The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, May 1st, 2023

MIT @ WSCLA 2023

The 26th Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas (WSCLA 2023) took place at McGill University on April 28-30, 2023. Here are the people from MIT who presented, as well as MIT graduates:

Current MIT department members:

MIT alumni:

From left to right: Daniel Harbour, Peter Grishin, Michelle Yuan, Jessica Coon (who was part of the conference organising team).

Thanks to Peter for sending along this photo! 

LF Reading Group 5/3 - Johanna Alstott (MIT)

Speaker: Johanna Alstott (MIT)
Title: Ordinal Numbers: Not Superlatives, but Modifiers of Superlatives
Time: Wednesday, May 3rd, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: The semantics of ordinal numbers has garnered little attention in the literature. The few existing accounts of ordinals attribute to them all or almost all of the semantic properties of the superlative morpheme -est (Bhatt 2006; Sharvit 2010; Bylinina et al. 2014). This work discusses a construction problematic for these existing theories: the ordinal superlative construction (e.g. John climbed the third highest mountain). Existing theories give ordinals and superlatives such similar semantics that they struggle to explain how an ordinal and a superlative can join together and form a complex modifier like third highest. As an alternative, I propose a semantics according to which ordinals are exceptive modifiers of overt or covert superlatives. The n-th highest mountain is the mountain that, with the exception of n - 1 others, is the highest. Not only does this treatment of ordinals as modifiers of superlatives account for the ordinal superlative construction, but it lends itself to a principled account of other unsolved puzzles concerning how ordinals and superlatives differ with respect to plurality and definiteness. Considering these additional puzzles unearths a hitherto unrecognized presupposition for ordinals and establishes a set of desiderata that any theory of ordinals should capture.

Phonology Circle 5/1 - Heidi Durresi (MIT) & Giorgio Magri (MIT, CNRS)

Speaker: Heidi Durresi (MIT) and Giorgio Magri (MIT, CNRS)
Title: Implicational universals with negated consequents in categorical HG and probabilistic ME
Time: Monday, May 1st, 5pm - 6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: A sensible strategy to understand a large typology of phonological grammars is to extract the universals shared by its grammars. In this talk, we look at implicational universals between an antecedent phonological mapping and the negation of a consequent phonological mapping. We say that this universal holds of a categorical typology (OT, HG, etcetera) provided every grammar that contains the antecedent mapping does *not* contain the consequent mapping. We say that this universal holds of a probabilistic typology (ME, NHG, etcetera) provided the probability of containing the antecedent mapping is never larger than the probability of *not* containing the consequent mapping. We give a complete constraint characterization of the implicational universals with negated consequents that hold in categorical HG and a complete characterization of those that hold in probabilistic ME. We derive as a corollary that any such universal that holds in ME also holds in HG. We then deploy these characterizations on a number of test cases and show that ME often misses none of the universals captured by HG. We conclude that universals with negated consequents provide a better tool to study ME typologies than the universals with simple consequents investigated in Anttila and Magri (2022).

LingLunch 5/4 - Pauline Jacobson (Brown University)

Speaker: Pauline Jacobson (Brown University)
Title: A Categorial Grammar view of syntactic categories: Some happy coordination surprises
Time: Thursday, May 4th, 12:30pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: While there are various versions of Categorial Grammar (CG); this talk is rooted in one maintaining the following: (1) syntactic categories are just encodings of the syntactic distribution of any item and its semantic type, (2) the architecture of the grammar is Direct Compositional: the syntax ‘builds’ (defines as well formed) expressions while the semantics simultaneously assigns a meaning (a model-theoretic object) to each expression proven well formed in the syntax. The rules often combine two expressions to give a larger one, though there are also unary rules taking a single expression (a triple of <[sound], Cat, meaning>) as input and giving a triple as output.

I will explore a view that takes seriously the notion that not only are the meanings of expressions often functions from one set to another, but that syntactic categories also correspond literally to functions: these apply to one string, then another to give a third. (E.g., the function corresponding to the category of fix is such that when applied to the string fix it gives a function from the string the sink to fix the sink.) See Jacobson, Compositional Semantics: An Introduction to the Syntax/Semantics Interface OUP 2014 Chapter 6 for useful background. While this sounds rather legalistic, we will see its benefit when combined to notions like function composition and type lifting. Thus, e.g., Steedman (1984) and Dowty (1987) have shown that adding function composition (to be “Curry’ed here) and type/category lifting into the inventory of syntactic operations gives elegant accounts of, e.g., Right Node Raising examples (Lee loves and Sandy hates model theoretic semantics) and other kinds of so-called ‘nonconstituent coordination’ as in Cap’n Jack featured lobster yesterday and scallops today.

