The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 14th, 2022

LSA Webinar 2/18, 12-2pm: Michel DeGraff

Michel DeGraff’s Webinar for the Linguistics Society of America, this Friday, February 18, 2022, noon-2pm, is about our social responsibility as linguists.

Title: “Impure linguistics for self-purification and direct action”.

Registration information:


Minicourse 2/15, 2/17: Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen’s University)

Speaker: Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen’s University)
Title: Morphological realization and multiple valuation
Time: Tuesday (February 15th) and Thursday (February 17th), 12:30pm - 2pm both days
Place: 32-D461 or Zoom

Abstract: Current theories of Agree assume quite commonly that probes can be valued by more than one goal in some syntactic configurations. But on the morphological side, the realizations available to multiple valuation are far from uniform: a multiply-valued head may realize only its most “marked” values, may realize all values via a portmanteau morph, may realize all values via two or more morphs, or even (in a small number of cases) may be ungrammatical unless both values can be realized by a single syncretic form.

In this mini-course we’ll explore cases where morphological syncretism seems to be able to “rescue” structures where a single item receives conflicting feature valuations, and what such cases tell us about both the syntactic representation of valued features and the process of morphological realization. In particular, we’ll examine the proposal from Bjorkman (2016) and Coon & Keine (2020) that resolution-via-syncretism arises only when conflicting features happen to be spelled out via the same Vocabulary Insertion rule, and explore whether this account can extend to cases where accidental morphological identity (arising from phonological neutralization) appears sufficient for resolution. Our primary empirical focus will be on resolution via syncretism in Finnish (Zaenan and Karttunen 1984) and Hungarian (Szamosi 1976), contrasted with portmanteau agreement in Hungarian (Bárány 2015) and Anishinaabemowin (Oxford 2019, Hammerly 2020).

No advance readings are required, though I have attached Szamosi 1976 as to my knowledge it is not available online.

(Please see the announcement email for the reading material.)

Colloquium 2/18 - Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen’s University)

Speaker: Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen’s University)
Title: Verb doubling and the architecture of realization
Time: Friday, February 18th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Place: 32-155 or Zoom

Abstract: In this talk, I look at verb doubling phenomena and how they bear on questions concerning the architecture of post-syntactic realization, particularly the timing of linearization, prosodification, and verb doubling. In addition to widely discussed cases of verb doubling that arise from movement (with more than one copy of a moved verb being pronounced), I consider cases of verb doubling in Ingush (Nakh-Dagestanian) and Breton (Celtic) that appear instead to be motivated entirely by the need of an otherwise-unsupported clitic for a host. Comparing these classes of verb doubling, I make two related arguments. First, the profile of verb doubling is best accounted for in a model of linearization that involves a constraint-based evaluation of candidates, rather than a deterministic linearization algorithm. Second, linearization proceeds in parallel with the mapping from syntactic hierarchy to prosodic structure, but prior to Vocabulary Insertion, allowing doubling to arise as a trade-off between optimal linearization and prosodic well-formedness. Finally, I discuss the implications of the proposed architecture for multiple exponence in morphology, for the somewhat different typology of multiple copy realization as a consequence of nominal movement, and for broader questions concerning whether syntactic structure is visible to various proposed post-syntactic operations, or to Vocabulary Insertion itself.

NSF Dissertation Grant for Sherry Yong Chen

We are very excited for Sherry Yong Chen, a graduate student in her fifth year, who has been awarded a Doctoral Dissertation Research Grant by the National Science Foundation!! The grant will support her dissertation project on “Non-uniformity in presupposition projection: developmental and psycholinguistic evidence”. Athulya Aravind, who directs our Child Language Acquisition Lab where the research will be carried out, is the faculty Principal Investigator on the grant.

Here’s the official abstract:

“Human language allows us to distinguish the main new information we intend to communicate from background information we take for granted, i.e., our presuppositions. For example, ‘again’ in ‘I won again’ suggests that it was already established that the speaker had won previously. A hallmark of presuppositions is the fact that they are preserved under logical operators like negation: a sentence like ‘I didn’t win again’ continues to suggest a prior victory. The issue of how presuppositions interact with their surrounding context – how presuppositions project – has been a central and hotly debated topic in the study of natural language meaning. This dissertation project aims to contribute to this debate by examining presupposition projection in sentences where theories diverge. The project approaches this empirical terrain from an innovative angle, turning to online processing and child language acquisition, which can shed new light on the logical and inferential systems that underlies human semantic competence. The project includes the training and mentoring of undergraduate researchers.

The project will carry out a series of psycholinguistic experiments with adults and children, with the goal of distinguishing between two classes of theories: (i) theories that predict that the presuppositions of conditionals and conjunctions should vary based on the position of the presupposition-carrying expression, and (ii) ones that predict uniform presuppositions across the board. Study 1 probes adults’ real-time processing of presupposition projection, with the goal of identifying behavioral signatures of presupposition projection. Study 2 turns to child language, where the influence of confounding pragmatic factors is minimized. Finally, Study 3 probes in more detail how other, non-linguistic factors influence judgments about presuppositions.”