The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 19th, 2012

Phonology Circle 11/19 - Keiichi Tajima

Speaker: Keiichi Tajima (Professor, Dept. of Psychology, Hosei University / Visiting Researcher, Speech Communication Group, Research Laboratories of Electronics, MIT)
Title: Perception of prosody in a non-native language: The case of Japanese listeners’ perception of English syllable structure.
Date/Time: Monday, Nov 19, 5pm
Location: 32-D831

Learners of a second language (L2) are known to have difficulty in the production and perception of not just phonetic contrasts that are not found in their native language (L1), but also prosodic properties that diverge from their L1, such as syllable structure, rhythm, and intonation. In the present study, I report results from a series of studies that investigated the extent to which native Japanese listeners have difficulty perceiving syllables in spoken English, given the fact that English generally has more complex syllable structures than Japanese. Results show that Japanese listeners indeed have great difficulty accurately counting syllables in spoken English words. Perceptual identification training, however, significantly improves their performance. The non-native listeners’ difficulty was strongly related to phonological factors such as the syllable complexity of the English words, but it was not related to phonetic factors such as the speaking rate of the words, nor to lexical factors such as the presence or absence of loanwords in Japanese that are etymologically / semantically related to yet phonologically distinct (with divergent syllable structures) from the source words, e.g., English source word “stress” and its corresponding Japanese loanword “sutoresu”.

Syntax Square 11/20 - Ted Levin

Speaker: Theodore Frank Levin
Title: Dependent Case is Licensing
Date/Time: Tuesday, Nov 20, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Baker and Vinokurova (2010) suggest that some languages (including Sakha) may utilize both configurational (i.e. Marantz 1991) and functional-head driven (i.e. Chomsky 2000, 2001) approaches to case-assignment. I have argued elsewhere that Sakha is not such a language (Levin and Preminger 2012). However, I will argue that English is such a language.

Under common assumptions regarding Agree (Chomsky 2000, 2001), a probe must c-command its goal and that probe must have an uninterpretable (and hence unvalued) feature.

(1) AGREE (Chomsky 2000, 2001)
(i) An unvalued feature F (a probe) on a head H scans its c-command domain for another instance of F (a goal) with which to agree.
(ii) If the goal has a value, its value is assigned as the value of the probe.

Given this assumption, the functional-head driven account of Case assignment is unexpected: A functional head with unvalued φ-features probes its c-command domain for a nominal with valued φ-features and enters an Agree-relationship. As a consequence of this, the c-commanded nominal’s unvalued Case-feature is valued. This valuation is unexpected, as the unvalued Case-feature is not in a position to act as a probe given (1).

A number of proposals have attempted to eliminated instances of “Reverse Agree” (e.g. Boskovic 2007, Zeiljstra 2011). Boskovic (2007) suggests that if (some) probes cannot find a goal in their c-command domains, they will move successive-cyclically until they come to c-command an appropriate, valued feature. An immediate advantage of this account is that it allows us to derive the EPP. In intransitive clauses a DP base-generated in Spec-vP or Compl-V will raise to Spec-TP, because the unvalued Case-feature on the DP triggers movement. Once in Spec-TP, the DP c-commands T0, and is able to value its Case-feature.

However, there is a problem if we assume that both T0 and v0 assign Case in transitive constructions. A subject DP, base-generated in Spec-vP, should be able to value its Case-feature against v0. If this occurs, the object DP should move to Spec-TP to value its Case-feature by Agreeing with T0. Proponents of unvalued-feature driven movement have suggested that accusative case in transitive clauses may be lexically assigned by V0. While only accusative assigned in ECM constructions is assigned by v0.

I will suggest that in a hybrid approach to case-assignment, we can maintain the account of the EPP and treat ECM and transitive accusative uniformly. Specifically, nominative case is assigned under a functional-head driven approach whereby a DP must occupy Spec-TP to be valued nominative. Both ECM and transitive accusative are assigned configurationally. Under this approach accusative case is assigned to an object DP, because it is c-commanded by an as-of-yet caseless nominal. Crucially dependent case must be assigned within the narrow syntax (Baker & Vinokurova 2010; Preminger 2011) contra Marantz (1991) and Bobaljik (2008). Evidence from Case Adjacency effects in English will be utilized to argue for the proposed hybrid theory.