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Archive for the ‘Student News’ Category

Linguistics major “at the crossroads of language, technology, and empathy”

Please have a look at this article from the MIT News Office about Rujul Gandhi — one of our great undergraduate majors!

“Initially thinking she might want to study creative writing or theater, Gandhi first learned about linguistics as its own field of study through an online course in ninth grade. Now a linguistics major at MIT, she is studying the structure of language from the syllable to sentence level, and also learning about how we perceive language. She finds the human aspects of how we use language, and the fact that languages are constantly changing, particularly compelling.

 ’When you learn to appreciate language, you can then appreciate culture,’ she says.

[…]  ”Looking ahead, Gandhi wants to focus on designing systems that better integrate theoretical developments in linguistics and on making language technology widely accessible. She says she finds the work of bringing together technology and linguistics to be most rewarding when it involves people, and that she finds the most meaning in her projects when they are centered around empathy for others’ experiences.”

Bondarenko presents at MECORE workshop

Last week, fifth-year student Tanya Bondarenko presented at the kickoff workshop of MECORE — an international project to investigate the semantics of clausal embedding crosslinguistically — with a talk entitled titled “When clauses are Weak NPIs: polarity subjunctives in Russian”. 

Best abstract award for Christopher Legerme!

First-year graduate student Christopher Legerme has won the NWAV Student Abstract Award for research on Haitian determiners completed as part of his MA program at the University of Toronto, presented at NWAV under the title “Creole on the Cusp: Phonological Variation and Change in Haitian Determiners.”  See the online newsletter of the Linguistics Department at Toronto for more, including quotes from his reviews.  

Congratulations Christopher!!

Privoznov defends!

August saw several wonderful and successful dissertation defenses. On August 19, we were privileged to participate via Zoom in Dmitry Privoznov’s brilliant defense of his dissertation entitled “A theory of two strong islands”.
A syntactic island is a structural domain that blocks dependencies such as that between a wh-phrase and the gap that it binds from applying across its boundaries. The nature of islands and island phenomena have been a central topic of syntactic research for over a half-century — and Mitya’s research offers strong new evidence adjudicating among distinct approaches, along with some entirely surprising new results supporting his perspective.
With evidence from the Balkar (a Turkic language of the Caucasus), Russian, and English, Mitya’s dissertation supports the hypothesis that the island status of subjects and adjuncts reflects the schedule by which constituents are “spelled out” and frozen in the course of a syntactic derivation. Remarkably, he shows that the same regime of spell-out that blocks certain extractions acts to *permit* certain semantic connections between indefinite noun phrases and pronouns (that are blocked when islands are *absent*). Mitya ably presented and defended his results to an audience on two continents.

Great work — congratulations!!



For those who want to read the official abstract for his defense presentation:

“This thesis examines two strong island effects: the Adjunct Condition and the Subject Condition. It proposes that both are derived from the same basic principles that determine when and to which constituent the rule of Spell Out is applied over the course of the derivation. The proposed theory consists of two assumptions. First, between any two phrasal sisters at least one must be spelled out. Second, a spelled out phrase does not project its category. The immediate consequence of these is that all adjuncts and all specifiers must be spelled out, because all adjuncts and all specifiers are, by definition, maximal projections whose sister is a phrase. This theory predicts, first, that all adjuncts and all specifiers are opaque for extraction, and second, that all adjuncts and all specifiers are interpreted before their sister. The thesis examines these predictions and argues that they are indeed borne out, based on data from Balkar, Russian and English.”

Chatain defends!

Another great August dissertation defense. On August 27, Keny Chatain defended with the greatest possible success his dissertation entitled “Cumulativity from Homogeneity”.

Cumulativity is a central, yet extremely puzzling phenomenon in plural semantics which has prompted radical overhauls and enrichments of canonical assumptions about predicate denotations (lexical semantics) and semantic composition. Despite these (often heavy-handed) efforts, a treatment that is both empirically and theoretically satisfying has proven illusive.
The dissertation approaches cumulativity from a new perspective, pointing out and exploiting close and systematic parallels with homogeneity phenomena in plural semantics. From this perspective, plural predication contributes only weak (existential) truth-conditions which are directly detectable in negative environments but strengthened, hence masked by exhaustive participation inferences in canonical positive sentences. This two-pronged mechanism paves the way for a principled account of what aspects of lexical semantics are responsible for cumulative readings and why, as well as the precise way in which they rely on the structural configuration feeding semantic composition.

The resulting proposal is developed with remarkable clarity and penetrating insight into the empirical phenomena as well as the space of analytical options, has far reaching consequences for all areas of (plural) semantics, and — in the opinion of his committee — is sure to become a landmark in this domain of inquiry.

Félicitations, Keny!! Congratulations!!


The official abstract:

“Since Schein (1996), cumulative readings of quantifiers have often motivated a departure from standard assumptions about composition. This dissertation proposes a new theory of these cumulative readings that connects them to the phenomenon of homogeneity. Specifically, taking inspiration from Bar-Lev (2018), I argue that predicates sometimes have weak existential meanings, which are revealed when placed under negation. The stronger meaning observed in positive sentences are the result of a procedure of exhaustification. By recognizing predicates’ underlying weak meanings and their liability to strengthening, cumulative reading of quantifiers can be accounted for by maintaining relatively standard assumptions about composition. This analysis predicts a range of intricate cases, including Schein’s famous video-game examples. It also predicts the truth-conditions of negative cumulative sentences and asymmetries in the availability of cumulative readings of quantifiers.”

Welcome to ling-21!

Please welcome our beautiful new students who are joining our graduate program this fall!

Keely Zuo Qi New: I grew up on the sunny island of Singapore, so I classify anything below 20C/68F as “freezing”. In 2018 I completed my BA in linguistics at the National University of Singapore. Since then, I have been working at the syntax/semantics lab in the same department where I have done research based primarily on fieldwork in Burmese. Outside of linguistics, I like dogs, board games, and baking bread.

Lorenzo PintonI’m Lorenzo Pinton and I come from a country town near Venice, Italy. In Venice I did my undergrad in philosophy, before moving to Amsterdam for a master in logic. There I discovered semantics and pragmatics, and they have been my gateway to linguistics. The topic of my thesis was the interplay between sluicing and free choice (focusing in particular on the contrast between ‘You may have coffee or tea, I don’t know which’ and ‘You may have coffee or tea, I don’t care which’). Related to these, other topics I’m interested in consist of question embedding verbs and the interaction between tense, aspect and modality. Outside academia, my passions are music, chess, and, lately, architecture. 

Negative side: I make bad puns that apparently people don’t find funny.
Positive side: If you make one, I’ll laugh.
During the PhD I’d like to understand better the intersection between syntax and semantics. But it won’t be easy… let’s (inter)face it!

Shrayana Halder: I’m Shrayana Haldar. I’m from Kolkata, India and my first language in Bengali. Before MIT, I went to UMass Amherst from 2017 to 2021 for my undergrad and I majored in Linguistics and French and Francophone Studies. My principal interest in linguistics is theoretical syntax and I worked on Bengali Verb-stranding VP Ellipsis when I was at UMass. A relatively little studied — maybe not so much so — recess in syntax that has fascinated me for some time now with an intensity that was somewhat notorious among the UMass professors who taught me syntax happens to be Multidominance. As for my hobbies, I have a certain interest in music and film studies. I enjoy playing my keyboard and watching movies. I especially like singing Rabindrasangeets (songs composed by Rabindranath Tagore) on YouTube. I sometimes also write French poems. To mark it with the force of finality, I find inevitable, irresistible and — no less importantly — therapeutic joy and belonging in all things Satyajit Ray.

Anastasia Tsilia: My name is Anastasia (she/her) and I come from Greece. I did my studies in France, where I received a B.A. in Philosophy and Logic and a M.Sc. in Cognitive Science. It was during the latter that I delved deeper into semantics and tense. My research interests include semantics, the interface with syntax, pragmatics, philosophy of language, typology and cross-linguistic work. I am also looking forward to exploring syntax as well as other research topics more in depth during my PhD. In my master thesis, I worked on the typology and the cross-linguistic aspect of sequence of tense and shiftable present, focusing mostly on data from Modern Greek. Outside of linguistics, I like watching movies, visiting exhibitions, dancing salsa, and travelling.

Christopher Legerme: Christopher Gaston Romero Legerme, here! (he/him/his; /kristofɛ leʒɛm/ or /krIstəfɚ ləʒɚm/; you can also call me Chris or Christopher). I’m 28 yrs. and was born at noon on Thursday October 15, 1992 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Haiti is where I acquired my native language, Haitian Creole, however, I have spent most of my life outside of Haiti and growing up in USA or Canada. I could also say that English is my L1 with Haitian Creole being my heritage language. In USA, I spent time living in the states of Maryland, Virginia, and New York before moving to Canada where I’ve lived in the provinces of Quebec, Alberta, and Ontario. My research interests broadly include phonological theory and variationist sociolinguistics. Initially, I completed BA and MA degrees in Religious Studies at the Concordia University of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada. My MA thesis at the time focused on Biblical and Christian Studies where I drew inspiration from philosophy and literary theory in developing a dialogical critique of Biblical Hebrew poetry, particularly the Book of Lamentations, under the supervision of Prof. William H. U. Anderson. I did a second MA, this time in Linguistics, at the University of Toronto. There, I developed my interests in Sociolinguistics and Phonology, and under the supervision of Prof. Sali A. Tagliamonte, I received extensive training in Labovian Variationist methods involving the application of various quantitative and computational methods for modeling language variation and change. My most recent MA project was on a linguistic variable in Haitian Creole, that is, the surfacing of nasal forms of the LA postposed definite determiner in non-nasalizing phonological contexts, taking me back to my Haitian heritage. My academic trajectory has brought me across many awesome fields of research in the humanities and social sciences from which I constantly draw inspiration. Today, I focus my efforts on studying both the psychological and sociological dimensions of linguistic systems as they stem from the mind and are performed in daily life. Language always patterns in cool ways with social constructs, and I do work on how these patterns differ across languages and across cultures. Notwithstanding, I am also deeply invested in learning about the ways in which all people are connected as a species through language. What properties, then, are universal to the knowledge and use of human languages? The pursuit of this question is not only exciting to me but has brought linguistics a long way as a field over the past century, and I’m working to be a part of what’s next! For hobbies, I love learning languages in general. I started learning French in school later into my youth and continued with it up through university. I’ve also done courses on Spanish, Latin, Ancient Hebrew, and Classical Greek. I’m a big fan of (horror) movies and I began undergrad doing music (classical guitar) and drama. My favorite director is Quentin Tarantino, my favorite “boardgame” is DnD, and my favorite sports (to watch mostly) are Table Tennis, Chess, and Football (the real one haha!) - Cheers!

