grishin, Tracy Kelley, Anton Kukhto, Cora Lesure, Elise Newman, Roger Paul, Norvin Richards, Ruoan Wang, and Stanislao Zompi.

Phonology Circle 9/30 - Nabila Louriz (Hassan-II, Casablanca)​ & Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Speaker: Nabila Louriz (Hassan-II, Casablanca)​ & Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Title: From input to output in the Moroccan Arabic adaptation of French loanwords​

Time: Monday, September 30th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Location: 32-D831

Abstract: In this presentation we discuss three adaptation strategies that are evident in our corpus of c. 1,800 French loans to Moroccan Arabic. First, as documented in Kenstowicz & Louriz (2009) based in part on Heath (1989), French words with [ɛ,ɔ,ɑ] are often adapted into MA through the insertion of pharyngealization on an adjacent consonant: style > [stil], coude > [kud], but > [bit] vs. tête > [TeT], code > [koD], stage > [STɑʒ]. We explore some of the factors that underlie the variable nature of this phenomenon. Second, French /y/ varies between MA [i] or [u] as a function of its neighboring vowel: e.g. bureau ‘desk’ /byro/ > [biru] vs. cellule ‘cell’ /selyl/ > [silun]. Third, French loans beginning with a vowel sometimes drop that vowel and at other times insert an onset consonant: autobus ‘bus’ > [Tobis] vs. hors d’oeuvre > [LoRDof]. ​

Syntax Square 10/1 - Tanya Bondarenko

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko

Title: Coon & Keine (2019), “Feature Gluttony”

Time: Tuesday October 1st, 2019, 1pm - 2pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Coon & Keine (2019) develop a new approach to a family of hierarchy effect–inducing configurations, with a focus on Person Case Constraint (PCC) effects, dative-nominative configurations, and copula constructions. The main line of approach in the recent literature is to attribute these hierarchy effects to failures of phi-Agree or, more specifically, failures of nominal licensing or case checking. Coon & Keine (2019) propose instead that the problem in these configurations is unrelated to nominal licensing, but is instead the result of a probe participating in more than one Agree dependency. Building on Béjar & Rezac (2009), according to which an articulated probe continues probing if at least some features are left unvalued after an Agree relation, Coon & Keine propose that what characterizes hierarchy configurations is that a probe agrees with multiple DPs, a configuration that they refer to as feature gluttony. Feature gluttony does not in and of itself lead to ungrammaticality, but rather can create conflicting requirements for subsequent operations. In the case of clitic configurations, a probe which agrees with more than one DP creates an intervention problem for clitic-doubling. In violations involving morphological agreement, gluttony in features may result in a configuration with no available morphological output. Important empirical motivation for this account includes (i) the different rescue strategies available, and (ii) the fact that hierarchy effects commonly disappear in the absence of an agreeing probe, as predicted under an account which attributes the problem to the probe.

MorPhun 10/2 - Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Colin Davis

Title: Case and containment in Balkar

Time: Wednesday 10/2 5pm - 6:30pm

Location: 32-D831

Abstract: In this presentation I’ll describe some properties of case marking in Balkar (Turkic) based on some recent fieldwork. In particular, my goal is to relate some interesting properties of the case morphology to the claim that cases exist in a containment relationship (Caha 2009, Smith et al 2018, a.o.). Most relevant is the concept that oblique cases contain accusative features as a sub-part, which Balkar may support, if certain complications can be understood.

LF Reading Group 10/2 - Filipe Kobayashi (MIT)

Speaker: Filipe Kobayashi (MIT)

Title: Scattered Reciprocals

Time: Wednesday, October 2nd, 1pm - 2pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk, I analyze an understudied reciprocal construction which I call Scattered Reciprocals (SRs). SRs are built from two syntactically distinct phrases, one in an adverbial position and another in an argumental position, as illustrated by the Brazilian Portuguese example in (1):

Os alunos vão um falar com a orientadora d-o outro.
the students will one speak with the supervisor of-the other
'The students will speak with each other's supervisor.'

This talk is concerned with the question of how the pieces of SRs compose to give rise to reciprocity. After discussing the main semantic and syntactic properties of SRs, I present evidence that, despite initial appearances, these constructions must involve a single quantifier over pairs, in the spirit of Dalrymple et al (1998). I then propose a compositional analysis of these constructions that is able to account for the properties shared across reciprocal constructions as well as those that are particular to SRs.

Mini-course 10/3 - Matthew Gordon (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Speaker: Matthew Gordon (UCSB)

Title: Prosodic domains and prominence in languages with long morphological words

Time: Thursday, October 3, 12:30pm-2:00 and 5:00pm-6:30

Location: 32-D461

Metrical stress theory has advanced considerably through the study of languages with highly agglutinative and polysynthetic morphological profiles since they contain the long words necessary to maximally differentiate stress systems. Properties for which languages with exceptionally long morphological words have provided crucial insight include, among others, iambic-trochaic asymmetries, ternary foot structure, the taxonomy of prominence, and the acquisition and computational modeling of metrical systems. Morphological complexity, however, also brings challenges to the analysis of prosody since long morphological words increase the likelihood of ambiguities in the source of prominence as a word- or phrase-level property and the possibility for otherwise rare or unattested mappings between prosodic and morphological domains, including single morphological words comprised of multiple prosodic words or even prosodic phrases.

This mini-course will examine prosodic domain and their relationship to morphological constituents in languages with the requisite morphological properties that give rise to a high density of long words. We will explore what is known about prosody in highly agglutinative and polysynthetic languages with the goals of discovering for this class of languages (at least preliminary) typological generalizations about prosodic domains and contextualizing these results within a broader prosodic theor. Material will be largely drawn from my work on a number of morphologically complex languages supplemented with published sources on other languages with similar morphological profiles.

Suggested Readings:
Baker, Brett. 2014. Word structure in Australian languages. In Koch, Harold and Rachel Nordlinger (eds.), *The languages and linguistics of Australia*, pp. 139-213. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Beck, David and David Bennett. 2007. Extending the prosodic hierarchy: Evidence from Lushootseed narrative. *Northwest Journal of Linguistics* 1, 1–34.
Bickel, B., and Zuñiga, F. (2017). The ‘word’ in polysynthetic languages: phonological and syntactic challenges. In M. Fortascue, M. Mithun, & N.  Evans (eds.), *The Oxford handbook of polysynthesis*, 158-186. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gordon, Matthew. 2005. An autosegmental/metrical model of Chickasaw intonation. In Sun-Ah Jun (ed.), *Prosodic typology: The phonology of intonation and phrasing*, pp. 301-30. New York: Oxford University Press.
Lovick, Olga, and Siri Tuttle. 2012.  The Prosody of Dena’ina narrative discourse. *International Journal of American Linguistics* 78, 293–334.
Stanton, Juliet. 2016. Learnability shapes typology: the case of themidpoint pathology. *Language* 92, 753-791.

Experimentalist Meeting 10/4 - Adele Mortier

Speaker: Adele Mortier (MIT)

Time: Friday October 4, 2pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Numerical approximation expressions are expressions of the form “around n”, “approximately n”, where n is a number. They can include an explicit unit, and the n can be decimal or a round number.

(1) Around 15 people came to the party

(2) Sue ran around 6 miles

(3) The film’s average rating is around 3.5

Numerical approximation is challenging as it is used very commonly in everyday conversations, without apparent problems. Yet these expressions seem to carry inherent vagueness: is (1) felicitous if 15 people came? What about 21 people? 22? Is 20 more probable than 22? This might suggest that people tend to enrich their interpretation using the context as well as their knowledge of the world to get more precise inferences. We make the assumption that such inferences rely on classical pragmatic processes, very much alike scalar implicatures (granularity implicatures, [Cummins et al., 2012]). We also argue that these inferences can be modeled, if not explained, by probabilistic Bayesian reasoning (some variants of the RSA, [Kennedy, 2007, Lassiter and Goodman, 2013]). To back up this theory, we present experimental data about the probabilistic inferences drawn by people facing numerical approximation expressions (round numbers, no unit). The most basic results corroborate prevalent intuitions about numerical approximation (symmetry of the distribution, granularity effects). More refined (and disputable) results seem to support the hypothesis that a vague expression like “around” differs from a more exact (but underspecified) expression like “between”, as they do not give rise to the same kind of subjective probability distribution (posterior). However, another experiment would be needed to better control for unwanted order effects between items, because they are likely to explain a huge part of the observed variability.Your feedback is of course very welcome!

MIT-Haiti Initiative Launches “Platfòm MIT-Ayiti pou yon lekòl tèt an wo”

The MIT-Haiti Initiative  under the leadership of Prof. Michel DeGraff (Linguistics) & Prof. Haynes Miller (MIT Mathematics), has just launched a “Platfòm MIT-Ayiti pou yon lekòl tèt an wo” at http://MIT-Ayiti.NET .   This online platform will function as a digital library / repository for the crowdsourcing, exchange and sharing of teaching materials in Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) in all disciplines at all grade levels. All materials on the platform will be openly accessible via a Creative Commons license.  This platform is in response to Haitian educators’ demands for more materials in Kreyòl for active learning. This platform will also help build communities of practice among Haitian teachers who believe in the use of Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) as an indispensable tool for quality education for all in Haiti.  We’re hoping that this platform will become a model for other communities that have been disenfranchised as their native languages are excluded from education — due to all-too-familiar colonial reasons.

Colloquium 10/4 - Matthew Gordon (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Speaker: Matthew Gordon (University of California, Santa Barbara)

Title: (C)overt metrical structure and prominence: typology and case studies

Time: Friday, October 4th, 3:30pm - 5pm

Location: 32-155

Abstract: Although stress is typically assumed to be the definitive diagnostic for metrical structure, there are languages in which the primary evidence for feet is based on phenomena other than stress, including syncope, tone placement, lenition or fortition. In many of these languages, it is unclear whether stress patterns are consistent with the foot structure evidenced by these other processes; in others, it is likely that they conflict. These cases of metrical incoherence and uncertain coherence raise issues for representations of metrical structure and the role of covert structure in phonological theory. This talk will explore sources of evidence for iterative metrical structure with a focus on a series of phonetic and phonological case studies from languages in which the most salient evidence for feet is gleaned not from stress but from either syncope or tone. Phonetic data from these languages suggests convergence between stress and the iterative metrical structure diagnosed by other non-stress patterns. Parallel consideration of the different metrically-driven phenomena also allows for discerning between various metrical parses consistent with a single property viewed in isolation.

Phonology Circle 9/23 - Edward Flemming (MIT)

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)

Title: A Generative Phonetic Analysis of the timing of L- Phrase Accents in English

Time: Monday, September 23rd, 5pm - 6:30pm

Location: 32-D831

Abstract: The narrow goal of this research is to develop an analysis of the timing of the English low phrase accent (L-) in H*L-L% and H*L-H% melodies. This is challenging because L- is generally realized as an ‘elbow’ in the F0 trajectory – i.e. a point of inflection rather than a local maximum or minimum – and it is notoriously difficult to locate F0 elbows precisely. I argue that the proper approach to locating tonal targets involves an ‘analysis-by-synthesis’ approach: Given an explicit model of the mapping from tonal targets to F0 trajectories, we can infer the location of targets by fitting that model to observed F0 contours. So a broader goal is the development of a model of tone production. The proposed model analyzes F0 trajectories as the response of a dynamical system to a control signal that consists of a sequence of step functions connected by linear ramps. Tone realization then involves selecting the control signal that yields the F0 trajectory that best satisfies constraints on the realization of tone targets.

The analysis-by-synthesis method is used to test two extant hypotheses concerning the timing of L- elbows: (a) L- occurs at a fixed interval after H*, (b) L- is aligned to the end of the nuclear-accented word. The results do not support either hypothesis: L- is not aligned to the word boundary, but there is a significant tendency for L- to occur earlier when the interval between H* and the word boundary is shorter. This pattern of realization is analyzed as a compromise between two constraints, one enforcing a target duration for the fall from H* to L-, and a second, weaker constraint requiring the fall to be completed before the end of the word.

