The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 2nd, 2015

Ling Lunch 11/5 - Maria-Margarita Makri

Speaker: Maria-Margarita Makri (York)
Title: Not as might
Time: Thursday, November 5th, 12:30-1:45 pm
Place: 32-D461


Pumpkin carving!

Whug Whiches in situ,
howλing wolves you can see through,
Bats flying,
Pumpkins crying,
Pathetic rhyming,
But good timing —
Happy Halloween!

To see more pictures, visit the MIT Linguistics Facebook page.

Phonology Circle 11/2 - Hanzhi Zhu

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)
Title: The Syllable Contact Law in Kyrgyz
Date: Tuesday, November 2nd
Time: 5-6:30
Place: 32-D831

Kyrgyz (Turkic) has been described as a language which abides by the Syllable Contact Law by requiring a drop in sonority (Gouskova 2004). For example, /aj+nɨ/ is realized as [ajdɨ], with n desonorizing to d, with *jn having a sonority drop too small to be permitted. Partly motivated by this observation, Gouskova proposes a relational constraint hierarchy based on sonority distance between C1 and C2 alone. However, a closer look at the data leads to a more complicated picture, revealing that an approach based solely on the sonority distance between two segments cannot work. Although glide-nasal (*jn) sequences are prohibited, glide-lateral (jl) sequences are permitted, despite having an even smaller sonority drop. In this talk, I will motivate the need for an alternative account to SyllCon in languages which resolve violations via desonorization.

Syntax Square 11/3 - Nico Baier

Speaker: Nico Baier (Berkeley)
Title: Deriving Anti-Agreement in Berber
Date: Tuesday, November 3rd
Time: 10:00am-11:00am
Place: 32-D461

This presentation examines anti-agreement (Ouhalla 1993), an effect whereby the normal agreement pattern with an argument in a specific position is disrupted when that position is Ă-bound, in Berber. I argue that verbal agreement in Berber is pronominal, and that anti-agreement arises from a need to avoid a weak crossover violation that would occur when a subject is Ā-extracted from its base position in Spec-vP. I show that when combined with Erlewine’s (2014) Spec-to-Spec Anti-locality constraint, this theory correctly predicts the distribution of anti-agreement in Berber.

Thursday Talk 11/5 - Paul Portner

Speaker: Paul Portner (Georgetown University)
Title: Imperative mood
Date: Thursday, November 5th
Time: 5:00-6:30 PM
Place: 32-D461

We usually think about imperatives as one of the major sentence moods, in a paradigm which also includes declaratives and interrogatives. But it is often sometimes described as a verbal mood, in opposition to indicatives and subjunctives. There are clear similarities between imperatives, on the one hand, and subjunctives and infinitives, on the other. For example:

1. Infinitives and imperatives can have controlled subjects when embedded.

2. Infinitives, imperatives and (to a lesser extent) subjunctives lack independent tense.

3. Infinitives, subjunctives, and imperatives are used in similar semantic contexts.

I will begin by presenting a framework in which point 3 can be made precise. This framework, a version of dynamic logic with preferences (Veltman 1986, van der Torre and Tan 1998), allows us to represent the central ideas of one of the major approaches to verbal mood (the Comparison-Based Approach; Giorgi and Pianesi 1997, Villalta 2008, Anand and Hacquard 2013, among others) and one of the major approaches to sentence mood (Dynamic Pragmatics; e.g. Hamblin 1971, Gazdar 1981, Roberts 2012, Portner 2004). This framework allows us to express part of what imperatives have in common with infinitives/subjunctives. Imperatives, infinitives, and subjunctives are used to report or affect which worlds are best-ranked according to a selected ordering relation.

Then we will see that the analysis presented does not seem to cover the relations among imperatives, infinitives, and subjunctives fully. Returning to points 1-2, both of these properties are tied to the semantics of de se attitudes. Specifically, 1 leads to a subject-oriented de se meaning, while 2 leads to temporal de se. It seems that clauses which normally give rise to de se interpretations are selected in contexts of modal comparison. What is the connection between de se meaning and comparison-based modality? Are clauses to which a de se operator has applied especially well-suited for computing comparison-based modal meanings? I leave this as an open puzzle.

Colloquium 11/6 - Paul Portner

Speaker: Paul Portner (Georgetown University)
Title: Commitment to Priorities
Date: Friday, November 6th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-141

I will discuss variations in the “strength” of imperatives with the goal of better understanding the representation of priorities in discourse. Imperatives can seem stronger or weaker in several different ways. Sometimes they allow an inference to a strong necessity statement; in other instances, we can infer a weak necessity or a possibility statement:

(1) Soldiers, march! -> They must march.

(2) Have a cookie! -> He #must/should/may have a cookie.

In some cases, they make true to corresponding modal statement; in others, they are justified by it:

(3) Soldiers, march! => They must march.

(4) Have a cookie! <= He should have a cookie.

With some examples, the speaker doesn’t seem to care whether the addressee agrees; with others, the addressee’s choice determines the imperative’s effect:

(5) Sit down, and don’t get up until I tell you to!

(6) Have a seat. You’ll be more comfortable.

Rising or falling intonation often correspond to an imperative’s being strong or weak:

(7) Sit down[v]

(8) Have a seat[^]

Recent theories of imperatives treat them as affecting the relative priority of alternatives compatible with the common ground; relative priority is represented by means of a to-do list, ordering source, or other similar construct (e.g., Portner 2004, Mastop 2005, Charlow 2011, Kaufmann 2012, Condoravdi & Lauer 2012, Starr 2013). In this talk, I argue that, in order to understand the variations in imperative strength, we need to employ a more articulated representation of the discourse context which tracks speaker’s and addressee’s individual commitments concerning the relative priority of alternatives, as well as joint commitments. Specifically, I build on the model of commitment slates (Hamblin 1971) as developed for falling vs. rising declaratives like (9)-(10) and polar interrogatives by Gunlogson (2001) and Farkas & Bruce (2010).

(9) It’s raining[v].

(10) It’s raining[^]?

The central idea is that strong and weak imperatives differ in a way analogous to (9) and (10).