The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 19th, 2020

Experimentalist Meeting 10/23 - Ella Apostoaie (Wellesley College), Curtis Chen (MIT) and Martin Hackl (MIT)

Speaker: Ella Apostoaie (Wellesley College), Curtis Chen (MIT) and Martin Hackl (MIT)
Title: Practice Talks for BUCLD and NELS
Time: Friday, October 23rd, 2pm - 3:30pm

Abstract: Our own undergraduate researchers, Ella Apostoaie (Wellesley College) and Curtis Chen (MIT), along with Martin Hackl (MIT), are presenting talks they will soon be giving at BUCLD and NELS conferences respectively. Please join, see what our Language Acquisition Lab and Experimental Syntax and Semantics Labs have been up to, and give feedback!

Practice talks will be given for the following presentations:

Martin Hackl, Ella Apostoaie and Leo Rosenstein: Acquisition of Numerals, the Natural Numbers,
and Amount Comparatives (Poster)

Martin Hackl, Curtis Chen and Leo Rosenstein: Maximize Presupposition Effects in Haddock Descriptions (Talk)

Syntax Square 10/20 - Elise Newman (MIT)

Speaker: Elise Newman (MIT)
Title: Revisiting UTAH: an informal discussion!
Time: Tuesday, October 20th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: Put your lexical semantics hats on and come discuss argument structure with me! Some questions I have been pondering include:

  • What do “theta positions” mean in the Y-model?
  • Do heads “assign” theta roles in the syntax?
  • What is the right division of labor between syntax/semantics when it comes to explaining structural generalizations about arguments?

I surely won’t have all the answers, but here are some readings I have found helpful for those who want to do some homework: Levin & Rappaport Hovav (2005), Harley (2011), Marantz (2013), and the recent round table discussion featuring Gillian Ramchand, Heidi Harley, and Artemis Alexiadou (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_bjHrMunWo)!

Phonology Circle 10/19 - Boer Fu (MIT)

Speaker: Boer Fu (MIT)
Title: The Emergence of Alternation in A Mandarin Language Game
Time: Monday, October 19th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: The palatal consonants in Mandarin, tɕ, tɕʰ, ɕ, as a group, are in complementary distribution with 3 other groups: the dentals (ts, tsʰ, s), the velars (k, kʰ, x), and the retroflexes (ʈʂ, ʈʂʰ, ʂ, ɻ). The palatals can only precede high front vowels, [i] and [y], or their glide counterparts [j] and [ɥ]. Whereas the other 3 groups cannot. The existence of complementary distribution without any morphophonological alternation has made the phonemic status of Mandarin palatals a puzzle. Some believe they are allophones of either the velars or the dentals (or both), while others argue they are their own independent phonemes. I have designed a language game in which a native speaker is asked to switch around the two onsets of a disyllabic compound, so that some alternation might take place. In particular, I present speakers with marked inputs like *[ky] or *[ɕu], to see whether they preserve the place of articulation of the onset or the backness of the high vowel. Another puzzle investigated in this study is the status of the prenucleus glide. There is an ongoing debate on whether they are structurally closer to the onset or the rhyme. My language game can also shed some light on the matter.

LingLunch 10/22 - Stanislao Zompì (MIT)

Speaker: Stanislao Zompì (MIT)
Title: Distinctness effects in English nominals
Time: Thursday, October 22nd, 12:30pm - 1:50pm

Abstract: In this paper, I focus on several purported idiosyncrasies of English nominals, 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 Spellout domain in which two instances of the same functional category stand in an asymmetric c-command relation. I also suggest that, under slightly less trivial assumptions about the timing of Distinctness repairs, a Distinctness-based account might be extended to the contrasts between how many color cars and *how many colors cars and between a three-year-old kid and *a three years old kid. Along the way, I also use these case studies to shed light back on the underpinnings of Distinctness and the mechanics of its repairs, arguing, in particular, that Distinctness violations must be repaired within the smallest maximal projection in which they occur, and that Distinctness-enforcing movement must, whenever possible, take precedence over Distinctness-enforcing deletion.

MorPhun 10/21: Neil Banerjee (MIT)

Speaker: Neil Banerjee (MIT)

Title: Weisser (2019): Telling allomorphy from agreement

Link to paper: http://doi.org/10.5334/gjgl.803

Recent work on allomorphy has tried to propose various notions of locality domains in order to constrain the relation between the trigger and the target of allomorphy. However, unless we have a way to clearly distinguish between allomorphy and cases of syntactic agreement, this approach is bound to fail as one can never tell whether a given alternation is due to agreement or non-local allomorphy. The goal of this paper is thus to provide a set of coherent diagnostics to distinguish the two phenomena empirically. In order to do this, I provide three case studies about phenomena previously analyzed as instances of agreement. For each of these cases, I argue that an analysis in terms of allomorphy is empirically more adequate for a number of reasons. Since two of these case studies involve phenomena where the trigger and the target of allomorphy are not part of the same word, the present paper also substantiates the claim that context-sensitive spell-out phenomena are not restricted to words. Building on these case studies, the final section revisits six diagnostics that can be applied to a given alternation to determine whether it is an instance of allomorphy or agreement.