LF Reading Group 9/25 - Keny Chatain (MIT)

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)

Title: What cumulative asymmetries tell us about weak readings and vice-versa

Time: Wednesday, September 25th, 1pm - 2pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: There is an asymmetry between subject and object every: object every gives rise to cumulative readings ; subject every doesn’t (Kratzer, 2000).

(1) 3 detectives, 27 suspects

  1.  The three detectives interrogated every suspect (ok, 9 suspects each)
  2.  Every detective interrogated the 27 suspects (*9 suspects each)

Another asymmetry comes from weak cumulative readings. There has been hints in the literature (Buccola and Spector, 2016; Haslinger and Schmitt, 2019) that the cumulative truth-conditions of (2), given in (2a), are sometimes as weak as (2b).

(2) The 10 children inflated the 25 balloons

  1. Every balloon was inflated by a child and every child inflated a balloon
  2. Every balloon was inflated by a child period

The weak truth-conditions of (2b) are asymmetric ; they impose exhaustive participation of the theme in the event, but have no such requirement on the agent.

In this talk, I will argue that the two asymmetries have a common origin. I will bring two facts in support of the claim: 1) expanding the dataset to more arguments and positions, I will show that the two asymmetries pattern the same and that (more or less,) the positions that require exhaustive participation are the positions from which a cumulative reading of every is possible, 2) data from NPI licensing will show that the strong reading of (1) must obtain via strengthening of a weak reading like (2b) (following Ivlieva (2013)). I will present an account of these facts making minimal theoretical commitments, with the following properties:

  • cumulativity is uniformly weak (in the sense of 2b) and asymmetric ; the order of integration of thematic roles into the event predicate determines the asymmetry.
  • the meaning of every is standard, does not make reference to events, but nonetheless gives rise to cumulative readings (rejoining Champollion (2010)).
  • ** operators are not needed to derive cumulative readings of non-lexical two-place predicates.

At the end of the talk, we will be short of an explanation of how (2b) strengthens to (2a). Suggestions from the audience will be met with the earnest-est gratitude.

Experimentalist Meeting 9/27 - Keny Chatain (MIT)

Speaker: Keny Chatain
Title: Priming effects for the study of pronouns
Time: Friday, September 27th, 2-3 pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract:Despite much theoretical work on them, not much is known about the processing of “exotic” anaphoric dependencies: paycheck, donkey, subordinated pronouns and the rest (but see ). Theoretical accounts of these dependencies routinely make use of some form of hidden structure and posit that pronouns are the locus of multiple context-dependencies. It would be neat if such structure and dependency could independently be diagnosed through processing means. This is the overarching goal of the project. I’ll present our more modest steps: we tried to design a low-tech generalizable paradigm to find reactivation of antecedent nouns. I’ll present the results of our pilot and brainstorm next steps with the audience.

NELS 50 @ MIT- Registration

If you are planning to attend NELS 50, please register at the following URL no later than October 1:https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nels50-tickets-69195253867

Onsite registration will be also available, but we cannot guarantee a place at the NELS dinner for those who did not pre-register by the deadline (and we may not be able to accommodate your dietary restrictions).

Background information:

The 50th Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 50) will be hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from October 25th - 27th, 2019.

Invited Speakers

To celebrate the golden jubilee of NELS, Paul Kiparsky will give a special plenary address reflecting on the last 50 years in linguistics.

Stay tuned for more information!

Syntax Square 9/17 - Stanislao Zompì

Speaker: Stanislao Zompì

Title: On some interactions between verb movement and clitic ordering

Time: Tuesday, September 17th, 1pm - 2pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Clitic ordering is notoriously subject to intricate cross-linguistic variation. Among other patterns, we know there are languages (call them “type 1”) that generally allow only DAT<ACC, and others (“type 2”) that generally allow only ACC<DAT. In this work-in-progress report, I focus on a phenomenon that cuts across this split: both types include languages that, while permitting only one order preverbally, turn out to allow both ACC<DAT and DAT<ACC postverbally. We can make sense of this if these languages choose one clitic order as their only basic order (only DAT over ACC in type 1, only ACC over DAT in type 2) but accord verb movement the option of either pied-piping or not pied-piping the lower clitic along the way. I discuss several possible implementations of this idea, and explore potential applications of it to some interactions between verb placement and PCC-like restrictions.

Experimentalist meeting - 9/20 Martin Hackl (MIT)

Speaker: Martin Hackl

Title: A Null-Theory of Haddock’s Puzzle and its Implications for the Role of Presupposition in Reference Resolution

Time: 2:00-3:00pm

Location: 32-D461


Haddock’s Puzzle presents a well-known challenge to the canonical treatment of definite descriptions according to which their use requires contextual uniqueness of the NP-restrictor of the. More specifically, as pointed out in Haddock 1987, in a situation with two hats and two rabbits, one rabbit in one of the hats while the other rabbit is not inside a hat, the definite description in (1), in which a definite DP the hat is nested inside a larger definite description is felicitous (Haddock 1987). Importantly, the utterance in (2) used as a description of the very same scene is not.

(1) The rabbit in the hat is excited. 
(2) #The excited rabbit is in the hat.

In this talk, I present a “null-theory” of Haddock’s puzzle according to which Haddock-definites are situational uniqueness definites (Schwarz 2009) in order to shed light on the role of presupposition in reference resolution. The central claim motivated by this null-theory is the constraint in (3).

(3) Constraint on Reference Resolution:     
Presupposed content of an utterance can be used for identifying the extension of referring expressions in the utterance, at-issue content cannot.

To assess and evaluate different ways of explicating (3) we are working on experimental paradigms that hopefully allow us to track often rather subtle distinctions in a systematic way. I will discuss where we are with that part of the project and look forward to comments on suggestions on how to improve our approach. 

LingLunch 9/19 - Hadas Kotek (Apple)

Speaker: Hadas Kotek (Apple)

Title: Gender representation in linguistic example sentences

Time: Thursday, September 19th, 12:30pm - 1:50 pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: This talk surveys two ongoing projects concerned with the representation of women in example sentences in linguistics. (Collaborations with Katharina Pabst, Paola Cépeda, Kristen Syrett, Rikker Dockum, Sarah Babinski, Christopher Geissler.). The first project looks at example sentences in syntax textbooks. Following the adoption of the LSA’s Guidelines for Inclusive Language and the 20th anniversary of Macaulay & Brice (1997: M&B)’s survey of examples in 11 syntax textbooks, we present an analysis of 6 recent textbooks. We sampled 200 examples from each textbook, and found that the gender skew and stereotypes reported in M&B are still present: Among other findings, men are twice as likely to occur as subjects and receive proper names, and examples often perpetuate gender stereotypes. The second project examines example sentences published in all papers that have appeared in Language, Linguistic Inquiry, and Natural Language & Linguistic Theory over the past 20 years. We find many similarities to prior work, but are able to provide much greater detail. Among our findings: a striking imbalance of male to female arguments; women are less likely to be subjects and have names or referring pronouns; they are more likely to be recipients or kin (mother, sister, etc). We discuss many other stereotypes in our talk, as well as trends over time and across journals, and a brief comparison to corpus-based examples published over the past 20 years in Language in Society. I conclude the talk by discussing the importance of this project for awareness-raising among individual researchers and (especially) instructors, as well as how we can improve and do better.


The 50th Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 50) will be hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from October 25th - 27th, 2019.

Invited Speakers

To celebrate the golden jubilee of NELS, Paul Kiparsky will give a special plenary address reflecting on the last 50 years in linguistics.

We are pleased to announce that the program for this year’s NELS is now available:


Phonology Circle 9/9 - Erin Olson (MIT)

Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)

Title: Loanwords and the Perceptual Map: A perspective from MaxEnt learning

Date/Time: Monday, 9/9 5:00-6:30pm

Location: 32-D8​31

The goal of phonological learning algorithms has largely been to arrive at a constraint ranking or weighting which is consistent with the data on which it is trained (Tesar & Smolensky, 2000, a.o.). However, phonological theorists have long understood that there should be additional conditions on such a ranking or weighting, whereby some constraints should always be ranked/weighted higher than others — e.g., the P(erceptual) Map of Steriade (2001). Two models which are successful in achieving both goals are those of Wilson (2006) and White (2013), who construct models which are capable of incorporating the PMap as an additional condition (bias) on learning. Both models are successful in capturing the behaviour of adult speakers when they are explicitly asked to learn a phonological process from data, and are successful in replicating results expected from the PMap. However, each model makes a different prediction when attempting to model the knowledge speakers have before being presented with data about a novel process. A real-world example of this situation comes from loanword phonology, where speakers are tasked with repairing phonologically marked structures without ever having encountered such structures — or the appropriate repair to such structures — in their native language. The model proposed by Wilson (2006) predicts that such speakers should behave as if they have no PMap-like bias, while that of White (2013) predicts that such a bias is indeed present.
In this talk, I will present the results of a variety of experiments which aim to test these hypotheses by modelling the phonological knowledge of a speaker of Cantonese, who must infer how to properly repair illicit phonological structures from English loanwords without ever having encountered the relevant structure in their native vocabulary. In Experiment 1, it will be established that, for a reasonable set of constraints, learning from only native language data is insufficient for arriving at a weighting that is also consistent with the attested loanword repairs of that language. Thus, a substantive, PMap-like bias will be imposed over the chosen constraint set in order to attempt to improve the model. Experiment 2 will show that encoding the bias in the manner proposed by Wilson (2006) is also insufficient for arriving at a weighting that predicts the loanword data. Experiment 3, in contrast, will show that encoding the bias in the manner proposed by White (2013) is successful, thus confirming the hypotheses outlined above.

MorPhun 9/11 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron

Title: Narcissistic allomorphy in Santiago Tz’utujil (joint work with Paulina Lyskawa & Rodrigo Ranero)

Time: Wednesday, 9/11 5pm - 6:30pm

Location: 32-D831

Abstract: The realization of imperfective aspect in Santiago Tz’utujil varies depending on the phi features of agreeing arguments: (i) 3sg abs triggers allomorphy; (ii) 1sg abs or erg triggers allomorphy, even (apparently) long-distance. The former is common in other K’ichean Mayan languages’ aspect morphology; however, the latter is unattested, including in other Tz’utujil dialects. Santiago Tz’utujil is a head-marking ergative language, and (in)transitive verbs have the following template: asp-abs-(erg)-stem. Imperfective aspect has three allomorphs triggered by adjacent abs agreement: k-/_1sg, n-/_3sg, and nk- elsewhere.

(1) a. K-in-oq’a’. impfv-1sg.abs-cry ‘I cry.’ b. Nk-at-oq’a’ impfv-2sg.abs-cry ‘You cry’ c. N-Ø-oq’a’ impfv-3sg.abs-cry ‘He/she cries.’

Interestingly, 1sg erg also triggers k-, even though there is a linearly intervening abs—1sg k- trumps all other allomorphs.

(2) K-Ø-in-chop. (*n-Ø-in-chop) impfv-3sg.abs-1sg.erg-touch. `I’m touching you.’

I’ll discuss the data in more detail, and its potential implications for debates surrounding locality restrictions in allomorphy.

The Language Acquisition Lab hosts a 2-day training 9/12

The Language Acquisition Lab will be hosting a training session for the set-up and use of Eye-Link eye-trackers on Thursday, 9/12 and Friday, 9/13. Our tentative agenda for training is as follows:

Thursday AM: System installation. This will take about 2-3 hours.

Thursday PM: Training on system architecture and functionality, and practice setting up participants and calibrating the system. This will take about 3-4 hours.

Friday AM: Training on experimental programming and data analysis. This will take about 3-4 hours.

