The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

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.

Save the dates: FASAL 2017

The 7th Annual Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL) will be hosted at MIT March 4-5, 2017. The conference offers a platform to discuss formal and experimental approaches to natural language from the perspective of South Asian Linguistics.

The program is available here. The invited speakers are Miriam Butt (Konstanz), Ashwini Deo (Ohio State) and Norvin Richards (MIT).

We ask that those who are planning to attend to please register. There is no registration fee.


MITWPL 81 - Papers on Morphology

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


DeGraff at the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences

Michel DeGraff participated in a panel, with Ann Charity Hudley, Christine Mallinson and Mary Bucholtz, at the 2017 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences. The panel was about Leveraging Linguistics for Broadening Participation in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM). Michel’s abstract is available here, and photos are available on Michel’s Facebook wall.


New Student Fellowship In Honor of Yuki Kuroda

Linguistic Society of America has established a new student fellowship in honor of our own alumnus S.-Y. (Yuki) Kuroda (1934-2009), a former Professor Emeritus at UCSD; MIT dissertation from 1965 “Generative Studies in The Japanese Language”, supervised by Noam Chomsky. Sige-Yuki Kuroda, known most universally as Yuki, is considered by many the father of modern Japanese linguistics. From LSA: “His work showed that not only could Japanese be fruitfully analyzed using the theory of generative grammar, but that it could play an important role in extending and expanding that theory.”


Celebrating David Pesetsky @ 60

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

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

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









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

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


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.


LRFG 2/15 - Roni Katzir

Speaker: Roni Katzir (Tel-Aviv University & MIT)
Title: Structure and learning of quantificational determiners
Date and time: Wednesday, February 15, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Acquiring semantic denotations — even the entry for a single, well-exemplified, low-type element — presents the child with a difficult inductive challenge. I start by illustrating this challenge using the notion of learning known as identification in the limit, before switching to a less complete notion of learning, compression-based learning, which offers a more constructive way to approach the inductive challenge. Focusing on the representation and learning of quantificational determiners, I show how compression-based learning maps representational choices — e.g., basic determiners and their combinations, in an intensional variant of Keenan & Stavi 1986 (following last week’s discussion), or semantic automata, as in van Benthem 1986 — onto learners. This mapping, in turn, makes empirical predictions that can help us choose between competing architectures.


DeGraff on ‘linguistic apartheid’ in Haiti

Michel DeGraff published an article on ‘linguistic apartheid’ in Haiti, sharing his concerns about human rights, education and development in his native Haiti.  The article is published in both English and Kreyòl.


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…

While snow in a New England winter isn’t news, MIT’s second snow closure within five days might be. The institute is having its second snow closure of the season on Monday February 13th. A reminder to check the MIT Emergency Information page for up to date announcements about closures and other campus emergencies. Stay warm, watch your step, and enjoy the snow day!


Welcome to the Spring 2017 semester!

Welcome to the first Whamit! edition of Spring 2017!

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

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

Our best wishes for an enjoyable semester!


Welcome to our new visitors!

Visiting Scholars

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

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

Visiting Students

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

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


Winter news

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

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

MIT Linguistics at the LSA

MIT linguists had another strong year at the LSA 2017 Annual Meeting, this year held in Austin, TX from January 5th-8th, 2017.

The following department members and recent graduates presented talks and posters:

Athulya Aravind and Kristen Syrett (Rutgers): Gradability and vagueness in the nominal domain: an experimental approach

Lauren Clemens (SUNY Albany), Jessica Coon (PhD ‘10), Carol-Rose Little (Cornell), and Morelia Vázquez Martínez (ITSM): Encoding focus in Ch’ol spontaneous speech

Michel DeGraffLinguistics, STEM, educational justice and political and economic equality: MIT-Haiti as case study for retooling linguistics

Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (PhD ‘14): C-T head-splitting: evidence from Toba Batak

Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine and Ted Levin (PhD ‘15): On the unavailability of argument ellipsis in Kaqchikel

Rachel Dudley (UMD), Meredith Rowe (Harvard), Valentine Hacquard (PhD ‘06) and Jeffrey Lidz (UMD): Distributional cues to factivity in the input

Aron HirschFragments, pseudo-clefts, and ellipsis

Michela Ippolito (PhD ‘02), Angelika Kiss (UToronto), and Tomohiro Yokotama (UToronto): The semantics of object marking in Kinyarwanda

Sudheer Kolachina (S.M. ‘16): Vowel harmony in Telugu

Hadas Kotek (PhD ‘14): Movement and alternatives don’t mix: a new look at intervention effects

Ivona Kučerová (PhD ‘07): Evidence against φ-feature resolution accounts of agreement with DP coordinations

Ted Levin (PhD ‘15): Palauan DOM is a licensing phenomenon

Lilla MagyarGemination in loanwords: interaction between perceptual similarity and gradient phonotactic well-formed ness

Kevin Tang (Yale) and Andrew Nevins (PhD ‘05): Expectation and lexical retrieval in naturalistic and experimental misperception

Christopher O’BrienATB-movement and island effects: an experimental study

Wayne O’Neil: This time is different

Juliet StantonInteractions between prenasalized stops and nasal vowels

Coppe van Urk (PhD ‘15): Mixed chains in Dinka

Michael McAuliffe (McGill), Michaela Socolof (McGill), Sarah Mihuc (McGill), Michael Wagner (PhD ‘04), and Morgan Sonderegger (McGill): Montreal Forced Aligner: an accurate and trainable forced aligner using Kaldi

Michelle YuanOn apparent ergative agreement in Inuktitut

Ryan Sandell (UCLA) and Sam ZukoffThe development of the Germanic preterite system: learnability and the modeling of diachronic morphophonological change

Additionally, Christopher Baron (A prospective puzzle and a possible solution) and Cora Lesure (Phonologically null morphemes and templatic morphology: The case of Chuj (Mayan) ‘h’) presented at SSILA (Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas) 2017, which was held jointly with the LSA annual meeting.


Spring 2017 reading groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • April 20
  • May 4

MIT Linguistics Colloquium Schedule, Spring 2017

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


LFRG 2/8 - Ezer Rasin

Speaker: Ezer Rasin (MIT)
Title: Keenan, E. L., & Stavi, J. (1986). A semantic characterization of natural language determiners. Linguistics and Philosophy, 9, 253–326 (link)
Time/date: Wednesday, Feb. 8, 1-2pm
Location: 32D-461


Ling-Lunch 2/9 — Stuart Davis

Speaker: Stuart Davis (Indiana University)
Title: On Explaining English Schwa Syncope
Time: Thursday, February 9, 12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

English schwa syncope (Zwicky 1972, Hooper 1978, Kenstowicz 1994, Polgardi 2015) deletes schwa between word-internal consonants.  The structural observation is that schwa syncope is likely to occur if the resulting consonant cluster has rising sonority (1) but not if the resulting cluster has falling (or level) sonority (2) (where the target schwa is underlined).

(1) chocolate opera family happening javelin Deborah

(2) pelican felony monitor canopy picketing melody

Hooper (1978) emphasizes the structural conditions noting that even high frequency words will disfavor schwa syncope if the structural conditions are not right. Thus, mel­ody strongly disfavors schwa syncope since the resulting cluster after syncope has falling sonority.

Typologically, the schwa syncope pattern is odd since it favors rising sonority clusters over falling ones in syllable contact.  This can be contrasted with English hypocoristic formation which favors intervocalic falling sonority clusters over rising ones as can be seen in the comparison of Barbara-Barby with Gabriella-Gabby (not Gabry).  Further, the exact location of the syllable boundary of the resulting schwa-deleted forms in (1) is not clear; Hooper (1978) maintains that the resulting cluster is always ambisyllabic.   On the other hand, if schwa syncope were to apply in (2) the resulting cluster would have a clear syllable boundary. For example, schwa syncope applied to pelican (i.e. pel.can) results in a clear syllable break between the two consonants of the resulting cluster.  Under a new conception of English schwa syncope developed in this talk, schwa syncope is viewed as a problem of foot structure reduction:  Schwa syncope reduces a dactylic foot into a preferred trochaic one.  We will maintain that a preferred trochee in English has ambiguous syllabification within the foot and that this functionally helps to enhance the foot-initial boundary.


MIT Colloquium 2/10 - Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst)
Title: Sonority Sequencing in Polish: Interaction of Prior Bias and Experience
Time: Friday, February 10th, 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.

Course announcements, Spring 2017

24.956: Topics in Syntax

  • Instructors: Noam Chomsky, Sabine Iatridou, David Pesetsky
  • Time: Fridays 10am-1pm
  • Room: 32-D461

This semester’s 24.956 will cover a number of loosely related topics.

  1. For the first five or six weeks, we will explore the syntactic behaviour of elements that are (apparently) totally or mostly devoid of meaning. We will have two foci: expletives and light verbs (such as English do of do-support fame). We will start with expletives. For the first class, please read and be prepared to hear about Amy Rose Deal’s 2009 paper in Syntax, entitled “The origin and content of expletives: evidence from selection”
  2. Then, for the next three or four weeks we will look into recent work by Chomsky and by researchers inspired by his recent papers, with a focus on labeling and related matters. These papers are not always easy, and have not been a focus in recent classes at MIT, so this should be new to most of you. In particular, the idea is to be well prepared for…
  3. … three classes by Noam. Here is an abstract for those classes:
    Assume, as reasonably well-established, that UG is a species property, with I-languages as instantiations, each a combinatorial system CS yielding representations at the conceptual-intensional CI interface, and modes of externalization to sensorimotor systems. Assume also that both methodological and empirical considerations suggest that the operations of CS are quite simple, perhaps approaching a version of the Strong Minimalist Thesis SMT. Crucial open questions arise at every point in this outline, among them the status of externalization (is it ancillary, or does it feed CI) and the nature of the operations of CS, which, there is reason to believe, have not yet been properly formulated, a matter of particular interest that I would like to turn to after some critical review and discussion of the general picture.
  4. Following this, there will be three more classes, on a topic that we will choose together.

Sabine will be mostly in charge of part 1, David of parts 2 and 4 — and, well, you know who will be in charge of part 3


Following we we think was a successful experiment in 24.956 last Spring, this class will not require a final paper or squib, on the grounds that if you’re interested in syntax, you are working on papers anyway. Instead, we will ask for :

  • weekly submission of a comment or question+discussion based on that week’s reading
  • co-presentation of one or two of the topics to be covered in parts 1, 2 or 4 of the class (details to be announced after class 1, partly depending on registration numbers)

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

24.964: Topics in Phonology: The Phonetics and Phonology of Sentence Prosody

  • Instructor: Edward Flemming
  • Time: Wednesdays 10am-1pm
  • Room: 32-D461

Different ways of pronouncing the same sentence can convey different meanings. The properties of pronunciation that modify meaning in this way are referred to as sentence prosody. There are three components of prosody: intonational melody, prominence, and phrasing. These components will be introduced through an overview of English prosody, then we will investigate the phonological representation and phonetic realization of each in more detail based on data from a variety of languages.

The goal of this course is to provide sufficient understanding of the phonetics and phonology of sentence prosody for participants to be able to engage in research on prosody in its own right, or in relation to other areas of linguistics (e.g. syntax, semantics/pragmatics, sentence processing).


  1. Overview of the prosody of English
    • The Pierrehumbert/Beckman analysis of American English intonation
    • ToBI transcription
    • The phonetic implementation of intonation and phrasing
  2. Instrumental and experimental techniques
    • Pitch tracking
    • Resynthesis
  3. Intonational melody
    • What are the contrastive units of intonation?
    • Phonetic realization of melody
    • Alignment of F0 and segments
  4. Prominence
    • The variety of meaningful prominence distinctions
    • Focus marking across languages
    • Phonetic correlates of prominence
    • The interaction of downstep and declination with prominence marking (Japanese, English)
  5. Phrasing
    • Representation (prosodic hierarchical structure? boundaries?)
    • The factors that determine prosodic phrasing

24.979: Topics in Semantics

  • Instructors: Gennaro Chierchia & Irene Heim
  • Time: Thursdays, 2-­‐5PM
  • Places: 32-­‐D461 (MIT) & Emerson 106 (Harvard)

Indefinites: where do we stand?

This class will analyze the scope, quantificational, and anaphoric properties ofi ndefinites. We will start from the ‘classic DRT’ period and work our way to present days, through dynamic approaches and situation based ones.

  • Week 1: Introduction to classic DRT for the uninitiated. Indefinites as variables, quantificational variability, adverbs of quantification, existential closure.
  • Week 2: Developments of classical DRT. Diesing’s mapping hypothesis, aspects of the theory of generics
  • Week 3: Basically, Heim (1982) and its developments. The birth of dynamic semantics: File Change Potentials.
  • Week 4: “Standard” Dynamic Semantics of the 90’s. Indefinites as Dynamic Generalized Quantifiers, weak and strong readings of donkey pronouns, existential disclosure.
  • Week 5: Situation based approaches and e-­‐type anaphora
  • Week 6: More on situation based approaches and e-­‐type anaphora
  • Week 7: The debate on long distance indefinites: Non canonical scope properties of indefinites. Weak 8: Students’ presentations
  • Weak 9: An interesting way to compare dynamic vs. e-­‐type approaches: Plural anaphora.
  • Week 10: Student presentations
  • Week 11: An attempt at explaining Weak Crossover with dynamic semantics
  • Week 12: More on Weak Crossover
  • Week 13: Other Binding Theoretic issues (especially, principle B and principle C).

24.S95: Computation and Linguistic Theory

  • Instructor: Roni Katzir
  • Time: Tuesdays 10-1
  • Room: 32-D461

In this class we will explore the connection between linguistic theory and models of learning, examining considerations of learning that have been central to work in theoretical linguistics over the years.

The first half of the class focuses on the learning challenge from a mathematical and computational perspective. We will discuss work by Gold, Angluin, and others showing that, on certain innocent-looking assumptions, the child faces insurmountable problems when faced with even basic learning tasks. We will further see that making the learning criterion probabilistic seems at first to make the learning task much easier but ultimately does not help. During this formal part of the course we will also discuss mathematical notions of complexity and look at how these provide a natural handle on the kind of generalization needed for learning, along with a tight connection between linguistic representations and the learning process.

In the second half of the semester we will look at experimental attempts to determine what can and cannot be learned both in humans and in other organisms, starting with the radical empiricist approach of behaviorists such as Watson and Skinner and moving to the instinct-centered approach of ethologists like Lorenz and Tinbergen. In this context we will discuss Chomsky’s review of Skinner, as well as other early generative work on learning. We will then turn to the familiar argument from the Poverty of Stimulus and examine its implications for the child in light of the conclusions arising from the first part of the semester. We will then consider results that show that humans are very good at extracting certain kinds of statistical regularities from unanalyzed data but very bad at learning other, seemingly similar patterns. We will end the semester by looking at what can be said about the division of labor between innateness and learning based on typological generalizations and at the nuanced view on this connection offered by evolutionary approaches to language change.

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

(Please, check back for updates!)


Miyagawa in MIT News

Faculty Shigeru Miyagawa is featured on MIT News’ top page: his work on language evolution inspired a musical piece, which premiered in NYC’s World Financial Center. The full article is here.


Syntax Square 12/12 - Kenyon Branan

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: Predicate fronting and copy pronunciation
Time/date: Monday, Dec. 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

“Predicate doubling” has been seen as a strong argument for copy theories of movement. However, it also poses a challenge for such theories, since they must explain why two copies of a fronted predicate are pronounced, but not two copies of a fronted nominal. In this talk, I’ll try to give a simple explanation of this difference between predicates and nominals, where an independent requirement on the syntax-prosody mapping overrides the usual requirement that multiple copies. After doing that, I’ll tell you about some other outcomes when you assume such a system.

Phonology Circle 12/12 - Edward Flemming

Speaker: Edward Flemming (MIT)
Title: Boundary tones in Mandarin Chinese intonation
Time: Monday, December 12th, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Helen Nie (MIT)

Mandarin Chinese echo questions present an interesting test case for intonational theory because they are distinguished from declaratives by intonation alone, but it is not obvious that the intonational distinction can be characterized in terms of the familiar elements of intonation. There are no obvious pitch accents or boundary tones distinguishing echo questions from corresponding declaratives because F0 movements are primarily determined by lexical tones, so final F0 is rising if the lexical tone of the final syllable is rising, and falling if the tone of the last syllable is falling. Instead echo questions are distinguished from declaratives by an optional increase in overall pitch range and modifications to the final tone that have been characterized as a further expansion of pitch range, since high targets are raised but low targets may not be.<\p>

We provide evidence that these modifications to the final tone are in fact due to the presence of a high boundary tone, but its realization differs from familiar boundary tones because it is realized simultaneously with the final lexical tone. The conflict between the simultaneous demands of lexical tone and boundary tone are resolved by compromise between their conflicting targets, an analysis formalized in terms of weighted constraints.



LFRG 12/14 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch (MIT)
Title: Constructing pseudo-clefts
Time/date: Wednesday, Dec. 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, I present data with implications for the syntax and semantics of specificational pseudo-clefts: cases where the post-copular XP contains an adverbial, e.g. (1).

(1) a. What Obama approved was [this bill and, with difficulty, that bill].
b. What Obama approved was [this bill and possibly that bill].

First, I relate these data to a syntactic debate. Illustrating with the simple pseudo-cleft in (2), one approach posits just the structure apparent in the surface string, (2a) (e.g. Jacobson 1994, Sharvit 1999, Caponigro & Heller 2015), while a second approach takes the overt post-copular material to be the remnant of a full clause otherwise elided, (2b) (e.g. Ross 1972, den Dikken et al. 2000, Schlenker 1998/2003).

(2) What Obama approved was this bill.
a. [what Obama approved was [this bill]]
b. [what Obama approved was [<Obama approved> this bill]]

I argue that clausal structure is required to host certain adverbs, so data like (1) provide new evidence for ellipsis. In particular, the structure for (1a) has this bill and that bill the remnants of two separate elided clauses, conjoined by and; the PP is adjoined to the TP in the second conjunct. Other tests adapted from Hirsch (2015) further support ellipsis.

Second, I will show that the adverb data pose a challenge for current approaches to the semantics of pseudo-clefts (citations above), and explore a new compositional analysis which crucially relies on the syntactic results in the first part of the talk.

Syntax Square 12/5 - Carolyn Spadine

Speaker: Carolyn Spadine (MIT)
Title: Source-of-information applicatives in Tigrinya: A preliminary analysis of il:-u/-a
Time: Monday, December 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract: here (PDF)


Phonology Circle 12/5 - Adam Albright

Speaker: Adam Albright (MIT)
Title: Why do speakers try to predict the unpredictable?
Time: Monday, December 5th, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Michelle Fullwood (MIT) and Jongho Jun (Seoul National University))

Generative phonology traditionally distinguishes two types of feature values: (1) unpredictable, or contrastive values, and (2) contextually predictable values. Unpredictable values are listed in the lexicon as arbitrary properties of morphemes, whereas predictable values are assigned or enforced by grammar. However, statistical studies of lexicons have revealed that contrastive feature values are often surprisingly predictable. For example, Ernestus and Baayen (2003) observed that although stem-final obstruent voicing is nominally contrastive in Dutch, it is actually fairly predictable based on the obstruent’s place and continuancy, and the preceding vowel’s quality. Furthermore, speakers are aware of this predictability, and can use it to judge likely voicing values for stem-final obstruents in nonce words. Similar results have been found for contrasts in numerous other languages, including Korean stem-final continuancy and laryngeal features Jun (2010), Spanish mid vowel vs. diphthong contrasts (Albright et al. 2001), and others. These results support a model in which phonological grammars attempt to predict at least some contrastive feature values.

In this study, we ask why there is this redundancy between the grammar and the lexicon. One possibility is data compression (Rasin and Katzir 2015, and others); if the grammar can exploit statistical asymmetries to predict certain feature values, they need not be listed in the lexicon. Maximal compression is achieved if the grammar supplies all predictable feature values. An alternative possibility is that values must be predicted when there is neutralization. In Dutch, stem-final obstruents undergo final devoicing, so speakers must sometimes guess the voicing of a stem-final obstruent, based on the neutralized singular form. Under this account, the grammar must supply only those feature values that are neutralized in the singular. We test the predictions of these accounts by comparing the predictability of feature values that are subject to neutralization in different languages. We compare place, continuancy, and laryngeal contrasts in Korean, Dutch, and English. In English, all three features contrast word-finally (with numerous specific restrictions), whereas in Dutch, voicing is neutralized, and in Korean, continuancy and laryngeal features are both neutralized in this position.

In order to test predictability, we extracted the most frequent items in each language (5018 Korean nouns; 5151 Dutch nouns; 5085 English words). When trained the Minimal Generalization Learner (Albright and Hayes 2002) to predict the values of various features based on remaining features of the segment in question, and the preceding context. We then wug-tested the resulting grammars, to determine whether feature values get more predictable at lower frequencies. The reasoning is that, as with morphological regularity, low frequency words should be less able to sustain exceptionality, and should therefore reflect grammatical preferences. The results show that although overall predictability does tend to be higher for neutralizing features, neutralizing and non-neutralizing features both get more predictable at lower frequencies, as predicted by the data compression model. Neutralization may increase the likelihood that a speaker will need to use their grammar to predict an `unpredictable’ feature, but it is not a prerequisite to learning and enforcing such generalizations.



LFRG 12/7 - Mitya Privoznov

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, December 5th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Discussion of Aloni and Port’s 2006 and 2014 papers on epistemic indefinites

English someone can give rise to the speaker’s ignorance implicature (Somebody arrived late —> the speaker doesn’t know who). Some of its analogues in other languages, e.g. German `irgendein’ or Russian `kto-to’, have conventionalized this implicature into an inference. Namely, the ignorance inference became a part of their semantics. And it is these elements that Aloni and Port call epistemic indefinites (EIs).

The ignorance inference is the main focus of Aloni and Port’s papers. They are proposing an analysis that derives this inference with the use of Aloni (2001)’s theory of concepts and conceptual covers. They argue that EI represent a special case of domain widening.


Enoch Aboh at MIT

Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam) will be visiting our department this week and will give two talks.

  • The role of vulnerable interfaces in language change: the case of the C-, and D-systems
    • Date: Wednesday, December 7
    • Time: 2—5pm
    • Location: TBA
    • Reading: Chapters 5-6 of Enoch (2015),  The Emergence of Hybrid Grammars: Language contact and change
  • The emergence of serial verb constructions
    • Date: Friday, December 9
    • Time: 1:30—3:15pm
    • Location: TBA
    • Reading: chapter 7 of Enoch (2015)

For more information, please contact Michel DeGraff (degraff@mit.edu).


Ling-Lunch 12/8 - Jenneke Van Der Wal

Speaker: Jenneke van der Wal (Harvard)
Title: The AWSOM and RANDOM in Bantu object marking
Time: Thursday, December 8/12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Many Bantu languages mark objects on the verb by a prefix agreeing in noun class:

(1) N-a-va-et-eaa anca mUhUmba. [Nyaturu, Hualde 1989]
1SG.SM-PAST-2OM-bring-APPL 2.girls 1.boy

‘I brought the girls a boy.’

However, object marking (OM) shows fascinating microvariation across Bantu, along the following parameters:

1. the nature of the OM: doubling / non-doubling
(OM and DP can co-occur in the same domain in Nyaturu = doubling);
2. the behaviour in ditransitives: asymmetric / symmetric
(only benefactive and not theme can be OM-ed in Nyaturu = asymmetric);
3. the number of object markers allowed: one/two/multiple
(Nyaturu is restricted to one).