John Dennis


Banerjee defends!!

Last Monday, Neil Banerjee defended his PhD dissertation, “On the interaction of portmanteaux and ellipsis”. The thesis tackles a surprising contrast between languages like Hungarian, in which portmanteau elements occur even when part of the structure that they express has undergone ellipsis (“indivisible portmanteau”), and languages like Bengali, in which portmanteau elements occur only when the entire structure is overtly pronounced (“divisible portmanteau”). The thesis argues that these reflect two different representations of portmanteau, and shows how recently proposed models of ellipsis predict (in)divisibility, when they operate over these representations. This analysis has important implications not only for the morphological analysis of portmanteau, but also syntactic analyses of ellipsis and other silencing operations.
Congratulations, Neil!!
What happens when you try to elide one half of a portmanteau? My thesis discusses two patterns: one involves the portmanteau splitting apart and the other involves the portmanteau being pronounced in full despite being half-inside an ellipsis site. In the thesis I argue that these patterns can be accounted for with a single ellipsis mechanism, but two different portmanteau forming mechanisms. In this talk, I will focus on the pattern of elliptical indivisibility in Hungarian and discuss what it teaches us about the nature and timing of ellipsis silencing. Hungarian has a portmanteau negative copula in some contexts. While ellipsis of the complement of negation is generally unremarkable, if the intended ellipsis site contains a copula that can form a portmanteau with negation, the copula gets to escape and be pronounced with negation in its portmanteau form, while the rest of the complement of negation does get elided. No smaller ellipsis site is possible for many speakers, meaning the copular half of the portmanteau is being pronounced despite being inside an ellipsis site. The existence of indivisible portmanteaux means that the contents of the ellipsis site must be accessible to whatever forms portmanteaux, and that portmanteau formation can bleed ellipsis silencing. I will argue that the negative copula portmanteau forms post-syntactically, meaning that the contents of ellipsis sites have to be at least somewhat post-syntactically accessible, and discuss which theories of ellipsis silencing can and cannot capture the existence of elliptical indivisibility.

Newman defends!!

Tuesday morning, we attended a brilliant defense by Elise Newman of her PhD dissertation entitled The (in)distinction between wh-movement and c-selection. The dissertation builds on the idea that the building of clause structure is driven by featural requirements on two verbal heads, and that subset relations among the elements that combine with these heads and the possibility of satisfying more than one requirement at a time guide the order in which pieces of structure get built — with surprising (in some cases very surprising) consequences. A work with a central unifying theme, the empirical consequences are nonetheless quite diverse — uniting, for example, a new explanation for the special morphology that accompanies subject movement in many Mayan languages with restrictions on the interaction of passive and wh-movement in double-object constructions in Norwegian and many (but not all!) other languages. Extraordinary findings, and a superb presentation.
Congratulations, Elise!!
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For those who want to know more, here is the abstract for her defense presentation:
This thesis asks the following question: what can wh-movement teach us about verb phrase structure? I examine two apparent interactions between wh-movement and Voice: Mayan Agent Focus and the Double Object Movement Asymmetry (DOMA) (Holmberg et al. 2019). In certain Mayan languages, subject but not object wh-questions require the verb to take a special intransitive-looking form; in many languages with symmetrical passives, wh-moving an indirect object in a passive clause is restricted to contexts in which the indirect object is the passive subject. By contrast, wh-moving direct objects face no restrictions about which argument is the passive subject.
Typical approaches to these phenomena take the basic underlying verb phrase structure of a language to be insensitive to whether any of its arguments are wh-phrases. In other words, the fact that wh-questions are built from clauses containing a wh-element, while non-questions are built from clauses that lack a wh-element, is assumed to be irrelevant to what we assume the basic underlying clause structure to be in each case — object wh-questions are therefore assumed to be built from clauses that are identical to their non-wh-counterparts; subject wh-questions are assumed to built form clauses that are identical to their non-wh-counterparts, and so forth. On this view, many researchers propose that the so-called interactions between wh-movement and Voice should be explained by constraints on wh-movement from certain contexts.
By contrast, I take the opposite approach. I propose that the observed interactions between wh-movement and Voice are teaching us very transparently about the basic clause structure of clauses that contain wh-elements, which may be different than their non-wh-counterparts. In other words, Mayan Agent Focus teaches us that clauses containing a wh-subject (as opposed to a non-wh-subject) may be built in such a way as to feed intransitive-looking morphosyntax; the DOMA is teaching us that indirect object wh-phrases (in contrast to non-wh-indirect objects) are always generated in such a way as to make them the subject in a passive clause. I propose a theory of the features driving Merge in which the underlying position of a wh-phrase is not only determined by the “selectional’’ properties of verbs, but also by the feature that controls successive cyclic wh-movement through the edge of the verbal domain. Thus, the structure of a verb phrase is not invariant across all contexts — it depends on the features and categories of the elements that are configured inside of it, including the distribution of wh-elements. This approach likewise has implications for clauses that do not contain wh-elements, which I propose account for symmetric and asymmetric A and A’-movement in different contexts.

Newman to Edinburgh (and Branan to Berlin)!

We are thrilled to learn that fifth-year student Elise Newman has accepted a two-year postdoctoral position in Syntax at the University of Edinburgh, starting next Fall. She will be collaborating with Robert Truswell (Edinburgh), as well as with Thomas McFadden (Berlin), Sandhya Sundaresan (Göttingen/Stony Brook) and Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen) on a multi-national project entitled “Locality and the Argument-Adjunct Distinction: Structure-building vs. Structure-enrichment” (jointly funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). The project investigates several new hypotheses concerning the typology of locality restrictions observed in various syntactic dependencies.
We were just as delighted to learn that Elise will also be collaborating on this project with our alum Kenyon Branan (PhD 2018) — who has accepted a parallel postdoc in the project, based at ZAS (Leibniz-Centre General Linguistics) in Berlin.
Congratulations both! We expect great discoveries from this project!!


Fourth-year student Tatiana Bondarenko and faculty colleague David Pesetsky gave talks last week at the 13th Brussels Conference on Generative Linguistics (BCGL 13) — this year devoted to the “Syntax and Semantics of Clausal Complementation”. Tanya’s talk was explanatorily entitled “Two paths to explain” (handout here). David was an invited speaker, and ambitiously spoke on the topic of “Lack of ambition as explanation when a clause is reduced“(handout here). 
Also speaking at BCGL 13 were several of our distinguished and much-missed alums: Ken Safir (PhD 1982), Idan Landau (PhD 1999), and Despina Oikonomou (PhD 2016).

MIT @ Going Romance 34

The 34th Going Romance conference was held virtually by the laboratory “Structures Formelles du Langage” (CNRS/Université Paris 8).

Suzana Fong presented under the title “Distinguishing between explanatory accounts of the A/A’-distinction: the view from Argentinian Spanish Clitic Doubling”.

Some of our alums also gave presentations:

  • Benjamin Storme (PhD 2017): Deriving the gradient behavior of French liaison through constraint interaction
  • Bridget Copley (PhD 2002), Marta Donazzan, Clémentine Raffy: Characterizing French LAISSER using causal functions and scales
  • Beatriz Gómez-Vidal, Miren Arantzeta, Jon Paul Laka, Itziar Laka (PhD 1990): Eye-tracking the Unaccusative Hypothesis in Spanish


Wu to talk in Goethe University Frankfurt Syntax Colloquium

Danfeng Wu will be giving an invited talk next Monday, November 23 (10:15 EST) at the Syntax Colloquium at Goethe University Frankfurt on “Syntax and prosody of either…or… sentences”.  Here is her abstract:

Prosodic structure largely reflects syntactic structure, but there are also mismatches. If we follow the intuition that prosodic structure is matched to pronounced material, an obvious place to study the syntax-prosody mismatch is syntactic structure involving non-pronounced material, such as ellipsis. In this talk I will present prosodic evidence of elided material in a phonetic experiment, where I show that the presence or absence of elided structure has an effect on the prosodic realization. Not only does this result provide a new source of evidence for ellipsis, but it also informs the question of what sort of syntactic information is accessible to prosody. 

The construction where I examine the prosodic effects of ellipsis is English either…or… coordination because it provides a suitable environment for the experiment, and allows me to design materials where ellipsis size could be parametrically varied. The prosodic work requires careful syntactic and semantic arguments that there is ellipsis in this coordination in the first place. As background, I will present evidence showing that there is ellipsis in either…or… coordination (following Schwarz 1999), and the size of the elided material is correlated with the position of either (as in 1a-d). These arguments rely on constituency tests, diagnostics involving elided pronouns and referring expressions, antecedent-contained deletion, and verb particle constructions.