Friday PM: Discussions on more advanced topics in programming/data analysis, additional practice in using the system, and/or any final issues/questions.

Please contact Cindy Torma (crtorma@mit.edu) for more information.

Colloquium 9/13 - Beata Moskal (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)

Speaker: Beata Moskal (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)

Title: Phonological consequences of morphological domains

Time: Friday, September 13, 3:30-5:00pm

Location: 32-155

Starting from a broad typological survey, I explore a range of asymmetries between lexical and functional items, and propose that at the heart of these asymmetries is the fact that there is more structure in lexical items than functional items. Morphologically, I identify universal restrictions on suppletion patterns (for nominals): (i) in nouns, number-driven suppletion is common, whilst case-driven suppletion is unattested, bar a few apparent counterexamples that I discuss, and (ii) in contrast to lexical nouns, pronouns commonly supplete for both number and case. I further show that the discrepancy between functional and lexical items is reflected phonologically. Although dominant prefixes for vowel harmony and lexical stress assignment have been claimed to be universally unattested, I show that they in fact do exist, but only in functional items and not lexical items. This asymmetry mirrors the suppletion asymmetry, and again reflects that there is more structure in lexical than in functional items.

MIT @ Sinn und Bedeutung 24

Keny Chatain, Naomi Francis, and Frank Staniszewski presented at Sinn und Bedeutung 24 in Osnabrück. Sinn und Bedeutung 24 was hosted by the Institute of Cognitive Science and the Institute of Philosophy at Osnabrück University, Germany. Members of our department presented the following:

MIT alum also in attendance included Despina Oikonomou, and Roni Katzir.

Welcome to Fall 2019!

Welcome to the first edition of Whamit! for Fall 2019! 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, Hyun Ji Yoo, and Tracy Kelley.

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

Welcome ling-19!

Welcome to the students who are joining our graduate program!

Ido Benbaji I was born and grew up in Jerusalem. Recently, I received a B.A. in linguistics and history from the Hebrew University, where I was also working towards and M.A. in linguistics. I am interested in semantics, syntax and their interface, and in particular in singular terms, referentiality, modality, ellipsis and movement. On my free time, I watch many many movies. 

Omri Doron I was born and grew up in Jerusalem. I received my B.Sc. in Mathematics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I was also working on my M.A. in linguistics. I’m interested in semantics and its interface with syntax and philosophy of language, and in particular in tense and aspect, NPI’s and ellipsis. In my free time I enjoy playing basketball and arguing with people about food.

Yeong-Joon Kim I was born and grew up in the city of Daegu (literally large hills in Sino-Korean), an industrial city located in the heart of a hilly agricultural area in the southern part of Korea. Soon after I had finished my first B.A. degree with a triple major in theatre & cinema, history, and political Science & diplomacy at Hanayang University, I realized that I want to do somewhat more ‘scientific’ study, and so I decided to transfer to Seoul National University where I earned my second B.A. degree with a double major in linguistics and psychology. At Seoul National University, I discovered my affinity for linguistics, and this led me complete my M.A. thesis on the typology of coronal palatalization and affrication. My main areas of interest include formal language theory (in general), roles of phonetics in phonology, and linguistic typology. Besides linguistics, I enjoy a morning walk, a cup of coffee, reading, and video games.

Eunsun Jou I’m from Seoul, South Korea. I did my B.A. and M.A. in linguistics at Seoul National University. I focused on syntax and semantics there, but I really hope to widen my scope of interest during my years at MIT - both in terms of linguistic subfields as well as the typology of languages that I look into. Some of my hobbies include swimming, knitting, and cooking. And for those who are wondering how to say my name: it’s roughly pronounced /ɯn.sʌn/.

Adèle Mortier I come from Paris, where I studied theoretical computer science, literature and management (but I prefer not to talk about the latter). I like very much how linguistics allows to mix formal and theoretical stuff, so I spent last year at the École normale supérieure working on statistical models for numerical approximation expressions. I am interested in semantics, but also possibly on more experimental topics such as language acquisition. When I have time, I like to walk or bike, visit art exhibitions and cook sweet things. Also, I have one tiny tortie cat named Sacha; it is my baby.

Annauk Denise Olin My family is from the Native Village of Shishmaref, an island in northwestern Alaska. I grew up in Utqiaġvik and Fairbanks, Alaska and was also raised in central Massachusetts. I received a B.A. from UMass-Amherst, studying Comparative Literature (French and Russian languages and literatures). Through teaching, self-study, and a mentor apprenticeship, I have dedicated the last three years to revitalizing my native language, Iñupiaq. As a new mom, I hope to speak primarily in Iñupiaq to my son Daał. Outside of work and academia, I enjoy berry picking, beading, Eskimo dancing, travel, the martial arts, and being outdoors. 

Yash Sinha I’m from a city called Jamshedpur in eastern India, but I’ve spent most of my life shuttling between Mumbai and Kolkata. I did my undergrad in linguistics at the University of Chicago. I have so far worked on morphology and syntax, but I am also looking forward to try my hand at semantics. I am interested in case and agreement systems, and the semantics of tense, aspect and mood. I am also interested in language change. Outside of linguistics, I enjoy reading, card games, and exploring cities (I’m looking forward to seeing what Boston has).

Ruoan Wang I’m from Singapore, and my main linguistic interest lies in typology. I also really like classical music, cuddly toys, and nature. 

Welcome to Visitors!

Please join us in giving a warm welcome to this semester’s visitors.

Visiting Professor

Patrick Elliott

“I was born in South Shields, a coastal town in the Northeastern part of England - this, colloquially, makes me a “sanddancer” (according to wiktionary this is a derogatory term, but I think that’s inaccurate). I received a BA in linguistics from University College London, which included a year in Tübingen, Germany. Afterwards, I did an MSc in linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, before returning to UCL for my PhD. My thesis was on the syntax and semantics of clausal embedding. Since then, I’ve been a postdoc at ZAS Berlin, as part of Uli Sauerland’s semantics group. Right now, I work on frankly too many different things, including dynamic semantics, continuation semantics, expressives, and wh-questions. While at MIT, i’m looking forward to being part of an incredibly vibrant research community, and interacting with brilliant students. Outside of work, I spend a great deal of time at the climbing wall.”

Visiting Scholar

Nabila Louriz

Visiting Students

Émile John Michel Enguehard

Luiz Fernando Ferreira

“I’m from São Paulo - Brazil. I’ve finished my B.A. in Linguistics in 2015 and my M.A. in 2017. During my B.A. and M.A., I’ve researched mood expression in Karitiana (an indigenous language  spoken by a tribe in the Amazon rainforest). Now in my PhD, I’m investigating the influence of tense in counterfactual sentences in this language. I’m interested in the Semantics of Brazilian indigenous languages, mainly in the interface between tense/aspect and mood systems. I love swimming, cats (have two of them in Brazil), sci-fi movies and cooking.”

Philipp Shushurin

Hi, My name is Philip. I started studying linguistics in Moscow. Now, I am a fifth-year PhD student at NYU Linguistics. I am primarily interested in syntax, such topics as Case, Argument Structure and DP-structure. I have conducted fieldwork on Dagestanian and Khoisan languages. Right now, I am doing research on properties of internal and external possessors and properties of Nominal Arguments marked with Ergative case.

Mengwei Yu

“I’m from China. I received my B.A. in English at Wuhan University and proceeded to an MA in English Language and Literature at Fudan University in Shanghai. Then I was recommended for admission into the doctoral program and I am now a PhD. candidate at Fudan. I grew up to find myself more interested in learning language and especially its grammar. As a child then, I had very limited resources and restricted access to language learning and grammar systematic training. That’s why I majored in linguistics later, where I discovered that grammar can be learned as a science and composed of syntax, phonology and semantics modules other than described generally in a taxonomical way. I am interested in phonology and syntax and familiar with the generative paradigm. My main research areas are element theory, government phonology and optimality theory. Actually, phonological and syntactic theories fascinate me as mathematics and logic, in which I believe something in common as well as truth lies. In my spare time, I read, travel, admire breathtaking scenery and local culture, watch films, listen to original soundtrack, and think while strolling. Basically, I like to know and experience new and unpredictable things, for there is more to life than axioms, rules and principles”. 

“Remarks on Noam”

“Remarks on Noam,” a compendium of the tributes to Noam Chomsky collected on the occasion of his 90th birthday, is now available on the PubPub platform: https://remarksonnoam.mitpress.mit.edu/ We are delighted to make these wonderful remembrances available, and invite you to read, comment, and contribute as you wish. If you’d like to contribute, please: 1. Create a free PubPub account at https://www.pubpub.org/signup 2. Read as many Remarks on Noam as you’d like, and leave comments and annotations on others’ tributes by highlighting the relevant text. 3. Share this compendium with your networks.

Summer News 2019

We have some summer news to share with you:

  • The CreteLing Summer School took place in July at the University of Crete in Rethymnon. There were courses and seminars in a variety of linguistic subfields. Several MIT faculty (and alumni) taught courses:

There were also many MIT Linguistics graduate students who TAed for CreteLing Summer School including Neil Banerjee, Cora Lesure, Mitya Privoznov, Vincent Rouillard, Frank Staniszewski, Dóra Takács, Chris Yang, and Stan Zompì. MIT Linguistics & Philosophy alumni who taught include William Snyder, Doug Pulleyblank, Pritty Patel-Grosz, Patrick Grosz, Zoltan Szabo, Philippe Schlenker, Heidi Harley, and Paul Kiparsky.

Dinner photo of faculty and TAs taken during CreteLing Summer School 2019

  • Tanya Bondarenko (3rd year), Colin Davis (5th year), and Mitya Privoznov (5th year) participated in the fieldtrip to the village Verkhnyaya Balkaria (Kabardino-Balkar Republic, Russia) organized by Lomonosov Moscow State University, where they worked on the Karachay-Balkar language. Tanya has submitted some pictures from their fieldtrip that you can view below!

  •  Stanislao Zompì paper published in Glossa!

Congratulations to Stan Zompì whose paper “Ergative is not inherent: Evidence from *ABA in suppletion and syncretism” was published in July. http://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.816

  • Sulemana article published in Glossa!

Congratulations to Abdul-Razak Sulemana whose paper “Q-particles and the nature of covert movement: Evidence from Bùlì” was just published! Abdul-Razak is a final-year graduate student in our program, and taught at the African Linguistics School this summer.

  • Conference presentations:
    • At the end of May, Elise Newman, (4th year) attended ACAL 50 at UBC in Vancouver, where she presented a talk titled “vP infinitives in Wolof: on A-bar movement to Spec vP”.
    • In June, Maša Močnik ( 5th year), gave a talk Higher-Order Confidence with Epistemic Modals here: http://semantics.uni-konstanz.de/workshops/evidence-2019/program
    • Sherry Chen (3rd year) “I spent my summer in Berlin doing various things: 1. This summer, I’ve been funded by the XPrag.de Research Internship to work at ZAS Berlin, on the MUQTASP project “Modelling the Use of Quantifiers in Typical and Atypical Speakers Probabilistically”. I worked primarily under the supervision of Dr Bob van Tiel and Dr Uli Sauerland. I was very happy to have this opportunity to work with the researchers here in Berlin.2. In July, I gave two invited talks here:Memory Retrieval in the Processing of Anaphoric Presupposition Dependencies. Talk given at the Psycholinguistics Colloquium, Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. Processing Lifetime Effects in Tensed and Tenseless Languages. Talk given at the Psycholinguistics Colloquim, Institut für deutsche Sprache und Linguistik, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany. 3. In August, I attended the DGfS summer school organized by theXPrag.de Priority Program. I studied presupposition, sentence processing at the syntax-discourse interface, and probabilistic pragmatics. This summer school offers a wide range of courses, taught by leading researchers in the field. It was a wonderful program that I thoroughly enjoyed and would enthusiastically recommend!” 
  • Education:
    • Tracy Kelley (2nd year) taught language classes for Wampanoag tribal elders throughout the summer as part of the tribe’s “Lunch & Learn” program. She mainly instructed through immersion using total physical response (TPR) and a variety of interactive games. She also continued to develop curriculum for a new high school language course that is being offered by the Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project at Mashpee Middle High School.

