The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, February 28th, 2022

Syntax Square 3/1 – Norvin Richards (MIT)

Speaker: Norvin Richards
Date and time: Tuesday March 1, 1-2 pm
Location: 32-D461

Title: Bans on extraction of ergatives (cont’d)

Abstract: A number of ergative languages ban A-bar extraction, or at least certain kinds of A-bar extraction, of ergative nominals (some Mayan languages, Kalaalisut (West Greenlandic), Chukchi, etc.).  This will be a new attempt to derive this effect and its distribution.
We will probably only get through the first part, which will be about languages which ban both wh-movement and relativization of ergatives, and will crucially invoke the idea of Affix Support from Contiguity Theory.  We will see that when ergative languages have morphology indicating transitivity, Contiguity Theory allows us to predict whether ergative extraction will be possible from the nature of the transitivity morphology.
The second part of the talk, which we will surely not get to, will be about languages that specifically ban relativization of ergatives.  I’ll argue that this kind of ban is about a particular kind of relative clause—again, a kind whose properties can be diagnosed from its morphology.

LFRG 3/2 - Madeline Bossi (UC Berkeley)

Speaker: Madeline Bossi (UC Berkeley)
Date and time: Wednesday March 2, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Title: Higher order ignorance in Kipsigis epistemic indefinites

Abstract: Epistemic indefinites are indefinite pronouns or determiners that convey speaker ignorance with respect to the witness to the indefinite. Cross-linguistically, the ignorance effects associated with epistemic indefinites come in two flavors; first order ignorance conveys that the speaker doesn’t know which individual witnesses the indefinite, while higher order ignorance conveys that the speaker is ignorant about some relevant property of the witness. In the existing literature, these different types of ignorance effects are often linked to different analyses of the epistemic indefinites; in particular, first order ignorance is often linked to domain widening semantics, whereas higher order ignorance is often linked to choice functional indefinites. In this talk, I draw on original field data to show that epistemic indefinites in Kipsigis (Nilo-Saharan; Kenya) can convey higher order ignorance but don’t transparently warrant a choice functional analysis. Kipsigis epistemic indefinites are scopally flexible, which is predicted on a domain widening analysis but poses challenges for a choice functional one. However, they are also compatible with singleton domains of quantification, as predicted to be possible on a choice functional account but impossible on a domain widening one. This unique set of properties calls into question the link between the domain widening vs. choice functional analysis of an epistemic indefinite and the type of ignorance conveyed. Against this backdrop, I offer a new analysis for Kipsigis, according to which use of the epistemic indefinite is only licensed when there is some salient property that holds of one possible witness to the indefinite but not of another. Ignorance effects—including first order and higher order ignorance—are then derived pragmatically via competition with other Kipsigis indefinites.

LingLunch 3/3 – Emily Drummond (UC Berkeley)

Speaker: Emily Drummond (UC Berkeley)

Date and time: Thursday March 3, 12:30-1:50pm

Location: 32-D461, https://mit.zoom.us/j/97228947368

Title: Syntactic ergativity in Nukuoro

Abstract: The typology of ergative systems is constrained in several well-known ways, including i) Dixon’s (1994) generalization that no language is syntactically ergative without being morphologically ergative; and ii) Mahajan’s (1994, 1997) generalization that no ergative language has SVO word order. Based on primary fieldwork, I show that Nukuoro (Polynesian Outlier; Micronesia) is a counterexample to both of these generalizations, showing a pattern of syntactic ergativity without morphological ergativity in addition to having basic SVO word order. Despite this unusual cluster of properties, I argue that the Nukuoro extraction restriction can be explained using a familiar mechanism, namely systematic object inversion for nominal licensing (e.g., Coon et al. 2014; Ershova 2019). To account for Dixon’s generalization, I propose that ergative extraction restrictions are sensitive to abstract ergative Case, both in Nukuoro and cross-linguistically, as predicted by nearly all going analyses of such restrictions (Deal 2016, Polinsky 2017). Furthermore, I suggest that Nukuoro pre-verbal subjects are base-generated in the left periphery and control an empty category in Spec,vP, making SVO word order possible despite a restriction on ergative extraction. 

A statement from MIT Linguistics faculty, post-docs, and staff
concerning the war in Ukraine

The field of linguistics is international in its very essence: studying the common humanity of all people by studying the fundamental structures of human language  — in active collaboration with speakers, students, and colleagues from every corner of the globe.  In this context, and as human beings ourselves, we view with horror the brutal attack by the government of Russia on the people of Ukraine, and condemn it.  We also note that this war is being publicly condemned by steadily increasing numbers of brave citizens within Russia, including colleagues and dear friends, who are risking their own safety to stand in open solidarity with the people of Ukraine and in opposition to the actions of their own government.  We salute their courage and offer our fullest support for their brave efforts.
Adam Albright
Amir Anvari
Athulya Aravind
Noam Chomsky
Michel DeGraff
Kai von Fintel
Edward Flemming
Suzanne Flynn
Danny Fox
Mary Grenham
Martin Hackl
James W. Harris
Irene Heim
Sabine Iatridou
Michael Kenstowicz
Samuel Jay Keyser
Shigeru Miyagawa
David Pesetsky
Jennifer Purdy
Norvin Richards
Leo Rosenstein
Donca Steriade
Abdul-Razak Sulemana
Sheelah Ward
Ken Wexler