Harley and Miyagawa on the Syntax of Ditransitives

Heidi Harley (PhD ‘95) and Shigeru Miyagawa (faculty) have just had an article on the Syntax of Ditransitives published by the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. The article is available online at the link. Congratulations Heidi and Shigeru!


Whamit! summer hiatus

Whamit! will be on hiatus during the summer. The editors would like to thank all of you for reading, and all our contributors for sharing their news with us!

Weekly posts will resume September 5th, 2017, but we will certainly update you on an as-it-happens basis with any interesting news that comes our way before then. We hope everyone has an enjoyable summer. See you again in the fall!


Ling-Lunch 5/22 - Jay Keyser

The day has come and Prof. Jay Keyser will give a special Ling-Lunch talk today!

Speaker: Jay Keyser
Title: Music, Poetry, Painting and Easter Eggs
Date/Time: Monday, May 22/12:30-1:50pm [notice the exceptional time!]
Location: 32-D461

This talk takes the view that modernism in the so-called sister arts of music, poetry and painting resulted from the abandonment of sets of rules that characterized each genre and that were shared by the artist and his/her audience. Rules governing meter and tonal music are reasonably well understood. I propose a way to think about “rules” for the third genre, painting. These rules define a natural aesthetic, ’natural’ in that the rules are shared by the artist and his or her audience in the way that the rules of one’s natural language are shared by speaker and listener.

I suggest that the esoteric direction that the sister arts took in the period cultural historians call “Modernism” is a direct result of abandoning the natural, i.e. shared aesthetic for private formats whose origins can be found in the 14th century.

Finally, I will speculate on the similarity between what happened to the arts at the turn of the 20th century and what happened in science after the publication of Principia Mathematica two centuries earlier.


LFRG 5/17 - Naomi Francis

Speaker: Naomi Francis (MIT)
Title: Turkish ki: A presupposition-challenging particle
Date and time: Wednesday May 24, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

This talk explores the behaviour of the Turkish discourse particle ki. I argue that it serves to challenge presuppositions, just as Iatridou & Tatevosov (2016) propose for a use of even in questions. Pursuing a unified analysis of even and ki motivates modifications of Iatridou & Tatevosov’s (2016) original account, and raises a new puzzle about possible links between even, polarity sensitivity, and presupposition-challenging discourse moves.



The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign organized the 26th annual meeting of FASL (Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics), which took place this past weekend. MIT was represented by the following talks and posters:

Mitya Privoznov (2nd year grad student): Russian stress in inflectional paradigms[poster]

Masha Esipova (current visitor/NYU): Two types of verb fronting in Russian [poster]

Natalia Ivlieva (PhD ‘13) and Alexander Podobryaev (PhD ‘14): How to negate a disjunction in Russian

Ora Matushansky (PhD ‘02) (UiL OTS/Utrecht University/CNRS/Université Paris-8), Nora Boneh (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Lea Nash (University Paris 8) & Natalia Slioussar (School of Linguistics, Higher School of Economics, Moscow): To PPs in their proper place.

A glimpse of Masha’s poster and of Mitya. Thanks Masha for the picture!


MIT @ 25mfm

2nd-year grad student Rafael Abramovitz is headed to Manchester for the 25th Manchester Phonology Meeting (25mfm). He will give the talk An Argument against the Richness of the Base from Koryak Labials. Alum Giorgio Magri (PhD ‘09) will present the poster MaxEnt does not help with phonotactic restrictiveness. Adam Albright (faculty) will be one of the discussants



Kenyon Branan (4th-year grad student) is off to the International Christian University in Tokyo (Japan) to present The i-boundedness of A-scrambling at WAFL 13. The 13th Workshop on Altaic Formal Linguistics will take place later this week, on May 25—28. Shigeru Miyagawa (faculty) is among the organizers.


DeGraff in Hong Kong

Michel DeGraff (faculty) will be giving two talks at the University of Hong Kong this week.

  • Linguistics and Social Justice: De-Colonizing Creole Studies
  • The sustainable (re)vitalization of local languages is indispensable for education, development and social justice: The MIT-Haiti Initiative as case study

The first is a special seminar, and the second is part of the Second International Conference on Documentary Linguistics - Asian Perspectives (DLAP-2). Abstracts and the program can be found by following the links.


Rasin colloquium talk in Leipzig

Ezer Rasin (4th year student) will be giving an invited colloquium talk at the University of Leipzig this Wednesday, entitled “An argument for severing stress from phonology”. For the details, click here.


Phonology Circle 5/15 - Mitya Privoznov

Speaker: Mitya Privoznov (MIT)
Title: Russian stress in inflectional paradigms
Date/Time: Monday, May 15, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

All analyses of Russian stress agree that it is contrastive. This is easily shown by the existance of minimal pairs, like zámok ‘castle’ vs. zamók ‘padlock’. Hence, at least some information about stress has to come from the lexical entries for individual morphemes. The question is: what kind of information? Most analyses, starting with Jakobson (1963), Zaliznyak (1967) and Halle (1973), assume that there is an underlyingly specified feature [+/-stress], cf. Zaliznyak (1985), Melvold (1990) and Alderete (1999). These theories distinguish between three types of morphemes in Russian: stressed, unstressed and “right-stressed”. The latter type is underlyingly accented, but, in Halle (1973)’s terms, it invokes a specific rule that shifts stress from the morpheme itself to the next syllable to the right (cf. Zaliznyak (1985)’s rightward marking). In this talk I am going to argue that instead of introducing the right-shifting stress rule we could assume that the stress feature, apart from having [+str] and [-str] values, can also be unspecified. This will give us the desired three-way distinction: morphemes can be stressed, unstressed and unspecified for stress. I am going to show that in a combination with StressLeft constraint (cf. Melvold (1990)’s BAP principle) and some independently needed auxiliary assumptions about morpheme dominance, this would derive the desired result.

Syntax Square 5/16 - Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT)
Title: Towards a unified analysis of associative plurals and plural pronouns in Inuktitut
Date and time: Tuesday May 16, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I present work in progress on associative plurals and Plural Pronoun Constructions in Inuktitut. I propose that associative plurals and plural pronouns share a common internal syntax; evidence comes from the existence of so-called ‘extended associatives’—associative plurals modified by a comitative phrase, just like PPCs—and the observation that these constructions systematically interact with PPCs. I suggest that the correct analysis for these constructions in Inuktitut seems to roughly correspond to the one proposed by Vassilieva & Larson (2005) for plural pronouns, which are taken to be built from a singular pronoun and an additional unsaturated element (thus, “we” = “I + other(s)”). However, along the way, I’ll also introduce various puzzles for this proposal.


LFRG 5/17 - Hanzhi Zhu

Speaker: Hanzhi Zhu (MIT)
Title: Building expectation into an account of still and already
Date and time: Wednesday May 17, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I’ll explore properties of particles like still, already, and German erst / Mandarin cái ‘only just, only … so far’. In particular, I will argue for the claim that some of these particles give rise to an earlier/later-than-expected inference (discussed in Löbner 1989, van der Auwera 1993, Michaelis 1996, inter alia).

1. Asha is already asleep.
Inference: Asha is asleep earlier than expected.

2. a. Bart qiutian cai lai.
Bart autumn erst come
b. Bart kommt erst im Herbst
Bart come erst in autumn
“Bart will only just come in autumn.”
Inference: Bart’s coming in autumn is later than was expected.

I’ll propose an account which directly builds this inference into their presuppositional content. I’ll then discuss the advantages of such an account over previous proposals (Krifka 2000, Ippolito 2007), as well as the challenges that it faces.


[cancelled] Ling-Lunch 5/18 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: Cyclic Linearization and Intermediate Stranding: English Possessor Extraction and Beyond
Date/Time: Thursday, May 18th/12:30-1:50pm
Room: 32-D461

In this work, I argue that the Cyclic Linearization view of phases (CL, Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014) accurately constrains pied-piping/stranding, incorporating unexamined facts from the English possessor extraction (PE) construction, first noted in Gavruseva & Thornton (2001). McCloskey (2000) showed that West Ulster English all can be stranded by wh-movement, not only in the base position, but in an intermediate one also, which he takes as evidence for successive-cyclic movement:

(1). What (all) did he say [CP t (all) that we should buy t (all)]?

Intriguingly in contrast, Postal (1974) noted that English prepositions cannot be stranded in intermediate positions:

(2). (To) who do they believe [CP t (*to) that the students spoke t (to)]?

A Puzzle:

West Ulster English all and English prepositions are both strandable elements in principle. Why then is only the first capable of IS? This, as McCloskey noted, is mysterious.

Another IS context is the English PE construction, a colloquial option for many speakers. Long-distance PE out of non-subject DP, such as whose money in (3), requires IS of that DP in the embedded spec-CP. Why does English tolerate IS in PE derivations, but not with prepositions? This fact compounds the puzzle.


(3). Who did they say[CP [ts money John stole t]? (PE with object pied-piping)


Chomsky (2001, inter alia) and CL both offer theories of how phases and their spellout determine the properties of successive-cyclic movement. Whereas Chomsky’s conception of phases does nothing to rule out preposition IS, leaving Postal’s puzzle and related facts mysterious, I argue that CL gets the facts right, predicting (1-3). This solution also predicts a generalization about IS, stated in (4).

(4). Intermediate Stranding Generalization (ISG, Predicted by CL)
IS is possible when what pied-pipes, and then is stranded, was adjoined to the right of the mover.

This generalization fits the fact that IS is possible for the strandable all of West Ulster English and [‘s NP] in possessor-extracting English, as these items follow the moving wh-word. (4) rules out IS of prepositions, which precede a mover they are adjoined to. I argue that (4) is cross-linguistically robust, fitting all cases of IS I’ve so far found.


MIT at SALT 27

Over the weekend, Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT) 27 was held at the University of Maryland. On May 11, there was a workshop on Meaning and Distribution at UMD as well. MIT was represented at both!

Pranav Anand (PhD ‘06) was an invited speaker at SALT, and spoke on Facts, alternatives, and alternative facts, and Beth Levin (PhD ‘83 EECS) was an invited speaker at the workshop, and spoke on The Elasticity of Verb Meaning Revisited. In addition, MIT had several students, alumni, and faculty presenting both talks and posters.




Save the date: Ling-Lunch 5/22 - Jay Keyser

Mark you calendar! Jay Keyser will give a special Ling-Lunch talk on Monday, May 22.