Colloquium 10/23 - Ruth Kramer (Georgetown)

Speaker: Ruth Kramer (Georgetown)
Title: A Critical Look at Phonological Gender Assignment: Implications for Linguistic Theory
Time: Friday, October 23rd, 3:30pm - 5pm

Zoom Link: (Please email ling-coll-org@mit.edu for more information)

Abstract: According to classic typological research, grammatical gender can be assigned to nouns in several different ways. Gender can be assigned semantically (depending on social gender identity, animacy, etc.), morphologically (depending on the presence of a specific affix), or phonologically (e.g., depending on the final segment of the noun). In this talk, I take a critical look at the last member of this list: phonological gender assignment. I present three case studies of languages that have been canonically claimed to have phonological gender assignment: Hausa (Chadic), Guébie (Kru) and Afar (Cushitic). For all of these languages, I argue that phonological gender assignment is not necessary to describe the gender system and, more importantly, a phonological gender assignment analysis is less explanatory than alternative approaches (it misses generalizations, makes typologically-unexpected predictions, and/or cannot extend to related phenomena). In Distributed Morphology, phonological gender assignment is predicted to be impossible because gender is assigned during the syntactic derivation and the syntax lacks phonological information. The results from Hausa, Afar and Guébie therefore provide significant support for Distributed Morphology, and do not support theories where gender is assigned in the lexicon with access to phonological information. I close the talk with plans for future work to investigate additional languages with (alleged) phonological gender assignment.

Congratulations to our 2015 undergraduate alum Olivia Murton!

Congratulations are in order today to Olivia Murton (2015 S.B.). Olivia is an alum of our undergraduate major in Linguistics — who went on to the Harvard-MIT PhD program in Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology. This afternoon, Olivia successfully defended her dissertation in that program, reporting remarkable and surprising findings linking speech science to the diagnosis of heart failure. In her own words: “ways that voice analysis can be used to (1) monitor heart failure, (2) automatically detect creaky voice/vocal fry, and (3) evaluate voice quality in people with voice disorders”.
Congratulations Olivia, we are very proud of your accomplishments!!
Here’s the full abstract:
Health monitoring with voice analysis: acoustic correlates of heart failure, irregular pitch periods, and dysphonia
Voice and speech production relies on complex interactions of linguistic and cognitive systems, neuromotor pathways, respiration, and airflow through the vocal tract. Voice can reveal disruptions to any of those systems, so it can be used to non-invasively detect and monitor illness. This thesis examines three interrelated applications of voice analysis for health monitoring. The first application investigates acoustic voice features as a biomarker for acute decompensated heart failure (ADHF), a serious escalation of heart failure symptoms including breathlessness and fatigue. ADHF-related systemic fluid accumulation in the lungs and laryngeal tissues is hypothesized to affect voice acoustics. A set of daily voice samples from 52 patients undergoing inpatient ADHF treatment is analyzed to identify vocal biomarkers for ADHF and examine the trajectory of voice change during treatment. Data from an audio microphone and from a neck-surface vibration sensor are also compared. Results indicate that speakers have more stable phonation, more creaky voice, faster speech rates, and longer phrases after ADHF treatment compared to pre-treatment. These findings motivate work on two additional acoustic features: irregular pitch periods (IPPs), which contribute to the perception of creaky voice, and cepstral peak prominence (CPP), a measure of dysphonia and phonatory stability. To that end, the second application uses voice recordings from healthy speakers and compares the output of an existing algorithm for creaky voice detection to hand labels of IPPs. A perceptually relevant creak probability threshold is determined. These results are useful for voice monitoring of ADHF, since speakers produced more IPPs after ADHF treatment. In the third application, CPP thresholds that distinguish speakers with and without voice disorders are determined separately for continuous speech and sustained vowels using two widely-used voice analysis programs. These normative CPP values provide an objective dysphonia indicator to aid evaluation of voice and other disorders. For example, CPP tended to improve with ADHF treatment for patients whose pre-treatment CPP was relatively low. Together, these projects present a novel method of monitoring ADHF using vocal biomarkers and develop a more-detailed understanding of relevant voice features. Proposed future work includes prospective at-home monitoring of patients at risk for ADHF.

Michel DeGraff gives a talk at McMaster University

Michel DeGraff will be giving a talk at McMaster University, as part of their Cognitive Science of Language Lecture Series. Details of the talk are as follows:
Time: Monday, October 19, 2:30–4:20pm
Title: Decolonizing linguistics and education: Haitian Creole as case study
Link: https://bit.ly/2H8mMoE