The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 7th, 2011

Syntax Square 3/7 - Alya Asarina and Jeremy Hartman

Speakers: Alya Asarina and Jeremy Hartman
Title: Genitive subject licensing in Uyghur subordinate clauses
Time: Monday, March 7, 11:30am-12:30pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk we analyze embedded clauses in Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in the Xinjiang province of China. We make three main claims. First, we claim that genitive case on the subjects of these clauses is licensed by agreement with a clause-external D head. Second, we claim that these clauses are always embedded by a head noun, though in some cases this noun is phonologically null. Third, we show that these clauses are full CPs that can be headed by an overt complementizer. Putting these claims together, we conclude that Uyghur exhibits agreement and case-assignment over a CP boundary, and thus provides a challenge for certain proposals about the locality of these relationships. We discuss several approaches to the Uyghur facts, as well as similar phenomena in other languages, within the framework of Phase Theory (Chomsky 2001 et seq.).

Phonology Circle 3/8 - Michael Kenstowicz and Filomena Sandalo

Speaker: Michael Kenstowicz and Filomena Sandalo
Title: Vowel Harmony and Dispersion in Brazilian Portuguese
Time: Tuesday 3/8, 5-6pm, 32-D831

Like Standard Italian, Brazilian Portuguese distinguishes seven vowels in stressed syllables. The inventory is reduced to five in unstressed syllables (through merger of open and closed mid vowels) and to just three in unstressed final syllables (through merger of mid and high vowels). Earlier phonetic studies of Major (1986) and Clegg & Fails (1992) find that the duration of vowels as well as the relative openness of the low vowel decreases in the order stressed > medial unstressed > final. Flemming (2004) points to these data as support for his dispersion theory of vowel inventories where the neutralization of contrasts results from the interplay of constraints on articulatory effort and phonetic distance. The earlier literature does not consider the behavior of pretonic syllables where the open vs. closed mid vowel contrast is also neutralized but a height harmony process occurs that disperses the mid vowels to three values as a function of the height of the following stressed syllable. The result is a phonetic inventory of seven vowels in pretonic position. Our presentation is a progress report on a study of the harmony process and its potential bearing on the dispersion theory.

Upcoming talks:
Mar 8: Michael Kenstowicz and Filomena Sandalo
Mar 29: Sverre Johnsen
Apr 5: Anne-Michelle Tessier
Apr 12: Ricardo Bermudez-Otero
Apr 13, 3-5pm: WCCFL Practice Talks ***Note Special Day and Time
Apr 26: Jongho Jun
May 3: Nina Topintzi
May 10: AVAILABLE (RUMMIT Practice Talks)

You can view the current, up-to-date version of the schedule here (click ‘agenda’ to see the schedule as a list), or subscribe via iCal here.

Syntax Square Special Session 3/10 - Marc Authier

Speaker: Marc Authier (Penn State University)
Title: PF-deletion, Topicalization and French modal Ellipsis
Time: Thursday, March 10, 11am-12pm
Location: 32-D461

This paper shows that the hypothesis briefly discussed in Busquets and Denis (2001) that French displays both PF-deletion and pro-form ellipsis of sentential complements with different classes of verbs is indeed correct. It subsequently focuses on the PF-deletion type (i.e., modal ellipsis) and argues that like English VP ellipsis, this type of ellipsis should be syntactically derived by way of movement and that French elided TPs stand in a topic position. The syntactic chain thus created by Move is composed of two links: the first merge copy, which is always silent, as is the case with most types of movement, and the remerge copy, which also remains silent, being recoverable from the discourse, but sometimes allows phrasal subparts to undergo further A?-movement to Spec, FocP, a position where they are fully spelled-out at PF. The absence of intervention as well as freezing effects associated with the latter movement are then explained using the rescue by PF deletion account developed in Bo?kovi? (2011). This novel theory of French modal ellipsis is shown to correctly predict the existence of what Busquets and Denis (2001) named French Pseudo- Gapping, as well as the much more restricted distribution of modal ellipsis in untensed contexts. It also provides a partial answer to why French does not have VP ellipsis and why English does not have modal ellipsis.

Ling-Lunch 3/10 - Lisa Reed

Speaker: Lisa Reed (Penn State University)
Title: Modifying and strengthening the PRO hypothesis
Time: Thursday, March 10, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract (PDF)

Linguistics Colloquium 3/11 - Jason Merchant

Date: Friday, March 11, 2011
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141 (PLEASE NOTE THE ROOM)
Speaker: Jason Merchant, University of Chicago
Title: Predicate/argument asymmetries, Agreement, and gender


Building on similar results from Romance, I show that Greek animate masc/fem noun pairs fall into three classes with respect to their behavior under ellipsis: those that license mismatches in gender in either direction (epicence nouns like jatros ‘doctor’), those that don’t alternate in either direction (e.g., adhelfos/adheli ‘brother/sister’) and those whose masc form license ellipsis of a feminine but not vice versa (e.g., pianistas/pianistria ‘pianist’). I argue that this pattern can be accounted for if masc/fem can be variously specified as (in)delible, where delible features are subject to deletion under Agreement (extending von Stechow, Heim, and others), before ellipsis resolution is computed. This analysis, unlike previous underspecificational approaches, can account for the novel observation that these alternations are found only on NPs in predicate positions, and that no noun pair alternates when the target of ellipsis is in an argument position. Finally, I demonstrate how easily this account can be implemented using LF-copy as the ellipsis identity mechanism, while mainstream LF-identity/semantic identity theories find it surprisingly difficult to capture the asymmetry.