The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

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.

    Phonology Circle 9/19 - Erin Olson

    Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)
    Title: Intermediate Markedness and its consequences for the GLA
    Date/Time: Monday, September 19, 5:00-6:
    Location: 32-D831

    In the phonological acquisition literature, it has been observed that children sometimes acquire marked structures of the target language in a two-step fashion: they go through a stage in which they produce the marked structure only in some privileged position(s) within the word, before producing that structure in the full range of positions found in the target language. These stages have primarily been analyzed as being due to the ranking schema in (1) (Tessier 2009).

    (1) Positional Faithfulness >> Markedness >> General Faithfulness

    These stages have been shown to be problematic for gradual OT learning algorithms such as the GLA (Boersma 1997; Magri 2012), as these algorithms do not predict that children should ever go through such a stage (Jesney and Tessier 2007, 2008; Tessier 2009). As such, Jesney and Tessier (2007, 2008) advocate for using an HG-based learner, which is capable of predicting these stages.

    In this talk, I will review Jesney and Tessier’s (2007, 2008) claim that the GLA is incapable of predicting intermediate stages, and I will show that this claim is premature. The GLA is capable of predicting such stages under the following conditions: a) the intermediate stage can be characterized by the ranking in (2):

    (2) Positional Markedness >> Faithfulness >> General Markedness

    and b) if it cannot be characterized in this way, then the Positional Faithfulness constraint that decides the error is ranked low in the grammar. I will also discuss how multiple, successive intermediate stages can be predicted, and set out a typology of possible intermediate stage orders.


    LFRG 9/21 - Daniel Margulis

    LFRG will happen Wednesday 9/21 at 1-2pm in 32-D831.
    Daniel Margulis will discuss Michael Wagner’s 2006 paper: “Association by movement: evidence from NPI-licensing


    New paper by Miyagawa

    Congratulations to faculty Shigeru Miyagawa, whose paper (co-authored with Nobuaki Nishioka and Hedde Zeijlstra) Negative sensitive items and the discourse-configurational nature of Japanese has been published in Glossa! Here’s the abstract:

    We take up three Negative Sensitive Items (NSIs) in Japanese, Wh-MO plain negative indefinites, exceptive XP-sika, and certain minimizing indefinites, such as rokuna N (‘any decent N’). Although these three NSIs behave differently, we demonstrate that the two traditional NSI categories of Negative Concord Items (NCIs) and Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) are sufficient for characterizing these items.  We argue that Wh-MO and XP-sika are NCIs, thus they contain a neg feature ([uneg]) which enters into (upward) agreement with its corresponding an uninterpretable feature ([ineg]). The third NSI, rokuna N, is an NPI. Two issues arise with XP-sika. First, it has an inherent focus feature, which distinguishes it from the other two. Second, this focus feature is syntactically active – meaning that movement is forced – only for the argument XP-sika. We argue that these properties of XP-sika associated with focus are independent of NP-sika as an NSI, and should be dealt with as an overall property of Japanese being a discourse configurational language. We introduce a case-theoretic solution to how focus becomes syntactically active solely with argument XP-sika.

    New MIT linguistics website

    Please enjoy our great new website. Some of the personal pages are still works in progress (having been migrated from the old site), so we ask your patience about that — but we hope you are as happy with it as we are!




    Ling-Lunch: call for open slots

    As of now, the Ling-Lunch slot on September 22nd is still open. Other available dates are as follows:

    • October 6 for NELS practice talk
    • November 3
    • December 1

    If you are interested in one of these dates, let Abdul-Razak Sulemana (abdulraz@mit.edu) Mitya Privoznov (dprivoznov@gmail.com),  and/or Suzana Fong (sznfong@mit.edu) know.

    Ling-Lunch meetings are held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm in room 32-D461. The schedule can be found in the department’s calendar.


    Conference announcement: SNEWS 2016

    The Southern New England Workshop in Semantics (SNEWS) is an annual workshop for graduate students in Linguistics to present their research and receive feedback in an informal setting. Topics of presentation generally fall into any of the following categories (broadly defined): semantics, pragmatics, semantics/pragmatics interface, experimental and psycholinguistic investigations into semantic/pragmatic phenomena, etc. The workshop is meant to encourage the development and exchange of ideas through friendly interaction between students and faculty from different universities in the area. This year’s edition will be hosted by Brown University.

    Those interested in presenting are asked to contact a designated person at their school by September 30th and send the title of their presentation by October 31st. MIT students are to contact  Naomi Francis ‎(nfrancis@mit.edu).


    Call for Presenters: ESSL/LacqLab Meetings

    The Experimental Syntax and Semantics and Language Acquisition Labs are looking for presenters for their lab meetings. Ideas and prospective experiments, ongoing work, or practice talks are all welcome, on any syntactic, semantic or acquisition-y sort of subject. The plan is to have a half hour presentation and half hour discussion on Tuesdays at 1pm.

    Almost all presentation slots are currently open, so let Leo Rosenstein (leaena@mit.edu) know if you want one and when. People from outside MIT are welcome to present, but MIT students and visitors get first pick.


    Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group

    The Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group (LPRG, ‘lip-erg’) will be meeting on a weekly basis on Mondays at 1pm in the 7th floor seminar room. This reading group will discuss papers in philosophy of language, semantics, pragmatics, logic, etc. which will be of interest to philosophers and linguists, with the hope of (a) learning new things and (b) fostering more collaboration between the two sides of the department.

    LPRG is pre-read and so there will be an expectation that you have read the paper. Each session will have a discussion leader who will direct the conversation in an informal way.  The kinds of papers discussed in past meetings and a (not exhaustive) list of papers of interest can be found on the website here. If you would like to be on the mailing list, email David Boylan (dboylan@mit.edu), Matt Mandelkern (mandelk@mit.edu), or Maša Močnik (masa.mocnik@gmail.com).

    The first meeting will be next week on Monday 12th at 1pm, with Matt Mandelkern leading discussion on Cariani and Santorio’s paper on ‘will’.

    Syntax Square - open dates

    The following dates are open for Syntax Square (happening on Mondays, 1-2pm in room 32-D461). Please contact this semester’s organizers, Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and/or Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu), to reserve a spot.

    • Sept: 12, 19
    • Oct: 3, 17 31
    • Nov: 7, 14, 28
    • Dec: 12

    Phonology Circle 9/12 - Ezer Rasin

    Speaker: Ezer Rasin (MIT) Title: The stress-encapsulation universal and phonological modularity Date/Time: Monday, September 12, 5:00-6:30pm Location: 32-D831

    Cross-linguistically, the distribution of segmental features is often conditioned on the position of stress. In American English, for example, [t] is flapped between a preceding stressed vowel and a following unstressed vowel (políDical vs. politícian), voiceless stops are aspirated at the onset of a stressed syllable (opphóse vs. opposítion), stressless vowels undergo reduction (át@m vs. @tó mic), and [h] is deleted before an unstressed, non-initial vowel (vé[h]icle vs. vehícular). As noted by Blumenfeld (2006), stress-segmental interactions in the other direction are almost non-existent: stress is sensitive to supra-segmental features such as syllable structure and tone, but – to the exclusion of sonority – it is never sensitive to any segmental features (such as voicing, continuancy, place of articulation, and so on). My main claim is that reported sonority-sensitive stress patterns do not require direct reference to sonority. The claim will be based on a review of the sonority-driven stress literature and a re-evaluation of some of the reported cases. The result is that Blumenfeld’s list of universal asymmetries between stress and segmental features becomes a generalization over all features: the distribution of stress is never conditioned on segmental features. I refer to this result as the “Stress-encapsulation Universal”. The stress-encapsulation universal is surprising under existing theories of phonology: rule-based theories of stress (e.g., Halle and Vergnaud, 1987) have used rules that make direct reference to segment quality, and even if reference to segment quality is avoided, the fact that stress rules would consistently ignore the same information in their input (segmental features) would be left as an accident. In Optimality Theory (Prince and Smolensky, 1993), stress and segmental processes are computed in parallel: output markedness constraints that trigger stress-sensitive segmental processes are symmetric and may be used to (undesirably) trigger quality-sensitive stress. Given such constraints, standard Optimality Theory has no general way of banning quality-sensitive stress processes. I will show that the stress-encapsulation universal can be derived in a modular architecture of phonology where a stress-computation module is encapsulated from the rest of the system. In this modular architecture, the input to the stress module excludes representations of segmental features, and outside of the stress module, stress representations cannot be changed. I will propose a concrete theory of the interface to the stress module within a serial rule-based framework and discuss its predictions regarding indirect effects of segmental features on the position of stress, including vowel invisibility to stress and effects on stress through syllable structure. Finally, I will evaluate alternative explanations for the universal, including non-modular phonological explanations (such as fixed constraint rankings within OT) and explanations that attribute the universal to extra-phonological factors.

    ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 9/13 — Loes Koring

    The Experimental Syntax and Semantics and Language Acquisition Labs are resuming weekly meetings, starting this Tuesday, September 13. This week features Loes Koring, who will talk about the projects and potential projects that she will be working on here for the next year. If you are interested in experimental work, in syntax or semantics or language acquisition, please come! Also, there will be pizza provided!

    ESSL/LacqLab Meeting

    • Date: 09/13/2016 (Tuesday)
    • Time: 1:00-2:00 pm
    • Venue: 32-D461

    Ling-Lunch 9/15 - Norvin Richards (MIT)

    Speaker: Norvin W Richards (MIT)
    Title: Deriving Contiguity
    Date/Time: Thursday, September 15/12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Richards (2016) presents an account of the distribution of various types of overt movement and linear adjacency requirements. One of the central claims I make there is that the construction of prosodic structure begins in the narrow syntax, and that the syntax can be motivated by prosodic considerations to perform syntactic movement operations.

    Central to the account is a claim that Agree and selection relations must affect prosody in certain ways. I claim that just in structures involving Agree or selection, the general laws governing the mapping of syntax onto prosody are overridden by a special condition (called Generalized Contiguity) which dictates that the participants in Agree or selection must share a prosodic domain of a certain kind.

