The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 9th, 2020

Syntax Square 11/10 - Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)

Speaker: Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)
Title: Two paths to explain
Time: Tuesday, November 10th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: In this talk, I show that Russian CPs that combine with the verb objasnit’ ‘explain’ have two interpretations: they can denote what was said as an explanation (explanans) or what has been explained (explanandum):

(1) Lena objasnila [CP čto xleba net.]
Lena explained COMP bread no
Lena explained that there is no bread.’
a. Explanans: Lena said “there is no bread” as an explanation of some other fact (e.g., of the fact that she sent Petya to the grocery store).
b. Explanandum: Lena explained the fact that there’s no bread (e.g., by saying “Katya made sandwiches last night”).

I show that the two readings go hand in hand with a number of differences in argument structure, event structure and extraction, and argue that objasnit’ can either denote a state of something being explained or a process of explaining, and the two denotations correspond to two different mappings to syntax. Explanandum CPs combine as modifiers of internal arguments (Kratzer 2006, Moulton 2015), while explanans CPs combine as event modifiers which specify the Content of the explaining process (Bogal-Allbritten 2016, Elliott 2017). Finally, I show that ‘explain’ is not unique in exhibiting this ambiguity, and verbs like argumentirovat’ ‘argue’, obosnovat’ ‘justify’, predskazat’ ‘predict’, utochnit’ ‘clarify, make specific’ have the same two readings.

LingLunch 11/12 - Daniel Asherov, Danny Fox (MIT), and Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University)

Speaker: Daniel Asherov, Danny Fox (MIT), and Roni Katzir (Tel Aviv University)
Title: A problem for iterated rationality approaches to scalar implicatures
Time: Thursday, November 12th, 12:30pm - 2pm

Abstract: This talk focuses on two seemingly equivalent approaches to scalar implicatures, namely the grammatical approach (Fox 2007, Chierchia, Fox, and Spector 2012) and the more recent iterative models of rationality (IRMs; Franke 2009, 2011, Frank and Goodman 2012, Goodman and Stuhlmüller 2013). Recent work has demonstrated the success of IRMs in capturing scalar implicatures derived by listeners in reference games, in which listeners are given a word and a set of objects and are asked to choose which object the word refers to. In many typical cases, the grammatical approach and IRMs make identical predictions. We identify two scenarios where the two approaches make different predictions and report results from an experiment testing these predictions. We conclude that participants’ judgments accord with the predictions of the grammatical approach, but not with those of IRMs.

To help in identifying differing predictions, we will use the simplified IRMs discussed in Fox and Katzir 2020 (https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/005519). But we will also explain why the same holds for the actual IRMs discussed in the literature (e.g. Rational Speech Act in Frank and Goodman 2012).

Colloquium 11/13 - Stefan Keine (UCLA)

Speaker: Stefan Keine (UCLA)
Title: Crossover asymmetries (joint work w/ Rajesh Bhatt)
Time: Friday, November 13th, 3:30pm - 5pm

Abstract: We investigate and analyze a crossover asymmetry in Hindi scrambling: such scrambling is not subject to (secondary) weak crossover but at the same time shows clear (secondary) strong crossover effects. This asymmetry provides empirical evidence that the two types of crossover should be analytically decoupled from each other, and it sheds light on factors that condition weak and strong crossover. We pursue the view that a movement type’s crossover profile is not arbitrary but instead correlates with independently motivated properties of this movement type. Our investigation finds evidence that weak crossover is conditioned by the landing site of movement, while strong crossover is determined by properties of the launching site. More specifically, we propose that weak crossover follows from a syntactic restriction on the placement of Büring’s 2004 β-operator, which is required for pronominal binding from the landing site. Strong crossover, on the other hand, is determined by the amount of structure present in the launching site, which can itself be derived from Wholesale Late Merger and nominal licensing along the lines suggested by Takahashi & Hulsey 2009. In addition to contributing to our understanding of crossover phenomena, our argument also has implications for the A/A’-nature of scrambling (e.g., Webelhuth 1989, Mahajan 1990) and movement-type asymmetries more generally.

MIT Linguistics @ NELS 51

NELS 51 was held virtually at the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). The following students, faculty, and staff members presented at the conference.

  • Wenkai Tay, Keely New (1st year), Mary Dalrymple and Dag Haug: Reciprocal scope in Mandarin
  • Martin Hackl (Faculty), Curtis Chen (Undergraduate Researcher) and Leo Rosenstein (Linguistics Lab Manager): Maximize Presupposition Effects in Haddock-Descriptions
  • Fulang Chen (4th year): The role of Strong Strong Start in Mandarin Tone 3 Sandhi
  • Ido Benbaji (2nd year), Omri Doron (2nd year), Margaret Wang (2nd year): Reduplication in Hebrew as a Diagnostic for Antonym Decomposition
  • Rafael Abramovitz (6th year): Deconstructing Inverse Case Attract

Three of our alums also gave presentations:

  • Colin Davis (PhD 2020): On parasitic gaps in relative clauses and extraction from NP
  • Joana Serwaa Ampofo and Ezer Rasin (PhD 2018): True self-counterfeeding vowel harmony in Akan serial verb constructions
  • Richard Stockwell, Aya Meltzer-Asscher and Dominique Sportiche (PhD 1983): There is reconstruction for Condition C in English questions

MIT Linguistics @ BUCLD 45

BUCLD 45 was also held virtually last week at Boston University. Many of our students, faculty, and staff members gave presentations:

  • Athulya Aravind (Faculty) and Martin Hackl (Faculty): Maximize Presupposition! in development
  • Cindy Torma (Acquisition Lab Manager), Gabor Brody, Athulya Aravind (Faculty): Decomposing both
  • Daniel Goodhue, Jad Wehbe (1st year), Valentine Hacquard (PhD 2006), Jeffrey Lidz: Preschoolers’ comprehension of the interaction of intonation and illocutionary force
  • Martin Hackl (Faculty), Ella Apostoaie, Leo Rosenstein (Linguistics Lab Manager): Acquisition of numerals, the natural numbers, and amount comparatives
  • Fulang Chen (4th year), Leo Rosenstein (Linguistics Lab Manager), Martin Hackl (Faculty): Quantifier-spreading under negation

Our alums also presented:

  • Hisao Kurokami, Jeffrey Lidz, Valentine Hacquard (PhD 2006), Daniel Goodhue: Children’s interpretation of additive particles mo ‘also’ and also in Japanese and English
  • Valentine Hacquard (PhD 2006), Yu’an Yang, Jeffrey Lidz: Acquisition of belief reports by Mandarin speaking children
  • Despina Oikonomou (PhD 2016), Elena Anagnostopoulou; Vina Tsakali: The development of DATIVE arguments: Evidence from Modern Greek clitics

Michel DeGraff on Speaking of Us: “What are Creole languages, anyway?”

A recent episode of Speaking of Us, a Wikitongues podcast, features a conversation among Michel DeGraff, Kristen Tcherneshoff and Daniel Bögre Udell under the title: “What are Creole languages, anyway?”. More information including the full transcript can be found in the link below: