The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, December 15th, 2014

Whinter Whiatus for Whamit!

With the end of the Fall semester, and the coming of the Winter holidays (followed by MIT’s infamous January Independent Activities Period), Whamit! will be on semi-hiatus until the beginning of February. As always, we will publish irregularly during this period, as news arrives.

Wataru Uegaki paper to appear

Congratulations to 5th-year student Wataru Uegaki, whose paper “Content nouns and the semantics of question-embedding” has been accepted for publication by the Journal of Semantics! You can read a draft of the paper by clicking here.

Juliet Stanton’s paper to appear in Linguistic Inquiry

Congratulations to third-year student Juliet Stanton, whose paper “Wholesale Late Merger in Ā-movement: Evidence from Preposition Stranding” has been accepted for publication in Linguistic Inquiry! You can read the most recent version of the paper at http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/002131.

Phonology Circle 12/15 - Sam Zukoff

Speaker: Sam Zukoff
Title: Repetition Avoidance Effects in Indo-European Reduplication
Date: Dec. 15 (M)
Time: 5 - 6:30
Location: 32D-461

Fleischhacker 2005 develops a theory of cluster-reduction under partial reduplication based on principles of perceptual similarity. The Indo-European languages Ancient Greek, Gothic, and Sanskrit, each of which have a default CV- prefixal reduplication pattern, play significant roles in demonstrating the typology predicted by her theory. In each of these languages, there are differences in copying patterns in reduplicative categories dependent on the sonority profile of initial clusters, generally with stop + sonorant clusters patterning with single-consonant-initial roots to the exclusion of obstruent + obstruent roots, which undergo some special treatment.

In this paper, I propose that the primary data from these languages admits also of an account based on repetition avoidance in poorly-cued contexts. The proposal hinges on the idea that local repetition of consonants is perceptually dispreferred (Walter 2007), and this dispreference is exacerbated when the second consonant lacks significant phonetic cues. Stop + sonorant sequences pattern with consonant + vowel sequences because both contexts permit significant phonetic cues to the root-initial consonant to surface, whereas fewer cues are available to the root-initial consonant in other environments.

This account yields equivalently satisfactory explanation of the basic Ancient Greek and Gothic facts, but allows for more complete coverage of the Sanskrit facts. There are two relevant patterns that do not follow directly from a similarity-based approach: (i) root-initial s-stop clusters copy the stop, contrary to normal leftmost copying, and (ii) certain CVC roots in categories where the root vowel is deleted show a vowel change rather than reduplication. The first type can be accommodated with Fleischhacker’s theory, but admittedly does not follow from principles of similarity. The latter type is not discussed by Fleischhacker, and does not obviously follow from her account. Both of these patterns can be analyzed in the repetition avoidance framework as avoidance strategies for what would be poorly-cued environments if reduplicated normally. A pattern almost exactly equivalent to the CVC pattern in Sanskrit can be reconstructed for an earlier stage of Gothic, providing an explanation for the Germanic “Class V” preterite plurals (Sandell & Zukoff 2014).

Michel DeGraff named charter member of the Haitian Creole Academy

The Haitian Creole Academy for the promotion of Haitian Creole was officially inaugurated in Port-au-Prince last week. Professor Michel DeGraff is one of the first 33 members of the Academy, along with two other MIT-Haiti colleagues: Nicolas André of CreoleTrans in Miami and Pierre-Michel Chéry in Port-au-Prince.

Michel DeGraff was also invited to be part of a recently created National Commission on Curricular Reform (see this article in the newspaper Haiti Libre).

Below are more news, photos and videos of the Akademi Kreyòl (some but not all of it in Kreyòl!):






MIT-based linguistics teaching for high-school students cited in Language article

MIT-based linguistics teaching for high-school students is mentioned in this excellent new article in Language about an important Milwaukee effort:

In the United States, linguists Maya Honda of Wheelock College and Wayne O’Neil of MIT partnered with primary school teacher David Pippin after Pippin asked Steven Pinker at a book signing for advice on how to present linguistics to younger students. Pinker connected Pippin to O’Neil, his colleague at MIT. O’Neil was eager to connect with a schoolteacher, feeling that ‘[p]eople should not have to come to linguistics, this remarkable window on the workings of the human mind, in graduate school, as I did, or not at all’ (2010:25–26). The partnership among O’Neil, Honda, and Pippin has continued for over a decade. O’Neil and Honda spend a week every spring with Pippin’s students working through problem sets. In their essay ‘On promoting linguistics literacy’ (Honda et al. 2010:187), the three conclude that ‘[i]n English classes, we think of students as writers and readers. Why not as linguists?’, and they have demonstrated much success in presenting students with data sets and working with them to construct and test hypotheses.


The most recent development in the movement to offer linguistics to younger students is that, in the spring semester of 2013, six MIT graduate students taught two different linguistics courses in Boston, one a general course on linguistics and one on syntax. Iain Giblin (p.c., 8/9/2013) reported that they are hoping to make the connection with local high school students a program that becomes an MIT legacy, with new graduate students taking over the helm each semester. Hadas Kotek (p.c., 8/14/2013) added that in the summer of 2013 they started a program for middle school students as well and regularly have twenty to twenty-five students in attendance each week.

Ling-Lunch 12/15 - Chris O’Brien

Speaker: Chris O’Brien (MIT)
Title: How to get off an island
Date/Time: Monday December 15, 12:30-1:45
Location: 32-D461

Note the special date.

The grammar, it has been argued, possesses strategies for bypassing syntactic islands. Based on the selective island (SI) phenomenon, Cinque (1990) and Postal (1998) argue for a resumptive pronoun strategy for extraction from islands. Bachrach & Katzir (2009) argue that multiple dominance obviates islandhood, via a delayed Spellout (DS) mechanism. We argue that both SIs and DS islands arise from the same source, and that DS is the sole mechanism for escaping islands in wh-movement. Fox & Pesetsky’s (2009) implementation of DS and Johnson’s (2010) theory of movement conspire to predict the effects of the resumptive pronoun strategy in both sharing, and non-sharing, contexts; as well as why SI effects emerge in leftward, but not rightward, movement (Postal 1998).

Colloquium Party

A picture from the last colloquium party held at Sabine’s house (from left to right in the background: Sabine Iatridou, her dog, Coppe van Urk, Sam Steddy; from left to right in the foreground: Ted Levin).