The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 3rd, 2020

Syntax Square 2/4 - Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompi’ (MIT)
Title: On some Distinctness effects in the English DP
Time: Tuesday, February 4th, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In this talk, I focus on several apparently arbitrary quirks of English nominal constructions, such as the contrasts between this tall a person and *a this tall person, between any taller a person and *an any taller person, and between what color car and *a what color car / *what color a car. I argue that all these contrasts follow straightforwardly from Richards’ (2010) Distinctness condition, banning any Spell-Out domain in which two nodes of the same type are in an asymmetric c-command relation. I also suggest that, under slightly less trivial assumptions, the Distinctness-based account might also be extended to the contrast between a three year old kid and *a three years old kid. I then conclude with a few more speculative remarks building toward a general theory of Distinctness repairs.

LingLunch 2/6 - Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou (MIT)

Speaker: Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou (MIT)
Title: Unasked Questions
Time: Thursday, February 6th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Since Hamblin 1958, many linguists have considered the denotation of a question to be a set of propositions. But what is it that compels the hearer to respond to a question? The by far most common answer is ‘pragmatics’. The general idea is that, as the natural response to an assertion is to consider whether you want to accept it (i.e. add the proposition to the common ground), the response to being confronted with a set of propositions is to be compelled to choose among them. We argue that a number of languages have a way of marking a question that seems to affect the question’s meaning in a way that is illuminating to the above issue. These markers include Greek araye, Turkish acaba, Japanese naa. We show that across these unrelated languages, these markers have surprisingly similar results. We argue that all these results reduce to one: a question marked this way imposes no obligation on the hearer to answer the question. This means that a set of propositions does not automatically and in and of itself bestow an obligation on the hearer to answer it. We discuss the significance of this finding for current theories of questions.

Experimentalist Meeting 2/7

Please join us for our first Experimentalist Meeting of the spring semester! We will be discussing current and future projects in the ESSL and Language Acquisition Lab. Those who have an active project, or are interested in conducting research in either lab this semester are strongly encouraged to attend.


Schedule: 2pm-3pm, Friday, February 7th

Room: 8th Floor Conference Room (32-D831) (Please note this location is different from last semester!)

Fong @ ELBA 2020

This week (February 3-7), fifth-year student Suzana Fong is teaching a summer course (sic) at ELBA (Escuela de Lingüística de Buenos Aires), “a Linguistics Summer school organized by graduate and undergraduate students from Argentina”. Her class is under the rubric “Advanced Topics in Syntax” and is entitled “Hyperraising in Mongolian and the A vs A-bar distinction // The syntax and semantics of bare nominals in Wolof (and cross-linguistically)”. We wish wecould be there to take it!

CreteLing 2020

The 4th Crete Summer School of Linguistics will be taking place from July 18​ to July 31, 2020, at the University of Crete in Rethymnon.

Current MIT faculty Adam Albright, Athulya Aravind, Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Shigeru Miyagawa, Norvin Richards, and Donca Steriade will be teaching classes at CreteLing, along with alumni and colleagues from around the world. With four parallel sessions, this year’s offerings include more courses than ever before. There will also be two workshops at the summer school: Speech-Accompanying Gestures (organized by Patrick Grosz and Sarah Zobel), and Covert Modality (organized by Tim Stowell and Roumyana Pancheva).

Full information (including details on the student early application due April 5th), can be found on the school website (http://linguistics.philology.uoc.gr/cssl20/index.php).

Course Announcements: Spring 2020

Course announcements in this post:

  • 24.979 Topics in Semantics
  • 24.964 Topics in Phonology: Sentence Prosody


24.979 Topics in Semantics: Getting High: Scope, Projection, and Evaluation Order

This seminar will provide a venue for discussing various mechanisms for scope-taking and projection, taking as our starting point continuations - a perspective on scope-taking developed by Chris Barker and Chung-chieh Shan. We will attempt to develop a solid working knowledge of the relevant mechanics, as well as arrive at a comprehensive empirical assessment of their advantages and drawbacks in selected areas of application. These will include quantifier scope, variable binding, cross-over, and presupposition projection, paying particular attention to linearity effects which continuations are designed to handle in a principled manner.

Listeners are welcome, as always. Requirements for credit will be detailed in the first session.


24.964 Topics in Phonology: Sentence Prosody

Different ways of pronouncing the same sentence can convey different messages. The properties of pronunciation that modify meaning in this way are referred to as sentence prosody. There are three components of prosody: intonational melody, prominence and phrasing. These components will be introduced through an overview of English prosody and ToBI transcription. Then we will investigate each component in more detail, exploring their phonetics and phonology, and their relationships to syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, drawing on data from a variety of languages.


