The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 17th, 2012

No Phonology Circle This Week

The talk previously announced for this week will be rescheduled for later in the term. The next scheduled talk is by Michelle Fullwood on Oct 1.

Syntax Square 9/18 - Hui-Chi Lee

Speaker: Hui-Chi Lee (National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan)
Title: Resultative Structures in Hainan Min
Date/Time: Tuesday, Sept 18, 1-2p
Room: 32-D461

The study explores the resultative constructions in Hainan Min, a Chinese language spoken on the Hainan Island. The talk has three goals: to present the syntactic distribution of Hainan Min resultative constructions, to propose a typological analysis and to compare cross-linguistic data. I argue that Hainan Min resultative structure, unlike Mandarin, involves a syntactic mechanism rather than a lexical one. Two related Chinese languages (Southern Min and Cantonese) and Hlai (Tai-Kadai) are also compared.

LFRG 9/20 - Igor Yanovich

Speaker: Igor Yanovich
Date/Time: Thursday September 20, 9:30 - 11 am
Location: 32-D831
Title: must: 15 centuries between possibility and necessity


Igor will talk about the semantic changes that must underwent from Old English to Present-Day English, mostly concentrating on what has been traditionally analyzed as a shift from a modal of permission (Old English) to a modal of obligation (Early Modern English).

Ling-Lunch 9/20 - Masatoshi Koizumi

Ling-Lunch returns this week at its usual time and place with a talk by Masatoshi Koizumi.

Speaker: Masatoshi Koizumi (Tohoku University)
Title: On the Subject-Object Word Order Preference in Sentence Comprehension (and Production)
Date/Time: Thursday, 9/20, 12:30-1:45p
Room: 32-D461

The processing load of sentences with three different word orders (i.e., VOS, VSO, and SVO) in Kaqchikel Maya was investigated using a sentence plausibility judgment task. VOS sentences were processed faster than VSO and SVO sentences. This confirmed the traditional analysis in Mayan linguistics that the syntactically determined basic word order is VOS in Kaqchikel, as in many other Mayan languages. More importantly, the result revealed that the preference for subject-object word order in sentence comprehension previously observed in other languages is not universal; rather, processing load in sentence comprehension is greatly affected by the syntactic nature of individual languages.

Sugawara at GLOW in Asia

Grad student Ayaka Sugawara is back from GLOW in Asia IX, which was held at Mie University in Japan, where she presented two papers:

Ayaka Sugawara, Hadas Kotek, Martin Hackl & Kenneth Wexler “Long vs. Short QR: Evidence from the Acquisition of ACD

Martin Hackl, Ayaka Sugawara, Su Lin Blodgett, & Kenneth Wexler “Scalar Presupposition and the Generation of Alternatives in the Acquisition of Only” (poster presentation)

Levin at LAGB 2012

Earlier this month, graduate student Ted Levin participated in the Annual Meeting of the Linguistics Association of Great Britain, held at the University of Salford in Manchester. He presented the paper (co-authored with Omer Preminger) entitled “Case in Sakha: are two modalities really necessary?” as part of a workshop on case.

Linguistics Colloquium 9/21 - Paul Kiparsky

Speaker: Paul Kiparsky (Stanford University)
Date/Time: Friday 9/21 3:30-5 pm
Location: Singleton Auditorium BCS (46-3002) [Note unusual venue]
Title: UG-driven syntactic change: the word-order cycle

It has been claimed that head-final syntax changes to head-initial syntax, but not conversely. Indeed, major families like Niger-Congo, Afro-Asiatic, Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, and Uralic, all with a significant proportion of SVO languages, are reconstructed on good evidence as proto-SOV. Wherever such changes can be tracked in the historical record, they can be seen to have the characteristic “drift” properties of proceeding in small but discrete steps in a constant direction over long periods of time, which are puzzling in many ways. Why not in shifting directions, or in a single big step? Why do different languages drift in the same direction? And how can the unidirectionality be reconciled with the persistence of typological diversity?

Arguing against accounts based on processing efficiency or representational economy, and against the historical hypothesis of Gell-Mann and Ruhlen 2011, I adopt the view that drift reflects biases in acquisition. I derive the headedness shift from a grounded and empirically improved version of the Final-Over-Final Constraint (Biberauer et al.), crucially in conjunction with the assumption that linearization is done in the syntax, and is sensitive to word structure, in particular to whether functional categories are expressed as syntactic heads or as morphological affixes. (Evidence for this comes from binding theory and from the lexicalist literature.) These principles generate biases which predict exactly the attested diachronic trajectories. I formalize this idea with a language acquisition model where learners favor the most probable language consistent with previously encountered data, definable in OT as the language with the greatest ranking volume (Riggle 2010).

My proposal makes a number of typological predictions, such as that languages with clause-final complementizers, and languages with no syntactically visible functional heads (such as Japanese) are uniformly V-final. A historical prediction of my proposal is that the word-order shift is in fact not unidirectional but cyclic. That is, it should also be the case that OV languages were once VO. For some head-final languages, there are morphological indications that this is correct (Trask 1977).