The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 1st, 2018


GALANA (Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition North America) was hosted at Indiana University in Bloomington this past weekend. MIT 3rd year students Yadav Gowda and Elise Newman presented their joint work with Leo Rosenstein and Martin Hackl on the acquisition of scalar focus particles; Polarity Sensitivity to Even in Early Child Grammar.

LingPhil Reading Group 10/01 – on Quine (1956)

Harrison Smith-Jaoudi will kick off LPRG’s de re/de dicto/de se series with the pioneering Quine (1956) on “Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes”. The meeting will take place on Monday October 1st in the 8th floor seminar room, i.e. the usual time & place.

Title : Quantifiers and Propositional Attitudes

Author :  Willard Van Orman Quine


MorPhun 10/1: Vincent presents Zukoff 2016

Speaker: Vincent Rouillard (MIT)
Title: Vincent presents Zukoff 2016 
Date and time: Monday 10/1, 5-6pm
Location: 32-D831

We’re glad to announce our next MorPhun meeting, which will take place on Monday 10/01 at 5pm. Vincent Rouillard will lead our discussion about Sam Zukoff’s (2016) paper The Mirror Alignment Principle: Morpheme ordering at the morphosyntax–phonology interface (link here: http://web.mit.edu/szukoff/www/pdfs/MITWPL.pdf ).
Sam’s paper (which originated in one of his GPs) a new proposal regarding the nature of morpheme ordering, based on the operation of the Mirror Alignment Principle (MAP) at the morphology phonology interface. The MAP is an algorithm that translates hierarchical structural relations (asymmetric c-command) between morphosyntactic terminals into ranking domination relations between ALIGNMENT constraints on the exponents of those morphosyntactic terminals in the phonological component of the grammar (namely in CON). This algorithm provides a principled means of capturing so-called Mirror Principle effects (Baker 1985, 1988), whereby the order of morphemes in a complex word mirrors the order of syntactic derivation and hierarchical morphosyntactic structure.

LF Reading Group 9/26 - Todor Koev (Universität Konstanz/MIT)

Speaker: Todor Koev (Universität Konstanz/MIT)
Title: Strong Beliefs, Weak Commitments
Date and time: Wednesday, October 1st, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461


The standard Hintikkan semantics views “believe” as a universal quantifier over possible worlds, stating that the prejacent is true across all the attitude holder’s doxastic alternatives (Hintikka 1969). However, this semantics (i) fails to capture the fact that “believe” is a gradable predicate (e.g. “partially believe” v. “fully believe”) and (ii) makes no predictions about the degree of certainty of the belief agent. To remedy these problems, I propose a probabilistic semantics along the general lines of Kennedy & McNally’s (2005) analysis of gradable adjectives. I argue that “believe” is a strong modal, i.e. it is a maximum-degree predicate. While belief attributions can sometimes be interpreted as hedges (e.g. “I believe it’s raining, but I’m not sure it is”), I argue (contra Hawthorne et al. 2016) that such weak uses are not the default as they canonically arise with first-person present-tense unembedded forms and under the right pragmatic conditions, i.e. when the belief component is not relevant to the question under discussion. Following up on a suggestion made in Chemla (2008), I propose that the weak sense of “believe” arises as an antipresupposition, i.e. as a scalar inference derived through competition with a presuppositionally stronger “know”-competitor. A weak interpretation amounts to a situation in which the speaker expresses full subjective confidence in the prejacent but reneges on publicly committing to it.     


Phonology circle - Edward Flemming, Adam Albright (10/1); Filipe Kobayashi (10/3)

This week we will have two meeting of Phonology Circle: Monday (10/1) and Wednesday (10/3). The meeting on Wednesday in the usual time slot (5pm-6:30pm) and location (8th floor seminar room). The meeting on Monday will be held at 12:30pm-2pm in the 4th floor seminar room. Details are below.