This talk maps the parameter settings of 50+ Bantu languages, revealing two gaps:

Asymmetry Wants Single Object Marking correlation (AWSOM)
→ Almost no language has multiple markers that are doubling.
Relation between Asymmetry and Non-Doubling Object Marking (RANDOM)

→ No language has non-doubling asymmetrical object marking.

I argue that these gaps are in fact not random, but can be understood as obligatory marking of salience, in the form of a [Person] feature in either the non-clausal domain (doubling) or the clausal domain (symmetry)

(The abstract can also be read here.)


Heidi Harley at MIT

Heidi Harley (University of Arizona, MIT PhD ‘95) will be visiting the department this week. In addition to her Colloquium talk on Friday, she will be offering a mini-course on head movement. Details below:

Speaker: Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)
Title: Report from the bleeding edge of the head movement debate
Time: Wednesday, December 7th and Thursday, December 8th, 2016, 5:00-6:30 pm
Place: 32-124 (Wed), 32-144 (Thurs)

I will review and discuss various models of head-movement and the evidence that has been brought to bear on them, including but not limited to conflation (Hale&Keyser 2002, Harley 2004), remnant movement (Zeller 2013), (phrasal mvt +) m-merger (Matushansky 2004, Harizanov 2014, Harley and Folli ms), and traditional head-adjunction (Keine and Bhatt 2016), or some combination of different mechanisms (Harley 2013, Gribanova and Harizanov 2016handout). In doing so, I’ll talk about the idea that head-movement does or does not have syntacticosemantic (LF) effects, and if it does, what they are and why, borrowing heavily on a presentation by McCloskey including some discussion of LaCara (2016), Hartman (2011), Gribanova (ms), Lechner (2007), as well as Keine and Bhatt (2016)).

A reading packet is attached for people to browse at will if they want but I’m not going to assume attendees will have read any of it. The ones I most highly recommend for the interested are the Keine and Bhatt 2016 on German verb clusters and the Zeller 2013 on Zulu relatives; Harizanov 2014 on Bulgarian clitics and Gribanova (2016ms) on Russian ellipsis & polarity-licensing are interesting too. Not to be discussed but included because it’s mind-blowingly weird are the results of Lipták 2013, 2016handout, on the (failure of) the verbal identity condition on VPE in Hungarian).

Keine & Bhatt (2016)
Gribanova (2016)
Liptak (2016)
McCloskey (2016)
Gribanova & Harizanov (2016)
Zeller (2013)
Harley (2013)
Lacara (2016)
Hartmann (2011)
Lechner (2007)


MIT Colloquium 12/9 - Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)

Speaker: Heidi Harley (University of Arizona)
Title: We don’t need word-internal phase boundaries (for Hiaki)
Time: Friday, December 9th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

Hiaki verbs exhibit what looks like a word-internal phase boundary, with some, more derivational affixes attaching to a ‘bound’ stem, which only appears with suffixal material attached, and other, inflectional affixes attaching to a ‘free’ stem, which can also appear unsuffixed; a classic type of stem-attaching vs word-attaching dichotomy. The mirror-principle boundary for stem-attaching suffixes located more or less at VoiceP. Only inflectional suffixes can attach outside the passive voice marker, and only derivational ones can attach inside it, and there can only be one Voice marker per verb complex. However, there are problems identifying the bound-stem/free-stem boundary with Voice, particularly having to do with the existence of embedded external arguments within the bound-stem complex in causatives and related forms.

In fact, I will argue that the correct analysis is in a sense precisely the opposite. The particular form taken by bound stems shows evidence of word-level morphophonological processes, such as a word-final fortition of the voiceless affricate, and echo vowels that appear to extend monomoraic stems to satisfy minimal word requirements (or actually probably exhaustive footing requirements). The ‘bound’ stems which appear to the left of Voice morphology behave like independent morphophonological words with respect to these constraints. The ‘free’ stems, in contrast, all have a recently-detectedmorphemic final vowel on them.

I propose that the whole complex verb word is simply a cluster of verbs lined up on the right by the head-final nature of Hiaki. This cluster of verbs is subject to very quotidian inflectional requirements: The highest (rightmost) [+V] head in the domain is attracted to Voice and T (and sometimes C). That head-movement process which creates the ‘free’ forms. That is, the ‘bound’ forms are free, and the ‘free’ forms are all inflected; the only process we need to appeal to is the usual expectation that the highest eligible head in a verbal complementation sequence is the one that moves and inflects. The entire complex is pronounced (and spelled) as a unit, perhaps due to postsyntactic Morphological Merger, perhaps due to the prosodic rules of the language.

​In short, the syntactic picture presented by the apparently complex agglutinative Hiaki verb word is actually most appropriately analyzed in the same way as auxiliary and light verb complexes in left-headed languages. No level-ordering-type of cyclicity hypothesis involving word-internal phase boundaries is motivated by this data. This is good, because the notion of a word-internal phase boundary in a structure created by syntactic head-movement is somewhat problematic, technically speaking. I’ll also exhibit cases from Cupeño and maybe Korean that seem to require analysis in similar terms.

Syntax Square 11/27 - Kenyon Branan & Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)

Speakers: Kenyon Branan & Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: Against strength and weakness: Contiguity in Bùlì
Time/date: Monday, November 28, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Optionality in Ā-movement has been modeled as the optional presence of a strong feature on C, requiring the wh-phrase it Agrees with to move to its specifier. Recent work [Richards (2016)] models optionality in Ā-movement as true optionality, so long as the choice of movement or not satisfies a condition on prosodic representations, called Contiguity. In this talk, I present novel data from Buli, a Gur language spoken primarily in Ghana, that provides a strong argument for the latter view of optionality. In Buli, wh-phrases may remain in-situ, so long as they are not separated from end of the sentence by a prosodic boundary of any sort. This restriction on wh-in-situ is explained straightforwardly given the Contiguity-theoretic approach, but would require the introduction of an additional constraint on prosodic representations under the “optional feature” approach.

LFRG 11/30 - Verena Hehl

Speaker: Verena Hehl (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, November 30th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Discussion of: “On the meaning of some focus-sensitive particles” (Ippolito 2007).

In the paper Ippolito argues that the aspectual, marginality, and concessive uses of ‘still’ and ‘already’ in (1), (2) and (3) can be reduced to the following three classes of focus-sensitive particles: additive particles like ‘too’, scalar particles like ‘even’, exclusive particles like ‘only’.

(1) John is still/ already cooking.
(2) (a) Compact cars are still safe; subcompacts start to get dangerous.
      (b) (Compact cars are still safe.) Subcompacts are already dangerous.
(3) (Even) if the doctor tells him not to, Harry will still run the marathon.

The paper then features a (non-uniform) compositional analysis of the presuppositions triggered by ‘still/ already’ that sheds (new?) lights on the focus-sensitive particle ‘again’.


Ling-Lunch 12/1 — Amy Rose Deal

Speaker: Amy Rose Deal (UC Berkeley)
Tittle: Dedicated de re attitude reports
Date/Time: Thursday, December 1/12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Indefinites occurring in attitude complements can typically be read either de dicto or de re. This choice is commonly treated as a true ambiguity, involving two separate sets of truth conditions corresponding to two distinct LFs, rather than (say) as a case of generality or underspecification based on a single LF. Is the ambiguity approach the correct one? In particular, are there LFs in which indefinites occurring in attitude complements must obligatorily be construed de re? I argue that there are indeed. My argument comes from Nez Perce attitude reports in which the attitude verb shows apparent long distance agreement with a DP inside the attitude complement. This DP must be read de re. The de re reading, I argue, derives from an LF in which the res argument moves into the matrix clause covertly; that is, Nez Perce manifests a (syntactically well-behaved) version of res-movement. Notably, there does not exist an equally syntactically distinguished variety of attitude reporting reserved for de dicto readings. Indefinites that may be read de dicto in Nez Perce may also typically be read de re, without morphosyntactic consequences, as in English. I suggest, then, that the true ambiguity at the level of LF may be between a dedicated de re LF and an LF which is general enough to support either de re or de dicto attitudes.

Juliet Stanton — paper published at Language

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

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

Jonathan Bobaljik: Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Congratulations to distinguished alum Jonathan Bobaljik (PhD 1995), Professor of Linguistics at the University of Connecticut, on being elected a 2016 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science! The AAAS recognize individuals for their contributions to science and technology.


Enoch Aboh’s visit: December 7—9

Save the date: Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam) will visit our department in December and will give two talks.

  • The role of vulnerable interfaces in language change: the case of the C-, and D-systems
    • Date: Wednesday, December 7
    • Time: 2—5pm
    • Location: TBA
    • Reading: Chapters 5-6 of Enoch (2015),  The Emergence of Hybrid Grammars: Language contact and change
  • The emergence of serial verb constructions
    • Date: Friday, December 9
    • Time: 1:30—3:15pm
    • Location: TBA
    • Reading: chapter 7 of Enoch (2015)

For more information, please contact Michel DeGraff (degraff@mit.edu).


MIT Colloquium 12/02 - Maribel Romero (Universität Konstanz)

Speaker: Maribel Romero (Universität Konstanz)
Title: On the many readings of ‘many’
Time/date: Friday, December 2, 3:30-5pm
Location: 32-155

Partee (1989) and a long tradition thereafter distinguish two readings of many and its antonym few: the cardinal reading (1a) and the proportional reading (1b), with n and ρ as context- dependent parameters. These readings are exemplified against scenario (2). Sentence (3) is judged true in virtue of its cardinal reading and sentence (4) in virtue of its proportional reading:

(1) Many Ps are Q.
a. CARDINAL reading: |P∩Q| > n, where n is a large natural number.
b. PROPORTIONAL reading: |P∩Q| : |P| > ρ, where ρ is a large proportion.

(2) Scenario: All the faculty children were at the 1980 picnic, but there were few faculty children back then. Almost all faculty children had a good time.
(3) There were few faculty children at the 1980 picnic.
a. Cardinal: true in (2)
b. Proportional: false in (2)

(4) Many (of the) faculty children had a good time.
a. Cardinal: false in (2)
b. Proportional: true in (2)

Additionally, Westerståhl (1985) famously noted a third interpretation of many, known in the literature as the ‘reverse’ proportional reading (see also Herburger 1997, Cohen 2001). This is exemplified in (5)-(6). Sentence (6) is judged true in scenario (5) in virtue not of its cardinal or proportional reading, but in virtue of its reverse proportional reading paraphrased in (6a) and formulated in (7):

(5) Scenario: Of a total of 81 Nobel Prize winners in literature, 14 come from Scandinavia.
(6) Many Scandinavians have won the Nobel Prize in literature.
a. Intuitive paraphrase of the reverse proportional: ‘Many of the Nobel Prize winners are Scandinavians ’

(7) Many Ps are Q.
REVERSE PROPORTIONAL reading: |P∩Q| : |Q| > ρ, where ρ is a large proportion.

This third reading is problematic for semantic theory no matter whether many is treated as a determiner or as adjectival in nature. If treated as a (parametrized) determiner (cf. Hackl 2000), the lexical entries corresponding to the three readings above will be as in (8). While the cardinal and proportional lexical entries (8a)-(8b) obey Conservativity, defined in (9), the reverse proportional reading (8c) does not, thus challenging the Conservativity Universal (Keenan & Stavi 1986, cf. Barwise & Cooper 1981:U3):

(8) Many as a parametrized determiner:
a. Cardinal:
b. Proportional:
c. Reverse proportional:

λdd. λP. λQ. |P∩Q| ≥ d
λdd. λP. λQ. |P∩Q| : |P| ≥ d λdd. λP. λQ. |P∩Q| : |Q| ≥ d

(9) A determiner denotation f is conservative iff, for any sets of individuals P and Q: f (P)(Q)=1 iff f (P)(P∩Q)=1

If treated as adjectival (cf. Hackl 2009), the lexical entries corresponding to the cardinal and proportional reading can be formulated as in (10a)-(10b). But a serious compositionality problem arises for the reverse proportional reading, since a proportion over |Q| has to be computed while having no λQ-argument in the adjectival entry (10c):

(10) Many as adjective:
a. Cardinal:
b. Proportional:
c. Reverse proportional:

λdd. λP. λxe. P(x) ∧ |x|≥d
λdd. λP. λxe. P(x) ∧ |x|:|P| ≥ d λdd. λP. λxe. P(x) ∧ |x|:|Q| ≥ d ???

Treating many as a determiner, Romero (2015) decomposes many into the determiner stem MANY plus the degree operator POS, and derives the reverse proportional reading from the conservative proportional entry (8b) and independently motivated association patterns of POS. The present talk extends Romero’s analysis in two new directions. First, POS is allowed to associate not just with overt elements in the sentence but also with a world variable. This move, necessary to account for examples like (11), allows us to derive certain difficult cases of apparent reverse proportional readings remaining in the literature. Second, Romero’s (2015) analysis is extended to attributive uses like (12). Using the adjectival entries in (10a)- (10b) and allowing the same association possibilities for POS as in non-attributive uses, different readings are predicted and shown to arise.

(11) For what I had wished for, few students came.

(12) The many demonstrators protested loudly.

LFRG 11/23 - Keny Chatain

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, November 23th, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Discussioon of: “Incremental quantification and the dynamics of pair-list phenomena” (Bumford, 2015).

In this talk, I will discuss a recent paper by Bumford (No reading required but in case you prefer authencity, you might want to check this: http://semprag.org/article/view/sp.8.9/pdf_8_9). This paper attempts to provide a unified account of 3 “pair-list” phenomena: pair-list questions, internal readings of adjectives and pair-list readings of indefinites (aka “Schlenker readings)

(1) What did each student read for the class?
=> mary checked the syntax paper, Julia the phonology paper, Joe the first line of the abstract of the semantic paper…

(2) Every year, Mary wrote a more interesting book/a different book/another book.
=> more interesting than/different from/other than the books from the previous year

(3) If every player were to play a certain card in his hand right now, the game would end immediately.
=> there is a certain card in each player’s hand such that if each player use that card in his hand, the game would end immediately.

In the paper, a unified account is proposed in terms of incremental quantification: “every” is represented as a generalized dynamic conjunction. In this approach, uttering (2) is equivalent to uttering the sequence of sentences: Mary wrote a more interesting book in 2006; Mary wrote a more interesting book in 2007; Mary wrote a more interesting book in 2008; … Modulo extra assumptions about scope-taking, this move, it is claimed, successfully accounts for (1), (2) and (3). On a theoretical side, this makes “every” parallel to indefinites like “a”, which dynamic frameworks treat as generalized dynamic disjunction.


DeGraff teaches Kreyòl Studies course

Faculty Michel DeGraff is excited to teach the first “Kreyòl Studies” course for Boston Public School teachers. The first session of a 5-session 10-hour series was this past Thursday, November 17, 2016. Here are excerpts from the course description:

“This course is to provide historical, cultural and linguistic background to fourteen Boston Public School (BPS) teachers who will support BPS’s Kreyòl/English Dual Language Program and other educators who support students of Haitian descent. Why are such Dual Language Programs so crucially important for the future success of all of our children? What do BPS teachers need to know about the linguistic, cultural, social and political backgrounds of their students from Haiti? How can the cultural and linguistic assets of these children contribute to their wellbeing and that of society at large? In answering these questions, we will mine history and linguistics for lessons that may help improve education for and about Haitians in Haiti and in the diaspora—and eventually set up models toward improving education for all children.


Our asking and answering these and related questions will bear on the importance of a Kreyòl/English Dual Language Program in the Boston Public School system. Such Dual Language programs can, in many ways, be a game changer as they help create, locally, citizens with global understanding of history, culture and language—citizens that can use local cultural and linguistic assets in confronting and solving global challenges.”

More details can be found here.



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

  • Itai Bassi: A puzzle about binding by focus operators
  • Amanda Swenson: Existential and episodic: Reexamining the Malayalam -unnu Imperfective

MIT @ Tu+2

Turkish, Turkic, and the Languages of Turkey (Tu+2) took place on November 19-20, 2016 at Indiana University, Bloomington. MIT was represented by the following students and alumni:

  • 2nd year PhD students Colin Davis and Justin Colley: Phase extension and Turkish clausal nominalization
  • 5th year PhD student Isa Bayirli: Does Turkish have adjective ordering restrictions?

  • MIT @ FAMLi4

    The fourth edition of FAMLi (Form and Analysis in Mayan Linguistics) took place on November 17 and 18 at Universidad de Oriente (México). Several current students and alumni gave talks:

    Cora Lesure (first year grad student) — La morfofonología del chuj y la representación ortográfica

    Carol-Rose Little, Morella Vázques Martínez, Lauren Clemens and Jessica Coon (PhD ‘10) — Codificación del enfoque en el habla semi-natural en ch’ol

    Theodore Levin (PhD ‘15) and Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (PhD ‘14) — On the availability of argument ellipsis in Kaqchikel

    Christopher Baron (first year grad student) — A prospective puzzle and a possible solution

    Jessica Coon was also one of the invited speakers. She gave a talk entitled Construyendo verbos en ch’ol y chuj.


    Syntax Square 11/14 - Isa Bayirli

    Speaker: Isa Bayirli
    Title: On gender and concord
    Time/date: Nov. 14, 2016, 1:00-2:00pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Feature Assignment Rule (Pesetsky, 2013: 8) is defined for every grammar and that it is the only mechanism responsible for the concord phenomenon (i.e. the feature co-variance between a noun and the modifying adjectives)

    (1) Feature Assignment (FA), version 1 of 6:
    a.Copying: when α merges with β, forming [α β] with the label α, the grammatical features of α are immediately copied on β
    b.Realization:…and are realized as morphology on all lexical head items dominated by β

    Suppose, moreover, that in a language where the overt effects of the FA Rule is invisible (i.e. the non-concord languages), the NP (with all the AdjPs inside it) is a protected domain of some kind.

    (2) The Absence of Concord: A language lacks concord on the adjectives only if the NP in this language is a protected domain

    To support these suppositions, one would need to provide evidence of (at least) three types:

    Type 1: Evidence indicating that concord is universally calculated over syntactic representations as implied by the FA Rule (with no reference to feature values)
    Type 2: Evidence indicating that whenever we do not observe concord in a language, the NP in this language is, indeed, a protected domain
    Type 3: Evidence indicating that whenever NP cannot be protected from the application of the FA Rule in a language we do observe concord in this language

    Previously at Syntax Square, I presented evidence of Type 1 (The Concord Hierarchy) and of Type 2 (The Concord-Suspension Complementarity), both of which I will briefly summarize.

    In this talk, I will present some evidence of Type 3. NPs can be protected from the features coming from the functional projections but not from the features that start on the noun head. That is, if a feature f starts out on the noun head, then the universality of the FA-rule implies that - in the usual case - it will show up on all the adjectives adjoined to the NP. Assuming the gender feature, in those languages where it is idiosyncratic, starts out on the noun head, we get:

    (3) Idiosyncratic Gender Generalization (IGG): A language with an idiosyncratic gender system is a language with gender concord

    I first discuss some evidence for the validity of IGG. I then report a typological survey based on World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS) in support of the IGG generalization. I finally discuss some problematic cases (Gur languages of Niger-Kongo Family). I argue that the solution I sketch for these problematic cases are motivated on independent grounds.

    Phonology Circle 11/14 - Cora Lesure

    Speaker: Cora Lesure (MIT)
    Title: La Morfología y la Ortografía del Chuj // Morphophonology and Orthographic Development in Chuj (Mayan)
    Date/Time: Monday, November 14, 5:00–6:30pm
    Location: 32-D831

    This is a practice talk for FAMLi 4 (Form and Analysis in Mayan Linguistics 4) where I will be giving the same talk but in Spanish. The aim of the talk is to present theoretically interesting work on Chuj morphophonology which is understudied, as well as illustrate the direct applications of this work to orthographic development. This is done through examining the disputed use of the grapheme `h’ as well as the disputed status of [h] as a phoneme. There are three prevailing ideologies:
    1) [h] is not a phoneme and should not be used as a grapheme at all (Buenrostro 2013)
    2) [h] is not a phoneme but is used as a grapheme word initially to indicate that glottal stop epenthesis has not occurred (Similar to its use in Q’anjob’al, Mateo Toledo 1995)
    3) [h] is a phoneme and should be used as a grapheme word initially and intervocalically (Domingo Pascual 2007)

    I examine the positions in which [h] has been reported, namely in word initial position as well as in the vowel initial allomorph of the second person singular ergative prefix: h-, and determine that it is minimally contrastive in specific contexts. Even when it is not present as a segment, due to interactions with the process of root initial glottal stop epenthesis, a contrast remains salient. For example:

    1) tzek’i [ts’ek’i]
    ‘He passed by’

    2) tz(h)ila’ [tsilaʔ]
    ‘You saw him’

    Above, though both the 3rd person absolutive marker and the 2nd person ergative marker are phonologically null, only the ergative marker prevents glottal stop epenthesis. In (1) glottal stop epenthesis results in the imperfective aspect marker [ts] being pronounced ejective [ts’].



    LFRG 11/16 - Milo Phillips-Brown

    Speaker: Milo Phillips-Brown (MIT)
    Time: Wednesday, November 16th, 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: Some-things-considered desires

    Lu has a test coming up. She believes she’ll pass only if she studies. Studying is boring.

  • (1) Lu wants to pass.
  • (2) But she doesn’t want to study.
  • (1) and (2) are fine together, but standard semantics for ‘want’ predict that they are incompatible. I’ll propose a way to make them compatible. My guiding idea is that when Lu considers what it would be like to pass but ignores what it would be like to study, she prefers passing to not; when she considers what it would be like to study but ignores what it would be like to pass, she prefers not studying to studying. These are some-things-considered (other-things-ignored) desires. We can model them with coarse worlds (= propositions), in place of worlds. Where defined, every proposition, or its negation, is true at a given world. But not every proposition, or its negation, is entailed by a given coarse world. When neither a proposition nor its negation is entailed by a coarse world, it is considered; otherwise it is ignored.


    Ling-Lunch 11/17 — Paul Crowley (MIT)

    Speaker: Paul Andrew Crowley (MIT)
    Tittle: Neg-Raising and Neg movement
    Date:Thursday, November 17
    Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    This talk will be concerned with the phenomenon known as Neg-Raising. All previous analyses of Neg-Raising fall into one of two main categories: syntactic and semantic/pragmatic. The syntactic approach derives the effect from a Neg movement operation in the syntax (Fillmore 1963) while the semantic/pragmatic approach derives the effect as an inference attributed to an excluded middle presupposition associated with all Neg-Raising predicates (Bartsch 1973). In this talk, a variety of known and novel data points are argued to indicate that both a Neg movement operation as well as an excluded middle presupposition are necessary to account for the full range data. It’s proposed that the Neg-Raising phenomenon should be attributed to the excluded middle and that the Neg movement operation is dependent on the presence of this presupposition.

    Colloquium 11/18 - Greg Kobele

    Speaker: Greg Kobele
    Title: The meaning of structure
    Time/date: Friday, November 18th, 2016, 3:30-5:00 pm
    Venue: 32-155

    One way of viewing syntactic structure is as a real object, something which is constructed and manipulated by the rules of grammar. I take this to be the prevailing view in the transformational tradition. An alternative perspective, found in the categorial tradition (incl Montague), is that syntactic structure is not real in this sense at all, but rather is a record, or a proof, of the way that the grammar licenses a particular sound-meaning pair. These different perspectives have lead to different analytical approaches to various phenomena, culminating for example in debates about LF-interpretation vs Direct Compositionality.

    I show (1) how to reformulate standard practice in minimalist syntax in these montagovian terms, (2) how the standard Heim and Kratzer LF-interpretation scheme can be faithfully recast in a directly compositional manner, and (3) how an ‘almost c-command’ approximation to bindability emerges when the basic repertoire of combinatory operations is extended to include the bind operator in the continuation monad (aka Buering’s Argument Saturation operation). A number of prominent theoretical issues find herewith an immediate and straightforward resolution, and this forces us as well to clarify what others might mean.

    Formal consequences of this perspective shift, such as efficient generation, incremental interpretation during parsing, and the efficient resolution of ellipsis in discourse processing are touched upon.

    Syntax Square 11/7 - Christopher Hammerly

    Speaker: Christopher Hammerly (UMass Amherst)
    Title: Unifying agreement across clause types in Ojibwe
    Date/time: Monday, Nov. 7, 1-2pm
    Location: 32-D461


    Phonology Circle 11/07 — Gašper Beguš

    Speaker: Gašper Beguš
    Title: Unnatural Trends in the Lexicon: Diachrony and Synchrony
    Date/Time: November 7, 5pm—6:30 pm
    Location: 32-D831
    Abstract: pdf


    LFRG 11/9 — Chris Baron

    Speaker: Chris Baron
    Title: A Prospective Puzzle and a Possible Solution
    Date and time: November 9 (Wednesday), 1-2pm
    Location: 32-D831

    It is generally assumed that Mayan languages are tenseless, and only grammaticalize aspect (Henderson 2015). This assumption holds for Kaqchikel, a K’ichean-branch Mayan language of Guatemala (García Matzar & Rodriguez Guaján 1997). However, there is a puzzling fact about the ‘prospective aspect’ morpheme xk-, which at first blush would seem to locate the run time of the event after the reference time: it cannot be embedded under the temporal adverbial ‘yesterday.’

    (1) Chwa’q xk-i-muxan.
    tomorrow PROSP-B1S-swim
    ‘Tomorrow, I will swim.’

    (2) *Iwïr xk-i-muxan.
    yesterday PROSP-B1S-swim
    Intended: ‘Yesterday, I was going to swim.’

    The ungrammaticality of (2) is unexpected if the prospective only locates the event time after the reference time established by iwïr ‘yesterday.’ In this talk on work in progress, I present data that suggest that this aspect not only contributes aspectual semantics, but also modal semantics, and that this is the reason for the puzzling fact.


    Ling-Lunch 11/10 — David Erschler

    Speaker: David Erschler (University of Massachusetts Amherst)
    Tittle: Predicting embedded gapping
    Date/Time: Thursday, November 10/12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    I show that in a number of languages gapping can occur in embedded clauses. I argue that this provides support for a movement plus deletion analysis of gapping. The ability of gapping to be embedded in a given language depends on the height of the ellipsis-licensing feature and the availability of a landing site for moved constituents sufficiently high in the embedded clause.

    Gapping is a construction, discovered and named by Ross (1970), where the finite verb is missing from the clause, (1). It is fairly common cross-linguistically.

    (1) Some will eat beans and others will eat rice. Johnson (2009)

    Famously, English and a number of other languages disallow gapping to occur in embedded clauses, Hankamer (1979) and the subsequent literature:

    (2) *Some ate mussels, and she claims that others ate shrimp. Johnson (2009)

    However, the ban on embedding is not universal: adding to the recent work on Persian by Farudi (2013), I show that embedded gapping occurs in several languages including Russian, Georgian, and Ossetic.

    A number of accounts, starting from Jayaseelan (1990), assume that the material that survives gapping moves out of the constituent to be deleted. Some of these analyses, e.g. Aelbrecht (2007), Gengel (2013), and Farudi (2013), use the feature-based approach to ellipsis licensing.

    I use the basic insight of earlier “move and delete” proposals and argue that, in languages that allow embedded gapping, it results from movement of surviving constituents and deletion of the XP that they moved from. A necessary condition for this to occur in embedded clauses is that landing sites are available for such movement. The size of the deleted constituent may vary cross-linguistically. The feature E that triggers deletion is hosted either by some head H, which is a priori either &, i.e. the head of the conjunction phrase, or a head within the clause where the gapping occurs. To trigger deletion, the feature must agree with the head whose complement is to be deleted.

    If the licensing feature is located on &, it fails to agree with material in the embedded clause, for locality reasons. On the other hand, if the feature is located within the clause where ellipsis is to occur, gapping is predicted to be possible. I show that this analysis makes a number of correct predictions about languages with embedded gapping.

    A wider implication of the findings is that an approach that operates in terms of licensing features, their location, and the size of constituents to be deleted is superior to taxonomic approaches to ellipsis.


    Fieldwork Group Meeting — Jenneke van der Wal

    Speaker: Jenneke van der Wal (University of Cambridge; currently at Harvard)
    Date/Time: Thursday, Nov. 10, 5-6pm in Boylston 303 (Harvard—note the location!)

    At the first Harvard-MIT Fieldwork Group (FiG) meeting of the semester, Jenneke van der Wal will be talking about eliciting focus and information-structural phenomena, based on her work on Bantu languages.

    Please contact either TC (tcchen@mit.edu) or Michelle (yuanm@mit.edu) if you’d like to be added to the FiG listserv.


    MIT linguists @ BUCLD

    The 41th BU Conference on Language Development took place this past weekend at Boston University. The following MIT students and faculty gave talks or presented posters:

    • Veronica Boyce (undergrad), Athulya Aravind (4th year grad student), and Martin Hackl (faculty): Lexical and syntactic effects on auxiliary selection: Evidence from Child French
    • Athulya Aravind and Martin Hackl: Factivity and At-Issueness in the Acquisition of Forget and Remember
    • Jill de Villiers, Amy Pace, Madeline Klein, Athulya Aravind, Roberta Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Mary Wilson: Fast mapping word meanings across trials: young children forget all but their first guess
    • Valentine Hacquard (PhD ‘06), Rachel Dudley, Christopher Baron (1st year grad student), and Jeffrey Lidz: Factivity is acquired gradually over the preschool years

    Several alumni and current visitors also presented their work:

    • Kazuko Yatsushiro, Uli Sauerland (PhD ‘98), Artemis Alexiadou: The Unmarkedness of Plural: Crosslinguistic Data
    • Uli Sauerland, Kazuko Yatsushiro: Conjunctive Disjunctions in Child Language: A New Account [poster]
    • Jeffrey Lidz, Rachel Dudley, and Valentine Hacquard (PhD ‘06) : Children use syntax of complements to determine meanings of novel attitude verbs
    • Jeffrey Klassen, Annie Tremblay, Michael Wagner (PhD ‘05), and Heather Goad: Prominence Shifts in Second Language English and Spanish: Learning versus Unlearning
    • Kathryn Schuyler, Charles Yang (PhD ‘00 CS), and Elissa Newport: Children form productive rules when it is more computationally efficient to do so
    • Ayaka Sugawara (PhD ‘16): Japanese L2 learners of English are sensitive to QUD and prosodic inference
    • Emma Nguyen, William Snyder (PhD ‘95): The (Non)-Effects of Pragmatics on Children’s Passives [poster]
    • van Hout, Angeliek, María Arche, Hamida Demirdache (PhD ‘91), Isabel García del Real, Ainara García Sanz, Anna Gavarró, Lucía Gomez Marzo, Saar Hommes, Nina Kazanina, Jinhong Liu, Oana Lungu, Fabienne Martin, Iris M. Strangmann: Agent Control and the Acquisition of Event Culmination in Basque, Dutch, English, Spanish and Mandarin [poster]
    • Jiyoung Choi, Hamida Demirdache: Intervention Effects in Korean: Experimental L1 Evidence [poster]

    Syntax Square 10/31 - Chris O’Brien

    Speaker: Chris O’Brien (MIT)
    Title: Linearization and complete dominance: Deriving the right-edge restriction on RNR
    Date/Time: Monday, Oct. 31, 1-2pm
    Location: 32-D461

    This talk concerns two puzzles involving the multidominant analysis of right-node raising structures (McCawley 1982, Wilder 1999, Bachrach & Katzir 2015, a.o.). The first is how such structures can be assigned a well-formed linear ordering at PF. Following Wilder (1999), I argue that this is because linearization of multi-dominant structures is sensitive to complete dominance. That is, when one phrase A is ordered before a phrase B, everything completely dominated by A must be ordered before everything completely dominated by B.

    The second puzzle concerns the “right-edge restriction” on RNR structures (Wilder 1999, Bachrach & Katzir 2015). It turns out that, while the pivot of an RNR structure may appear in a non-rightmost position within the final conjunct, it must be merged in the rightmost position of of each non-final conjunct. My proposal depends on one crucial property of complete dominance: The notion that x completely dominates y must be defined with respect to some larger structure (or set of structures). I argue that linearization is computed compositionally at each step in the derivation. For any phrase A = Merge(B, C) , where some linear precedence rule says that B < C, then all terminal nodes which are completely dominated by B within A will be required to precede all nodes completely dominated by C within A. This turns out to derive the right-edge restriction. I end with discussion of some recalcitrant problems involving internal merge structures.

    Phonology Circle 10/31 - Ting Huang

    Speaker: Ting Huang (MIT)
    Title: Contrast and context-dependent merger: Evidence from Malaysian Mandarin sibilants
    Date/Time: Monday, October 31, 5:00–6:30pm
    Location: 32-D831


    This study reports an ongoing merger of Mandarin sibilants spoken in Malaysia. The contrast of dental/alveolar vs. palatal sibilants in Malaysian Mandarin (MM) is neutralized in the context of high-front vowel. Specifically, while the contrasts between [ɕa] vs. [sa] and [ɕu] vs. [su] exist, [si] is the only surface form of the coronal sibilant followed by a high-front vowel /i/ ([*ɕi] is not allowed) in MM (we ignored the retroflex sibilants here, which is irrelevant to this study). We provide evidence from palatography and linguography to show a fine-grained difference among these sibilant variants in place of articulation. The results of spectral moments analysis (Forrest et al. 1988; Jongman 2000; Lee 2014) and F2 onset values (Li 2008; Wilde 1993) also support the argument that the MM sibilants are incompletely neutralized, especially for speakers of younger generation. The phenomenon in question may be attributable to language contact-induced sound change. This also casts doubt to the feature-based account (Clements 1991; Hume 1992) in explaining why [-anterior] of [ɕ] can be retained when followed by a following vowel that is specified with [dorsal] (e.g. [u], [a]), but not by those with [coronal] (e.g. [i]). We extend the line in Flemming’s (2003) that tongue-body position should be specified under [coronal], and argue that distinctiveness of sibilant contrasts may rely as well on tongue-body position of vowels.

    LFRG 11/2 - Peter Alrenga

    Speaker: Peter Alrenga (Boston University)
    Time: Wednesday, November 2nd, 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: At least and at most: Ignorance and variation in focus.

    A hallmark feature of the scalar operators “at least” and “at most” is their capacity to convey speaker uncertainty: from an utterance of (1), a listener would typically infer that the speaker does not know the exact number of points that LeBron scored.

    (1) LeBron scored at least / at most 20 points in last night’s game.

    These uncertainty implications tend to disappear in the presence of modals: under their most salient interpretations, neither (2a) nor (2b) need convey any uncertainty regarding what is necessary or required:

    (2) a. (In order to win the scoring title), LeBron needs to score at least 45 points in tonight’s game.
    b. One person can submit at most one abstract as sole author and one abstract as co-author (or two co-authored abstracts).

    Rather, the most salient interpretations for these sentences convey variation in what the speaker deems to be sufficient or permissible. Similar variation implications can also be observed in combination with nominal quantifiers:

    (3) a. Every player scored at least 10 points in last night’s game.
    b. Individuals can give to as many federal candidates as they want, so long as they give at most $2600 to any single candidate in an election cycle.

    The question of exactly how “at least” and “at most” manage to convey uncertainty and variation in (1)-(3) has attracted considerable scrutiny. Recent work has converged on the view that these implications are implicatures arising from the interaction of the basic semantic properties of at “least / at most” with general pragmatic mechanisms. A near-universal impulse of these pragmatic approaches is to draw an analogy to disjunction, which gives rise to a similar pattern of uncertainty and variation implications. But capitalizing on this analogy has proven surprisingly difficult. In its most direct form, it amounts to the view that “at least” and “at most” form n-ary disjunctions over their associated scalar terms and all higher / lower ones. While such a view correctly characterizes the truth-conditional contribution of “at least”, it appears to to mischaracterize its pragmatic behavior. And without further amendment, it fails to even adequately capture the truth-conditional contributions of “at most”.

    In the first part of this talk, I argue that a version of the simple view can indeed be maintained for “at least”, once it is recognized that (i) the scales that “at least” and “at most” operate over are fundamentally pragmatic/contextual in nature, and (ii) these scales are never ordered by entailment. While the simple n-ary disjunction view cannot be maintained for “at most”, I show how its essential insights into “at most“‘s pragmatic behavior nevertheless can be. In the second part of the talk, I apply the resulting analysis to certain unresolved problems concerning the interactions of these scalar operators with modals and other quantifiers.


    ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 11/01 — Jie Ren

    Speaker: Jie Ren (Brown University)
    Title: Underspecification in Toddlers’ and Adults’ Lexical Representations
    Date: Tuesday, November 1st
    Time: 1—2pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Theories of underspecification claim that certain unmarked features are empty/underspecified in lexical representation. This hypothesis predicts asymmetrical judgments in lexical processing. In particular, noncoronal tokens such as paan can putatively activate a coronal entry taan, but not vice versa. Studies with both younger infants and adults had found that participants are more sensitive to noncoronal-to-coronal than to coronal-to-noncoronal changes. In this talk, I will report a series of studies that examined toddlers’ and adults’ sensitivities to these two types of changes in mispronunciations of familiar words using the visual world paradigm. Unlike the prediction of underspecification, 19-month-olds and adults showed significant effects in both directions of mispronunciations, and no asymmetries were attributable to underspecification of coronal sounds. Toddlers’ lexical representations appear to be as detailed as those of adults, and there is a striking developmental continuity between early and mature lexical representations. Finally, I will report a computational model which suggests that discrepancies between the current findings and those of previous studies appear to be due to methodological differences that cast doubt on the validity of claims of psycholinguistic support for underspecification.

    Ling-Lunch 11/03 — Jon Rawski

    Speaker: Jon Rawski (Stony Brook)
    Tittle: Homeostatic Reinforcement Learning for Harmonic Grammars
    Date/Time: Thursday, November 3/12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    The main idea of this talk is to bridge a particularly thorny divide between linguistics and neuroscience. Reinforcement Learning (RL), despite being one of the most widely used and neurologically robust learning algorithms, has an uneasy history with generative grammar. Specifically, the requirement of an internal, restricted hypothesis space and other learnability restraints is inadequately satisfied by externally defined “naive” reward (Chomsky 1959).

    Reparation of RL and linguistics is made urgent by the discovery that: 1) phonology is at most a regular language (Kaplan & Kay 1994, Heinz 2011), meaning it is restricted to finite-state automata, and 2) RL is perfectly computed by cortical neurons (Schultz et al 1997). One recent attempt is Charles Yang’s (2002) “Naïve Parameter Learner”, which uses RL to successfully model acquisition of overt [WH-movement] and [V2] parameters, yet fails to provide more than an ad-hoc definition for “reward”.

    In this talk I show that recent insights from computational neuroscience offer a possible strategy. A recent framework called Homeostatic Reinforcement Learning (HRL) (Keramati and Gutkin 2014) treats “reward” as an internal satisfaction of multiple, parallel constraints in a homeostatic space. This immediately suggests Harmonic Grammar. I posit that the weighted constraints in Harmonic Grammar constitute a homeostatic space, and the Harmony function is a necessary and sufficient condition for RL in constraint-based grammars. I then show that this model successfully learns final obstruent devoicing in Russian, among others. I conclude with some tentative hypotheses for homeostasis in bilinguals and in late-L2 learners. Apart from interesting models and simulations, this approach offers prospects for uniting ideas from neural and linguistic theory in order to provide a more coherent explanatory neurolinguistics.


    Colloquium 11/4 - Peter Svenonius

    Speaker: Peter Svenonius (University of Tromsø)
    Title: Emergent Extended Projections
    Time: Friday, November 4th, 2016, 3:30-5:00pm
    Venue: 32-155

    The theory of extended projections (Grimshaw 2005) is built on a strongly universalist/innatist premise, especially in its cartographic implementation (Cinque 1999 inter alios). On that view, the LAD (language acquisition device) matches instantiated categories in the input to a prespecified sequence of hierarchically arranged categories in UG. In this talk, I explore the implications of a sparer UG. I suggest how extended projections might emerge from the primary data, given certain assumptions about the LAD. I suggest that these assumptions give a more satisfying understanding of mixed projections (Abney 1987) and some other phenomena than do the standard assumptions about extended projections.

    Pumpkin carving!

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

    (photo credit: Snejana Iovtcheva)


    Syntax Square 10/24 - Michelle Yuan

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

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

    Phonology Circle 10/24 - Rafael Abramovitz

    Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
    Title: Opposite-edge reduplication without Anchor
    Date/Time: Monday, October 24, 5:00–6:30pm
    Location: 32-D831


    Reduplication in Chukotkan languages (Chukchi, Koryak, Alutor, Kerek) has attracted attention in the phonology-morphology literature due to the fact that it copies to the opposite edge that it copies from (Riggle 2003, Nelson 2003, Inkelas 2008, i.a.), which has been used to argue for the necessity of Anchor constraints to place reduplicants. Building off of previous suggestions in the literature (most notably Kenstowicz (1976), as well as McCarthy and Prince (1996) and Nelson (2003)), I will argue that no reference to anchor constraints needs to be made, as both the size and the placement of the reduplicant fall out of segmental faithfulness and independently necessary constraints on the size of the prosodic word and the syllabification of roots. As a side-effect of this, the claim in Inkelas (2014) that Chukotkan languages use reduplication to spellout a case morpheme, a pattern otherwise unattested in the world’s languages, will turn out to be false: reduplication (sometimes) appears to spell out a case morpheme as a result of a conspiracy between minimality and the morphophonology of the absolutive singular. Based on this analysis, I will then present new data showing that reduplication systematically both underapplies and overapplies, and will suggest that Output-Output correspondence constraints (Kenstowicz 1996, Benua 1997, Albright 2010) are better able to capture these facts than Stratal OT (Bermudez-Otero 1999, Kiparsky 2000).

    LFRG 10/26 - Frank Staniszewski

    Speaker: Frank Staniszewski (MIT)
    Time: Wednesday, October 26th, 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: Partial Cyclicity and Restrictions on Neg-Raising


    Partial cyclicity refers to the observation that for some but not all combinations of neg-raising predicates, neg-raising can apply cyclically, and a negation in the matrix clause can be interpreted as if it is taking scope in the most deeply embedded clause (Fillmore 1963, Horn 1971, Gajewski 2007). For example, cyclic neg-raising is available when ‘believe’ embeds ‘want’, but not when ‘want’ embeds ‘believe’.
     (1)      a.   I don’t believe John wanted Harry to die until tomorrow.
                b. *I don’t want John to believe Harry died until yesterday.
                (Gajewski (2007) based on Horn (1971))
                In this presentation of work in progress, I will attempt to expand the empirical domain of this phenomenon. I will discuss new evidence that suggests that examples of partial cyclicity are part of a wider class of restrictions on neg-raising, and that these restrictions are the result of temporal orientation: In general, NR is blocked in an embedded clause that can be understood as future-shifted or yet unknown from the perspective of the matrix tense. I hope to explore whether or not the new data can be explained by previous accounts of partial cyclicity, and if not, what revisions or new analyses could account for the more general phenomenon.

    Ling-Lunch 10/27 — Veronica Boyce (MIT)

    Speaker: Veronica Boyce, MIT (joint work with Athulya Aravind and Martin Hackl)
    Title: Lexical and syntactic effects on auxiliary selection: Evidence from Child French
    Date: Thursday, October 27
    Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Auxiliary selection in periphrastic constructions poses a challenge for the learner who must learn if her language has auxiliary selection and if so, how to draw the line between HAVE-selecting and BE-selecting verbs. We investigate children’s understanding of the various factors involved in auxiliary selection in French by conducting a large-scale corpus study of child productions of passé composé.

    In adult French, a set of unaccusative verbs and reflexive clitic constructions with SE select BE. With the class of unaccusatives, children were largely adult-like, but sometimes over-extended HAVE to BE. Crucially, over-extension errors are produced at earlier ages, suggesting a stage in development where the child has yet to converge on the right generalizations about French. Once past this stage, the child consistently selects the right auxiliary, even for newly acquired verbs.

    Reflexive clitic constructions show a different acquisition trajectory from the unaccusatives. With 3rd person reflexives (se), children are adult-like 100% of the time. However, children erroneously select the HAVE-auxiliary over half of the time with 1st person (me). The high accuracy with 3rd-person reflexives suggests that children can rapidly make an inductive inference about auxiliary selection with reflexive clitic constructions, generalizing the pattern to an abstract syntactic configuration. We suggest that at the heart of the 1st person errors is the pronominal paradigm in French, which shows syncretism between object clitics and reflexives in the 1st/2nd person, and discuss how the child errors might point us to the right way of thinking about the paradigm.


    Song of the Human premiere

    “Song of the Human” is a composition by the British composer Pete Wyer, who was inspired by faculty member Shigeru Miyagawa’s work on the connections between human language and bird song. The premiere in the World Financial Center was on October 12, 2016. The composer and Shigeru were guests on a WNYC public radio show; the full segment is available online. Shigeru shared two pictures from the premiere.




    Michel DeGraff’s report about the linguistic rights of children for the LSA

    Michel DeGraff contributed to a report by the Linguistic Society of America on the protection of children’s rights in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is a report being compiled by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. DeGraff’s comments are formulated in the context of his work as director of the MIT-Haiti Initiative and as the representative of the LSA to the Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences.

    The report can be accessed here.


    von Fintel travels

    Faculty member Kai von Fintel just returned from ten days in Europe, where he talked about “The absence of certain ambiguities in some contexts” at the University of Tübingen, spent two days working on a secret project or two with fellow faculty member and co-author Sabine Iatridou, who is on sabbatical in Amsterdam, gave a public lecture on If and taught a class on “How to do conditional things with words” at the University of Manchester.


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

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

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

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

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

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


    LFRG 10/19 - Naomi Francis

    Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
    Time: Wednesday, October 19 , 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: Discussion of: On Negative Yes/No Questions (2004)

    In this week’s LF Reading Group, Naomi Francis will be discussing Romero and Han’s 2004 paper on biased questions.

    Pictures from NELS47

    As posted about in last week’s issue, NELS47 took place Oct. 14-16 at UMass Amherst. Here are some pictures from the conference dinner:

    From L-to-R: Chris Baron, Michelle Yuan, Kenyon Branan, Chris O'Brien, Ted Levin, Aron Hirsch
    (From L-to-R: Chris Baron, Michelle Yuan, Kenyon Branan, Chris O’Brien, Ted Levin, Aron Hirsch)

    From L-to-R: Ted Levin, Sam Zukoff, Coppe van Urk, Athulya Aravind, Aron Hirsch
    (From L-to-R: Ted Levin, Sam Zukoff, Coppe van Urk, Athulya Aravind, Aron Hirsch)


    Syntax Square 10/17 - Nico Baier

    Speaker: Nico Baier (UC Berkeley)
    Title: Unifying Anti-Agreement and Wh-Agreement
    Date/Time: Monday, Oct. 17, 1-2pm
    Location: 32-D461

    In many languages, phi-agreement is sensitive to the A’-movement of its controller. Some languages, such as Abaza, exhibit ‘wh-agreement’, an effect in which dedicated agreement morphology cross-references extracted arguments (Chung and Georgopoulos 1988). In other languages, such as Tarifit Berber, extracted arguments cannot control full agreement. This is known as ‘anti-agreement’ (Ouhalla 1993). These two effects have previously been treated as distinct. Wh-agreement is viewed as normal result of Agree with a goal bearing a wh-feature (Georgopoulos 1991, Watanabe 1996, a.o.). Anti-agreement is generally taken to reflect a disruption of agreement in the syntax proper (Schneider-Zioga 2007, Ouhalla 1993, a.o.). In this paper, I argue that this traditional wisdom is incorrect and that wh-agreement and anti-agreement are in fact two instantiations of the same phenomenon. Both effects are the result of a phi-probe copying both phi- and wh-features from a goal. Patterns of anti-agreement and wh-agreement arise when partial or total impoverishment applies to the [phi+wh] feature bundle in the morphological component, blocking insertion of an otherwise appropriate, more highly specified agreement exponent.

    Phonology Circle - 10/17 Benjamin Storme

    Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
    Title: The effect of schwa duration on pre-schwa lowering in French
    Date/Time: Monday, October 17, 5:00–6:30pm
    Location: 32-D831


    In some European French varieties, mid vowels are realized as open-mid before schwa and in closed syllables (e.g. hôtelier [ɔtəlje], optique [ɔptik]), and as close-mid otherwise (e.g. hôtel [otɛl]). Why do syllables followed by schwa pattern with closed syllables? It is often proposed that this is related to schwa being a short vowel (e.g. Durand 1976, Selkirk 1977, Anderson 1982). In this presentation, I report the results of a production experiment with 10 French speakers which support this hypothesis. The probability of pre-schwa lowering is shown to be inversely correlated to schwa duration: as the mean schwa duration of a speaker decreases, the probability that she will lower mid vowels before schwa increases. This relationship is modeled in a stochastic OT grammar with two pairs of conflicting constraints: *LongSchwa vs. *ShortV to regulate schwa duration, and *HighMidV/{_C.C, _.CV[-long]} vs.*LowMidV to regulate mid vowel quality. Schwa duration and mid vowel quality interact because the constraint *HighMidV/{_C.C, _.CV[-long]} bans high mid vowels before short vowels. I propose that this constraint has a perceptual motivation: a consonant preceded by a high vowel and followed by a short vowel or a consonant is particularly hard to perceive, and therefore phonologically marked.

    ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 10/18 — Teodora Mihoc

    Speaker: Teodora Mihoc (Harvard)
    Title: More evidence of heterogeneity in the class of comparative and superlative numeral modifiers
    Date/Time: Tuesday, October/18, 1—2pm
    Location: 32-D461


    Ling-Lunch 10/20 — Alëna Aksënova (Stony Brook)

    Speaker: Alëna Aksënova (Stony Brook)
    Tittle: Morphotactics and phonology as subregular languages
    Date: Thursday, October 20th
    Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    The main idea of this talk is to show which formal language classes might be the best fit for phonology and morphotactics, and to show how certain typological gaps can be predicted by the characteristics of these formal languages.

    For a long time it was assumed that both phonological and morphological patterns are regular (Kaplan & Kay 1994, Beesley & Karttunen 2003). Recently, Heinz (2011, 2012, 2013) showed that this characterization is too general: although the regular class is sufficiently expressive, it is not restrictive enough. For example, typologically non-existent patterns such as First-Last Harmony (harmony happens only between the first and the last vowel in a word) and Sour Grapes Harmony (harmony applies only if it can be applied to the whole word) are regular. Weaker formal languages classes are needed to accurately capture the computational properties of phonology.

    Based on recent research (Aksënova et al. 2016) I argue that morphotactics does not require the whole power of regular languages, either. I show which subclasses of regular languages are needed to account for morphotactics, present specific typological gaps and derive them from rigorous computational complexity results. This computationally grounded approach to phonology and morphology also provides a new perspective on acquisition, and raises many new research questions.


    MIT @ AMP 2016

    The 2016 edition of the Annual Meeting on Phonology will be held at the University of Southern California from October 21st to October 23rd. MIT will be represented by the following talks/posters:

    Adam AlbrightSour grapes cyclicity: Derivational gaps in Yiddish [poster]

    Erin Olson (3rd-year graduate student) — Intermediate markedness in phonological acquisition [poster]

    Juliet Stanton (5th-year graduate student) — Segmental blocking in dissimilation: An argument for co-occurrence constraints

    Benjamin Storme (5th-year graduate student) — The effect of French schwa on mid vowels: Cyclicity and variant correspondence [poster]

    Sam Zukoff (5th-year graduate student) — Onset skipping in the serial template satisfaction model of reduplication

    Furthermore, Bruce Hayes (UCLA, PhD ‘80) is among the invited speakers.


    Report on the MIT-Haiti Initiative

    Faculty member Michel Degraff sends this article on the MIT-Haiti Initiative (available in both English and Kreyòl) published in the MIT Faculty Newsletter, with the following blurb:

    In this article, Prof. Haynes Miller (MIT Mathematics Department) reports on his engagement in the MIT-Haiti Initiative. This report is timely in light of current recovery efforts in Haiti after the devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. The sort of projects described in this article is what Haiti needs the most: education projects that can, at long last, preempt the man-made disasters that have been accruing, on top of natural disasters, in 2 centuries of neo-colonial exclusion, mis-education and mis-management in Haiti.

    New article in press

    A new Brain Research article is in press with co-authors that include visiting scholar Miwako Hisagi, faculty Shigeru Miyagawa, and two alumni, Hadas Kotek and Ayaka Sugawara: “Second-Language Learning Effects on Automaticity of Speech Processing of Japanese Phonetic Contrasts: An MEG study”


    Ling-Lunch 10/13 - Juliet Stanton (MIT)

    Speaker: Juliet Stanton (MIT)
    Title: Segmental blocking in dissimilation: an argument for co-occurrence constraints
    Date: Thursday, October 13
    Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Most contemporary work assumes that dissimilation is motivated by featural co-occurrence (OCP) constraints (e.g. Alderete 1997, Suzuki 1998): a process that maps /X…X/ to [X…Y] (for example) would be explained by positing a ban on co-occurring [X]s.

    I first show how this approach can be extended to analyze the typology of segmental blocking effects (name due to Bennett 2015), a term used to describe cases in which a dissimilatory process is blocked by some segments, but not others. For example, dissimilation might apply across some segment Z (/X…Z…X/ > [X…Z…Y]), but not some other segment Y (/X…Y…X/ > [X…Y…X]). This pattern can be explained in the following way (following Kenstowicz 1994, Steriade 1995): if a ban on co-occurring [Y]s (violated in the unattested /X…Y…X/ > *[X…Y…Y]) takes priority over the ban on co-occurring [X]s (violated in the attested /X…Y…X/ > [X…Y…X]), then dissimilation of /X…X/ to [X…Y] will fail if some [Y] is present elsewhere in the word.

    I argue that all cases of attested segmental blocking should be analyzed as an interaction between two competing co-occurrence constraints (as above), and provide new evidence from lexical statistics in support of this conclusion. Time permitting, I will introduce an alternative correspondence-based analysis of blocking in dissimilation (Bennett 2015), and show that its predictions are less restrictive than those of the proposed analysis.


    MIT @ NELS 2016 (UMass Amherst)

    The 47th Annual Meeting of North East Linguistic Society (NELS 47) will be hosted at UMass Amherst, from 14–16 October.

    Several current graduate students will present posters or give talks:

    Several alumni and current visitors will also present their work:


    MIT @ Workshop on Shrinking Trees

    The Workshop on Shrinking Trees took place on October 10 at the University of Leipzig. The event was organized by Gereon Müller.

  • David Pesetsky gave the talk Exfoliation: Towards a Derivational Theory of Clause Size.
  • Howard Lasnik and Susi Wurmbrand also gave talks:

  • Howard B. Lasnik (UMD, PhD ‘72) — Shrinking Trees: Some Early History
  • Susi Wurmbrand (UConn, PhD ‘98) — Restructuring as the Regulator of Clause Size
  • Check the full list of talks here.


    Syntax Square 10/3 - Hisashi Morita

    Speaker: Hisashi Morita (Aichi Prefectural University, current MIT visiting scholar)
    Title: Morphology is misleading, but syntax is not: The Syntax of Coordination in
    Japanese and Korean

    Date/Time: Monday, October 3, 1-2pm
    Location: 32-D461

    My talk presents a somehow unnoticed but simple analysis of coordination involving coordinating particles such as ka ‘or’, mo ‘and’, and toka ‘and/or’ in Japanese and to ‘also’ and (i)na ‘or’ in Korean. Analysis of coordinating phrases in Japanese and Korean has been controversial. For example, Johannessen (1996) proposes the following structure for a disjunction phrase such as Ken-ka Mary ‘Ken or Mary’:

    (1) [CoP [Co’ Ken [Co KA]] Mary]

    There are several problems with a structure such as (1). First, it assumes a right-branching specifier, which is either non-existent or extremely rare, if any. Secondly, if coordinators such as ka and mo represent disjunction and conjunction respectively as in or and and in English, one instance of ka and mo should be sufficient when there are two disjuncts or conjuncts, but as in (2), two (identical) particles appear when coordinating two phrases, the phenomenon of which is called conjunction (or disjunction) doubling:

    (2)a. Ken-KA Mary(-KA)-ga kita.
    -or (-or) -Nom
    ‘Ken or Mary came.’

    b. Ken-MO Mary-MO kita.
    came -and -and came
    ‘Both Ken and Mary came.’

    As far as I know, no existing accounts have successfully explained why two coordinators are necessary in Japanese and Korean.

    The third problem is concerned with difference between Japanese and Korean. It has been known that when ka, a disjunction particle, merges with a wh-element in Japanese, an existential quantifier follows, such as dare-ka (who-or) ‘someone’. However, in Korean, if the disjunction particle, (i)na, follows a wh-element, a free choice is generated. The last problem is how the same coordinator, i.e. toka, can mean conjunction or disjunction in Japanese as follow:

    (3) Ken-ga hon-o go-satu-TOKA roku-satu-TOKA yonda.
    -Nom book-Acc five-Cl-toka six-Cl-toka read
    ‘Ken read sets of books of five and six and more.’
    ‘Ken read five or six books.’

    The problems above can be straightforwardly explained once we assume that the structure of coordination consists of two projections: CoP and FocP, and the particles we hear may not be real coordinators (i.e. not carrying semantic functions), but simply agreement reflexes.

    Phonology Circle 10/3 - Aleksei Nazarov

    Speaker: Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)
    Title: Learning parametric stress without domain-specific mechanisms
    Date/Time: Monday, October 3, 5:00-6:30
    Location: 32-D831

    (Joint work with Gaja Jarosz (UMass))

    A parametric approach to the acquisition of stress (Dresher and Kaye 1990, Hayes 1995) is attractive for defining a small learning space. However, previous approaches (Dresher and Kaye 1990, Pearl 2007, 2011) have argued that domain-general learners, such as the Naïve Parameter Learner (NPL; Yang 2002), are not sufficient for learning stress parameters, and that UG contains domain-specific mechanisms for individual parameters: substantive “cues” as well as a parameter acquisition order. We argue that these conclusions are premature, and we instead propose to modify the non-selective way in which parameters are updated in the NPL.

