The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Issue of Monday, March 18th, 2019

Gowda @ FASAL9

Third-year student Yadav Gowda spoke on “Movement within and without a clause” at Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL9) this weekend at Reed College.


LF Reading Group 3/18 - Itai Bassi (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Principle C effects with plural antecedents (joint work with Paul Marty)
Time: Monday, March 18th, 1-2 pm
Abstract:In the literature on Principle C, it has been claimed on the basis of examples like (1) that an R-expression cannot overlap in reference with a c-commanding plural antecedent (a.o., Lasnik 1989, Schlenker 2003). Yet we add to (1) the datapoint in (2), and observe that this claim only holds on a distributive interpretation of the relevant antecedent: as (2) shows, things get better on a collective interpretation (cf. Reinhart and Reuland for a parallel observation for principle B configurations).

(1) They think that Oscar should be the band leader (* if Oscar is part of the reference of “they”)
(2) They (jointly) decided that Oscar will be the band leader (ok if Oscar is part of the reference of “they”)

Our idea to understand this contrast is this: the distributive LF, but not the collective one, has an embedded constituent of the form ‘x thinks that Oscar…’, where ‘x’ is an atomic variable quantified over by a distributive operator.  When `x’ takes Oscar as one of its values, a (classical) Principle C violation obtains. We propose to derive these “embedded principle C” effects by extending Reinhart’s competition theory of principle C (aka ‘Rule I’) to make it operative at embedded levels. We then argue that on this refinement, Rule I can be eliminated as a primitive of the grammar and be subsumed by the independently motivated principle, Maximize Presupposition!, which has also been argued to regulate competition between LF representations at embedded levels (Singh, 2011).


MorPhun 3/18: Colin Davis on Azeri suppletion

Speakers: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Mismatched suppletion in Azeri as morphology/phonology competition
Time: Monday, March 18th, 5-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: (longer PDF version available at http://tinyurl.com/colin-morphun)

In this paper, I examine a puzzle about suppletion in the northern dialect of Azeri/Azerbaijani (Turkic). I focus on suppletion of the perfect (PRF) / evidential (EVID) morpheme, whose default form is -miʃ. My fieldwork work has found, in agreement with Oztopcu (2003), that this morpheme has an allomorph -Ib that is typically only used with 2nd and 3rd person subjects:
(1)    a.  o      gatʃ-mɨʃ/ɨb                                     
             1SG run-PRF-3SG                                            
             ’He/she/it has run’        

        b.  biz   dʒal-miʃ/*ib-ij   
             1PL come-PRF-1PL                              
             ‘We have come’  

However, I have found that in contexts where multiple adjacent instances of -miʃ would surface, one of those instances is realized as -Ib, even when the subject is 1st person:

(2)    a.  biz  gatʃ-ɨb-mɨʃ-1ɣ                                                   1PL run-PRF-EVID-1PL                                      
            ’Apparently we had run’                                       

         b.  man je-maj       je-ib-miʃ-am  
              1SG eat-NMLZ eat-EVID-PRF-1SG  
             ‘Apparently I ate food’  

Since -Ib suppletion typically requires a 2nd/3rd person subject, we would have expected the 1st person subjects in (2) to make -Ib unavailable. Why did -Ib suppletion in (2) succeed? I argue that this over-application of suppletion in (2) occurs due to a phonological constraint against forms with adjacent identical morphemes (Menn & MacWhinney 1984, Plag 1998, Yip 1998, a.o.). This phonologically-forced morphological mismatch provides new evidence that morpheme insertion interacts and competes with phonological constraints (Wolf 2008, 2009, Pertsova 2015).


Syntax Square 3/19 - Cater Chen (MIT)

Speaker: Cater Chen
Title:  Split Partitivity in Mandarin
Time: Tuesday, March 19, 1pm-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: In Mandarin (Chinese), a numeral classifier (henceforth NCL) fragment can be interpreted as a partitive expression relative to a definite DP antecedent in various constructions, a phenomenon I refer to as split partitivity (henceforth SP). In the first part of this talk, I will argue for a stranding approach to SP. That is, the NCL fragment is analyzed as a stranded element in the course of movement of its nominal associate, therefore, it can be used to identify a movement trace of its nominal associate. 

In Mandarin (Chinese), a numeral classifier (henceforth NCL) fragment can be interpreted as a partitive expression relative to a definite DP antecedent in various constructions, a phenomenon I refer to as split partitivity (henceforth SP). In the first part of this talk, I will argue for a stranding approach to SP. That is, the NCL fragment is analyzed as a stranded element in the course of movement of its nominal associate, therefore, it can be used to identify a movement trace of its nominal associate. 

(1)             NCL fragment identifies A-traces

a.  [Na-liu-ge     xuesheng]i  [WollP  hui you  [vP   [NCLP  san-ge ti] lianxi     Zhangsan]].

      Dem-6-CL     student                   will exist                   3-CL          contact Zhangsan

Lit. ‘Those six students will three (of them) contact Zhangsan.’

b.  Na-liu-ge   xuesheng [VP lai-le          san-ge].              Dem-6-CL student           come-Perf 3-CL

‘Three of those six students came.’

Lit. ‘Those six students came three (of them).’

(2)       NCL fragment identifies Ā-traces

a.  [Na-liu-ge   xuesheng]i (a),   you [NCLP san-ge ti] renshi  Zhangsan.                      Dem-6-CL student        Top  exist          3-CL         know   Zhangsan    

‘Those six students, three (of them) know Zhangsan.’

b.  [Na-liu-ge  xuesheng]i (a),  Zhangsan renshi  [NCLP san-ge ti].               Dem-6-CL student       Top Zhangsan know              3-CL

‘Those six students, Zhangsan knows three (of them).’In the second part of this talk, I will show that, having justified a stranding approach to SP, we can use SP as a tool to study various constructions in Mandarin that involve argument-gap dependencies. In particular, passive constructions in Mandarin have been analyzed as involving raising, control or null operator movement and predication. I propose that SP can shed light on the right analysis, because different patterns of SP can diagnose different types of argument-gap dependencies.


Phonology Circle 3/20 - Adam Albright (MIT) (joint work with Vighnesh Subramaniam)

Speaker: Adam Albright (MIT), joint work with Vighnesh Subramaniam (Millard North High School, Omaha NE)
Title:  Modeling typological frequency with a grammatical learner
Time: Wednesday (3/20), 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: 32-D831

Abstract: available here


LingLunch 3/21 - Philip Shurshurin (NYU)

Speaker: Philip Shushurin (NYU)
Title: A uniform account of possessives and applicatives: evidence from external possession in Russian
Time: Thursday, 3/21, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461
Abstract: Much of the work on external, or raised, possessors in Russian (Paykin and van Peteghem (2003), Grashchenkov and Markman (2009)), as well as in other languages with the similar phenomenon (Landau (1999), Deal (2016)), has recognized the dual nature of such arguments: on one hand, they are interpreted as possessors, on the other hand, they show many similarities with other types of arguments, most frequently, applicatives and topics. I consider two external possession constructions in Russian and propose that they are merged in a DP-external functional projection (ApplP) and either are licensed in situ or move to a topic position for licensing. I propose that goals of ditransitives (low applicatives), external possessors and DP-internal possessors are introduced by the same functional head.


MIT Colloquium 3/22: Anya Lunden (William & Mary)

Speakers: Anya Lunden (William & Mary)
Title: Real and accidental glides
Time: Friday, March 22nd, 3:30pm-5pm
Location: 32-141


Articulating a vowel sequence like [i.a] results in formant movements that are identical to those resulting from the articulation of a [j]. This raises questions about the status of phonological rules of glide insertion, which are often stated as the hiatus resolution strategy for such configurations. The talk explores the question of whether there are, or can be, “real” glides in such cases, and whether the “accidental” glides have any status perceptually. Evidence from production and perception studies as well as cross-linguistic behavior is presented and used to motivate an analysis where an accidental fact about articulation has consequences for the phonology.


CompLang 3/21 - Paola Merlo (University of Geneva)

Speaker:  Paola Merlo (University of Geneva)
Title: Quantitative Computational Syntax: some case studies
Time: Thursday, 3/21, 5-6pm
Location: 46-5165
Abstract: In the computational study of intelligent behaviour, the domain of language is distinguished by the complexity of the representations and the sophistication of the domain theory that is available. It also has a large amount of observational data available for many languages. The main scientific challenge for computational approaches to language is the creation of theories and methods that fruitfully combine large-scale, corpus-based approaches with the linguistic depth of more theoretical methods. I report here on some recent and current work on word order universals and argument structure that exemplifies the quantitative computational syntax approach. First, we demonstrate that typological frequencies of noun phrase orderings, universal 20, are systematically correlated to abstract syntactic principles at work in structure building and movement. Then, we investigate higher level structural principles of efficiency and complexity. In a large-scale, computational study, we confirm a trend towards minimization of the distance between words, in time and across languages. In the third case study, much like the comparative method in linguistics, cross-lingual corpus investigations take advantage of any corresponding annotation or linguistic knowledge across languages. We show that corpus data and typological data involving the causative alternation exhibit interesting correlations explained by the notion of spontaneity of an event. Finally, time permitting, I will discuss current work investigating on whether the notion of similarity in the intervention theory of locality is related to current notions of similarity in word embedding space.

Paola Merlo is faculty in the linguistics department of the University of Geneva. She is the head of the interdisciplinary research group Computational Learning and Computational Linguistics (CLCL). The group is concerned with interdisciplinary research combining linguistic modelling with machine learning techniques. The scope of her current research includes fundamental issues in the statistical nature of language, empirical evaluations of linguistic proposal about the lexical semantics of verbs and language universals of word order and statistical models of syntactic and semantic parsing. Prof. Merlo has been the editor of the journal of the Association for Computational Linguistics, Computational Linguistics, and has been member of the executive committee of the EACL and of the ACL. Prof. Merlo holds a doctorate in Computational Linguistics from the University of Maryland, USA. She has been associate research fellow at the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and has been visiting scholar at Rutgers, Edinburgh, and Stanford.


ESSL Lab Meeting 3/22 - Helena Aparicio (MIT BCS)

Title: How to find the rabbit in the big(ger) box:
Reasoning about contextual parameters for gradable adjectives under embedding (joint work with Roger Levy (MIT BCS) and Elizabeth Coppock (Boston University))
Speaker: Helena Aparicio (MIT BCS)
Time: Friday, 22nd of March 2-3pm
Abstract:Haddock (1987) noticed that the definite description ‘the rabbit in the hat’ succeeds in referring even in the presence of multiple hats, so long as only one hat contains a rabbit. These complex definites suggest that uniqueness with respect to the NP hat is not required in such embedded contexts, raising the question of what the correct formulation of the uniqueness condition for definite determines is. Generally speaking, two types of solutions have been proposed to this puzzle. The first one postulates a complex semantic representation for definite determiners, where uniqueness can be checked at different points of the semantic representation for either sets of hats or sets of rabbit-containing hats (Bumford 2017). The second type of account proposes that definite descriptions can be evaluated against a sub-portion of the maximally available context (Evans 2005; Frazier 2008; Muhlstein 2015). This pragmatic mechanism ensures that reference resolution is successful, even when the maximal context would violate the uniqueness presupposition of the definite article.

The present work seeks to tease apart these two classes of theories by investigating the interpretive preferences for similarly embedded noun phrases containing a positive or comparative adjective (e.g., ‘the rabbit in the big/ger box’). Experimental results show that embedded positive adjectives exhibit a sensitivity to contextual manipulations that embedded comparatives lack. We derive this sensitivity using a probabilistic computational model of the contextual parameters guiding the interpretation of the embedded NP, and compare it to alternative models that vary in the lexical representations assumed for definite determiners. Our simulation results show that neither of the two proposals under consideration can independently account for all of the observed experimental results. We show that the model that best matches human data is one that combines both a complex uniqueness check (à la Bumford) with pragmatic context coordination.