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Syntax Square 11/13 - Danfeng Wu (MIT)

Speaker: Danfeng Wu (MIT)
Date and Time: Tuesday, November 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

There has been a debate about whether non-clausal elements can be coordinated, i.e. whether coordination of elements smaller than TP and VP is possible, such as DP coordination and PP coordination (e.g. Gleitman 1965, Ross 1967, McCawley 1968, Hankamer 1979, Schein 2017, Hirsch 2017). In this talk, I will provide arguments supporting coordination of non-clausal elements based on the position of ‘either’ and the scope of disjunction. 

Once we allow non-clausal elements to be coordinated, we can explain a puzzle about adjunct fronting in ‘whether‘-clauses and ‘if‘-clauses. My analysis of this puzzle involves the following components: (a) non-clausal elements can be coordinated; (b) ‘whether’ can pied-pipe adjacent materials in moving to Spec, CP, whereas phonologically null elements cannot pied-pipe; (c) it is not possible to sub-extract out of an A’-position (e.g. a topicalized phrase does not allow sub-extraction).

I will briefly describe the puzzle below. While both ‘whether‘-clauses and ‘if‘-clauses allow the Alt(ernative) reading in (1), when the PP disjunction is apparently fronted to immediately follow ‘whether’/’if’, only ‘whether‘-clauses obtain the Alt reading (2), and the Alt reading is lost in ‘if‘-clauses (3).

(1) I don’t know whether/if John will arrive on Saturday or on Sunday.
✓Alt Reading: I don’t know whether John will arrive on Saturday or he will arrive on Sunday.
✓Yes/No (Y/N) Reading: I don’t know whether John will arrive on a weekend day or he won’t arrive on a weekend day at all.

(2) I don’t know whether on Saturday or on Sunday John will arrive. (✓Alt; ✓Y/N)
(3) I don’t know if on Saturday or on Sunday John will arrive. (*Alt; ✓Y/N)

This puzzle parallels another puzzle previously observed in the literature. When ‘or not’ is at the end of the sentence, we can get Y/N reading for both ‘whether‘-clauses and ‘if‘-clauses (4). But when ‘or not’ is apparently fronted, only ‘whether‘-clauses obtain the Y/N reading (5), and ‘if‘-clauses become ungrammatical (6).

(4) I don’t know whether/if John will arrive this weekend or not. (✓Y/N)
(5) I don’t know whether or not John will arrive this weekend. (✓Y/N)
(6) *I don’t know if or not John will arrive this weekend. (*Y/N)

LF Reading Group 11/14 - Frank Staniszewski (MIT)

Speaker: Frank Staniszewski (MIT)
Title: Deriving the properties of until phrases
Date and time: Wednesday, November, 13, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


     The well-known paradigm in (1-2) presents a challenge for a semantic analysis of until phrases.

(1)      a. He was angry until the end of the conference
           b. He wasn’t available until the end of the conference.
(2)      a. *The bomb exploded until yesterday.
           b. The bomb didn’t explode until yesterday.
          Condoravdi (2008)

Stative/progressive predicates can appear with until phrases with or without negation, as in (1a-b). Perfective predicates, however, can appear with until phrases only under negation, as shown in (2a-b).
Most analyses of this paradigm fall into two basic camps. One proposes that there is only one until, which selects for “durative” predicates. This means that without negation, it can combine only with stative/progressive predicates, thus explaining the badness of (2a) (Klima (1964), Mittwoch (1977), a.o.). In this system, the acceptability of (2b) is a consequence of the assumption that negation is a predicate modifier that can create a durative predicate.
      The other camp proposes that until is lexically ambiguous between two untils. One is a “durative” until that combines only with statives/progressives, and another is a “punctual” until that combines with perfectives, and is additionally assumed to be an NPI (Horn (1970, 1972, Karttunen (1974), Condoravdi (2008), a.o.). Here, the NPI property of “punctual” until derives the ungrammaticality of (2a).
      In this presentation of work in progress, I explore another possible approach. I propose that there is only one until, with a basic meaning similar to before, that is compatible with both stative/progressive as well as perfective predicates. I then hypothesize that this basic meaning of until is obligatorily strengthened in positive environments to its “durative” interpretation by exhaustification, adopting a mechanism similar to ones that have been proposed for obligatory strengthening of other quantificational elements (Bar-Lev & Margulis (2014), Bowler (2014) a.o.). Given this strengthening, until phrases will be incompatible with perfective predicates in upward-entailing environments, thus deriving the badness of (2a).
      I will discuss some arguments for the various approaches, and then develop an analysis that builds on a presuppositional entry for until (Karttunen (1974), Condoravdi (2008)), which in turn interacts with an exhaust operator as proposed in Bar-Lev & Fox (2017) in an attempt to derive the attested empirical patterns.

Phonology Circle 11/14 - Iris Berent (Northeastern University)

Presenter: Iris Berent (Northeastern University) 
Title: Amodal Phonology
Date/Time: Wednesday, November 14, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This talk evaluates the hypothesis that the phonological grammar is algebraic and amodal. The first part of the talk examines the computational properties of the phonological grammar. Using the restrictions on doubling as a case study, I show that doubling restrictions generalize across the board. Such generalizations are evident in both spoken and signed language phonology, and they require algebraic rules.

In the second part of the talk, I turn to show that the restrictions on doubling are demonstrably dissociable from the phonetic system. I first show that a single linguistic stimulus (e.g. panana) elicits conflicting responses (preference vs. aversion), depending on the level of analysis (phonology vs. morphology). I next show that speakers with no command of a sign language spontaneously project these two parses to novel ABB signs in American Sign language. Moreover, the chosen parse (for signs) is constrained by the morphology of their spoken language. Together, these findings demonstrate that (i) a single, invariant phonetic form can elicit conflicting linguistic parses; whereas (ii) a linguistic parse can remain invariant when the phonetic substance is radically altered – from speech to signs.

These results suggest that doubling in speech and signs is constrained by a single set of linguistic principles that are amodal, algebraic and abstract.


Ling-Lunch 11/15 - Dominique Sportiche (UCLA)

Speaker: Dominique Sportiche (UCLA)
Title: PRO’s Rigid Dependence and some possible consequences.
Date and time: Thursday, 11/15, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

An examination of the study of the behavior of obligatorily or non obligatorily controlled PRO  yields the conclusion that PRO and its antecedent must rigidly covary, a requirement  I call the  `de re ipsa’ requirement. Why this holds suggests ways to derive why `de se’ or `de te’ readings mandatorily arise in obligatory control constructions under attitude control predicates, and in fact elsewhere too. In turn, this behavior of PRO suggests that binding theory could be about the sharing (or non sharing) of recipes for reference which would provide a different way of looking at some binding puzzles discussed in Heim (1994), and Sharvit (2011).

CompLang 11/15 - Hao Tang (MIT CSAIL)

Speaker: Hao Tang (MIT CSAIL)

Title: Automatic speech recognition without linguistic knowledge?

Date and time: Thursday, 11/15, 5-6pm

Location: 46-5165


Building state-of-the-art speech recognizers, besides a large corpus of transcribed speech, require several additional ingredients, such as a phoneme inventory, a lexicon, and a language model.  These ingredients carry linguistic constraints to make training more feasible and more sample efficient. Recently, there has been a push towards building a speech recognizer end to end, i.e., using few or even none of the aforementioned ingredients.  This raises a fundamental question: is it possible to train a speech recognizer without any linguistic constraint?

  How much data do we need to make it possible?  What linguistic constraints are necessary for building a speech recognizer?  In this talk, I will review the inner workings of conventional and end-to-end speech recognizers, and to help answer some of those questions, I will present empirical results in training end-to-end speech recognizers without any linguistic constraints.

Lab Meeting 11/16 - Sherry Yong Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Sherry Yong  Chen (MIT)

Title: Resolving scope ambiguity under (negative) degree questions

Date and time: Friday, 11/16, 2-3pm

Location: 32-D831


This talk presents work-in-progress that provides evidence for facilitation effects of certain types of Question under Discussion (QUD) on scope ambiguity resolution. Specifically, when an ambiguous sentence involves a negation and a comparative quantifier (CQP), a negative QUD facilitates access to the inverse scope reading, but only when the non-negated question nucleus is expected to hold in a given context. We discuss our results with references to the ignorance inference of comparative numerals, maximal informativeness, question answer congruence.


LingPhil Reading Group 11/5 – on Cable (2018)

Maša Močnik and Keny Chatain will be presenting a paper by Cable on a new choice-function-based approach to De Re/De Dicto. The meeting will take place on Monday 5th in the 8th floor seminar room.

Title : A Choice Functional Semantics for De Re Attitudes.

Author(s) : Seth Cable

Abstract :

In this paper, I present a relatively simple syntax and semantics for de re attitude reports, one that builds heavily upon the approaches developed by Percus & Sauerland (2003), Charlow & Sharvit (2014), and Sauerland (2014). The principle innovation of this account is that such readings involve quantification over choice-functions, rather than direct quantification over accessibility relations (Cresswell & von Stechow 1982), concept generators (Percus & Sauerland 2003, Charlow & Sharvit 2014), or counterpart functions (Sauerland 2014). I show that the proposed system accounts for the same range of complex data and judgments as prior approaches, particularly (i) the behavior of bound de re pronouns (Charlow & Sharvit 2014), (ii) interactions between de re readings and non-upward monotone operators (Charlow & Sharvit 2014), (iii) constraints on de re readings of complex DPs (Sauerland 2014), and (iv) the inability for DPs to be construed de re when they contain opaquely interpreted NPs (Charlow & Sharvit 2014). Despite this equivalent empirical coverage, the proposed system offers a relatively simple compositional semantics for de re attitude reports, one where (i) the object-language quantification at play is of a type independently observed in natural language, (ii) attitude verbs do not require a ‘type-flexible’ denotation, (iii) the intensional argument of an attitude verb is simply a proposition (or property of entities), (iv) there is no lexical ambiguity between ‘existential’ and ‘universal’ readings of such verbs. I show that the facts which motivated the complexities found in prior accounts – particularly the interactions between de re readings and quantificational DPs – can follow from independently known properties of choice-functional quantification. [[Author’s Note (9/7/2018): The general approach presented in this paper was independently suggested in earlier, unpublished work by Orin Percus and Simon Charlow: Percus (2013) “Res-Marking in Belief Reports”, Charlow (2014) “Locality in the Syntax and Semantics of Attitude Ascriptions.”]]

MorPhun 11/5: Ray Jackendoff on Relational Morphology

Speaker: Ray Jackendoff (Tufts/MIT) and Jenny Audring (Leiden)
Title: The Texture of the Lexicon: Relational Morphology in the Parallel Architecture
Date and time: Monday 11/5, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

Linguistic theory has emphasized Humboldt’s “infinite use of finite means,” to the relative neglect of the “finite means,” i.e. the lexicon. What does a language user store in the lexicon,and in what form? We explore this question in the context of the Parallel Architecture (Jackendoff 1997, 2002; Culicover and Jackendoff 2005). Within this outlook, lexical items are pieces of phonological, (morpho)syntactic, and semantic structures, and morphology is the grammar of word-sized pieces of structure.

Unlike classical syntactic patterns, the majority of morphological patterns are not productive, and their instances must be listed in the lexicon. They therefore present a number of important difficulties for a grammar formulated in terms of traditional rules. More adequate is a formulation in terms of schemas, along the lines of Construction Grammar and especially Construction Morphology. Nonproductive schemas do not build new structures; rather, they motivate relations among items stored in the lexicon.

In addition to building novel structures, productive schemas can also motivate relations within the lexicon. This leads to a new perspective on productive patterns: the principles used to build novel structures are simply a subset of the schemas in the lexicon, and productive schemas canbe thought of as schemas “gone viral.” We conclude that the focus in linguistic theory on the“infinite use of finite means” has deflected attention from a more basic issue: the form of the lexicon and the relationships within it.

This outlook on morphological relations in the lexicon has consequences for syntactic theory as well. First, it offers an account of nonproductive syntactic constructions – Culicover’s (1999)“syntactic nuts.” Second, it suggests a nontraditional approach to syntactic alternations, in which movement operations are replaced by relations between independent constructions. We will briefly mention some possible cases.

Syntax Square 11/6 - Itai Bassi on Bruening (2014)

Speaker: Itai Bassi on Bruening (2014) “Precede and command revisited
Date and Time: Tuesday, November 6, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I will present Benjamin Bruening’s (2014) paper ”Precede and command revisited” (click here for a link). In this paper Bruening argues that the relation of c-command is irrelevant to binding phenomena, and proposes to replace it with a coarser notion of command, “phase command”.  To give a taste of the argumentation, consider the known fact that (1) feels like a principle C violation, although “her” doesn’t c-command “Rosa”; no constituency test tells us that “her” in (1) forms a constituent with “about Rosa’s son” to the exclusion of everything else.

(1) *We talked with her_1 about Rosa_1’s son. (Reinhart 1976)
Furthermore, Bruening argues that precedence also plays a role in accounting for binding phenomena. Hence “precede and (phase-)command” is the correct relationship underlying binding effects.
We will discuss and evaluate Bruening’s attempt to derive “precede and command” from a particular view of the grammar where sentences are built left-to-right, phase by phase.

LF Reading Group 11/7 - Kai von Fintel (MIT)

Speaker: Kai von Fintel (MIT)
Title: Conditional desires
Date and time: Wednesday, November 7th, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


Sentences with an *if*-clause and a desire predicate have a “restricted” reading that claims that among the worlds described by the *if*-clause, the attitude holder prefers certain worlds. Deriving this reading compositionally reveals hidden properties of conditionals and attitude predicates. There are intriguing connections to puzzles in the analysis of deontic conditionals (*if p, ought q*) and conditional imperatives (*if p, do q!*).