(1) a. Lillian will look for either Lauren or Bella.
    b. Lillian will either look for Lauren or look for Bella.
    c. Lillian either will look for Lauren or will look for Bella.
    d. Either Lillian will look for Lauren or she will look for Bella.

After showing evidence for the analysis of ellipsis for (1a-d), I will move on to the prosodic part of the talk. The difference in ellipsis among (1a-d) might lead to a difference in prosody, specifically in phrasing. Consider (1d), which involves coordination of two clauses in syntax. If prosodic structure is built from a structure that contains elided material, and furthermore, if large syntactic constituents correspond to large prosodic constituents, we would have two large prosodic constituents, as can be observed by a large boundary (of intonational phrase, IP) between Lauren and or (2a). On the other hand, if prosody only considers surface structure, it might group Lauren or Bella as a single prosodic constituent even though they are not a constituent underlyingly, creating a small boundary (intermediate phrase, iP) between Lauren and or (2b).

(2) a. Either Lillian will look for Lauren IP) or she will look for Bella IP).
    b. Either Lillian will look for Lauren iP) or Bella IP).

If prosody is built from a structure containing hidden material, the boundary between Lauren and or would increase as we move from (1a) to (1d), since the amount of elided structure increases. In contrast, if prosody only considers surface structure, that boundary between Lauren and or would be the same for (1a-d). Preliminary results based on transcriptions of tones and breaks in the productions suggest speakers’ strong preference for (2a): the boundary between Lauren and or does increase as the elided material increases, suggesting that prosody tracks syntax closely. These results also bear on the question of timing: the non-pronunciation of material must occur after the creation of prosodic phrasing.

Annauk Olin @ AILDI summer session

MIT Indigenous Languages Initiative (MITILI) student Annauk Olin (Iñupiaq) received a scholarship to participate in the American Indian Language Development Institute’s (AILDI) summer session. AILDI’s mission is to provide critical training to strengthen efforts to revitalize and promote the use of Indigenous language across generations. Annauk will be taking a class on “Master Apprentice Immersion Methods”.  Congratulations Annauk!

Newman paper published by Glossa

We are delighted to announce the publication in Glossa of (rising fifth-year student) Elise Newman’s paper “Facilitator effects in middles and more”. A “facilitator effect” is the ameliorating effect of adverbials and similar elements in middle constructions such as the famous Bureaucrats bribe easily, where the presence of the adverb is close to obligatory. A novel insight of Newman’s paper is a proposed connection between this effect and other situations ameliorated by intervening material that have been described as an anti-locality” requirement for movement, as well as a comparable proposal for passive constructions where at first glance one might think no facilitator effect is at work.

Because Glossa is an open-access journal, you can click the link below and read the abstract and paper immediately.

Congratulations, Elise!


Elise’s website: https://esnewman.github.io/elisenewman/

Davis to USC

Congratulations to finishing student Colin Davis, who has accepted a position as Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Southern California. At USC he will conduct research and teach undergraduate and graduate classes in syntax and general linguistics. Colin is currently completing a dissertation entitled “The Linear Limitations of Syntactic Derivations”. Great news, Colin!


Virtual CUNY sentence processing conference at UMass was hosted on 3/19 - 3/21, in the form of a Zoom webinar: https://blogs.umass.edu/cuny2020/ 
Sherry Yong Chen (3rd year), Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd year), Loes Koring (Postdoctoral Associate 2016; now at Macquarie University), Cory Bill (Universität Konstanz), Leo Rosenstein (MIT) and Martin Hackl (MIT) presented a poster Comprehension of conjunction by English-speaking adults and childrenhttps://osf.io/dwktq/
Sherry Yong Chen (3rd year) and E. Matthew Husband (Language and Brain Lab, University of Oxford) presented a poster Illusory licensing from inaccessible antecedents in presuppositional dependencyhttps://osf.io/fmxe4/
Sherry Yong Chen (3rd year) and Bob van Tiel (ZAS) presented a poster “Every horse didn’t jump over the fence”: Scope ambiguity via pragmatic reasoninghttps://osf.io/4pwcu/

Banerjee @ (F)ASAL10

(Formal) Approaches to South Asian Languages ((F)ASAL10) at OSU was hosted virtually on 3/21 - 3/22.

Neil Banerjee (4th year) and Gurmeet Kaur (Goettingen) spoke on Deferred imperatives across Indo-Aryan.

Filipe Hisao Kobayashi @ “Cross-Linguistic Semantics of Reciprocals”

Third year student, Filipe Hisao Kobayashi, presented at the Workshop “Cross-Linguistic Semantics of Reciprocals” last week at Utrecht University. He gave a talk entitled “Scattered Reciprocals” and presented a poster entitled “Two Types of Reciprocals in Mandarin Chinese”.

This is the link to the conference website: https://rocky.sites.uu.nl/workshop-on-cross-linguistic-semantics-of-reciprocals/​. 

Boer Fu wins writing prize

Congratulations to second-year student Boer Fu, who has won the graduate student division of MIT’s Obermayer Prize for Writing for the Public, with an essay about the building of the first underground transit systems in London (1863) and Boston (1897)! Our linguistics students have talents above and beyond!!

Gowda @ FASAL9

Third-year student Yadav Gowda spoke on “Movement within and without a clause” at Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL9) this weekend at Reed College.

Fong published in Glossa

Congratulations to fourth-year student Suzana Fong, on the publication in Glossa of her article entitled “Proper movement through Spec-CP: An argument from hyperraising in Mongolian”! Glossa is an open-access journal, so you can read the abstract and download the paper at https://www.glossa-journal.org/articles/10.5334/gjgl.667/.  

Summer defenses

Our happiest congratulations to this summer’s impressive group of doctoral dissertators! The department celebrated the excellent defenses with champagne and some doctoral level baking, including cat-themed cake decorations and vegan Oreo-cheesecake.

  • Athulya Aravind - Presuppositions in Context
  • Kenyon Branan - Relationship Preservation
  • Tingchun (TC) Chen - Multiple Case Assignment: An Amis Case Study
  • Michelle Fullwood - Biases in Segmenting Non-concatenative Morphology
  • Ishani Guha - Distributivity across domains: A study of the distributive numerals in Bangla
  • Sophie Moracchini - Morphosemantics of degree constructions and the grammar of evaluativity
  • Takashi Morita - Unsupervised Learning of Lexical Subclasses from Phonotactics
  • Ezer Rasin - Modular interactions in phonology
  • Milena Sisovics - Embedded Jussives as Instances of Control: The Case of Mongolian and Korean
  • Michelle Yuan - Dimensions of Ergativity in Inuit: Theory and Microvariation

Welcome to ling-18!

Welcome to the students who are joining our graduate program!

Agnes Bi

Ruyue Bi, who also goes by Agnes, grew up in a small city along the Yangtze River in Mainland China. I received my B.A. in Linguistics and Math from UC Berkeley. My main areas of interest, in general, are syntax, semantics and their interface. My current research focuses on pronoun ellipsis in Mandarin, which hopefully provides a little insight into the broader, cross-linguistic picture. Outside of linguistics, I enjoy traveling and trying new food.

Enrico Flor

I was born and grew up in a tiny alpine village in northern Italy, but I received all my higher education in Austria (I got my MA in General Linguistics in Vienna). Semantics (with a focus on focus, quantification and plurals) has been my primary interest during my studies and work in Vienna. Coming to MIT, I obviously look forward to widening and deepening my knowledge of the field. Outside of Linguistics, I am interested in philosophy (of language and meta-ethics in particular), history, literature and politics - I never get tired of debating! Listening to and singing old music is my main hobby, but when I can I like to spend time in theater. Good typography and Free Software are things of beauty for me.

Peter Grishin

I was born and grew up in Dallas and got my BA in linguistics at the University of Cambridge. My main interests lie in syntax, especially in cases of unexpected agreement and/or movement (or lack thereof), and I have worked a bit on agreement with argument CPs in Zulu and VP fronting in English. I also like to dabble in phonetics, and am especially interested in the question of “how much” phonetics we should encode in the phonology, as well as interactions between prosody and syntax. Outside of linguistics, I’m an avid violinist, cat lover, board gamer, tabletop RPGer, and YouTube cooking video watcher and aspiring home cook.

Tracy Kelley

Wunee Keesuq! I was born and raised in the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe located in Mashpee, Massachusetts. I’m a very proud mother of one son. I received my BA in English and Journalism from the University of Massachusetts—Amherst, where I was also engaged in student life, youth mentoring, and civil rights advocacy. I am passionate about revitalizing my native language, in which I have been growing with since the language project’s inception in 1993, as an apprentice, instructor, illustrator, and author. Some of my personal interests include gaming with my son, teaching language, cooking, swimming, and listening to NPR—oh and coffee!

Anton Kukhto

I’m a Muscovite; I received a BA and an MA in linguistics at Moscow State University. My main interest lies in phonetics and phonology, particularly lexical stress in Irish, Russian, and beyond. I’ve also done some fieldwork on Mordvin, Mari, and Khanty. Outside of linguistics, I enjoy reading, watching films, going to art galleries, taking pictures, singing, learning to play the harp, drinking tea, skiing, and obviously being a bore. But above all, I want to thank all of you who have been ever so ready to lend me a helping hand over the past year (and before). Even eleventy-one years would be far too short a time to spend among you.

