The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Archive for the ‘Student News’ Category


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.
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    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:


    MIT at OCP 12

    The 12nd meeting of the Old World Conference in Phonology (OCP) was held last week in Barcelona, Spain. The following MIT faculty and students gave talks there:

    • Adam Albright: Faithfulness to non-contrastive phonetic properties in Lakhota
    • Fifth-year student Gretchen Kern: Syntactically unjustified morphs and other strategies for hiatus resolution in Irish prepositions
    • Third-year student Benjamin Storme: Closed Syllable Vowel Laxing: A strategy to enhance coda consonant place contrasts

    Two MIT alumni were present as well:

    • Andrew Nevins (PhD 2004; University College of London): Undergoers are harmony sources: Maintaining iterative harmony in Oroqen dialects (co-authored with Elan Dresher (University of Toronto))
    • Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009; CNRS, UniversitéŽ Paris 8): Idempotency and the early acquisition of phonotactics

    Wataru Uegaki paper to appear

    Congratulations to 5th-year student Wataru Uegaki, whose paper “Content nouns and the semantics of question-embedding” has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Semantics! You can read a draft of the paper by clicking here.


    Juliet Stanton’s paper to appear in Linguistic Inquiry

    Congratulations to third-year student Juliet Stanton, whose paper “Wholesale Late Merger in Ā-movement: Evidence from Preposition Stranding” has been accepted for publication in Linguistic Inquiry! You can read the most recent version of the paper at http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/002131.


    MIT-based linguistics teaching for high-school students cited in Language article

    MIT-based linguistics teaching for high-school students is mentioned in this excellent new article in Language about an important Milwaukee effort:

    In the United States, linguists Maya Honda of Wheelock College and Wayne O’Neil of MIT partnered with primary school teacher David Pippin after Pippin asked Steven Pinker at a book signing for advice on how to present linguistics to younger students. Pinker connected Pippin to O’Neil, his colleague at MIT. O’Neil was eager to connect with a schoolteacher, feeling that ‘[p]eople should not have to come to linguistics, this remarkable window on the workings of the human mind, in graduate school, as I did, or not at all’ (2010:25–26). The partnership among O’Neil, Honda, and Pippin has continued for over a decade. O’Neil and Honda spend a week every spring with Pippin’s students working through problem sets. In their essay ‘On promoting linguistics literacy’ (Honda et al. 2010:187), the three conclude that ‘[i]n English classes, we think of students as writers and readers. Why not as linguists?’, and they have demonstrated much success in presenting students with data sets and working with them to construct and test hypotheses.


    The most recent development in the movement to offer linguistics to younger students is that, in the spring semester of 2013, six MIT graduate students taught two different linguistics courses in Boston, one a general course on linguistics and one on syntax. Iain Giblin (p.c., 8/9/2013) reported that they are hoping to make the connection with local high school students a program that becomes an MIT legacy, with new graduate students taking over the helm each semester. Hadas Kotek (p.c., 8/14/2013) added that in the summer of 2013 they started a program for middle school students as well and regularly have twenty to twenty-five students in attendance each week.


    Colloquium Party

    A picture from the last colloquium party held at Sabine’s house (from left to right in the background: Sabine Iatridou, her dog, Coppe van Urk, Sam Steddy; from left to right in the foreground: Ted Levin).



    Kotek’s two probe paper has appeared in NLLT

    “Wh-Fronting in a two-probe system”, a paper by newly minted PhD Hadas Kotek, has just appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory. Hadas is currently a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill. Great paper — congratulations!



    MIT at NecPhon 2014

    The eighth meeting of the Northeast Computational Phonology Circle (NECPhon 2014) was held at NYU over the week end. Third year student Juliet Stanton gave a talk entitled “Rare forms and rare errors: deriving a learning bias in error-driven learning”.


    MIT at SNEWS 2014

    The 2014 edition of the Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS 2014) was held at UMass Amherst on Saturday. Three MIT students gave talks:

    • Fifth year student Wataru Uegaki: “Predicting the Variation in Exhaustivity of Embedded Questions”
    • Third year student Aron Hirsch: “An Unexceptional Semantics for Expressions of Exception”
    • Third year student Benjamin Storme: “Present perfectives in English and Romance”

    MIT Linguists at BUCLD

    The 39th BU Conference on Language Development (BUCLD 39) took place this past weekend at Boston University. The following MIT students and faculty gave talks or presented posters:

    • Second year student Athulia Aravind, and Jill de Villiers (Smith College): Implicit alternatives insufficient for children’s SIs with some.
    • Fifth year student Ayaka Sugawara, and Martin Hackl: Question-Answer (In)Congruence in the Acquisition of Only
    • Ayaka Sugawara and K. Wexler: Japanese children accept inverse-scope readings induced by scrambling, but they do not accept unambiguous inverse-scope readings induced by prosody

    Pumpkin carving session

    Nor snow nor rain nor heat nor NELS can stay these pumpkins from the swift completion of their appointed carvings [e].

    Some of the results:




    NELS 45 was held at MIT over the week end and it was a success! The following MIT students and faculty gave talks or presented posters:

    A lot of MIT alumni were present:

    A picture of Mitcho’s poster presentation:

    Mitcho's poster presentation


    MIT@Sinn und Bedeutung

    The 19th annual meeting of Sinn und Bedeutung was held at the Georg August University at Göttingen from September 15 to 17, 2014. Sabine Iatridou was one of the invited speakers. She gave a talk entitled Our even (joint work with Sergei Tatevosov). The following MIT students and faculty gave talks:

    • Martin Hackl, Erin Olson and Ayaka Sugawara: “Processing Only: Scalar Presupposition and the Structure of ALT(S)”
    • Miriam Nussbaum: “Subset Comparatives as Comparative Quantifiers”
    • Wataru Uegaki: “Predicting the variations in the exhaustivity of embedded interrogatives”

    Some MIT alumni were also there:

    • Roni Katzir and Raj Singh: “Economy of structure and information”
    • Benjamin Spector and Yasutada Sudo: “Presupposed Ignorance and Scalar Strengthening”


    The 9th International Workshop on Theoretical East Asian Linguistics (TEAL-9) was held last week at the University of Nantes in France. Second year student Sophie Moracchini talked about the syntax and semantics of Vietnamese comparatives. Mitcho Erlewine ‘14 (McGill University) presented his work On the position of focus adverbs. Tue Trinh ‘11 (University of Wisconsin) gave a talk entitled Interpreting expletive negation in Vietnamese. Yasutada Sudo ‘12 (University College of London) talked about An anti-exhaustive, polarity sensitive connective in Japanese & higher-order scalar implicatures.

    The full program and abstracts can be found here.



    Phonology 2014

    Phonology 2014 was held at MIT over the week end. First-year student Erin Olson gave a tutorial on Automatic Forced Alignment with Prosodylab-Aligner. Third-year student Juliet Stanton gave a talk about Learnability shapes typology: the case of the midpoint pathology. Fifth-year student Suyeon Yun talked about English -uh- insertion and consonant cluster splittability. Third-year students Sam Zukoff and Benjamin Storme presented posters entitled Stress Restricts Reduplication: Stress-Reduplication Interactions in Australian and Austronesian and Closed Syllable Vowel Laxing in Continental French: a Dispersion-Theoretic Account.

    Among the presenters were also some MIT alumni. Gillian Gallagher ‘10 (NYU) was one of the three invited speakers. She gave a talk entitled Asymmetries in the representation of categorical phonotactics. Yoonjung Kang ‘00 (University of Toronto Scarborough) talked about French loanwords in Vietnamese: the role of input language phonotactics and contrast in loanword adaptation (paper co-authored by Andrea Hòa Phạm from the University of Florida and Benjamin Storme). Jonah Katz ‘10 (West Virginia University) presented a poster about Continuity lenition.



    We forgot to tell you last week, but several of our linguists - faculty and students both - spent the previous week in Oxford giving talks at the annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of Great Britain (LAGB).

    Faculty speakers included invited speaker Adam Albright, who gave both a Masterclass on “Gradient Phonotactics” and the 2014 Association Lecture on “Generalizing phonological patterns with phonetic and featural biases”, and Edward Flemming, who spoke about “Deriving long-distance coarticulation from local constraints”.

    In addition, two talks by three students were delivered by two students (for homework, figure out the possible scope relations among these quantifiers, and which reading we intended): 3rd-year student Juliet Stanton spoke on “Varieties of A’ extractions: evidence from preposition stranding”, and Sam Steddy gave a talk presenting joint work with Iain Giblin entitled “Where’s wh-? Prosodic disambiguation of in-situ whphrases” (slides with audio here and handout here. (True tidbit: Juliet was interrogated about her talk by the border control officer at Heathrow airport. After pondering for a moment or two, he expressed agreement with the crucial judgments in her paper, and let her into the UK.)

    Alumni of our program presenting at LAGB included Pilar Barbosa (PhD 1995), who gave a joint talk with Cecile Decat on “Subject object asymmetries in Clitic Left Dislocation” and Yasutada Sudo (PhD 2012), whose joint talk with Patrick Elliott discussed “E-type readings of quantifiers under ellipsis” — plus undergrad alum Christina Kim (S.B. 2003), who talked about “Predictability and implicit communicative content”. Recent visitors Caroline Heycock and Gary Thoms also gave a joint talk on “Reconstruction and modification in relative clauses”


    Welcome to ling-14!

    Ömer Demirok

    I’m from Turkey. I was born and grew up in Tekirdağ, the land of “rakı”. I received my B.A. degree in Foreign Language Education and M.A. degree in Linguistics, both from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. Ethnically, I am half Georgian. For this reason, I became interested in Georgian (especially its dialects spoken in Turkey) and shortly after in its endangered sister, Laz. I did fieldwork on Laz in Turkey and wrote my M.A. thesis on the agreement and case systems of Laz. Coming from a country notorious for killing its indigenous languages with great care, I got involved in endangered language preservation efforts. My main interests are syntax and syntax-morphology interface. But I have also done some work in phonology. I certainly look forward to getting my hands dirty (also) with semantics at MIT.

    Naomi Francis

    I grew up in Tsawwassen, a small town just outside of Vancouver, British Columbia. I completed a BA with a double major in linguistics and classics at the University of British Columbia and an MA in linguistics at the University of Toronto. My main interest is in semantics; my recent work has focused on predicates of personal taste, and I hope to continue working on context-dependent expressions at MIT. In the past I’ve also done some fieldwork on modality in Kwak’wala (Wakashan) and Nata (Bantu), and I still have a soft spot for underdocumented and endangered languages. When not doing linguistics, I enjoy knitting, baking, and watching Doctor Who.

    Michael Jacques

    I’m from Connecticut, I got my B.A. in Linguistics and Philosophy from the University of Connecticut, I am interested in semantics and pragmatics. In my free time, I like to play drums and read.

    Nick Longenbaugh

    I grew up in the high desert of Albuquerque, New Mexico and completed his BA in Computer Science and Linguistics at Harvard. My linguistic interests comprise complexity in language, particularly the origins and distribution of crossed dependencies; the syntax of verb initial languages; and a less specific fascination with formal semantics. Outside of linguistics, I like riding my bicycles.

    Daniel Margulis

    I was born in Latvia and grew up in Israel. I received my B.A. in linguistics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where I was also working on my M.A. in linguistics. I am interested in semantics, syntax, pragmatics and their interfaces, having special curiosity about negation, polarity sensitivity, tense, modality, aspect, scalar implicatures, focus sensitivity, case and movement. At MIT, I hope to continue dealing with puzzles concerning these topics, along with many new ones.

    Erin Olson

    I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota and graduated from McGill University with a BA in Linguistics in 2012. I’m often mistaken for being Canadian (which I don’t mind). In the last two years, I’ve worked as a lab manager at both McGill and MIT doing experimental linguistic work, primarily in syntax and semantics, although my main research interests lie in the field of phonology. I’m especially interested in learning more about the prosody of Algonquian languages, having done some fieldwork on Mi’gmaq (Mi’kmaq, formerly Micmac) while at McGill. When I’m not doing linguistics, I enjoy biking, drawing, computer programming, and reading.

    Carolyn Spadine

    I’m orignially from New Jersey, but for most of my life I’ve lived in Minneapolis, where I did my BA in Linguistics at the University of Minnesota (with a minor in Cultural Studies). When I’m doing linguistics, I like syntax and semantics, especially in Austronesian languages, and when I’m not, I like rock climbing, cooking, and playing guitar.

    Abdul-Razak Sulemana

    My name is Abdul-Razak Sulemana, I am from Sandema a small town in the Upper East Region of Ghana. I received my BA in Linguistics and Political Science from the University of Ghana where I also had my MA in Linguistics. I am interested in Syntactic theory, the Syntax of Buli, and the Syntax of Gur languages but I sometimes venture into morphology and phonology. I am open-minded as I embark on the MIT journey. When I am not doing anything related to linguistics, then I am either reading a John Grisham or Sydney Sheldon novel. I go running or play soccer to exercise. I listen a lot but I say little.

    Hanzhi Zhu

    I was born in Shandong Province on the coast of China, but grew up mostly in Worcester and Shrewsbury, in central Massachusetts. I double majored in Linguistics and Computer Science at Stanford University. At Stanford, I’ve worked on raising constructions in Kazakh, but I’m also interested in a variety of other topics in formal syntax and semantics, and I’m excited to explore other areas as well. For fun, I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, as well as music, cooking, and calligraphy.


    A summer bouquet of congratulations

    Congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators!

    In the coming year, Mitcho will be a post-doc at McGill, Yusuke is an Assistant Professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Patrick will be teaching at Harvard, and Hadas will be a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill.

    And our warmest congratulations to Anthony Brohan on the successful defense of his MA thesis entitled Analytic Bias in Coocurrence Restrictions! Now he’s off to take up a great position at a small firm that a few of us have heard of called “Google”.

    Mitcho3 Yusuke Patrick Hadas

    Summer Conference Round-Up, Part 1

    As the summer conference season starts up, here are some events where MIT linguists can be spotted. More updates will follow in the next Whamit! issue.

    • Donca Steriade and Gillian Gallagher (NYU, PhD 2010) were invited discussants at the conference on Agreement By Correspondence (ABC), held this past weekend at UC Berkeley.
    • The 21st Annual Meeting of the Austronesian Formal Linguistics Association (AFLA 21) will be held May 23-25 at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. Mitcho Erlewine, Ted Levin, and Coppe van Urk will present a paper entitled What makes a voice system? On the relationship between voice marking and case. Among the invited speakers is Diane Massam (UToronto, PhD 1982) whose talk is entitled Applicatives and the split argument hypothesis in Niuean.
    • This year’s meeting of the Canadian Linguistic Association will take place at Brock University in Ontario on May 24-26.Current lab manager and incoming PhD student Erin Olson and alum Michael Wagner (McGill, PhD 2005) are among the presenters of the talk Allophonic variation in English /l/: production, perception, and segmentation. Michelle Yuan is among the presenters of Perception of English corrective focus by native Inuktitut speakers. Anthony Brohan will present Licensing Catalan laryngeal neutralization by cue.Two alumni are also presenting: Bronwyn Bjorkman (UToronto, PhD 2011) will speak on Possession and necessity: from individuals to worlds (with Elizabeth Cowper), and Igor Yanovich (Tubingen, 2013) will present No weak necessity.
    • The last of the conferences being held next weekend is GLOW in Asia X at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. Yusuke Imanishi’s work on Default ergative: A view from Mayan will be presented in the poster session. Moreover, all three keynote speakers have ties to MIT Linguistics: current faculty Michael Kenstowicz will present The emergence of default accent in Kyungsang Korean; Richard Kayne (NYU, PhD 1969) will speak on The silence of projecting heads; and C.-T. James Huang (Harvard, PhD 1982) will present Passives forever: control, raising and implicit arguments.

