The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 20th, 2017

LingPhil Reading Group 11/20 - on Koev (under review)

Title: Discussion of Koev (under review): Parentheticality and Assertion Strength
Date and time: Monday November 20, 1-2pm
Location: 7th Floor Seminar room

The traditional picture in linguistics and philosophy is that descriptive content and illocutionary force are cleanly separated. This paper argues that this orthodoxy is incorrect: descriptive content can modify the strength of the main assertion of the sentence, thus blurring the boundary between semantics and pragmatics. One prominent such case are sentences with SLIFTING PARENTHETICALS (e.g. The dean, Jill said, greeted the secretary; Ross 1973), which grammaticalize an intriguing interaction between compositional meaning and speech act function. In such sentences, the main clause (the non-parenthetical part of the sentence) pragmatically depends on the parenthetical, which provides evidential information. The discourse effect of this setup is that slifting parentheticals modulate the strength with which the main clause is asserted (cf. Urmson 1952; Asher 2000; Rooryck 2001; Jayez & Rossari 2004; Davis et al. 2007; Simons 2007; Murray 2014; Maier & Bary 2015; AnderBois 2016; Hunter 2016). Building on Lewis (1976) and Davis et al. (2007), this paper develops a probabilistic dynamic model that captures the role of parentheticality as a language tool for qualifying commitments. The model also derives three properties that set apart slifting sentences from regular embedding constructions (e.g. Jill said that the dean greeted the secretary), i.e. (i) the fact that slifting parentheticals invariably express upward-entailing operators, (ii) the fact that they modify root clauses and do not occur in subordinate clauses, and (iii) the fact that slifted claims are more difficult to reject or doubt by the speaker than claims expressed in complement clauses.

The discussion will be lead by Maša

Phonology Circle 11/20 - Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College & MIT)

Speaker: Koichi Tateishi (Kobe College & MIT), joint work with Shinobu Mizuguchi (Kobe University)
Title: Focus Prosody in Japanese Reconsidered
Date/Time: Monday, 20 November 2017, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831
This study, a part of ongoing joint project on production/perception of Japanese intonation and focus, discusses topics that have hardly been touched upon in relation to them. Most previous studies on Japanese accent and pitch have focused on mechanisms of accentuation, how lexical accents manipulate pitch/F0, how intonation patterns are parsed into prosodic phrases, and how focus affects intonational patterns and prosodic phrasing. However, except for sporadic mention by, for example, Pierrehumbert and Beckman (1988), Selkirk and Tateishi (1988, 1991), Sugahara (2003), and Ishihara (2011a), the discussions are solely on accented words and Downstep (Catathesis), and discussions on unaccented words are hardly found. In this study, we did preliminary experiments on perception/production of focus under various accentual conditions, to examine whether the so-called effects of focus in Japanese (and other languages perhaps) apply to other accentual environments. Due to the preliminary nature of our study, we do not intend to say that the points below are valid, but our interim conclusion is a very moderate one, namely that our results accord with what has been being said about the effects of focus in recent years (Ishihara (2003, 2011ab, 2016, 2017), Sugahara (2003), among others), with several findings that may be novel.
  1. An unaccented prosodic phrase also undergoes Focal Boost of F0, which means that focal prosody is not an accent.
  2. Related to this, the boost of F0 due to focus is not so strong that it nullifies previous F0-manipulating effects, such as Downstep. (Ishihara (2003), Shinya (1999))
  3. Because of the Boost and other factors (such as Lowering of F0 due to GIVENness), Downstep-like effects CAN be observed after an unaccented word with focus. (somehow related to Sugahara’s (2003) results, but a little different)
  4. When there is a string of enough length with GIVEN information contents, there appears to be PRE-focal lowering. This lowering appears to lower the pitch of the focus following it. (There have been studies on GIVEN strings AFTER focus, but not BEFORE in our understanding.)
  5. Given 1.-4., the manipulation of F0 by focus is affected by so many factors, and perhaps it is not appropriate to say that focus initiates a new Major Phrase (or Phonological Phrase). (Ishihara’s series of work)

Syntax Square 11/21 - Stanislao Zompí (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompí
Title: *ABA in case morphology and what it may teach us
Date and time: Tuesday November 21, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this presentation, I try to lay out a comprehensive survey of *ABA effects in case morphology, with an emphasis on case syncretism, case-based wholesale suppletion, and case-based stem-formative allomorphy. Building on work by Baerman et al. (2005), McFadden (2017), and Smith et al. (2017), I claim that all three of these phenomena are constrained by the following universal: No Vocabulary-Insertion rule can apply to both an inherent case and an unmarked core case (nominative/absolutive) without also applying to another core case (accusative/ergative). The case hierarchy that such *ABA effects motivate is thus one where the ergative consistently occupies the same ‘middle field’ as the accusative, instead of patterning with inherent cases. This offers a new kind of argument against approaches that treat the ergative as just another inherent case, and it favors instead those case-assignment theories that do put ergative and accusative in the same box. Prominent among these is Marantz’s (1991) dependent-case theory, whereby accusative and ergative are both treated as dependent cases—i.e. assigned to nominals that stand in an asymmetric c-command relation to another as-yet-caseless nominal nearby (cf. also Yip et al. 1987). In this light, I reinterpret Marantz’s disjunctive case-assignment hierarchy as a proper containment hierarchy: [[[UNMARKED] DEPENDENT] INHERENT].

LFRG 11/22 - Moshe Bar-Lev - rescheduled to 11/29

LF Reading Group meeting with a talk from Moshe Bar-Lev on Homogeneity will take place on November 29th 1-2pm.

Miyagawa on interdisciplinary approaches to digital learning

Shigeru Miyagawa, who was recently appointed Senior Associate Dean for the MIT Office of Digital Learning (ODL - responsible for OpenCourseWare, MITx, and other digital initiatives), has given an interview for MIT News discussing his goals for ODL and the future of digital learning and cross-institute collaboration. The full article can be found here.