Summer defenses

This summer our department celebrated successful defenses by Nick Longenbaugh, Naomi Francis, Erin Olson, and Ömer Demirok, with champagne and baked goods. Our happiest congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators!

Nick Longenbaugh - On expletives and the agreement/movement correlation

Naomi Francis - Presuppositions in focus

Erin Olson - Loanwords and the Perceptual Map: A perspective from MaxEnt learning

Paul Crowley - Tense in the modal and temporal domains

Ömer Demirok - Scope Theory Revisited: Lessons from pied-piping in wh-questions

Miyagawa published by Frontiers

Shigeru Miyagawa’s new article “Systems underlining human and nonhuman primate communication: One, two, or infinite” (Miyagawa and Clarke) has been published online today in Frontiers in Psychology!

LingLunch 9/5 - Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT)

Speaker: Shigeru Miyagawa (MIT)
Title: The Question Particle in Japanese and the Nature of Exhaustivity in Wh-questions
Time: Thursday, September 5th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Wh-questions typically require an answer that gives the maximal information possible. I argue that this notion of exhaustivity is overtly marked by the Question particle in the root clauses in Japanese. We can detect the exhaustivity associated with the Q-particle by optionally omitting it; in the absence of the Q-particle, the question loses the exhaustive meaning, which signals that a partial answer is sufficient. We will see that the Q-particle provides a test for a number of issues in the meaning of questions that heretofore were not easily testable. We will see that a question that has for example, which asks for a partial answer, nevertheless may have the Q-particle because the question can contain the meaning of exhaustivity in its underlying meaning. Why questions require the Q-particle because why cannot lead to a partial answer. There is one situation where the Q-particle is prohibited; I argue that it is a pure form of Question Under Discussion, made possible by a question lacking the meaning of exhaustivity. For the mention-all versus mention-one question-answers, we will see that both contain exhaustivity. I will propose that the exhaustivity associated with mention-one questions is directly related to Schwarzschild’s (2002) idea of singleton indefinites.

Course Announcements: Fall 2019

Course announcements in this post:

  • 24.956 Topics in Syntax: Acquisition of Case, Agreement, and Finiteness Revisited
  • 24.964 Topics in Phonology, Representing stress
  • 24.979 Topics in Semantics: The only seminar
  • 24.943: Aspects of Haitian Creole syntax and related issues in the diachrony & synchrony of other languages

24.956 Topics in Syntax: Acquisition of Case, Agreement, and Finiteness Revisited

  • Instructors: Athulya Aravind & David Pesetsky
  • Schedule: Tuesdays 2-5pm (first class 9/10)
  • Room: 32-D461 

From the mid-1980s and through the early 2000s, a series of fascinating and plausibly connected puzzles of early child language were discovered and explored in a large literature that blurred and transcended the boundaries between empirical acquisition research and syntactic theory (something quite new at the time).  These puzzles included (1) root infinitival clauses (“optional infinitives”) produced by children acquiring a wide variety of languages (but possibly not all); (2) apparent (but controversial) early subject pro-drop in children acquiring non-pro-drop languages; and (3) recurrent case production errors of particular types in children acquiring case systems; among others . The excitement of these discoveries arose from the fact that children’s non-adult-like behavior was not only systematic, but also coexisted with startlingly adult-like behavior in other respects (for example: production of non-adult root infinitives coexisting with apparent full knowledge of other consequences of the finite/infinitival distinction).  An additional source of excitement was the existence of apparent correlations between specific types of non-adult behavior with specific syntactic properties of the language being acquired. 

Over the past two decades, however, the attention of the field turned to other topics, leaving many open questions unanswered and many avenues unexplored.  In the meantime, research on adult syntax has made significant advances in the very areas in which children were discovered to differ from adults in systematic and perplexing ways.  These include the laws governing case and agreement; their role in regulating null pronouns; the nature and origin of finiteness distinctions; among others.

For this reason, we believe that it should be instructive and even exciting to revisit some of the puzzles of language acquisition that preoccupied the field just a few decades ago in light of recent research on adult syntax — with a focus on issues connected to case, agreement, and finiteness.  Our plan for this class is to juxtapose discussion of results from the language acquisition literature with an exploration of recent research on adult syntax relevant to these results.  We do not know exactly what will emerge from these juxtapositions, but the intrinsic interest of the works to be discussed and the obvious potential connections among them holds significant promise.  We’ll see what emerges!
See attached file for course requirements and readings for the first class.

24.964 Topics in Phonology, Representing stress

  • Instructor: Donca Steriade
  • Schedule: Mondays 2-5pm
  • Room: 32-D461

I have posted a syllabus for 24.964 Topics in Phonology: Representing Stress, at https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa19/24.964/materials.html

From the syllabus: 

We explore three issues in the representation of stress:

 i. The evidence for metrical constituents (feet, higher units); for grids; and the sw relation

  ii. Gradient evaluations of inter-stress distance, including weight

 iii. Other forms of prominence (quantitative, tonal) and their relation to stress

More on (i): recent work on stress reports over- and under-generation problems posed by foot-based constraint inventories, and proposes to remedy them by adding more foot types and more foot-based constraints. Most of this work does not experiment with foot-free solutions or the idea that stress assignment proceeds independently of the need to group syllables into rhythmic units. 

We will give several foot-free alternatives a try, after Prince (1983) and Gordon (2002). We will revisit Liberman and Prince’s (1977) arguments for representing stress as the stronger-than (sw) relation; and for grid structure. If there’s time, we look for evidence of nested metrical constituents in poetic meter.