Speaker: Jay Keyser
Title: Music, Poetry, Painting and Easter Eggs
Date/Time: Monday, May 22/12:30-1:50pm [notice the exceptional time!]
Location: 32-D461

This talk takes the view that modernism in the so-called sister arts of music, poetry and painting resulted from the abandonment of sets of rules that characterized each genre and that were shared by the artist and his/her audience. Rules governing meter and tonal music are reasonably well understood. I propose a way to think about “rules” for the third genre, painting. These rules define a natural aesthetic, ’natural’ in that the rules are shared by the artist and his or her audience in the way that the rules of one’s natural language are shared by speaker and listener.

I suggest that the esoteric direction that the sister arts took in the period cultural historians call “Modernism” is a direct result of abandoning the natural, i.e. shared aesthetic for private formats whose origins can be found in the 14th century.

Finally, I will speculate on the similarity between what happened to the arts at the turn of the 20th century and what happened in science after the publication of Principia Mathematica two centuries earlier.


Phonology Circle 5/8 - Ting Huang (MIT)

Speaker: Ting Huang (MIT)
Title: On the Unreleased Stops in Taiwanese Southern Min
Date/Time: Monday, May 8, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-124

Unreleased stops, lacking a burst, have been claimed to have low perceptibility and are more likely to neutralize place contrasts (Stevens 1994; Ohala 2001), which has been supported by examining no-burst VC fragments spliced from released stops. The common consensus is that stop perception relies on two sources of acoustic cues: (i) formant transition and (ii) spectral frequency of burst noise. It is clear that the latter cue is absent in unreleased stops, and therefore the hypothesis is that the cues of formant transition will be enhanced. This study investigates the acoustic correlates of VC (where C=unreleased stops p̚, t̚, k̚) in Taiwanese Southern Min. We argue that the cues of VC are not totally diminished or undistinguishable. Moreover, different morphoprosodic structures (VC-V vs. VC#V vs. VC#C) further complicate the dispersion of stop contrasts in this study, which will also be discussed in this talk. A further comparison of stop cues exhibits that the coronal and dorsal are contrastive in terms of vowel duration and quality. This may be related to the asymmetrical behaviors of consonant-to-consonant assimilation in several languages (e.g. English and Korean) and diachronic changes of stop contrasts in Chinese Phonology.

Syntax Square 5/9 - Karin Vivanco

Speaker: Karin Vivanco (MIT and the University of São Paulo)
Title: Inverse voice in Karitiana
Date and time: Tuesday May 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The goal of this talk is to present a new analysis of the inverse voice morpheme {ti-} in Karitiana, a Tupian language spoken in Brazil. This morpheme arises in three different constructions: object WH- questions, object focus constructions, and object relative clauses (Landin 1984, Landin 1987, Storto 1999, 2005). It also changes the agreement pattern of transitive verbs, that otherwise behave in an ergative-absolutive fashion. For this reason, some {ti-} constructions have been regarded as split-ergativity contexts (Storto 2005).

In the analysis proposed here, objects in {ti-} constructions would be adjuncts located outside of the verbal phrase. Furthermore, {ti-} would be a nominal element generated as the complement of a transitive verb, being later incorporated into it and changing its valency. Specifically, I argue that a verb marked with {ti-} becomes intransitive, a claim that can be supported by diagnoses of (in)transitivity such as the copular and the passive construction (Storto 2008, Rocha 2011, Storto and Rocha 2015). This intransitive status would in turn account for the change of agreement patterns without resorting to split-ergativity.

Finally, I also claim that this proposal can account for the presence of {ti-} in WH- constructions and for a semantic requirement that has not been previously described.


LFRG 5/10 - Daniel Margulis

Speaker: Daniel Margulis (MIT)
Title: Quantifier float with overt restriction
Date and time: Wednesday May 10, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Example (1) demonstrates quantifier float. The quantifier each intuitively quantifies over individual parts of the subject they, but the two are not linearly adjacent. The Hebrew quantifier kol has to be overtly restricted, even when it floats: (2) is ungrammatical without exad ‘one’ or a full NP like student.

1. They have each read a different book.

2. hem kar’u kol *(exad) sefer axer
they read each one book other
“They each read a different book.”

I will discuss several syntactic and semantic puzzles posed by the construction in (2) and their implications for the analysis of quantifier float.


Rajesh Bhatt at MIT

Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst) will be making an extended visit this week. In addition to his colloquium talk on Friday, he’ll be giving a mini course on Thursday on the theory of indefinites in Hindi-Urdu and its implications for polarity and movement cross-linguistically:

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: Hindi-Urdu Indefinites, Polarity and Movement
Date/Time: May 11th, 11:30am-2:30pm
Place: 32-D461 (tentative)

[joint work with Vincent Homer, UMass]

Typically, Positive Polarity Items (PPIs), e.g. ‘would rather’, cannot be interpreted in the scope of a clausemate negation (barring rescuing or shielding) (Baker 1970, van der Wouden 1997, Szabolcsi 2004 a.o.):

1a. John would rather leave.
1b. *John wouldn’t rather leave.