Phonology Circle 11/7 - Gaja Jarosz & Aleksei Nazarov

Presenter: Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst) & Aleksei Nazarov (University of Toronto) 
Title: Domain-general learning of stress parameters: A typological investigation
Date/Time: Wednesday, November 7, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Existing learners for stress in OT (e.g., Tesar and Smolensky 2000, Boersma and Pater 2013/2016, Jarosz 2013, 2015) are all so-called domain-general learners (need not be specified in UG). However, Pearl (2007, 2011) argues that Principles & Parameters models of stress (e.g., Dresher and Kaye 1990) do necessitate domain-specific learning mechanisms (specified in UG). Nazarov and Jarosz (2017) proposed a domain-general learning with more inference power than Yang’s (2002) learner (which Pearl 2011 showed didn’t work for stress parameters), arguing that domain-general learners may be sufficient for both OT and parametric models.

However, Nazarov and Jarosz (2017) only tested their learner on a small set of stress systems with a subset of Dresher and Kaye’s parameters. To validate these initial results, we have now tested our learner, in addition to 3 versions of Yang’s (2002) learner, on all 280 stress systems that are possible in Dresher and Kaye’s (1990) framework. Similarly to Nazarov and Jarosz (2017), it is found that the proposed learner converges on the correct stress system about 95% of the time, while Yang’s learner does so no more than 10% of the time. To further compare the learners, we have extracted a few statistics on the stress systems themselves that predict their performance under each learner. Finally, we found that the stress systems never learned by Nazarov and Jarosz’s learner are unattested (save for two cases that warrant further investigation), suggesting that the only function of domain-specific learning mechanisms might be to enable the learning of unattested languages.


Ling-Lunch 11/8 - Giuseppe Ricciardi (Harvard)

Speaker: Giuseppe Ricciardi (Harvard)

Title: “She must be mad” Really? Must? Epistemic must statements are felt “weak” because they are usually false [work with Edward Gibson and Rachel A. Ryskin]
Date and time: Thursday, 11/8, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
Two main hypotheses have been proposed in the literature about the semantics of epistemic ‘must’. The Strong Must Hypothesis (von Fintel & Gillies, 2010) and the Weak Must Hypothesis (Karttunen, 1972; Kratzer, 1981; Lassiter, 2017). Lassiter (2016) offers an experiment whose results support the Weak Must Hypothesis. I argue that Lassiter (2016)’s task is invalid for testing participants’ competence about truth-conditions of statements and I show that if one modifies Lassiter’s task so that participants understand it as a truth-value task then the results support the Strong Must Hypothesis over the Weak Must Hypothesis. Moreover, Lassiter (2016) offers some weak uses of epistemic ‘must’ derived from a corpus. I discuss these examples as well and challenge their status as piece of evidence supporting the Weak Must Hypothesis.
Overall, I argue for the following claim: the weakness observed since Karttunen (1972) with respect to epistemic ‘must’ statements is not due to their being true in weak contexts but to their being systematically falsely uttered in weak contexts. To account for such systematicity, I propose that epistemic ‘must’ statements are often used hyperbolically.

LingPhil Reading Group 10/29 – on Sauerland (2014)

Itai Bassi will be presenting a paper by Uli Sauerland. This paper uses Lewis counterpart theory to obtain a more constrained and empirically adequate view of the De Re/De Dicto phenomenon. The meeting will take place on Monday 29th in the 8th floor seminar room.

Title :
Counterparts block some “De Re” readings

Author(s) : Uli Sauerland

Abstract :

Irene Heim in unpublished work proposed a new syntax-semantics interface for propositional attitude reports based on an ontology without transworld individuals, but counterpart functions instead. We show that the approach can capture the ‘de re’/‘de dicto’ distinction, but makes different predictions from accounts with transworld individuals. Specifically, the account uses a non-invertible counterpart functions: a single individual in an alternative world can be the counterpart of many individuals of the real world. The directionality of counterpart functions predicts that a ‘de dicto’ interpreted DP cannot be an argument of a ‘de re’ interpreted predicate. We show that the predicted restriction is corroborated by existing work on restrictions on ‘de re’ interpretation. The derivation of constraints on ‘de re’ interpretation argues empirically for the counterpart ontology and Heim’s implementation thereof.


Syntax Square 10/30 - Suzana Fong

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: Asymmetries in the licensing of bare nominals in Wolof
Date and Time: Tuesday, October 30, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
In this research in progress, I try to analyze some properties of the syntactic behavior of bare nominals (i.e. nominals without an overt determiner) in Wolof (Niger-Congo), (1c).
Awa defar na oto bi/yi.
Awa fix NA.3sg car the.SG/the.PL
‘Awa fixed the car/the cars.’ 
Awa defar na ab/ay oto.
Awa fix NA.3sg some.SG/some.PL car
‘Awa fixed some car/some cars.’
Awa defar na oto.
Awa fix NA.3sg car
Lit.: ‘Awa fixed car.’
Bare nominals in Wolof are apparently singular in that (i) they can bind a singular reflexive, though not a plural one; (ii) they cannot saturate a collective predicate, and (iii) a sentence containing a bare nominal cannot be followed up by the question how many targeting the bare nominal.
However, added plural morphology elsewhere in the sentence “turns” bare nominals plural. A plural relative clause or plural genitive agreement render a bare nominal (i) an adequate binder for a plural anaphor and (ii) an appropriate argument for a collective predicate. Conversely, plural verbal morphology has no effect in the licensing of (i) and (ii). The first asymmetry to explain, then, is why nominal-internal plural morphology in relative clauses and genitive agreement are able to “turn” a bare nominal plural, but verbal morphology does not have the same effect.
A second asymmetry that I will describe is that (iii) how many follow-up becomes felicitous due to the addition of plural morphology not only from a relative clause or genitive agreement, but also from verbal agreement.
I will present a tentative analysis where bare nominals in Wolof come in two varieties, a singular and a plural one, number being determined by the type of Phi-P (Sauerland 2003) that tops off the bare nominal. With an additional stipulation of a featural difference between a singular and a plural Phi-P and some assumptions about binding, I will try to derive the binding and how many data. I will also comment on how the analysis falls short of accounting for the collective predicate data.

LF Reading Group 10/31 - Carolyn Spadine (MIT) & Gunnar Lund (Harvard)

Speaker: Carolyn Spadine (MIT) & Gunnar Lund (Harvard)
Title: Complementizers in matrix contexts: Reporting attitudes without attitude verbs
Date and time: Wednesday, October 31st, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Using evidence from attitude-report constructions lacking attitude verbs, we argue against the received view of attitude-reports, which locates the central component of attitude-reports, quantification over sets of accessible worlds, in the attitude verb. Instead, we follow recent proposals (Kratzer 2006, a.o.) placing intensional quantification in the complementizer, while providing an analysis for a class of under-researched attitude reports involving matrix complementizers.


Phonology Circle 10/31 - Filipe on Hayes & Wilson (2008)

Presenter: Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: A Maximum Entropy Model of Phonotactics and Phonotactic Learning (Hayes & Wilson 2008)
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 31, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

“The study of phonotactics is a central topic in phonology. We propose a theory of phonotactic grammars and a learning algorithm that constructs such grammars from positive evidence. Our grammars consist of constraints that are assigned numerical weights according to the principle of maximum entropy. The grammars assess possible words on the basis of the weighted sum of their constraint violations. The learning algorithm yields grammars that can capture both categorical and gradient phonotactic patterns. The algorithm is not provided with constraints in advance, but uses its own resources to form constraints and weight them. A baseline model, in which Universal Grammar is reduced to a feature set and an SPE-style constraint format, suffices to learn many phonotactic phenomena. In order for the model to learn non-local phenomena such as stress and vowel harmony, it must be augmented with autosegmental tiers and metrical grids. Our results thus offer novel, learning-theoretic support for such representations. We apply the model in a variety of learning simulations, showing that the learned grammars capture the distributional generalizations of these languages and accurately predict the findings of a phonotactic experiment.”


Mini-course 11/1 @ Harvard: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)

We are happy to announce an extended visit with Lisa Matthewson, joint between MIT and Harvard. Lisa will teach a mini-course at Harvard this Thursday 11/1, details below.

Speaker: Lisa Matthewson (University of British Columbia)
Title: Finding semantic building blocks: Tense, aspect and evidentials 
Time: Thursday, November 1, 12-1:30pm
Location2, Arrow Street - Room 420

According to von Fintel and Matthewson (2008), semantic universals will likely not be found at the level of umbrella categories such as ‘perfective’ or ‘accomplishment’. Instead, we should search for semantic building blocks: smaller pieces of meaning, which recur cross-linguistically and combine in different ways. In this mini-course we explore building blocks in the areas of tense, aspect and evidentials. We explore traditional larger categories like ‘past’, ‘perfect’, and ‘inferential’, and we identify recurring atoms such as existential quantification over times, changes-of-state, and reliance on prior reports. We discuss the new perspectives on cross-linguistic comparison which result from this approach.

Fieldwork Reading Group 11/1: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)

Time: Thursday, Nov 1st, 5-6pm
Place: 32D-831
Speaker: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)
Title:  Visual contexts for semantic elicitation: Single images vs. storyboards and the (not-)at-issue distinction

Comp-Lang 11/1 - Keny Chatain

This week’s Comp-Lang meeting features our very own Keny Chatain! everyone is welcome to join. Pizza will be served.

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Is logic useful in the study of meaning? Pronouns can tell
Date and time: Thursday, 11/1, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165

Pronouns, like heshe, or it, are among the items with highest frequency in English and other languages that use overt pronouns. Within the same language, they have a variety of uses that do not form an obvious natural class. They can for instance be used to refer to a previously mentioned name (the anaphoric use), but also as variables in quantified statements (the bound use, e.g. ‘every athlete thinks he will win’). More intriguingly, it seems, in broad strokes, that no language distinguishes these uses by employing different forms, suggesting an underlying connection between them.

In this talk, I will show how this connection has been used to shed light on the system that underlies meaning. I will start off by showing that standard predicate logic provides a remarkably adequate understanding of the behavior of pronouns. I will then present the famous case of so-called donkey sentences that translations to predicate logic seem unable to capture. These cases are taken to argue in favor of new take on the meaning of sentences, called Dynamic Semantics ; the meaning of sentences, it is claimed, is more appropriately understood as the effect that sentences have on the context. I will show how this approach can capture donkey sentences, and other pronoun-related phenomena. Time allowing, I will discuss alternatives.

MIT Colloquium 11/2: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)

Speaker: Lisa Matthewson (UBC)
Micro-variation in discourse particles: From St’át’imcets to German (joint work with Henry Davis)
Time: Friday, November 2nd, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

Discourse particles convey information about the discourse status of propositions and the belief states of interlocutors. They are cross-linguistically understudied, and there is little understanding of what makes a possible vs. impossible particle meaning.

Investigating micro-variation offers a route towards eventually answering the big-picture questions. In this talk we examine the St’át’imcets (Salish) ‘frustrative’ particle, and compare it to similar elements in Tohono O’odham, Kimaragang and German. We argue that the particles micro-vary in properties including whether the prejacent is entailed, (lack of) reference to the common ground, (lack of) reference to a salient proposition, and (a)symmetry of contrast entailments. 

DeGraff plenary speaker in Haiti conference

Michel DeGraff, along with Enoch Aboh, Viviane Déprez, Salikoko Mufwene and Anne Zribi-Hertz, were plenary speakers at a conference in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, October 18–19, 2018, celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the Applied Linguistics Faculty of the State University of Haiti.  The conference was also in honor of the memory of two giants of linguistics in Haiti: Prof. Yves Dejean and Prof. Pierre Vernet.  Michel’s slides for his plenary lecture are available on his Facebook page at:

The conference agenda, with abstracts, is at: http://langse.ueh.edu.ht/resumes-du-colloque/ 

WAFL14 @ MIT and MIT @ WAFL14

MIT was the very proud host of the 14th Workshop of Altaic Formal Linguistics, which took place from Friday October 19th to Sunday 21st. This year’s edition celebrated the career of Prof. Shigeru Miyagawa, co-founder of WAFL (with Jaklin Kornflit). In his honour, a workshop was held on the day before the conference, featuring talks by friends, estimated colleagues, and former students.

MIT presenters at WAFL:

  • Dmitry Privoznov (4th year), Causality of passives and paradigmatic gaps
  • Colin Davis (4th year), Crossing and Stranding at vP in Altaic and beyond
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (2nd year), Combining CPs by Restrict: evidence from Buryat
  • Ömer Demirok (5th year) & Despina Oikonomou (alumna), Difficult Imperatives in Turkish

One of our recent alumni, İsa Kerem Bayırlı, was an invited speaker. He gave a talk on Concord in Altaic languages. Suyeon Yun, another alumna, was presenting.

Prof. Miyagawa’s speech at the dinner organized in his honour

Tanya Bondarenko presenting her poster

Musicians at the WAFL dinner: (left to right) Mongolian singer, Japanese shamisen player, traditional Turkish music band

LingPhil Reading Group 10/22 – on Percus & Sauerland (2003)

Vincent Rouillard will be continuing the De Re/De Dicto saga on the linguistic side with the influential Percus and Sauerland (2003). The meeting will take place on Monday 22nd in the 8th floor seminar room, i.e. the usual time & place.

Title : On the LFs of attitude reports

Author(s) : Orin Percus and Uli Sauerland

Abstract :

We argue that attitude reports with embedded pronouns have LFs that specifically describe “de se” attitudes. We offer some proposals for what the LFs of attitude reports look like.


MorPhun 10/22- Christos Christopoulos (UConn/Harvard)

Speaker: Christos Christopoulos (UConn/Harvard)
Title: Outward-sensitive allomorphy
Date and time: Monday 10/22, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

“I review the literature of counter examples to the Adjacency Condition (e.g. Allen 1979) in outward-sensitive allomorphy and argue that, viewed under a certain set of assumptions, these are no longer counter examples. I also discuss some issues related to the relevant set of assumptions.”

Syntax Square 10/23 - Elise Newman

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: vP infinitives in Wolof: on A’-movement to Spec vP
Date and Time: Tuesday, October 23, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
In this talk, I will discuss infinitival relative clauses in Wolof. Or more accurately: infinitival clauses with gaps that show A’-properties. We will see evidence from clitic climbing and aspect that one such clause is small (vP-sized). These facts support a view of A’-movement that can target the edge of vP and stop there, even in the absence of higher A’ probes. We will additionally see that these clauses do not form a constituent with the DP that controls the gap, suggesting that they may attach higher as a type of adjunct purpose clause. This begs the question of how the gap comes to be associated with the matrix object. I will offer a preliminary analysis that these gaps are parasitic, which demands covert movement of matrix objects. Also featured in this talk are island sensitive resumptive pronouns!  

LF Reading Group 10/24 - Shumian Ye (Peking University/MIT)

Speaker: Shumian Ye (Peking University/MIT)
Title: Question bias, monopolarity, and presupposition
Date and time: Wednesday, October 24th, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


Mandarin Chinese features diverse types of polar questions (A-not-A questions, ma-questions, ba-questions, intonation questions, etc.), and some polarity words (e.g. dui, meicuo, shide) exclusively used to answer biased questions. By using these polarity answers as a test for question bias, I will make the generalization that the monopolarity of IP domain is necessary for biased polar questions, whereas the bipolarity of IP domain is sufficient for neutral polar questions. Biased A-not-A questions, such as shi-bu-shi questions shown by (1), are argued to be C-neg-C questions in line with our generalization. (cf. Schaffar & Chen 2001)

(1)        Q: Ni    shi-bu-shi            xihuan   yuyongxue?                    A: dui./meicuo./shide.
                you   SHI-not-SHI        like        pragmatics                            right
                ‘You like pragmatics, right?’                                                  ‘Yes, you are right.’

I will derive the epistemic bias of shi-bu-shi questions by adopting Krifka’s (2017) analysis of outer/high negative polar questions in English. I propose that shi is an affirmative operator presupposing that the addressee believes the prejacent proposition is true, and bu is interpreted as a denial operator (~) instead of a negator (¬). That is, shi-bu-shi questions present two equal answer options – affirming φ and denying φ – both answers presuppose the addressee’s (i.e. the questioner’s) belief that φ is true.

Beyond shi-bu-shi questions, I will also discuss biased ma-questions like (2), to see whether we can derive the bias in such case by conveniently analyzing the question particle ma as a denial operator.

(2)        Q: Ni    zhi          xihuan   yuyongxue         ma?                  A: dui./meicuo./shide.
                you    ONLY    like        pragmatics         Q                            right
               ‘You only like pragmatics, right?’                                         ‘Yes, you are right.’


Phonology Circle 10/24 - Michael Kenstowicz

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: The Phonology and Phonetics of Chukchi Vowel Harmony
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 24, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831


Chukchi has a dominant-recessive vowel harmony system that divides its full vowels into two disjoint sets: dominant {a,o} vs. recessive {i,u,e}. The presence of a dominant vowel anywhere in the word (stem, prefix, suffix) causes the recessive vowels to shift: i>e, u>o, e>a. The schwa vowel is compatible with both harmony sets.  The {a,o} vs {i,u,e} distinction does not constitute a natural division given the customary [high], [low] and [back] features. Based on typological and fragmentary internal evidence, Kenstowicz (1979) proposed [ATR] as the feature distinguishing the two groups: {a,o} [-ATR] vs. {i,u,e} [+ATR]. In this presentation (based on collaboration with Tokusu Kurebito), a phonetic analysis of a corpus of 40 words elicited from five Chukchi speakers is presented in an effort to determine if there is evidence supporting the ATR analysis. Our tentative conclusion is largely negative raising anew the question of basis for the Chukchi harmony and the analytic challenges it presents.


MIT Colloquium 10/26 - Sergei Tatevosov (Lomonosov Moscow State Univercity)

Speaker: Sergei Tatevosov (Lomonosov Moscow State University)
Title: On sociative causation and its wider implications
Time: Friday, December 26, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

In this talk I address the phenomenon known as sociative causation, which is illustrated in (1) from Сavineña (Guillaume & Rose 2010):

(1)    E-ra-tu    ara-kere-chine    torta    Don Fransisco.
    1SG-ERG-3SG    eat-CAUS.SOC-REC.PAST    cake     Mr. Francisco
    ‘I had Mr. Francisco eat a cake with me’

Semantically, sociative causatives, as Guillaume and Rose indicate, involve a causer who does not only make “the causee do an action, but also participates in it, which is usually paraphrased with sentences like make someone do something by doing it with them or help someone do something”.
A crucial issue a theory of causativization has to address is the place of sociative causation within the wider spectrum of causativization phenomena, which include two other major types of causatives attested in natural languages, direct, or immediate, and non-direct ones. Relying on evidence from Tatar (Turkic), I propose that sociative causation reduces to the incremental relation between causing and caused subevents. In the emerging system, both ‘direct’ and ‘non-direct’ (= ‘not necessarily direct’) causation can be strengthened by the additional requirement that the two eventualities are incrementally related. I argue for a theory of syntactically represented event structure, where relations between its subevental components come out as a separate syntactic projection and show that a significant support for this proposal comes from spell-out patterns of sociative causatives.

TripleA 2019 at MIT

The Department of Linguistics at MIT is very happy to host the 6th edition of TripleA, a workshop that aims at providing a forum for semanticists doing fieldwork on languages from Africa, Asia, Australia, and Oceania.

The workshop will take place from May 31 to June 2, 2019. The Invited speakers are Diti Bhadra (Harvard), Sandra Chung (UC Santa Cruz), Virginia Dawson (UC Berkeley), and Ken Safir (Rutgers).
The call for presentations is now open. The relevant information can be found in this website. The deadline to submit abstracts is January 29th, 2019.

LingPhil Reading Group 10/15 – on Kaplan (1986)

Harrison Smith-Jaoudi will be presenting a paper by Kaplan reacting to the paper by Quine studied at LPRG two weeks ago. The meeting will take place on Monday 10/15 at 1pm in the 8th floor seminar room, i.e. the usual time & place.

Title : Opacity

Author(s) : Kaplan


MorPhun 10/15 – Stan presents Collins 2018 and De Clercq & Vanden Wyngaerd 2017

Speaker: Stan Zompi (MIT)
Title: Stan presents Collins 2018 and De Clercq & Vanden Wyngaerd 2017
Date and time: Monday 10/15, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

We’re glad to announce that MorPhun will be back this Monday 10/15 at 5pm. Stan will lead our discussion on two recent papers on contextual allomorphy: Collins 2018 (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004176) and De Clercq & Vanden Wyngaerd (Link: https://www.glossa-journal.org/articles/abstract/10.5334/gjgl.371/). Here’s his abstract: 

“The discussion will revolve around two recent attempts to rethink contextual allomorphy. Collins (2018) outlines an approach to allomorphy that eschews reference to competition or blocking, and attempts to model allomorph distribution simply in terms of classic c-selection. De Clercq & Vanden Wyngaerd (2017), on the other hand, suggest that contextual allomorphy may just not exist: what are normally thought to be alternative allomorphs of one and the same morpheme actually are always portmanteau realizations of slightly different chunks of structure. We will compare both of these novel approaches to the standard treatment of contextual allomorphy in DM.”

Syntax Square 10/16 - Neil Banerjee

Speaker: Neil Banerjee (MIT)
Title: Embedded subject licensing properties of hope
Date and Time: Tuesday, October 16, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Iatridou (2017) notes that hope shows mixed properties in term of Pesetsky’s (1992) classification of verbs that take non-finite complements in that it allows both PRO and traces as subjects of the embedded infinitive.

(1) a. I hope to win the race.
    b. Alex is hoped to know the answer to your question.

In this talk, I will show that the behaviour of hope is systematically variable, but not mixed. Present-oriented uses behave like wager verbs in allowing traces but not PRO and future-oriented uses behave like demand verbs in allowing PRO but not traces.

(2) *Alex is hoped to win the race.

I adopt Pesetsky’s proposal that empty categories in this position are (anti-)licensed cross-clausally by the matrix verb and develop an account of the behaviour of hope based on Wurmbrand’s (2014) proposal that future infinitives contain a syntactic realisation of a future operator. I propose that a doxastic (un)certainty presupposition of the verb determines whether or not the future operator is optional, obligatory, or banned in the complement of a given verb, and that this operator is a barrier to licensing of traces. Thus, as noted by Martin (2001), only future infinitives will allow PRO in their subjects. Such an account links the cross-clausal empty category (anti-)licensing abilities of the verb to its semantics, rather than relying on syntactic selection as in Pesetsky (1992). This facilitates a movement away from theories that posit purely syntactic restrictions on the derivation to ones that are more interface-oriented.

LF Reading Group 10/17 - Tatiana Bondarenko (MIT)

Speaker: Tatiana Bondarenko (MIT)
Title: Argument structure of thinking: a view from Buryat
Date and time: Wednesday, October 17, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


In this talk, I would like to discuss a puzzle about Buryat’s verb hanaxa ’think’. When this verb takes a CP as its complement, it behaves like a non-factive verb think, (1); but when it takes a nominalized clause as its complement, (2), it behaves like a factive verb and is usually translated as ‘remember, recall’.

(1)  a.  dugar            mi:sgɘj      zagaha   ɘdj-ɘ:    gɘʒɘ    han-a:
           Dugar.NOM    cat.NOM    fish        eat-PST  COMP  think-PST
           ‘Dugat thought that the cat ate the fish.’
      b.  OK…but the cat didn’t eat the fish.

(2)  a.  dugar            mi:sgɘj-n   zagaha   ɘdj-ɘ:ʃ-i:jɘ-n’         han-a:
           Dugar.NOM    cat-GEN    fish        eat-PART-ACC-3SG  think-PST
           ‘Dugat remembered (“thought of”) the cat’s eating the fish.’
      b.  #…but the cat didn’t eat the fish.
The question that I will try to answer is: what is the difference in the meaning of the verb that we see in (1) and (2), and why does it arise?

I will propose that the
 semantic rule used for combining hanaxa  with its complement is different in (1) and (2): in (1) CP combines as a modifier of the thinking-event (by an operation like Restrict (Chung & Ladusaw 2004)), while in (2) the nominalization combines as an internal argument via Function Application. I will argue that different rules of composition, together with a presupposition of hanaxa that requires its internal argument (= what is being thought about) to exist prior to the thinking-event, can derive the difference in meaning observed in (1)-(2). If correct, this proposal supports the decompositional analysis of attitude predicates (Kratzer 2006, 2016, Moulton 2009, 2015, Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten 2016, 2017), and also suggests that we might expect hyperraising to object to occur in languages in which CPs combine semantically as modifiers of the events described by the matrix verb.

Phonology Circle 10/17 - Lena Borise (Harvard University)

Speaker: Lena Borise (Harvard University)
Title: Word stress and phrasal intonation in Georgian
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 17, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Based on novel acoustic data, I show that Georgian (Kartvelian) has (i) word stress, which is fixed on the initial syllable and primarily cued by duration, and (ii) phrasal intonational pitch targets that are located in the right periphery of the prosodic word (penult and ultima).

While it has long been acknowledged that these loci (initial syllable and the right periphery of a prosodic word) carry most prosodic prominence in Georgian, its nature has been disputed. According to the existing literature, the initial syllable carries stress in di- and trisyllabic words, while in longer words there is another stress-like target on the (ante)penultimate syllable (Akhvlediani 1949; Robins & Waterson 1952; Tschenkeli 1958; Gudava 1969; Tevdoradze 1978). In such longer words either the initial syllable or the (ante)penult have been variably analyzed as carrying (primary) stress, with the other locus possibly carrying secondary stress. The uncertainty surrounding Georgian word stress led some authors to suggest that instead of word stress Georgian relies solely on phrasal intonational pitch targets (Zhghenti 1953; 1959; 1963; Alkhazishvili 1959), like French (Vaissière 1983; Féry 2001) or Korean (Jun 1993). This paper advocates for a mixed approach, whereby both word stress and phrasal intonational pitch targets are present in the language, though their interaction with each other is minimal.

Specifically, the instrumental results suggest the following:

1. Georgian has fixed initial stress that is primarily cued by duration, based on the consistently greater duration of the initial syllable as compared to the following ones in words of any syllable count.
2. The ultima carries a high boundary tone, as expected in broad-focus declarative contexts, according to the earlier literature.
3. The penult in words of any syllable count carries another pitch target, which is similar in nature to the phrase accent L that has been described as appearing on the penult of predicates in questions and focal contexts. Its theoretical status remains to be established.


CompLang 10/18 - Reuben Harry Cohn-Gordon (Stanford University)

Speaker: Reuben Harry Cohn-Gordon (Stanford University)
Title: Bayesian Pragmatic Models for Natural Language
Date and time: Thursday, 10/18, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165
Abstract: The Rational Speech Acts model (RSA) formalizes Gricean reasoning through nested models of speakers and listeners. While this paradigm offers an elegant way to simulate pragmatic behavior in NLP tasks such as image captioning and translation, scaling from simple models to natural language presents several challenges. In particular, I discuss the problem of choosing alternative utterances among an unbounded set of sentences, including work on image captioning and on-going work on translation.

Workshop in honor of Shigeru Miyagawa (Thursday, 10/18)

MIT Linguistics is proud to host a special workshop in honor of Shigeru Miyagawa on Thursday, October 18. 
Invited speakers are Danny Fox, Heidi Harley, Sabine Iatridou, Masa Koizumi, Jaklin Kornfilt
and Norvin Richards. Program details and room locations can be found at https://wafl14.mit.edu/program-miyagawa-workshop.

WAFL 2018 @ MIT this weekend

MIT Linguistics is delighted to host the 14th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics (WAFL) this coming weekend, October 19-21.
WAFL is a semi-annual workshop that brings together research concentrating on Altaic languages, which include Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages, as well as Korean, Japanese, Ryukyuan, and Ainu.
The invited speakers are Junko Ito, İsa Kerem Bayırlı, Deniz Özyıldız (invited student speaker), Miok Pak, Paul Portner, Raffaella Zanuttini, and Junko Shimoyama.
Program details and room locations can be found at https://wafl14.mit.edu/program.

MIT at NELS 2018

This year, NELS took place at Cornell University, from October 5th to 7th. MIT was well represented with talks and posters by currents students and faculty:

  • Danfeng Wu (3rd year), A copy-based approach to either in either … or … sentences
  • Frank Staniszewski (3rd year), Wanting, acquiescing and neg-raising
  • Carolyn Spadine (5th year), Control in illocutionary adjuncts as a diagnostic for discourse arguments
  • Luis Alonso-Ovalle and Vincent Rouillard (2nd year), Number inflection, Spanish bare interrogatives and higher-order quantification
  • Norvin Richards (faculty), Detecting contiguity-prominence
  • Maša Močnik (4th year), Existential belief and embedded epistemic modals
  • Suzana Fong (4th year), Spec-CP as an A-position: an argument from Mongolian
  • Naomi Francis (5th year), Imperatives under even
  • Ömer Demirok (5th year), Deniz Ozyildiz and Balkiz Ozturk, Complementizers in Laz are attitude-sensitive
  • Colin Davis (4th year), Possessor extraction in English
  • Keny Chatain (3rd year), Wide-scope distributivity
  • Tanya Bondarenko (2nd year) and Colin Davis (4th year), Parasitic gaps diagnose concealed pied-piping in Russian
  • Itai Bassi (4th year), Fake Indexicals are not so fake: on the grammar of variable binding
  • Rafael Abramovitz (4th year), Successive-cyclic wh-movement feeds dependent case competition

Recent and less recent alums were also presenting papers and posters: Michelle Yuan (UChicago), Ezer Rasin (Leipzig University), Benjamin Bruening (University of Delaware), Julie Legate (UPenn), Karlos Arregi (UChicago), Hadas Kotek (Yale).

MIT participants couldn’t be taken a proper picture of (credit: Rajesh Bhatt)

The MIT-Haiti Initiative in Nature!

An article in Nature on opening up access to STEM education world wide, especially for economic development in the Global South, mentions the MIT-Haiti Initiative led by MIT Linguistics professor Michel DeGraff, along with fellow MIT colleagues Vijay Kumar (MIT Open Learning) and Haynes Miller (MIT Mathematics). Read the article here.

MIT at AMP 2018

The 6th installment of the Annual Meeting on Phonology, AMP 2018, took place at UCSD from October 5th to 7th. Presentations by current MIT students and faculty included:

  • Erin Olson (5th year): Pitch and vowel duration make schwa invisible to Passamaquoddy stress
  • Adam Albright (faculty): English vowel reduction is conditioned by duration, not stress
  • Edward Flemming (faculty): Systemic markedness in sibilant inventories

Several recent alums also presented: Gillian Gallagher (NYU), Sam Zukoff (Princeton University), and Feng-fan Hsieh (Chang National Tsing Hua University).

LSA honor for Colin Davis

Congratulations to fourth-year student Colin Davis, whose abstract for the Linguistic Society of America annual meeting “English Possessor Extraction” was the second-place winner of the LSA’s award for “best abstract submitted by a student” for the conference! Read here: https://www.linguisticsociety.org/…/2019-student-abstract-w…


Syntax Square 10/10 (Wednesday!) - Sasha Alexeyenko

Speaker: Sasha Alexeyenko (Goettingen/MIT)
Title: (Dis)obeying the Head Final Filter: linearization or agreement?
Date and Time: *Wednesday*, October 10, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Modifiers in many languages are subject to a well-known constraint that disallows them to be not head-final (cf. “*a proud of his son father” despite “John is proud of his son”). This constraint, which, following Williams (1982), is commonly referred to as the Head Final Filter on pre-nominal modifiers (HFF), is often believed to be universal, and in fact a version of it features as Greenberg’s (1963) Universal 21. Although there are several accounts available in the literature that attempt to derive this constraint (Abney 1987, Escribano 2004, Sheehan 2017, a.o.), none of them appears to be fully satisfactory in terms of data coverage, given that HFF does not always apply both within a language (cf. “an easy to read text” in English) and cross-linguistically, as a number of languages do not obey to it, including Bulgarian, Latin, Modern Greek, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian. This talk will first present the results of our ongoing data collection, which seem to suggest that a reformulation of the empirical generalization is necessary, such that HFF is stated in terms of agreement richness, rather than head finality. It will then propose an alternative analysis, which covers a subset of the data and models the adjacency requirement of adnominal modifiers w.r.t. their modifiees as a result of constraints on linearization of agreement morphology. In the final part of the talk, I will discuss some possible ways to go about the remaining parts of the data, which involve zero exponence.

Ling-Lunch 10/11 - Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State)

Speaker: Ljiljana Progovac  (Wayne State)
Title: What use is half a clause? The Five Problems facing language evolution research
Date and time: Thursday, 10/11, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

I have proposed that human languages reconstruct back to an intransitive absolutive-like grammar, which provides the foundation and common denominator for crosslinguistic variation in the expression of transitivity (e.g. Progovac 2015, 2016). The proposal is based both on an internal reconstruction using syntactic theory (in particular, Chomsky’s 1995 Minimalism), and on comparative typological considerations, in an attempt to directly bring together formal, typological, and evolutionary considerations.

The internal reconstruction is achieved by peeling off, from the top, the syntactic layers postulated to form the basic skeleton of the modern sentence/clause (CP>TP > vP > VP/SC), leading to reconstructing the initial, ancestral grammar as intransitive, featuring only the VP/SC layer with one single argument. Approximations of such one-argument grammars are arguably found in the absolutive and middle constructions across a variety of languages, as well as in certain verb-noun compounds, both of which will be illustrated and discussed. Rather than staying with general, vague claims, I will use specific data and detail in an attempt to make this proposal testable, and will report the results of an fMRI experiment designed to test some predictions of this proposal (Progovac et al. 2018: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00278).

I will furthermore introduce The Five Problems/Challenges routinely encountered in language evolution research (Progovac, In Press), and will use the proposal above as a test case to demonstrate how these challenges can begin to be addressed.

  1. Identification of the initial stage(s) of language (The Decomposition Problem)
  2. The genetic basis for language, i.e. how genetic basis for language came to be (The Selection Problem)
  3. The language-brain-genes linkage (The Loop Problem)
  4. Compatibility with the parameters of language variation and change (The Variation Problem)
  5. Grounding in linguistic theory and analysis (The Theoretical Grounding Problem)

Especially thorny are The Decomposition and The Selection Problems, partly because they are intertwined, in the sense that only a successful decomposition will reveal utility, which can in turn identify possible reasons for natural/sexual selection. Consistent with the proposal above, I will explore a specific natural/sexual selection scenario which attempts to disentangle the two, while addressing the question of “What use is half a clause?”

ESSL/LacqLab Meeting Talk: Yadav Gowda and Elise Newman (MIT)

Speakers: Yadav Gowda and Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Polarity Sensitivity of Even in Early Child Grammar
Date and Time: Friday, 10/12 2-3pm
Location: 32-D831

This study explores non-adult-like behavior in children’s comprehension of the scalar focus particle even, which triggers a polarity-sensitive likelihood inference (“least-likely presupposition” in positive sentences, “most-likely presupposition” in negative sentences; Karttunen&Peters’79):

  1. Even Alex sang.
            Inferred: Alex was least-likely to sing.
  1. Even Alex didn’t sing.
            Inferred: Alex was most-likely to sing.

We probe children’s comprehension of even with a forced choice task. Children are shown stories about 3 characters of different sizes (not identified by name) attempting to do some task, which scales in difficulty by their size. The story ends when all the characters either succeed or fail, and the experimenter says, “Even X was(n’t) able to [do the task]!”. Participants are then asked to identify X and provide a justification for their answer. 

We observe a polarity effect: children exhibit more adult-like interpretations in negative environments than in positive environments. This asymmetry interacts with age: younger children (3-4ya) exhibit a more pronounced asymmetry than older children (5-6ya), struggling more to understand even in positive contexts, and often choosing the middle character (i.e. neither least- nor most-likely). Additionally, their justifications show that they use scalar reasoning when choosing extrema characters but not when choosing middle characters.

Child performance on this task and their justifications for their answers suggest two things: 1) they treat even as an NPI at some stage of development (Rooth 1985, Tieu 2010), and 2) they use scalar reasoning to evaluate even before they have learned the adult interpretation. This suggests an expansion of the hypothesis space for scalar focus particles.


GALANA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America) was hosted at Indiana University in Bloomington this past weekend. MIT 3rd year students Yadav Gowda and Elise Newman presented their joint work with Leo Rosenstein and Martin Hackl on the acquisition of scalar focus particles; Polarity Sensitivity to Even in Early Child Grammar.

LingPhil Reading Group 10/01 – on Quine (1956)

Harrison Smith-Jaoudi will kick off LPRG’s de re/de dicto/de se series with the pioneering Quine (1956) on “Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes”. The meeting will take place on Monday October 1st in the 8th floor seminar room, i.e. the usual time & place.

Title : Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes

Author :  Willard Van Orman Quine


MorPhun 10/1: Vincent presents Zukoff 2016

Speaker: Vincent Rouillard (MIT)
Title: Vincent presents Zukoff 2016 
Date and time: Monday 10/1, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

We’re glad to announce our next MorPhun meeting, which will take place on Monday 10/01 at 5pm. Vincent Rouillard will lead our discussion about Sam Zukoff’s (2016) paper The Mirror Alignment Principle: Morpheme ordering at the morphosyntax–phonology interface (link here: http://web.mit.edu/szukoff/www/pdfs/MITWPL.pdf ).
Sam’s paper (which originated in one of his GPs) a new proposal regarding the nature of morpheme ordering, based on the operation of the Mirror Alignment Principle (MAP) at the morphology phonology interface. The MAP is an algorithm that translates hierarchical structural relations (asymmetric c-command) between morphosyntactic terminals into ranking domination relations between ALIGNMENT constraints on the exponents of those morphosyntactic terminals in the phonological component of the grammar (namely in CON). This algorithm provides a principled means of capturing so-called Mirror Principle effects (Baker 1985, 1988), whereby the order of morphemes in a complex word mirrors the order of syntactic derivation and hierarchical morphosyntactic structure.

LF Reading Group 9/26 - Todor Koev (Universität Konstanz/MIT)

Speaker: Todor Koev (Universität Konstanz/MIT)
Title: Strong Beliefs, Weak Commitments
Date and time: Wednesday, October 1st, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


The standard Hintikkan semantics views “believe” as a universal quantifier over possible worlds, stating that the prejacent is true across all the attitude holder’s doxastic alternatives (Hintikka 1969). However, this semantics (i) fails to capture the fact that “believe” is a gradable predicate (e.g. “partially believe” v. “fully believe”) and (ii) makes no predictions about the degree of certainty of the belief agent. To remedy these problems, I propose a probabilistic semantics along the general lines of Kennedy & McNally’s (2005) analysis of gradable adjectives. I argue that “believe” is a strong modal, i.e. it is a maximum-degree predicate. While belief attributions can sometimes be interpreted as hedges (e.g. “I believe it’s raining, but I’m not sure it is”), I argue (contra Hawthorne et al. 2016) that such weak uses are not the default as they canonically arise with first-person present-tense unembedded forms and under the right pragmatic conditions, i.e. when the belief component is not relevant to the question under discussion. Following up on a suggestion made in Chemla (2008), I propose that the weak sense of “believe” arises as an antipresupposition, i.e. as a scalar inference derived through competition with a presuppositionally stronger “know”-competitor. A weak interpretation amounts to a situation in which the speaker expresses full subjective confidence in the prejacent but reneges on publicly committing to it.     


Phonology circle - Edward Flemming, Adam Albright (10/1); Filipe Kobayashi (10/3)

This week we will have two meeting of Phonology Circle: Monday (10/1) and Wednesday (10/3). The meeting on Wednesday in the usual time slot (5pm-6:30pm) and location (8th floor seminar room). The meeting on Monday will be held at 12:30pm-2pm in the 4th floor seminar room. Details are below.

Monday meeting - two poster presentations:
Poster 1: Edward Flemming. Title: Systemic markedness in sibilant inventories (click here for abstract)
Poster 2: Adam Albright. Title: English vowel reduction is conditioned by duration, not stress (click here for abstract)
Date/Time: Monday, October 1, 12:30-2pm
Location: 32-D461 (4th floor seminar room)

Wednesday meeting - discussion of a paper:
Leader of discussion: Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Hayes and Wilson’s (2008) A Maximum Entropy Model of Phonotactics and Phonotactic Learning
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 3, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

The study of phonotactics is a central topic in phonology. We propose a theory of phonotactic grammars and a learning algorithm that constructs such grammars from positive evidence. Our grammars consist of constraints that are assigned numerical weights according to the principle of maximum entropy. The grammars assess possible words on the basis of the weighted sum of their constraint violations. The learning algorithm yields grammars that can capture both categorical and gradient phonotactic patterns. The algorithm is not provided with constraints in advance, but uses its own resources to form constraints and weight them. A baseline model, in which Universal Grammar is reduced to a feature set and an SPE-style constraint format, suffices to learn many phonotactic phenomena. In order for the model to learn nonlocal phenomena such as stress and vowel harmony, it must be augmented with autosegmental tiers and metrical grids. Our results thus offer novel, learning-theoretic support for such representations. We apply the model in a variety of learning simulations, showing that the learned grammars capture the distributional generalizations of these languages and accurately predict the findings of a phonotactic experiment.

Ling-Lunch 10/4 - Sascha Alexeyenko (Goettingen)

Date and time: Thursday, 10/4, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
Speaker: Sascha Alexeyenko (Goettingen)
Title: On Events, Habituals, and Generalized Quantifiers


The goals of this talk are two-fold. Its primary aim is to provide a proper treatment of habituals within the framework of event semantics, which would (a) allow a unified analysis of the habitual and the progressive as varieties of the imperfective, (b) work both for “bare habituals” and for “quantified habituals”, and (c) model the scope behavior of indefinites in habituals of both types. In addition, the talk will also show that an analysis of habituals that meets these desiderata can’t be implemented in combination with a classic GQ analysis of quantificational NPs and, thus, will provide a further argument in favor of event-based approaches to quantification.