Patrick Niedzielski

I grew up in Massachusetts, and did my undergrad at Cornell University, where I majored in Linguistics and Computer Science. After graduating, I took some time away from academia to work in software development.  My research interests are mainly in historical linguistics and the syntax-morphology interface, especially focusing on analyzing data from ancient, highly-synthetic languages that have not received much treatment within the generative tradition—-my undergrad thesis was on clausal structure and polysynthesis in Sumerian, one such language.  I’ve also done work in computer science at the intersection of systems programming and programming language theory.  Otherwise, I spend too much time listening to comedy podcasts, and not enough time playing jazz harmonica.  I also like good espresso, Jethro Tull, and conlanging.

Roger Paul

Katie Van Luven

I’m from Kingston, Ontario in Canada. I received a B.A. in Linguistics and an M.Cog.Sc., both from Carleton University in Ottawa. I am primarily interested in syntax, semantics and their interfaces. In my master’s thesis I looked at various issues surrounding the focal properties of pseudocleft constructions. I’ve also worked on the argumenthood/event structure of directional PPs, as well as locality and low-level effects in phonetics/phonology. Outside of linguistics, I like reading, hiking, re-watching old X Files episodes and getting tattooed.

Hyun Ji Yoo

I was born in Korea, not far from Seoul, and moved to Los Angeles when I was nine. I never really got out of the city since then, and received my B.A. in Linguistics and Psychology and M.A. in Linguistics at UCLA. I am currently working on finding predictability of medial tones in Seoul Korean Accentual phrases, but also am interested in paradigm effects, loanword phonology, and Harmonic Grammar. In my free time, I like to eat good food, watch Korean TV shows and play board games—all the better with coffee and/or ice cream.

Summer News

We have some summer news to share with you:

The summer school was attended by many MIT students as well: Rafael Abramovitz (4th year), Daniel Asherov (2nd year), Tanya Bondarenko (2nd year), Colin Davis (4th year), Ömer Demirok (5th year), Verena Hehl (4th year), Maša Močnik (4th year), Elise Newman (3rd year), Frank Staniszewski (3rd year) and Stan Zompi (2nd year). Rafael, Daniel, Tanya and Ömer also served as course TAs. Check out nice photos from the event, such as this one below, on the summer school’s Facebook page.


  • Justin Colley (4th year), Verena Hehl, Anton Kukhto (1st year) and Mitya Privoznov (4th year) went into the heart of Siberia for a fieldwork expedition in the village of Kazym, Central Khanty. Mitya reports: “We had a lot of fun, suffered from mosquitoes and hopefully gathered some useful data as well :).”

  • In August, Tanya Bondarenko and Colin Davis participated in a joint fieldtrip with a group of researchers from Lomonosov Moscow State University to study Barguzin Buryat in Baraghan village, the Republic of Buryatia, Russia.


  • Education:
    • Neil Banerjee, Cora Lesure (3rd year) and Dóra Takács (2nd year) taught a 7-week introductory linguistics course for middle and high school students as part of HSSP, from June till August. Their course, entitled `How language works’, covered topics ranged from sound production and the IPA over cross-linguistic variation and case to NPIs and implicatures. Dóra writes: “About 35 students participated in the class, which was hopefully a lot of fun and definitely an interesting and valuable experience for everyone.”
    • Naomi Francis (5th year), Verena Hehl and Maša Močnik graduated from the Kaufman Teaching Certificate Program (KTCP) in June. The participants report: “Graduates of the KTCP attend 8 sessions on a wide range of topics in teaching and learning and are exposed to current research on pedagogical methodology through assigned readings and in-class discussions. We also had the opportunity to create and receive feedback on teaching philosophy statements for academic job applications.”
    • In May, Abdul Latif Jameel World Education Lab (J-WEL), an MIT initiative to support global education, announced a grant funding to MITILI  student Newell Lewey and to prof. Norvin Richards for the project Skicinuwi-npisun: A Community-Centered Project for Documentation and Teaching of the Passamaquoddy Language. The project supports language teaching and curriculum development to help preserve the severely endangered Passamaquoddy language of Northern Maine. The grant includes funding for Newell’s language classes, and for a group of graduate students from the department to travel with Norvin to Passamaquoddy country to work with elders. Here you can read a little more about the project. Congratulations Newell and Norvin!
  • Alumni news:
    • Our distinguished alum Heidi Harley (PhD 1995), now at  the University of Arizona, has been elected a 2019 Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America! Heidi’s colleagues as LSA Fellows include 38 other MIT alums and members of our faculty who have been elected in previous years — more than a quarter of the (now) 138 Fellows of the Society. Congratulations Heidi (and our warmest congratulations to the other newly elected Fellows as well)!
    • Another one of our distinguished alums, John McCarthy (PhD 1979) - a pioneer in the development of phonological theory for over four decades - has been named Provost and more at UMass Amherst, where he has taught since 1985. Very exciting news — congratulations John! 


The 25th Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association took place May 10-12 at the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan.  TC Chen presented on Amis Case stacking. Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (PhD ‘14) sends us this picture of TC standing next to an antique tea chest at the conference:

Aravind to MIT

We are beyond delighted to announce that fifth-year student Athulya Aravind, who specializes in language acquisition, has accepted our offer of a tenure-track assistant professor position!


Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics 27 took place at Stanford over the weekend, and three MIT presentations were given.

  • Colin Davis and Tatiana Bondarenko: Parasitic gaps and covert pied-piping in Russian LBE
  • Rafael Abramovitz: Verb-Stranding Verb Phrase Ellipsis in Russian: Evidence from Unpronounced Subjects
  • Maša Močnik: Where Force Matters: Embedding Epistemic Modals and Attitudes

Welcome to next year’s first year class!

We are overjoyed to welcome nine new first-year students who will be starting next Fall — including two who will be studying in our MIT Indigenous Languages Initiative (MITILI) Masters program.

  • Ruyue (Agnes) Bi (UC Berkeley)
  • Enrico Flor (University of Vienna)
  • Peter Grishin (University of Cambridge)
  • Tracy Kelley (UMass Amherst; Wampanaog, MITILI program)
  • Anton Kukhto (Moscow State University)
  • Patrick Niedzielski (Cornell)
  • Katie Van Luven (Carleton University)
  • Roger Paul (University of Maine at Presque Isle; Passamaquoddy/Maliseet, MITILI program)
  • Hyun Ji Yoo (UCLA)



The West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (WCCFL) took place at UCLA over the weekend. MIT department members were presented both talks and posters


Chen @ CUNY 2018

Sherry Yong Chen (first-year) presented a few weeks ago at the CUNY sentence processing conference at UC Davis. With co-author E. Matthew Husband, she presented on Modelling Memory Retrieval Processes with Drift Diffusion.


The 49th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL 49) will be held at Michigan State University from March 22-25, 2018. Colin Davis (3rd-year), Kenyon Branan (5th-year) , and Abdul-Razak Sulemana (4th-year) will give talks, and Kenyon and Abdul-Razak will also present a poster.

Takács at Linguistic Evidence 2018

Linguistic Evidence 2018 took place at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, February 15-17 and Dóra Kata Tákacs (first-year) presented a poster: On the presuppositional behavior of two sub-classes of factive predicates.

ESSL/LAcqLab and friends Winter Hike

The annual ESSL/LAcqLab and friends Winter Hike happened on Sunday.  The hikers climbed Mount Pemigawassett in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Thanks to Martin for the photos.

Hiking up Mount Pemigawassett
Hiking up Mount Pemigawassett

At the summit
At the summit. From left to right: Ishani Guha, Sophie Moracchini, Jaehyun Son, Danfeng Wu, Milena Sisovics, Maša Močnik, Leo Rosenstein, Keny Chatain, Sherry Chen, Dan Pherson, Jie Ren, Martin Hackl

MIT at Manitoba Person Workshop

The Manitoba Workshop on Person happened in Winnipeg at the University of Manitoba on Friday and Saturday. This was the tenth annual workshop in a series dedicated to the syntax and semantics of person. The invited student speaker was our very own Michelle Yuan (5th year) who gave a talk about Plural person and associativity. MIT was also very well represented by our alumni and former visitors: both keynote speakers were graduates and at least one co-author on every invited talk was either a graduate of or a visitor to our department!

Summer defenses

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

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

Aravind appears in NLLT

Athulya Aravind’s paper Licensing Long-Distance wh-in-situ in Malayalam has just been officially published in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.

The published version is available here. A pre-publication version can be found on linbgbuzz here.

Stanton & Zukoff paper accepted by NLLT

Newly minted PhD Juliet Stanton and very-soon-to-be-minted Sam Zukoff just received news that their joint paper has just been accepted for publication in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory, entitled “Prosodic identity in copy epenthesis: evidence for a correspondence-based approach”. Congratulations to both!! You can read a pre-publication version here: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003522

NSF Grant for Michelle Yuan

We are very excited for Michelle Yuan, a graduate student in her fourth year, who has been awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Research grant by the National Science Foundation!! — for a project entitled “Pronominals and Verb Agreement in Inuktitut

Here’s the official abstract:

“A central question in theoretical linguistics concerns the range of linguistic variation (to what extent languages differ) and language universals (to what extent languages are fundamentally the same at an abstract level, despite surface variation). Answering this question requires both detailed investigation of particular languages and broader cross-linguistic comparison. This project will investigate sentence structure and word structure in an indigenous language of North America. Many of the indigenous languages of the Americas are under-documented; detailed research into the linguistic properties of individual dialect groups is even more lacking for the dialects of the language targeted in this study. Specifically, the project will provide a comprehensive description and analysis of the structural properties of pronouns and pronoun-like verbal agreement forms and will compare the findings with what is already known about related and genetically unrelated languages. The documentation will form the core material analyzed in a doctoral dissertation produced by the CoPI. Broader impacts include a publicly available deposit of the recordings and transcriptions at the Alaska Native Language Archive at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, as well as the linguistic training of indigenous community members working on translation and language pedagogy. This, in turn, will aid the facilitation of dialect-specific language learning materials and thus contribute towards work in language sustainability.