The scope of most of them is uniquely determined by their surface position. But PPI indefinites are special: they can surface under negation and yet yield a grammatical sentence under a wide scope interpretation:

2. John didn’t understand something. ok: SOME > NEG;*NEG > SOME

Here we address the question of the mechanism through which a PPI of the `some’ type takes wide scope out of an anti-licensing configuration. One possibility is (covert) movement, another is mechanisms that allow indefinites to take (island-violating) ultra-wide scope such as choice functions (Reinhart 1997). The relevant configurations that have motivated choice functions for other languages can be set up for Hindi-Urdu too.
We can therefore assume that a device that generates wide-scope for indefinites without movement is available in Hindi-Urdu too. We show that in Hindi-Urdu at least, this device is unable to salvage PPIs in the relevant configuration. Only good old fashioned overt movement does the needful. If we think of overt movement in Hindi-Urdu as being the analogue of covert movement elsewhere, then the Hindi-Urdu facts are an argument that it is movement, albeit covert, that salvages PPIs in English too, not alternative scope-shifting devices. We explore whether the conclusion from Hindi-Urdu does in fact extend to English.

MIT Colloquium 5/12 - Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Rajesh Bhatt (UMass Amherst)
Title: Polar Questions, Selection and Disjunction: clues from Hindi-Urdu ‘kyaa’
Time: Friday, May 12th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

[joint work with Veneeta Dayal, Rutgers] Hindi-Urdu has an optional marker ‘kyaa’ that appears in polar and alternative questions. We delineate its properties distinguishing from the homophonous thematic ‘kyaa’ (what); in particular we locate it in ForceP. We demonstrate that its distribution in embedded environments is similar to that of embedded inversion in English. Then we use `kyaa’ to argue that projection of alternatives (as in Alternative and Inquisitive Semantics) is constrained by the syntax. In particular, A-bar movements lead to `closure’ of alternatives, making them inaccessible. Consequently we expect a bleeding relationship between such movements and operations that depend upon alternatives such as alternative questions. Finally we also explore interactions between the intonational marking of Y/N questions and syntax.

MIT @ CamCoS 6

The 6th Cambridge Comparative Syntax conference (CamCoS 6) took place on 4—6 May. Michelle Yuan (4th year grad student) gave the talk Object agreement and clitic doubling across Inuit: Evidence from Inuktitut ABS objects


Michel DeGraff at the UN

This Friday, Michel DeGraff will be presenting his paper, Language, education, human rights, equal opportunity & sustainable development: Haiti as a case study, at the United Nations symposium on Language, the Sustainable Development Goals, and Vulnerable Populations!


Phonology Circle 5/1 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: A Case for Morpheme Structure Constraints from Koryak Labials
Date/Time: Monday, May 1, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

One of the central departures of Optimality Theory and its descendants from earlier models of generative phonology is the principle of the Richness of the Base (ROTB), which holds that the set of inputs to the grammar lacks language-specific properties (Prince and Smolensky 2004). Since the set of ranked constraints is the only locus of crosslinguistic variation in these models, morpheme structure constraints (MSC) (Stanley 1967, Chomsky and Halle 1968 et. seq.) are inadmissible. In this talk, I present an argument against this view based on the distribution of labials in Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan). In this language, v and w contrast prevocalically (1-2), but are neutralized to w elsewhere (3).
  1. wutku ‘here’ vs. vutq-ə-vut ‘darkness’
  2. e-wejulʔ-et-ke ‘not scared’ vs. ɣənt-ev-e ‘you ran’
  3. waɲav-at-ə-k ‘to speak’, but waɲaw ‘word’, a-waɲaw-ka ‘without words’
For morphemes like the root in (3), we can set up the root-final segment in the UR as v, but morphemes with an underlying final w, giving rise to a putative pattern *waɲaw ~ waɲaw-at-ə-k, do not exist. While these facts are straightforwardly captured by an MSC banning w morpheme-finally, as well as by equivalent machinery like morpheme-level filtering, analyses assuming ROTB without intermediate filtering are unable account for them.

Syntax Square 5/2 - Rafael Abramovitz

Speaker: Rafael Abramovitz (MIT)
Title: Outward-Sensitive Phonologically Conditioned Allomorphy in Koryak
Date and time: Tuesday May 2, 1—2pm
Location: 32-D461

In realizational theories of morphology like Distributed Morphology, syntactic operations are taken to apply to structures that lack phonological information, which then needs to be inserted at some later point in the derivation. A question we can then ask is whether there are any principled restrictions on how this insertion proceeds. One influential answer comes from Bobaljik (2000), who argues that vocabulary insertion is cyclic and phase-based: vocabulary items are inserted bottom-up within phases, and bottom-up from phase to phase. This makes predictions about restrictions on allomorphy determined at vocabulary insertion because it entails that, when a morpheme is undergoing insertion, only phonological information is present about the nodes below it, and only morphosyntactic information is available about those above it. This view predicts, then, that outward-looking allomorphy can be only conditioned by morphosyntactic features, and inward looking allomorphy by only conditioned by phonological/morphological features. In line with this prediction, cases of outward-looking phonologically conditioned allomorphy are very scarce, the only clear example that I know of coming from Deal and Wolf (2014). In this presentation of work in progress, I will provide partial support for cyclic spellout. In particular, I will present 3 cases of allomorphy from the Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan, Kamchatka) verb-word, and will argue that they are outward-looking and phonologically conditioned, contrary to one of the claims of cyclic spellout. Based on this, I will argue that the phase-internal part of cyclic spellout is either false as a universal or unfalsifiable: these patterns of allomorphy pattern cannot be captured by it, but a theory of phonology sufficiently powerful to account for them negates cyclic spellout’s predictive power. However, I will argue that the predictions of phase-by-phase cyclicity are, in fact, borne out: in none of these cases can morphemes trigger allomorphy across a phase boundary, even if they are linearly adjacent to each other.

LFRG 5/3 - Athulya Aravind

Speaker: Athulya Aravind (MIT)
Title: Against a unified treatment of obligatory presupposition effects
Date and time: Wednesday May 3, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Since its original conception, the principle Maximize Presupposition (Heim 1991, Sauerland 2003) has been recruited to explain why the use of certain presupposition triggers is obligatory in contexts that satisfy their presuppositions (1).

1. a. The/#A sun is shining.
b. I washed both/#all of my hands.
c. Does your dog have a bushy tail/#bushy tails?

In this talk, I re-examine one type of “obligatory presupposition” environment, involving additive particles (2), and argue that they do not fall within the purview of Maximize Presupposition (contra e.g. e Amsili and Beyssade, 2006, Chemla 2008, Singh 2008).

2. a. Sue went to the party. John went to the party #(too).
b. Jenn went to the movies yesterday. She went #(again) today.

Building on previous work (Krifka 1999, Saebo 2004, Bade 2016), I will first propose an account for the effects in (2), on which insertion of additives is one strategy (among many) to circumvent inconsistencies arising from uncancellable exhaustivity inferences. I will then present experimental results from both adults and children that offer support for a non-unified treatment of obligatory presupposition effects.


Ling-Lunch 5/4 - Amanda Rysling

Speaker: Amanda Rysling (UMass Amherst)
Title:  Preferential early attribution in segmental perception
Date/Time: Thursday, May 4th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

Recognizing the speech we hear as the sounds of the languages we speak requires solving a parsing problem: mapping from the acoustic input we receive to the sounds and words we recognize as our language. The way that listeners do this impacts the phonologies of the world’s languages.

Most work on segmental perception has focused on how listeners successfully disentangle the effects of segmental coarticulation. An assumption of this literature is that listeners almost always attribute the acoustic products of articulation to the sounds whose articulation created those products. As a result, listeners usually judge two successive phones to be maximally distinct from each other in clear listening conditions. Few studies (Fujimura, Macchi, & Streeter, 1978; Kingston & Shinya, 2003; Repp, 1983) have examined cases in which listeners seem to systematically “mis-parse” (Ohala, 1981; et seq.), hearing two sounds in a row as similar to each other, and apparently failing to disentangle the blend of their production. I advance the hypothesis that listeners default to attributing incoming acoustic material to the first of two phones in a sequence, even when that material includes the products of the second phone’s articulation. I report studies which show that listeners persist in attributing the acoustic products of a second sound’s articulation to a first sound even when the signal conveys early explicit evidence about the identity of that second sound. Thus, in cases in which listeners could have leveraged articulatory information to begin disentangling the first sound from the second, they did not do so. I argue that this behavior arises from a domain-general perceptual bias to construe temporally distributed input as evidence of one event, rather than two.

These results support a new conceptualization of the segmental parsing problem. Since listeners necessarily perceive events in the world at a delay from when those events occurred, it may be adaptive to attribute the incoming signal to an earlier speech sound when no other determining information is available. There are cases in which listeners do not disentangle the coarticulated acoustics of two sequential sounds, because they are not compelled to do so. Finally, I argue that this has affected the phonologies of the world’s languages, resulting in, for example, predominantly regressive assimilation of major place features.


MIT Colloquium 5/5 - Jon Gajewski (UConn)

Speaker: Jon Gajewski (UConn)
Title: It’s not syntax, I don’t think: neg-raising and parentheticals
Time: Friday, May 5th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

English allows a construction in which a sentence contains a parenthetical with a clausal gap, as in (i). I will refer to phrases such as I think in (i) as clausal parentheticals. Typically, clausal parentheticals cannot be negative, cf. (ii).
(i) There is beer in the fridge, I think.
(ii) *There is beer in the fridge, I don’t think.
It has been noted that when the clausal parenthetical contains a neg-raising predicate, an apparent doubling of a negation in the main clause is allowed, as in (ii).
(ii) There is no beer in the fridge, I (don’t) think.
This doubling has been taken to be an argument in favor of syntactic approaches to neg-raising, as in Ross (1973) and Collins & Postal (2014). I will defend an analysis of the doubling in (ii) that is compatible with a semantic/pragmatic approach to neg-raising, as in Horn 1989, Gajewski 2007, Romoli 2013.


The University of Calgary organized this year’s West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. 1st year grad student Neil Banerjee (Trouble with attitudes and the future) and Heidi Harley (PhD ‘95) were keynote speakers and several current students and alumni presented their work:

Hanzhi Zhu (3rd year grad student): Desonorization in Kyrgyz: Licensing by cue, not syllable contact

Nico Baier (UC Berkeley) & Michelle Yuan (4th year grad student): Deriving anti-agreement with bound variables: feature transmission and impoverishment

Rafael Nonato (PhD ‘14) Skewed AGREE: accounting for a closest-conjunct effect with semantic implications

Ivona Kučerová (PhD ‘07) & Adam Szczegielniak (Rutgers): A dual theory of roots: Evidence from gender-marking languages

Benjamin Bruening (PhD ‘01) & Eman Al Khalaf (U. Jordan): No argument-adjunct distinction in reconstruction for binding Condition

Neil during his keynote [thanks Hanzhi for the picture!]


Syntax Square 4/25 - Nick Longenbaugh

Speaker: Nick Longenbaugh (MIT)
Title: Towards a unified treatment of the φ-Agree/Move correlation
Date/Time: Tuesday April 25, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The past two decades have seen an explosion of research into the cross-linguistic manifestation of φ-Agreement and the basic principles at stake in its operation. Much of the original impetus for this investigation came from a desire to understand the precise correlation between φ-Agree and movement. If anything, however, ensuing discoveries have muddied the waters in this domain. While it is almost universally acknowledged that φ-Agree and Move are related (see van Urk 2015 for discussion and a formalization of this link), there has been a steady retreat from the strong position of the early 1990s that φ-Agree is parasitic on movement.

(1) Specifier-head agreement (Kayne 1989): If AgrX is an agreement head and DP a phrase bearing φ-features, morphological agreement obtains only if the following structural configuration obtains: [AgrXP DP [AgrXP AgrX […DP…]]]

A principle like (1) is especially successful for capturing agreement phenomena in the vP domain, e.g., past-participle agreement (PPA) in Romance and Scandinavian (Kayne 1985, 1989a; Christensen and Taraldsen 1989), but a wealth of cross-linguistic data (in at least Tsez (Polinsky and Potsdam 2001; English (Chomsky 2000, 2001), Icelandic (Sigurðsson 1996, 2008; Boeckx 2010), Hindi-Urdu (Boeckx 2004; Bhatt 2005), Basque (Etxepare 2006; Preminger 2009)) supports a “long-distance” φ-Agree operation, as in Chomsky 2000, 2001.

(2) Agree (Chomsky 2000, 2001): An Agree relation obtains between a head H and a phrase XP, provided:
(i) Matching: XP bears valued features that are a superset of the unvalued features on H
(ii) Locality: There is no YP asymmetrically c-commanding XP that satisfies matching

Given that (2) formally dissociates Agree and Move, the link so commonly observed between them must be added back in, a task that usually falls to ad-hoc “EPP” features, either stipulated to be present on heads or probes themselves. This state of affairs leaves unanswered a number of fundamental questions, both theoretical and technical: How do we handle cases like PPA and other apparent instances of Spec-Head agreement? Can we predict which probes trigger movement, or must this be stipulated in an ad-hoc, language specific way? Most crucially, why should Agree and Move ever be correlated in the first place?

It is to these questions that this talk will be addressed. Beginning with a case study of PPA, I argue for the conclusion that every φ-probe has the postulated “EPP-property,” so that φ-Agree must trigger movement unless independent factors intervene to block it. This allows us to remove “EPP” as a feature of heads or probes, and to predict straightforwardly whether φ-Agree triggers movement. I then explore two consequences of this proposal. The first is that those “null subject” languages where T has φ-probe have both the traditional EPP (T must project a specifier) and null expletives (following Chomsky’s 1981 proposal), a result I argue for on independent grounds following Bresnan & Kanerva (1989) and Sheehan (2010). The second is a new theory of expletive there that treats it as a semantically vacuous oblique pronoun. By analogy to the behavior of oblique pronouns in Icelandic and cross-linguistically, I show this treatment better captures the distribution of there in English and cross-linguistically with fewer stipulations than competing treatments.


LFRG 4/26 - Keny Chatain

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Relative clauses; interactions with modals and definite article choice in Fering and Akan
Date and time: Wednesday April 26, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I propose a different semantics for relative clauses that brings them closer to the semantics of conjoined sentences. This accounts for the intuition that in many cases (albeit not all), a sentence with a relative clause is paraphrasable as a conjunction of two clauses:

1. I saw a dog that was limping.

2. I saw a dog and it was limping.

I explore two consequences of this idea in two unrelated areas.

First, I show that this semantics can improve over the standard Grosu & Krifka (2007)’s account of intensional relative clauses (as in (3)), in that it avoids postulating type-shifters that are specific to this construction and it does not posit higher-order abstraction.

3. The gifted mathematician you claim to be should be able to solve this problem in no time.

Second, I show that this semantics can explain interactions between relative clauses and the choice of the definite article in languages with the weak/strong definite article distinction. While strong articles are standardly taken to be anaphoric to previously mentioned entities (Schwarz 2012), they can appear in combination with a restrictive relative clause even when no previous referent is available. However, using the strong form in contexts where they are not licensed is not possible in all languages that make the weak/strong distinction: while Fering can, Akan and Haitian creole cannot. I account for this split in terms of the syntax/semantics interface given here.

Finally, I will discuss other patterns that may fall out from the proposal, and patterns that probably won’t.


MIT Colloquium 4/28 - Jonathan Bobaljik (UConn)

Speaker: Jonathan Bobaljik (UConn)
Title: On Some Universals(?) of Case and Agreement
Time: Friday, April 28th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

The distribution of the major case and agreement alignments has been held to reflect a tetrachoric (implicational) universal: languages may show the same alignment in both case and agreement, but if they diverge, then it is always the case that case alignment is ergative-absolutive, while agreement alignment is apparently nominative-accusative. The reverse combination is unattested. After reviewing the explanation of this universal in Bobaljik 2008 (cf. Baker 2008, Legate 2008), I examine alleged counter-examples, arguing that the universal survives scrutiny, once the distinction between accusative case and differential object marking is made clear. The proposed explanation makes use of the grouping of cases known as the Dependent Case Hierarchy: {nom/abs} < {erg/acc} < {dat/obl}. Dependent Case Theory may play a central role in the explanation of another asymmetry between case and agreement, specifically, in explaining the the typological observation that “Split-S” and other “active” alignments are surprisingly much rarer as case alignments than as alignments of bound person marking. The account, developed in joint work in progress with Mark Baker, relies on the observation that where active agreement systems can be readily described, an active case pattern cannot arise as a core alignment under DCT. Such patterns can only arise as the interaction of one of the core alignment patterns with independent aspects of the grammars of individual languages. In developing that account, we predict a further, and as far as we are aware previously unobserved, asymmetry between what Bittner & Hale called “accusative active” and “ergative active” languages.

