The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 30th, 2013

Phonology Circle 9/30 - Gaja Jarosz

Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (Yale/MIT)
Title: Inductive Bias in the Acquisition of Syllable Structure in Polish
Date/Time: Monday, Sept 30, 5:30pm
Location: 32-D831

(Joint work with Shira Calamaro and Jason Zentz, Yale University.)

A growing body of recent computational and experimental work investigates the kinds of constraints or inductive biases that are needed to explain adult learning outcomes and artificial language learning results. This paper contributes to this discussion by investigating the extent to which inductive biases are needed to explain phonological development. Our focus is on modeling development of production to probe the learning biases that affect the acquisition process in a naturalistic setting. We use statistical modeling to make and test predictions for learning based on properties of the language input. In particular, on the basis of a longitudinal corpus of spontaneous productions of four Polish-learning children, we present detailed analysis of the acquisition of syllable structure in Polish and the phonological factors underlying the observed development. We subsequently construct a variety of phonotactic probability models estimated from a corpus of spontaneous speech spoken to these children and examine the abilities of these input-based models to explain the observed acquisition effects. Our findings indicate that, while certain phonotactic probabilities are highly predictive of acquisition, none can explain the full range of observed acquisition effects. We show that development of syllable structure is sensitive to phonological factors not recoverable from the phonotactic probabilities, suggesting a crucial role for inductive biases. We also show that access to abstract phonological representations plays a key role in explaining the developmental effects. We discuss implications of these results for theories of phonological learning.

Syntax Square 10/1 - Ted Levin

Speaker: Ted Levin
Title: On the structure of Japanese passive constructions
Date/Time: Tuesday, Oct 1, 1-2p
Location: 32-D461

Please see the full abstract (pdf).

Ling-Lunch 10/3 - Hadas Kotek

Speaker: Hadas Kotek
Title: What moves where when you process wh-in-situ
Date/Time: Thursday, Oct 3, 12:30-1:45p
Location: 32-D461

Recent theories of interrogative syntax/semantics adopt two strategies for the interpretation of in-situ wh-phrases: covert movement (Karttunen 1977, a.o.) and in-situ interpretation (Hamblin 1973, a.o.). The availability of covert movement is traditionally assumed to be all-or-nothing: the in-situ wh covertly moves to C or else stays in its base-generated position and is interpreted without movement at LF. In this talk I argue that this assumption cannot be maintained. I present evidence from real-time sentence processing of English multiple wh-questionswhich shows that wh-phrases require both covert movement and in-situ interpretation for their derivation. I propose a new syntax-semantics for multiple questions that can derive the experimental data.

ESSL meetings resuming

The Experimental Syntax and Semantics Lab (ESSL) is resuming its regular lab meetings on Thursday evenings at 5 pm in 32-D831. The organizers are currently looking for people to present their research at these meetings (ongoing and finished projects are equally welcome). If you are interested in presenting, please email Erin Olson with a preferred presentation date and a title/short description of what you’d like to present.

Bronwyn Bjorkman wins Banting Fellowship

Congratulations to Bronwyn Bjorkman (PhD 2011), who has just been officially named a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow, Canada’s most coveted postdoctoral award! As a Banting Fellow (who made it through stiff national and international competition), Bronwyn will conduct collaborative research with Elisabeth Cowper and other colleagues at the University of Toronto on a project entitled “Variation in temporal categorization: Towards a feature system for tense and aspect”. Great news!

Side note: Unless we have missed someone, we believe that Bronwyn is just the second linguist to win this fellowship since it was inaugurated three years ago. The other linguist so honored (two years ago) was Jessica Coon (PhD 2010), now an Assistant Professor at McGill.

LFRG 10/4 - Chris O’Brien

The organizers of LFRG would like to arrange a few meetings around the theme of exhaustivity and scalar implicatures this semester. If anyone would like to present so if anyone would like to present a paper or ideas of their own on these topics, please contact Edwin Howard or Chris O’Brien.

Speaker: Chris O’Brien
Date/Time: Friday 10/4, 1-2.30 pm
Location: 32-D831
Topic: Experimental evidence for embedded scalar implicatures (Chemla & Spector 2011)

Chris O’Brien will discuss Chemla & Spector’s 2011 paper “Experimental evidence for embedded scalar implicatures”. Abstract of the paper:

“Scalar implicatures are traditionally viewed as pragmatic inferences which result from a reasoning about speakers’ communicative intentions (Grice 1989). This view has been challenged in recent years by theories which propose that scalar implicatures are a grammatical phenomenon. Such theories claim that scalar implicatures can be computed in embedded positions and enter into the recursive computation of meaning—something that is not expected under the traditional, pragmatic view. Recently, Geurts and Pouscoulous (2009) presented an experimental study in which embedded scalar implicatures were not detected. Using a novel version of the truth value judgment tasks, we provide evidence that subjects sometimes compute embedded scalar implicatures.”

Colloquium 10/4 - Michael Wagner

Speaker: Michael Wagner (McGill)
Date/Time: Friday October 4th, 3:30-5pm
Venue: 32-141
Title: Additivity and the Syntax of ‘Even’


Whether ‘even’ carries an additive presupposition remains controversial. While Horn (1969), Karttunen and Peters (1979), Wilkinson (1996) and many others have argued that it does, Stechow (1991), Krifka (1992) and Rullmann (1997) reached the opposite conclusion. This talk identifies a restriction on the focus alternatives that additive operator may range over: They cannot entail or be entailed by what is asserted. Based on tests relying on this restriction and more conventional arguments, the talk then develops a novel syntactic generalization about the circumstances under which even triggers an additive presupposition which reconciles apparently contradictory evidence from the earlier literature. Consequences for our understanding of the syntax of focus operators are explored.