The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling-Lunch 10/19 - Justin Colley (MIT) + Ezer Rasin (MIT) & Roni Katzir (MIT, TAU)

This week’s Ling-Lunch consists of two NELS practice talks
Date/Time: Thursday, October 12, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Speaker: Justin Colley (MIT)
Title: Object movement derives object preference

Some languages exhibit object preference, in which agreement is with the object, if possible, and otherwise with the subject. For example, in Erzya Mordvin (Uralic), person agreement is with the object if it is 1st or 2nd person (1a), and otherwise the subject (1b) (Béjar 2003; Georgi 2010).

1) a. kunda-d-ad-yz
   I/we/(s)he/they catch you(pl).

 b. kunda-s-y-k
   You(pl) catch him/her.

Object preference is problematic for a theory of Agree in which a Probe agrees with the closest c-commanded Goal (Rizzi, 1991; Chomsky, 2000, 2001). If a Probe c-commands the subject, then all things being equal, the result is expected to be subject agreement.

There are two kinds of theories of object preference. One is a low Probe theory, in which object-preferring Probes are on v, with extra assumptions invoked to explain the possibility of subject agreement (Béjar and Rezac, 2009; Lomashvili & Harley, 2011). I will argue instead for a movement theory, in which object-preferring Probes are high, and object preference is the result of movement above the subject (Bruening, 2001). Evidence for object-preferring Probes being high comes from cross-linguistic generalisations about morpheme ordering and suppletion. Evidence for movement of the object comes from various sources, including variable binding, word order, differential object marking, and the behaviour of unaccusatives.

Speaker: Ezer Razin (MIT) and Roni Katzir (MIT, TAU)
Title: Rule-based learning of phonological optionality and opacity

Optionality and opacity pose obvious challenges for the child learning the phonology of their ambient language: a process to be acquired loses support because of environments in which it was supposed to apply but didn’t (both optionality and counterfeeding opacity) or in which it wasn’t supposed to apply but did (counterbleeding opacity). Not surprisingly, no learners in the literature can handle optionality or opacity distributionally, from unanalyzed input data alone. Children, however, do manage to acquire optionality and opacity in a variety of languages (Dell 1981, McCarthy 2007). This talk shows how optional processes and opaque interactions (including both counterfeeding and counterbleeding) can be acquired using the principle of Minimum Description Length (MDL; Solomonoff 1964, Rissanen 1978). Specifically, we use an adaptation of Rasin & Katzir 2016’s MDL learner (originally used for OT phonology) to rule-based phonology and show how it applies to various cases of optionality and opacity. We then show simulations on artificial-language data illustrating the mechanization of the idea.