The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Archive for the ‘Talks’ Category

LingPhil Reading Group 12/11 - Matt Mandelkern (Oxford)

Speaker: Matt Mandelkern (Oxford)
Title: Constructing the conditional
Date and time: Monday, December 11, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D769

I argue, contra the dominant line in the linguistics literature, that conditionals validate Conditional Excluded Middle in full generality, and invalidate Duality:

Conditional Excluded Middle: ‘If p, q, or if p, not q’ is always true

Duality: ‘If p, q iff Not: if p, might not q’

I argue that we can, however, give a semantics for conditionals which makes these predictions, without abandoning the insights of Kratzer’s restrictor analysis.


LingPhil Reading Group 12/4 - on Pietroski 2015

Title: Discussion of Pietroski 2015: Framing Event Variables
Date and time: Monday December 4, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

I find myself writing two papers that are due around the same time. This one develops an objection, based on Davidson’s (1967a) analysis of action reports, to truth-theoretic accounts of linguistic meaning. The other one is about the relevance of Liar Paradoxes for such accounts; see Pietroski (forthcoming). In both papers, the first numbered sentence is (1).

(1) The first numbered sentence in “Framing Event Variables ” is false.

But here, (1) is simply a reminder of a familiar difficulty for the idea that declarative sentences of a Human Language have truth conditions; where for these purposes, a Human Language is a spoken or signed language that any biologically normal child can acquire given an ordinary course of linguistic experience. In my view, (2) and (3) present further difficulties for this idea.

(2) Alvin chased Theodore gleefully and athletically but not skillfully.

(3) Theodore chased Alvin gleelessly and unathletically but skillfully.

Following Davidson and others, I think action reports have “eventish ” logical forms like (2a-3a).

(2a) ∃e[Chased(e, Alvin, Theodore) & Gleeful(e) & Athletic(e) & ~Skillful(e)]

(3a) ∃e[Chased(e, Theodore, Alvin) & Gleeless(e) & Unathletic(e) & Skillful(e)]

We can stipulate that these existential generalizations—sentences of an invented language—have recursively specifiable truth conditions, and that ‘Chased(e, x, y)’ is true of <α, β, γ> if and only if α was an event of β chasing γ. But as we’ll see, there are good reasons for denying that (2) and (3) exhibit the specified truth conditions. There are potential replies. But I argue that they are implausible, especially given the many independent illustrations (e.g., via Kahneman and Tversky) of how human judgments are affected by linguistic framing.

The discussion will be led by Christopher Baron.

LingLunch 12/7 - Suzana Fong (MIT)

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: A featural and edge-based analysis of hyper-raising
Date and time: Thursday, December 7, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Hyper-raising (HR) consists in raising a subject of an embedded finite clause into the subject or object position in the embedding clause (Ura 1994, Tanaka 2002, Yoon 2007, Nunes 2008, Halpert & Zeller 2015, Halpert 2016, Bondarenko 2017, Deal 2017, Zyman 2017, a.o.). Because the clause a DP hyper-raises from is a finite CP, this introduces a challenge to common assumptions about the phasehood of this type of domain. Moreover, both the position a DP hyper-raises from and the landing site in the matrix clause are case-marked. This introduces a challenge to common assumptions about case assignment.

To circumvent the phase problem, I follow van Urk (2015)’s featural definition of syntactic positions. Specifically, I propose that the complementizer of HR sentences has A-features (i.e. not A-bar). The A-features in the HR complementizer trigger the movement of the subject to the edge of the embedded clause, [Spec, CP] (cf. Tanaka 2002, Takeuchi 2010, Zyman 2017, a.o.). As a consequence of being at the edge of a phase, the embedded subject is accessible to a probe in the dominating phase. This allows the embedded finite subject to be accessed by a matrix probe (T or v).

The postulation of features in C will be argued for by HR to object in Mongolian. As first discussed by Hiraiwa (2005) and Bondarenko (2017) regarding Japanese and Buryat, respectively, an embedded finite subject can receive accusative case while remaining in the embedded clause. I will call ‘medial-raising’ this variety of HR, where the accusative subject does not exit the embedded clause. In a canonical, non-HR sentence, if the embedded nominative subject contains a locally-bound reflexive, the reflexive cannot be bound by the matrix subject. However, in the medial-raised counterpart, binding is possible. [Spec, CP] is a position that can account for the dual properties of medial-raising: it is still inside the embedded clause, but it extends the binding domain of the medial-raised subject, and allows it to receive accusative case from the matrix v. [Spec, CP] will also be relevant to provide an explanation to the interaction between HR and (seemingly) long distance scrambling in Mongolian.

Also following van Urk (2015), I assume that probes can also come in a composite, A/A-bar variety. If HR is triggered by A-features in C and if there can be composite probes, we may expect for there to be an instance of HR that is triggered by composite probes. I tentatively analyze data from Kipsigis and Imbabura Quechua as this type of HR. In these languages, what seems to undergo HR is an embedded argument that is lower than the subject. This creates an additional minimality problem. If this lower argument bears the features that the composite probe in C is looking for, while the subject does not, the minimality question is avoided.

To circumvent the case problem, I first try to show that HR consists of a multiple case checking (Béjar & Massam 1999, a.o.). I propose that the same DP can be assigned more than one case, as long as it is able to move from one domain of case assignment into another (cf. Levin 2016). Under this view, we can characterize HR as an instance of movement across domains of case assignment.


Ling-Lunch 11/30 - Michelle Yuan (MIT)

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Anaphors and antipassives in Inuktitut
Date and time: Thursday, November 30th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

The Anaphor Agreement Effect (AAE) refers to the cross-linguistic (possibly universal) inability for anaphors to be cross-referenced with co-varying phi-agreement (Rizzi 1990, et seq.). In this talk, I investigate the AAE in Inuktitut (Inuit; Eskimo-Aleut) as a window into its antipassive construction and clause structure more generally. It has been claimed that the Inuit languages avoid phi-agreement with anaphoric objects by resorting to the antipassive construction, which demotes the object to an oblique (Woolford 1999; Sundaresan 2015). However, a closer look reveals that the interaction of anaphors and antipassives in Inuktitut is both more nuanced and more complex than previously assumed.

Despite surfacing with identical case morphology, I argue that anaphors enter the derivation with inherent case, while true (non-anaphoric) antipassive objects receive structural Case (building on Spreng 2006, 2012). Thus, Inuktitut obviates the AAE by enclosing its anaphors in a PP layer, not by antipassivization. Evidence for this distinction comes from the possibility of case stacking on anaphors (not otherwise possible in Inuktitut), as well as from the parallel behaviour of phi-agreement and verbal antipassive morphology in anaphoric contexts. I also explore the wider implications of this analysis for Inuktitut clause structure and argument licensing.


MIT Colloquium 12/1 - Nina Sumbatova (RSUH)

Speaker: Nina Sumbatova (Russian State University for the Humanities)
Title: Referential, Radical Alliterative, and other uncommon instances of gender agreement
Time: Friday, December 1st, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

According to the widely cited definition by Charles Hockett, “genders are classes of nouns reflected in the behavior of associated words” (Hockett 1958: 231). In other words, genders are defined via agreement. At the same time, in most languages with gender systems, the speakers cannot determine the gender of an arbitrary noun neither by its meaning nor by any formal properties – it is a lexical feature of the noun and should be kept in the lexicon.

However, there is a whole number of languages whose gender systems are described as totally semantic as well as some languages where (almost) all nouns are assigned to particular genders by applying some simple and highly regular formal rules. In this talk, I shall discuss some languages of these two types.

First, I shall present the data of Dargwa (East Caucasian), a language with a “semantic” gender system. I hope to show that gender assignment in Dargwa is rather based on the properties of the NP referents than on the lexical features of the nouns.

Second, I shall discuss the possibility of systems where gender is assigned solely by a set of rules and probably does need to be stored in the lexicon. The language of Landuma (Mel < Niger-Congo) is a unique example of a language where the choice of agreement markers seems to be conditioned by a purely phonological rule. The “gender” system in Landuma needs a serious discussion, since it looks as a violation of the well-known principle of phonology-free syntax (Zwicky 1969; Zwicky, Pullum 1986, etc.).

The data of Dargwa and Landuma were obtained in course of fieldwork in Daghestan (Russian Federation) and in the Republic of Guinea, respectively.


LingPhil Reading Group 11/20 - on Koev (under review)

Title: Discussion of Koev (under review): Parentheticality and Assertion Strength
Date and time: Monday November 20, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The traditional picture in linguistics and philosophy is that descriptive content and illocutionary force are cleanly separated. This paper argues that this orthodoxy is incorrect: descriptive content can modify the strength of the main assertion of the sentence, thus blurring the boundary between semantics and pragmatics. One prominent such case are sentences with SLIFTING PARENTHETICALS (e.g. The dean, Jill said, greeted the secretary; Ross 1973), which grammaticalize an intriguing interaction between compositional meaning and speech act function. In such sentences, the main clause (the non-parenthetical part of the sentence) pragmatically depends on the parenthetical, which provides evidential information. The discourse effect of this setup is that slifting parentheticals modulate the strength with which the main clause is asserted (cf. Urmson 1952; Asher 2000; Rooryck 2001; Jayez & Rossari 2004; Davis et al. 2007; Simons 2007; Murray 2014; Maier & Bary 2015; AnderBois 2016; Hunter 2016). Building on Lewis (1976) and Davis et al. (2007), this paper develops a probabilistic dynamic model that captures the role of parentheticality as a language tool for qualifying commitments. The model also derives three properties that set apart slifting sentences from regular embedding constructions (e.g. Jill said that the dean greeted the secretary), i.e. (i) the fact that slifting parentheticals invariably express upward-entailing operators, (ii) the fact that they modify root clauses and do not occur in subordinate clauses, and (iii) the fact that slifted claims are more difficult to reject or doubt by the speaker than claims expressed in complement clauses.

The discussion will be lead by Maša


Phonology Circle 11/20 - Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College & MIT)

Speaker: Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College & MIT), joint work with Shinobu Mizuguchi (Kobe University)
Title: Focus Prosody in Japanese Reconsidered
Date/Time: Monday, 20 November 2017, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831
This study, a part of ongoing joint project on production/perception of Japanese intonation and focus, discusses topics that have hardly been touched upon in relation to them. Most previous studies on Japanese accent and pitch have focused on mechanisms of accentuation, how lexical accents manipulate pitch/F0, how intonation patterns are parsed into prosodic phrases, and how focus affects intonational patterns and prosodic phrasing. However, except for sporadic mention by, for example, Pierrehumbert and Beckman (1988), Selkirk and Tateishi (1988, 1991), Sugahara (2003), and Ishihara (2011a), the discussions are solely on accented words and Downstep (Catathesis), and discussions on unaccented words are hardly found. In this study, we did preliminary experiments on perception/production of focus under various accentual conditions, to examine whether the so-called effects of focus in Japanese (and other languages perhaps) apply to other accentual environments. Due to the preliminary nature of our study, we do not intend to say that the points below are valid, but our interim conclusion is a very moderate one, namely that our results accord with what has been being said about the effects of focus in recent years (Ishihara (2003, 2011ab, 2016, 2017), Sugahara (2003), among others), with several findings that may be novel.
  1. An unaccented prosodic phrase also undergoes Focal Boost of F0, which means that focal prosody is not an accent.
  2. Related to this, the boost of F0 due to focus is not so strong that it nullifies previous F0-manipulating effects, such as Downstep. (Ishihara (2003), Shinya (1999))
  3. Because of the Boost and other factors (such as Lowering of F0 due to GIVENness), Downstep-like effects CAN be observed after an unaccented word with focus. (somehow related to Sugahara’s (2003) results, but a little different)
  4. When there is a string of enough length with GIVEN information contents, there appears to be PRE-focal lowering. This lowering appears to lower the pitch of the focus following it. (There have been studies on GIVEN strings AFTER focus, but not BEFORE in our understanding.)
  5. Given 1.-4., the manipulation of F0 by focus is affected by so many factors, and perhaps it is not appropriate to say that focus initiates a new Major Phrase (or Phonological Phrase). (Ishihara’s series of work)

LFRG 11/22 - Moshe Bar-Lev - rescheduled to 11/29

LF Reading Group meeting with a talk from Moshe Bar-Lev on Homogeneity will take place on November 29th 1-2pm.


LingPhil Reading Group 11/13 - on Romero & Han 2004

Title: Discussion of Romero & Han 2004: On Negative Yes/No Questions
Date and time: Monday November 13, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

Preposed negation yes/no (yn)-questions like Doesn’t John drink? necessarily carry the implicature that the speaker thinks John drinks, whereas non-preposed negation yn-questions like Does John not drink? do not necessarily trigger this implicature. Furthermore, preposed negation yn-questions have a reading “double-checking” p and a reading “double-checking” ≠ p, as in Isn’t Jane coming too? and in Isn’t Jane coming either? respectively. We present other yn-questions that raise parallel implicatures and argue that, in all the cases, the presence of an epistemic conversational operator VERUM derives the existence and content of the implicature as well as the p/≠ p-ambiguity.

The discussion will be led by Milica.


Phonology Circle 11/13 - Erin Olson (MIT)

Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)
Title: Influence of schwa duration on stress/pitch patterns in Passamaquoddy
Date/Time: Monday, 13 November, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Passamaquoddy-Maliseet (Eastern Algonquian; Maine and New Brunswick) is well-known for the fact that reduced vowels are in many cases invisible to the stress/pitch accent system (LeSourd 1988, 1993; Hagstrom 1995). While previous analyses have assumed that this invisibility is due to some sort of structural deficiency of these vowels, I assume that it is at least in part due to the phonetics of stress/pitch accent. I will present a preliminary phonetic study of pitch and vowel duration in the language, based on data from the Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary Project (Language Keepers & Passamaquoddy-Maliseet Dictionary Project 2016). I will show that the syllables marked as stressed in the literature crucially involve a rise in pitch, and I hypothesize that the odd behaviour of schwa can be derived from the fact that it is too short to host either this rise in pitch or a fall from one pitch to the next. A brief sketch of this hypothesis in OT is provided.


Syntax Square 11/14 - Michelle Yuan (MIT)

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Last Resort licensing in Inuktitut
Date and time: Tuesday November 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The traditional Case Filter (Chomsky 1981, et seq.) regulates the syntactic distribution of nominal arguments; nominals cannot appear in positions where they are inaccessible for licensing (e.g. Case assignment). It has also been argued that nominals in such positions may nonetheless be later licensed by a Last Resort mechanism that rescues the derivation. In much of this literature, Last Resort Case assignment is modeled as the countercyclic insertion of a Case-bearing head directly onto the nominal in question (e.g. Harley & Noyer 1998, Rezac 2011, Levin 2015, van Urk 2015).

I argue for the existence of this kind of Last Resort Case assignment in Inuktitut (Eskimo-Aleut), thus providing evidence in favour of this idea more generally. Along the way, I also show how this analysis sheds light on various other aspects of Inuktitut morphosyntax. In Inuktitut, regular nominal licensing strategies may be blocked or disrupted in certain environments. When this happens, these nominals uniformly receive a certain kind of oblique case. Crucially, this oblique case morphology must be countercyclically inserted once the clause structure has been fully built. In Inuktitut, this derivational logic is particularly transparent: phi-agreement, the language’s regular nominal licensing strategy, is in C0, meaning that failure to license a lower nominal via phi-agreement can only be seen once the CP layer is Merged. Finally, I argue that, despite surface similarities, this Last Resort Case-insertion process is distinct from default case (e.g. Schutze 2001).


LF Reading Group 11/15 - Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)
Title: Results, Repetitives and Datives: towards an account of the crosslinguistic variation
Date and time: Wednesday November 15, 4-5pm
Location: 32-D461

Repetitive adverbs like ‘again’ are ambiguous in sentences with dative (= indirect) arguments in some languages (ex., in English, (1)), but not in others (ex., in Russian, (2)):

(1) Thilo gave Satoshi the map again.
REP(etitive): ‘Thilo gave Satoshi the map again, and that had happened before.’
RES(titutive): ‘Thilo gave Satoshi the map, and Satoshi had had the map before.’
(Beck & Johnson 2004: 113)

(2) Maša opjat’ otdala Vase kartu.
Masha.NOM again gave Vasja.DAT map.ACC
REP(etitive): ‘Masha gave Vasja the map, and that had happened before.’
RES(titutive): *’Masha gave Vasja the map, and Vasja had had the map before.’

Following the structural ambiguity approach to repetitives ((von Stechow 1996), (Beck 2005), among others), I will argue that the availability of the restitutive reading in constructions with dative arguments depends on the syntactic configuration. The restitutive reading in ditransitives has been previously attributed either to presence of a small clause in the structure (Beck & Johnson 2004), or on the presence of an applicative phrase (Bruening 2010). I will explore another hypothesis: that the restitutive reading arises due to existence of a prepositional phrase in the structure.


