The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 12th, 2021

Ling-Lunch 4/15 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)

Time: Thursday, April 15th, 12:30pm - 1:50pm

Title: C-selection and the verb phrase

Abstract: In this talk, I want to zoom in on the conditions governing clause construction and discuss how they impact our notion of a “transformation”. Since Chomsky (1995), it has been common to treat Merge as a feature-checking mechanism, a process by which uninterpretable features on a head get “checked” or “deleted” before a structure is sent to the interfaces. In principle, a feature-driven view of Merge makes no distinction between Merge operations induced by “selection” vs. Merge operations characterized by movement (i.e. there is no formal distinction between internal and external Merge). Despite this fact, Merge and Move operations have often been treated as governed by separate feature sets, which exist on separate lexical items, rather than as two logically possible responses to the same feature set. Taking inspiration from Longenbaugh (2019) (who in turn takes inspiration from Müller (2010)), I propose that we not do this. Instead, I propose to treat features that induce Merge as properties of functional categories, which may be satisfied either by internal or external Merge, so long as the result satisfies interface requirements. Thus, two different lexical heads may look featurally identical from the perspective of the syntax, but the syntax is flexible enough to generate structures that can satisfy the different interface requirements of each one. I propose that employing this view of Merge in the domain of verb phrase syntax explains many otherwise elusive properties of verb phrases and their alternations, including 1) the fact that so many languages have some semblance of a dative alternation, 2) the different behaviors of DP and non-DP arguments with respect to passivization and wh-movement.


LF Reading Group 04/14/2021 — Ido Benbaji (MIT)

Speaker: Ido Benbaji (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, April 14th, 1pm - 2pm

Title: Restricting the fourth reading

Abstract: Szabó (2010, 2011) argues that in addition to the three commonly accepted readings of DPs in intensional contexts, there is a fourth, specific opaque reading, in which a DP’s determiner scopes above an intensional operator while its restrictor is nevertheless interpreted opaquely. The existence of this reading poses a potential problem to both the world-pronoun framework (Percus 2000) and the modified scope theory of intensionality (Keshet 2008), as in both wide quantificational scope implies transparent interpretation (though not vice versa). Szabó takes the existence of such readings as evidence that natural language, like logical ones, allows for bare quantification over the entire domain, and posits a mechanism that splits quantifiers from their restrictors at LF. Contra Szabó, I argue that fourth readings do not involve bare quantification, but are syntactically restricted to relativization environments and are generated by invoking independently motivated mechanisms for NP reconstruction into relative clauses (RCs). On this account, the fourth reading is obtained when a DP dominates a raising RC with an intensional operator ([DP D [[­NP N]i [RC Op ti]]). The DP’s determiner originates clause externally, and therefore must take wide quantificational scope relative to the intensional operator, while the NP that appears to occupy the DP’s restrictor position originates clause internally and can therefore reconstruct to a position below the operator to receive an opaque interpretation (as proposed by Bassi and Rasin 2018 for data presented in Grosu and Krifka 2007). This analysis predicts the fourth reading to be unavailable when a raising structure for the RC is independently blocked; a prediction that I will show is borne out.