The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 14th, 2015

Phonology Circle 9/14 - A reading group on Eric Bakovic’s book

A reading group on Eric Bakovic’s 2013 book, Blocking and Complementarity in Phonological Theory, will have its first meeting Monday 5pm in 32-D831. The reading for this session is chapters 1-3 of the book.

LingLunch 9/17 - Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Dependent case and clitic dissimilation
Time: Thursday 9/17, 12:30-1:45pm
Place: 32-D461

In Yimas (Lower Sepik; Papua New Guinea), case and agreement are encoded on a series of optional preverbal clitics, which are doubled from arguments in the syntax. In this talk, I propose that the Yimas clitic system provides clear evidence for the dependent theory of case, as well as for the broader view that dependent case is fundamentally a subtype of featural dissimilation, which applies to avoid multiple morphosyntactically non-distinct objects (cf. Richards 2010, Baker 2015). The distributions of case in Yimas are exactly as predicted under a dependent theory of case assignment (Marantz 1991), though in Yimas it is determined jointly by the structural configuration of nominals and the clitic environment. I argue that dependent case assignment in Yimas prevents sequences of featurally identical clitics, and show how this follows from the logic of clitic doubling. This proposal is moreover supported by the existence of several other dissimilatory strategies applying on the clitics, which share the same endgoal; these other strategies are illustrated through modal clitic/AGR clitic interactions and case-sensitive participant dissimilation effects.

LFRG 9/18 - Naomi Francis

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Time: Friday, September 18, 2-3:30
Place: 32-D831
Title: Positive polarity items and scope in negative inversion constructions

Negative inversion is a construction that involves the preposing of a negative expression and obligatory subject-auxiliary inversion (e.g. ‘Never have I seen such a majestic giraffe!’). Collins and Postal (2014) claim that the preposed negative element takes scope over everything else in the clause. However, I show that, while the negative expression does take scope over quantificational DPs, deontic modals should, must, and to be to, which have been argued to be positive polarity items (Iatridou and Zeijlstra 2013), are able to outscope it. I explore ways of capturing this fact and argue that several initially appealing explanations turn out to be problematic.

Colloquium 9/18 - Eric Bakovic

Speaker: Eric Bakovic (UCSD)
Title: Ensuring the proper determination of identity: a model of possible constraints
Date: Friday, September 18th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

Some phonological patterns can be described as sufficient identity avoidance, where ‘sufficiently identical’ means ‘necessarily identical with respect to all but some specific feature(s)’. The first part of the talk addresses this question: why are specific features ignored for the purposes of determining sufficient identity? In previous work (Bakovic 2005, Bakovic & Kilpatrick 2006, Pajak & Bakovic 2010), we have found that patterns of sufficient identity avoidance where a specific feature F is ignored also involve F-assimilation in the same contexts. Direct reference to sufficient identity is thus unnecessary: sufficient identity is indirectly avoided because F-assimilation would otherwise be expected, resulting in total identity. Avoiding sufficient identity without assimilation is the better option, as predicted by the minimal violation property of Optimality Theory. This analysis predicts rather than stipulates the features that will be ignored for the purposes of determining sufficient identity. (Corollary consequences of the analysis will also be discussed in the talk.)

The explanatory value of the analysis, however, is predicated on the absolute non-existence of constraints directly penalizing all-but-F identity, which could be active independently of F-assimilation. The second part of the talk addresses this question: how can such constraints be ruled out formally? I propose a model of constraints and of how they evaluate candidate sets that results in just the types of constraints necessary for the analysis above. More broadly, the proposed model is intended as a contribution to our formal understanding of what a ‘possible constraint’ is.