The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, April 11th, 2011

Phonology Circle 4/12 - Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (University of Manchester)

Speaker: Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (University of Manchester)
Title: Emergent Cyclicity?
Time: Tuesday 4/12, 5-6pm, 32-D831

Upcoming talks:
Apr 26: Jongho Jun
May 3: Nina Topintzi
May 10: 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.

Special Phonology Circle 4/13 - Young Ah Do

Please note the special time for a supernumerary meeting of the Phonology Circle on Wednesday this week!

Speaker: Young Ah Do
Title: Learning Alternations without Bias (WCCFL Practice Talk)
Time: Tuesday 4/13, 2-3pm, 32-D831

The abstract is here

Kisseberth @ Harvard - Wed 4/13 5-7pm

Speaker: Charles W. Kisseberth (Emeritus, University of Illinois and Tel Aviv University)
Title: Prosody and Phonological Phrasing in Chimwiini
Time: Wed 4/13, 5-7pm, Location TBA

In this paper we explore the fundamentals of the prosody and phrasing of sentences in Chimwiini, a Bantu language closely related to Swahili. We look first at the pattern of vowel length alternations at the word level, a system that Selkirk (1986) analyzed in terms of an abstract system of stress that features the Latin Stress Rule plus a principle that shortens unstressed vowels. Then we look at the system of accent which, in the default case assigns penult accent (H tone), but final accent in certain mostly morphosyntactic environements.

It turns out that both the stress system and the accent are phrasal in nature and work in exactly the same phrasal units. After demonstrating this point, we summarize the main principles that define the phrasing of a Chimwiini sentence: Align-XP R (align the right edge of a lexical maximal projection with the right edge of a phonological phrase) and Align-Foc R (align the right edge of a focused element with the right edge of a phonological phrase). We discusss briefly some phenomena that may be subcases of Align-Foc R or related to it in terms of the pattern of behavior.

The final portion of the paper explores how final accent is realized in Chimwiini sentences and suggests that the essential principle is this: final accent is located on the final syllable of any phonological phrase that contains the trigger of final accent. To make this principle succeed, it turns out that we need a third phrasing principle: Wrap-XP (all the elements in an XP must appear inside a single phonological phrase) plus recursive phrasing.

Ling-Lunch 4/14 - Charles W. Kisseberth

Speaker: Charles W. Kisseberth (Emeritus, University of Illinois and Tel Aviv University)
Title: Focus, Phrasing, and Prosody in Chimwiini
Time: Thursday, April 14, 12:30-1:45pm
Location: 32-D461

It has been known for forty years that sentences in Chimwiini (a Bantu language closely related to Swahili spoken originally in the town of Brava in southern Somalia, but now distributed over a diaspora that includes Kenya, the United Kingdom, and the United States) are exhaustively parsed into a sequence of phonological phrases. The evidence for this claim originally derived solely from the complicated pattern of vowel length alternations in the language. In brief, only one long vowel can occur in a phrase and it must be located in either the penult or the antepenult syllable of the phrase. An expected long vowel in any other syllable in the phrase must shorten. However, it is not necessary for a phrase to have a long vowel.

It has been known since Selkirk’s 1986 analysis that phrases in Chimwiini are formed in considerable part on the basis of syntactic structure, specifically by the principle that we shall label Align-XP R: the right edge of a lexical maximal projection is located at the right edge of a Phonological Phrase.

In 2001 it was discovered that “accent” (High tone) is a second, independent source of evidence for phrasing. The Chimwiini accentual system is simple, but with some complexity in how it plays itself out. There is one accent/H tone per phrase, and it resides on the last prosodic word of the phrase. Accent is on the penult syllable in the default case, but on the final syllable in the presence of a small number of final-accent triggers.

The accentual evidence also led to the discovery of a critical role for focus (or more generally emphasis) in phrasing. Specifically, the presence of focus on a word requires that this word be at the right edge of a phonological phrase (indeed, in some cases the requirement is stronger: the focused word must be final in any phonological phrase that contains it). A careful examination of the focus evidence (as well as certain phenomena that seem to have parallels to focus in terms of their behavior) provides quite subtle evidence about the issue of whether phrasing in Chimwiini is recursive or not. The focus evidence also turns out to have interesting ramifications for the intonation of yes-no questions in Chimwiini, a matter that we will look at briefly, time permitting.

MIT linguists at SALT

The program for the 21st annual meeting of the conference “Semantics and Linguistic Theory” (SALT 21) — to be held at Rutgers May 20 - May 22, 2011 — was announced last week. Here are the speakers with MIT connections:

  • Guillaume Thomas: Another and the Meaning of Measure Phrases
  • Igor Yanovich: The Problem of Counterfactual de re Attitudes
  • Micha Y. Breakstone, Alexandre Cremers, Danny Fox and Martin Hackl: Processing Degree Operator Movement: Implications for Semantics of Differentials
  • Jacopo Romoli, Yasutada Sudo and Jesse Snedeker: An Experimental Investigation of Presupposition Projection in Conditional Sentences
  • Peter Graff & Jeremy Hartman: Constraints on Predication [alternate; poster session]
  • Patrick Grosz: A Uniform Analysis for Concessive “at least” and Optative “at least” [alternate]
  • Luka Crni?: Evaluativity and Polarity [poster session]
  • Hadas Kotek, Yasutada Sudo, Edwin Howard & Martin Hackl: Is Most More Than Half? [poster session]
  • Ezra Keshet (PhD 2008): Contrastive Focus and Paycheck Pronouns [poster session]
  • Pranav Anand (Phd 2006), Caroline Andrews, Donka Farkas, Kevin Reschke & Matthew Wagers: Quantification-triggered Inclusivization in Plural Interpretation [poster session]
  • Luis Alonso-Ovalle & Paula Menendez-Benito (former visiting professors): Two Types of Epistemic Indefinites: Private Ignorance vs. Public Indifference [poster session]

This is a great showing at the most selective conference in the field.

LFRG 4/15: Igor Yanovich on counterfactual de re

WHO: Igor Yanovich
WHAT: On counterfactual de re attitudes
WHEN: April 15, 2:00PM-3:15PM
WHERE: 32-D831

Descriptivist approaches to de re attitudes (Kaplan, Lewis, and numerous linguistic accounts) analyze a de re belief as involving a vivid description which 1) is true of the res in the actual world, and 2) uniquely identifies some object corresponding to the res in the epistemic alternatives of the believer.

This works fine for de re belief, but as Ninan 2010 points out, does not quite work for counterfactual attitudes. If Janell imagines the man she sees sneaking around (that is, Ortcutt) flying a kite in the Alpes, the description selecting Ortcutt in the actual world (namely, smth. like “the man Janell sees sneaking around”) will not be true of the man Janell imagines in her imagination worlds: he cannot be sneaking around and flying the kite at the same time, yet this is what simplistic descriptivist analysis predicts. Ninan himself tries to solve the problem, but his account does not quite succeed.

In the talk, I will give another account of counterfactual de re. The main idea is that the selection of the correspondent of the res in counterfactual attitude worlds is parasitic on the beliefs of the attitude holder.


4/22 Sarah Ouwayda
4/29 Eva Csipak
5/06 Alan Bale
5/11 Ciro Greco

Fullwood and Gould receive NSF Graduate Fellowships

First-year students Michelle Fullwood and Isaac Gould have been awarded NSF Graduate Fellowships. Congratulations, Michelle and Isaac!