The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, September 16th, 2019

Syntax Square 9/17 - Stanislao Zompì

Speaker: Stanislao Zompì

Title: On some interactions between verb movement and clitic ordering

Time: Tuesday, September 17th, 1pm - 2pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Clitic ordering is notoriously subject to intricate cross-linguistic variation. Among other patterns, we know there are languages (call them “type 1”) that generally allow only DAT<ACC, and others (“type 2”) that generally allow only ACC<DAT. In this work-in-progress report, I focus on a phenomenon that cuts across this split: both types include languages that, while permitting only one order preverbally, turn out to allow both ACC<DAT and DAT<ACC postverbally. We can make sense of this if these languages choose one clitic order as their only basic order (only DAT over ACC in type 1, only ACC over DAT in type 2) but accord verb movement the option of either pied-piping or not pied-piping the lower clitic along the way. I discuss several possible implementations of this idea, and explore potential applications of it to some interactions between verb placement and PCC-like restrictions.

Experimentalist meeting - 9/20 Martin Hackl (MIT)

Speaker: Martin Hackl

Title: A Null-Theory of Haddock’s Puzzle and its Implications for the Role of Presupposition in Reference Resolution

Time: 2:00-3:00pm

Location: 32-D461


Haddock’s Puzzle presents a well-known challenge to the canonical treatment of definite descriptions according to which their use requires contextual uniqueness of the NP-restrictor of the. More specifically, as pointed out in Haddock 1987, in a situation with two hats and two rabbits, one rabbit in one of the hats while the other rabbit is not inside a hat, the definite description in (1), in which a definite DP the hat is nested inside a larger definite description is felicitous (Haddock 1987). Importantly, the utterance in (2) used as a description of the very same scene is not.

(1) The rabbit in the hat is excited. 
(2) #The excited rabbit is in the hat.

In this talk, I present a “null-theory” of Haddock’s puzzle according to which Haddock-definites are situational uniqueness definites (Schwarz 2009) in order to shed light on the role of presupposition in reference resolution. The central claim motivated by this null-theory is the constraint in (3).

(3) Constraint on Reference Resolution:     
Presupposed content of an utterance can be used for identifying the extension of referring expressions in the utterance, at-issue content cannot.

To assess and evaluate different ways of explicating (3) we are working on experimental paradigms that hopefully allow us to track often rather subtle distinctions in a systematic way. I will discuss where we are with that part of the project and look forward to comments on suggestions on how to improve our approach. 

LingLunch 9/19 - Hadas Kotek (Apple)

Speaker: Hadas Kotek (Apple)

Title: Gender representation in linguistic example sentences

Time: Thursday, September 19th, 12:30pm - 1:50 pm

Location: 32-D461

Abstract: This talk surveys two ongoing projects concerned with the representation of women in example sentences in linguistics. (Collaborations with Katharina Pabst, Paola Cépeda, Kristen Syrett, Rikker Dockum, Sarah Babinski, Christopher Geissler.). The first project looks at example sentences in syntax textbooks. Following the adoption of the LSA’s Guidelines for Inclusive Language and the 20th anniversary of Macaulay & Brice (1997: M&B)’s survey of examples in 11 syntax textbooks, we present an analysis of 6 recent textbooks. We sampled 200 examples from each textbook, and found that the gender skew and stereotypes reported in M&B are still present: Among other findings, men are twice as likely to occur as subjects and receive proper names, and examples often perpetuate gender stereotypes. The second project examines example sentences published in all papers that have appeared in Language, Linguistic Inquiry, and Natural Language & Linguistic Theory over the past 20 years. We find many similarities to prior work, but are able to provide much greater detail. Among our findings: a striking imbalance of male to female arguments; women are less likely to be subjects and have names or referring pronouns; they are more likely to be recipients or kin (mother, sister, etc). We discuss many other stereotypes in our talk, as well as trends over time and across journals, and a brief comparison to corpus-based examples published over the past 20 years in Language in Society. I conclude the talk by discussing the importance of this project for awareness-raising among individual researchers and (especially) instructors, as well as how we can improve and do better.


The 50th Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 50) will be hosted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from October 25th - 27th, 2019.

Invited Speakers

To celebrate the golden jubilee of NELS, Paul Kiparsky will give a special plenary address reflecting on the last 50 years in linguistics.

We are pleased to announce that the program for this year’s NELS is now available: