The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 10th, 2011

Ling-Lunch 10/13 - Barbara Citko

Speaker: Barbara Citko (Visiting Scholar, University of Washington)
Title: In Search of MDDs (Multidominance Diagnostics)
Location: 32-D461
Time: Thursday, Oct 13, 12:30-1:45p

Many existing multidominant (MD) proposals have focused, either directly or indirectly, on various types of coordinate structures, such as right node raising (Wilder 1999, De Vries 2009, Johnson 2007, among others), across-the-board wh-questions (Citko 2005, in press, De Vries 2009, among many others), gapping (Goodall 1987, Kasai 2007, among others), questions with coordinated wh-pronouns (Gracanin- Yuksek 2007), determiner sharing (Citko 2006, Kasai 2007). However, the presence of coordination is not a reliable diagnostic of MD for two reasons. First, there exist coordinate structures that do not involve MD (simple coordinate structures with no ellipsis or movement whatsoever), and second, there are many non-coordinate structures that can be (and have been) analyzed in a MD fashion. These include (but are not limited to): free relatives (Van Riemsdijk 2006, Citko 2000, in press), parasitic gaps (Kasai 2007), serial verb constructions (Hiraiwa and Bodomo 2008), amalgams (Kluck 2008), comparatives (Moltmann 1992), discontinuous idioms (Svenonius 2005). Thus, given the fact that multidominance is independent from both coordination and ellipsis, the search for reliable diagnostics of a MD structure continues.

The intuition that all MD approaches build on is that the shared element has to simultaneously satisfy the constraints imposed by it by the two elements between which it is shared. In other words, it must match these two elements. In this talk, I explore the nature of this matching requirement with an eye towards developing a set of diagnostics for a MD structure. More specifically, I address the following three questions:

A.What kind of matching do MD structures require?
B.What kinds of mismatches do MD structures tolerate?
C. Why are different types of MD structures appear to be subject to different matching requirements?

Drawing on data from Polish, I compare the matching requirements in four types of arguably multidominant constructions: two coordinate ones (right node raising and across-the-board wh-questions) and two non-coordinate ones (parasitic gaps and free relatives), focusing on the differences between them and ways to account for these differences.

Irene Heim elected 2012 LSA Fellow!

David Pesetsky writes:

Irene Heim has been elected a 2012 Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America. Each year since 2006, the LSA honors several of its members for “distinguished contributions to the discipline”. Irene is the third current MIT faculty member to be honored in this fashion, following in the footsteps of Morris Halle (2006) and Noam Chomsky (2007). Four former faculty are also fellows, and about a third of the current fellows (21 of 75) are alumni of our PhD program.

The induction ceremony will take place at the LSA meeting in Portand on Friday, January 6, 2012, as part of the Business Meeting.

This is a great honor for Irene, richly deserved. I’m sure you join me in expressing our warmest congratulations!!”

LFRG 10/14 - András Kornai

WHO: András Kornai
WHAT: Lexical semantics by machines
WHEN: Friday 14 October, 1:00PM-2:30PM
WHERE: 32-D831


A simple information-theoretic argument shows that about 90% of the information in a sentence is carried by the choice of words, and only 10% depends on function-argument structure. In light of this, it is somewhat surprising that 90% of formal semantics (basically, all of Montague Grammar and its descendants) deals with the compositional aspects of meaning, with lexical semantics relegated to the fringes of formal work. In this talk we discuss how a classical piece of algebra, Eilenberg’s (1974) theory of machines, can be used to provide a nontrivial formal theory of word meaning, and how the resulting model interfaces with compositional tecto- and phenogrammar.

References: (* = suggested reading)

S. Eilenberg (1974) Automata, Languages, and Machines. Academic Press [This book is excellent background for those interested in the algebraic theory of finite state automata, transducers, and machines that this work puts to use for semantics.]

*A. Kornai (2010a) The treatment of ordinary quantification in English proper. Hungarian Review of Philosophy 2010 54/4 150-162 [This is a summary of what is wrong, in this author’s view, with MG and related theories of formal semantics. Formal issues are discussed, but no heavy machinery is used.]

*A. Kornai (2010b) The algebra of lexical semantics. In C. Ebert, G. Jaeger, J. Michaelis (eds) Proc. 11th Mathematics of Language workshop (MOL11) Springer LNCS 6149 174-199 [This is the intro to the new approach.]

*A. Kornai (2011) Eliminating ditransitives. To appear in M. Egg, P. de Groote, M-J Nederhof, F. Richter (eds) Selected Papers from the 15th and 16th Formal Grammar Conferences, Springer LNAI, in press. [One area where the algebraic approach shows some promise.]

EMFTree for drawing syntax trees

Graduate student Kirill Shklovsky writes:

I just wanted to make MIT linguists aware that I have a free syntax tree-drawing program available on my webpage. According to Guillaume Thomas it is the best program available for Windows :) It doesn’t reach the sophistication possible with various LaTeX packages, but it is reasonably good with your basic trees and movement arrows. There are various options for formatting the text in your trees and labels the arrows.

And from the program description:

EMFTree is a program for drawing syntactic trees on the Windows OS. The way it works is as follows: you type in the code that will generate your tree, hit Enter, and your tree is drawn. You can then copy the image and paste it into Microsoft Word, Open Office, or any other program.

Since the pictures produced by EMFTree are vector graphics, they should look good both on the screen and on the printed page when scaled to your liking.

Linguistics Colloquium 10/14 - Anders Holmberg

SPEAKER: Anders Holmberg — Newcastle University
TIME: 3:30 PM, Friday 10/14
LOCATION: 32-141
TITLE: On the Syntax of Yes and No in English


The paper discusses systems of answering yes/no- questions in general, as background to a discussion of two theories articulating the idea that answers to yes/no-questions are derived by propositional ellipsis under identity with the proposition of the question. The first theory is articulated by Kramer & Rawlins (2009,2010), the other is based on Holmberg (2001, 2007). The paper focuses on a particularly vexing case of answers to negative questions in English: the ambiguity of yes as an answer to negative questions with the negation not (called ‘negative neutralization’ by Kramer & Rawlins). It is argued that the ambiguity is due to the structural ambiguity of not, as either negating the sentence or constituent-negating the predicate. An argument is also presented that affirmative declaratives have an affirmative polarity head, a counterpart of the negative polarity head of negative declaratives.

Gracanin-Yuksek and Miyagawa in Istanbul

Martina Gracanin-Yuksek (Ph.D 2007) and Shigeru Miyagawa were invited speakers at the Workshop on Functional Categories and Parametric Variation, held October 6-7 at Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. Martina’s talk was “Properties of negation in Croatian,” and Shigeru’s talk title was “Minimal variation.” Meltem Kelepir (Ph.D 2001) was a co-organizer of the meeting.