    Our proposed Expectation Driven Parameter Learner (EDPL) augments the NPL with a (linear-time) Expectation Maximization component along the lines of Jarosz (2015). Without using domain-specific mechanisms, we show that the novel EDPL performs very well (96% accuracy) on a representative subset of the typology defined by Dresher and Kaye (1990), while the NPL performs very poorly (4.3% accuracy). This suggests that UG can be kept simpler (parameters only, instead of parameters + cues + order) if the learner is allowed to process individual data points more thoroughly.


    LFRG 10/5 - Itai Bassi

    Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
    Time: Wednesday, October 5 , 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: Discussion of: Ellipsis, Economy and the (Non)uniformity of Traces (LI, 2016)

    Itai will be presenting a recent paper by Troy Messick and Gary Thoms Ellipsis, Economy and the (Non)uniformity of Traces (LI, 2016), which argues for the elimination of the constraint MaxElide from the theory of ellipsis.

    Also, the LFRG slot next week (Oct 12) is free for the taking. If you have anything you’d like to present, please tell Daniel Margulis or Itai Bassi soon!


    Ling-Lunch 10/6 — Ömer Demirok

    Speaker: Ömer Demirok (MIT)
    Title: Free Relatives and Correlatives in Wh-in-situ [practice talk]
    Date: Thursday, October 6
    Time: 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    In English (and many other languages), a wh-structure as in (1) can be construed as a free relative or as an interrogative complement. Cecchetto and Donati (2015) refer to this phenomenon as labeling ambiguity and predict that this sort of ambiguity is precluded in wh-in-situ languages, as illustrated in the hypothetical example in (2). This prediction is borne out in many wh-in-situ languages (e.g. Turkish, Laz). However, Polinsky (2015) shows that Tsez has wh-FRs with the pattern in (2).

    (1) Sue knows/ate [what John cooked]

    (2) “Sue knows/*ate [John cooked what]”

    In this talk, I propose a semantic typology for interrogative pronouns that can predict whether a given wh-in-situ language will necessarily lack wh-FRs or not (under the compositional analysis of FRs in Caponigro 2004). In particular, I make the prediction that wh-in-situ languages that compose wh-questions via Hamblin alternatives will necessarily lack wh-FRs (as the composition of a wh-question will not generate a semantic predicate) whereas wh-in-situ languages that rely on covert movement to compose their questions may have wh-FRs. Using intervention effects and island-sensitivity as diagnostics, I show that this prediction holds.

    In the second part of the talk, I address the question why some wh-in-situ languages (e.g. Turkish, Laz) have the distribution in (3). A relativization-based analysis of wh-correlatives (3b) in genuinely wh-in-situ languages would constitute a counterexample to my proposal. However, I show that there is in fact evidence in favor of a question-based semantic composition for (3b) (Rawlins, 2013, Hirsch 2015), as would be expected under the proposed typology.

    (3) a. * “Sue eats [John cooks what]” (in-situ wh-FR)

    b. OK “John cooks what, Sue eats that” (in-situ wh-correlative)


    Michel DeGraff @ Territorialities and the Humanities conference

    The Federal University of Minas Gerais (Brazil) is hosting the UNESCO-sponsored conference Territorialities and the Humanities (October 4—7). Michel DeGraff is one of the invited speakers and he will give a talk at the panel ‘Identities and Languages’. The conference is also part of the celebration of the 90th anniversary of the Universidad Federal de Minas Gerais.


    Mini-course — Na’ama Friedmann (Tel Aviv University)

    Na’ama Friedmann (Tel Aviv University) will be teaching a mini-course in our department beginning October 7th. The topics covered include SLI (specific language impairment), dyslexia, critical period, hearing impairment and their relevance for the study of syntax and morphology, among others.

    • Dates:
      • Friday October 7, 2—5 PM
      • Tuesday October 11, 6—9 PM
      • Friday October 14, 2—5 PM
      • Tuesday October 18, 6—9 PM
      • Friday October 21, 2—5 PM
    • Location: 32D-461

    FASAL @ MIT - Call for papers

    Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL) 7
    March 4-5, 2017
    Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Abstracts are invited for talks on any aspects of the syntax, semantics, morphology, phonology or processing of South Asian languages. The conference will be held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on March 4 and 5, 2017.

    Invited Speakers:
    Ashwini Deo (Ohio State)
    Miriam Butt (Konstanz)
    Norvin Richards (MIT)

    Submission Details
    Abstracts, including references and data, should be limited to two single-spaced pages (A4 or US Letter) with 1-inch (2.5cm) margins and a minimum font size of 11pt. One person can submit at most one abstract as sole author and one abstract as co-author. Abstracts should be submitted through EasyChair by December 2 at the following URL:https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=fasal7.

    Abstract deadline: Dec. 2, 2016
    Notification: Jan. 6, 2017
    Conference: March 4-5, 2017
    Any questions about the workshop can be directed to fasal7@mit.edu
    Conference website: http://fasal.mit.edu


    Syntax Square 9/26 — Suzana Fong

    Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
    Title: Long distance argument shift
    Date/Time: Monday, September 26, 1-2pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Last resort and locality work conjointly to rule out sentences like (i) *John seems that cleaned the kitchen and (ii) *John saw him that cleaned the kitchen. These constructions seem to involve the movement of a DP (‘John’) out of a finite clause and from a Case position into another Case position. Though this is the correct result for a language like English, these sentences are actually attested in other languages. (i) is an instance of hyper-raising and it seems to be possible in Brazilian Portuguese, Lubukusu and Zulu. (ii) seems to be possible in Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Romanian and Sakha.

    Although seemingly different, my working hypothesis is that (i) and (ii) are particular instantiations of the same phenomenon, ‘long distance argument shift’ (LDAS). In order to account for it, I propose that LDAS complements involve an extra functional projection XP on top of the finite CP. I also adopt a dynamic approach to phases (Bošković 2014), so that XP and not CP counts as a phase in an LDAS complement. I postulate that XP triggers the movement of a DP to its Spec position. From there, being at the edge of the lower phase, the DP will be accessible to a matrix probe. This is supposed to solve the locality problem. I will also try to show that the postulation of an extra functional projection, though suspicious, may capture some properties of the behavior of LDAS. XP could also be important in trying to explain the restrictions in LDAS variation within and across languages.

    Furthermore, I adopt a configurational approach to case (Marantz 1991). Under this view, case itself does not cause a DP to move or to stay frozen in place, eliminating the last resort problem. Empirical motivation to adopt dependent case comes from Sakha (Baker & Vinokurova 2010), where the shifting DP is marked with accusative case, even though the matrix predicate may be unaccusative. I also assume that case can be assigned at each phase a DP moves through (cf. Levin 2016). The motivation comes from case stacking in Korean and Norwegian topicalization, which could be argued to display morphological evidence of the cases the shifting DP gets in the embedded and in the matrix clause.

    The following Syntax Square dates are still open: Nov 14, Nov 28, Dec 12. Please contact Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) or Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu) to claim a slot.


    Phonology Circle 9/26 — Carolyn Spadine

    Speaker: Carolyn Spadine (MIT)
    Title: Transitivizer Deglottalization in St’at’imcets: Rethinking Intraparadigmatic Faithfulness
    Date/Time: Monday, September 26, 5:00-6:30
    Location: 32-D831

    An abstract is available here.


    ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 9/26 — Boyce and Aravind

    • Speakers: Veronica Boyce (undergraduate assistant at LacqLab) and Athulya Aravind (MIT)
    • Title: Acquiring auxiliary selection in French
    • Date: 09/26/2016, Monday (notice the exceptional time!)
    • Time: 5:00 PM
    • Venue: 32-D769 (7th floor seminar room)
    We will present corpus data relating to French children’s knowledge of two different dimensions of auxiliary selection: (1) the unaccusative-unergative division of intransitives and (2) the formation of reflexive clitic constructions. While children show early competence in both domains overall, there are some systematic error patterns that emerge and we would like to have an informal discussion of those.

    LFRG 9/28 — Kai von Fintel

    Speaker: Kai von Fintel (MIT)
    Time: Wednesday, Sept. 28, 1-2pm
    Place: 32-D831
    Title: On the absence of certain ambiguities (in some contexts)

    Postal (1974) [an extensive reply to Hasegawa 1972], Horn (1981), among others, discussed the distribution of transparent readings in intensional contexts (“George doesn’t know that Chloe is where she (actually) is” versus “#I don’t know that she is where she is”). Jackson (1981, 1987), not knowing the previous literature, used the fact that transparent readings are absent in indicative conditionals to argue that indicative conditionals are not possible worlds constructions. In response, Weatherson (2001) and Nolan (2003) propose that indicative conditionals monstrously diagonalize their components (see also Santorio 2012).

    In this presentation, I will explore the true extent of the phenomenon and discuss how one might account for it. The purpose for now is to show of this puzzle that it truly is a puzzle. In an as of yet mythical follow-up, a brilliant solution will appear.


    Valentine Hacquard’s mini-course 9/28-9/29

    Title: The semantics and pragmatics of attitude reports: the view from acquisition
    Date/time: Wednesday, 09/28 and Thursday, 09/29, 5:00-6:30pm
    Venue: 32-D461

    What semantic categories are there in natural language? Do they define a space of ‘natural’ meanings within those that are merely ‘conceivable’? How do children figure out what these semantic categories are? How well are they tracked by syntactic categories and can the child exploit systematic links between these syntactic and semantic categories? This course investigates the semantics and pragmatics of attitude reports by focusing on the interplay between syntax, semantics and pragmatics, from the perspective of the formal semanticist and of the child learner. We will focus on attitudes of belief vs. desire on Day 1, and on factivity on Day 2.

    Ling-Lunch 9/29 — Vitor Nóbrega

    Speaker: Vitor Nóbrega (University of São Paulo)
    Title: Root categorization as an interface condition: Evidence from compounds
    Date/Time: Thursday, September 29/12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461
    Abstract: pdf


    Colloquium 9/30 — Valentine Hacquard

    Speaker: Valentine Hacquard (University of Maryland)
    Title: Grasping at factivity
    Date: Friday, Sept. 30th
    Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
    Place: 32-155 (please note that the venue has changed from 32-141 to 32-155)

    Speakers mean more than their sentences do, because they can take a lot about their audience for granted. This talk explores how presuppositions and pragmatic enrichments play out in acquisition. How do children untangle semantic from pragmatic contributions to what speakers mean? The case study I will focus on is how children learn the meaning of the words think and know. When and how do children figure out that think but not know can be used to report false beliefs? When and how do they figure out that with know, but not think, speakers tend to presuppose the truth of the complement clause? I will suggest that the path of acquisition is traced by the child’s understanding both of where such verbs occur, and of why speakers use them. (joint work with Rachel Dudley and Jeff Lidz)

    Norvin Richards’ Contiguity Theory on MIT News

    Norvin Richard’s recently published Contiguity Theory was featured on MIT News!

    But exactly why do languages differ in this way? Linguists who study syntax have catalogued myriad distinguishing rules and patterns among world languages — without necessarily explaining why such differences exist. But now Richards has a new explanation, detailed in his book, “Contiguity Theory,” recently published by the MIT Press. The answer, Richards claims, is sound. That is, the sounds of languages have hugely influenced their syntax. To a greater degree than has been the case, Richards believes, we need to integrate phonology — the study of sound in language — with syntax. Then we can better grasp why languages have their specific rules. “The claim I’m making in this book is that our explanations should start with a careful explanation of the phonology and morphology,” Richards says. When studying syntax, he says, “We’ve been missing the deepest level of explanation by insisting that we not pay attention to morphology and phonology.”


    You can read the full article here.


    Syntax Square 9/19 - Norvin Richards

    Speaker: Norvin Richards (MIT)

    Title: Contiguity Theory and Pied-Piping

    Date: Monday, Sept. 19th

    Time: 1:00pm-2:00pm

    Place: 32-D461


    In this talk I will demonstrate how Contiguity Theory can be used to derive Seth Cable’s generalizations about the conditions on pied-piping. We will see that the pied-piping facts for a given language track the availability of wh-in-situ, in an interesting and theoretically useful way.