    Kotek’s two-probe paper appears in NLLT

    Hadas Koteks paper “Wh-fronting in a two-probe system” has appeared in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.  Congratulations, Hadas! Here’s the abstract:

    “Prior work on wh-movement has distinguished among several types of wh-fronting languages that permit distinct patterns of overt and covert movement, instantiated for example by the Slavic languages, English, and German. This paper extends the cross-linguistic typology of multiple questions by arguing that Hebrew instantiates a new kind of wh-fronting language, unlike any that are discussed in the current literature. It will show that Hebrew distinguishes between two kinds of interrogative phrases: those that are headed by a wh-word (wh-headed phrases: what, who, [DP which X], where, how…) and those that contain a wh-word but are headed by some other element (wh-containing phrases: [NP N of wh], [PP P wh]). We observe the special status of wh-headed phrases when one occurs structurally lower in a question than a wh-containing phrase. In that case, the wh-headed phrase can be targeted by an Agree/Attract operation that ignores the presence of the c-commanding wh-containing phrase. The paper develops an account of the sensitivity of interrogative probing operations to the head of the interrogative phrase within Cable’s (2010) Q-particle theory. It proposes that the Hebrew Q has an EPP feature which can trigger head-movement of wh to Q and that a wh-probe exists alongside the more familiar Q-probe, and shows how these two modifications to the theory can account for the intricate dataset that emerges from the paper. The emerging picture is one in which interrogative probing does not occur wholesale but rather can be sensitive to particular interrogative features on potential goals.”

    MIT Linguists Around North America

    Third-year graduate student Snejana Iovtcheva was in UC Berkeley for the 23rd Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics (FASL23) conference held May 2-4. She gave a talk entitled An Output-to-Output Correspondence Analysis of the Bulgarian Vowel-Zero Alternation.

    David Pesetsky visited Yale’s linguistics department last Monday, where he gave a colloquium talk entitled Islands in the modern world.

    Finally, Norvin Richards will be in McGill University this weekend, May 8-10, for a workshop entitled “Exploring the Interfaces 3: Prosody and Constituent Structure” (ETI3). Norvin will give an invited talk, Another look at Tagalog prosody. Among the workshop’s organizers is Jessica Coon (PhD ‘10).


    MIT@WSCLA 19

    WSCLA (Workshop on Structure and Constituency in the Languages of the Americas) 19 was held this weekend on the St John’s campus of Memorial University. First-year student Michelle Yuan gave a talk on Person restrictions in Inuktitut portmanteau morphology. Jessica Coon ‘10 (McGill) gave a talk entitled Little-v agreement: Evidence from Mayan. Heidi Harley ‘95 (University of Arizona) gave a talk about A revised picture of external argument introduction: Conflicting evidence from Hiaki.



    This weekend two students from MIT visited the University of Maryland to participate in the 2014 edition of ECO5, an annual student-run Workshop in Formal Linguistics that brings together students from MIT, Harvard, UMass, UConn and the University of Marlyand.  Second-year student Juliet Stanton presented a paper on “Varieties of A’-extractions: evidence from preposition stranding ” (draft here), which explains a variety of constraints on A-bar constructions as a consequence of Wholesale Late Merge.  First-year student Michelle Yuan presented “Person-case restrictions in Inuktitut as an anti-agreement effect ” (based on her fieldwork) arguing for feature movement as a species of agremeent in Inuktitut.


    MIT @ FASAL 4 and CLS 50

    The 4th edition of Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages was held in Rutgers, March 29-30. Second-year grad student Ishani Guha presented a poster on “The Other je Clause in Bangla”. Alumnus Mark Baker ‘85 (Rutgers University) gave a talk entitled “On Case Assignment in Dative Subject Constructions in Dravidian: Tamil and Kannada”.

    The 50th Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society was held this week end at the University of Chicago. Second-year grad students Ruth Brillman and Aron Hirsch gave a talk about asymmetries between subject and object extraction (“Don’t move too close”). Fourth-year grad students Theodore Levin and Ryo Masuda gave a talk on “Case and Agreement in Cupeño: Morphology Obscures a Simple Syntax”. Alumni Jonathan David Bobaljik ‘95 (University of Connecticut) and Jessica Coon ‘10 (McGill University) were among the invited speakers. Jonathan Bobaljik gave a talk entitled “Morpholocality: Structural Locality in Words” and Jessica Coon talked about “Little-v Agreement: Evidence from Mayan”.


    Erlewine to McGill post-doc!

    We are delighted to announce that Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine will be a post-doc at McGill university next year, working with Lisa Travis, Jessica Coon and Michael Wagner.  Congratulations, mitcho!!