Monday meeting - two poster presentations:
Poster 1: Edward Flemming. Title: Systemic markedness in sibilant inventories (click here for abstract)
Poster 2: Adam Albright. Title: English vowel reduction is conditioned by duration, not stress (click here for abstract)
Date/Time: Monday, October 1, 12:30-2pm
Location: 32-D461 (4th floor seminar room)

Wednesday meeting - discussion of a paper:
Leader of discussion: Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (MIT)
Title: Hayes and Wilson’s (2008) A Maximum Entropy Model of Phonotactics and Phonotactic Learning
Date/Time: Wednesday, October 3, 5:00-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

The study of phonotactics is a central topic in phonology. We propose a theory of phonotactic grammars and a learning algorithm that constructs such grammars from positive evidence. Our grammars consist of constraints that are assigned numerical weights according to the principle of maximum entropy. The grammars assess possible words on the basis of the weighted sum of their constraint violations. The learning algorithm yields grammars that can capture both categorical and gradient phonotactic patterns. The algorithm is not provided with constraints in advance, but uses its own resources to form constraints and weight them. A baseline model, in which Universal Grammar is reduced to a feature set and an SPE-style constraint format, suffices to learn many phonotactic phenomena. In order for the model to learn nonlocal phenomena such as stress and vowel harmony, it must be augmented with autosegmental tiers and metrical grids. Our results thus offer novel, learning-theoretic support for such representations. We apply the model in a variety of learning simulations, showing that the learned grammars capture the distributional generalizations of these languages and accurately predict the findings of a phonotactic experiment.

Ling-Lunch 10/4 - Sascha Alexeyenko (Goettingen)

Date and time: Thursday, 10/4, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
Speaker: Sascha Alexeyenko (Goettingen)
Title: On Events, Habituals, and Generalized Quantifiers


The goals of this talk are two-fold. Its primary aim is to provide a proper treatment of habituals within the framework of event semantics, which would (a) allow a unified analysis of the habitual and the progressive as varieties of the imperfective, (b) work both for “bare habituals” and for “quantified habituals”, and (c) model the scope behavior of indefinites in habituals of both types. In addition, the talk will also show that an analysis of habituals that meets these desiderata can’t be implemented in combination with a classic GQ analysis of quantificational NPs and, thus, will provide a further argument in favor of event-based approaches to quantification.

CompLang 10/4 -  Meilin Zhan (MIT BCS)

CompLang is kicking off the semester this Thursday. CompLang is an interdisciplinary language discussion group organized by the Brain and Cognitive Center (BCS) at MIT and composed of linguists, cognitive scientists, and computer scientists. It is an informal group intended to foster communication among a broad and diverse group of people interested in language. Currently we are still looking for presenters for this semester. While presentation of research is certainly welcome, even introductory materials for people with little background in linguistics would be fine - people outside of linguistics are curious what kinds of questions we are thinking about! The presentation does not have to be related to computation either. If you are interested in getting feedback from a diverse audience and want to practice communicating linguistic concepts in simple and accessible terms, please get in touch with Danfeng! And click here if you want to be added to the comp-lang mailing list.


Speaker: Meilin Zhan (MIT BCS)
Title:  Comparing theories of speaker choice using classifier production in Mandarin Chinese  
Date and time: Thursday, October 4, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165 (BCS)

Speakers often have more than one way to express the same meaning. What general principles govern speaker choice in the face of optionality when near semantically invariant alternation exists? Studies have shown that optional reduction in language is sensitive to contextual predictability, where the more predictable a linguistic unit is, the more likely it gets reduced. Yet it is unclear whether speaker choice is geared toward audience design, or toward facilitating production. Here we argue that for a different optionality phenomenon, namely classifier choice in Mandarin Chinese, Uniform Information Density and at least one plausible variant of availability-based production make opposite predictions regarding the relationship between the predictability of the upcoming material and speaker choices. In a corpus analysis of Mandarin Chinese, we show that the distribution of speaker choices supports the availability-based production account, and not Uniform Information Density. 

Snejana Iovtcheva defends

Our congratulations to Snejana Iovtcheva, who defended her dissertation last Wednesday, entitled The Datives in Bulgarian! Here’s Snejana’s one-sentence description of her dissertation work: “I offer a detailed syntactic study of the constructions that involve a dative clitic in Bulgarian and I propose that these constructions represent one uniform structural frame that involves a high peripheral applicative head.”