Ling-Lunch 11/16 - Tom Roeper (UMass-Amherst)

Speaker: Tom Roeper (UMass-Amherst)
Title: Strict Syntax/Semantic Interfaces and Ellipsis: an explanatory role for acquisition theory
Date and time: Thursday November 16, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

It has often been said that linguistic theory should account for acquisition. Modern work extends this claim to the more important goal: account for steps on the acquisition path itself, where micro-operations are often visible. The abstract claim has particular relevance when it can resolve long-standing questions in theory. We show that the acquisition path for ellipsis must entail a shift from an Open Interface, dependent upon inference, to a Strict Syntax/semantic Interface which involves a perfect correspondence of syntax and semantics and minimizes pragmatics:

Strict Interface Hypothesis: The acquisition device assumes that there should be an isomorphic connection between LF-semantics, syntax, and phonology.

This is based upon an acquisition principle:

Minimization Goal: Minimize pragmatic inference and maximize the information determined by explicit grammar.

One tradition, epitomized in the work of Hardt (1999), claims that a broad empty category like pro and general cognitive biases toward parallelism (Jackendoff and Culicover (2005)) are needed to account for ellipsis. Another tradition is captured in Kennedy’s (2008) Syntax-Semantics Identity Hypothesis:

A recovered syntactic representation generates an LF form with variables that allow sloppy readings.

Merchant (2015, to appear) and Craenenburg (2014) argue for a “hybrid” account which is theoretically unsatisfying. They claim the system is strict, but then the system assumes pronominal forms (or just do that) when necessary. The literature has also shown an ongoing debate about less than full reconstruction in syntactic representations, given various deviations known as “mismatches”. The acquisition path perspective makes this outcome natural.

The empirical basis of this argument works with evidence about VP ellipsis, NP-ellipsis, and Partitive interpretation. Children overgenerate possible reconstructions beyond sloppy identity and then must somehow retreat. eg. They allow John patted his dog and so did his grandfather to mean grandfather pats an uncle’s dog. This creates a learnability problem since interpretations both include and exceed the adult grammar. Evidence on early VP-ellipsis from Santos, and Wijnen and Roeper (2003) on NP-ellipsis and Hulk and Schleeman (2014) on partitives, and Perez et al (to appear) on empty pro objects support this account.

The acquisition path claim is: Children will step by step, following Minimize Pragmatics, replace a pronominal representation with an explicit syntactic representation and a fixed link to semantic representations.

This Strict Interface perspective is deliberately much more stringent than a claim that interfaces involve “Third Factor” effects (Chomsky (2005) which weakens learnability. A big challenge is to develop a notation that makes the connection transparent and simple for the child and natural within UG.


CompLang 11/16 - David Alvarez Melis (MIT CSAIL)

Speaker: David Alvarez Melis (MIT CSAIL)
Title: Interpretability for black-box sequence-to-sequence models
Date/Time: Thursday, November 16th, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 46-5165

Most current state-of-the-art models for sequence-to-sequence NLP tasks have complex architectures and millions —if not billions—of parameters, making them practically black-box systems. Such lack of transparency can limit their applicability to certain domains and can hamper our ability to diagnose and correct their flaws. Popular black-box interpretability approaches are inapplicable to this context since they assume scalar (or categorial) outputs. In this work, we propose a model to interpret the predictions of any black-box structured input-structured output model around a specific input-output pair. Our method returns an “explanation” consisting of groups of input-output tokens that are causally related. These dependencies are inferred by querying the black-box model with perturbed inputs, generating a graph over tokens from the responses, and solving a partitioning problem to select the most relevant components. We focus the general approach on sequence-to-sequence problems, adopting a variational autoencoder to yield meaningful input perturbations. We test our method across several NLP sequence generation tasks.

MIT Colloquium 11/17 - Michelle Sheehan (Anglia Ruskin)

Speaker: Michelle Sheehan (Anglia Ruskin)
Title: Different routes to partial control: German/English = French + Icelandic
Time: Friday, November 17th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155
One of the biggest challenges to the movement theory of control (Hornstein 1999, et seq.) is the existence of partial control (PC), whereby (descriptively speaking) big PRO denotes the controller plus some other contextually given individual(s) (Landau 2000, 2003, 2004):
  1. Johni wants PROi+ to part company now. 
Early accounts of this phenomenon attribute it to an imperfect control relation between the controller and PRO, mediated by C, which allows PRO to be syntactically singular but semantically plural (Landau 2000, 2004). More recent accounts, however, recognise the problems such an account and attribute PC to either the semantics of attitude predicates (Pearson 2013, 105, Landau 2015) or the presence of an associative marker on the embedded predicate (Landau 2016). On the latter kinds of approaches, note, PC seems less problematic for the movement theory of control. Moreover, Boeckx, Hornstein and Nunes (2010) propose an account of PC which is straightforwardly compatible with the movement theory of control: PC involves exhaustive control with a covert comitative.
In this paper, I give experimental data from a number of languages to show that PC remains problematic for the movement theory of control in some (but not all) languages. That is to say that PC is not a uniform phenomenon. While there are languages in which PC does reduce to exhaustive control plus a covert comitative (French), there are also languages in which it only sometimes does (German, English, European Portuguese) and others in which it never does (Icelandic, Russian). There are thus two types of PC, which I label fake PC and true PC. Moreover, in instances of true PC in languages with rich case/agreement morphology, we can see that PRO is actually plural in instances of true PC, and also that it has its own case specification. This raises serious problems for the claim that control is always derived via movement.
As a solution to this puzzle, I propose that there are two syntactic routes to control: movement and failed movement. Where a complement CP lacks case/phi-features, an argument in spec TP is indeed free to move to the thematic domain of the matrix clause, according to PIC2 (Chomsky 2001). This gives rise to an exhaustive control reading. Following van Urk and Richards (2015), however, I claim that where the complement CP has case/phi-features, as it can in Icelandic, Russian, European Portuguese and German, this movement is blocked as the clause is an intervener. In such cases, a matrix thematic head can only agree with an embedded subject, but the latter cannot move. A distinct DP is therefore externally merged with that thematic head. At PF, the two arguments form a partial chain, leading to deletion of the lower copy and at LF the two arguments are required to be non-distinct, leading to partial control. 
An extended abstract is also available.

LingPhil Reading Group 11/6 - on Cariani 2013

Title: Discussion of Cariani 2013: `Ought’ and Resolution Semantics
Date and time: Monday November 6, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

I motivate and characterize an intensional semantics for ‘ought’ on which it does not behave as a universal quantifier over possibilities. My motivational argument centers on taking at face value some standard challenges to the quantificational semantics, especially to the idea that ‘ought’-sentences satisfy the principle of Inheritance. I argue that standard pragmatic approaches to these puzzles are either not sufficiently detailed or unconvincing.

The discussion will be led by David.


Syntax Square 11/7 - Andrew Peters (University of Toronto)

Speaker: Andrew Peters (University of Toronto)
Title: Keeping Finiteness Syntactic: Propositions, bare events and the lack of a finite distinction in Mandarin Chinese
Date and time: Tuesday November 7, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Lacking morphological diagnostics, arguments for or against the presence of a finiteness contrast in Mandarin Chinese (MC) have focused primarily around the distribution of modal verbs and aspectual markers, and the analysis of control and raising. Lin (2011, 2015), for example, posits (1) that MC raising verbs take finite TP complements, control taking non-finite TP complements, (2) that epistemic modals are raising verbs and root modals are control verbs, and (3) that root and epistemic modals’ differing distribution with respect to aspect requires a finiteness distinction. This talk departs from Lin’s argument by positing that the fundamental clause-type distinction in Mandarin is between propositions and bare events. This distinction relies on a PROP(osition) feature (Cowper, 2005; 2016) which I argue is hosted on AspP in Mandarin, and is responsible for taking bare events and returning propositions. Epistemic modals require propositions in their prejacent (Kratzer, 1991; Butler 2003 inter alia), while root modals may take bare events in Mandarin (Grano, 2015). Thus, finiteness may remain a purely syntactic distinction involving the licensing of structural case (Cowper, 2016), and need not be defined semantically. Lacking further evidence for its existence, I posit that there is no finiteness distinction in Mandarin. 


LF Reading Group 11/08 - Verena Hehl (MIT)

Speaker: Verena Hehl (MIT)
Title: From times to worlds
Date and time: Wednesday November 8, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this work in progress I will examine the meaning of sentences with German eher ’sooner’/’rather’ which exhibits temporal and modal meanings, in light of Gergel’s 2010, a.o. analysis of English rather, taking into account the historical development of both particles. I will develop an analysis for German eher that has at its core the notion of a scale, basically an ordered set of degrees. The degree approach simplifies the formal account of how this particle came to be used in temporal as well as modal domains. Temporal and modal readings of eher have in common that they consist of a gradable property which combines with a comparative morpheme. They are, however, distinguished in terms of the scale they operate on, leading to different LF attachment sites for the temporal vs. the modal reading.


LingPhil Reading Group 10/30 - on Jacobson 1995

Title: Discussion of Jacobson 1995: On the Quantificational Force of English Free Relatives
Date and time: Monday October 30, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The late 70’s and early 80’s witnessed considerable debate as to the correct syntactic analysis of free relatives in English and other languages with a similar construction: is the internal structure of an NP free relative basically like that of an ordinary NP, or is its internal structure instead like that of other wh constituents such as wh questions? The underlying concern surrounding this debate was whether the gap in a free relative could be analyzed as the result of wh movement; this question in turn, of course, bore on the status of Subjacency and on the feasibility of reducing a large class of phenomena to wh movement. But the correct syntactic analysis of free relatives also has significant implications for the syntax/semantics map and for the theory of NP meanings, and it is to this question that this paper is addressed. In particular, I wikk present some ecidence suggesting that English free relatives do indeed have the internal strcture of other wh constituents — they contain no overt lexical head and therefore also contain no overt quantificational element.1 Just how and why, then, du these have NP-type meanings and — given the claim that there is no overt lexical quantifier — what is it that supplies them with their particular quantificational force?

The discussion will be led by Kelly.


Phonology Circle 10/30 - Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: The Accent of Surnames in Kyengsang Korean: A Study in Analogy
Date/Time: Monday, October 30th, 5:00-6:30pm 
Location: 32-D831
(Joint work with Hyang-Sook Sohn)

The canonical Korean name consists of a monosyllabic surname followed by a disyllabic given name: Kim, Yu-na. The surname is normally not used alone and must be combined with a given name or title. As a result, underlying contrasts among high, low, and rising accents are partially neutralized in this phrasal context. This presentation reports and analyzes the tonal contours that arise when Kyengsang speakers are tasked with inflecting the surname by itself (Kim, Yu-na -> Kim, Kim-i, Kim-ɨl, etc.)—a type of wug-test. The results suggest that speakers take recourse to the most reliable rules underlying the lexical distribution of the accents relative to specific strata of the lexicon as well as to default rules of word-level inflection.


Syntax Square 10/31 - Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Verb-stranding vP Ellipsis in Russian: Evidence from unpronounced subjects
Date and time: Tuesday October 31, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this presentation of work in progress, I contribute to the debate on the status of verb-stranding verb phrase ellipsis (VVPE) in Russian with novel evidence from the interpretation of unpronounced subjects. I argue that a heretofore unnoticed construction involving a silent subject in clauses embedded under an attitude verb is the result of VVPE, supporting Gribanova (2013, 2017)’s conclusion that Russian has this type of ellipsis, contra Erteschik-Shir et. al. (2013) and Bailyn (2014). Based on a surprising ban on quantificational elements in the subject of the ellipsis sites, I propose a modification to Takahashi and Fox (2005)’s definition of parallelism domains to allow them to contain certain instances of unbound traces. The ban on quantificational subjects, as well as vehicle change from R-expressions to pronouns (Fiengo and May 1994), follows naturally from this modification.


LF Reading Group 11/01 - Frank Staniszewski (MIT)

Speaker: Frank Staniszewski (MIT)
Title: Modal ambiguity and neg-raising
Date and time: Wednesday November 1, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In a constrained range of environments, some modal operators appear to show an ambiguity in modal force between weak (existential) readings and strong (universal) readings. In English, this weak/strong ambiguity has been discussed with respect to For-Infinitival Relative clauses (Hackl and Nissenbaum (2010)). In this presentation based on work-in-progress, I will examine additional environments in which modal ambiguity can be detected. These include modal mismatches in sluicing (Klein (1985), Merchant (2001), Rudin (2017)), as well as instances in which weaker than expected meanings for want and should can satisfy the presupposition of anymore (based on observations by Keny Chatain p.c.). I will explore the hypothesis that these ambiguities are the result of an underlying weak semantics for the modal operators in question, and that this is the also source of their strengthened ‘neg-raised’ meanings under negation.


Ling-Lunch 11/2 - Asia Pietraszko (UConn)

Speaker: Asia Pietraszko (UConn)
Title: Obligatory clause nominalization in Ndebele
Date and time: Thursday November 2, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Clausal DP shells (CPs embedded directly in a DP) have been argued to have a different distribution than bare CPs (e.g. in-situ vs derived sentential subjects), which in turn led to treatments of clausal DP shell as a last resort phenomenon (e.g. Hartman 2012). In this talk, I present evidence for the existence of obligatory clausal DP shell. In Ndebele, a Bantu language of Zimbabwe, DP-contained CPs appear in non-derived positions, rendering the last resort status of a clausal DP shell unlikely in this language. Furthermore, I show that a DP shell must appear even in contexts where it is problematic, namely in N-complement clauses and relative clauses (Ndebele does not allow adnominals of category D). Instead of “dropping” the DP-shell in those contexts, extra functional structure is necessary to combine the clause with the head noun.


LingPhil Reading Group 10/23 - on Fodor & Sag 1982

Title: Discussion of Fodor & Sag 1982: Referential and Quantificational Indefinites
Date and time: Monday October 23, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The formal semantics that we have proposed for definite and indefinite descriptions analyzes them both as variable-binding operators and as referring terms. It is the referential analysis which makes it possible to account for the facts outlined in Section 2, e.g. for the purely instrumental role of the descriptive content; for the appearance of unusually wide scope readings relative to other quantifiers, higher predicates, and island boundaries; for the fact that the island-escaping readings are always equivalent to maximally wide scope quantifiers; and for the appearance of violations of the identity conditions on variables in deleted constituents. We would emphasize that this is not a random collection of observations. They cohere naturally with each other, and with facts about other phrases that are unambigously referential. We conceded at the outset of this paper that the referential use of an indefinite noun phrase does not, by itself, motivate the postulation of a referential interpretation. Our argument has been that the behavior of indefinites in complex sentences cannot be economically described, and certainly cannot be explained, unless a referential interpretation is assumed. It could be accounted for in pragmatic terms only if the whole theory of scope relations and of conditions on deletion could be eliminated from the semantics and incorporated into a purely pragmatic theory. But this seems unlikely.

The discussion will be led by Keny.


Phonology Circle 10/23 - Edward Flemming (MIT)

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Stochastic Harmonic Grammars
Date/Time: Monday, 23 October, 5:00-6:30pm 
Location: 32-D831

MaxEnt grammars have become the tool of choice for analyzing phonological phenomena involving variation or gradient acceptability. MaxEnt grammars are a probabilistic form of Harmonic Grammar in which harmony scores (sums of weighted constraint violations) of candidates are mapped onto probabilities (Goldwater & Johnson 2003). But MaxEnt grammar is not the only proposal for deriving probabilities from Harmonic Grammars – one alternative is Noisy Harmonic Grammar (Boersma & Pater 2016), in which variation is derived by adding random ‘noise’ to constraint weights, and further variants of this scheme are discussed by Hayes (2017). I will report on an investigation into the properties of these stochastic grammar formalisms, with the ultimate goal of identifying predictions that could be used to evaluate them empirically.

In spite of the superficial differences between MaxEnt and Noisy Harmonic Grammar, they can both be formulated as NHGs where the noise is added to the harmony scores of each candidate. This common format facilitates analysis and comparison of the two formalisms. The differences identified are difficult to assess empirically, but in the absence of evidence in favor of NHG, MaxEnt is to be preferred for its simplicity and tractability.



Syntax Square 10/24 - Sherry Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Sherry Chen (MIT)
Title: Double topicalization, I find really interesting
Date and time: Tuesday October 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Whether Chinese topics are syntactically constrained remains a debatable issue. In this talk, I present on-going work suggesting that in double topicalization constructions, the base- generated topic must precede the moved topic, and if both topics are derived via movement, the two intersecting movement paths must be in a “nested” relation (i.e. the Path Contain ment Constraint, Pesetsky (1982)). This challenges the view that Chinese topics are only constrained by a semantic “aboutness” relation with the comment clause (cf. Xu and Lan- gendoen, 1985), and provides new cross-linguistic evidence for PCC effects (see Appendix).

For the second part of this talk, I discuss a new puzzle regarding topicalization in embedded environments. Specifically, I observe that for certain predicates in non-asserted contexts (Hooper & Thompson, 1973; Miyagawa, to appear), embedded topicalization is possible only if the matrix subject binds a pronoun or a reflexive ziji in the embedded clause. 


Ling-Lunch 10/26 - Deniz Özyıldız (UMass-Amherst)

Speaker: Deniz Özyıldız (UMass-Amherst)
Title: The interaction between factivity and prosodic structure in Turkish attitude reports
Date/Time: Thursday, October 26, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk articulates two puzzles raised by the interaction between the availability of the factive inference in Turkish attitude reports, and their prosodic structure.

Puzzle 1: Where is a trigger?
For a class of attitude reports, we observe the following contrast. 1a) and 1b) are string identical. The position of the sentences Nuclear Pitch Accent (on the matrix verb in 1a), on the embedded object in 1b), seems to correlate with the availability of the factive inference (available in 1a), unavailable in 1b)).

1a) Aybike [Dilara’nin Ankara’da oldugunu] BILIYOR.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ know.PRES
  Aybike knows that Dilara is in Ankara (factive).

1b) Aybike [Dilara’nin ANKARA’da oldugunu] biliyor.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ know.PRES
  Aybike believes that Dilara is in Ankara (non-factive).

Faced with this contrast, we must ask: Is it the prosodic structure of an attitude report that is driving the availability of the factive inference? Or is it the availability of the factive inference that has an effect on prosodic structure? The former option is appealing, but I argue for the latter. 1a) and 1b) are associated with two distinct semantic representations. Prosody follows. But how?

Puzzle 2: Getting from presupposed to given?
In out of the blue contexts, non-factive attitude reports must be realized with embedded NPA.

2a) What’s up?
  Aybike [Dilara’nin ANKARA’da oldugunu] saniyor.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ believe.PRES
  Aybike believes that Dilara is in Ankara.

2b) What’s up?
  #Aybike [Dilara’nin Ankara’da oldugunu] SANIYOR.
  (Out because the embedded clause isn’t given.)

On the other hand, in out of the blue contexts, factive attitude reports are realized with matrix verb NPA.

3a) What’s up?
  Aybike [Dilara’nin Ankara’da oldugunu] unuttu.
  Aybike Dilara.GEN Ankara.LOC be.NMZ forget.PST
  Aybike forgot that Dilara is in Ankara.

3b) What’s up?
  #Aybike [Dilara’nin ANKARA’da oldugunu] unuttu.
  (Out because a contrastive interpretation is triggered, but not licensed in context.)

There is mixed evidence as to whether presupposing a proposition p makes the clause that denotes p given (which would explain why the NPA migrates to the matrix verb in 3). Kallulli (2006, 2010) argues that it does. Others argue that presupposition and givenness are two independent dimensions of meaning (Wagner 2012, Rochemont 2016, Buring 2016). Do the Turkish facts offer a way out? We will see.


CompLang 10/26 - Jon Gauthier (MIT BCS)

Speaker: Jon Gauthier (MIT BCS)
Title: What does NLP tell us about language?
Date/Time: Thursday, October 26, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 46-5165

Many state-of-the-art models in natural language processing achieve top performance in challenging shared tasks while doing little to explicitly model the syntax or semantics of their input. In light of these results, I will attempt to pitch two of my own past projects in natural language processing with a philosophical spin. I first present a model which reduces syntactic understanding to a by-product of more general pressures of semantic accuracy. I next present evolutionary simulations in which word meanings spontaneously arise due to nonlinguistic cooperative pressures. We close with potentially heretical and hopefully interesting discussion on the ideal relationship between AI engineering and cognitive science.

MIT Colloquium 10/27 - Mark Baker (Rutgers)

Speaker: Mark Baker (Rutgers)
Title: Allocutive Agreement and Indexical Shift in Magahi: A Wedge into the Ghostly Operators at the Clausal Edge
Time: Friday, October 27th, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155
In this talk I focus on the phenomenon of allocutive agreement in Magahi, an Indo-Aryan language of North Eastern India, and how it interacts with indexical shift.  Allocutive agreement is known to occur in a fairly small set of languages (Basque, Japanese, Tamil, …) in which the finite verb varies in form depending on who the sentence is addressed to.  Like previous researchers, I argue that there is a syntactic representation of the addressee (“Hr”) in the periphery of the clause which can be the goal of an Agree operation.  More specifically, I claim that allocutive agreement in Magahi happens then finite V+T moves (optionally) from T to Fin, where it gains access to Hr.  Unlike other languages, allocutive agreement in Magahi can happen in a wide range of embedded clauses. Interesting in itself, this also makes it possible to study the interaction between allocutive agreement and the phenomenon of indexical shift: using pronouns like “I” and “you” in embedded clauses to refer to the subject and object of the matrix clause.  I show that indexical pronouns in Magahi shift if and only if allocutive agreement shifts. I use this to develop an analysis in which “Hr” (and similarly “Sp”, a representation of the speaker) is the vehicle of indexical shift—not a sui generis nonnominal context shifting operator, as in most previous analyses of indexical shift.  More specifically, indexical shift happens in the special case where the “Hr” of an embedded clause is controlled by the goal argument of a higher clause rather than by the “Hr” of the higher clause, and then binds a second person pronoun in the embedded clause.  This brings the analysis of indexical shift more in line with how logophoric pronouns have been analyzed in West African languages in the tradition of Koopman and Sportiche 1989 (contrary to the distinction drawn between the two by Deal (2017)).  I give further support to the syntactic control-and-binding style analysis of indexical shift by showing that the antecedent of a shifted first person pronoun needs to be not just the semantic author of the content of the embedded clause, but the syntactic subject of the matrix clause in both Magahi and Sakha—parallel to logophoric phenomena and complementizer agreement in Niger-Congo languages.

Ling-Lunch 10/12 - Itai Bassi and Nick Longenbaugh (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi and Nick Longenbaugh (MIT)
Title: Features on bound pronouns: an argument for a semantic approach [NELS practice]
Date/Time: Thursday, October 12, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Phi-features (person, gender, number) seem not to be semantically interpreted when they appear on bound pronouns. For example, in (1) the bound “my” appears to contribute an unrestricted variable, rather than a variable restricted to the speaker.

(1) Only I did my homework
(bound reading: no x other than the speaker did x’s homework: for any x)

On one influential approach (Kratzer 1998, Heim 2008, a.o.), bound pronouns enter the derivation without phi-features, which are then transferred to them at PF from the binder. The spelled out phi-features are therefore absent at LF. Recent works (Sauerland 2013, Jacobson 2012, Spathas 2010 a.o.) have taken a more semantic approach which denies this ‘LF-PF mismatch’ view. Those works have argued that phi-features on bound pronouns in cases like (1) do get semantically interpreted, except that they don’t contribute to focus alternatives. This talk provides a novel argument for the semantic approach. The argument comes from the observation that (non-trivial) phi-features appear on donkey pronouns - pronouns that show covariance without c-command:

(2) Only the woman who is dating ME introduced me to her parents
(sloppy reading available)

We show why cases like (2) are a problem for the morpho-syntactic approach and how they are derived on the semantic approach. We further demonstrate how our implementation of the semantic approach is advantageous over the morpho-syntactic approach in accounting for the phenomenon of split binding (Rullmann 2004).


MIT Colloquium 10/13 - Benjamin Spector (CNRS)

Speaker: Benjamin Spector (CNRS)
Title: Plural predication, vagueness and principles of language use
Time: Friday, October 13th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

(Based on joint work w/ Manuel Kriz)

The interpretation of plural definites (among others) displays two somewhat unexpected properties: non-maximality and homogeneity.

- Non-maximality refers to the fact that, sometimes, plural definites have less-than-universal quantificational force:

(1) Non-Maximality

[Context: A job interview]
The committee members smiled.
>> Can be appropriately used if, say, 8 out of 10 committee members smiled.

- Homogeneity refers to the fact that plural definites tend to have (near)-universal force in affirmative sentences, but only existential force in the scope of negation:

(2) Homogeneity
(a) John read the books on the reading list.
>> He must have read roughly all of them.
(b) John didn’t read the books on the reading list.
>> He must have read roughly none of them.

These two properties are not restricted to plural definites, but are pervasive over other types of constructions (embedded interrogatives, conditionals, singular predication over complex objects, etc.). They are also both removed when the quantifier ‘all’ is added, as in The committee members all smiled.

We show how, by adopting (a) an underspecified semantics for plural predication making it intrinsically vague, and (b) certain principles of language uses, we can account for both properties in a way that makes very specific and apparently correct predictions. Time-permitting, I will discuss the interactions of homogeneity/non-maximality with binding and quantification.


Ling-Phil Reading Group 10/2 - on Mourelatos 1978

Title: Discussion on Mourelatos 1978: Events, processes, and states
Date and time: Monday October 2, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The familiar Vendler-Kenny scheme of verb-types, viz., performances (further differentiated by Vendler into accomplishments and achievements), activities, and states, is too narrow in two important respects. First, it is narrow linguistically. It fails to take into account the phenomenon of verb aspect. The trichotomy is not one of verbs as lexical types but of predications. Second, the trichotomy is narrow ontologically. It is a specification in the context of human agency of the more fundamental, topic-neutral trichotomy, event-process-state.The central component in this ontological trichotomy, event, can be sharply differentiated from its two flanking components by adapting a suggestion by Geoffrey N. Leech and others that the contrast between perfective and imperfective aspect in verbs corresponds to the count/mass distinction in the domain of nouns. With the help of two distinctions, of cardinal count adverbials versus frequency adverbials, and of occurrence versus associated occasion, two interrelated criteria for event predication are developed. Accordingly, Mary capsized the boat is an event predication because (a) it is equivalent to There was at least one capsizing of the boat by Mary, or (b) because it admits cardinal count adverbials, e.g., at least once, twice, three times. Ontologically speaking, events are defined as those occurrences that are inherently countable.

The discussion will be lead by Christopher.


Phonology Circle 10/2 - Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ILCAA & MIT)

Speaker: Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, ILCAA & MIT)
Title: A Sociophonetic Study of the Ternary Laryngeal Contrast in Yanbian Korean
Date/Time: Monday, 2 October, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This paper investigates the three-way tense-lax-aspirated laryngeal contrast for stop consonants in Yanbian Korean. Data from 61 speakers (DoB 1935-1992) finds three phonetic correlates dependent on laryngeal type, place of articulation, tone, gender, age, and sub-dialect. VOT has significantly shortened over apparent time. The difference between lax and tense is relatively small but still distinguished reliably.

We compare our Yanbian result with the sound changes reported for Seoul Korean, and analyze them based on the dispersion theory of contrast (Flemming 2004). We show that both the Yanbian and Seoul Korean developments were motivated by the same mechanism: minimizing articulatory effort (*Long VOT) while maximizing the number of contrasts (Maximize Contrasts) and the distinctiveness of contrasts (Mindist=VOT: Xms). An economy constraint (*Over-specify) is postulated to ban the ternary laryngeal contrast in the VOT dimension, which is over-differentiated, suggesting a change from ternary → binary distinction.

We point out that another alternative acoustic cue for the relevant laryngeal contrast existed before the VOT merger took place in both dialects. Thus, we conclude that Korean never had a laryngeal contrast based solely on the VOT dimension, and that the sound change that occurred in Seoul Korean is not a (typical case of) tonogenesis.


Ling-Lunch 10/5 - Sarah Zobel (Tübingen & MIT)

Speaker: Sarah Zobel (University of Tübingen and MIT)
Title: On the semantic variability of weak adjunct “as”-phrases
Date/Time: Thursday October 5, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Stump (1985) discusses the behavior of free adjuncts, like the sentence-initial adjuncts in (1). He observes that certain free adjuncts (which he calls “weak”) are interpreted as restrictors of co-occurring quantifiers (i.e., modals, adverbs of quantification, Gen/Hab), see (1a), while others (which he calls “strong”) only allow for a non-restrictive, causal interpretation, see (1b).

(1) a. Playing with his toys, Peter is often content. (weak)
   (Possible: When Peter is playing with his toys, he is often content.)

 b. Having three toy cars, Peter is often content. (strong)
   (Not possible: When Peter has three toy cars, he is often content.)

My work focuses on English “as”-phrases (and German “als”-phrases), which are weak adjuncts according to Stump’s distinction. Compare (1a) and (2).

(2) As a passenger of Lufthansa, Peter is often content. (weak)
  (Possible: When Peter is a passenger of Lufthansa, he is often content.)

Starting out with a straightforward analysis of the interactions between “as”-phrases and co-occurring operators (inspired by Stump 1985), I take a closer look at the restrictive possibilities of “as”-phrases (and weak adjuncts in general), and I show that these are in fact more restricted than previously assumed.


CompLang 10/5 - Kasia Hitczenko (UMD & MIT)

Speaker: Kasia Hitczenko (UMD & MIT)
Title: Exploring the efficacy of normalization in the acquisition and processing of the Japanese vowel length contrast
Date/Time: Thursday, October 5, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 46-5165

Infants must learn the sound categories of their language and adults need to map particular acoustic productions they hear to one of those learned categories. These tasks can be difficult because there is often a lot of overlap between the acoustic realizations of different categories that can mask which sounds should be grouped together. Previous work has proposed that this overlap is caused, at least in part, by systematic and predictable sources of variability, and that listeners could learn about the structure of this variability and normalize it out to help learn from and process the incoming sounds. In this work, we further explore this idea of normalization, by applying it to the problem of Japanese vowel length contrast – a contrast that current computational models fail to learn due to high overlap between short and long vowels. We find that, at least in the way it is implemented here, normalizing out systematic variability does not substantially improve categorization performance over leaving acoustics unnormalized. We then present an alternative path forward by showing that a strategy that uses both acoustic cues and non-acoustic top-down information in categorization is better able to separate the short and long vowels.

LPRG 9/25 - on Stone 1994

Title: Discussion on (Stone 1994) The reference argument of epistemic must
Date and time: Monday September 25, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

Epistemic must is used to present a conclusion. In this paper, I explore the hypothesis that this should be modeled computationally using the notion of argument presented by Simari and Loui. An utterance of must p in conversational context K is interpreted as asserting that the argument ‹A,p› is justified in K. The parameter A provides a set of reasoning rules which, along with factual premises from which they derive p, must be salient in K for the utterance to be felicitous.

Simari and Loui’s formulation describes a relationship of defeat between arguments. Thus, in this account as in previous ones, the conclusions presented by epistemic must may be defeasible. This proposal improves on previous accounts in three key respects. First, the criterion that the argument be justified ensures that the speaker believes p when uttering must p. Second, the requirement that the speaker intend the hearer to recover the argument helps to explain the distribution and of must in discourse and the accommodation sometimes involved in understanding uses of must. Third, the link between the claim made by must and a specific argument correctly predicts the variation in apparent force of the modal in different contexts: it varies according to the strength of the argument and the speaker’s intentions in providing the argument.

Because this interpretation for must incorporates restrictions based on salience into a frame- work designed to be relatively tractable, it may be uniquely suited for implementation.

The discussion will be lead by Maša Močnik.


Phonology Circle 9/25 - Kasia Hitczenko (UMD & MIT)

Speaker: Kasia Hitczenko (UMD & MIT)
Title: Exploring the efficacy of normalization in the acquisition and processing of the Japanese vowel length contrast
Date/Time: Monday, September 25, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Infants must learn the sound categories of their language and adults need to map particular acoustic productions they hear to one of those learned categories. These tasks can be difficult because there is often a lot of overlap between the acoustic realizations of different categories that can mask which sounds should be grouped together. Previous work has proposed that this overlap is caused, at least in part, by systematic and predictable sources of variability, and that listeners could learn about the structure of this variability and normalize it out to help learn from and process the incoming sounds. In this work, we further explore this idea of normalization, by applying it to the problem of Japanese vowel length contrast – a contrast that current computational models fail to learn due to high overlap between short and long vowels. We find that, at least in the way it is implemented here, normalizing out systematic variability does not substantially improve categorization performance over leaving acoustics unnormalized. We then present an alternative path forward by showing that a strategy that uses both non-acoustic and acoustic cues to categorize the sounds is better able to separate the short and long vowels.

Ling-Lunch 9/28 - Naomi Francis (MIT)

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: There’s something odd about presupposition-denying even
Date/Time: Thursday September 28, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk will explore a puzzle about even. Even can be used in denials of presuppositions, but only when it is below negation in the surface string, as shown in (1).

1. A: Did Kenji bring his wife to the picnic?
  B: He isn’t even married!
  B’: #He’s even unmarried/a bachelor!

I show that this asymmetry is not straightforwardly reducible to independent properties of even or of presupposition denials, but is instead a property unique to sentences that are both presupposition denials and contain even. I present a solution to this puzzle that makes crucial use of the additive presupposition of even. This presupposition is controversial; I argue that the evidence used to challenge its presence does not show what it is usually claimed to show, and that when examined more closely these data turn out to be an argument in favour of the additive presupposition rather than against it. I show that this asymmetry is not unique to English and sketch crosslinguistic implications of the proposed analysis.


CompLang 9/28 - Ray Jackendoff (Tufts)

Speaker: Ray Jackendoff (Tufts)
Title: Morphology and Memory
Date/Time: Thursday, September 28, 5:00-7:00pm
Location: 46-5165

(in collaboration with Jenny Audring)

We take Chomsky’s term “knowledge of language” very literally. “Knowledge” implies “stored in memory,” so the basic question of linguistics is reframed as

What do you store in memory such that you can use language, and in what form do you store it?

Traditionally – and in standard generative linguistics – what you store is divided into grammar and lexicon, where grammar contains all the rules, and the lexicon is an unstructured list of exceptions. We develop an alternative view in which rules of grammar are lexical items that contain variables, and in which rules have two functions. In their generative function, they are used to build novel structures, just as in traditional generative linguistics. In their relational function, they capture generalizations over stored items in the lexicon, a role not seriously explored in traditional linguistic theory. The result is a lexicon that is highly structured, with rich patterns among stored items.

We further explore the possibility that this sort of structuring is not peculiar to language, but appears in other cognitive domains as well. The differences among cognitive domains are not in this overall texture, but in the materials over which stored relations are defined – patterns of phonology and syntax in language, of pitches and rhythms in music, of geographical knowledge in navigation, and so on. The challenge is to develop theories of representation in these other domains comparable to that for language.


Linguistics-Philosophy Reading Group 09/18 - on Ninan; Kelly Gaus and Thomas Byrne

Speaker: Kelly Gaus and Thomas Byrne
Title: Discussion on (Ninan 2015) Two Puzzles about Deontic Necessity
Date and time: Monday September 18, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The deontic modal must has two surprising properties: an assertion of must p does not permit a denial of p, and must does not take past tense complements. I first consider an explanation of these phenomena that stays within Angelika Kratzer’s semantic framework for modals, and then offer some reasons for rejecting that explanation. I then propose an alternative account, according to which simple must sentences have the force of an imperative.

Phonology Circle 9/18 - Suyeon Yun (UToronto)

Speaker: Suyeon Yun (University of Toronto)
Title: Allophonic variation of the word-initial liquid in Korean dialects
Date and time: Monday, September 18, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This study presents large-scale production data of the word-initial liquid allophones in North and South Korean dialects. In South Korean dialects, liquids cannot occur in word-initial position, and Sino-Korean word-initial liquids undergo deletion (e.g., /Lipjəl/ → [ipjəl] ‘parting’) or nasalization (e.g., /Lotoŋ/ → [notoŋ] ‘labor; Iverson & Kim 1987, a.o.). It is reported, however, that the initial liquid /l/ or /r/ in recent English loanwords may be realized as [ɾ] (e.g., Lee 1999) or as [l] (Seo 2004). On the other hand, in North Korean dialects, word-initial liquids are retained (e.g., Bae 2011) albeit based on a small number of Sino-Korean words. This study examines the allophonic variation of the word-initial liquid in North Korean as well as in South Korean, involving a considerable number of words, both Sino-Korean and loanwords, and participants that consist of different age groups. 35 speakers of North Korean defectors who speak Northern Hamkyeong dialect and 20 speakers of Seoul Korean read 41 /L/-initial words in isolation. Results show that the most common variant of the word-initial liquid is the tap [ɾ], and there are also several conditioned and free allophonic realizations, including the trill [r], approximant [ɹ], lateral [l], nasal [n], and stop [t]. The current data serve as an interesting case of variation, in which one phonemic liquid /L/ shows a lot of variability in its phonetic realizations as a result of the interactions between universal phonological constraints (rhotics occur less frequently and stops occur more frequently before /i/ than before other vowels (cf. Hall & Hamann 2010)), different lexical stratifications ([n] occurs more frequently in Sino-Korean than other loans), and speakers’ exposure to L2 ([r] occurs more frequently for Russian L2 speakers and [l] occurs more frequently for English L2 speakers).

Syntax Square 9/19 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: E2P2: The Extended Extended Projection Principle
Date and time: Tuesday, September 19, 1:00-2:00pm
Location: 32-D461

Current definitions of EPP properties stipulate a preference for checking features via specifier creation rather than merging as a complement. I argue that this is an unnecessary stipulation, and that we can generalize EPP properties such that they may be satisfied by either specifier creation or complementation. I will use facts about English V to T movement and do-support to motivate this extension of the EPP. I propose a syntactic account of V to T movement, which builds off of Matushansky (2006), in conjunction with this new extension of EPP (henceforth E2P2) to explain not only facts about the English auxiliary system, but also facts about the interaction between negation and auxiliary verbs, and negation and non-finite T. I will discuss how this view can also extend to T to C movement, as well as notions about Anti-locality.

LFRG 09/20 - Keny Chatain (MIT)

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Defining local contexts for anaphora
Date and time: Wednesday September 20, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Schlenker (2008, 2010) has shown how one can define an incremental notion of local context for presupposition. This removes the need for encoding projection behaviour in particular lexical entries, as in Dynamic Semantics. In subsequent unpublished work, Schlenker attempts to apply the same ideas to define an incremental notion of local context relevant to anaphora. The proposal, while broad in its empirical coverage, falls short of predicting existential/universal readings of donkey anaphora. It also predicts that universal quantifiers introduce singular discourse referents, just as indefinites.

In work-in-progress, I pick up on this project and show how one could deal with the exceptionality of indefinites, taking stock on their alternative semantics, and sketch ideas on how to produce the weak/strong distinction.


Ling-Lunch 9/21 - Jessica Rett (UCLA)

Speaker: Jessica Rett
Title: Explaining ‘EARLIEST’
Date and time: Thursday, September 21, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

The semantics of degree constructions has motivated the implementation of a MAX operator, a function from a set of degrees to its maximal member (von Stechow 1985, Rullmann 1995, a.o.). This operator is unsatisfying: it’s arbitrary (cf. MIN), and therefore not explanatory. There have thus been several calls to reduce MAX to a more pragmatic principle of maximal informativity (Dayal 1996, Beck & Rullmann 1999, Fox & Hackl 2007, von Fintel et al. 2014).

Intriguing differences between before and after have caused some to posit an EARLIEST operator in the temporal domain (Beaver & Condoravdi 2003, Condoravdi 2010). This operator is unsatisfying for similar reasons (cf. LATEST), and some have suggested it, too, can be redefined in terms of informativity (Rett 2015). However, recent cross-linguistic evidence (reported here) complicates the reduction of EARLIEST to `maximize informativity’: while counterparts of `before’ and `after’ across languages share many foundational semantic properties, they appear to differ in a principled way in how certain before constructions are interpreted. I discuss this and other related observations with respect to the future of a domain-general `maximize informativity’ program.


ESSL/LAcqLab 9/22 - Laurel Perkins (UMD)

Speaker: Laurel Perkins (University of Maryland)
Title: Perceiving Transitivity: Consequences for Verb Learning
Date and time: Friday, September 22nd, 2pm-4pm
Location: 32-D461

There is a paradox in language acquisition concerning the perception of the input. If learners can veridically parse the input, then there is nothing to learn from it; but if they cannot parse the input, then it is unclear how they avoid faulty inferences about structure, or even learn from it at all (Valian 1990, Fodor 1996). In this talk, I examine how children deal with their input, given only partial knowledge of the target grammar. Specifically, I focus on the intersection of transitivity, wh-movement, and verb learning.
Infants can use a verb’s distribution in transitive and intransitive clauses to draw inferences about its meaning (e.g. Fisher et al., 2010) and its argument-taking properties (Lidz, White, & Baier, 2017). In this talk I’ll address two questions about the nature of these inferences. First, are infants’ inferences about verb meaning best characterized as one-to-one matching between arguments in a clause and participants in an event described by that clause (Naigles, 1990; Fisher et al., 2010)? To differentiate this participant-to-argument matching hypothesis from other possibilities, we investigate whether children think an intransitive clause could be a good fit for a two-participant event. Second, at early stages in development, infants may not recognize transitivity in certain “non-basic” clauses, like What did Amy fix? (Gagliardi, Mease, & Lidz, 2016). If a learner does not yet recognize that what stands for the object of fix, might she erroneously infer that fix does not require an object? We probe when infants are able to recognize the transitivity of non-basic clauses like wh-object questions, and how infants who do not yet have that ability might learn to “filter” non-basic clauses from the data they use for verb learning. Thus, learners may be able to overcome the limits of partial knowledge by unconsciously filtering data that may lead to faulty inferences about their grammar.

Ling-Lunch 9/7 - Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Intermediate Stranding, Constraints on Movement, and Cyclic Linearization
Date and time: Thursday, September 7, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

I argue that certain rarely considered facts about stranding point us towards a particular understanding of some general issues in syntactic theory, namely: The theory of phasal domains/spellout, and the nature of movement operations. In particular, using data from English, West Ulster English, Afrikaans, Polish, and Russian, I examine scenarios where material is pied-piped with one step of movement and stranded with a subsequent step, stranding that material at an intermediate position in the clause. I show that this phenomenon of intermediate stranding is subject to the following descriptive generalization:

(1). Intermediate stranding is only possible when the stranded material is, or can be, linearly to the right of the material that continues to move leftward.

I argue that the Cyclic Linearization theory of phase spellout (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2014) and a theory of movement as driven by Probe-Goal Agree (Chomsky 1995, Ko 2014, van Urk 2015), and thus constrained by c-command, precisely predicts exactly this generalization, while the commonly held theory of phases, and a view of movement as free and untriggered, cannot. These results also point us to a new perspective on what constrains movement out of moved elements.


MIT Colloquium 9/8 - Alan Yu (UChicago)

Speaker: Alan Yu (UChicago)
Title: Are individual differences in cue weight strategies contrast-specific?
Time: Friday, September 8th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

Phonological categories are generally defined by multiple acoustic dimensions. Recent studies have found that listeners of the same gender and dialect group give differential weighting to dimensions in phonetic categorization. What factors govern the differences between individuals remain a largely unanswered question. Variability may stem from differences in individual perceptual experience or the influence of some contrast-independent cognitive mechanism that modulates speech processing strategies. This study examines the relationship between perceptual behaviors across three categorization tasks concerning three sets of phonological contrasts in English (i.e. the effects of VOT and f0 on voicing identification, the effects of spectral and duration information on i/ɪ identification, and the effects of vowel on sibilant identification) and show that, while individuals vary in their cue weightings for each contrast, the weight settings across contrasts are not random. Implications of these findings for models of speech perception and language variation and change will be discussed.

ESSL/LAcqLab 08/31 - Marie-Christine Meyer

Speaker: Marie-Christine Meyer (ZAS Berlin)
Title: Priming Three Categories of Implicature (joint work with Roman Feiman, UCSD)
Date and time: Thursday August 31, 11:00 - 12:00
Location: 32-D831

Priming is a powerful and widely used method; its applications range from establishing the existence of implicit stereotyping (e.g., Banaji & Hardin 1996) to arguing for the reality of syntactic representations (e.g., Raffray & Pickering 2010). To the young field of experimental pragmatics, however, the priming paradigm has only been introduced very recently (Bott & Chemla 2016). In this talk, we report on a series of experiments in which we try to prime the computation of three categories of inferences: scalar implicature, exactly-readings of numerals, and (disjunctive) Free Choice inferences. As we will see, it is theoretically attractive to derive these inferences through the same mechanism. The existence of a priming effect between these three categories of inferences would provide strong evidence in favor of the cognitive reality of this theoretical assumption. Before we can produce and believe in such evidence, however, a few more questions need to be answered. Can the results of Chemla & Bott be replicated? What are the kinds of stimuli that work best for the paradigm and the linguistic material? Are we really priming the mechanism in question, or a confound? And finally: What are the mechanisms involved in these inferences for which we find evidence in the form of cross- and within-category priming effects? We will present our results and discuss their relevance to these questions, as well as to the theory of (recursive) scalar implicature.

Ling-Lunch 5/22 - Jay Keyser

The day has come and Prof. Jay Keyser will give a special Ling-Lunch talk today!

Speaker: Jay Keyser
Title: Music, Poetry, Painting and Easter Eggs
Date/Time: Monday, May 22/12:30-1:50pm [notice the exceptional time!]
Location: 32-D461

This talk takes the view that modernism in the so-called sister arts of music, poetry and painting resulted from the abandonment of sets of rules that characterized each genre and that were shared by the artist and his/her audience. Rules governing meter and tonal music are reasonably well understood. I propose a way to think about “rules” for the third genre, painting. These rules define a natural aesthetic, ’natural’ in that the rules are shared by the artist and his or her audience in the way that the rules of one’s natural language are shared by speaker and listener.

I suggest that the esoteric direction that the sister arts took in the period cultural historians call “Modernism” is a direct result of abandoning the natural, i.e. shared aesthetic for private formats whose origins can be found in the 14th century.

Finally, I will speculate on the similarity between what happened to the arts at the turn of the 20th century and what happened in science after the publication of Principia Mathematica two centuries earlier.



Kenyon Branan (4th-year grad student) is off to the International Christian University in Tokyo (Japan) to present The i-boundedness of A-scrambling at WAFL 13. The 13th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics will take place later this week, on May 25—28. Shigeru Miyagawa (faculty) is among the organizers.


[cancelled] Ling-Lunch 5/18 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Cyclic Linearization and Intermediate Stranding: English Possessor Extraction and Beyond
Date/Time: Thursday, May 18th/12:30-1:50pm
Room: 32-D461

In this work, I argue that the Cyclic Linearization view of phases (CL, Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014) accurately constrains pied-piping/stranding, incorporating unexamined facts from the English possessor extraction (PE) construction, first noted in Gavruseva & Thornton (2001). McCloskey (2000) showed that West Ulster English all can be stranded by wh-movement, not only in the base position, but in an intermediate one also, which he takes as evidence for successive-cyclic movement:

(1). What (all) did he say [CP t (all) that we should buy t (all)]?

Intriguingly in contrast, Postal (1974) noted that English prepositions cannot be stranded in intermediate positions:

(2). (To) who do they believe [CP t (*to) that the students spoke t (to)]?

A Puzzle: West Ulster English all and English prepositions are both strandable elements in principle. Why then is only the first capable of IS? This, as McCloskey noted, is mysterious.

Another IS context is the English PE construction, a colloquial option for many speakers. Long-distance PE out of non-subject DP, such as whose money in (3), requires IS of that DP in the embedded spec-CP. Why does English tolerate IS in PE derivations, but not with prepositions? This fact compounds the puzzle.p>

(3). Who did they say[CP [ts money John stole t]? (PE with object pied-piping)

Solution: Chomsky (2001, inter alia) and CL both offer theories of how phases and their spellout determine the properties of successive-cyclic movement. Whereas Chomsky’s conception of phases does nothing to rule out preposition IS, leaving Postal’s puzzle and related facts mysterious, I argue that CL gets the facts right, predicting (1-3). This solution also predicts a generalization about IS, stated in (4).

(4). Intermediate Stranding Generalization (ISG, Predicted by CL)
IS is possible when what pied-pipes, and then is stranded, was adjoined to the right of the mover.

This generalization fits the fact that IS is possible for the strandable all of West Ulster English and [‘s NP] in possessor-extracting English, as these items follow the moving wh-word. (4) rules out IS of prepositions, which precede a mover they are adjoined to. I argue that (4) is cross-linguistically robust, fitting all cases of IS I’ve so far found.


Save the date: Ling-Lunch 5/22 - Jay Keyser

Mark you calendar! Jay Keyser will give a special Ling-Lunch talk on Monday, May 22.

Speaker: Jay Keyser
Title: Music, Poetry, Painting and Easter Eggs
Date/Time: Monday, May 22/12:30-1:50pm [notice the exceptional time!]
Location: 32-D461

This talk takes the view that modernism in the so-called sister arts of music, poetry and painting resulted from the abandonment of sets of rules that characterized each genre and that were shared by the artist and his/her audience. Rules governing meter and tonal music are reasonably well understood. I propose a way to think about “rules” for the third genre, painting. These rules define a natural aesthetic, ’natural’ in that the rules are shared by the artist and his or her audience in the way that the rules of one’s natural language are shared by speaker and listener.

I suggest that the esoteric direction that the sister arts took in the period cultural historians call “Modernism” is a direct result of abandoning the natural, i.e. shared aesthetic for private formats whose origins can be found in the 14th century.

Finally, I will speculate on the similarity between what happened to the arts at the turn of the 20th century and what happened in science after the publication of Principia Mathematica two centuries earlier.


Phonology Circle 5/8 - Ting Huang (MIT)

Speaker: Ting Huang (MIT)
Title: On the Unreleased Stops in Taiwanese Southern Min
Date/Time: Monday, May 8, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-124

Unreleased stops, lacking a burst, have been claimed to have low perceptibility and are more likely to neutralize place contrasts (Stevens 1994; Ohala 2001), which has been supported by examining no-burst VC fragments spliced from released stops. The common consensus is that stop perception relies on two sources of acoustic cues: (i) formant transition and (ii) spectral frequency of burst noise. It is clear that the latter cue is absent in unreleased stops, and therefore the hypothesis is that the cues of formant transition will be enhanced. This study investigates the acoustic correlates of VC (where C=unreleased stops p̚, t̚, k̚) in Taiwanese Southern Min. We argue that the cues of VC are not totally diminished or undistinguishable. Moreover, different morphoprosodic structures (VC-V vs. VC#V vs. VC#C) further complicate the dispersion of stop contrasts in this study, which will also be discussed in this talk. A further comparison of stop cues exhibits that the coronal and dorsal are contrastive in terms of vowel duration and quality. This may be related to the asymmetrical behaviors of consonant-to-consonant assimilation in several languages (e.g. English and Korean) and diachronic changes of stop contrasts in Chinese Phonology.

LFRG 5/10 - Daniel Margulis

Speaker: Daniel Margulis (MIT)
Title: Quantifier float with overt restriction
Date and time: Wednesday May 10, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Example (1) demonstrates quantifier float. The quantifier each intuitively quantifies over individual parts of the subject they, but the two are not linearly adjacent. The Hebrew quantifier kol has to be overtly restricted, even when it floats: (2) is ungrammatical without exad ‘one’ or a full NP like student.

1. They have each read a different book.

2. hem kar’u kol *(exad) sefer axer
they read each one book other
“They each read a different book.”

I will discuss several syntactic and semantic puzzles posed by the construction in (2) and their implications for the analysis of quantifier float.


MIT Colloquium 5/12 - Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: Polar Questions, Selection and Disjunction: clues from Hindi-Urdu ‘kyaa’
Time: Friday, May 12th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

[joint work with Veneeta Dayal, Rutgers] Hindi-Urdu has an optional marker ‘kyaa’ that appears in polar and alternative questions. We delineate its properties distinguishing from the homophonous thematic ‘kyaa’ (what); in particular we locate it in ForceP. We demonstrate that its distribution in embedded environments is similar to that of embedded inversion in English. Then we use `kyaa’ to argue that projection of alternatives (as in Alternative and Inquisitive Semantics) is constrained by the syntax. In particular, A-bar movements lead to `closure’ of alternatives, making them inaccessible. Consequently we expect a bleeding relationship between such movements and operations that depend upon alternatives such as alternative questions. Finally we also explore interactions between the intonational marking of Y/N questions and syntax.

Phonology Circle 5/1 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: A Case for Morpheme Structure Constraints from Koryak Labials
Date/Time: Monday, May 1, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

One of the central departures of Optimality Theory and its descendants from earlier models of generative phonology is the principle of the Richness of the Base (ROTB), which holds that the set of inputs to the grammar lacks language-specific properties (Prince and Smolensky 2004). Since the set of ranked constraints is the only locus of crosslinguistic variation in these models, morpheme structure constraints (MSC) (Stanley 1967, Chomsky and Halle 1968 et. seq.) are inadmissible. In this talk, I present an argument against this view based on the distribution of labials in Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan). In this language, v and w contrast prevocalically (1-2), but are neutralized to w elsewhere (3).
  1. wutku ‘here’ vs. vutq-ə-vut ‘darkness’
  2. e-wejulʔ-et-ke ‘not scared’ vs. ɣənt-ev-e ‘you ran’
  3. waɲav-at-ə-k ‘to speak’, but waɲaw ‘word’, a-waɲaw-ka ‘without words’
For morphemes like the root in (3), we can set up the root-final segment in the UR as v, but morphemes with an underlying final w, giving rise to a putative pattern *waɲaw ~ waɲaw-at-ə-k, do not exist. While these facts are straightforwardly captured by an MSC banning w morpheme-finally, as well as by equivalent machinery like morpheme-level filtering, analyses assuming ROTB without intermediate filtering are unable account for them.

Syntax Square 5/2 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Outward-Sensitive Phonologically Conditioned Allomorphy in Koryak
Date and time: Tuesday May 2, 1—2pm
Location: 32-D461

In realizational theories of morphology like Distributed Morphology, syntactic operations are taken to apply to structures that lack phonological information, which then needs to be inserted at some later point in the derivation. A question we can then ask is whether there are any principled restrictions on how this insertion proceeds. One influential answer comes from Bobaljik (2000), who argues that vocabulary insertion is cyclic and phase-based: vocabulary items are inserted bottom-up within phases, and bottom-up from phase to phase. This makes predictions about restrictions on allomorphy determined at vocabulary insertion because it entails that, when a morpheme is undergoing insertion, only phonological information is present about the nodes below it, and only morphosyntactic information is available about those above it. This view predicts, then, that outward-looking allomorphy can be only conditioned by morphosyntactic features, and inward looking allomorphy by only conditioned by phonological/morphological features. In line with this prediction, cases of outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy are very scarce, the only clear example that I know of coming from Deal and Wolf (2014). In this presentation of work in progress, I will provide partial support for cyclic spellout. In particular, I will present 3 cases of allomorphy from the Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Kamchatka) verb-word, and will argue that they are outward-looking and phonologically conditioned, contrary to one of the claims of cyclic spellout. Based on this, I will argue that the phase-internal part of cyclic spellout is either false as a universal or unfalsifiable: these patterns of allomorphy pattern cannot be captured by it, but a theory of phonology sufficiently powerful to account for them negates cyclic spellout’s predictive power. However, I will argue that the predictions of phase-by-phase cyclicity are, in fact, borne out: in none of these cases can morphemes trigger allomorphy across a phase boundary, even if they are linearly adjacent to each other.

LFRG 5/3 - Athulya Aravind

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Against a unified treatment of obligatory presupposition effects
Date and time: Wednesday May 3, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Since its original conception, the principle Maximize Presupposition (Heim 1991, Sauerland 2003) has been recruited to explain why the use of certain presupposition triggers is obligatory in contexts that satisfy their presuppositions (1).

1. a. The/#A sun is shining.
b. I washed both/#all of my hands.
c. Does your dog have a bushy tail/#bushy tails?

In this talk, I re-examine one type of “obligatory presupposition” environment, involving additive particles (2), and argue that they do not fall within the purview of Maximize Presupposition (contra e.g. e Amsili and Beyssade, 2006, Chemla 2008, Singh 2008).

2. a. Sue went to the party. John went to the party #(too).
b. Jenn went to the movies yesterday. She went #(again) today.

Building on previous work (Krifka 1999, Saebo 2004, Bade 2016), I will first propose an account for the effects in (2), on which insertion of additives is one strategy (among many) to circumvent inconsistencies arising from uncancellable exhaustivity inferences. I will then present experimental results from both adults and children that offer support for a non-unified treatment of obligatory presupposition effects.


Ling-Lunch 5/4 - Amanda Rysling

Speaker: Amanda Rysling (UMass Amherst)
Title:  Preferential early attribution in segmental perception
Date/Time: Thursday, May 4th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Recognizing the speech we hear as the sounds of the languages we speak requires solving a parsing problem: mapping from the acoustic input we receive to the sounds and words we recognize as our language. The way that listeners do this impacts the phonologies of the world’s languages.

Most work on segmental perception has focused on how listeners successfully disentangle the effects of segmental coarticulation. An assumption of this literature is that listeners almost always attribute the acoustic products of articulation to the sounds whose articulation created those products. As a result, listeners usually judge two successive phones to be maximally distinct from each other in clear listening conditions. Few studies (Fujimura, Macchi, & Streeter, 1978; Kingston & Shinya, 2003; Repp, 1983) have examined cases in which listeners seem to systematically “mis-parse” (Ohala, 1981; et seq.), hearing two sounds in a row as similar to each other, and apparently failing to disentangle the blend of their production. I advance the hypothesis that listeners default to attributing incoming acoustic material to the first of two phones in a sequence, even when that material includes the products of the second phone’s articulation. I report studies which show that listeners persist in attributing the acoustic products of a second sound’s articulation to a first sound even when the signal conveys early explicit evidence about the identity of that second sound. Thus, in cases in which listeners could have leveraged articulatory information to begin disentangling the first sound from the second, they did not do so. I argue that this behavior arises from a domain-general perceptual bias to construe temporally distributed input as evidence of one event, rather than two.

These results support a new conceptualization of the segmental parsing problem. Since listeners necessarily perceive events in the world at a delay from when those events occurred, it may be adaptive to attribute the incoming signal to an earlier speech sound when no other determining information is available. There are cases in which listeners do not disentangle the coarticulated acoustics of two sequential sounds, because they are not compelled to do so. Finally, I argue that this has affected the phonologies of the world’s languages, resulting in, for example, predominantly regressive assimilation of major place features.


Syntax Square 4/25 - Nick Longenbaugh

Speaker: Nick Longenbaugh (MIT)
Title: Towards a unified treatment of the φ-Agree/Move correlation
Date/Time: Tuesday April 25, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The past two decades have seen an explosion of research into the cross-linguistic manifestation of φ-Agreement and the basic principles at stake in its operation. Much of the original impetus for this investigation came from a desire to understand the precise correlation between φ-Agree and movement. If anything, however, ensuing discoveries have muddied the waters in this domain. While it is almost universally acknowledged that φ-Agree and Move are related (see van Urk 2015 for discussion and a formalization of this link), there has been a steady retreat from the strong position of the early 1990s that φ-Agree is parasitic on movement.

(1) Specifier-head agreement (Kayne 1989): If AgrX is an agreement head and DP a phrase bearing φ-features, morphological agreement obtains only if the following structural configuration obtains: [AgrXP DP [AgrXP AgrX […DP…]]]

A principle like (1) is especially successful for capturing agreement phenomena in the vP domain, e.g., past-participle agreement (PPA) in Romance and Scandinavian (Kayne 1985, 1989a; Christensen and Taraldsen 1989), but a wealth of cross-linguistic data (in at least Tsez (Polinsky and Potsdam 2001; English (Chomsky 2000, 2001), Icelandic (Sigurðsson 1996, 2008; Boeckx 2010), Hindi-Urdu (Boeckx 2004; Bhatt 2005), Basque (Etxepare 2006; Preminger 2009)) supports a “long-distance” φ-Agree operation, as in Chomsky 2000, 2001.

(2) Agree (Chomsky 2000, 2001): An Agree relation obtains between a head H and a phrase XP, provided:
(i) Matching: XP bears valued features that are a superset of the unvalued features on H
(ii) Locality: There is no YP asymmetrically c-commanding XP that satisfies matching

Given that (2) formally dissociates Agree and Move, the link so commonly observed between them must be added back in, a task that usually falls to ad-hoc “EPP” features, either stipulated to be present on heads or probes themselves. This state of affairs leaves unanswered a number of fundamental questions, both theoretical and technical: How do we handle cases like PPA and other apparent instances of Spec-Head agreement? Can we predict which probes trigger movement, or must this be stipulated in an ad-hoc, language specific way? Most crucially, why should Agree and Move ever be correlated in the first place?

It is to these questions that this talk will be addressed. Beginning with a case study of PPA, I argue for the conclusion that every φ-probe has the postulated “EPP-property,” so that φ-Agree must trigger movement unless independent factors intervene to block it. This allows us to remove “EPP” as a feature of heads or probes, and to predict straightforwardly whether φ-Agree triggers movement. I then explore two consequences of this proposal. The first is that those “null subject” languages where T has φ-probe have both the traditional EPP (T must project a specifier) and null expletives (following Chomsky’s 1981 proposal), a result I argue for on independent grounds following Bresnan & Kanerva (1989) and Sheehan (2010). The second is a new theory of expletive there that treats it as a semantically vacuous oblique pronoun. By analogy to the behavior of oblique pronouns in Icelandic and cross-linguistically, I show this treatment better captures the distribution of there in English and cross-linguistically with fewer stipulations than competing treatments.


LFRG 4/26 - Keny Chatain

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Relative clauses; interactions with modals and definite article choice in Fering and Akan
Date and time: Wednesday April 26, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I propose a different semantics for relative clauses that brings them closer to the semantics of conjoined sentences. This accounts for the intuition that in many cases (albeit not all), a sentence with a relative clause is paraphrasable as a conjunction of two clauses:

1. I saw a dog that was limping.

2. I saw a dog and it was limping.

I explore two consequences of this idea in two unrelated areas.

First, I show that this semantics can improve over the standard Grosu & Krifka (2007)’s account of intensional relative clauses (as in (3)), in that it avoids postulating type-shifters that are specific to this construction and it does not posit higher-order abstraction.

3. The gifted mathematician you claim to be should be able to solve this problem in no time.

Second, I show that this semantics can explain interactions between relative clauses and the choice of the definite article in languages with the weak/strong definite article distinction. While strong articles are standardly taken to be anaphoric to previously mentioned entities (Schwarz 2012), they can appear in combination with a restrictive relative clause even when no previous referent is available. However, using the strong form in contexts where they are not licensed is not possible in all languages that make the weak/strong distinction: while Fering can, Akan and Haitian creole cannot. I account for this split in terms of the syntax/semantics interface given here.

Finally, I will discuss other patterns that may fall out from the proposal, and patterns that probably won’t.


MIT Colloquium 4/28 - Jonathan Bobaljik (UConn)

Speaker: Jonathan Bobaljik (UConn)
Title: On Some Universals(?) of Case and Agreement
Time: Friday, April 28th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

The distribution of the major case and agreement alignments has been held to reflect a tetrachoric (implicational) universal: languages may show the same alignment in both case and agreement, but if they diverge, then it is always the case that case alignment is ergative-absolutive, while agreement alignment is apparently nominative-accusative. The reverse combination is unattested. After reviewing the explanation of this universal in Bobaljik 2008 (cf. Baker 2008, Legate 2008), I examine alleged counter-examples, arguing that the universal survives scrutiny, once the distinction between accusative case and differential object marking is made clear. The proposed explanation makes use of the grouping of cases known as the Dependent Case Hierarchy: {nom/abs} < {erg/acc} < {dat/obl}. Dependent Case Theory may play a central role in the explanation of another asymmetry between case and agreement, specifically, in explaining the the typological observation that “Split-S” and other “active” alignments are surprisingly much rarer as case alignments than as alignments of bound person marking. The account, developed in joint work in progress with Mark Baker, relies on the observation that where active agreement systems can be readily described, an active case pattern cannot arise as a core alignment under DCT. Such patterns can only arise as the interaction of one of the core alignment patterns with independent aspects of the grammars of individual languages. In developing that account, we predict a further, and as far as we are aware previously unobserved, asymmetry between what Bittner & Hale called “accusative active” and “ergative active” languages.

Ling-Lunch 4/20 - Ian Roberts

Speaker: Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge/UConn)
Title: Verb Movement and Cartography in English and Romance
Date/Time: Thursday, April 20th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

I begin by presenting the recent important proposals in Schifano (2014, 2015a,b) showing that across Romance there are at least four distinct landing sites in the TMA zone of the clause for finite lexical verbs, all of them higher than the position of the English lexical verb and lower than the V2 landing site. I then show, on the basis of the interaction of verb- and object-placement with very low adverbs in the Cinque (1999) hierarchy, that English has low vP-fronting, to SpecVoiceP. Both Romance and English verb-movement license a very low event variable (arguably a condition on “anchoring” the clause to the utterance situation, in Wiltschko’s 2014 sense). I then briefly consider the English auxiliary system, drawing largely on Harwood (2013). Finally, I briefly consider three further kinds of system: the fully analytical TMA system of Haitian Creole, and two kinds of V-initial system, comparing Welsh/Irish with Niuean. A range of quite simple parameters governing V-movement and licensing the TMA field emerges.

Explanatory Adequacy in Formal Semantics Reading Group 4/21 - Itai Bassi (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Katzir, R., & Singh, R. (2013). Constraints on the lexicalization of logical operators. Linguistics and Philosophy 36:1–29.
Date/Time: Friday, April 21, 2–3pm
Location: 32-D831

We revisit a typological puzzle due to Horn (Doctoral Dissertation, UCLA, 1972) regarding the lexicalization of logical operators: in instantiations of the traditional square of opposition across categories and languages, the O corner, corresponding to ‘nand’ (= not and), ‘nevery’ (= not every), etc., is never lexicalized. We discuss Horn’s proposal, which involves the interaction of two economy conditions, one that relies on scalar implicatures and one that relies on markedness. We observe that in order to express markedness and to account for a bigger typological puzzle, namely the absence of lexicalizations of ‘XOR’ (= exclusive or), ‘all-or-none’, and many other imaginable logical operators, one must restrict the basic lexicalizable elements to a small set of primitives. We suggest that an ordering based perspective, following Keenan and Faltz (Boolean semantics for natural language, 1985), makes the stipulated primitives that we arrive at more natural. We also propose a modification to Horn’s proposal, based on recent work on implicatures, in which only the implicature condition is operative and in which markedness is part of the definition of the alternatives for scalar implicatures rather than an independent condition.

MIT Colloquium 4/21 - Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst)
Title: Sonority Sequencing in Polish: Interaction of Prior Bias and Experience
Time: Friday, April 21st, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

Recent work on phonological learning has questioned the traditional view that innate principles guide and constrain language development in children and explain universal properties cross-linguistically. In this talk I focus on a particular universal, the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP), which governs preferences among sequences of consonants syllable-initially. Experimental evidence indicates that English, Mandarin, and Korean speakers exhibit sensitivity to the SSP even for consonant sequences that never occur syllable-initially in those languages (such as [nb] vs. [bn] in English). There is disagreement regarding the implications of this finding. Berent et al. (2007) argue that these results can only be explained with reference to an innate principle; however, Daland et. al (2011) show that computational models capable of inferring statistical generalizations over sound classes can detect evidence for these preferences based on related patterns in the language input (and therefore no reference to innate principles is required). Building on these studies, I argue that English is the wrong test case: it does not differentiate predictions of these two hypotheses. I examine learning of syllable structure phonotactics in Polish, a language with very different sonority sequencing patterns from English. Polish provides a crucial test case because the lexical statistics contradict the SSP, at least in part. I review developmental evidence indicating that children acquiring Polish are nonetheless sensitive to the SSP, producing larger sonority rises more accurately in spontaneous production (Jarosz to appear). I then present results from two experiments investigating adult Polish native speakers’ phonotactic knowledge. The findings indicate that Polish native speakers’ phonotactic preferences are sensitive to the SSP and that this SSP sensitivity is not predicted by the computational models that succeeded for languages like English, Mandarin, and Korean. This suggests a crucial role of an inherent bias or a constraint on generalization from the input. At the same time, native speakers’ sonority-sequencing preferences are not entirely expected on the basis of SSP alone, suggesting an important role for experience as well. I discuss implications of these prior bias – experience interactions for modeling of phonological learning.

Phonology Circle 4/10 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: Cyclicity in Standard French: the role of stem-base perceptual similarity
Date/Time: Monday, April 10, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

In Standard French, stems in derivatives behave regularly or cyclically depending on the phonological shape of the suffix: stem-final mid vowels behave regularly if the suffix starts with a non-schwa vowel or a glide, and cyclically otherwise. I compare two approaches to explain this pattern: a syllable-based analysis (cf van Oostendorp 2004 on a similar pattern in Dutch), and a perceptually-based analysis. The syllable-based analysis predicts that cyclic application entails identical syllabification of the base-final consonant and its correspondent in the stem. The perceptually-based analysis predicts that cyclic application entails greater perceptual similarity of the base-final consonant and its correspondent in the stem. A comparison of the results of two experiments (a small experiment based on a syllabification task and an experiment based on a discrimination task) suggests that the perceptually-based analysis is superior: it can better explain the difference between liquid-initial suffixes (before which stems behave cyclically) and glide-initial suffixes (before which stems behave regularly). The results of this study are relevant for two debates in phonology: whether phonotactics are better explained in syllable-based or perceptually-based terms (Steriade 1999), and whether phonetic detail plays a role in cyclicity (Steriade 2000).

LFRG 4/12 - Neil Banerjee

Speaker: Neil Banerjee (MIT)
Title: A problem with future-shifting
Date and time: Wednesday April 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The English verbs hope and want are future-shifters in that they allow their non-future complements to be interpreted as occurring in the future.

(1) a. Paul hopes to win the championship.
b. Sam wants to live in Boston.

Assuming that non-finite clauses behave like bound present tense, Abusch (2004) builds the future shift into the lexical semantics of future-shifting verbs. Work by Lekakou and Nilsen (2008), as well as Klecha (2016) suggests that the difference, while lexical, can be made to fall out from Condoravdi’s (2001) diversity condition and the modal base of the attitude report. This gives us a lexical semantics where the future is introduced because of the modal base of the attitude report. Verbs compatible with non-doxastic modal bases are predicted to be future-shifters. Independent evidence from want suggests that it can indeed have a non-doxastic modal base, and is also a future-shifter. But the prediction then is that hope and want should then have the same truth conditions in the following case.

(2) a. I have what I want
b. *I have what I hope

Evidence from other future shifters in English (other attitude verbs, antecedents of conditionals, probability reports) suggests that locating the source of futurity in the modal base may not be on the right track. I leave finding the right track as a puzzle for the future.

Ling-Lunch 4/13 - Ezer Rasin

Speaker: Ezer Rasin (MIT)
Title: Severing stress from phonology
Date/Time: Thursday, April 13th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

According to the consensus view in generative linguistics, the cognitive module known as ‘phonology’ is responsible for various phonological computations, including the computation of word stress, tone, and segmental processes. I will present two differences between stress and segmental phonology to motivate a modular decomposition of phonology, where the computation of stress is carried out in a separate module with a limited interaction with the rest of phonology:

1) Information Encapsulation: drawing on observations by de Lacy (2006) and Blumenfeld (2006), I propose a universal asymmetry between stress and segmental processes. Segmental processes are often sensitive to the position of stress (In American English, for example, [t] is flapped between a preceding stressed vowel and a following unstressed vowel, as in políDical vs. politícian) but the computation of stress is never directly sensitive to segmental information: stress patterns like ‘stress the rightmost vowel followed by a velar’ are unattested, and can be excluded in the modular architecture if the input to the stress module excludes representations of segmental features.

2) Weak Generative Capacity: Heinz (2014) observes that the computational complexity of attested stress patterns goes beyond that of segmental patterns. In particular, stress patterns can require exactly one primary stress per word, but segmental patterns that require exactly one e.g. sibilant per word are unattested. This difference places stress and segmental phonology in two different domains of the Chomsky hierarchy of formal languages, a hallmark of modularity.


Explanatory adequacy in formal semantics 4/14 - Keny Chatain

The reading group on explanatory adequacy in formal semantics continues this week with a discussion of the paper “The logical primitives of thought” by Piantadosi, S. T., Tenenbaum, J. B., and Goodman, N. D. led by Keny Chatain.

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Piantadosi, S. T., Tenenbaum, J. B., and Goodman, N. D. (2016). The logical primitives of thought: Empirical foundations for compositional cognitive models. Psychological review, 123(4):392–424 (link)
Date/Time: Friday, April 14, 2:00-3:00pm
Location: 32-D831

The notion of a compositional language of thought (LOT) has been central in computational accounts of cognition from earliest attempts (Boole, 1854; Fodor, 1975) to the present day (Feldman, 2000; Penn, Holyoak, & Povinelli, 2008; Fodor, 2008; Kemp, 2012; Goodman, Tenenbaum, & Gerstenberg, 2015). Recent modeling work shows how statistical inferences over compositionally structured hypothesis spaces might explain learning and development across a variety of domains. However, the primitive components of such representations are typically assumed a priori by modelers and theoreticians rather than determined empirically. We show how different sets of LOT primitives, embedded in a psychologically realistic approximate Bayesian inference framework, systematically predict distinct learning curves in rule-based concept learning experiments. We use this feature of LOT models to design a set of large-scale concept learning experiments that can determine the most likely primitives for psychological concepts involving Boolean connectives and quantification. Subjects’ inferences are most consistent with a rich (nonminimal) set of Boolean operations, including first-order, but not second-order, quantification. Our results more generally show how specific LOT theories can be distinguished empirically.

Phonology Circle 4/3 - Kevin Ryan (Harvard)

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard)
Title: Onset vs. rime effects in phrasal weight
Date/Time: Monday, April 3, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

Prosodic end-weight (PEW) refers to the specifically phonological aspect of end-weight, whereby prosodically heavier constituents tend to be preferred domain-finally, all else being equal (i.e. controlling for semantics, frequency, morphosyntactic complexity, etc.). This tendency can be seen in coordination (“X and Y” or “Y and X”?) among numerous other constructions, is widespread (though not universal) cross-linguistically, and is amply supported by experiments, including wug-tests. Several explanations have been put forth for PEW, including final lengthening, complexity deferral (for reasons related to processing), metrical optimization, phonotactic optimization, and (esp. in my own work) stress-weight alignment in sentential prosody. I maintain that the stress-weight interface best explains the core properties of PEW, while the other factors are either irrelevant or at least largely orthogonal to it. One area in which the stress-weight analysis illuminates PEW concerns its differing treatment of onset vs. rime segments. For instance, in the nucleus and coda, greater sonority correlates with greater weight, while in the onset, the generalization is reversed: Greater obstruency patterns as heavier. This reversal is also evident from other types of weight systems (with phonetic rationales in Gordon 2005, Ryan 2014). Thus, I propose that PEW instantiates the same stress-weight interface that is well-documented for stress, meter, etc., a generalization of Weight-to-Stress (Prince 1983 et seq.). The proposed generalization is formalized as a stringent weight hierarchy (e.g. moraic sonorant X > moraic X > X), partly to avoid monsters, but stringency can only be maintained if one recognizes a natural class that is the union of onset obstruents (which cannot be analyzed as moraic in English) and rime segments (which are moraic), among other issues.

Syntax Square 4/4 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction, Pied-piping, and Cyclic Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday April 4, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In my previous syntax square, I introduced possessor extraction in English. This essentially undocumented possibility in colloquial speech stands in contrast to canonical pied-piping wh-movement of possessors in English.
  1. Who do they say[[_’s cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)
  2. [Whose cat] do they say [_ is cute]? (Pied-piping)
English possessor extraction cannot happen all the time, however. In this talk, I go on to analyze the phenomenon’s restrictions. For example, non-subject DPs must be pied-piped to the edge of their clause for PE out of them to be licit, producing a unique instance of partial pied-piping. In a very general sense, pied-piping to an intermediate position provides a nice piece of overt evidence for successive-cyclic movement through intermediate specifiers of CP.
  1. *Who do they think [John likes [_’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do they think[[_’s cake] John likes _]? (PE from pied-piped object)
I argue that this pied-piping and a number of other details result from an adjacency condition between possessor and the saxon genitive (cf. Gavruseva & Thornton 2001) which interacts with phase-by-phase linearization of syntactic structure (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014). Along the way, this analysis finds a explanation for the fact that successive-cyclic movement through spec-vP cannot strand anything in English, a curious gap in the paradigm of McCloskeys’s all-stranding and true of P-stranding in English generally. This finding leads to a number of broader predictions about stranding and its interaction with movement and the nature of specifiers (cf. Ko). The interaction of English possessor extraction with existential constructions also leads to a novel argument from linearization that expletive there originates in vP (Biberauer & Richards 2005, Deal 2009).

LFRG 4/5 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English possessor extraction and LF pied-piping
Date and time: Wednesday April 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The colloquial speech of many English speakers permits what looks like possessor extraction, which A’-moves a possessor (1) without pied-piping the rest of the DP (2).

1. Who do they think [[_’s fat cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)

2. [Whose fat cat] do they think [_ is cute]? (Standard pied-piping)

This movement is interesting in light of the fact that English is a language that otherwise obeys the Left Branch Condition (Ross 1967), which describes a lack of extraction of the leftmost constituent of a nominal phrase. I argue that despite appearances, the possessum is in fact covertly pied-piped in (1), meaning that there really is no Left Branch Condition exception here. Some evidence for this comes from parasitic gaps, where a possessum stranded in an embedded clause can bind a parasitic gap in the matrix clause, as in (3).

3. [Who did you say[_’s haircut is awful] despite wanting help from PG]?

If who moved alone and didn’t carry haircut into the matrix clause, we expect the PG to be bound by who and so refer to a person. If there was full pied-piping we predict whose haircut to bind the PG, giving a silly reading where you want help from a haircut. By the judgments of most speakers, it turns out that the silly reading is the most salient for sentences like this, with the non-silly reading being absent or difficult. Importantly, we only expect the silly reading to be available if the possessum was covertly pied-piped, binding the PG. von Stechow (1996) argues against Nishigauchi (1990), saying that covert pied-piping does not exist, or at least is not interpreted. In (3), covert pied-piping is interpreted. I also apply the logic of covert pied-piping to sluicing in answers to possessor-extracting questions, and some puzzles regarding free relatives, which don’t pattern as expected.

Ling-Lunch 4/6 - Adrian Stegovec

Speaker: Adrian Stegovec (UConn)
Title: Two’s company, three’s a crowd: Strength implications in syntactic person restrictions
Date/Time: Thursday, April 6th, 12h30—1h50pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk I argue for a novel approach to syntactic person restrictions (SPRs) such as the Person-Case Constraint (PCC) in ditransitives and analogous restrictions in transitives. I present data from a broad cross-linguistic survey of SPRs (101 languages), revealing a generalization on the distribution of SPRs across combinations of External-Internal and Internal-Internal arguments —- the Strength Implication Generalization: “If a language has both an External-Internal argument and an Internal-Internal argument SPR, the Internal-Internal one is never “weaker” than the External-Internal one”. I propose that SPRs arise due to the inherent person feature underspecification of relevant pronominal markers which makes them dependent on phase heads for external person feature valuation. This is shown not only to derive the generalization from standard assumptions on argument structure, but also to capture the cross-linguistic variation in SPR types in terms of lexical (micro-)variation in pronominal markers and a contextual approach to phases.

Explanatory adequacy in formal semantics 4/7 - Irene Heim

Earlier this semester there were three LFRG presentations on topics that had to do with explanatory adequacy in formal semantics. Since there was interest in discussing these issues further, a separate reading group on explanatory adequacy in formal semantics will start this week.

The goal is to discuss theoretical, experimental, and computational work in formal semantics that addresses the question of how denotations of lexical items are acquired, with a special focus on 1) typological and experimental work that contributes to the characterization of the range of possible denotations available to the child, and 2) computational work on semantic learning.

The reading group will meet on Fridays at 2-3pm in 32-D831. The first meeting’s details are below.

Speaker: Irene Heim (MIT)
Title: Type Economy
Date/Time: Friday, April 7, 2:00-3:00pm
Location: 32-D831

Lexicalist and syntactic accounts of a given construction have often been pitted against each other in the linguistic literature. Proponents of either account ought to do more than argue that their favorite account derives better empirical predictions from simpler assumptions. They also should tell us how the language learner chooses this analysis. For example, a linguist who favors a raising-to-subject analysis of verbs like seem should formulate constraints or biases which may guide children to acquire this analysis and not a lexicalist one. Informally, a bias in favor of “simpler” semantic types could fill the bill in this case. But what exactly is the relevant metric of simplicity?

MIT Colloquium 4/7 - Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (Manchester)

Speaker: Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (Manchester)
Title: The phonological lexicon, usage factors, and rates of change: Evidence from Manchester English
Time: Friday, April 7, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

This paper reports the results of research conducted jointly with George Bailey (University of Manchester), Maciej Baranowski (University of Manchester), and Danielle Turton (University of Newcastle upon Tyne).

In classical modular feedforward architectures of grammar, phonetic implementation does not have access to information about lexical items beyond the discrete properties encoded in phonological representations. This hypothesis accounts for fundamental facts of human language such as double articulation and the existence of neogrammarian change, but it fails to explain the fact that fine phonetic detail is also affected by gradient usage-related properties of lexical items such as token frequency and neighbourhood density.

Exemplar Theory seeks to explain the phonetic effects of usage factors by abandoning the classical hypothesis that lexical phonological representations consist solely of categorical information. Less radical approaches, however, continue to uphold this assumption: some, such as Baese-Berk & Goldrick’s (2009) account of neighbourhood density effects, rely on the notion of gradient symbolic computation, according to which phonological representations are made up of symbols that are discrete but exhibit continuously varying degrees of activation (Smolensky & Goldrick 2016).

These two approaches to the phonetic effects of usage factors differ in their diachronic predictions. In the case of lexical token frequency, in particular, it has been repeatedly observed that, synchronically, high-frequency words exhibit more lenition than low-frequency words. From this observation the proponents of Exemplar Theory infer that, during historical language change, high-frequency words undergo reduction at a relatively faster rate due to greater exposure to reductive phonetic biases, whose effects are claimed to be directly registered in phonetically-detailed lexical representations. Pace Hay & Foulkes (2016), however, this diachronic pattern has never been reliably observed, and these accounts fail to consider another logical possibility: namely, that high-frequency words are ahead synchronically but actually change at the same rate as low-frequency words.

In this talk I report the findings of an investigation into the effect of lexical token frequency on the glottal replacement of word-medial /t/ in Manchester English, using apparent-time data from 62 speakers born between 1926 and 1985 (2131 tokens). Two stringent tests (mixed effects logistic regression and comparison between curve-fitting models) show that lexical token frequency gives rise to a ‘constant rate effect’ in the sense of Kroch (1989): high-frequency words exhibit more glottalization at all points in apparent time, but the size of their advantage remains unchanged. This suggests that glottalization advances historically through an increase in the probability of application of a single process targeting both high- and low-frequency words, whilst the impact of frequency is produced by time-invariant orthogonal mechanisms, possibly involving gradient symbolic computation. Thus, the evidence is consistent with the classical assumption that lexical phonological representations consist solely of discrete categories and do not encode fine phonetic detail.

A PDF copy of the abstract (with references) is also available.


Phonology Circle 3/20 - Joan Mascaró Altimiras (UAB)

Speaker: Joan Mascaró Altimiras (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona/MIT)
Title: Stress Dependent Harmony and Featural Affixation: Metaphony in Romance
Date/Time: Monday, March 20, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

Stress-dependent harmony in Romance (aka metaphony) has been usually analyzed as a case of phonological spreading from/licensing of a final trigger affecting the stressed vowel. In cases in which the trigger has become opaque, either an abstract analysis (Calabrese 1985, 1998) or a morphological analysis (featural affixation or similar; Kaze 1989, Finley 2009) has been proposed. The determination of trigger-target interactions has been analyzed as determined by a prosodic domain (the foot, Hualde 1989, Flemming 1994) or as licensing of features in a weak position (Cole 1998, Majors 1998, Walker 2005). In this talk, I will examine all these possibilities and suggest that even in transparent cases an analysis in terms of featural affixation cannot be ruled out given current empirical evidence, and that the original analyses in terms of foot domains might be a more appropriate solution.

Syntax Square 3/21 - Kenyon Branan

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: Contiguity Preservation: Another Look at Defective Intervention
Date and time: Tuesday March 21, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Some languages, like English, allow raising across an experiencer in sentences like [John seems to me to be intelligent]. Other languages, like Icelandic, don’t. In this talk, I will attempt to build a theory that will predict whether or not a language will allow raising across an experiencer. This theory will not make reference to the notion of defective intervention, which has commonly been used to account for the facts in Icelandic. I show that a number of other syntactic properties correlate with the “allows raising across a dative property”, and that these properties can be explained straightforwardly with Richards’ (2016) Contiguity. I then propose a requirement that Contiguity relationships may not be broken in the same phase they are created, and show that this accounts for the fact that English-like languages allow raising across a dative, but not Icelandic-like languages. Finally, I attempt to extend the account to English tough-constructions.

LFRG 3/22 - Itai Bassi

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Phi features on focus-bound pronouns: a semantic account
Date and time: Wednesday March 22, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Some researchers (Kratzer 1998, Heim 2008, a.o.) have argued that phi features on bound pronouns are not (always) semantically interpreted. Their presence, it is claimed, is a PF-only phenomenon, perhaps as a reflex of an agreement relationship with the binder of their pronoun. One motivation for this conclusion comes from focus constructions like (1). The point is that under standard assumptions about binding and about the meaning of phi features, the phi features on my better not be semantically active, or else the right interpretation of (1) would not be derived.

1. Only I brushed my teeth.

But other authors (Jacobson 2012, Sauerland 2013) have taken a more semantic view, capitalizing on the observation that (1) is a focus construction. On this approach the phi-features in (1) do contribute their usual meaning, but only at the level of the regular semantic value of the expression and not at the level of its focus semantic value.

The goal of this talk is to develop a novel account of focus constructions like (1) within the semantic approach. The core of the proposal is that (1) involves F-coindexation between the two pronouns:

2. Only [I]F1 brushed [my]F1 teeth.

My account builds on Kratzer’s (1991) version of focus semantics, where focused phrases carry an indexed F-feature. I will propose that the grammar has a mechanism that allows a focused phrase to share its F-index to matching pronouns. The fact that phi-features contribute only to the regular semantic value will be derived in this system.

I will show how the phenomenon of split binding (Rullmann 2004), which is problematic to PF accounts, can be handled in my theory rather straightforwardly.

Finally, I will try to independently motivate the notion that focus dependencies like (1) makes the dependent pronoun (silently) F-marked.


Talk 3/22 - Loes Koring

Speaker: Loes Koring (MIT)
Title: Looking for structure in strings
Time: Wednesday March 22, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Room: 32-D461

The class of intransitive verbs poses an interesting puzzle for the language-acquiring child. The child has to work out which of these verbs project an unergative and which an unaccusative syntax. The puzzle here is that, in many languages, the surface strings these verbs give rise to, do not provide any (useful) information regarding their underlying structure. A potential complicating factor is that there are reasons to think that young children are not able to project an unaccusative structure in which the internal argument has moved up to subject position. In this talk, I will use the Visual World Paradigm to probe more directly into the underlying structure children assign to sentences with unaccusative verbs by looking at children’s processing signatures for these sentences. The results from the eye-tracking experiments I present are not only informative regarding (the acquisition of) unaccusativity, but the paradigm itself opens up a new way to uncover the underlying structures of different strings (and thus to tease apart competing hypotheses about the structure). Finally, I will discuss the implications of these results with respect to how we think about (the acquisition of) constraints on structural alternations verbs can participate in.

Ling-Lunch 3/23 — Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Against morphological diagnostics for object agreement vs. clitic doubling: Evidence from Inuktitut
Date/Time: Thursday, March 23, 12:30—1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

There has been much recent debate concerning the proper analysis of object agreement—whether it is true agreement (phi-feature valuation) or clitic doubling (a pronominal D0 co-referring with a DP). Various diagnostics have been put forth to determine whether a given “object-referencing morpheme” is one or the other (e.g. Preminger 2009, Nevins 2011, Kramer 2014). In this talk, I argue against the use of morphological diagnostics (as in Zwicky & Pullum 1983, also Nevins 2011) in discerning between the two, based on a comparison between Inuktitut and related Inuit languages (mostly West Greenlandic).

In Inuit, subject- and object-referencing morphemes surface as mood-sensitive portmanteaux; this has been previously taken as an argument for true object agreement in Inuit (Compton 2014). However, novel data from Inuktitut reveal that the Inuit languages actually display a split: while in West Greenlandic the object-referencing portion of these portmanteaux is underlyingly true agreement, in Inuktitut it is clitic doubling. Unlike West Greenlandic, Inuktitut displays a number of syntactic and semantic effects that strongly parallel the behaviour of pronominal object clitics cross-linguistically (e.g. Dobrovie-Sorin 1990, Cardinaletti & Starke 1999). I will moreover show that this split is not arbitrary, but falls within a broader pattern across Inuit.

Crucially, despite this contrast, the West Greenlandic and Inuktitut agreement paradigms are almost entirely identical; their morphological properties therefore have no bearing on the underlying syntax associated with these forms. To properly discern between agreement and clitic doubling, we must instead focus on syntactic and semantic diagnostics that specifically take into account the determiner/pronominal status of doubled clitics, i.e. that they are D0’s in a syntactic dependency with a co-referring DP (see, for example, Preminger 2009).


MIT LingPhil Colloquium 3/24 - Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)

This Friday, Cleo Condoravdi will be giving our third annual MIT Linguistics and Philosophy Colloquium!

Speaker: Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)
Title: Conditional imperatives
Time: Friday, March 24th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

I present an analysis of imperatives as preferential commitments and show how preferential commitments get conditionalized in conditional imperatives, including imperatives in anankastic conditionals. The analysis allows for uses of modals and imperatives to be equivalent in their communicative effect, despite their different underlying semantics. It also accounts for a new observation about a crucial difference between modals and imperatives: while modals can be used to give advice on why a certain goal should be rescinded given the facts of the matter, imperatives cannot.

What I will talk about builds on three previous papers on imperatives and on anankastic conditionals (1, 2, 3), but there is no paper yet corresponding to the content of the talk and one does not need to be familiar with the previous work.

Phonology Circle 3/13 - Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)

Speaker: Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)
Title: Learning to mark exceptionality in probabilistic OT
Date/Time: Monday, March 13, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

In this work in progress, I seek to simulate how the language-learning infant learns that certain words are exceptions to their phonological grammar. Existing learners that assign exceptionality marking to words in OT (Becker 2009, Coetzee 2009) are non-probabilistic, making them unable to represent within-word variation (Coetzee and Pater 2011; see Temkin-Martínez 2010 for the necessity of representing both variation and exceptionality). The logic of those learners – comparing (pairwise) ranking conditions between words – cannot be applied to most existing probabilistic OT learners (e.g., Boersma 1997, Goldwater and Johnson 2003). I present an extension of Jarosz’s (2015) Expectation Driven Learning approach that is able to embody this logic and induce exceptionality labels. The efficacy of this approach is tested on several mini-case studies, including the case of default and exceptional Dutch stress (Kager 1989).

Syntax Square 3/14 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction and Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday March 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Continuing from my previous Syntax Square, I analyze English possessor extraction, which is interestingly restricted. One such restriction that becomes apparent in long-distance possessor extraction is that non-subject DPs must be pied-piped to the edge of their clause for PE out of them to be licit:
  1. *Who do they think [John likes [t’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do they think[[t’s cake] John likes t]? (PE from pied-piped object)
I argue that this and other restrictions result from an adjacency condition between possessor and the Saxon genitive (cf. Gavruseva & Thornton 2001) which interacts with phase-by-phase linearization of syntactic structure (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014). Along the way, this analysis provides further evidence for Ko’s claim that specifiers of a head cannot be rearranged, finds an explanation for a general lack of spec-vP stranding in English, and additionally, an independent argument from linearization that expletive there originates in vP.

LFRG 3/15 - Robert Pasternak

Speaker: Robert Pasternak (Stony Brook/MIT)
Title: Want comparatives and the natural language metaphysics of desire
Date and time: Wednesday, March 15, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Bach (1986) famously argues that part of the task of model-theoretic semantics is to engage in what he refers to as natural language metaphysics: in short, the determination of what sorts of objects and relations must be included in our model in order to account for the full range of possible meanings in natural language. In this talk, I will propose a natural language metaphysics of desire states—-and a semantics of want to go with it—-in which the intensity of desire tracks the part-whole relations of a desire state in a particular dimension. This is based on two independent observations from the literature. The first is that want can appear in comparatives in which the intensity of desire is being compared (Villalta 2008, Lassiter 2011):

1. Ann wants to leave more than Mary wants to stay.

The second observation is that verbal comparatives require that the measure functions used track part-whole relations of eventualities (Nakanishi 2007, Wellwood et al. 2012, Wellwood 2015). Hence, (2) can be a comparison of the time or distance of Ann’s and Mary’s running (since a running event covers more time/distance than its proper parts), but not the speed:

2. Ann ran more than Mary did.

If this constraint is to hold more generally, and if want comparatives—-which by all appearances are verbal comparatives—-allow for a comparison of intensity, then intensity of desire must track part-whole relations of desire states. After illustrating what such a natural language metaphysics might look like, as well as how the denotation of want interacts with the part-whole structure of such states, I then show how this view can be folded in with von Fintel’s (1999) broadly Hintikkan semantics of want, in which the denotation of want universally quantifies over bouletically ideal worlds.


Talk 3/16 - Robyn Orfitelli

Speaker: Robyn Orfitelli (University of Sheffield)
Title: Middle Class Acquisition
Time: Thursday March 16, 12:30 – 2:30 pm
Room: 32-D461


One of the most discussed puzzles in language acquisition is that children learning English (and a typologically diverse array of other languages) are delayed in acquiring adult comprehension of verbal passives and subject-to-subject raising (1a-b), but show very early comprehension of numerous other forms of A-movement, including subject-to-object raising and unaccusatives (2a-b).

I have previously argued that the cause of this split is that the sentences in (1) violate locality restrictions on movement, making them impossible for young children to derive, while the sentences in (2) do not violate these restrictions. In this talk, I present data from three studies investigating the acquisition of the A-movement that derives the middle voice (3), and a related structure with similar properties (4). Both (3) and (4) are structurally ambiguous: the nominative subject may be interpreted as either the external argument (reading i) or internal argument (reading ii) of the predicate, making these ideal test cases for locality-based intervention accounts.

Collectively, the data from the three studies suggest that children have no difficulty representing internal arguments as subjects, despite their non-canonical alignment, and the extreme rarity of sentences like (3) and (4) in child-directed speech. I discuss the significance of these findings for both our understanding of A-movement acquisition, and for our understanding of implicitly represented arguments in syntactic/semantic structure.

  1. a. Amber was seen by Graham.
    b. Amber seems to Graham to be lying.
  2. a. Amber believes Graham to be lying.
    b. Amber arrived.
  3. Adorable kittens sell easily.
    i. Adorable kittens make particularly talented sales-cats.
    ii. Adorable kittens can easily be sold.
  4. Scientists make great parents.
    i. (Mad) scientists create great parents (a la Dr. Frankenstein).
    ii. Scientists are generally great parents.

Phonology Circle 3/6 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: GETCASE is Violable: Evidence for Wholesale Late Merger
Date/Time: Monday, March 6, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I examine reconstruction effects in a class of A-bar constructions in Bùlì, building on recent proposals about the mechanisms that yield reconstructions asymmetries in A and A-bar movement Takahashi and Hulsey (2009) and the asymmetries within English preposition stranding (P-stranding) Stanton (2016).

A well known asymmetry between A and A-bar movement is that: while A-movement bleeds binding Condition C, A-bar movement doesn’t. This led to the conclusion that: while A-movement optionally leaves a trace, A-bar movement obligatorily leaves a copy (Sauerland 1998, Fox 1999). This conclusion, however, posses a serious challenge to the copy theory of movement. To resolve this, Takahashi and Hulsey (2009), extending the idea of late marge (Lebeaux 1988, Chomsky 1995) and adopting insights from (Fox 2002), argue that late merger is allowed whenever an output representation can be interpreted in the semantic component (wholesale Later merger(WLM)). By this operation, they maintain that there is no distinction between A and A-bar movement with respect to the copy theory, independent properties of grammar like Case, account for the reconstruction properties of A and A-bar movement: while WLM can apply to A movement because it involves movement from a non-Case position to a Case position, WLM cannot apply to A-bar movement because A-bar movement involves movement from a Case position to a non-Case position. The goal of this talk is to show that wh-questions in Bùlì, a Gur language spoken in Ghana, provides new evidence for WLM. In particular, I argue that the outcome of overt movement in the language is as a result of ranking the constraint LATEMERGE, which requires constituents to merge as late as possible, above GETCASE, which penalizes a Caseless NP and *TOOLATE, which assigns a violation to late merge if the relationship it establishes is not the structurally highest of its type (Stanton 2016). I argue that the interactions of these constraints are responsible for the cross linguistic variations we observe between A-bar extractions and reconstruction effects in Bùlì as well as other well studied languages, including English.

Data and Analysis: Bùlì permits wh-phrases to appear in the left periphery of the clause (1a-b). The sensitive of these phrases to islands (1c) is taken as evidence to show that they undergo movement.

(1)  a. (ká) bwa ātì bí:ká dìgì:
Q what C child.DEF cook
‘What is that the child cooked?

b. ká lām būnā ātì bí:ká
dìgì:Q meat which C child.DEF cook
‘Which meat did the child cook?’

c. *ká bwa ātì bí:ká dà gbáŋ ālī:
Q what C child.DEF buy book CONJ

In analyzing this data, I assume that the QP moves overtly to the Spec, of ātì. However, unlike movement of the whole QP-NP-DP complex from the base position (2), I propose that it involves movement of QP-DP followed by Late merging the NP lām ‘meat’ to the structure at the final landing site (Takahashi and Hulsey 2009, Stanton 2016). This derivation, I argue, is responsible for the lack of reconstruction effects in the language (2b). Since Ajohn foto ‘picture of John’ (2b) is merged after moving the QP and DP, the co-referential pronoun, wà‘3SG’ doesn’t c-command a copy of John in the base position, hence its ability to bleed principle C.

(2) a. [ká [lām] būnā ] ātì bí:ká dìgì ká būnā]

b. ká Ajohnfoto kūnā ātì wài à-yā:lī:
Q John picture which C 3SG IMPF-like
‘*Which picture of John does he like’


Syntax Square 3/7 - Snejana Iovtcheva

Speaker: Snejana Iovtcheva (MIT)
Title: An Applicative Account of Bulgarian Double Object Constructions
Date and time: Tuesday March 7, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I will present and discuss data on Bulgarian ditransitives, in which clitic doubled Goal arguments differ systematically from their non-double counterparts. More concretely, I will demonstrate that clitic doubled ditransitive constructions, behave in par with English Double Object Constructions (DOC) of the type [I gave John the book], while non-doubled ditransitive constructions behave like Prepositional Ditransitive Constructions (PDC) of the type [I gave the book to John].

The DOC/PDC distinction is not obvious right away since the language has free word order and Goal arguments are always marked with the same preposition na. The correlation between clitic doubling in DOC and the absence of clitic doubling in PDC has already been established for Spanish (Cuervo 2003) and Romanian (Rivero & Diaconescu 2006, Diaconescu 2007). In my analysis on Bulgarian DOCs, I follow Marantz (1993), Pylkkänen (2003), Cuervo (2003) and Slavkov (2008) and I propose that na-marked clitic doubled Goals in Bulgarian are introduced by functional ‘Low’ Applicative heads. The clitic itself is treated as a spell out of the Appl0.

In addition to contrasting clitic doubled na-Goals to non-doubled na-Goals, I will discuss also na-marked arguments of transitive and unaccusative verbs and I propose that the language has also ‘high’ Applicative heads, which are introduced above the VP domain.


LFRG 3/8 - Matthew Mandelkern

Speaker: Matthew Mandelkern
Title: Bounded Modality
Date and time: Wednesday, March 8, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

To what degree does the meaning of an epistemic modal claim like ‘It might be raining’ resemble the meaning of an avowal of ignorance like ‘For all I know, it’s raining’? Progress on this question has been made by exploring differences in how constructions along these lines embed—-in particular by exploring their behavior as part of larger constructions like Wittgenstein (1953)’s ‘It might be raining and it’s not’ and Moore (1942)’s ‘It’s raining and I don’t know it’, respectively. A variety of approaches have been developed to account for those differences. All approaches, however, agree that the infelicity of unembedded Moore sentences and unembedded Wittgenstein sentences is to be explained in roughly the same way: such sentences are classically consistent, but commitment to both conjuncts is incoherent.

In this paper I argue against this consensus. If this consensus were right, then disjoined Moore sentences, and disjoined Wittgenstein sentences, would be felicitous. This prediction is borne out for disjoined Moore sentences, but not for Wittgenstein sentence. This creates a puzzle, since there is decisive reason to think that ‘Might p’ is consistent with ‘Not p’. I propose a new theory of epistemic modals and their interaction with embedding operators which predicts that, while ‘Might p’ is indeed consistent with ‘Not p’, when evaluating their conjunction, ‘Might p and not p’, we are forced to do so relative to an accessibility relation which makes the conjunction false. I show that this theory accounts not only for Wittgenstein sentences and their disjunctions, but also for the subtle behavior of embedded modals across the board. The upshot is that there is much in common between ‘For all we know, p’ and the meaning of ‘Might p’—-and thus much that is correct in the standard semantics for the latter—-but also a crucial difference: interpretation of the latter, but not the former, depends in a striking way on the intersentential dynamics of information.

Talk 3/9 - Roni Katzir

Speaker: Roni Katzir (MIT and Tel Aviv University)
Title: Choosing between theories of UG using compression-based learning
Time: Thursday March 9, 12:30-2:30pm
Room: 32-D461

I will discuss an approach to learning — compression-based learning — and show how it can help us choose between competing grammatical architectures in some cases where adult judgments alone are insufficiently informative.

Compression (or the principle of Minimum Description Length; also very closely related to Bayesian approaches) considers both the size of the grammar and that of the description of the data given the grammar and attempts to minimize their sum. By doing so, compression guides the learner to hypotheses that balance between generality and the need to fit the data. Compression appears to match subjects’ generalization patterns in a variety of tasks, and it has yielded working learners for realistic linguistic theories in different domains.

I will review these properties of compression-based learning and show how we can use it to compare between competing architectures with two case studies, one in phonology and one in semantics. The phonological case study concerns constraints on underlying representations (also known as morpheme-structure constraints), which were central to early generative phonology but rejected in Optimality Theory. Evidence bearing directly on the question of whether the grammar uses constraints on URs has been scarce. I will show, however, that if the child is a compression-based learner, then they will succeed in learning patterns such as English aspiration if they can use constraints on URs but run into difficulties otherwise. In semantics, I will discuss two architectures for the representation of quantificational determiners: building blocks and semantic automata. While both choices support the representation and learning of quantificational determiners, I will show a specific domain where they predict different learning paths.


Syntax Square 2/28 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: Q-particles and the nature of Covert movement: evidence from Bùlì
Date and time: Tuesday February 28, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

It is a well known fact that wh-questions in many languages may contain an in-situ wh-phrase. The nature of this wh-phrase, however, has been a contentious issue in the literature. While some have argued that the in-situ wh-phrase undergoes covert movement at LF (Aoun, Hornstein, and Sportiche, 1981; Huang, 1982; Nishigauchi, 1990; Pesetsky, 2000, Richards, 1997; 2000; Nissenbaum, 2000; Cable, 2007; 2010; Kotek, 2014; 2016), others have argued against this view (Watanabe 1992; Chomsky 1995; Reinhart 1998). A well-known puzzle for proponents of covert movement are the apparent differences in island-sensitivity between overt and covert movement — leading Huang (1982), for example, to propose that island-sensitivity is a property of S-structure or PF but not LF. The goal of this paper is to show that wh-questions in Bùlì provide strong arguments for covert movement of wh-in situ that eliminate the need to posit any overt/covert differences in island-sensitivity cross-linguistically. The key to this demonstration is the distribution of an overt Q-marker in Bùlì, and Bùlì’s status as an in-situ language.


LFRG 3/1 - Athulya Aravind and Ezer Rasin‏

Speakers: Athulya Aravind and Ezer Rasin‏
Title: The nature of the semantic stimulus: quantifier learning as a case study
Date and time: Wednesday March 1, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Language acquisition involves making sense of unanalyzed input: the child brings to the task a hypothesis space, each point in which represents a grammar, and she chooses a point in that space that can generate the input. If two grammars G, G’ are compatible with the input and the child ends up converging on G, we can draw interesting conclusions regarding acquisition: it could be, for example, that G’ is outside of the child’s hypothesis space, or that the child is biased towards choosing G over G’. The literature on acquisition in syntax and phonology has identified cases where the input is not rich enough to eliminate alternatives to the adult grammar, suggesting that learning in those domains is non-trivial.

Our goal is to evaluate the richness of the input in semantics, and our case study is the acquisition of quantificational determiners. We address the following question: are there logically weaker or logically stronger alternatives to quantifier meanings that are compatible with the child’s input, or is the input rich enough to eliminate competing hypotheses? We report our preliminary conclusions from a study of several English CHILDES corpora:

  • Systematic truth-conditional evidence for ruling out logically weaker meanings does not seem to be available. Obvious candidates for providing such evidence like the direct rejection of a child’s utterance and the use of quantifiers in downward-entailing environments were either absent from most corpora or consistent with weaker meanings.
  • Contextual evidence for ruling out logically weaker meanings is available. We identify contexts where a weaker meaning for a quantifier would violate some pragmatic constraint. If children can use this contextual evidence early enough, then logically weaker meanings would be incompatible with the input.
  • With respect to logically stronger alternatives, the situation is quite different. We construct classes of quantifiers with complex, logically stronger meanings designed to be consistent with any finite number of utterances. If such quantifiers are in the child’s hypothesis space, then converging on adult meanings would require non-trivial induction.

Thursday, 3/2 — talk by Victoria E. Mateu

Speaker: Victoria E. Mateu (UCLA)
Title: On the Acquisition of Raising and Control: A Cross-linguistic Study
Time: March 2 (Thursday), from 12:30 – 2:30
Room: 24-121

This study investigates the delays observed in the acquisition of raising with seem (e.g. Mary seems to John _ to be cautious) and control with promise (e.g. Mary promises John _ to be cautious). One prominent explanation for the difficulties with these constructions holds that it is related to the presence of the intervening argument. Crucially for this type of accounts, an intervener is possible with Spanish prometer ‘promise’, but not with the modal-like verb parecer ‘seem’. The experiments presented here were designed to answer the following questions: i) are the delays observed in these constructions due to intervention effects? If so, ii) are they grammar- or processing-based? and iii) if they are grammar-based, is the grammatical machinery used to by-pass the intervener the same in raising and control?

The results obtained from the raising experiments reveal that Spanish-speaking children comprehend raising sentences with the semi-modal verb parecer by age four, while English-speaking children experience difficulties with raising seem until at least age six – even when the intervening argument is not overtly produced. This cross-linguistic asymmetry suggests that the (overt or covert) intervening argument is the root of the difficulty. Consistent with intervention accounts, the results obtained from the control experiments reveal that both English- and Spanish-speaking children show difficulties comprehending control with promise/prometer until at least age six.

Regarding our second question, an in-depth look into the raising and control data reveal two different groups of children: i) below-chance group: children who lack the grammatical means to circumvent the intervening argument and ii) chance and above-chance group: children who have an adult grammar system but still experience difficulties due to their immature processing system. We refer to this as the Dual Source Intervention hypothesis.

Importantly for our third question, our results do not show a correlation between performance on raising and control in all children –some children perform below chance with raising and above chance with control and some vice-versa, showing a grammatical dissociation between these two constructions. This has important consequences for syntactic theories that claim that raising (with seem) and control (with promise) are derived similarly (e.g. by A-movement, Hornstein 1999, Boeckx & Hornstein 2004, i.a.; or Smuggling, Belletti & Rizzi 2013).


MIT Colloquium 3/3 - Vera Gribanova (Stanford)

Speaker: Vera Gribanova (Stanford)
Title: Head movement, ellipsis, and identity
Time: Friday, March 3rd, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

In this talk I examine paradigms of crosslinguistic variation concerning the the verbal identity condition in verb-stranding ellipsis, building on a recent proposal about the mechanisms that yield head movement configurations (Harizanov and Gribanova, 2017).

When phrasal material is extracted from ellipsis sites (e.g. in sluicing), violations of lexical identity of the extracted material are permitted under focus of that material (Schuyler, 2001; Merchant, 2001). This is usually attributed to the licensing condition on ellipsis (Rooth 1992, Heim 1997, Merchant 2001), which takes distinct variables inside the ellipsis domain and its antecedent to be identical. I focus on analogous paradigms with head movement out of ellipsis sites (yielding verb-stranding), which appear to lead to contradictory conclusions regarding the architectural status of head movement. Languages like Russian - among them Hungarian, European Portuguese, and Swahili - permit mismatches between extracted parts of the verbal complex and their corresponding antecedent components under focus, just as with phrasal extraction in sluicing. Languages like Irish and Hebrew do not permit such mismatches under any circumstances, pointing to a postsyntactic status for head movement: there is no genuine movement out of the ellipsis site, giving rise to a total identity requirement (Schoorlemmer and Temmerman, 2012; McCloskey, 2016).

A point of leverage into understanding these patterns comes from a proposal by Harizanov and Gribanova (2017), who argue in favor of a bifurcation, both empirical and theoretical, in head movement types. One type involves displacement of fully formed words to higher syntactic positions (e.g. verb second, long head movement). The other type constructs complex morphological words (e.g. affixation, compounding). They point out that the empirical properties of the two types are quite distinct, and justify a theoretical move in which they correspond to distinct operations, in distinct modules of the grammar. They propose that the operation responsible for upward displacement of heads is genuine syntactic movement (Internal Merge); on the other hand, word formation is the result of postsyntactic amalgamation, which has properties that are not associated with narrow syntax.

With this revised view in hand, we can revisit the paradoxical verbal identity patterns: we expect that mismatches in verb-stranding ellipsis will be permitted when head movement is syntactic, but not when it is postsyntactic. I present independently motivated analyses of Irish and Russian clause structure which support exactly this conclusion. Verb movement in Irish involves postsyntactic amalgamation only, predicting a strict lexical identity requirement. By contrast, verb movement in Russian involves both the syntactic and the postsyntactic head movement types, with one of the movement steps being syntactic and giving rise to the possibly of verbal mismatches in verb-stranding ellipsis.


2/21, Tuesday: talk by Alexis Wellwood

This Tuesday 2/21 at 5:30-7:30pm Alexis Wellwood from Northwestern University will give a talk on “Meaning, vision, and acquisition” in the room 32D-461.

Speaker: Alexis Wellwood (Northwestern University)
Title: Meaning, vision, and acquisition
Date and time: Tuesday, February 21, 5:30-7:30pm
Location: 32-D461


LFRG 2/22 - Masha Esipova

Speaker: Masha Esipova (New York University/MIT)
Title: Focus on what’s (not) at issue: co-speech gestures, presuppositions, and supplements under Contrastive Focus
Date and time: Wednesday, February 22, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I would like to discuss some of my work in progress (or, as of very recently, in regress) on the interaction of various types of non-at-issue content with Contrastive Focus.

This project started out as a reaction to the debate on the status of the inferences triggered by co-speech gestures between Ebert & Ebert (2014), who claim that those inferences are supplemental, and Schlenker (2015, to appear), who argues that they are presuppositional. We will start from an observation that sometimes co-speech gestures seem to be making an at-issue contribution, in particular, under Contrastive Focus. We will then explore the data on how co-speech gestures, presuppositions, and supplements (in particular, non-restrictive relative clauses and appositives) interact with Contrastive Focus, and will see that while those data don’t necessarily settle the debate on the status of co-speech gestures, they shed some light on how different types of non-at-issue content come to have at-issue uses.

Ling-Lunch 2/23 - Zheng Shen

Speaker: Zheng Shen (UConn)
Title: Multi-Valuation and the Agreement Hierarchy
Day: Thursday, February 23
Time: 12:45pm—1:50 [please note the different time]

In this talk I present arguments for treating cross-linguistic agreement patterns of multi-valuation (Shen to appear) as an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy (Corbett 1979).

The nominal right node raising construction in (1) has been argued to involve a single probe that is valued by multiple goals; that is, it involves multi-valuation. In contrast to the multi-valued N in (1), a T node that’s valued by two singular features can be spelled out as plural in summative agreement in (2) (Grosz 2015). Thus there is an asymmetry between multi-valued N and multi-valued T which remains unaccounted for.

(1) This tall and that short student(*s) are a couple.

(2) [Sue’s proud that Bill __ ] and [Mary’s glad that John __ ] have/has traveled to Cameroon.

I argue that this asymmetry is an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy (Corbett 1979 et sq, Smith 2015). Cross-linguistically, three out of the four logically possible patterns of multi-valued Ns and Ts are attested (3), parallel to the original Agreement Hierarchy observed for collective nouns. I will discuss other positive consequences of this proposal, in particular regarding the agreement patterns of multi-valued adjectives and determiners reported in King and Dalrymple 2004.

Multi-valued NMulti-valued T

MIT Colloquium 2/24 - Rachel Walker (USC)

Speaker: Rachel Walker (USC)
Title: Temporal Structure in Phonology
Time: Friday, February 24th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

In phonological structure, the segment root node is classically the locus of temporal organization for sub-segmental units, such as features, governing their sequencing and overlap (e.g. Clements 1985, Sagey 1986). Segment root nodes also classically mediate hierarchically between moras and sub-segmental elements, and by structurally identifying segments, roots figure in the calculation of weight-by-position, where coda consonants are assigned a mora (Hayes 1989). In this talk, I discuss evidence from phonotactic patterns that motivate an enriched representation of temporal relations, where coordination is represented directly among sub-segmental elements. Weight-by-position is also calculated over this sub-segmental temporal structure. In light of these representations, I consider implications for segment roots and suggest that root nodes be eliminated in favor of a set-based understanding of segments, extending set-based notions of feature classes (Padgett 2002).

Rachel Walker at MIT (2/22-2/24)

Rachel Walker will be here for an extended visit from 2/22-2/24. In addition to her colloquium on Friday, she will also be teaching a mini-course on Wednesday and Thursday. Details are below.

Speaker: Rachel Walker
Title: Sub-segmental Representation

  • Wednesday 2/22: 1-2:30pm in 36-112
  • Thursday 2/23: 4-5:30pm in 36-155


In this course, we will examine the representation of sub-segmental elements in light of patterns involving the neutralization of vowel quantity contrasts in the context of coda consonants. A case study of patterns of vocalic neutralization in General American English, supported by a real-time MRI study of speech articulation, will motivate a phonological representation of sub-segments as gestures (Browman & Goldstein 1986 et seq.). Key advantages that gestures offer are the representation of temporal coordination among sub-segments and encoding of goal articulatory states that may be blended under conditions of overlap. A phonological approach will be developed that governs sub-segmental temporal relations, formalized in terms of optimality theoretic constraints, building on proposals of Davidson (2003) and Smith (2016). Cross-linguistic predictions for patterns of vowel quantity neutralization in other languages and dialects will be considered.

Syntax Square 2/14 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction and Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday February 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Received wisdom tells us that in English, wh-movement of a possessor requires pied-piping of the whole DP containing that wh-possessor, as in (1). This falls under the Left Branch Condition of Ross (1967), describing a ban on moving the leftmost element of a nominal phrase in languages like English. Unexpected in light of this generalization is the fact that for some English speakers, wh-movement of just the possessor, stranding the DP it originated in, is also possible. This is possessor extraction (PE), as in (2):

  1. [Whose fat cat] do they think [t is cute]? (Pied-piping)
  2. Who do they think [[t’s fat cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)

A classic example of a PE language is Hungarian (Szabolcsi 1984), some others are Chamorro, Tzotzil, and much of Slavic. However, English has never been recognized as a PE language as far as I know, though in the course of a study of child English Gavruseva & Thornton (2001) get some adult English PE data, and take it to be a production error. I show that to the contrary, English PE is a productive and interestingly constrained phenomenon. An example of such a constraint is the fact that PE out of an in-situ object is impossible, as in (3). PE out of the embedded object in (3) can be rescued, however, if the residue of the DP where the possessor was born is pied-piped/moved to the edge of the embedded clause, as in (4):

  1. * Who do you think [John likes [t’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do you think[[t’s cake] John likes t]? (PE from pied-piped object)

In the context of a Cyclic Linearization framework (Fox & Pesetsky 2005), I argue that some movements independently necessary for coherent linearization in PE contexts are in conflict with a PF constraint which, roughly speaking, requires adjacency between a (moving) possessor and the saxon genitive ‘s at the phase level. My ambition is to show that the quirks of English PE are an automatic consequence of this tension and the methods of its resolution. I argue that the unique pied-piping in (4) and a family of similar examples is one way of resolving this tension, while in some structures there is no possible repair, ruling out PE in those contexts.