One further piece is the analysis of and. Here and in many other theories it is a normal lexical item taking an expression of category X first to its right and then another X to its left to give an X. (This is not news - many theories agrees on this.) All other things being equal, one would not expect there to be a Coordinate Structure Constraint and indeed many have argued that the CSC effects are pragmatic. While I have nothing new to offer on just what gives rise to these effects, I will agree with Lakoff (1984) that violations of the CSC in ‘silent coordination’ chains supports the hypothesis that CSC effects are not syntactic Lakoff’s key examples are things like How much beer did John buy __ , pack up __, bicycle home [no gap here!] and then proceed to drink __? (Note: one can also construct examples without the ‘and then’ interpretation.) I will give a rough analysis of the ‘silent’ and and show interesting results of the Lakoff chains with respect to Heavy NP Shift/RNR cases. For example it follows that in a Lakoff chain there can be a mix and match of where there are gaps and where not provided that there is a gap on the rightmost conjunct in “right movement” cases: John bought __, packed up __, bicycled home, and drank __ a full 2 sixpacks of beer vs. *John bought, packed up __, drank __, and fell asleep a full 2 sixpacks of beer. (In left “extraction” - as in the actual Lakoff example - this pattern is different for reasons that I will at best briefly discuss.) The results crucially depend on the notion of syntactic categories as corresponding to actual functions from strings to (strings to strings).

The punchline comes asking: Is there is anything analogous on the left? And indeed - and spectacularly - there is. Thus Maxwell and Manning (1996) noted the surprising existence of cases like the following: David teaches Minimalism in the morning, HPSG in the afternoon, and plays the violin in the evening. The existence of these follows automatically from the machinery assumed here. Moreover it follows that the fuller expression must be rightmost, as in *David teaches Minimalism in the morning, plays the violin in the afternoon, and HPSG in the evening. In fact, the full set of ‘mix and match’ is more constrained than for the right cases above, due to the asymmetry of and. The empirical facts happily match up with the predictions.

MIT @ CLS 59

The 59th annual meeting of the Chicago Linguistic Society was held over the weekend. The following members of our community presented at the conference:

  • Boer Fu (6th year): Variation in Mandarin Prenuclear Glide Segmentation
  • Fulang Chen (6th year): Causativization and affectedness in the Mandarin BA-construction
  • Giovanni Roversi (3rd year): Adjectival “concord” in North Sámi is not concord (and it’s two different phenomena)
  • Yash Sinha (4th year): Phi-concord in Punjabi singular honorific DPs
  • Johanna Alstott (1st year): Scalar implicature in Adverbial vs Nominal Quantifiers: Two experiments
  • Katya Morgunova & Anastasia Tsilia (2nd year): Why would you D that? On the D-layer in Greek clausal subjects
  • Ksenia Ershova (postdoc): Phi-feature mismatches in Samoan resumptives as post-syntactic impoverishment
  • Donca Steriade (faculty): Vowel-to-vowel intervals in Ancient Greek and Latin meters

Other recent MIT alums on the program include:

  • Danfeng Wu (PhD, 2022): Elided material is present in prosodic structure
  • Tanya Bondarenko (PhD, 2022): Conjoining embedded clauses is either trivial or redundant: evidence from Korean

Syntax Square 5/2 - Eunsun Jou (MIT)

Speaker: Eunsun Jou (MIT)
Title: Case marking on Korean nominal adverbials correlates with Subject Position
Time: Tuesday, May 2nd, 1pm - 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Korean structural Case markers demonstrate a wide range of non-canonical appearances. Nominal adverbials, classifiers, and indirect objects of ditranstive constructions can optionally appear with accusative Case marking. In this talk I focus on nominal adverbials, which express either the duration of an event or the number of times an event has occurred repeatedly.

While case-marked adverbials have been studied for many languages, including Finnish, Russian, and German, the Korean pattern is especially interesting because unlike the aforementioned languages, Korean shows multiple Case options for the adverbial in passive/unaccusative constructions. The adverbial can either appear with accusative or nominative Case marking.

Building on earlier work by Maling, Jun, and Kim (2001), I argue that the two Case possibilities correlate with movement of the subject out of VoiceP — presumably to Spec, TP. When the subject moves to Spec, TP, the adverbial is marked accusative. When the subject remains within Spec, VoiceP, the adverbial is marked nominative. I provide new evidence in support of this argument from predicate fronting, specificity of the subject, and Negative Concord Item intervention effects.

Colloquium 5/5 - Yoad Winter (Utrecht University)

Speaker: Yoad Winter (Utrecht University)
Title: Countability and measurement in comparatives
Time: Friday, May 5th, 3:30pm - 5pm
Location: 32-141

Abstract: The mass-count distinction can strongly affect meanings of nominal comparatives: ‘more stones/fruits/packs’ trigger counting; ‘more stone/fruit/sugar’ trigger measuring. This simple pattern often breaks down. One such case is counting in comparatives with mass nouns like ‘furniture’, ‘baggage’ and ‘weaponry’. Another is measuring with count nouns in mass-count comparatives like ‘more gold than diamonds’ and ‘more friends than money’. We report new results indicating that counting in comparatives is primed by both perceived discreteness and a grammatical ‘count’ status, but neither of these factors forces it. In cases of mismatch between grammar and perception, last resort operations come into play. This provides a unified picture on the grammatical, lexical and semantic-pragmatic effects on discrete and non-discrete meanings.