“The CoPI, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, will document and analyze Eastern Canadian Inuktitut, one of a group of Inuit languages spoken in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut, and which are related to Eskimo-Aleut languages spoken in Alaska. The work produced in this project will therefore build a solid empirical foundation for future linguistic research on Inuktitut and Inuit, as well as for the field of theoretical linguistics more broadly. The main hypothesis of this project is that the verbal agreement markers that encode transitive objects in Inuktitut are not canonical agreement markers, but rather ‘doubled clitics,’ pronoun-like elements that co-occur with objects. Historically, linguistic research on these elements has focused on European languages; however, evidence for such an approach for Inuktitut comes from striking distributional and structural parallels with these better-studied languages. This project will investigate how these clitics interact with the case system of Inuktitut as a whole, and show how their absence in other Inuit languages yields a slightly different case system, despite surface appearances. Variation in the distribution of case morphology across the Inuit languages is therefore tightly linked to the underlying structure of the verbal agreement forms. This project will also explore how this novel approach may be extended to account for other pronoun-related phenomena in Inuktitut, as well as case systems cross-linguistically.”

Branan paper to be published by Linguistic Inquiry

Congratulations are in order for Kenyon Branan (fourth-year grad student), whose paper “Attraction at a distance: Ā-movement and Case” has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry!

You can find a pre-publication draft of the paper (and others too) here: http://kbranan.scripts.mit.edu/papers-and-presentations. Here’s the abstract:

“Some languages allow extraction of possessors from only a subset of nominals. I show that a juxtaposition of two proposals about Case and Agree [Rackowski & Richards (2005), Bobaljik (2008)] correctly predicts these cross-linguistic restrictions on possessor extraction.”

Rasin colloquium talk in Leipzig

Ezer Rasin (4th year student) will be giving an invited colloquium talk at the University of Leipzig this Wednesday, entitled “An argument for severing stress from phonology”. For the details, click here.

MIT at SALT 27

Over the weekend, Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 27 was held at the University of Maryland. On May 11, there was a workshop on Meaning and Distribution at UMD as well. MIT was represented at both!

Pranav Anand (PhD ‘06) was an invited speaker at SALT, and spoke on Facts, alternatives, and alternative facts, and Beth Levin (PhD ‘83 EECS) was an invited speaker at the workshop, and spoke on The Elasticity of Verb Meaning Revisited. In addition, MIT had several students, alumni, and faculty presenting both talks and posters.



Juliet Stanton Defends

Congratulations to Juliet Stanton, who just defended her dissertation, titled Constraints on the Distribution of Nasal-Stop Sequences: An Argument for Contrast, last Friday!

Juliet Stanton at her post-defense celebration

As readers may remember, Juliet will be joining the Department of Linguistics at NYU as an Assistant Professor in the Fall. Well done Juliet!

Brillman to Spotify

Ruth Brillman, who is currently finishing her dissertation on antilocality and non-finite clauses, has accepted a fantastic position at Spotify. Here is Ruth’s description of the job:

I’ll be working as a Research Scientist alongside Spotify’s machine learning team (the force behind their recommendation systems like Discover Weekly and Daily Mix) at their Somerville office. A lot of my work will involve figuring out how their machine learning systems should deal with natural language data, and how to evaluate those systems once they’re off the ground. My team will also help establish research goals and standards for the company. I’m so excited!

Congratulations, Ruth!

Abdul-Razak at NYU on Q-particles

Friday April 14th, our third-year student, Abdul-Razak Sulemana, gave a talk at NYU Syntax Brown Bag Talk series on Q-particles and the nature of Covert movement: evidence from Bùlì.

Michelle Yuan — invited speaker for Workshop on Person

Our fourth-year graduate student Michelle Yuan is an invited student speaker for Manitoba Workshop on Person, which is going to take place in September 22-23.

Storme in Glossa

Congratulation to Benjamin Storme (5th year), who’s paper “The loi de position and the acoustics of French mid vowels” was accepted for publication in Glossa. The paper investigates the effect of syllable structure on vowel duration and vowel quality in French. The results are relevant for the study of closed syllable laxing. A pre-publication version can be found on lingbuzz: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003395

Ling-16 did a puzzle!

Whamit! is happy to announce that, after many weeks of hard work, Ling-16 has completed* a 3000-piece puzzle depicting the fierce naval battle between the French ship “La Cannoniere”, and the English ship “The Tremendous” during the Action of 21 April 1806.

*Careful readers will notice that a single piece is missing from the puzzle. We can only assume this is intentional, and is meant to represent the ever-incomplete nature of our work as linguists.

Aravind in NLLT

Good news from fourth-year student Athulya Aravind, whose paper “Licensing long-distance wh-in-situ in Malayalam” has been accepted for publication in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. Congratulations, Athulya! Follow the link for a pre-publication draft.


While WHAMIT! was on hiatus because of Spring Break, the 48th Annual Conference on African Linguistics took place at Indiana University, Bloomington. 3rd year grad student Abdul-Razak Sulemana gave the talk GETCASE is Violable: Evidence for Wholesale Late Merger.

Juliet Stanton, new NYU Assistant Professor!

We are thrilled to congratulate our very own Juliet Stanton for having accepted a tenure-track position of Assistant Professor in phonology at New York University, Department of Linguistics! Wonderful news!

LSA 2017 Institute Fellowship Award recipient — Elise Newman

First year graduate student Elise Newman (also MIT S.B. 2016) has received an LSA 2017 Institute Fellowship Award to attend the 2017 Linguistic Institute at the University of Kentucky. Congratulations, Elise!

Precious Little at Central Square Theater

‘Tis truly the year of the linguist in popular culture (if theatre can be considered popular culture). Central Square Theater’s current season includes a play about a linguist, which several of our own linguists attended on Saturday. Precious Little, written by Madeleine George, explores the mind of linguist faced with the fact that her child may never be able to learn a language. The piece is thought provoking and the linguist humour is on point. We all enjoyed it thoroughly, and would recommend the show to anyone interested in linguistics and theatre!


The 40th edition of GLOW (Generative Linguistics in the Old World) will take place later this week (March 15—17) at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. As usual, MIT will be represented by many current students and alumni.

Hagit Borer (PhD ‘81) is the invited speaker of the main conference.

There will also be workshops during GLOW. Laura Downing and Lisa Cheng (PhD ‘91) organized the workshop Syntax-Phonology Interface – What does Phonology need to know about Syntax and vice versa. Eulàlia Bonet (PhD ‘91) will be the invited speaker and will give the talk Phases and prosodic domains in exponence and phonology. At the same workshop, Nomi Erteschik (PhD ‘73), Gunlög Josefsson & Björn Köhnlein is presenting the work titled Mainland Scandinavian Object Shift, Match Theory and Prosodic Displacement.

Hamida Demirdache (PhD ‘91) and Janet Grijzenhout organized the workshop Heritage Language Knowledge and AcquisitionHeritage Language Knowledge and Acquisition. Esther Rinke, Cristina Flores & Pilar Barbosa (PhD ‘95) will give the talk Null objects in Heritage Portuguese and Jiyoung Choi & Hamida Demirdache the talk Experimentally investigating intervention effects in adult, child and Heritage Korean

Ezer Rasin will take in part in special workshop called The Interface Within, presenting the work titled ‘Predictions of a phonological architecture with stress encapsulation’.

Finally, GLOW is also hosting a special workshop to honor the retirement of Hans Bennis. Timothy Stowell (PhD ‘81) is one of the invited speakers, talking about ‘Government by Agreement’.

MITWPL 81 - Papers on Morphology

MIT Working Papers in Linguistics is pleased to announce the publication of its 81st volume, Papers on Morphology, available at the MITWPL webstore. Edited by Snejana Iovtcheva and Benjamin Storme, the volume contains the following contributions:

Juliet Stanton — paper published at Language

Congratulations to Juliet Stanton, a fifth year student graduate, on the publication of her article Learnability Shapes Typology: The Case of the Midpoint Pathology! (The paper can be viewed here.)

The midpoint pathology (in the sense of Kager 2012) characterizes a type of unattested stress system in which the stressable window contracts to a single word-internal syllable in some words, but not others. Kager (2012) shows that the pathology is a prediction of analyses employing contextual lapse constraints (e.g. *ExtLapseR; no 000 strings at the right edge) and argues that the only way to avoid it is to eliminate these constraints from Con. This article explores an alternative: that systems exhibiting the midpoint pathology are unattested not because the constraints that would generate them are absent from Con, but because they are difficult to learn. This study belongs to a growing body of work exploring the idea that phonological typology is shaped by considerations of learnability.

Pumpkin carving!

On Wednesday October 26th, MIT Linguistics celebrated the Halloween season with an annual pumpkin carving party. Some of the results:

(photo credit: Snejana Iovtcheva)

Welcome to our new students!

Welcome to the new students who are joining the graduate program!

Neil Banerjee

“I’m from Mississauga, Ontario. I was born in West Bengal in India, but I’ve lived in Canada since I was four and so have become very fond of the cold. In June I received a B.Sc. in Mathematics and Linguistics from the University of Toronto. My main linguistic interests are the syntax and semantics of the INFL domain. So far I’ve worked on the syntax of historical English and the semantics of epistemic modals cross-linguistically. My main non-linguistic interests are hiking, flags, maps, and Star Trek.”