    In this talk I will review some of the results of Richards (2016), and then try to show that these results can be derived without making any special stipulations about the pros/odic representation of Agree or selection relations. A modified version of Match Theory (Selkirk 2009, 2011, Elfner 2012, 2015, Clemens 2014, Bennett, Elfner, and McCloskey 2016), which makes general claims about how dominance relations in syntax are mapped onto prosody, turns out to be sufficient, if paired with approaches to Agree and selection that posit multidominance structures resulting from Agree relations (Frampton and Gutmann 2000, Sag et al 2003, Pesetsky and Torrego 2007, among others). The resulting theory is more restrictive than the one in Richards (2016).



    The 7th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America Conference (GALANA) was held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign September 8-10. The program included talks and posters by:

    • Fourth year student Athulya Aravind and faculty Martin HacklVariation in the acquisition of presupposition triggers (poster)
    • Jason Borga (UConn) and William Snyder (PhD ‘95, BCS): On passives in English, and causatives in French
    • Emma Nguyen (UConn) and William SnyderThe (non)-effect of pragmatics on children’s passives
    • Ava Irani (UPenn) and Charles Yang (PhD ‘00, CS): Control, raising, and the problem of generalization



    MIT @ Sinn und Bedeutung

    The 21st edition of Sinn und Bedeutung was hosted by the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, on September 4—6. Several MIT students, alumni and visitors gave talks or presented posters.


    Welcome to the Fall 2016 semester!

    Today, Tuesday September 6, is Registration Day. Whamit!, the MIT Linguistics Department Newsletter, appears every Monday during the semester (Tuesdays if Monday is a public holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Suzana Fong, Michelle Yuan, and Sophie Moracchini.

    To submit items for inclusion in Whamit! please send an email to whamit@mit.edu by Sunday 6 pm. At the beginning of the semester, we’re particularly interested in news about what members of the department did during the summer break.

    Hope to see you all at the departmental lunch, 12pm at the 8th floor lounge!


    Welcome to our new students!

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

    Neil Banerjee

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

    Christopher Baron

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

    Keny Chatain

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

    Yadav Gowda

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

    Cora Lesure

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

    Newell Lewey

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

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

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

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

    Elise Newman

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

    Frank Staniszewski

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

    Danfeng Wu

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


    New Visiting Scholars and Visiting Students for Fall 2016

    Visiting Faculty/ Postdoctoral Associate

    • Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University). His research interests are Semantics, Syntax, Learnability and Computational Linguistics.
    • Loes Koring (Postdoctoral Associate at MIT). As her website tells us: “My research is in syntax, semantics and its acquisition and processing. I use experiments (such as the Visual World Paradigm, self-paced reading, but also off-line techniques) to get a better understanding of the structure of language and how our brain processes these structures.”

    Visiting scholars

    • Chiyuki Ito (Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Research Institute for Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, Japan). She writes: “I am interested in phonology and phonetics with a focus on East Asian languages, especially Korean.”
    • Ken Hiraiwa (Meiji Gakuin University). He describes his interests as including Case and Agreement, Clausal Architecture, Syntax-PF Interface and Number Capacities.
    • Esther Clarke (Durham University). She writes on her website: “I gained my PhD from the Centre for Social Learning and Cultural Evolution at St Andrews University where I studied wild white-handed gibbons in Thailand. In particular I focused on their anti-predatory behaviour and vocalisations and used the comparative approach to describe my findings in relation to the evolution of primate vocal communication in general, including human language.Now I am studying captive gibbon vocalisations and reproductive endocrinology and examining the role of the endocrine system on the primate vocal apparatus.”
    • Hisashi Morita (School of Foreign Studies, Aichi Prefectural University, Japan). His themes of research include the syntactic and semantic aspects of Wh-questions in natural language, the syntactic and semantic effect of focus and the contrastive study of English and Japanese relative clauses.
    • Ting Huang (National Tsing Hua University). Her areas of interest are language acquisition, psycholinguistics, the development of semantics-pragmatics interface and emergent literacy.
    • Amy Rose Deal (University of California, Berkeley). She writes on her website: “I am a syntactician and a semanticist. I am also a fieldworker. The big questions that interest me concern cross-linguistic variation: How much variation is there in syntax? How much is there in semantics? How can we tell syntactic and semantic variation apart?My research on these questions largely draws from findings in the syntax and semantics of Nez Perce, a Sahaptian language of the Columbia River Plateau. Some of the particular topics I have worked on recently are: modals, the mass/count distinction, shifty indexicals, ergativity - including split ergativity and syntactic ergativity -, (complementizer) agreement and the operation Agree, possession and possessor raising, relative clauses, outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy, how we reason about the raw data of fieldwork.”

    Visiting students

    • Karin Camolese Vivanco (University of São Paulo). Her areas of interest are Linguistics, Theory of Grammar, Generative Grammar, Syntax.

    Summer news

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

    • For the second year in a row, a group from MIT visited the University of Brasilia (August 15-18) for minicourses and invited talks in connection with their annual Congresso Internacional de Estudos Linguísticos (CIEL)— this year, joined by some distinguished alums! This year’s participants were MIT faculty Adam Albright and David Pesetsky, fifth-year grad student Juliet Stanton, and alums Karlos Arregi (PhD ‘02) of the University of Chicago and Andrew Nevins (PhD ‘05) of University College London. More details here: http://www.lefog.pro.br/?page_id=1429
    • ‘Song of the human’ by the British composer Pete M. Wyer composed under a commission from Arts Brookfield is premiering in the Winter Garden of the World Financial Center in New York City on October 12, with an installation to follow starting on October 15. One source of the idea for this original orchestral and choir piece came from MIT faculty Shigeru Miyagawa’s Integration Hypothesis. More details about the composition and the event here: http://www.artsbrookfield.com/event/songofthehuman/
    • Faculty Michel Degraff reports: “During two weeks in June (June 13-24), the MIT-Haiti Initiative team was in the town of Limonade, in Northern Haiti. In collaboration with the Campus Henry Christophe, Limonade, of Haiti’s State University (“CHCL-UEH”), we had a 4-day workshop on Kreyòl-based and active-learning of science and mathematics. The workshop was attended by 43 professors in math, physics, chemistry and biology. We also spent a week of intensive consultation with CHCL-UEH faculty and administration, working on improvement of curricula, active-learning materials and interactive pedagogy in science, mathematics and Haitian Creole. One outcome was the creation of a teaching-and-learning center at CHCL-UEH. This work was funded, in part, by CHCL-UEH, the National Science Foundation and by the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince.” More information about the collaboration and pictures can be found here and here.
    • Michel Degraff also attended the 2016 Meeting of the Society of Caribbean Linguistics, held Aug. 1-6, 2016 at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, where he gave a keynote talk, “A Workshop on Language & Liberation: The MIT-Haiti Initiative as case study of ‘Caribbean SPEAKERS to the world,” and took part in a panel on “The Linguist as Public Intellectual.” Michel adds that he “also had the opportunity to discuss with authorities at Jamaica’s Ministry of Education on the importance of Jamaican Creole for improving education outcomes in Jamaica.” Pictures of the conference can be found here, and interviews given by Michel can be found here and here.

    Summer defenses

    Warm congratulations to this summer’s doctoral dissertators:

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

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


    MIT Workshop on Exhaustivity 2016

    MIT Linguistics will be hosting a Workshop on Exhaustivity on Saturday, September 10, 2016, organized by alumni Luka Crnič (PhD ‘11), Roni Katzir (PhD ‘08), and Raj Singh (PhD ‘08).

    The following faculty and alumni will be giving talks, with commentaries by Danny Fox (faculty, PhD ‘98) and Uli Sauerland (PhD ‘98):

    • Marie-Christine Meyer (PhD ‘13): Grice and Grammar: How cooperative are weak sentences?
    • Andreas Haida and Tue Trinh (PhD ‘11): A plea for (no) monsters
    • Giorgio Magri (PhD ‘09): Blindness and Hirschberg’s contextually ordered alternatives
    • Wataru Uegaki (PhD ‘15): ‘Wonder’ and embedded exhaustivity

    Additionally, several faculty, alumni, and students will be presenting posters:

    • Sam Alxatib (PhD ’13): *onlyonly
    • Moshe E. Bar-Lev and Danny FoxOn the global calculation of embedded implicatures
    • Natasha Ivlieva (PhD ‘13) and Sam Alxatibvan Benthem’s problem, exhaustification, and distributivity
    • Hadas Kotek (PhD ‘14): Untangling Tanglewood using covert focus movement (joint work with Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine, PhD ‘14)
    • 5th year student Lilla MagyarWhat is at issue? Exhaustivity of structural and morphological DP focus in Telugu
    • Despoina Oikonomou (PhD ‘16): Deriving the strong-reading of Imperatives via Exhaustification

    Linguistics colloquia for the academic year

    The MIT Linguistics Colloquium schedule for the Fall and Spring. All talks are on Fridays, 3:30-5:00 p.m. For further information, please contact the organizers for this year, Erin Olson and Nicholas Longenbaugh.

    Fall 2015:

    Spring 2016:


    Fall 2016 reading groups: Call for presentations

    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 Juliet Stanton (juliets@mit.edu) and/or Rafael Abramovitz (rafabr@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

    • September: 19
    • October: 3, 31 (Oct. 17 is reserved for AMP practice)
    • November: (7), 14, 21, 28
    • December: 12

    Syntax Square will be meeting on Mondays 1-2pm in 32-D461. The organizers welcome both presentations on polished projects and informal discussions. Please contact this semester’s organizers, Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu) to reserve a slot.

