The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, October 18th, 2021

Ling-Lunch 10/21: Ido Benbaji (MIT)

Title: An argument against V-stranding VP-ellipsis from only in polar questions
Time: Thursday, 10/21, 12:30pm-13:50pm
Location: 32-D461 (with MIT COVID Pass or Tim Ticket, plus contact tracing information)
Abstract: This paper contributes to the debate over the (non-)existence of verb-stranding VP-ellipsis (VSVPE), providing a new argument against its existence from the behavior of focus particles in questions. Polar questions in Hebrew (as in many other languages (Holmberg 2016)) can be answered affirmatively by echoing the verb in the question. Hebrew verb-echo answers (VEAs) are often analyzed as declarative sentences whose arguments have been deleted by a combination of VSVPE and subject pro-drop (Doron 1990). We show that VEAs are unacceptable as answers to polar questions with the focus particle only, and argue that this remains a mystery on a VSVPE account, as the presence of only is compatible with both V-to-T movement and VP-ellipsis (the ingredients required for VSVPE). We then show that the data can be straightforwardly accounted for if VEAs are derived via Argument Ellipsis (AE); i.e. elision of the verb’s object based on parallelism with a linguistic antecedent, without verb-movement (which has been proposed for Hebrew in Landau 2018).

Ling-Lunch 10/14 — Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Title: Spelling Spell Out out. Discourse anaphora and syntactic structure
Time: Thursday, 10/14, 12:30pm
Location: 32-D461 (with MIT COVID Pass or Tim Ticket, plus contact tracing information)

Abstract: In this talk I will discuss the question of whether pragmatic phenomena are sensitive to syntactic structure or surface linear order. I will try to argue that at least discourse anaphora is sensitive to syntactic structure. In particular, the “direction” of discourse anaphora is determined by the derivational history of a sentence. I will adopt the so-called Spell Out theory, according to which, all specifiers and all adjuncts are spelled out (assigned a fixed meaning and phonological representation) before the main clause is constructed. The main empirical claim of the talk is that because all specifiers and all adjuncts are spelled out before they are merged with the rest of the sentence, any specifier and any adjunct creates a local context for its sister. As the result, an indefinite inside a specifier or an adjunct creates an accessible antecedent for any pronoun that this specifier/adjunct c-commands. This is called the Island Condition. In addition, I will discuss some other consequences of the proposed view for other semantic and pragmatic phenomena, including a surprising fact that only adjuncts and specifiers seem to serve as restrictors to adnominal and adverbial quantifiers, presupposition projection and temporal iconicity.

LFRG 10/13 — Tanya Bondarenko (MIT)

Title: When clauses are Weak NPIs: polarity subjunctives in Russian
Time: Wednesday, 10/13, 1pm
Location: 32-D461 (with MIT COVID Pass or Tim Ticket, plus contact tracing information)

Abstract: In this talk I investigate a class of verbs in Russian which take polarity subjunctives (Rivero 1971, Stowell 1993, Brugger & D’Angelo 1995, Giannakidou 1995, Giannakidou & Quer 1997, Quer 1998, Siegel 2009, Quer 2009, Giannakidou 2011, a.o.)—embedded subjunctive clauses whose acceptability depends on the properties of the environment. For example, in (1) we see that Russian pomnit’ ‘remember’ cannot take subjunctive clauses (morphologically expressed by the particle by that attaches to the complementizer) in an upward-entailing environment. However, when the embedding verb occurs under negation, in the scope of tol’ko ’only’ or in a question, both indicative and subjunctive complements are possible, (2)-(4).

(1) Mitja     pomnit,         čto        /*čto-by         Anja    kurila.
      Mitya    remembers   COMP    /COMP-SUBJ    Anya    smoked

      ‘Mitya remembers that Anya smoked.’

(2) Mitja     ne      pomnit,         čto        /čto-by         Anja    kurila.
      Mitya    NEG   remembers  COMP    /COMP-SUBJ  Anya    smoked
      ‘Mitya doesn’t remember that Anya smoked.’

(3) Tol’ko    Mitja   pomnit,         čto        /čto-by         Anja    kurila.
      only       Mitya  remembers  COMP    /COMP-SUBJ  Anya    smoked
      ‘Only Mitya remembers that Anya smoked.’

(4) Mitja     pomnit,        čto        /čto-by         Anja    kurila?
      Mitya    remembers   COMP    /COMP-SUBJ  Anya    smoked
      ‘Does Mitya remember that Anya smoked?’

Furthermore, when both kinds of complements are available, speakers often perceive a contrast in factivity between them: e.g., (2) with the indicative complement tends to imply that Anya did in fact smoke, whereas (2) with the subjunctive clause never has such an inference. These data give rise to two questions:

1) How are polarity subjunctives licensed? What verbs can they occur with and why?
2) Why do we see a factivity alternation when both kinds of complements are possible?

Here is how I will try to address these questions:

  • I propose that clauses can be existential quantifiers, and take scope (including exceptional scope). Subjunctive clauses are weak NPIs which have to be licensed in Strawson Entailment-Reversing environments. As other weak NPIs in Russian, they are not acceptable in non-monotone environments.
  • In my previous work I argued for two distinct meanings for čto-clauses: they can either denote predicates of individuals with propositional content (Kratzer 2006, Moutlon 2015, Elliott 2017, a.o.), or predicates of exemplifying situations. I show that polarity subjunctives in Russian occur only with verbs that can take CPs that denote predicates of exemplifying situations. I argue that this restriction arises because the semantics of CPs that denote predicates of contentful individuals makes the environment non-monotone and thus prevents subjunctive from being licensed.
  • As for the factivity alternation, I argue that while sentences with subjunctive complements never have factive inferences, sentences with indicative clauses can also receive non-factive readings under certain circumstances. On my account, factive inferences are not presuppositions, but are entailments that arise when indicative clauses that are predicates of exemplifying situations take wide scope. The fact that subjunctives cannot take wide scope prevents them from getting factive inferences.

Linguistics and Social Justice seminar (Nicholas Natchoo)

You are invited to participate in our discussion this week, Tuesday, October 5, 2-5pm EST, on “Linguistics and Social Justice: Language, Education & Human Rights” (MIT Linguistics, Graduate Seminar, 24.S96). Please contact Michel <degraff@mit.edu> for information about Zoom link and readings.

Nicholas Natchoo will lead the discussion on:

“A language that binds/a language that divides: The Kreol Paradox in Mauritius”

Located in the South-West Indian Ocean region, the Republic of Mauritius is a multi-island nation state best known for its sandy beaches, economic success, political stability, and multiculturalism. Long uninhabited and without an indigenous population, the island was turned by the French into a plantation colony in the early 18th century. A Creole language (known locally as Kreol) emerged in the crucible of the slave plantation context, from the contact between enslaved Africans and Malagasy peoples, white settlers, and free people of color. The arrival of indentured laborers from South Asia (and to a lesser extent East Asia), following the British conquest in 1810 and the abolition of slavery in 1835, further added to the diversity of the island both culturally and linguistically. After the country obtained independence in 1968, and despite some violent ethnic clashes, this so-called “overcrowded barracoon” defied the odds to become an exemplar of multicultural peace. Many attribute this harmony to the Kreol language, which is viewed as the glue that binds the extremely diverse population together.

However, Mauritians have long held a complicated and ambivalent rapport with the Kreol language. A case in point, the introduction of Kreol Morisien (Mauritian Kreol) as an optional “ancestral” language in schools in 2012 has generated strong debates which go beyond the legitimate presence and use of Creole languages in education. The incorporation of Kreol Morisien in the school curriculum raises important issues that touch on notions which are largely taboo in Mauritian society, especially as they relate to questions of slavery and reparation. Indeed, the State’s decision to finally introduce the language as a formal school subject essentially resulted from a political maneuver which aimed at restoring a balance between the various constituents of the population within a multicultural curriculum. The latter seeks to represent all communities, including the mixed descendants of enslaved peoples (locally known as “Creoles”) who have historically been “abjected” in the social structure of Mauritius. The modality of Kreol’s introduction in the curriculum is perceived by some as an “ethnicization” of the national lingua franca and is considered as fundamentally incompatible with a conception of Mauritianness that is underpinned by ideas of postracialism. Furthermore, the introduction of Kreol in schools sheds light on a malaise relating to the status of the other islands comprising the Republic of Mauritius, such as the island of Rodrigues where the teaching of Kreol “Morisien” was seen as a threat to the linguistic and contextual specificities of the island.

In this week’s seminar we will discuss the complex and multidimensional realities attached to Kreol in the Republic of Mauritius. Rather than trying to disentangle and neutralize the paradoxes that characterize the Mauritian context, we shall consider those from a different perspective whereby one can actually embrace and work along this paradoxical situation.

Nicholas Natchoo is a lecturer in the Mauritian Kreol Unit at the Mauritius Institute of Education. He joined this institution on a permanent basis in 2011 when Kreol Morisien was about to be introduced in schools and has been involved with the training of Kreol language teachers, curriculum development projects and textbook writing. He recently obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Kansas with a dissertation titled “A Creolizing Curriculum: Multicultural Education, Ethnopolitics, and Teaching Kreol Morisien.” Nicholas is currently responsible for the curriculum, syllabus and textbooks for the teaching of Kreol Morisien in upper secondary level.

Syntax Square 10/12 - Stan Zompì (MIT)

Speaker: Stan Zompì (MIT)
Title: A principled exception to the Müller-Takano Generalization
Time: Tuesday, October 12th, 1pm - 2pmLocation: 32-D461 (with MIT COVID Pass or Tim Ticket, plus contact tracing information)

Abstract: According to the Müller-Takano Generalization (Müller 1993; Takano 1994), a remnant that contains a trace resulting from movement of a given type cannot itself undergo movement of the same type. In this talk, I argue that Richards’ (2004) data from Bulgarian “Russian-doll” wh-questions constitute a principled exception to the generalization under a version of Kitahara’s (1994) minimality-based approach to it.

Colloquium 10/15 - Emily Clem (UCSD)

Speaker: Emily Clem (UCSD)
Title: Switch-reference in Amahuaca: Syntactic and semantic implications
Time: Friday, October 15th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: Zoom (but those on campus can gather in 32-155 to attend the talk together)

Abstract: In this talk, I explore switch-reference constructions in Amahuaca (Panoan; Peru). I argue that the high attachment site of adjunct switch-reference clauses has interesting consequences for modeling both the syntax and semantics of these constructions. In terms of syntax, the challenge that arises is how to model a dependency between a head in the switch-reference clause and a matrix pivot argument in the absence of c-command. On the semantic front, I demonstrate that adjunct switch-reference clauses are used to form propositional attitude reports. The fact that attitude reports involve adjunction rather than complementation raises issues for analyses that assume that attitude verbs compose with complements that denote propositions. I propose an analysis that is able to overcome these challenges by leveraging the predictions of existing models and I discuss the theoretical implications.