 More on (ii): constraints on stress clash and lapse evaluate the distance between stresses or between stresses and boundaries. There is some evidence that this distance is measured not in categorical terms (counting syllables or rhyme slots) but in a gradient way that’s sensitive to the phonetic duration of individual segments. A parallel question arises in the classification of individual syllables as heavy or light.

 On (iii): quantitative rhythm, the periodic succession of longer and shorter rhythmic units, exists independently of stress. This thing is attested in quantitative meters, but it’s not clear if it exists in spoken language. We’ll examine evidence that it does. We’ll ask what quantitative rhythm means for the typology of prominence in spoken language: is there such a thing as tonal rhythm or tonal prominence? What are the dimensions on which rhythm can be expressed, and why those?

 The course opens with a unit on background issues: how we can tell where stress is, a question made urgent by reports of rampant inaccuracies in the stress data; how stress can be inferred based on the segmental traces it leaves; what is the typology of stress-on-segment effects.

24.979 Topics in Semantics: The only seminar

  • Instructors: Kai von Fintel & Sabine Iatridou
  • Schedule: Thursdays 2-5pm
  • Room: 32-D461 


This semester, we’ll work through classic and recent work on exclusives and exceptives. Along the way, we’ll talk about alternative semantics, scalarity, mirativity, sufficiency, quantificational force, and many other thrilling topics and ideas.

To receive credit for the seminar, you need to attend, participate, read, send two or three comments or questions before each class, and submit a final term paper. If the paper focuses on syntactic issues, the seminar can count as a syntax seminar. Listeners are welcome, as always.

24.943: Aspects of Haitian Creole syntax and related issues in the diachrony & synchrony of other languages


Course Description:

2019 is a special year, and August 2019 is a special month.  Four hundred years ago, on August 20, 1619, the British transatlantic slave trade was introduced in what is now the U.S.  That’s when some 20 enslaved Africans from Angola disembarked in a colonial port in Virginia called … “Point Comfort.”  This brutal transatlantic slave trade had already started in Latin America and the Caribbean more than 100 years before that—in the early 16th century.

This infamous triangular traffic linking Europe, Africa and the Americas is among the key historical events that triggered the emergence of Creole languages.  Some of my papers have analyzed how the hierarchies of power embedded in this colonial, then neo-colonial, history have shaped certain scientific claims around Creole languages, from the onset of Creole studies, as early as the very first description of Creole languages by European scholars in the 17th century.

Now, four centuries after “Point Comfort,” the field of Creole studies is still discomforted by debates around the proper characterization of Creole languages and their formation—debates around a host of questions such as: Are Creole languages “normal” / “regular” languages?  Do Creole languages arise through “abnormal” processes of language evolution?  Are Creole languages (part of) a family? In the case of Caribbean Creole languages, are they genetically related to the Indo-European or Niger-Congo languages that were in contact during Creole formation?  Do Creoles belong to an “exceptional” typology? Can Creole languages be used to teach and learn science and other complex concepts?
Etc, etc…

I mention these questions because they are part of the larger socio-historical and biographical backdrop of this seminar. But in this seminar we won’t spend too much time on these centuries-old debates about the development, structures and viability of Creole languages, even though these debates still infect most linguistic textbooks—as a banal reflex of (neo-)colonial power/knowledge cycles in the human sciences and the unbroken transmission of biases therein.  After a brief overview of these debates, we’ll focus on my native Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) as a perfectly “normal” language, and we’ll study it with “uniformitarian” lenses—that is, we’ll enlist the toolbox of contemporary syntactic theory in order to examine Kreyòl as a language that is as “exceptional” as every other language.  More generally, I’d like to assume that whatever tools linguistic theory gives us to understand the synchrony and diachrony of any non-Creole language will also help us understand the synchrony and diachrony of any Creole language.  That is, our seminar will assume that there’s absolutely no need for a sui generis theory of Creole formation. 

It is with these caveats in mind that I’ll invite course participants to take a stab at various puzzles in the diachrony and synchrony of Haitian Creole and other Creole and non-Creole languages.  For starters, we’ll examine some of the data and proposals in my and related publications on Haitian Creole, with initial focus on: clause structure, (non-verbal) predication, clefts, negation, noun-phrase structure, bare noun phrases, prepositional phrases, serial verbs, etc.  My analyses will serve as jumping points into related data and analyses for other (Creole and non-Creole) languages, including Romance and Germanic. We’ll be inspired by work of colleagues such as Enoch Aboh, Marlyse Baptista, Viviane Déprez, Jacqueline Guéron, Herby Glaude, Daniel Harbour, Salikoko Mufwene, Pieter Muysken, Tonjes Veenstra, Anne Zribi-Hertz, etc.

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

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, September 4, we’ll begin the seminar with a discussion of (very) basic issues, in order to clear up some muddy issues around general terminological and conceptual background about “Creole” languages and their history.  So we’ll begin with my and Enoch Aboh’s views about “a null theory of Creole formation based on Universal Grammar”.  The relevant paper for that, of the same title, is available at:


You may also want to look at another paper of mine that gives a general survey of Haitian Creole—from John Holm’s 2007 book _Comparative Creole Syntax_:


Course Requirements:

1.     Regular weekly class participation

2.     Questions & comments on relevant readings before each session

3.     Presentation in class

4.     Short paper

Experimentalist Meeting 9/6

Next week Friday 09/06 we will be meeting from 2:00 to 3:00 pm in 32-D8461. 

This meeting will be focused on the Language Acquisition Lab. In this meeting we will introduce our new Lab space and our new Lab people, and we will discuss some of the ongoing language acquisition projects we have going on in the Lab right now. 

Please contact Leo Rosenstein if you have any questions.

Richards @ Workshop on Approaches to Wh-Intervention

Norvin spent June 5-7 in Singapore at a workshop on Approaches to wh-Intervention at National University of Singapore, organized by mitcho Erlewine ‘14 and Kenyon Branan ‘18. Other participants included Jessica Coon ‘10 and Hadas Kotek ‘14.

Program and abstracts are found here.