    Language Acquisition/ESSL lab meetings will be on Tuesdays, from 1-2pm in 32-D461. Presentations are informal and we welcome work-in-progress as well as completed work! Please contact Leo Rosenstein (leaena@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

    LFRG will be meeting on Wednesdays from 1-2pm in 32-D831. 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. Remaining open dates for presentations are listed below; please contact Daniel Margulis (dmarg@mit.edu) and/or Itai Bassi (ibassi@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve a slot.

    • September: 14, 21, 28
    • October: 12
    • November: 2, 9
    • December: 14

    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, Abdul-Razak Sulemana (abdulraz@mit.edu), Mitya Privoznov (dpriv@mit.edu) & Suzana Fong (sznfong@mit.edu), to reserve a slot.


    First LingLunch of Fall/2016 - Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine

    • Speaker: Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (National University of Singapore)
    • Title: ‘C-T head-splitting: Evidence from Toba Batak’
    • Date and time: September 8 (Thursday), 12:30pm-1:50pm
    • Location: 32-D461
    I present new work on extraction and voice in Toba Batak, an Austronesian language of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. Recent work has proposed a tight coupling between the traditional heads of C and T. I argue that patterns of multiple extraction in Toba Batak support the C-T head-splitting hypothesis—the idea that C and T begin as a single CT head and can split (Martinović, 2015). Although Batak has been previously described as only allowing extraction of one constituent at a time (Cole & Hermon 2008), I show that the simultaneous extraction of two constituents is possible, in very limited combinations. Exactly two patterns are possible: two DPs which are both formally focused (wh or with ‘only’) or a focused non-DP followed by a non-focused DP. I propose that C and T first try to probe together (as CT) for the joint satisfaction of their probes (focus and D features); if this fails, CT splits into C and T, which probe separately. This hypothesis is supported by the distribution of the particle na in two internally-consistent ideolects, which provides overt morphological support for the CT head-splitting view. I also discuss lessons for the analysis of Austronesian voice systems.

    Course announcements, Fall 2016

    Course announcements in this post:

    • Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) syntax (24.943)
    • Language Acquisition I (24.949/9.601)
    • Syntactic Models (24.960)
    • Topics in Phonology (24.964)
    • Topics in experimental phonology (24.967)
    • Topics in Semantics (24.979)
    • Computation and Linguistic Theory (24.S95)

    24.943: Syntax of a Language (Family) — Haitian Creole (“Kreyòl”) syntax

    • Instructor: Michel DeGraff
    • Wednesdays 10AM—1PM
    • Room: 32-D461

    I’d like to take as one starting point for this course this quote from a recent Facebook posting by our colleague Kai demystifying “stupidity”:

    “… [Y]ou need to become used to feeling “stupid”. I mean this in an entirely non-disparaging sense: obviously, you’re not stupid. What it is is that you’re not completely understanding a complex topic. Of course, that is in fact the permanent condition of science. The whole point of science is to work at things we don’t understand and make some progress towards understanding, but that progress will then result in even more things we don’t understand….”


    I’ve taken Kai’s caveat to heart while preparing materials for this class and feeling quite “stupid” about various puzzles of Haitian Creole syntax that beg for “progress toward understanding.”  So I’d like this seminar to take us through the memory lane of some puzzles that I’ve been thinking about for years, decades even. We’ll examine some the data and proposals in my and related publications on Haitian Creole, specifically on: clause structure, (non-verbal) predication, clefts, negation, noun-phrase structure, bare noun phrases, and serial verbs.  With the right questions, these old problems may well lead us to improved solutions, with their share of new questions…

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

    My own papers for the course are already available on the “recent publications” section of my MIT website.  And we’ll assign readings from other authors as well, of course.  As we progress, I’ll make these papers available on the Stellar website for the course.

    Toward the end of the semester, we’ll be getting help from a dear friend and co-author, Prof. dr. Enoch Aboh from the University of Amsterdam.  His most recent book is The Emergence of Hybrid Grammars: Language Contact and Change, from which we’ll read a couple of chapters—in time for Enoch’s visit, December 7–9.

    Meanwhile, on Wednesday, September 7, we’ll begin the seminar with a discussion of (very) basic issues, starting with general background about “Creole” languages, word order in Haitian Creole, etc.  The relevant paper for that is “Morphology and word order in ‘creolization’ and beyond” available here.

    You may also want to look at another paper of mine that gives a general survey of the language—from John Holm’s 2007 book Comparative Creole Syntax.


    24.949/9.601: Language Acquisition I

    • Instructor: Loes Koring
    • Mondays, 2—5
    • Room: 32-D461

    The main goal of this course is to review a variety of topics in the acquisition (typical 1st language acquisition) of syntax and semantics. Throughout the course, we will survey various theories and examine their claims in light of empirical data and learnability theory. We will compare different methodologies to study language development and examine what type of information different types of data provide us with. More importantly, we will go over the cool, and puzzling, things children produce that are deviant from the target grammar, as well as interpretations that are available to children even though they are out for adult speakers of the target grammar, and, specifically, how these data inform linguistic theory and/or learnability theory. Apart from the topics I think are worth reviewing, there is room to discuss topics that participants of the class are particularly interested in.

    As part of the course, you (registered students) will be working on your own language acquisition project, which requires you to think about theoretical proposals from an acquisition perspective (considering empirical data as well as learnability). An additional goal to the course is that you will acquire the skill of translating your research questions and related hypotheses into experimentally testable predictions. You will write a paper based on this, which can have the form of a well-developed research proposal (e.g. a way to test a prediction that follows from (your) analysis of a particular phenomenon), or an analysis of existing (production) data for instance, but many forms are imaginable. You will be guided through the process in individual meetings with the instructor at different stages.

    Required for this course is that you:

    1. Attend and participate in the weekly lectures
    2. Prepare the lectures by reading the required materials (2-3 papers a week)
    3. Develop your own project and present your findings both as a paper and (briefly) in a presentation at the end of the course.

    To prepare for the first class, please read Crain’s paper on language acquisition (pp. 597-612). You can download it via Stellar. There is no need to read all the commentaries to it, but you can, of course, if you like.

    The required readings will be made available through the Stellar class website (some of them already are). To acquire the relevant background, I can recommend Guasti’s book on language acquisition (Guasti, M. T. (2004). Language acquisition: The growth of grammar. MIT Press.). Purchasing or reading this book is not obligatory for the course, but it is a great book to have as a reference if you’re interested in language acquisition.

    The first class is on Monday September 12th.


    24.960: Syntactic Models

    • Instructor: David Pesetsky
    • Tuesdays, 10—1
    • Room: 32‑D461

    The course has twin goals:

    First, it gives a quick introduction to at least two “frameworks” for syntactic research that compete with the Government-Binding/Principles & Parameters/Minimalist tradition in the current syntax world:  HPSG and Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG).  We work speedily through much of the HPSG textbook by Sag, Wasow and Bender, and also look at the LFG textbook by Bresnan, Asudeh, Toivonen and Wechsler.

    Next, the class turns historical, tracing the development of generative syntax from Syntactic Structures (1957) up to the early 1980s, when HPSG and LFG first separated themselves off from the research program that became GB/P&P/Minimalism.   An overarching theme of the course is the issue of derivational vs. representational views of syntax — a theme that offers some surprising observations about who said what at various points in the history of the field, but also gives the course a focus relevant to the most current work.For a demonstration that the issue is live (including the hotly debated question of whether there even is a question), you need look no further than a 2014 on Norbert Hornstein’s blog, featuring Omer Preminger (who taught this very class in 2011).  See this post, which begins with links to earlier discussion on the blog that prompted that posting, and continues with millions of comments.

    You can get a good sense of what the class will be like from its old Stellar pages — for example here.  I plan to follow essentially the same structure — plus the possibility of a guest lecture on “Simpler Syntax” by Ray Jackendoff (date to be arranged, fingers crossed).

    As you may have heard, the sole requirements for the class are:

    1. regular attendance and participation;
    2. a few straightforward problem sets (finger exercises) in the first half of the class; and
    3. three class presentations or co-presentations (depending on numbers): of an HPSG paper, an LFG paper, and a paper from the period of generative semantics/interpretive semantics debates.

    There is no paper required! (A major attraction in the past.) Many students have reported finding this class both fun and enlightening (and not just because there is no required paper). Ask some of your predecessors for their reviews.

    The most important book to order right now is the following one: Sag, Wasow and Bender, Syntactic Theory — second edition (this is crucial).

    Please start reading it in advance of the first class. Get as far as you can in it, so you come to the first class already somewhat prepared. This book is intended as an introduction to syntax for undergraduates, so you will find the early chapters go quickly. But the syntax it introduces is HPSG, so fairly soon you will be learning new things and tripping over unfamiliar notations.

    The books we will be using later in the semester are:

    Bresnan et al., Lexical-Functional Grammar — please note that this too is a second edition, which we’re using for the first time.

    Chomsky, Syntactic Structures

    Other readings (papers and excerpts from books) will be downloadable from the Stellar website for the class.

    Since this Tuesday is just registration day, the first meeting will be September 13, i.e. next week.


    24.964: Topics in Phonology

    • Instructor: Donca Steriade
    • Topic: Syllables
    • Thursdays, 2—5
    • Room: 32-D461

    The main goal of this course is to examine the evidence for syllable-based analyses of metrical weight, computed within and across words, and of segmental phonotactics. We compare these with analyses of metrical weight that rely on V-to-V intervals (units that go from the beginning of the nucleus to the beginning of the next nucleus or to the end of the domain, whichever comes first), supplementing the intervals with hypotheses about cue-based licensing of contrasts for the analysis of segmental phonotactics and correspondence phenomena. The focus is on the evidence, readily available or potential, that distinguishes syllables from intervals.

    A secondary goal is to examine the history of earlier ideas about syllables and metrical quantity. Some less well-known earlier hypotheses have inherent interest and are supported empirically. I know of no accessible writings on the history of this subject. Anderson’s 1985 book on the history of phonology starts late (for syllables) and focuses on analyses of other phenomena. Goldsmith’s 2010 historically oriented handbook chapter on the syllable skips most significant writings before 1976 and lists claims without examining the content of arguments. The brief historical part of this course is an exercise in reconstructing linguistic arguments left implicit or formulated in unfamiliar styles, and an effort to avoid reinventing the wheel. It is also a partial answer to the request for a course in the history of phonology made by earlier generations.