Franklin medal for Barbara Partee

Congratulations to one of our most most distinguished alums, Barbara Hall Partee (PhD 1965), Professor emerita at UMass Amherst — a winner of the 2020 Franklin medal awarded by the Franklin Institute. In the citation accompanying the award, Barbara is hailed for “her foundational contributions that synthesize insights from linguistics, philosophy, logic, and psychology to understand how words and sentences combine to express meaning in humanlanguage”. The list of previous award winners includes Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, Rudolf Diesel, Pierre and Marie Curie, Orville Wright, Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Frank Lloyd Wright and more people you have heard of than we can list here!

Barbara was a member of the very first PhD class at MIT Linguistics and is rightly considered a founder of the field of formal semantics within linguistics.

award: https://www.fi.edu/laureates/barbara-partee
homepage: https://people.umass.edu/partee/
dissertation: http://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/13005

Special issue of Snippet for Uli Sauerland

In honor of MIT alum Uli Sauerland’s 50th birthday, a special issue of Snippets has just been published here.

The issue was edited by Patrick Elliott, Andreea Nicolae, and Yasu Sudo, and includes contributions by a broad range of current MIT faculty, and alumni.

Miyagawa, Wu & Koizumi published in Glossa

Congratulations to our colleague Shigeru Miyagawa , fourth-year student Danfeng Wu, and distinguished alum Masatoshi Koizumi (PhD 1995) on the New Year’s Eve publication of their paper entitled “Inducing and blocking labeling” in Glossa!


MIT @ LSA2020

The Linguistic Society of America’s Annual Meeting for 2020 was held at in New Orleans in January. As per usual, MIT was well represented. The following department members presented talks and posters:


Students/faculty who gave a talk:

  • Danfeng Wu (4th year): ‘Whether’ can pied-pipe
  • Christopher Baron (4th year): States in the semantics of degree achievements
  • Tamisha Lauren Tan (Harvard) & Peter Grishin (2nd year): Three Types of (Mis)matching in Free Relatives
  • Yadav Gowda (4th year) & Danfeng Wu (4th year): Clitic climbing and linear adjacency in Wolof
  • Canaan Breiss (UCLS) & Adam Albright (MIT faculty): When is a gang effect more than the sum of its parts?
  • Neil Banerjee (4th year): Ellipsis as Obliteration: Evidence from Bengali negative allomorphy
  • Jennifer Hu (MIT BCS), Sherry Yong Chen (3rd year), and Roger Levy (MIT BCS). A closer look at the performance of neural language models on reflexive anaphor licensing. (Sister conference the Society for Computation in Linguistics (SCiL))


Students who presented a poster:

  • Rafael Abramovitz (5th year) & Itai Bassi (5th year): Relativized Anaphor Agreement Effect
  • Christos Christopoulos (University of Connecticut) & Stanislao Zompi’ (3rd year): Weakening Case Containment: an argument from default allomorphs
  • Justin Colley (5th year) & Itai Bassi (5th year): Don’t leave me behind, I lean on you! A condition on ellipsis, and a case for Conjunction Reduction
  • Suzana Fong (5th year): The syntax of number marking: the view from bare nouns in Wolof
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (3rd year) & Stanislao Zompì (3rd year): Leftover Agreement across Kartvelian languages
  • Elise Newman (4th year): The future perfect since Stump
  • Filipe Hisao de Salles Kobayashi (3rd year): Reciprocity can be compositionally built: Scattered Reciprocals in Brazilian Portuguese
  • Fulang Chen (3rd year): Split partitivity in Mandarin: A diagnostic for argument-gap dependencies
  • Colin Davis (5th year) & Andrei Antonenko (Stony Brook University): Order Preservation in the Russian Nominal Phrase
  • Colin Davis (5th year) & Tatiana Bondarenko (3rd year): A Linearization Explanation for Asymmetries in Russian Scrambling
  • Colin Davis (5th year) & Justin Colley (5th year): On the near absence of subject HNPS


Alumna Jessie Little Doe Baird (PhD 2000; Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project) gave an invited plenary address: “The Wôpanâak Language Reclamation Project: Nine Years On from We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân”


In addition, many recent alumni also presented their work:

Kenyon Branan, PhD 2018
Michelle Yuan, PhD 2018
Michael Erlewine, PhD 2014
Hadas Kotek, PhD 2014
Young Ah Do, PhD 2013
Ken Hiraiwa, PhD 2005
Karlos Arregi, PhD 2002
Benjamin Bruening, PhD 2001
Jon Nissenbaum, PhD 2000
Susanne Wurmbrand, PhD 1998
Jonathan Bobaljik, PhD 1995
Heidi Harley, PhD 1995

MIT @ Amsterdam Colloquium

The 22nd Amsterdam Colloquium took place at the University of Amsterdam on 18–20 December, 2019. Two groups of MIT students gave a talk:
  • Maša Močnik (5th-year) and Rafael Abramovitz (5th-year): A Variable-Force Variable-Flavor Attitude Verb in Koryak
  • Filipe Hisao Kobayashi (3rd-year) and Enrico Flor (2nd-year): Coordinating Complete Answers: The Case of Tanto–Quanto Conjunction


They were joined by many MIT alumni and visitors: