Issue of Monday, February 13th, 2017

Celebrating David Pesetsky @ 60  

This Saturday, linguists from around the world gathered in Cambridge to celebrate the life and work of our very own David Pesetsky, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday. The workshop, organized in secret over the last year and half by Claire Halpert (PhD ‘12), Sabine Iatridou (PhD ‘91), Hadas Kotek (PhD ‘14), and Coppe van Urk (PhD ‘15) (with the generous help of Mary Grenham), included two lively panels on topics close to David’s heart, case and wh-questions, and two poster sessions which presented work from linguists that David has inspired over the many years. The breadth of topics covered during the workshop spoke not only to David’s intellectual curiosity, but also to his ability as a teacher and adviser.

In tandem with the workshop, MITWPL also produced a festschrift, A pesky set: Papers for David Pesetsky, which includes 60 papers on a diverse range of topics written by David’s students.

Thank you to everyone who worked to make this a success!









(Thank you to Athulya Aravind, Snejana Iovtcheva, Michel DeGraff, and Abdul-Razak Sulemana for providing photos.)

Further information on the workshop, including handouts and slides, can be found on the workshop website.


Syntax Square 2/14 - Colin Davis  

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction and Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday February 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Received wisdom tells us that in English, wh-movement of a possessor requires pied-piping of the whole DP containing that wh-possessor, as in (1). This falls under the Left Branch Condition of Ross (1967), describing a ban on moving the leftmost element of a nominal phrase in languages like English. Unexpected in light of this generalization is the fact that for some English speakers, wh-movement of just the possessor, stranding the DP it originated in, is also possible. This is possessor extraction (PE), as in (2):

  1. [Whose fat cat] do they think [t is cute]? (Pied-piping)
  2. Who do they think [[t’s fat cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)

A classic example of a PE language is Hungarian (Szabolcsi 1984), some others are Chamorro, Tzotzil, and much of Slavic. However, English has never been recognized as a PE language as far as I know, though in the course of a study of child English Gavruseva & Thornton (2001) get some adult English PE data, and take it to be a production error. I show that to the contrary, English PE is a productive and interestingly constrained phenomenon. An example of such a constraint is the fact that PE out of an in-situ object is impossible, as in (3). PE out of the embedded object in (3) can be rescued, however, if the residue of the DP where the possessor was born is pied-piped/moved to the edge of the embedded clause, as in (4):

  1. * Who do you think [John likes [t’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do you think[[t’s cake] John likes t]? (PE from pied-piped object)

In the context of a Cyclic Linearization framework (Fox & Pesetsky 2005), I argue that some movements independently necessary for coherent linearization in PE contexts are in conflict with a PF constraint which, roughly speaking, requires adjacency between a (moving) possessor and the saxon genitive ‘s at the phase level. My ambition is to show that the quirks of English PE are an automatic consequence of this tension and the methods of its resolution. I argue that the unique pied-piping in (4) and a family of similar examples is one way of resolving this tension, while in some structures there is no possible repair, ruling out PE in those contexts.


LRFG 2/15 - Roni Katzir  

Speaker: Roni Katzir (Tel-Aviv University & MIT)
Title: Structure and learning of quantificational determiners
Date and time: Wednesday, February 15, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461
Acquiring semantic denotations — even the entry for a single, well-exemplified, low-type element — presents the child with a difficult inductive challenge. I start by illustrating this challenge using the notion of learning known as identification in the limit, before switching to a less complete notion of learning, compression-based learning, which offers a more constructive way to approach the inductive challenge. Focusing on the representation and learning of quantificational determiners, I show how compression-based learning maps representational choices — e.g., basic determiners and their combinations, in an intensional variant of Keenan & Stavi 1986 (following last week’s discussion), or semantic automata, as in van Benthem 1986 — onto learners. This mapping, in turn, makes empirical predictions that can help us choose between competing architectures.


DeGraff on ‘linguistic apartheid’ in Haiti  

Michel DeGraff published an article on ‘linguistic apartheid’ in Haiti, sharing his concerns about human rights, education and development in his native Haiti.  The article is published in both English and Kreyòl.


Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow…  

While snow in a New England winter isn’t news, MIT’s second snow closure within five days might be. The institute is having its second snow closure of the season on Monday February 13th. A reminder to check the MIT Emergency Information page for up to date announcements about closures and other campus emergencies. Stay warm, watch your step, and enjoy the snow day!