Christopher Baron

“I’m originally from the suburbs of Chicago, which you’ll hear in my accent pretty quickly. I received a BA in linguistics and a BA in philosophy at UMass Amherst, where I wrote a thesis on attitude ascriptions. I spent this last year at the University of Maryland as a Baggett Fellow, where I did some language acquisition, psycholinguistics, and fieldwork. I’m primarily interested in semantics and its interfaces, especially in Kaqchikel and other Mayan languages. In my spare time, I love cooking, running, and drinking excessive amounts of coffee.  I am also a classically trained clarinetist, and make a mean loaf of banana bread.”

Keny Chatain

“I was born and grew up in Tours (France), in the Loire valley, amid a bunch of Renaissance castles, but I studied in the Quartier Latin in Paris at ENS. I initially got a BA in maths there, before turning to linguistics, by doing a cognitive science master degree. Last year, I decided to take a year off to visit MIT, and MIT got me. My main interest lies in semantics, pragmatics. I have a special sympathy for pronouns, demonstratives, anything anaphoric, referential in general. I also have a dilettante interest in the Arabic language, literal and dialects, mainly Egyptian. Outside academia, I enjoy reading novels and poems, listening to cheesy French pop, I have a passive hobby of hiking, and a soft spot for French classical theater (attending, mind you).”

Yadav Gowda

“I’m from Illinois, specifically the part that’s in the Upper Midwest, so my æshes are all over the place. I completed a BA in linguistics in 2014 at the University of Chicago, which stoked my interest in a few areas: morphology, argument structure, and the intersection of theoretical computer science and linguistics (especially syntax). Apart from linguistics, I enjoy cooking, watching videos of otters, and Scavving.”

Cora Lesure

“I grew up in Annapolis Maryland before attending McGill University in Montreal. I finished my B.A in linguistics last December and have since been working in the McGill Fieldwork Lab. There I have been researching Chuj (Mayan) morphophonology and aiding in the development of orthographic conventions. My main theoretical interests include prosody and morphophonology and I hope to continue working with Mayan. My non-academic interests are rather eclectic, but some highlights include garage rock, knitting, calligraphy, and the collected works of J.R.R Tolkien.”

Newell Lewey

“Currently enrolled in the MIT Linguistics Masters Program with a focus on Indigenous Language (Passamaquoddy).

Newell was the Community Planner for the Passamaquoddy Tribe at Pleasant Point. He helped coordinate research and develop lines of funding for the Tribe with the twin goals of community economic development and job creation. Newell also has a background in Information Technology and expertise with all aspects of computer hardware and software. Over the past 15 years, Lewey has trained many Tribal entities and individual clients in the use and functioning of various office products, personal computers and networks. Newell is also a part time Language Immersion apprentice for the Passamaquoddy Immersion School.  Language learning and teaching has been a life long dream that is coming true. Newell has also been accepted into MIT’s Linguistics Master program; this will benefit him greatly in years to come when teaching the language.

Newell is serving his second elected term as Tribal Councilor for the Pleasant Point Passamaquoddy Tribe. The Council is the sole governmental structure for the Tribe and works to effect positive change for all who live in Sipayik. The Tribal Council is responsible for the development and implementation of policy and procedural issues. Lewey’s experience as a Councilor has taught him that good governance requires careful attention to the will of the people and a commitment to listen very carefully.

In describing himself, Lewey writes, ‘I am a father and grandfather who is concerned about my families’ future and that of all the generations of all our People who are yet to come. I have been in recovery and following the traditional ways of the Passamaquoddy for more than twenty nine years.  In the past I have done work and volunteered with Native youth in many summer camp and fitness programs. I have also been a mentor and coach to Native youth in three Native American Olympic Games. I have also participated in and helped coordinate more than ten sacred runs which were done in an effort to unite the Wabanaki people of the Northeast. I have done some volunteering at a few of the Maine Correctional Institution in order to support the recovery of Native American prisoners.’”

Elise Newman

“I was born and raised in the city of Chicago, otherwise known as ‘the Chi’, ‘Chi-town’, ‘the Windy City’, ‘Chi-beria’, ‘Is that even a city?’ (used by New Yorkers), etc. Between high school and college, I spent a year on exchange in Germany where I learned German and became interested in syntax. I recently graduated from MIT with a B.S. in both Physics and Linguistics, and decided to pursue a PhD in linguistics. My main interests are currently in syntax, and seem to be localized to verb-tense interactions in the vaguest sense. Outside of academia, I enjoy playing soccer, singing in vocal ensembles, pottery, and being outside in any capacity.”

Frank Staniszewski

“I’m originally from Wisconsin, and attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where I studied Spanish and Japanese, and also was lucky enough to see a few impromptu late night Prince performances at Paisley Park. After two years at the U of M, I decided to take a leave of absence and move to Los Angeles, where I worked as a musician and songwriter before returning to academics to finish my B.A. in linguistics at UCLA in 2015. My primary interests are in syntax and semantics, with a focus on questions relating to modality, negation, NPIs, and neg-raising. While at UCLA, I worked on negative and positive polarity items in Japanese, and neg-raising in English. I’m excited to continue working in these areas at MIT, and look forward to learning about new topics in areas that I have yet to explore. I am also a lover of music (writing, playing, and listening), reading, and stand up comedy.”

Danfeng Wu

“I was born and raised in Shanghai, China, and did my undergraduate studies at Columbia University with a B.A. in economics and mathematics, during which I studied abroad in Paris and interned in Hong Kong. After that I worked in Mumbai, India for two years in the automobile industry. Despite the detour, I have always been interested in linguistics, and am grateful to have the opportunity to study it formally. I’m very curious in general and like to ask lots of questions. I’m particularly intrigued by syntax and phonology. Puzzled by problems such as the English expletive there and ellipsis, I look forward to exploring them further at MIT, and getting to know more new fields such as experimental and computational linguistics.”

Summer defenses

Warm congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators:

  • Despina Oikonomou: Covert modals in root contexts
  • Ayaka Sugawara: The role of Question-Answer Congruence (QAC) in child language and adult sentence processing
  • Suyeon Yun: A theory of consonant cluster perception and vowel epenthesis

Despina and Suyeon will begin post-doctoral positions at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the University of Toronto respectively, while Ayaka is currently an associate professor (lecturer) at Mie University.

MIT at the Manchester Phonology Meeting

Three MIT students participated in the 24th Manchester Phonology Meeting (mfm 24) this year:

  • Juliet Stanton & Sam Zukoff. Prosodic misapplication in copy epenthesis and reduplication.
  • Sophie Moracchini. Backward languages: the case of French Verlan in OT
  • Juliet Stanton. Trigger deletion in Gurindji.

Adam Albright was an invited discussant.

You can find the full programme here and the abstracts booklet here.

Summer congratulations

Congratulations to all our graduating senior majors and minors — Morris Alper, Jessica Kenney, Alyssa Napier, Raúl Rojas, and Elise Newman (as well as unofficial linguistics semi-majors/minors Yihui Quek and Emily Kellison-Linn)!

Congratulations to Gretchen Kern and Coppe van Urk, who are now very officially PhDs!

Maria Giavazzi accepts Maître de Conferences position at the ENS in Paris

Fantastic news from our alum Maria Giavazzi (PhD 2010), who has accepted a permanent Maître de Conferences (≅ Associate Professor) position in linguistics and neuropsychology of language at the Department of Cognitive Studies of the École Normale Supérieure in Paris! Congratulations, Maria!!


The 34th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics was held from April, 29 to May, 1st in the Universiy of Utah. Three second year grad students gave talks or presented posters:

  • Omer Demirok. A compositional semantics for Turkish correlatives and its implications.
  • Daniel Margulis. Expletive negation is an exponent of only.
  • Naomi Francis. Modal scope in negative inversion constructions.

Fieldwork Tool Tutorials: ELAN and FLEx

Date: Friday, April 22nd
Time: 2-3:30pm
Place: 32D, 7th floor seminar room

Lena Borise (Harvard) (with Mitya Privoznov (MIT)) and Tingchun Chen (MIT) will be giving two separate tutorials (45 minutes each) on the basics of ELAN and FLEx. ELAN is a tool for annotating video and audio recordings. FLEx is a fieldwork archiving program developed by the SIL that has many functions, including compiling a lexicon, storing and interlinearizing sentences and texts, etc.


The 46th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL 46) was held last week at Stony Brook University (SUNY).

Third year student Sophie Moracchini & Aurore Gonzalez (Harvard) gave a talk about A morpho-semantic decomposition of French `le moindre’ into even + superlative.

Visiting scholars Adina Dragomirescu & Alexandru Nicolae (Romanian Academy - University of Bucharest) presented on Interpolation in Old Romanian and IstroRomanian

Three MIT alumni also presented talks: Dominique Sportiche ‘84 (UCLA) who gave a talk about Overt movement even with island resumptives and consequences; Richard Kayne ‘69 (NYU) about French HCI, Agree, and Clitic Doubling; and Viviane Déprez ‘89 (Rutgers), who gave a talk on Contextual and prosodic disambiguation of French concord and discord with Jeremy Yeaton.

The full program and abstracts can be found here.

MIT at ACAL 47

Two of our graduate students and two recent alums presented their work at the 47th Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL) last week in Berkeley.