    Registered students do the readings, write a term paper or present the literature on some topic of interest to the class.

    The schedule below is approximate. Participants interested in other syllable- or interval-related topics (e.g. articulatory realization or perception of  syllables; syllables in prosodic morphology; rhyming and alliteration and what they suggest about intervals) should let me know.

    Current plan for what we do when appears below. Some of the readings, but not all, are up on the course website.

    Sept 8
    History of some of the older ideas about metrical quantity and syllables, from Dionysius Thrax to Kahn 1976
    Sept 15
    Sept 22
    Categorical and gradient weight:  Broselow et al. 1997; Gordon 2007, Ryan 2011
    Sept 29
    Oct 6
    Weight of onsets: Gordon 2005, Topintzi 2010, Ryan 2014
    Oct 13
    DS out of town – class moved to 12/15
    Oct 20
    Finer weight distinctions predicted by intervals
    Oct 27
    Intervals for weight categories (cont.): Hirsch 2014, Duarte-García 2014; Olejarczyk and Kapatsinski 2015
    Nov 3
    Weight and resyllabification: Hoenigswald 1949, Csér 2012
    Nov 10
    DS out of town – class moved to 12/22
    Nov 17
    Segmental consequences of resyllabification: TBA
    Nov 24
    Dec. 1
    Phonotactics and syllables: weak codas, SSC, ambisyllabicity Kahn 1976, Lamontagne 1993; Wheeler 2005; Gerfen 2001; Howe and Pulleyblank 2001
    Dec. 8
    Phonotactics and syllables: syllable contact: Pons-Moll 2011
    Dec. 15
    Phonotactics and syllables: sesquisyllables: Kiparsky 2003, Watson
    Dec. 22
    Phonotactics and syllables: closed syllable shortening, syllables as domains for phonological processes: TBA



    24.967: Topics in experimental phonology

    • Instructors: Adam Albright (albright@mit.edu), Edward Flemming (flemming@mit.edu)
    • Mondays 2—5pm
    • Room: 26-142

    Course Description:

    In the past decade, the field of phonology has increasingly looked to experimental results to confirm and extend its understanding of phonological patterns. In this course, we will examine some of the issues involved in deriving experimentally testable predictions from a theory, designing and running an experiment, and interpreting the results.

    The class has several goals:

    • Consider the relation between phonological theory, empirical predictions, and experimental results
    • Gain practical knowledge in designing and carrying out experiments in the lab and on-line, and performing data analysis using R
    • Gain familiarity with some commonly used experimental paradigms, comparing what they can tell us about the linguistic system

    The class will be organized around a set of phonological topics that have benefited from experimental investigation. These topics will serve to illustrate a variety of experimental and statistical techniques:

    • Perceptually-based biases for some alternations over others (The P-Map Hypothesis)
    • Generalization from the lexicon
    • Perceptual similarity
    • Phonetic underspecification


    • Readings and class participation
    • Regular assignments (modest and practical in nature)
    • Final project: designing (and perhaps piloting) an experiment


    24.979: Topics in Semantics

    • Instructors: Danny Fox (fox@mit.edu), Roni Katzir (trifilij@mit.edu), Roger Schwarzschild (schild@mit.edu)
    • Tuesdays 2—5pm
    • Room: 32-D461

    Course Description

    The focus of this seminar will be on the semantics and pragmatics of intonational prominence with emphasis on these questions:

    • What are the mechanisms by which properties of surrounding discourse come to be reflected in the intonational contour of an utterance?
    • Do intonational prominences have a way of contributing to truth conditions independently of their interaction with surrounding discourse?

    In the first part of the course we’ll discuss recent work on prosody and information structure, working together through chapters 6 and 7 of Meaning and Intonation by Daniel Büring (2016). Büring’s account has a constraint referring to givenness and a separate one for focus. We’ll look at works that aim to assimilate these two (eg. Rooth 1992, Schwarzschild 1999) to see how they integrate with Büring’s prosodic model.

    Next, we’ll survey more recent evidence, both semantic-pragmatic and phonetic that argues that givenness and focus are irreducible one to the other. One  interpretation of this newer data views it as a species of association with focus, where the relevant operator is silent. We will devote some time to studying several species of association with focus and how it interacts with givenness.

    From there, we will move on to contrastive topic which has been a fertile testing ground for theories of intonation and discourse.

    • Requirements
    • Readings and class participation
    • Final presentation and a final paper

    Chapters 6 and 7 of Büring’s book are available on the course website.  If you are planning to take the course, please contact us to be added to the website and begin reading those chapters.


    24.S95 Computation and Linguistic Theory

    • Instructor: Roni Katzir
    • Fridays 10—1
    • Room: 32-D461

    In this class we will explore how the theory of computation helps us to understand language. We often rely on computational theories in building linguistic theories; here we will look at the broader framework of computation as well as a number of specific formalisms.