Juliet Stanton Defends

Congratulations to Juliet Stanton, who just defended her dissertation, titled Constraints on the Distribution of Nasal-Stop Sequences: An Argument for Contrast, last Friday!

Juliet Stanton at her post-defense celebration

As readers may remember, Juliet will be joining the Department of Linguistics at NYU as an Assistant Professor in the Fall. Well done Juliet!


Brillman to Spotify

Ruth Brillman, who is currently finishing her dissertation on antilocality and non-finite clauses, has accepted a fantastic position at Spotify. Here is Ruth’s description of the job:

I’ll be working as a Research Scientist alongside Spotify’s machine learning team (the force behind their recommendation systems like Discover Weekly and Daily Mix) at their Somerville office. A lot of my work will involve figuring out how their machine learning systems should deal with natural language data, and how to evaluate those systems once they’re off the ground. My team will also help establish research goals and standards for the company. I’m so excited!

Congratulations, Ruth!


The University of Delaware organized the 47th Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages, which took place in April 20—23. MIT was represented by the following presentations:

Benjamin Storme (5th year grad student): Schwa-stem derivatives in French and gradient attraction

Nikos Angelopoulos & Dominique Sportiche (PhD ‘83): Romance Scrambling and Hierarchy within Clitic Clusters

Luca Iacoponi & Viviane Déprez (PhD ‘89): Negative Concord in Italian: An experimental approach

Sophie Harrington & Maria Cristina Cuervo (PhD ‘03): Mood selection under parecer (‘to seem’): introducing the polarity indicative [poster]


And the 2017 SHASS Levitan Award goes to… Donca Steriade!

Our very own Donca Steriade is among the recipients of the 2017 James A. and Ruth Levitan Teaching Awards in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences.

Announcing the 2017 award recipients, Dean Nobles remarked, “This prize honors those instructors in our School who have demonstrated outstanding success in teaching our undergraduate and graduate students. These great educators, who are nominated by students themselves, have made a difference in the lives of our remarkable students.”

That Donca should receive an award for fantastic educators should come as no surprise to those of us lucky enough to have taken one of her classes. David Pesetsky notes, “The most important point is indeed the fact that Donca’s students themselves nominated her for this award — honoring one of our most distinguished colleagues and most devoted teachers.”

Congratulations Donca!


Aboh and DeGraff in Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar

Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam) and Michel DeGraff have recently published a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar. The chapter, titled A Null Theory of Creole Formation Based on Universal Grammar argues that Creoles emerge from principles of UG as all other languages do, and thus can provide important insight into both contact induced and diachronic language change.

Michel writes:

Enoch and I propose an analysis of Creole formation that goes against the grain of the most popular classic textbook dogmas which cast Creoles as the “exceptional” outcome of a Pidgin-to-Creole cycle. Our is a straightforward theory of “creolization,” without any “pidgin” phase and without any other creolization-specific stipulation. That is, ours is a “Null theory of Creole formation.”

An online version of the chapter is available here.


Welcome to our 2017 incoming graduate class!

Joining our graduate program next Fall will be 10 new students. They come to us from 8 different countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Russia, USA) and 8 different universities. We are so excited that you will be joining us — see you next September!

  • Daniel Asherov (Tel Aviv University)
  • Tatiana Bondarenko (Moscow State University)
  • Cater Chen (University of Toronto)
  • Sherry Chen (University of Oxford)
  • Boer Fu (UCLA)
  • Filipe Kobayashi (University of Toronto)
  • Vincent Rouillard (McGill)
  • Dóra Takács (University of Göttingen)
  • Chris Yang (UCLA)
  • Stanislao Zompí (University of Pisa)

Ling-Lunch 4/20 - Ian Roberts

Speaker: Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge/UConn)
Title: Verb Movement and Cartography in English and Romance
Date/Time: Thursday, April 20th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

I begin by presenting the recent important proposals in Schifano (2014, 2015a,b) showing that across Romance there are at least four distinct landing sites in the TMA zone of the clause for finite lexical verbs, all of them higher than the position of the English lexical verb and lower than the V2 landing site. I then show, on the basis of the interaction of verb- and object-placement with very low adverbs in the Cinque (1999) hierarchy, that English has low vP-fronting, to SpecVoiceP. Both Romance and English verb-movement license a very low event variable (arguably a condition on “anchoring” the clause to the utterance situation, in Wiltschko’s 2014 sense). I then briefly consider the English auxiliary system, drawing largely on Harwood (2013). Finally, I briefly consider three further kinds of system: the fully analytical TMA system of Haitian Creole, and two kinds of V-initial system, comparing Welsh/Irish with Niuean. A range of quite simple parameters governing V-movement and licensing the TMA field emerges.