  • Second-year student Abdul-Razak Sulemana presented a papret on “Wh-in-situ and intervention in Bùlì”.
  • Third-year student Kenyon Branan spoke about “Abstract dependent case: evidence from Kikuyu”
  • Claire Halpert (PhD 2012) of the University of Minnesota was a plenary speaker. Her topic was “Surmountable Barriers”
  • Newly minted alum Isaac Gould (PhD 2015) co-presented (with Tessa Scott) a talk on “Two derivations for amba relative clauses in Swahili”

MIT at the LSA meeting in Washington

Last weekend, many MIT and recently MIT linguists converged on Washington, D.C. for the annual meeting of the LSA.

(photos: mitcho Erlewine)

Several current students, faculty and recent grads gave talks and posters at the LSA, including:

  • Richard Futrell (Brain & Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Adam Albright (Linguistics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Peter Graff ‘12 (Intel Corporation), Timothy J. O’Donnell (Brain & Cognitive Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Subsegmental structure facilitates learning of phonotactic distributions”
  • Michelle Yuan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Ruth Brillman (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Zuzanna Fuchs (Harvard University): “Inuktitut mood-agreement interactions as contextual allomorphy”
  • Ryo Masuda (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “The learnability of tone-voicing associations and the absence of place-sensitive tonogenesis”
  • Michelle Yuan (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Subordinate clause types and the left periphery in Gikuyu”
  • Miriam Nussbaum (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Tense and scope in superlatives”
  • Suyeon Yun (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): “Non-native cluster perception by phonetic confusion, not by universal grammar”
  • Theodore Levin ‘15 (University of Maryland): “Unmarked case is unvalued case: Default Voice in Formosan restructuring”
  • Hadas Kotek ‘14 (McGill University), Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine ‘14 (National University of Singapore): “Unifying definite and indefinite free relatives: evidence from Mayan”
  • Patrick Jones ‘14 (Harvard University): “Tonal mobility and faithfulness in Kikuyu”
  • Youngah Do ‘13 (Georgetown University), Elizabeth Zsiga (Georgetown University), Jonathan Havenhill (Georgetown University): “Naturalness and frequency in implicit phonological learning”
  • Jonah Katz ‘10 (West Virginia University), Sarah Lee (University of California, Berkeley): “Cue integration and fricative perception in Seoul Korean”
  • Nicholas Baier of UC Berkeley, who spent the Fall as a much-appreciated visiting student with us, presented a talk of “Deriving partial anti-agreement” (the First Place Student Abstract Award Winner — congratulations!).
  • From McMaster University, Cassandra Chapman, a visiting student last Spring, and Ivona Kucerova ‘07 presented a talk on “Structural and semantic ambiguity of why-questions: an overlooked case of weak islands in English”

Very recent grad Coppe van Urk ‘15 (Queen Mary University), who did not give a talk, couldn’t stay away, nor could several of our current students who attended just for the fun. And as always, many many MIT alums from decades past attended and presented talks, too numerous to mention.

Patrick Grosz and Pritty Patel-Grosz at the University of Oslo

We have just received the great news that our alumni Patrick G. Grosz (PhD 2011) and Pritty Patel-Grosz (PhD 2012) have accepted tenured Associate Professor positions at the University of Oslo. Congratulations, Patrick and Pritty!

Books and papers

  • We are thrilled to take note of the publication of a book by our very recent alum (and very recent colloquium speaker) Claire Halpert (PhD 2012), from Oxford University Press! The book is called Argument licensing and agreement. More information is available here.
  • Congratulations also to 4th-year student Juliet Stanton on the acceptance for publication in Language of her paper “Learnability shapes typology: the case of the midpoint pathology”! A pre-publication version of her paper can be downloaded here. Another paper of Juliet’s has just appeared in Linguistic Inquiry: “Wholesale Late Merger in Ā-Movement: Evidence from Preposition Stranding”. A prepublication version can also be downloaded here.
  • Congratulations to 4th-year student Sam Zukoff, whose paper “The Reduplicative System of Ancient Greek and a New Analysis of Attic Reduplication” has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry! Download a pre-publication version at either lingbuzz or Sam’s webpage.

Uegaki to Leiden

We are delighted to announce that Wataru Uegaki (PhD 2015) has accepted a position as Assistant Professor (Universitair Docent) at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. He will be affiliated with both the Leiden Institute of Area Studies (LIAS) and the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL), and will teach Japanese linguistics and semantics. Wataru is currently a Postdoctoral fellow of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science at Keio University (Tokyo) & the Institut Jean-Nicod (CNRS/ENS) (Paris). Wataru’s new position in Leiden is a fantastic opportunity, and we know that the University of Leiden will be as proud of him as we are! Congratulations!!

MIT/Harvard Fieldwork Support Group

The MIT/Harvard fieldwork support group will be meeting again this Tuesday, 6-7:30pm, at 32-D831. We will discuss two readings on fieldwork methodology:

Matthewson, L. 2004. On the methodology of semantic fieldwork. IJAL 70: 369-415.

Davis, Gillon, and Matthewson. 2014. How to investigate linguistic diversity: Lessons from the Pacific Northwest. Manuscript.

Ivona Kučerová granted tenure at McMaster University

We are delighted to announce that our distinguished alum Ivona Kučerová (PhD 2007) has been granted tenure at McMaster University! Srdečně gratulujeme k tomuto velkému úspěchu!!

John McCarthy elected a Fellow of the AAAS

Congratulations to our alum John J. McCarthy (PhD 1979), who has been elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science! John is Distinguished University Professor, Vice-Provost for Graduate Education and Dean of the Graduate School at UMass Amherst. He is one of the most eminent researchers in phonology, a pioneer in the development of Optimality Theory and renowned for many contributions to multiple areas of linguistics.

Of the now 40 AAAS Fellows in Linguistics and Language Science (Section Z), 13 are alumni of our PhD program. The roster of Fellows also includes three members of our faculty, David Pesetsky (PhD 1982), emeritus professor Wayne O’Neil — and Institute Professor emeritus Noam Chomsky (in the Anthropology Section, since Linguistics did not have a section of its own at the time of his election).

MIT/Harvard fieldwork support group

The next meeting of the MIT/Harvard fieldwork support group will take place on Monday, Nov. 23, 6-7pm. Note that this meeting will be at Harvard, in Boylston 303. Masha Polinsky (Harvard) will give a talk on fieldwork methodology and tools.

If you are interested in attending, please email either Michelle (yuanm@mit.edu) or TC (tcchen@mit.edu) to RSVP if you have not done so already!


The Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) is an annual graduate student conference that brings together presenters from six universities: Harvard, MIT, Brown, Yale, University of Massachusetts at Amherst and University of Connecticut. This year, SNEWS took place at Harvard. The following MIT grad students gave talks:

  • Naomi Francis(second year): A curious pattern in future-oriented if only conditionals
  • Aurore González & Sophie Moracchini (third year): Morphologically complex expressions: analyzing le moindre as superlative + even
  • Daniel Margulis (second year): Expletive negation and temporal alternatives in until-clauses
  • Paul Marty (fifth year): Syntactic Manner: the case of strong crossover effects

Pumpkin carving!

Whug Whiches in situ,
howλing wolves you can see through,
Bats flying,
Pumpkins crying,
Pathetic rhyming,
But good timing —
Happy Halloween!

To see more pictures, visit the MIT Linguistics Facebook page.

Zukoff at the UCLA Indo-European Conference

Fourth-year student Sam Zukoff gave a talk last weekend at the UCLA Indo-European conference WeCIEC 2015, entitled “Repetition Avoidance and the Exceptional Reduplication Patterns of Indo-European”. You can read the handout here.

Juliet Stanton in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory

Congratulations to 4th-year student Juliet Stanton, whose paper “Predicting distributional restrictions on prenasalised stops” has just been published in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory!

Previous studies on prenasalized stops (NCs) focus mainly on issues of derivation and classification, but little is known about their distributional properties. The current study fills this gap. I present results of a survey documenting positional restrictions on NCs, and show that there are predictable and systematic constraints on their distribution. The major finding is that NCs are optimally licensed in contexts where they are perceptually distinct from plain oral and nasal stops. I provide an analysis referencing auditory factors, and show that a perceptual account explains all attested patterns.

Spectrogram-prenasalized-consonant”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia.


The 46th annual meeting of the North East Linguistics Society was held at Concordia University (Montréal, Québec) on October 16-18, 2015. The following MIT students gave talks or poster presentations:

Two of our most distinguished alums gave invited talks …

…and the following alumni (also distinguished!) gave presentations:

List of alumni updated

The department website has been updated with links to the many alums of the graduate program in Linguistics — plus download links to their dissertations and theses. Please let us know of any errors (or, if you are an alum yourself, changes requested).

Reading list

Four of this summer’s dissertations are now available to read!

Renewed congratulations to all!! And here they are (again).


MIT in Europe

Four linguistics conferences were held in Europe over the last two weeks.

(1) The 20th Sinn und Bedeutung was held at the University of Tübingen, Germany (September 9-12 2015). Irene Heim gave an invited talk in the Stechow workshop. Two MIT students presented posters.

Three recent alumni gave talks and presented posters:

Two recent visiting students at MIT gave poster presentations:

(2) The 12th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition conference (GALA 12) was held at the University of Nantes, Nantes (France) on September 10-12, 2015. An MIT student and a recent alumnus gave talks.

(3) The University of Göttingen hosted the Göttingen Spirit Summer School on Negation on September 14th-17th, 2015. An MIT student and an MIT alumnus gave poster presentations.

(4) The 2015 Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain (LAGB 2015) was held at University College London, 15-18 September 2015. The abstract booklet can be found here. An MIT student and two alumni gave talks.

