The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 4/24 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme
Title: Deriving Greenberg’s Universal 45
Date/Time: Thursday, Apr 24, 5:30-7p
Location: 32-D831

In this talk, I will propose a model deriving Greenberg’s universal 45 about the interaction of gender and number in third person pronouns.

(1) Greenberg’s universal 45: If there are any gender distinctions in the plural of the pronoun, there are some gender distinctions in the singular also.

The general idea will be that, lexicon size being equal, a lexicon with more gender distinctions in the singular is more efficient in terms of anaphora resolution than a lexicon with more distinctions in the plural, because of the higher frequency of use of singular pronouns. The specific proposal will be implemented using a grammar generating pronoun meanings with gender presuppositions and a harmonic grammar regulating the mappings from those meanings to lexicons via two constraints (“Minimize lexicon size” and “Maximize the number of correct anaphora resolutions”). Finally, I will discuss possible extensions of this model to treat grammatical gender in addition to semantic gender, to deal with mixed-gender pronouns (they seem to be rare cross-linguistically), and to derive the primitive gender predicates.