The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Special talk 4/24 - Uli Sauerland

Speaker: Uli Sauerland
Date/Time: Tuesday 4/24, 5 pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: Modeling Syncretism Distribution (joint work with Jonathan Bobaljik)


Does the fact that English “you” is both singular and plural, show that there’s an abstract feature “2nd Person”? While many generative analysis accept such an argument, they also need to accept cases of accidental homophony — two morphemes that aren’t related through an abstract feature, but nevertheless sound the same. But, why then not also assume that “you” in the singular and “you” in the plural accidentally sound the same with no need for an abstract feature. The distinction between accidental and systematic (i.e. derived from pieces of generative apparatus) homophony is a conundrum, generative morphologists haven’t overcome. The starting point of our talk is the new hypothesis that accidental homophony should be random — i.e. randomly distributed across languages and across cells of a paradigm. This provides the basis for a statistical approach to paradigm patterns. In the talk, we present two results: 1) The general statistical framework for the analysis of paradigm pattern frequencies. 2) A preliminary application of the framework to Cysouw’s (2003, OUP) data on person marking to argue that a generative analysis accounts for the data rather well.