  • Sam Steddy (UCL): Uniform and non-uniform analysis of bracketing paradoxes
  • Fourth year Benjamin Storme: Modeling aspectual asymmetries in the past and in the present
  • Coppe van Urk (Queen Mary, University of London; PhD 2015): Pronoun copying and the copy theory of movement: Evidence from Dinka

Isaac Gould defends dissertation

Congratulations to Isaac Gould on his unambiguously successful defense of his dissertation entitled Syntactic Learning from Ambiguous Evidence: Errors and End-States — well done!!

photo credits: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine



Fourth-year students Snejana Iovtcheva and Despina Oikonomou presented this weekend a paper entitled Island Obviation in Fragment Answers: Evidence from Bulgarian li-questions at FASL (Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics) 24 at NYU. Congratulations!

Ezer Rasin paper to appear in Linguistic Inquiry

Congratulations to 2nd-year student Ezer Rasin, whose paper “On evaluation metrics in Optimality Theory” (co-authored by Roni Katzir) has been accepted for publication by Linguistic Inquiry! You can read a draft of the paper by clicking here.

Levin to postdoc at Maryland

We are proud to announce that Ted Levin has accepted a postdoctoral position in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Maryland, where he will be working with Maria Polinsky and Omer Preminger (PhD 2011) (and the rest of the great Maryland linguistics department as well). Fantastic news, great opportunity — congratulations Ted!!

Newman ‘16 @ undergraduate linguistics conferences

Undergraduate linguistics & physics major Elise Newman (‘16) has been linguistically busy these last two weekends. She presented her paper “Extended EPP: A New Approach to English Auxiliaries and Sentential Negation” as a poster at the 9th Annual Cornell Undergraduate Linguistics Colloquium on the weekend on April 18, and as a talk last weekend at the 2015 Annual Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Colloquium

MIT linguists @ CLS 51

The 51th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society was held this week end at the University of Chicago this weekend (April 23-25). The program included talks by:

  • Third year students Juliet Stanton and Sam Zukoff: Prosodic effects of segmental correspondence
  • Second year student Michelle Yuan: Case competition and case domains: Evidence from Yimas
  • Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014) and Mitcho Erlewine (PhD 2014), currently postdocs at McGill, gave a joint talk: Relative pronoun pied-piping, the structure of which informs the analysis of relative clauses

A picture of Juliet Stanton and Sam Zukoff’s presentation:


A picture of Michelle Yuan’s presentation:


credit: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (mitcho)


MIT Linguistics is delighted to welcome the new students who will join our PhD program in the Fall, from A to П:

  • Rafael Abramovitz (University of Chicago)
  • Itai Bassi (Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
  • Justin Colley (University of New South Wales)
  • Colin Davis (University of Minnesota)
  • Suzana Fong (University of São Paulo)
  • Verena Hehl (University of Tübingen)
  • Maša Močnik (University of Ljubljana; University of Amsterdam)
  • Dmitry Privoznov (Moscow State University)

Van Urk to Queen Mary University of London

We are proud as can be to report that Coppe van Urk has accepted a position as Lecturer (= Assistant Professor) in Linguistics at Queen Mary University of London.  Congratulations, Coppe!!

MIT Linguists at GLOW 38

GLOW 38 was held last week in Paris. Several third year students from MIT had poster presentations or talks:

Sabine Iatridou was also there and talked about Conditionals in Turkish and their absence.

Three recent alumni gave talks:

20th century MIT Linguistics was represented by two alumni, co-authors of the following papers:

MIT at ECO-5

ECO-5 was held at Harvard on Saturday. Two graduate students from MIT gave talks:

MIT Linguists at WCCFL 33

Four of our students traveled to Simon Fraser University in Vancouver to present talks at the 33rd West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics (a.k.a. WCCFL 33):

Isaac Gould: Learning from ambiguous input via parameter interaction (or lack thereof)

Nicholas Longenbaugh, with Bradley Larson (Harvard) and Maria Polinsky (Harvard): Subject/Object Parity in Niuean and the Labeling Algorithm

Lilla Magyar: Are universal markedness hierarchies learnable from the lexicon? The case of gemination in Hungarian

Coppe van Urk: Multiple spell-out and the realization of pronouns

— where they were joined by two of our very recent PhDs, also presenting papers:

Claire Halpert (PhD 2012) (Minnesota): Raising Parameters

Bronwyn Bjorkman (PhD 2011) (U of Toronto) and Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen). Upward Agree is Superior

Not to mention keynote speaker and distinguished alum Kyle Johnson (PhD 1985) from UMass Amherst, and former visitor Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen) (who presented a poster arguing, against all odds, that some of Jonah Katz (Phd 2010) and David Pesetsky’s ideas about language and music are wrong). Plus current visitor Lena Karvovskaya (Leiden) and fondly remembered former postdoc Eric Schoorlemer (Leiden), who presented a poster about ““The possessor that should have stayed close to home, but ran away”.

MIT linguists@PLC 39

The 39th Annual Penn Linguistics Conference took place March 20-22, 2015 at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

  • Fifth-year student Ayaka Sugawara and Negin Ilkhanipour (University of Tehran) presented: On the Semantics and Syntax of Persian ‘become’.
  • Third-year student Aron Hirsch presented: An Unexceptional Semantics for Expressions of Exception.
  • Linguistics for middle school students

    This weekend, several of our graduate students taught linguistics classes to middle school students at Spark, a weekend-long program run by the MIT Educational Studies Program. Snejana Iovtcheva taught a class on Saturday about the writing systems of the world, and Chris O’Brien and Juliet Stanton taught two sections of introductory linguistics (focusing on syntax) on Sunday. They had a lot of fun, and the students did too!

    Ayaka Sugawara to Mie University

    Congratulations to Ayaka Sugawara, our finishing PhD student, specializing in semantics and language acquisition, who has accepted a position as Lecturer in Japanese Linguistics at Mie University!!

    Ayaka will be missed not only in the department and its Language Acquisition Lab but also in the New Philharmonia Orchestra of Massachusetts, where she has participated as a violinist for the last three years. Congratulations, yes, but we’ll miss you!

    Sam Zukoff at Harvard

    Third year student Sam Zukoff will give a talk about Repetition Avoidance and the Exceptional Reduplication Patterns of Indo-European in the GSAS Workshop on Indo-European and Historical Linguistics at Harvard on Wednesday, March 4 at 5:00 pm, in Boylston Hall 303. Congratulations, Sam!

    GLOW and CLS 2015

    Congratulations to the students who have been accepted to give talks or present posters at GLOW 38 and CLS 51 in April!


    • Third year student Lilla Magyar: The role of universal markedness in Hungarian gemination processes
    • Third year student Chris O’Brien: How to get off an island
    • Third year student Juliet Stanton: The learnability filter and its role in the comparison of metrical theories (accepted for the phonology workshop, titled ”The implications of Computation and Learnability for Phonological Theory”)
    • Third year student Benjamin Storme: Aspectual distinctions in the present tense in Romance and cross-linguistically


    • Third year students Juliet Stanton and Sam Zukoff: Prosodic effects of segmental correspondence
    • Second year student Michelle Yuan: Case competition and case domains: Evidence from Yimas

    Two recent alumni, now at McGill, will also give talks at these conferences:

    • Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014) will give a talk at GLOW: Intervention everywhere!
    • Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014) and Mitcho Erlewine (PhD 2014) will give a joint talk at CLS: Relative pronoun pied-piping, the structure of which informs the analysis of relative clauses

    van Urk & Richards in Linguistic Inquiry

    Hot off the press, the latest issue of Linguistic Inquiry includes a syntax paper jointly authored by fifth-year student Coppe van Urk and by Norvin Richards: “Two Components of Long-distance Extraction: Successive Cyclicity in Dinka”. Congratulations, Coppe and Norvin!

    Here’s the abstract: “This article presents novel data from the Nilotic language Dinka, in which the syntax of successive-cyclic movement is remarkably transparent. We show that Dinka provides strong support for the view that long-distance extraction proceeds through the edge of every verb phrase and every clause on the path of movement (Chomsky 1986, 2000, 2001, 2008). In addition, long-distance dependencies in Dinka offer evidence that extraction from a CP requires agreement between v and the CP that is extracted from (Rackowski and Richards 2005, Den Dikken 2009b, 2012a,b). The claim that both of these components constrain long-distance movement is important, as much contemporary work on extraction incorporates only one of them. To accommodate this conclusion, we propose a modification of Rackowski and Richards 2005, in which both intermediate movement and Agree relations between phase heads are necessary steps in establishing a long-distance dependency.”

    MIT at the LSA meeting

    Vast numbers of current MIT linguists and alumni prowled the corridors of the Portland Hilton presenting papers and posters at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America on January 8-11, 2015. The following talks and posters featured MIT presenters:

    Several recent alumni were also present:

    • Jessica Coon (‘10; McGill) organized and presented at a Tutorial on “LingSync and ProsodyLab-Aligner: Tools for Linguistic Fieldwork and OS2 Experimentation”; her copresenters were recent visiting faculty member Alan Bale (Concordia) and Michal Wagner (‘05; Mcgill)
    • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (‘14 McGill University): On the position of focus adverbs
    • Jonah Katz (‘10; West Virginia University): Continuity lenition
    • Jonah Katz (‘10; West Virginia University) and Melinda Fricke (Pennsylvania State University): Lenition/fortition patterns aid prosodic segmentation
    • Hadas Kotek (‘14; McGill University) : A new compositional semantics for wh-questions

    A picture of Aron Hirsch poster presentation:

    A picture of Theodore Levin poster presentation: