The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 26th, 2016

Syntax Square 9/26 — Suzana Fong

Speaker: Suzana Fong (MIT)
Title: Long distance argument shift
Date/Time: Monday, September 26, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Last resort and locality work conjointly to rule out sentences like (i) *John seems that cleaned the kitchen and (ii) *John saw him that cleaned the kitchen. These constructions seem to involve the movement of a DP (‘John’) out of a finite clause and from a Case position into another Case position. Though this is the correct result for a language like English, these sentences are actually attested in other languages. (i) is an instance of hyper-raising and it seems to be possible in Brazilian Portuguese, Lubukusu and Zulu. (ii) seems to be possible in Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Romanian and Sakha.

Although seemingly different, my working hypothesis is that (i) and (ii) are particular instantiations of the same phenomenon, ‘long distance argument shift’ (LDAS). In order to account for it, I propose that LDAS complements involve an extra functional projection XP on top of the finite CP. I also adopt a dynamic approach to phases (Bošković 2014), so that XP and not CP counts as a phase in an LDAS complement. I postulate that XP triggers the movement of a DP to its Spec position. From there, being at the edge of the lower phase, the DP will be accessible to a matrix probe. This is supposed to solve the locality problem. I will also try to show that the postulation of an extra functional projection, though suspicious, may capture some properties of the behavior of LDAS. XP could also be important in trying to explain the restrictions in LDAS variation within and across languages.

Furthermore, I adopt a configurational approach to case (Marantz 1991). Under this view, case itself does not cause a DP to move or to stay frozen in place, eliminating the last resort problem. Empirical motivation to adopt dependent case comes from Sakha (Baker & Vinokurova 2010), where the shifting DP is marked with accusative case, even though the matrix predicate may be unaccusative. I also assume that case can be assigned at each phase a DP moves through (cf. Levin 2016). The motivation comes from case stacking in Korean and Norwegian topicalization, which could be argued to display morphological evidence of the cases the shifting DP gets in the embedded and in the matrix clause.

The following Syntax Square dates are still open: Nov 14, Nov 28, Dec 12. Please contact Colin Davis (colind@mit.edu) or Justin Colley (jcolley@mit.edu) to claim a slot.

Phonology Circle 9/26 — Carolyn Spadine

Speaker: Carolyn Spadine (MIT)
Title: Transitivizer Deglottalization in St’at’imcets: Rethinking Intraparadigmatic Faithfulness
Date/Time: Monday, September 26, 5:00-6:30
Location: 32-D831

An abstract is available here.

ESSL/LacqLab Meeting 9/26 — Boyce and Aravind

  • Speakers: Veronica Boyce (undergraduate assistant at LacqLab) and Athulya Aravind (MIT)
  • Title: Acquiring auxiliary selection in French
  • Date: 09/26/2016, Monday (notice the exceptional time!)
  • Time: 5:00 PM
  • Venue: 32-D769 (7th floor seminar room)
We will present corpus data relating to French children’s knowledge of two different dimensions of auxiliary selection: (1) the unaccusative-unergative division of intransitives and (2) the formation of reflexive clitic constructions. While children show early competence in both domains overall, there are some systematic error patterns that emerge and we would like to have an informal discussion of those.

LFRG 9/28 — Kai von Fintel

Speaker: Kai von Fintel (MIT)
Time: Wednesday, Sept. 28, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: On the absence of certain ambiguities (in some contexts)

Postal (1974) [an extensive reply to Hasegawa 1972], Horn (1981), among others, discussed the distribution of transparent readings in intensional contexts (“George doesn’t know that Chloe is where she (actually) is” versus “#I don’t know that she is where she is”). Jackson (1981, 1987), not knowing the previous literature, used the fact that transparent readings are absent in indicative conditionals to argue that indicative conditionals are not possible worlds constructions. In response, Weatherson (2001) and Nolan (2003) propose that indicative conditionals monstrously diagonalize their components (see also Santorio 2012).

In this presentation, I will explore the true extent of the phenomenon and discuss how one might account for it. The purpose for now is to show of this puzzle that it truly is a puzzle. In an as of yet mythical follow-up, a brilliant solution will appear.

Valentine Hacquard’s mini-course 9/28-9/29

Title: The semantics and pragmatics of attitude reports: the view from acquisition
Date/time: Wednesday, 09/28 and Thursday, 09/29, 5:00-6:30pm
Venue: 32-D461

What semantic categories are there in natural language? Do they define a space of ‘natural’ meanings within those that are merely ‘conceivable’? How do children figure out what these semantic categories are? How well are they tracked by syntactic categories and can the child exploit systematic links between these syntactic and semantic categories? This course investigates the semantics and pragmatics of attitude reports by focusing on the interplay between syntax, semantics and pragmatics, from the perspective of the formal semanticist and of the child learner. We will focus on attitudes of belief vs. desire on Day 1, and on factivity on Day 2.

Ling-Lunch 9/29 — Vitor Nóbrega

Speaker: Vitor Nóbrega (University of São Paulo)
Title: Root categorization as an interface condition: Evidence from compounds
Date/Time: Thursday, September 29/12:30pm-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract: pdf

Colloquium 9/30 — Valentine Hacquard

Speaker: Valentine Hacquard (University of Maryland)
Title: Grasping at factivity
Date: Friday, Sept. 30th
Time: 3:30-5:00 PM
Place: 32-155 (please note that the venue has changed from 32-141 to 32-155)

Speakers mean more than their sentences do, because they can take a lot about their audience for granted. This talk explores how presuppositions and pragmatic enrichments play out in acquisition. How do children untangle semantic from pragmatic contributions to what speakers mean? The case study I will focus on is how children learn the meaning of the words think and know. When and how do children figure out that think but not know can be used to report false beliefs? When and how do they figure out that with know, but not think, speakers tend to presuppose the truth of the complement clause? I will suggest that the path of acquisition is traced by the child’s understanding both of where such verbs occur, and of why speakers use them. (joint work with Rachel Dudley and Jeff Lidz)

Norvin Richards’ Contiguity Theory on MIT News

Norvin Richard’s recently published Contiguity Theory was featured on MIT News!

But exactly why do languages differ in this way? Linguists who study syntax have catalogued myriad distinguishing rules and patterns among world languages — without necessarily explaining why such differences exist. But now Richards has a new explanation, detailed in his book, “Contiguity Theory,” recently published by the MIT Press. The answer, Richards claims, is sound. That is, the sounds of languages have hugely influenced their syntax. To a greater degree than has been the case, Richards believes, we need to integrate phonology — the study of sound in language — with syntax. Then we can better grasp why languages have their specific rules. “The claim I’m making in this book is that our explanations should start with a careful explanation of the phonology and morphology,” Richards says. When studying syntax, he says, “We’ve been missing the deepest level of explanation by insisting that we not pay attention to morphology and phonology.”


You can read the full article here.