The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 15th, 2012

Syntax Square Extra Session 10/15 - Michael Erlewine and Hadas Kotek

Speakers: Michael Erlewine and Hadas Kotek
Title: Diagnosing covert pied-piping
Date/Time: Monday, Oct 15, 3-4p
Location: 32-D831
Note unusual date/time and location

(This is a practice talk for NELS. Full abstract is available here (PDF).)

We argue for the existence of covert pied-piping in English multiple questions. Novel data shows that Focus Intervention Effects occur within a covertly pied-piped constituent containing the in-situ wh-phrase. Focus-sensitive determiners (e.g. no and few) in the covertly pied-piped constituent cause ungrammaticality (1a), while focus-sensitive interveners outside of the region do not (1b), thus acting as a diagnostic for the size of covert pied-piping. We account for these facts through (a) covert pied-piping of in-situ wh-phrases (through Cable’s Q-theory), (b) the interpretation of pied-piped constituents using focus alternative computation (following Horvath, Krifka, Cable), and (c) Beck’s (2006) theory of Focus Intervention.

(1a) Which boy has read ✓a/✓some/✓the/*no/*few book(s) from which library?
(1b)✓ Which boy hasn’t read a/any/some/the book(s) from which library?

We then extend the domain of inquiry to discuss pied-piping in focus movement, and provide additional support for the theory of covert focus-movement (Krifka 2006, Wagner 2006). While there are several options for size of pied-piping in overt movement, we show that only the largest possible constituent can be moved covertly. We suggest that this shows the preference of LF and core syntax, which is suppressed by the needs of PF in the case of overt movement.

Phonology Circle 10/15 - Adam Albright & Young Ah Do

Speakers: Adam Albright and Young Ah Do
Title: Featural overlap facilitates learning of phonological alternations
Date/Time: Monday, Oct 15, 5:00p
Location: 32D-831

Alternations like p~f and t~s provide two kinds of information: certain segments (p~f) and certain features (continuancy) alternate. Grammatical frameworks generally encode alternations using features, predicting that evidence about one alternation may facilitate learning featurally overlapping alternations. We ran an Artificial Grammar experiment, exposing subjects to voicing and continuancy alternations at different frequencies for different segments (3 p~b, 13 t~d; 6 p~f, 3 t~s). In a memory task, subjects preferred frequent segmental alternations (t~d, p~f). However, in a generalization task, subjects systematically preferred voicing alternations, even for infrequent p~b. We model this with feature-based faithfulness constraints in a maxent model.

Syntax Square 10/16 - Norvin Richards and Coppe van Urk

Speakers: Norvin Richards and Coppe van Urk
Title: On the architecture of long-distance extraction: Evidence from Dinka
Location: 32-D461
Date/Time: Tue, Oct 16, 1-2p

This is a practice talk for NELS.

In this talk, we present novel data from the Nilo-Saharan language Dinka, a language in which the syntax of successive-cyclic movement is remarkably transparent. We show that Dinka provides strong support for the view of long-distance dependencies developed by Chomsky (1986, 2000, 2001, 2008). In particular, Dinka offers clear evidence that long-distance extraction proceeds through the edge of every verb phrase and clause on the path of movement. In addition to this, Dinka offers insight into the limitations of successive-cyclic movement. We show that the profile of extraction in Dinka argue for the idea that extraction is accompanied by successive Agree relations between phase heads on the path of movement, as proposed also in recent work on Tagalog and Hungarian by (Rackowski and Richards 2005) and Den Dikken (2009, 2012a,b). To reconcile these two conclusions, we develop a variant of Rackowski and Richards’ (2005) proposal, in which both intermediate movement to every phase edge and successive Agree relations between phase heads are necessary steps in establishing a long-distance dependency.

Ling-Lunch 10/18 - Anna Maria Di Sciullo

Speaker: Anna Maria Di Sciullo
Title: An Evolutionary Developmental Constraint
Date/Time: Thursday, Oct 18, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

A striking fact in the development of the nominal extended projection in Indo-European languages is that while pre and post nominal positions for a functional category are possible in earlier stages of the languages, only one position is available in later stages. This phenomenon is neither language specific nor category specific. It can be observed in the development of prepositions in the Indo-European languages, in the emergence of the definite determiner form Old to Modern Romanian, as well as in the development of the possessive adjectives from Ancient to Modern Greek and from Latin to Romance languages. I raise the question of why this is the case. I argue that this phenomenon is the consequence of the Head Initial/Final Constraint, which I take to be an evolutionary developmental universal. The HI/FC is an instance of the Directional Asymmetry hypothesis, according to which language evolution is symmetry breaking. It differs from Greenberg’s universals as they express a characteristic of languages as they evolve and it contributes to reduce derivational complexity.

ESSL Meeting 10/18 - Aron Hirsch

Speaker: Aron Hirsch
Date/time: Thursday, Oct 18, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831
Title: Prosodic prominence in intransitive clauses: argument structure or information structure?


Intransitive sentences exhibit variation in English as to whether their subject or predicate receives main prominence under broad focus (‘A VASE broke.’ vs. ‘John RAN.’). I will discuss a recent series of production experiments run jointly with Michael Wagner (McGill University), wherein we attempt to arbitrate between two theoretical accounts for this variation – one based on argument structure (unaccusativity), the other information structure (topicality). We show that the likelihood with which speakers produce prominence on the predicate correlates with the likelihood of the subject being construed as a topic, independent of whether the predicate is unaccusative or unergative (when information structure is controlled for, argument structure has no independent effect). This supports an information structure-based view where subject prominence is the unmarked pattern in intransitive sentences, with predicate prominence signalling topicality of the subject.

Some more traveling MIT linguists

The 22nd Japanese/Korean Linguistics Conference (JK22) was held at the National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics in Tokyo over the weekend.

  • Michael Kenstowicz was an invited speaker and gave a talk entitled “The adaptation of Contemporary Japanese Loanwords into Korean.”
  • Ted Levin gave a talk on “Korean Nominative Case-Stacking: A Configurational Account.”
  • Wataru Uegaki presented a poster entitled “Japanese/Korean alternative questions are disjunctions of polar questions.”

Back here in the States, the University of Kansas hosted 5th Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition-North America (GALANA 5). In addition to a plenary talk by Colin Phillips (PhD 1996), the program featured:

  • A poster by Ayaka Sugawara, Hadas Kotek, Martin Hackl, and Ken Wexler: “Long vs. short QR: Evidence from the acquisition of ACD”
  • Tania Ionin (PhD BCS 2003), Tatiana Luchkina, Anastasia Stoops: “Quantifier scope and scrambling in the second language acquisition of Russian”
  • Jeremy Hartman (PhD 2012), Yasutada Sudo (PhD 2012), Ken Wexler: “Principle B and phonologically reduced pronouns in Child English”