The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, November 8th, 2021

Chen, Torma, and Aravind give award-winning talk at BUCLD46

This past weekend, 5th-year student Sherry Chen (5th year student), Cindy Torma, and Athulya Aravind presented a talk at the 46th Boston University Conference on Language Development (BUCLD46) entitled “Non-uniformities in the Development of Presupposition Projection in If-Conditionals”.

Most excitingly, Sherry received a Paula Menyuk award for top-rated, student-led abstracts (as well as a Diversity Travel Fellowship). Congratulations, Sherry!

Linguistics and Social Justice Seminar 11/9 - Annauk Olin

You are invited to participate in our discussion this week, Tuesday, November 9, 2-5pm ET, 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.  NB: We are committed to creating an inclusive and accessible environment in our seminar. If you need assistance for accommodations or accessibility in order to fully participate, please email degraff@MIT.EDU so that we can work out adequate arrangements.
This Tuesday, November 9, Annauk Olin will introduce us to her work revitalizing Iñupiaq  through innovative practices in language-learning curricula:

Decolonizing Iñupiaq Curricula

Annauk Olin
November 9, 2021

Annauk will share examples of curricula for revitalizing and teaching Iñupiaq at home and in the classroom. Annauk is a language consultant for the Northwest Arctic Borough School District and the King Island Native Community. In this capacity, she writes children’s book for a King Island Iñupiaq immersion kindergarten and first-grade classroom. She also writes curricula based on Iñupiaq life cycles and seasons for Iñupiaq language teachers in the Northwest Arctic Borough. 

In her presentation for this seminar on “Linguistics and social justice,” Annauk will primarily draw from her Master’s thesis Iñupiatun Iñuguġlavut Miqłiqtuvut, which is a language learning guide dedicated to reclaiming the Iñupiaq language. Linguists usually create records primarily for scientific purposes and secondarily for language learning needs. Exceedingly often, linguists write descriptions that are  inaccessible to those who need them most. A decolonial approach to language pedagogy that intertwines peoplehood, language, and cultural context is critical for effective language revitalization. This curriculum will focus on encouraging and teaching parents how to speak Iñupiaq to their children by coupling Iñupiaq child raising practices and “Minimal Course” methodology.

Minimal Course is a methodology specifically designed to help learners face the added challenges of becoming a proficient speaker of a language that is threatened by colonial systems. Minimal Course features a non-technical (yet linguistically informed) presentation of the language’s everyday usage and conversation-building patterns in a series of short lessons. The lessons are also taught relationally, where each part reinforces at least one other related part. In the same way, the Minimal Course methodology intends to rebuild whole speech communities versus lone individuals. 

Diverging from Minimal Course, there is an optional Iñupiatun Uqautchim Irrusia (Iñupiaq Grammar) section for those who wish to understand better how parts of each unit in a word or sentence combine. Given that the curriculum is built around the development of infants and toddlers, songs and hands-on activities are central for families to learn the Iñupiaq language.

The Iñupiaq language is our birthright. 

Uqautchiq Inupiatun kiŋuvaanaktaaksrautikput.

Syntax Square 11/9 - Peter Grishin (MIT)

Speaker: Peter Grishin (MIT)
Title: Passamaquoddy peripheral agreement agrees with the lowest DP
Time: Tuesday, November 9th, 1pm - 2pm

Abstract: The Algonquian verbal template has a slot traditionally termed “peripheral agreement”, as it sits at the linearly rightmost edge of the verb. In Passamaquoddy, this agreement slot has an unusual distribution: it agrees with the lowest 3rd person DP in the clause after A movement in number, animacy, and obviation. (Other Algonquian languages show different agreement patterns with peripheral agreement, most of which are less problematic than Passamaquoddy; see Xu 2020, 2021 for discussion.)

Following Bruening (2001, 2005, 2009), I assume that the external argument c-commands the internal argument in direct configurations, the internal argument A-moves above the external argument in inverse configurations, and that in a ditransitive the external argument and goal always c-command the theme. Peripheral agreement agrees with the single argument of an intransitive, the internal argument of a direct transitive, the external argument of an inverse transitive, and the theme of a ditransitive—in other words, the lowest DP in the clause after A movement. Additionally, given peripheral agreement’s position following tense, and its disappearance in clause types that are plausibly reduced in size (the subordinative), we’re urged to place it quite high in the clausal spine, e.g. C. The resulting picture: you A-move all the DPs into their requisite positions, then you merge C with the peripheral agreement probe, and then it probes down for the lowest DP, in blatant violation of standard assumptions about the locality of Agree.

With this puzzle in place, I discuss some possible (and impossible) avenues of attack to analyze this pattern, and open things up to the audience: please help me figure out what’s going on! Do we really have to rethink everything we know about Agree and the typology of agreement, or is there another option?​

LFRG 11/10 — Mitya Privoznov (MIT)

Speaker: Dmitry Privoznov (MIT)
Title: Poka živoj, poka ešče ne umer (‘While alive, while yet not died’). Some puzzles and thoughts about poka
Time: Wednesday, 10/26, 1pm
Place: 32-D461

Abstract: This talk will present some puzzles concerning the distribution of the Russian complementizer poka ‘while’, and some preliminary thoughts about what these puzzles might tell us about the meaning of the perfective and the imperfective aspect. The meaning and restrictions on the distribution of the complementizer/particle poka ‘while’ have been discussed in the literature quite extensively (Khalizeva 1969, Brown and Franks 1995, Abels 2005, Iordanskaya and Melchuk 2007, Paducheva 2014, 2015). It has several uses and is usually assumed to correspond to several different particles/complementizers (Iordanskaya and Melchuk 2007). I will focus on the use of poka as a complementizer that embeds a temporal adjunct clause. The discussion will be centered around the follwing three puzzling facts.


First, it seems that in an “out of the blue” context the clause under poka must be imperfective and may not be perfective:

(1) a. Poka Marina šla domoj, Osja gotovil obed.
while Marina walk.IMP.PST.F.SG home, Osya cook.IMP.PST.M.SG dinner
‘While Marina was walking home, Osya was cooking dinner.’
b. #Poka Marina prišla domoj, Osja gotovil obed.
while Marina come.PFV.PST.F.SG home, Osya cook.IMP.PST.M.SG dinner
‘While Maria came home, Osya was cooking dinner.’

Second, if the clause under poka contains negation, both aspects are fine (2). Furthermore, at least the sentence in (2b) entails that the event of the negated poka-clause took place in the actual world (Marina came home).

(2) a. Poka Marina ne šla domoj, Osja gotovil obed.
while Marina NEG walk.IMP.PST.F.SG home, Osya cook.IMP.PST.M.SG dinner
‘While Marina was not walking home, Osya was cooking dinner.’
b. Poka Marina ne prišla domoj, Osja gotovil obed.
while Marina NEG come.PFV.PST.F.SG home, Osya cook.IMP.PST.M.SG dinner
‘Until Marina came home, Osya was cooking dinner.’
Lit.: ‘While Maria didn’t come home, Osya was cooking dinner.’

Third, the clause under poka could be perfective even without negation, but only if the verb in the poka-clause is an accomplishment and the main clause is also perfective:

(3) Poka Osja obegal vse magaziny v poiskax instrumentov, Marina otremontirovala plitu bez nix.
While Osya run.through.PFV.PST.M.SG all stores in search tools, Marina fix.PFV.PST.F.SG stove without them
‘While Osya ran through all the stores in search of the tools, Marina fixed the stove without them.’

In this talk I will follow an approach, according to which, poka only has one meaning throughout (1-3) and negation in its context is not “expletive”, but has its standard interpretation (Abels 2005, Tatevosov 2016, Tiskin 2017, 2018). I will discuss whether the facts in (1-3) could be derived from an assumption that poka forms a predicate over maximal time intervals (similar to a definite article with a maximality presupposition).

MorPhun 11/10 - Rafael Abramovitz (MIT) and Valentina Dedyk (Kamchatkan Institute for the Development of Education)

Rafael Abramovitz (MIT) and Valentina Dedyk (Kamchatkan Institute for the Development of Education)
Title: Some Consequences of the Mere Syncretism of the Ergative and Instrumental in Koryak
Time: Wednesday, November 10th, 5pm - 6:30pm

Abstract: The Chukotkan languages are described as having a consistent ergative-instrumental syncretism. This is problematic for some versions of case containment (Caha 2009 et seq.), because the syncretism in question excludes the genitive, dative, and locative cases. It’s also been claimed that not only are the ergative and instrumental syncretic in these languages, but that they are in fact one and the same morphosyntactic category, a problem for the view that ergative is a dependent case in Chukotkan (Baker and Bobaljik 2017; Abramovitz 2021). In this talk, we first argue that the ergative and instrumental are both distinct syntactic categories and distinct morphological ones in Chawchuven Koryak. This is based on the novel observation that the ergative-instrumental syncretism is not found on 2nd-declension nouns and personal pronouns; in fact, we find a systematic paradigm gap in the instrumental case forms of those nouns. Based on this, we show that a curious mismatch between the pattern of case-marking on the subjects of nominalizations and non-nominalized verbs is accounted for: whereas the subjects of normal verbs are marked according to a dependent ergative pattern, the subjects of nominalizations are marked according to what seems to be an inherent ergative (?) pattern. Specifically, the case of the agentive subject of a nominalization is the instrumental, which is usually (though not always) syncretic with the ergative.
Then we get to some stuff that we don’t understand very well. First, how can we encode the fact that there is no instrumental form of second-declension nouns and personal pronouns, a gap that seems to be only expressible in paradigmatic terms, and is therefore predicted not to exist in theories like DM? Second, are inflectional classes (declensions) the right way to think about Koryak nouns, given that: 1) they are mostly (entirely?) predictable based on a noun’s denotation, and 2) most nouns that belong to the 2nd declension can also inflect like 1st declension nouns, with seemingly no change in meaning (pace Zhukova 1972)?

Colloquium 11/12 - Emily Hanink (University of Manchester)

Speaker: Emily Hanink (University of Manchester)
Title:Mixed extended projections and the cline from nominalization to relativization
Time: Friday, November 12th, 3:30pm - 5pm

Abstract: Within the literature on deverbal nominalizations, much attention has been paid to the possible “cut-off” points for verbal structure within so-called ‘mixed categories’ (Bresnan 1997) or ‘mixed extended projections’ (Borsley and Kornfilt 1999). While research has shown that, across languages, the amount of verbal structure may vary in nominalizations that characterize events (e.g. Alexiadou 2001), nominalizations that characterize ordinary individuals remain less understood in this respect.  Strikingly, Baker and Vinokurova (2009) argue that, in contrast to event-characterizing nominalizations, the verbal component of “subject” nominalizations is rather limited and does not show variation; constructions that are superficially similar but which contain more structure are in fact relative clauses in disguise. This talk contributes to the empirical landscape of this nominalization type through the investigation of subject nominalizations in Washo (isolate, United States). I argue that the verbal cut-off point is quite high in this construction (AspP), but that, despite displaying some relative clause type properties, it is still a case of true nominalization. The view that emerges from Washo (and a comparison with related constructions across languages) is therefore one in which individual-characterizing nominalizations do show variation in verbal structure, and in which the distinction between nominalization and relativization is more of a cline than a dichotomy.