CompLang 10/4 -  Meilin Zhan (MIT BCS)

CompLang is kicking off the semester this Thursday. CompLang is an interdisciplinary language discussion group organized by the Brain and Cognitive Center (BCS) at MIT and composed of linguists, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists. It is an informal group intended to foster communication among a broad and diverse group of people interested in language. Currently we are still looking for presenters for this semester. While presentation of research is certainly welcome, even introductory materials for people with little background in linguistics would be fine - people outside of linguistics are curious what kinds of questions we are thinking about! The presentation does not have to be related to computation either. If you are interested in getting feedback from a diverse audience and want to practice communicating linguistic concepts in simple and accessible terms, please get in touch with Danfeng! And click here if you want to be added to the comp-lang mailing list.


Speaker: Meilin Zhan (MIT BCS)
Title:  Comparing theories of speaker choice using classifier production in Mandarin Chinese  
Date and time: Thursday, October 4, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165 (BCS)

Speakers often have more than one way to express the same meaning. What general principles govern speaker choice in the face of optionality when near semantically invariant alternation exists? Studies have shown that optional reduction in language is sensitive to contextual predictability, where the more predictable a linguistic unit is, the more likely it gets reduced. Yet it is unclear whether speaker choice is geared toward audience design, or toward facilitating production. Here we argue that for a different optionality phenomenon, namely classifier choice in Mandarin Chinese, Uniform Information Density and at least one plausible variant of availability-based production make opposite predictions regarding the relationship between the predictability of the upcoming material and speaker choices. In a corpus analysis of Mandarin Chinese, we show that the distribution of speaker choices supports the availability-based production account, and not Uniform Information Density. 

Snejana Iovtcheva defends

Our congratulations to Snejana Iovtcheva, who defended her dissertation last Wednesday, entitled The Datives in Bulgarian! Here’s Snejana’s one-sentence description of her dissertation work: “I offer a detailed syntactic study of the constructions that involve a dative clitic in Bulgarian and I propose that these constructions represent one uniform structural frame that involves a high peripheral applicative head.”

LingPhil Reading Group 9/24 - on Rothschild and Spectre (2016)

Nathaniel Schwartz will be presenting a very recent paper by Rothschild and Spectre (2016) on knowing conditionals. The meeting will take place on Monday 24th  in the 8th floor seminar room, i.e. the usual time & place.

Title : A Puzzle about Knowing Conditionals

Authors : Daniel Rothschild and Levi Spectre

Abstract :

We present a puzzle about knowledge, probability and conditionals. We show that in certain cases some basic and plausible principles governing our reasoning come into conflict. In particular, we show that there is a simple argument that a person may be in a position to know a conditional the consequent of which has a low probability conditional on its antecedent, contra Adams’ thesis. We suggest that the puzzle motivates a very strong restriction on the inference of a conditional from a disjunction.

MorPhun 9/24: Boer on Old Chinese Morphology

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: Sagart & Baxter’s book on Old Chinese
Date and time: Monday 9/24, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

Chinese has been known as a language that does not employ any morphology apart from compounds. Each monosyllabic morpheme can stand as a word on its own, and interact with each other syntactically. But the language has not always been like this. Derivational prefixes, suffixes, and infixes have once been productive in Old Chinese. In this talk, I will draw examples from Sagart & Baxter’s 2014 phonological reconstruction of Old Chinese to illustrate their variety and relations to the writing system. I will also discuss the loss of affixation and its role in the emergence of tonal contrast in Middle Chinese. The implication on the reconstruction of Proto-Sino-Tibetan will be discussed briefly as well.

Syntax Square 9/25 - Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University/MIT)

Speaker: Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University/MIT)
Title: The absolutive vP-less basis of se “middles” in Serbian: A split accusative language?
Date and time: Tuesday September 25, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

 I pursue a unified account of se in its various manifestations in Serbian, including, but not limited to, passive-like, middle-like, reflexive, reciprocal (all of them referred to as “middles”), given that coordination tests establish that these various readings are not syntactically distinct. The idea is that these middle se structures in Serbian (1) avail themselves of only one syntactic argument, a proto-participant in the event (2), often giving rise to massive vagueness, especially when not pragmatically constrained. The only argument in se middles is further proposed to be absolutive-like, in the sense that it does not grammatically discriminate subjects from objects, or agents from patients, the pattern also found with absolutives in syntactically ergative languages such as Tongan, as will be illustrated.

(1) Deca se tuku/grle/prskaju!
children SE hit/hug/sprinkle
‘The children are hitting/hugging/sprinkling each other.’ ‘?The children are hitting/ hugging/ sprinkling themselves.’ ‘The children are hitting/hugging/sprinkling somebody (else.)’ ‘The children are hitting/hugging/sprinkling me!’ ‘One spanks/hugs/?sprinkles children.’

(2) ∃e [H(e) ∧ Participant (Children,e)]

This analysis ties into my work on language evolution (e.g. Progovac 2015, 2016), where I have reconstructed a vP-less and TP-less (intransitive and tenseless) small clause stage in the evolution of language/syntax, with only one (absolutive-like) argument per verb/clause. Arguably, this absolutive-like proto-layer provides a common foundation/denominator for building transitivity, either by adding an ergative argument on the top, or an accusative argument on the bottom, not inconsistent with the postulates of Dependent Case Theory (e.g. Yip et al. 1987; Marantz 1991; McFadden 2004; Baker 2015).
Previous proposals have noted that se in Serbian can be analyzed as neither an argument, nor a reflexive pronoun, but is instead some kind of grammatical marker (e.g. Franks 1995; Marelj 2004; Progovac 2005). A unified account of se in Serbian requires seeing se as flagging a different, parallel type of grammar in a language whose dominant grammar is accsative, suggesting that Serbian may be a split accusative language, on analogy with split ergative languages. Finally, this approach makes some specific testable predictions regarding the processing of se middles, in contrast to their transitive (vP) counterparts, and the fMRI experiments we conducted have yielded some promising initial results (Progovac et al. 2018). 

Phonology Circle 9/26 - Erin Olson (MIT)

Speaker: Erin Olson (MIT)
Title: Pitch and vowel duration make schwa invisible to Passamaquoddy stress
Date/Time: Wednesday, September 26, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This is a practice presentation for a poster to be presented at AMP.

Ling Lunch 9/27 - Itai Bassi (MIT); Keny Chatain (MIT)

We again have 2 presentations as practice talks for NELS: 
Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Fake Indexicals: the grammar of variable binding
Date and time: Thursday, 9/27, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In (1), ’my’ can function as a bound variable and doesn’t have to refer to the speaker - it is a “Fake Indexical”. Fake Indexicality has been used in recent decades as a probe into investigating how the logical mechanism of variable binding interacts with syntactic and morphological mechanisms in natural language. In the first part of the talk I will motivate and present an analysis of (1) (building on Bassi and Longenbaugh 2017) on which the “fake” indexical is a true indexical, and more generally that bound-variable pronouns always have their phi-features interpreted in this construction. I will show new evidence from English that supports this analysis over existing accounts within the “minimal pronoun” approach (Kratzer 2009, Wurmbrand 2017) which take bound pronouns to have features only on the surface, without being interpreted. 

(1) I am the only one who takes care of my children (based on Partee 1989)
     bound reading: for every x other than me, x can’t take care of x’s children
In the second part of the talk I will turn to some cross-linguistic variation in this domain. In German a bound indexical reading analogous to (1) is not available, (2); but it is available if the pronoun is embedded deeply enough, (3) (Kratzer 2009). Following insights by Wurmbrand and Kratzer, I suggest that the difference between English (1) and German (2) lies in the absence or presence of gender marking on relative pronouns. I’ll propose that variable-binding obligatorily translates to agreement between the binder and the bindee, which leads to a spell-out crash in (2) but not in (1) because of a ban on realizing 1st person on gender-marked (relative) pronouns. This agreement operates only locally, stopping at a CP boundary, which explains the difference between (2) and (3). Cross-linguistic predictions will emerge from the details of the analysis which I will try to substantiate using novel data from French and Hebrew.
(2) Ich bin die   einzige  die  meine Kinder  versorgt    (bound reading impossible)
        I   am the.F  only   who.F my     children  takes.care.of 
(3) Ich bin die    einzige die     [jemand    kennt  [der meine Kinder versorgt]]   (bound reading possible)
        I   am the.F  only   who.F [someone knows  [who  my      children takes.care.of]]
Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Wide-scope distributivity
Date and time: Thursday, 9/27, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I analyse data of the form (1-3), where a referential expression is interpreted with wide scope and a distributive interpretation. This data is mysterious under the standard assumption that distributive readings arise from a covert element D operating on predicates, since the relevant predicate in (1-3) can only be formed by an island-escaping movement.

1. Context: I just got the results from our new experimental drug on the 17 participants we recruited.
Sentence: Either the drug made them sick or it made them sleepy (but it didn’t cure anyone).
Reading: Each of the participants was either made sick or sleepy by the drug

2. Context: Four 3D printers are currently working. They are printing different objects and my therefore finish at different times.
Sentence: When the printers are done, they will emit a loud screeching noise.
Reading: for each of the printers, when it is done, it will emit a loud screeching noise.

3. Sentence: Unless Clinton and Trump don’t want me to, I will give them a mic.
Reading: for each of Clinton and Trump, unless he or she wants me to, I won’t give him or her a mic.

I argue that this data motivates the existence of an index-based covert “all”-operator. Since it is based on indices, this operator can be remote from the plurality it distributes over, even separated from it by a scope island, accounting for (1-3). Further evidence for this operator will come from its ability to license dependent plurals (up to intervention effects). Finally, I will show how we can make sense of the restriction on the type of expressions that can show this wide-scope distributivity (i.e. referential expressions), tying it to their anaphoric nature.


MIT Colloquium 9/28: Pavel Caha (Masaryk University)

Speaker: Pavel Caha (Masaryk University)
Title: Phrasal spellout, multiple exponence and bracketing paradoxes
Date and time: Friday 9/28, 3:30-5pm
Location: 32-155 

The talk explores a view on the syntax-phonology interface, where every non-terminal that arises by Merge F must be assigned phonological interpretation, or the derivation fails (Starke, 2018).  Focusing on comparatives, I compare such an architecture to the standard view proposed in Distributed Morphology (Halle and Marantz 1993), where only terminals are subject to phonological interpretation. I also address the concerns raised against the phrasal-spellout model in Embick (2016).

Sylvain Bromberger (1924-2018)

We join our colleagues in the Philosophy side of our department in expressing our sadness at the passing of Sylvain Bromberger last Sunday, September 16. Sylvain was a philosopher with a deep interest in linguistics and linguistic questions. The high-school friend, co-author, and lifelong colleague of Morris Halle, Sylvain was the dedicatee of a linguistics Festschrift from our side of the department (“The View from Building Twenty”, MIT Press), and a constant lively presence at linguistics talks and events as recently as last Spring. He will be greatly missed.

Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group

The LPRG (Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group) will hold its first meeting for the fall 2018/spring 2019 terms on September 24 from 1-2pm in the 8th floor seminar room. Everyone interested in either linguistics and philosophy is invited to attend. This year sees the introduction of a new format: unlike previous year, this year’s readings are themed ; this semester in particular will focus on the De Re, De Se, De Dicto distinction. To see a tentative reading list, please consult the LPRG website. If you wish to be informed of the upcoming LPRG events through the LPRG mailing list, get in touch with one of the organizers: Keny Chatain, Maša Močnik, Vincent Rouillard, Nathaniel Schwartz, Harrison Smith-Jaoudi.

MorPhun 9/17: Colin on the morphophonology of case in Buryat

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: The morphophonology of case in Buryat 
Date and time: Monday 9/17, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

In this presentation, I’ll overview some morpho-phonological properties of case in Barguzin Buryat (Mongolic) based on my recent fieldwork. I’ll focus on the accusative and genitive cases, which pattern together in displaying a few interesting phenomena. My analysis is tentative and incomplete, but ideally this presentation will go as follows:
   First I’ll argue that a phonological requirement of these case affixes results in the insertion of certain mysterious epenthetic morphemes. Second I’ll argue that the ‘epenthetic’ status of these morphemes is obscured by processes which can subsequently delete the original genitive/accusative marking, thus yielding opaque derivations for many nominal forms. Third I’ll turn to a pattern of plural allomorphy unique to genitive and accusative cases, which I’ll suggest provides a clear counterexample to certain theories of case features and suppletion argued for in recent literature in morphology. Fourth I’ll relate these Buryat facts to analogous patterns in other languages.

LF Reading Group 9/19 - Christopher Baron (MIT)

Speaker: Christopher Baron (MIT)
Title: Measure of Change
Date and time: Wednesday, September 19, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


In this presentation, I’ll discuss Kennedy & Levin’s (2007) paper, “Measure of Change.” The paper discusses so-called Degree Achievements (DAs) like (to) cool,widen, and darken, which describe some kind of change an object undergoes, and which seem to have variable telicity. Kennedy & Levin present and motivate a scalar semantics for DAs, wherein the underlying meaning is a special kind of measure function, systematically related to the measure functions that the adjectival roots of DAs denote, called `measures of change.’ The variable telicity is accounted for on the basis of the structure of the scales that the underlying adjectives make reference to. I’ll discuss some objections and issues for Kennedy & Levin’s analysis as well, in particular some that Piñón (2007) and Križ (2011) raise.

Phonology Circle 9/19 - Chris Yang (MIT)

Speaker: Chris Yang (MIT)
Title: Presenting Serial Markedness Reduction (Jarosz 2014)
Date/Time: Wednesday, September 19, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

A growing body of research provides evidence supporting Harmonic Serialism (HS; McCarthy 2000, 2008a, 2010; Elfner to appear; Pruitt 2010), a serial version of Optimality Theory in which a single ranking of constraints is used iteratively to construct a derivation. This work has led to new insights into several outstanding problems in phonology and has highlighted problematic over-predictions of parallel OT, showing that HS predicts a more restricted range of interactions that better reflects typology. Although HS makes it possible to capture certain generalizations stated at intermediate levels of representation, it does not provide a general solution to phonological opacity. For this reason McCarthy developed a significant elaboration of HS, OT with Candidate Chains (OT-CC; McCarthy 2007), which evaluates complete HS-like derivations in parallel. This paper proposes a novel extension of HS, Serial Markedness Reduction (SMR), which combines advantages of HS and OT-CC. Like OT-CC, SMR includes a family of constraints that enables the modeling of both counterfeeding and counterbleeding opacity. However, SMR significantly streamlines the machinery necessary to model opacity as compared to OT-CC, relying on the gradual optimization inherent to HS to construct a single optimal derivation. The formal and empirical differences between OT-CC and SMR are discussed.

We encourage those attending to read the paper (linked in the title), but by no means is it required!

Ling Lunch 9/20 - Vincent Rouillard, Naomi Francis (MIT)

This week we have 2 presentations one after the other as practice talks for NELS: 
Speaker: Vincent Rouillard (MIT)
Title: Number Inflection, Spanish Bare Interrogatives, and Higher-Order Quantification
Date and time: Thursday, 9/20, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
In this joint work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle, we examine the behavior of simplex interrogative expressions in Spanish. Many languages including Spanish inflect who for number; Spanish has quién (who.sg) and quiénes (who.pl). Assuming Dayals’s (1996) ans operator, Maldonado (2017) argues that quién and quiénes challenge Sauerland et al.’s  (2005) theory of number, where the plural is semantically vacuous (weak plural) while the singular presupposes atomicity (strong singular). Maldonado takes quiénes to be a plural ranging over pluralities only while quién is a singular ranging over both atoms and pluralities. In other words, she assumes a vacuous singular (weak singular) and a plural presupposing plurality (strong plural). We show that this fails to capture the behavior of quién and quiénes with collective predicates and argue, extending Elliott et al. (2017), that both wh-expressions range over generalized quantifiers (GQs). We conclude, contra Elliott et al., that having quién range over GQs while being a strong singular is insufficient to account for its behavior and that the data are best described if quién is a weak singular and quiénes a strong plural, extending Maldonado.
Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Imperatives under even 
Date and time: Thursday, 9/20, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Imperative sentences can give rise to strong (e.g. command; □) or weak (e.g. acquiescence, indifference; ◊) readings. The acceptability of even in imperatives tracks this distinction in a surprising way: even can appear with broad focus in imperatives only if they receive a weak reading (1-2).

  1. [Prof. X is invigilating an exam and orders the students to stop writing.]

Put down your pens. [Close your exam papers]F #even!                                                           □imp

  1. [Prof. Y is telling students that they no longer have to complete the exam they had been writing and are free to do whatever they like.]

Put down your pens. [Close your exam papers]F even! (None of this matters.)                   ◊imp

There is no such contrast between sentences with even containing overt possibility and necessity modals.

  1. You have to/must put down your pens. You even have to/must [close your exam papers]F. □mod
  1. You’re allowed to put down your pens. You’re even allowed to [close your exam papers]F. ◊mod

I show that this pattern can be accounted for if we assume that i) even has an additive component (Karttunen & Peters 1979) and ii) imperatives underlyingly contain an existential modal operator (◊imp), with strong readings derived by exhaustifying the prejacent of the imperative operator(Schwager 2005, 2006/Kaufmann 2012, Oikonomou 2016). When seen in this light, the puzzling interaction between even and strong imperatives will be reduced to an incompatibility between the additive component of even and the exclusive component of exh/only.

Fieldwork Reading Group

The Fieldwork Reading Group (FWRG) is being revived this semester! This is a chance for all who are interested in gathering linguistic data via fieldwork to discuss/present/share their work, raw data, elicitation techniques etc.; it also features invited talks by MIT colloquium speakers who do fieldwork.  It will be held on Thursdays 5-6pm in 32-D831. If you want to reserve a date to talk about various aspects of your experience in the field, or present fieldwork data, please get in touch with one of the organizers: Tanya Bondarenko (tbond@mit.edu), Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu), Cora Lesure (lesure@mit.edu), and Mitya Privoznov (dpriv@mit.edu).

Summer defenses

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

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

MIT at Sinn und Bedeutung 2018

Sinn und Bedeutung 23 took place last weekend in Barcelona. 4th year student Maša Močnik gave a talk entitled Where Force Matters: Embedding Epistemic Modals (and Attitudes), and 5th year student Hanzhi Zhu gave a talk on ‘Even though’ as ‘even if’. The program was full of MIT alums, former visitors, and friends.

MorPhun 9/10: Filipe presents Stump 1993

Speaker: Filipe Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Stump 1993 “On rules of referral”
Date and time: Monday 9/10, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

In this presentation, I will lead the discussion on Stump’s 1993 classic paper “On Rules of Referral.” As the title indicates, the paper is concerned with rules of referral, a type of rule proposed by Zwicky (1985) to account for certain types of syncretism within the general framework of Word and Paradigm morphology. Stump investigates the properties of such rules and proposes a formal theory of them within the context of his Paradigm Function Morphology. In the discussion, I will mainly focus on the former part of the paper.

LF Reading Group 9/10 - Vincent Rouillard (MIT)

Speaker: Vincent Rouillard (MIT)
Title: Hurford’s constraints and inquisitive semantics 
Date and time: Wednesday, September 12, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461
In this presentation, I will be discussing Ciardelli and Roelofsen’s 2017 paper ”Hurford’s constraint, the semantics of disjunction, and the nature of alternatives”. This paper compares the treatment of Hurford disjunctions in interrogatives  within the frameworks of alternative semantics and inquisitive semantics. The authors argue that the framework of inquisitive semantics, whose basic assumptions will be covered in the presentation, facilitates a unified treatment of Hurford phenomena in both declaratives and interrogatives. 

Ling Lunch 9/13 - Julian Lysvik (University of Oslo, MIT)

Speaker: Julian Lysvik  (University of Oslo, MIT)
Title: Channel bias in artificial language learning of word-final obstruent voicing
Date and time: Thursday, 9/13, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
This talk outlines an ALL experiment designed to test for learning and production biases in word-final voicing. Previous studies (see summary in Moreton & Pater, 2011) have not shown learning effects of such biases in forced-choice tasks. In my experiment, no bias against word-final voiced obstruents was found. However, a channel bias against intervocalic voiceless obstruents was found in the production task for plurals, which is able to account for the markedness of a synchronic process of final voicing. 
Two groups of Norwegian native participants (n = 36) were exposed to one of two artificial languages. Either: final obstruent devoicing (FOD) or final obstruent voicing (FOV). Norwegian has both voiceless and voiced final obstruents, but no FOV or FOD rules. There is no structural difference between these two rules, so there should be no complexity effects. FOV, however, is both typologically nonexistent (Kiparsky, 2006) and harder to produce (Yu, 2013). Participants were exposed to auditory/visual stimuli of singular and plural forms. Plural forms were constructed on the form /C1VC1VC2-u/ and singulars: /C1VC1VC3/. Cwas always voiced in FOV language, and voiceless in FOD. C2 could be either voiced or voiceless in both languages.
The results show no significant difference between accuracy for singulars in the two languages, consistent with a lack of substantive effects as in previous studies. However, the figures show that in production of plurals, participants in the FOV language produced voiced obstruents when the target was voiceless to a larger degree than FOD participants produced voiceless segments when the target was voiced. The consequence of this is that participants in FOD produce the alternating form rusubu ↔ rusup, a typical devoicing process, as expected. However FOV participants produce rusubu ↔ rusub, rather than the alternating rusupu ↔ rusubImportantly, in the forced-choice task the same participants chose alternating and non-alternating forms equally frequently. I argue that a production channel bias against intervocalic voiceless obstruents can account for this. 


Welcome to Fall 2018!

Welcome to the first edition of Whamit! for Fall 2018! After our summer hiatus, Whamit! is back to regular weekly editions during the semester.

Whamit! is the MIT Linguistics newsletter, published every Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday). The editorial staff consists of Adam Albright, Kai von Fintel, David Pesetsky, Itai Bassi, Elise Newman, Keny Chatain and Frank Staniszewski.

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

Welcome to ling-18!

Welcome to the students who are joining our graduate program!

Agnes Bi

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

Enrico Flor

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

Peter Grishin

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

Tracy Kelley

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

Anton Kukhto

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

Patrick Niedzielski

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

Roger Paul

Katie Van Luven

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

Hyun Ji Yoo

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

Welcome to visitors!

This semester also witnesses the arrival of a contingent of warmly welcomed visitors.

Visiting Professor

Luka Crnic (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) : I work on semantics and syntax. Some of the topics that I have pursued recently are exceptives and approximatives, degree constructions, and exhaustification.

Visiting Scholars

Sascha Alexeyenko (University of Göttingen) : My work lies at the interface of syntax and semantics of natural languages, and I am also interested in linguistic typology. Somewhat more specifically, the domains I have worked on include event semantics, categorial status of adjectives and adverbs, constraints on linearization, semantics of gradability, genericity, morphosyntax and semantics of nominalizations. My current semantic work concerns quantification in event semantics, looked at from the perspective of habituality. And at the syntactic front, I am currently involved in a cross-linguistic investigation of the Head Final Filter, a constraint on linearization which prohibits intervening material between prenominal modifiers and the nouns they modify.

James Fidelholtz (Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla)

Juan Gao (Zhengzhou University of Aeronautics)

Todor Koev (Universität Konstanz) : My research program is grounded in formal semantics and pragmatics, and is informed by my interests in experimental linguistics, dynamic semantics, formal syntax, and Slavic and Germanic linguistics. Broadly speaking, I am interested in how grammar and discourse structure parameters constrain linguistic meaning and I have worked on topics such as parentheticality, evidentiality, modality, indefiniteness, at-issueness, projection, and adverbial modification. The methodologies I use to gain insights into these topics include traditional and experimental techniques of data collection as well as formal tools from logic and probabilistic reasoning. My far-reaching goal is to establish a reliable and predictive theory of the various factors (operator scope, projectivity, evidence source, information status, etc.) that anchor semantic content, thus refining our understanding of how seemingly independent meaning dimensions are integrated into a coherent whole. 

Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University)

Sergei Tatevosov (Moscow State University)

Visiting Students

Zohra Fatima (National University of Modern Languages) : My research interests include synatx-semantics interface and experimental approaches to Syntax and Semantics. I am a graduate student from National University of Modern Languages (NUML) Pakistan. I am currently working on the Semantics of temporal reference in Urdu Syntax. I will be staying at MIT for two semesters and working with Prof. Sabine Iatridou.

Julian Lysvik (University of Oslo) : I am a visiting student from the University of Oslo. I am currently investigating phonological biases using Artificial Grammar Learning. In particular I am looking at the bias against word-final voicing. Otherwise I am generally interested in AGL methodologies and acquisition biases.

Shumian Ye (Peking University) : My research centers on syntax-semantics interface, using formal and typological approaches to investigate linguistic universals. I currently work on the meaning and structure of biased polar questions in Chinese, and I’m also interested in negatives and comparatives.

Summer News

We have some summer news to share with you:

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


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

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


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

Reading Group Announcements

This semester we are blessed with an abundance of (old and new) reading groups. 

  • LPRG is the Linguistics and Philosophy Reading Group, held Mondays from 1:00 to 2:00pm in 32-D769. Linguists and philosophers join forces to understand language and linguistics. We read and discuss old and new papers in the field (especially in formal semantics and philosophy of language). For more information visit the website or contact the organizers Christopher Baron or Maša Močnik.
  • Morphun is a new reading group that centers on topics in morphology. The group will meet from 5 to 6:30 pm on Mondays (the old Phonology Circle slot) in room 32-D831, a.k.a the 8th floor conference room, hopefully on a weekly basis. We encourage discussion of old and new readings in morphology (including recently snatched conference handouts) and informal data sessions. Since this is aimed to be an informal group, we will give priority to these kinds of proposals as opposed to fully-fleshed-out original research ideas. We also wish to emphasize that you can propose a reading without committing to present it yourself, so that someone else can get interested and hopefully take up the task - add your reading idea to the Google document we created. If you want to reserve one or more dates for presentation, please write your request and your reading proposal to either Stan or Filipe
  • Syntax Square exists to facilitate the presentation or discussion of anything relating to syntax. Syntax square will be meeting this semester on Tuesdays from 1-2pm in room 32-D461 (the 4th floor seminar room). As always, we welcome works in progress, presentation of papers on topics of interest, practice talks, etc. There are still plenty of available slots (including next week!): 9/11, 9/18, 10/2, 11/6, 11/13, 11/27, 12/4, 12/11, 12/18. Please contact Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) and/or Mitya Privoznov (dpriv@mit.edu) if you would like to reserve any of them.
  • LF Reading Group (LFRG) is an informal, weekly semantics and semantics/syntax interface group. LFRG will be meeting as usual on Wednesdays 1-2pm, room 32-D461 (the 4th floor seminar room). We welcome work in progress at any stage, practice talks, presentations on papers on topics of interest etc. In order to bring back the traditional reading group idea behind LFRG and not completely treat it as a formal platform for presentation of original research, this semester we reserve the first three meetings for presentations of papers on topics of interest. Note that you can also suggest a paper for one of these meetings even if you do not want to present it yourself. There is currently one slot available: 9/26. Please let Tanya or Dóra know if you would like to present then.
  • Phonology Circle will be meeting on Wednesdays (notice the day change!), from 5:00–6:30pm, in 32-D831 (the 8th floor conference room). Phonology Circle is the weekly phonology meeting group. It is an informal group, so we welcome presentations on all kinds of topics: work in progress at any stage, presentation of new puzzles you’d like to discuss, tutorials about particular research tools, as well as practice talks. We also encourage you to consider volunteering to lead a discussion of a paper (we will take care of announcing the suggested reading in advance). Following are the available dates for presentations:  9/5, 9/12, 9/19/9/26, 10/3,10/10, 10/17,10/24, 10/31, 11/7, 11/14, 11/21, 11/28, 12/5, 12,12. Please contact Daniel and Chris if you would like to reserve a spot.
  • Ling-Lunch is a series of weekly talks, held on Thursdays from 12:30 to 1:50pm in room 32-D461 (the 4th floor seminar room). Talks can be on any topic in linguistics and everybody is welcome to present their work, though preference is given to members of the MIT Linguistics Department. There are still available dates to present in Ling-Lunch: 10/11, 10/25, 11/8 (and maybe 12/13 if there’s ample interest). Contact Cora and Boer to reserve a slot. There’s Ling-Lunch this week! see separate post below.

Course Announcements: Fall 2018

Course announcements in this post:

  • 24.943 Syntax of a Language Family (Algonquian)
  • 24.949J Language Acquisition
  • 24.967 Topics in Experimental Phonology
  • 24.979 Topics in Semantics


24.943 Syntax of a Language Family (Algonquian)

  • Instructor: Richards
  • Schedule: R9:30-12:30
  • Room: 32-D461

In 24.943 this year we will be learning about the syntax of the Algonquian languages.  We will pay particular attention to the Eastern Algonquian languages, which include Passamaquoddy-Maliseet and Wampanoag, but will read literature concentrating on languages outside this group as well.


24.949J Language Acquisition

  • Instructor: Hackl
  • Schedule: T2-5
  • Room: 32-D461

24.949/9.601J is a graduate level class on language acquisition, focussing on (typical) first language acquisition. The course provides A) a forum for discussion of foundational questions in language acquisition based on a review of the state of the art in selected topics in the areas of syntax, semantics and pragmatics and B) an opportunity for students to develop an experimental or corpus-based research project which, by the end of the semester, will consist in a well-defined (set of interrelated) question(s), a research plan (description of concrete hypotheses, data acquisition method(s), and data analysis strategies), and (ideally) pilot data. Potential topics include: 

- Early clause structure, OI, correlations between inflectional morphology and functional syntax

- A-movement, passives, raising, unaccusative syntax, …

- Argument structure

- Binding Theory

- Quantification, quantifier scope, determiners, …

- Comparatives, adjectives, number

- Prepositions, spatial syntax and semantics

- Modals, modality, evidentials, tense, …

- NPIs, negation

- Acquisition of Presupposition

- Scalar Implicatures

- Learning models, statistical approaches to L1-acquisition, learnability theory


24.967 Topics in Experimental Phonology

  • Instructor: Flemming
  • Schedule: TR2-3:30
  • Room: 32-D769/TBA

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 linguistic 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 emphasis this year will be on statistical analysis. The course will be organized around the statistical models that are most applicable to linguistic experiments (in all areas of linguistics):

  • Linear models and linear mixed-effects models
  • Generalized linear (mixed) models: logistic/probit regression, ordinal logistic regression, log-linear models

The application of these models will be illustrated through case studies selected based on the interests of the participants. Candidate topics include: Perceptual similarity, the P-Map Hypothesis, Universal Grammar/learning biases, phonetic underspecification, and parallel vs. serial sentence processing. Experimental paradigms examined are likely to include production, perceptual identification and discrimination, artificial language learning, phonological and syntactic acceptability judgments.

Note: Please let me know if you plan to attend this class - we’re still trying to arrange a room, and it would be useful to know how many people we need space for.


24.979 Topics in Semantics

  • Instructor: Crnic
  • Schedule: R2-5
  • Room: 32-D461

In this course, we will study Negative Polarity Items. While raising familiar foundational questions for linguistic theory, Negative Polarity Items enter into complex and often revealing interactions with a host of other phenomena in grammar. We will investigate several such interactions, with the goal of advancing our understanding of not only Negative Polarity Items but also these other phenomena. This investigation will help us address the overarching question of the course: Is the classic insight that the distribution of Negative Polarity Items should be described and explained by recourse to a notion of entailment tenable, and if so, how should it be cashed out? Some of the topics that we will touch on during the course are focus, presupposition, exhaustification, quantification, (in)definiteness, modals and attitudes, comparison and superlatives, and questions. Although our main focus will be on Negative Polarity Items in English, we will also attend to some cross-linguistic variation in this domain.

LF Reading Group 9/5 - Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)

Speaker: Tatiana Bondarenko (MIT)
Title: Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten 2016, 2017: Building attitudes in Navajo and beyond
Date and time: Wednesday, September 05, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461
In this talk, I will present Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten’s work on attitude reports of belief and desire in Navajo. Navajo presents an interesting case of expressing several attitudes - think, want, and wish - with one verb: nízin. Elizabeth Bogal-Allbritten shows that there is a correlation between the shape of the complement clause and the attitude expressed. She argues against an analysis where nízin is lexically ambiguous, and also against an analysis where nízin has underspecified meaning that is dependent on the context. In her work she argues that this verb denotes situations of general mental attitude, and that this attitude is constrained by the embedded (modal) material. This analysis suggests that sentences with nízin present a limiting case within the landscape predicted by Kratzer’s (2006,2013) and Moulton’s (2009) analysis of English and German attitude reports and verbs of saying. In the end of the talk, I will show some data from Barguzin Buryat, which also has a verb (hanaxa) that can express several attitudes, including think and want, and I will briefly compare it to Navajo’s nízin.  

Ling Lunch 9/6: Richard Faure

Speaker: Richard Faure (Université Côte d’Azur, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis, CNRS and Harvard University)
Title:Wh-fronting is not wh-movement in colloquial French
Date and time: Thursday, 9/6, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

French is said to be one of those languages that have the option to form wh-questions with in-situ (1a) or ex-situ whPs (1c). It is also assumed to have optional subject-verb inversion (1d). Moreover, wh-in-situ structures come actually in two guises, with or without a prosodic break before the whP (1a vs. 1b), a fact little addressed in the literature.

(1) a. Il   a     vu     qui?
         he has seen who
     b. Il   a     vu |  qui?
        he has seen who
     c. Qui  il    a     vu?
        who he has seen
    d. Qui a-t-  il   vu?
       who has  he seen

Starting with these four patterns, I will show that 1) not every pattern belongs to the same variety of French, 2) wh-in-situ questions with a prosodic break, but not those without it pattern with wh-ex-situ in many respects (a source of much confusion in the previous studies): Intervention effects, expressivity, contrastive contexts. Focusing then on colloquial French and the patterns illustrated by (1a) (with no prosodic break) and (1c), I will show that questions like (1c) do not display all the features of wh-movement (e.g., no superiority effect in multiple questions), and claim that colloquial French is actually a bona fide wh-in-situ language, so that wh-fronting is not wh-movement. Finally I address the question as to what triggers wh-fronting in this variety of French and tentatively suggest that it is an Exclusion feature.

special summer talk: Jessica Coon (McGill) — Thursday 8/23, 1pm

Speaker: Jessica Coon (McGill)
Title:  Feature Gluttony and the Syntax of Hierarchy Effects   (joint work with Stefan Keine, USC)
Date/Time: Thursday, August 23, 1:00pm-2:30pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk offers a new take on a family of hierarchy effect-inducing configurations, with a focus on Person Case Constraint (PCC) effects (Anagnostopoulou 2005, Nevins 2007) copular constructions (Coon, Keine, and Wagner 2017), and dative-nominative configurations (Sigurdsson & Holmberg 2008, Rezac 2008). Following previous work, we take these effects to arise in contexts in which two accessible DPs are found in the same domain as a single agreeing probe (Béjar & Rezac 2003; Anagnostopoulou 2005). We draw on Cyclic Agree in the sense of Béjar & Rezac (2009), according to which an articulated probe continues probing if at least some features are left unvalued after an Agree relation.

Béjar & Rezac (2003) and many related accounts seek to derive hierarchy effects from an underapplication of Agree and concomitant failures of nominal licensing, formalized as a Person Licensing Condition (see also Béjar & Rezac 2009, Baker 2011, Preminger to appear). By contrast, we argue that hierarchy effects are the result of an overapplication of Agree. We propose that in hierarchy effect-inducing structures, a probe participates in more than one valuation relation, effectively “biting off more than it can chew”, a configuration we refer to as feature gluttony. Feature gluttony––i.e., the coexistence of multiple values on a single probe––can then create conflicting requirements for subsequent operations, leading to a crash.

Our account captures commonalities and differences across hierarchy constructions, both in terms of the types and specifications of the features involved, as well as in the result of hierarchy violations and their possible repairs. In the case of PCC configurations, a probe which interacts with more than one DP creates an intervention problem for clitic-doubling. In violations involving agreement, gluttony in features may result in a configuration with no available morphological output. Important motivation for our account comes from the fact that hierarchy effects commonly disappear in the absence of agreement. This is unexpected on a standard licensing account, but it receives a principled explanation in terms of gluttony: because the probe that otherwise creates the conflict is absent, the conflict disappears.

Who’s gonna be in charge? Here’s who!

By tradition, the headship of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy rotates between the Linguistics and Philosophy sections.  From July 1, the department head will be our Philosophy colleague Alex Byrne, who has served as section head of Philosophy for the past five years.  He succeeds linguist David Pesetsky, who is concluding his five-year term as department head.  The new section head for Linguistics will be Kai von Fintel — but Adam Albright will serve as interim section Head during Kai’s well-earned sabbatical this Fall.  Thank you all!


The annual Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) conference took place last weekend (5/18-20) at MIT.  A number of current and recent members of our department, in addition to quite a few less-recent ones, gave talks and presented posters. Those include:

Current members - 

  • Sophie Moracchini (5th-year): “Evaluativity and structural competition”
  • Naomi Francis (4th-year): “presupposition-denying uses of even
  • Keny Chatain (2nd-year): “Gaps in the interpretation of pronouns”
  • Moshe E. Bar-Lev (visiting student): “An implicature account of homogeneity and non-maximality”

Recent alumni - 

  • Aron Hirsch (2017) and Luis Alonso-Ovalle: “keep only strong”
  • Paul Marty (2017): “Towards an Implicature-Based Account of Disjoint Reference”
  • Michael Yoshitaka Erlewine (2014) and Keely New: “The expression of exhaustivity and scalarity in Burmese”
  • Wataru Uegaki (2015): “The problem of presupposition projection in question-embedding”
  • Wataru Uegaki and Floris Roelofsen: “Do modals take propositions or questions? Evidence from Japanese”

The conference was a great success, not only because of the high quality of presented work, but also due to the wonderful organizing team headed by Kai von Fintel.  Thank you Kai and everyone else!

Memorial for Morris Halle

Our memorial for Morris Halle took place on the afternoon of Saturday May 5.   

Though the loss of our friend, colleague, and guiding spirit, is unutterably sad, the memorial was — quite appropriately — a celebration.  One by one, Morris’s three children, two grandchildren, former students, co-authors and intellectual fellow travelers spoke, painting a vivid picture of who Morris was and what he contributed to our lives.  The event was presided over by Jay Keyser (left), and the last speaker was Noam Chomsky (right), with whom Morris founded our linguistics program, and (many would say) our field in its modern form. 

About 240 people attended in person, and the event was webcast.  We have received numerous messages from colleagues around the world who watched the event live (some waking up in the middle of the night to do so), and from others who watched it later.  The webcast can still be viewed at http://web.mit.edu/webcast/linquistics/halle/ — skip to 48 minutes in, the actual beginning. When we find a permanent home for a properly edited version of the video, we will let you know.  Every speech was wonderful.  Do watch.
(left to right:  Cecilia Halle and Casey Rose Halle; John Halle; Donca Steriade)

Phonology Circle 5/14 - Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College/MIT)

Speaker: Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College/MIT)
Title: Trimoraicity and Monomoraicity: Cases in Japanese
Date/Time: Monday, May 14, 2018, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

This presentation is about Japanese syllables, which appear to be one of the best-studied areas in phonology, starting from McCawley (1968) and traditional Japanese linguistics papers preceding it. I will point out that /N/, a moraic nasal, which is never a nuclear component of a syllable and hence can never be accented according to McCawley and later works, actually stands out as an independent syllabic nucleus at some morphological peripheries. This syllabic /N/ can be accent-bearing and can undergo Initial Lowering, another signatory tonal phenomenon that is typically observed only with a syllabic nucleus. The presentation also points out that the syllabic /N/ is only for the borrowings and mimetics, while we find an independent phenomenon in the Yamato (native Japanese) stratum that derives a string that appears to derive a syllabic /Q/, moraic obstruent, and that this constitutes a counterargument to Ito and Mester’s (1995) strata-dependent reranking hypothesis.

Pesetsky ends term as Department Head

After five years, David Pesetsky is stepping down as department head this summer. In his honour, a party was held to celebrate his contributions and achievements as head. Delicious food and drinks were followed by a seemingly endless supply of cake. Danny Fox and Alex Byrne spoke about David’s commitment to his work, to students, and to the department. 

Entertainment for the event was a student-led song-and-dance performance featuring (left to right): Danfeng Wu (tap), Milena Sisovics (violin), Verena Hehl (viola), Frank Staniszewski and Mitya Privoznov (piano) and Elise Newman (vocals). To thank him for his service, David received gifts including a book of Russian poetry (one of the first editions of Akhmatova) and some fancy port, which he is unboxing below.

David will be taking a well-deserved sabbatical in the Fall. Thank you for all your hard work as department head, David!

Thanks to Sze-Wing Tang for the photos.

Syntax Square 5/15 - Suzana Fong (MIT)

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: Bare nominals in Wolof
Date and time: Tuesday May 13, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Even though Wolof is a language with overt determiners, it also allows for nominals to occur without any determiner at all.

(1) Awa defar na oto bi/yi/Ø.
Awa fix NA.3sg car the.SG/the.PL/Ø
‘Awa fixed the car/the cars/a car.’

In this research in progress, I try to explore the syntax and semantics of these bare nominals. The properties considered so far are the following:

(2) Syntactic properties

  • Bare nominals can the be the subject of transitive and intransitive verbs.
  • They can also be the object of transitive verbs.
  • When in subject position, bare nominals are compatible with singular or plural verbal agreement.
  • They are also compatible with a singular or plural genitive suffix.
  • They are compatible with singular or plural relative clauses.
  • They can be referred back to by a singular or plural clitic.