    We begin with basic questions like: what is computation? what does a computational model look like? We start with decidability and the Chomsky Hierarchy of formal languages, as well as some parsing algorithms for regular and context-free grammars. We discuss the notions of weak and strong generative capacity, looking at context-sensitive node admissibility conditions, generalized phrase-structure grammar, and the Lambek calculus. We then turn to mildly context-sensitive formalisms, focusing on combinatory categorial grammars, tree-adjoining grammars, and minimalist grammars.

    The second half of the class focuses on language processing. Drawing on the framework and formalisms from the first part of the class, we examine how the parser might work, starting with the classical proposals of Yngve and Miller & Chomsky and then proceeding to characterizations of the memory load on the processor in different parsing strategies. We also discuss approaches such as surprisal and entropy-reduction that relate processing difficulty to the information content of the current input element. Finally, we discuss the Strong Competence Hypothesis and its relation to representational questions such as whether non-canonical constituents should be part of the grammar.

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

    Course website: http://piazza.com/mit/fall2016/24s95/home

    Schedule (subject to change):

    • 9/9  Overview; Decidability
    • 9/16  Regular Languages I
    • 9/23  Regular Languages II; Context-Free Languages I
    • 9/30  Context-Free Languages II; Parsing I
    • 10/7  Parsing II;  Weak vs. Strong Generative Capacity
    • 10/14  Weakly Context-Free Models of Syntax I (Features)
    • 10/14  Weakly Context-Free Models of Syntax II (Lambek)
    • 10/21  Natural Language is not Context-Free; Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax I
    • 10/28  Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax II
    • 11/4  Mildly Context-Sensitive Models of Syntax III
    • 11/11  Early Computational Psycholinguistics
    • 11/18  Resource-Management Theories I
    • 11/25  Resource-Management Theories II; Experience-Based Theories I
    • 12/2  Experience-Based Theories II
    • 12/9  The (Strong) Competence Hypothesis

    MIT bound for Kentucky at next year’s LSA Institute

    Book your seats now for the 2017 Linguistic Institute of the LSA! Among the many great courses just announced by the organizing team at the University of Kentucky are these classes by recent alumni and faculty:

    • Claire Halpert (PhD 2012) “Clausal Arguments in Bantu and Beyond”
    • Giorgio Magri (PhD 2009) “Computational Phonology”
    • Coppe van Urk (PhD 2015) “Movement in Minimalism”
    • Igor Yanovich (PhD 2013) “Statistical Inference for the Linguistic and Non-Linguistic Past: Linguistic Phylogenetics and Spatial Statistics”

    … plus classes by some not-so-recent alumni too, including Mark Aronoff and John Goldsmith, and lots of other friends and colleagues from around the globe. A real must-go-to!

    P.S. Michel DeGraff is also giving one of the Institute’s three Forum Lectures!


    MIT at the Manchester Phonology Meeting

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

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

    Adam Albright was an invited discussant.

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


    MIT Linguists teaching abroad

    Sabine Iatridou taught at the New York Institute (organized by Prof. John Bailyn of Stony Brook University - hence the “New York” part) in St. Petersburg. David Pesetsky taught a one-week class on Clause Size (and the theory of “Exfoliation”) at a summer school hosted by the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Donca Steriade spent July as the Karl-Brugmann-Fellow in Leipzig, Germany, and taught a course on “Cyclicity, Correspondence, Exponence: a unified analysis of cyclic and related phenomena”. Who was Karl Brugmann: more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Brugmann.


    Norvin Richard’s “Contiguity Theory” published

    Our colleague Norvin Richard’s (extraordinarily interesting and far-reaching) new monograph “Contiguity Theory” has just been published by MIT Press!!


    Summer congratulations

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

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


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

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


    Last LingLunch of the Semester: 5/26 - Bruna Karla Pereira

    Speaker: Bruna Karla Pereira (UFVJM)
    Title: “Inflection of wh-determiners and wh-quantifiers in dialectal Brazilian Portuguese”
    Date and Time: Thursday, May 26, 12:30pm-1:50pm
    Location: 32-D461

    Abstract: here


    MIT-Haiti workshop

    The MIT-Haiti Initiative, under the leadership of Michel DeGraff (MIT Linguistics), is announcing its seventh MIT-Haiti workshop on active learning of STEM in Kreyòl. This workshop is the second that’s co-organized by the State University of Haiti (“UEH”), and it will be hosted, June 13-16, 2016, on the Campus Henry Christophe of UEH at Limonade. Deadline for registration is this Friday, May 27. The announcement is online at: http://bit.ly/1TCYcd4


    Phonology Circle 5/15 - Sophie Moracchini

    Speaker: Sophie Moracchini (MIT)
    Title: Metathesis in Verlan: reducing syllable reversal to segment reversal
    Date/Time: Monday, May 16, 5:00–6:30pm
    Location: 32-D831

    The abstract can be found here.