(3) Semantic properties

  • Bare nominals cannot be followed up with the question How many? when they are the subject of a singular verb, though this is possible when the verb is plural. Something along these lines holds of bare nominals in object position too.
  • They can be the antecedent of a singular reflexive, though not of a plural one.
  • They cannot be the argument (subject or object) of a collective predicate.
  • They can occur in the existential construction Am na… (‘there is…’), which displays definiteness effects.
  • They can scope above or below intensional predicates and an iterative verbal affix.

In order to account for these properties, I tentatively draw a distinction between syntactic and semantic number that is loosely based on Landau (2001)’s analysis of partial control. Specifically, I try to explain the semantic properties in (3) by suggesting that bare nominals in Wolof are semantically singular. However, they would have no syntactic number feature. Coupled with a fallible (Preminger 2014) version of feature checking (Chomsky 1995), this proposal could be consistent with the syntactic properties in (2).

LF Reading Group 5/16 - Sophie Moracchini (MIT)

Speaker: Sophie Moracchini (MIT)
Title: Evaluativity and structural competition
Date and time: Wednesday, May 16, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I investigate the morpho-semantics of the degree constructions in (1). Some of these constructions are known to give rise to presuppositions of evaluativity that do not follow from the traditional semantics assumed for degree constructions: when such presuppositions arise, the adjective’s interpretation seems to depend on a standard of comparison, whose value is fixed by the context of utterance (Rett 2008, 2014 and Breakstone 2013).

(1) a. Jane is taller than Tom is.
b. Jane is less tall than Tom is.
c. Jane is less short than Tom is. (Presupposition: Jane/Tom count as `short’ in the context.)
d. Jane is more short than Tom is. (Presupposition: Jane/Tom count as `short’ in the context.)

I will argue with Rett (2008, 2014) that evaluativity is contributed by an independent and optional morpheme `EVAL’, and that it is sometimes obligatory because of a semantic competition.

My goal is to state precisely what the competition is based on. I will show that a decompositional approach of degree expressions (that follows from Heim’s 2001,2008 and Büring’s 2007 Syntactic Negation Theory of Antonymy) introduces the right metric for competition: structural complexity. I will then formulate an LF-Economy Principle (adapted from Meyer 2013, Marty 2017) which rules out structures whenever their logical meaning is expressible by means of a structurally simpler alternative. By this principle, in absence of EVAL, (1c.) and (1.d) are ruled out by (1.a) by virtue of being structurally redundant. I also discuss additional aspects of EVAL’s distribution that can be explained by independently motivated claims about morphology, and I show how the inclusion of EVAL is either forced by the LF-Economy principle or ruled out by a PF-filter.

Ling Lunch 5/17: Edward Gibson (BCS MIT)

Speaker: Edward Gibson (Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, MIT)
Title: Meaning explanations of two syntactic islands: Subject islands and Embedded-clause islands
Date and time: Thursday, May 17, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Syntacticians have long proposed (a) that certain extractions from embedded positions are universally ungrammatical across languages and (b) that their ungrammaticality is not explainable in terms of meaning.  These two ideas together imply the existence of syntactic universals in Chomsky’s Universal Grammar (e.g., Ross, 1967; Chomsky, 1973; and many more recent studies including Sprouse et al (2012) and Sprouse et al (2016)). In this talk, I will present data from studies of two different kinds of syntactic islands that strongly suggest meaning explanations for both, without any need for syntactic universals.  First, I report collaborative work with Anne Abeillé, Barbara Hemforth and Elodie Winckel (CNRS, Paris), where we show that extractions out of subject position are actually easier to process than extractions from object position, in both English and French relative clauses, contrary to the claim of the universality of a so-called “subject island”.

a. Object PP-extracted: The dealer sold a sportscar, of which the baseball player loved the color because of its surprising luminance.
b. Subject PP-extracted:  The dealer sold a sportscar, of which the color delighted the baseball player because of its surprising luminance.
The subject extraction (1b) is rated better than the object extraction (1a) in both English and French relative clauses.  In contrast, when the extraction is in a wh-question, object-extractions are better than subject extractions for either NP or PP extractions:
a. Object NP-extracted:  Which sportscar did the baseball player love the color of because of its surprising luminance?
b. Subject NP-extracted:  Which sportscar did the color of delight the baseball player because of its surprising luminance?
Here, (2a) is rated better than (2b) in both English and French.  This is one of the first examples of differing judgments across constructions thought to involve syntactic movement in Chomskyan frameworks.  In order to account for these phenomena, we propose the Construction-based function-mapping hypothesis: (cf. Erteshick-Shir 1977; Kuno 1987; Goldberg, 2006): The discourse function of the extracted element should prefer to match the discourse function of the construction.
Second, I report collaborative work led by Yingtong Liu of Harvard in collaboration with Rachel Ryskin and Richard Futrell, in which we show that the grammaticality of extractions from embedded clauses as in (1)-(3) is best explained in terms of simple verb subcategorization frequency of the S-complement verb.
1. “bridge” verb extractions: Who did Mary think / say that Bill saw _
2. “factive” verb extractions: ?* Who did Mary know / realize that Bill saw _?
3. “manner” verb extractions: ?* Who did Mary mumble / stammer that Bill saw _?
We propose that the difficulty of these extractions is simply due to their plausibility in experience: the “bad” ones are just weird events.  We can see the same effects in declarative versions; the extra bad ratings of the extracted versions are just scaled extra bad versions.  And in context, the extracted versions get much better.  The simple meaning-based explanation accounts for the ratings for extracted and unextracted versions, in and out of context.   Furthermore, the interactions that others have observed (and that we observe) with respect to rating these types of materials (declarative / wh-question x easy / hard) is probably due to scaling issues in the acceptability scale: ratings are compressed towards the “good” end of the scale.  Overall, we propose, following Ivan Sag and others, that perhaps all “islands” are meaning- and memory-based, contrary to the UG syntax claim.


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

Whamit Summer Semi-Hiatus

Whamit! will be on semi-hiatus over the summer. We will continue to publish breaking MIT Linguistics news as it happens. Weekly posts will resume in the Fall.

Thanks to our editors, contributors, and of course all our readers! See you all in the Fall!

Aravind to MIT

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

Phonology Circle 5/7 - Thomas Schatz and Naomi Feldman (UMD/MIT)

Speakers: Thomas Schatz and Naomi Feldman (UMD/MIT)
Title: A simple framework to study how phonological structure can emerge from the interaction of social, physical and cognitive evolutionary pressures
Date/Time: Monday, May 7, 2018, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Nowak and Krakauer (1999) proposed a framework to study how combinatoriality in language can emerge from evolutionary pressures to communicate in the presence of noise in the communication channel. I will present this framework and discuss possible extensions that might lead to functional accounts for certain phonological phenomena. I will focus in particular on an extension of the framework that adds a pressure to limit the production costs of words in the language, for which I will present a few preliminary results.
This is very preliminary work in collaboration with Matthias Hofer and Naomi Feldman. The main object of the presentation will be to get feedback on the potential of the framework and to advertise the project to students with a formal background in phonology - which both Matthias and me lack - who might be interested in collaborating with us.

Syntax Square 5/8 - Carolyn Spadine (MIT)

Speaker: Carolyn Spadine (MIT)
Title: Evaluating Syntactic Approaches to Interrogative Flip: Test cases from English and Malayalam
Date and time: Tuesday May 8, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

“Interrogative flip” describes a phenomena in which elements that appear to orient to the speaker in a declarative utterance shift perspective and orient to the addressee in an interrogative context — evidentials, perspective-sensitive anaphora, modals, adverbs, predicates of personal taste, and others have been reported to show this behavior. In proposing a mechanism for encoding discourse-pragmatic information in syntax, interrogative flip is one of the core phenomena that Tenny and Speas 2003 intend to address, and the same problem has been subsequently taken up in Woods 2014, Zu 2018, and many others.

This talk presents preliminary work on two constructions that display interrogative flip, and examines the ways in which existing syntactic approaches to modeling interrogative flip account for or fail to account for this data. The first is discourse participant-oriented modifiers in English, as in (1):

1. a. [As a film critic], this movie deserves an Oscar.
b. [As a film critic], does this movie deserve an Oscar?

In (1a), the preferred and perhaps only interpretation of the bracketed constituent is that the speaker is a film critic, whereas in (1b), English speakers report both speaker- and addressee-oriented interpretations for the same constituent. A similar but more constrained pattern emerges for embedded instances of these modifiers, posing a challenge for some proposals. The second comes from a reportative evidential marker ennu (glossed as REP) in Malayalam (2a), which can either scope under or over the question particle, yielding two different interpretations — either a question about a report heard by the addressee (2b), or a declarative report of a question overhead by the speaker (2c).

2. a. prime minister varunnu ennu
prime minister come.PROG REP
“I heard that the Prime Minister is coming”
b. prime minister varunnu enn-oo?
prime minister come.PROG REP-Q
“Did you hear if the Prime Minister is coming?”
c. prime minister varunn-oo ennu
prime minister come.PROG-Q REP
“I heard someone ask if the Prime Minister is coming”

In both cases, I suggest the data supports the general pattern that existing proposals intend to account for, but also raise concerns about the specific structures proposed to implement them.

LF Reading Group 5/9 - Naomi Francis (MIT)

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Presupposition-denying uses of even
Date and time: Wednesday, May 9, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk explores a puzzle about how even interacts with presupposition-denying discourse moves. Even can be used in declarative sentences that deny presuppositions, but only if it appears below negation (1).

(1) A: Did Kenji’s wife go to the picnic? Presupposes: Kenji has a wife, i.e. is married.
B: He isn’t even married!
B’: #He’s even unmarried!

I present a solution to this puzzle that makes crucial use of the additive presupposition of even. This presupposition requires that, in addition to the prejacent (the sentence that hosts even) being true, at least one of its focus alternatives must be true as well. I propose that the relevant focus alternatives in this context all contain the trigger (Kenji’s wife) for the presupposition that the prejacent denies, meaning that they are incompatible with it. This means that the additive presupposition of even can only be satisfied if the presupposition that Kenji has a wife is appropriately “cancelled” within the alternatives, which I argue is only possible when these alternatives contain sentential negation (1B). Drawing on data from German, Greek, Russian, and Hebrew, I show that the contrast in (1) is not unique to English and that the proposed solution makes good crosslinguistic predicitons.

Ling Lunch 5/10: Sabine Iatridou (MIT)

Speaker: Sabine Iatridou (MIT)
Title: No commands
Date and time: Thursday, May 10, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I will try to establish the existence and cross-linguistic stability of a phenomenon I will call “Negation-Licensed Commands”. In addition, I will reject several possible solutions, leaving the actual account of this phenomenon as a mystery (for now).

MIT Joint Colloquium with Philosophy: Daniel Rothschild (UCL)

Speaker: Daniel Rothschild (University College London)
Title: What it takes to believe.
Time: Friday 5/11, 3:30-5pm
Place: 32-155

Much linguistic evidence supports the view that believing something only requires thinking it likely. I assess and reject a rival view, based on recent work on homogeneity in natural language, according to which belief is a more demanding attitude. I discuss the implications of the linguistic considerations about ‘believe’ for our philosophical accounts of belief. 


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

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

Halle memorial - May 5

Details about the memorial for Morris Halle, including a registration link, can be found at http://linguistics.mit.edu/hallememorialservice/.  If you are planning to attend, please register by this Wednesday if possible, so we can anticipate attendance. 

Phonology Circle 4/30 - Nabila Louriz & Michael Kenstowicz

Speakers: Nabila Louriz (Hassan-II, Casablanca) and Michael Kenstowicz (MIT)
Title: On the adaptation of vowels in French loanwords into Moroccan Arabic
Date/Time: Monday, 30 April 2018, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

 Moroccan Arabic has a simple three-vowel phonemic system /i, u, a/ plus epenthetic schwa. The vowels appear as /e, o, ɑ/ in the context of an emphatic (pharyngealized) consonant. As shown by examples such as boîte > /bwaT/ ‘tin can’ (cf. /bwiyT-a/ diminutive), French loanwords with /o, a/ (and sometimes /e/) are regularly borrowed with pharyngeal consonants—a striking example of enhancement dubbed “reverse engineering” in Kenstowicz & Louriz (2009). In this presentation we briefly review this finding and then focus on the adaptation of French nasal vowels. Three contexts are considered. Word-medial nasal vowels are adapted as oral vowel plus homorganic nasal consonant: congé [kɔʒ̃e] ‘holiday’ appears as /kuɲʒi/. Word-final nasal vowels sometimes appear with a nasal consonant and at other times as a simple vowel with no trace of nasality: Fr bouchon [buʃɔ̃] ‘bottle stopper’ > MA /buʃun/ but bâtiment [batimã] ‘building’ > MA /baTima/. Finally, word-initial vowels are often deleted: infirmier ‘nurse’ > /fərmli/. Our discussion focuses on some of the factors that may underlie the variation.

Syntax Square 5/1 - Tanya Bondarenko & Colin Davis (MIT)

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko & Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Parasitic gaps, covert pied-piping, and left branch extraction in Russian [FASL practice]
Date and time: Tuesday, May 1st, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

A well-known trait of Slavic languages is left branch extraction (LBE), the A’-movement of elements out of the left edge of the nominal phrase. While much of Slavic allows LBE, languages like English do not, requiring pied-piping of the entire nominal phrase instead.  This difference presents a puzzle for syntactic theory, which we argue is clarified by the behavior of parasitic gaps (PGs; Engdahl 1983, Nissenbaum 2000) in Russian (Ivlieva 2007). We argue that patterns of PG licensing in LBE derivations teach us that LBE involves covert pied-piping of the containing NP, rather than true extraction out of NP.  This result unites the syntax of Russian with non-LBE languages, indicating that both are subject to something like Ross’ (1967/1986) Left Branch Condition (LBC). Consequently, LBE in Russian must be (at least in the cases under discussion) derived by a PF operation like scattered deletion (Fanselow & Ćavar 2005, Bošković 2015). This finding suggests that the difference between languages that allow so-called LBE, and those that do not, is the availability of this operation at the PF interface in the first group.