Explanatory Adequacy in Formal Semantics Reading Group 4/21 - Itai Bassi (MIT)

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT)
Title: Katzir, R., & Singh, R. (2013). Constraints on the lexicalization of logical operators. Linguistics and Philosophy 36:1–29.
Date/Time: Friday, April 21, 2–3pm
Location: 32-D831

We revisit a typological puzzle due to Horn (Doctoral Dissertation, UCLA, 1972) regarding the lexicalization of logical operators: in instantiations of the traditional square of opposition across categories and languages, the O corner, corresponding to ‘nand’ (= not and), ‘nevery’ (= not every), etc., is never lexicalized. We discuss Horn’s proposal, which involves the interaction of two economy conditions, one that relies on scalar implicatures and one that relies on markedness. We observe that in order to express markedness and to account for a bigger typological puzzle, namely the absence of lexicalizations of ‘XOR’ (= exclusive or), ‘all-or-none’, and many other imaginable logical operators, one must restrict the basic lexicalizable elements to a small set of primitives. We suggest that an ordering based perspective, following Keenan and Faltz (Boolean semantics for natural language, 1985), makes the stipulated primitives that we arrive at more natural. We also propose a modification to Horn’s proposal, based on recent work on implicatures, in which only the implicature condition is operative and in which markedness is part of the definition of the alternatives for scalar implicatures rather than an independent condition.

MIT Colloquium 4/21 - Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst)

Speaker: Gaja Jarosz (UMass Amherst)
Title: Sonority Sequencing in Polish: Interaction of Prior Bias and Experience
Time: Friday, April 21st, 3:30-5:00 pm
Place: 32-155

Recent work on phonological learning has questioned the traditional view that innate principles guide and constrain language development in children and explain universal properties cross-linguistically. In this talk I focus on a particular universal, the Sonority Sequencing Principle (SSP), which governs preferences among sequences of consonants syllable-initially. Experimental evidence indicates that English, Mandarin, and Korean speakers exhibit sensitivity to the SSP even for consonant sequences that never occur syllable-initially in those languages (such as [nb] vs. [bn] in English). There is disagreement regarding the implications of this finding. Berent et al. (2007) argue that these results can only be explained with reference to an innate principle; however, Daland et. al (2011) show that computational models capable of inferring statistical generalizations over sound classes can detect evidence for these preferences based on related patterns in the language input (and therefore no reference to innate principles is required). Building on these studies, I argue that English is the wrong test case: it does not differentiate predictions of these two hypotheses. I examine learning of syllable structure phonotactics in Polish, a language with very different sonority sequencing patterns from English. Polish provides a crucial test case because the lexical statistics contradict the SSP, at least in part. I review developmental evidence indicating that children acquiring Polish are nonetheless sensitive to the SSP, producing larger sonority rises more accurately in spontaneous production (Jarosz to appear). I then present results from two experiments investigating adult Polish native speakers’ phonotactic knowledge. The findings indicate that Polish native speakers’ phonotactic preferences are sensitive to the SSP and that this SSP sensitivity is not predicted by the computational models that succeeded for languages like English, Mandarin, and Korean. This suggests a crucial role of an inherent bias or a constraint on generalization from the input. At the same time, native speakers’ sonority-sequencing preferences are not entirely expected on the basis of SSP alone, suggesting an important role for experience as well. I discuss implications of these prior bias – experience interactions for modeling of phonological learning.


The 22nd Workshop on Structure and Constituency in Languages of the Americas (WSCLA) will take place later this week at the University of British Columbia, Canada, on April 21—23. Some current students and alumni will present their work:



The East Coast Syntax Workshop (ECO5) was held at the University of Connecticut on Saturday April 15. MIT was represented by two current students.

  • Colin Davis: Cyclic Linearization and Partial Pied-Piping
  • Suzana Fong: Getting out of a finite CP: an analysis of hyper-raising

Abdul-Razak at NYU on Q-particles

Friday April 14th, our third-year student, Abdul-Razak Sulemana, gave a talk at NYU Syntax Brown Bag Talk series on Q-particles and the nature of Covert movement: evidence from Bùlì.


Michelle Yuan — invited speaker for Workshop on Person

Our fourth-year graduate student Michelle Yuan is an invited student speaker for Manitoba Workshop on Person, which is going to take place in September 22-23.


Storme in Glossa

Congratulation to Benjamin Storme (5th year), who’s paper “The loi de position and the acoustics of French mid vowels” was accepted for publication in Glossa. The paper investigates the effect of syllable structure on vowel duration and vowel quality in French. The results are relevant for the study of closed syllable laxing. A pre-publication version can be found on lingbuzz: http://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/003395


Teaching award to Claire Halpert

Congratulations are due to our alum Claire Halpert (PhD 2012), an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, on this teaching award from her university!

According to the UMN website, the Arthur “Red” Motley Exemplary Teaching Award, “acknowledges faculty who inspire and care, make themselves approachable, show an interest in individual students’ well-being and in programs for the benefit of students generally, give of themselves generously in advising, counseling, and directing projects, and create an active classroom atmosphere.”

We might add that two of Claire’s former students from Minnesota are students in our PhD program right now, as well as another who she taught at the African Linguistics School — so we know first-hand the power of her teaching. Congratulations, Claire!


Ling-16 did a puzzle!

Whamit! is happy to announce that, after many weeks of hard work, Ling-16 has completed* a 3000-piece puzzle depicting the fierce naval battle between the French ship “La Cannoniere”, and the English ship “The Tremendous” during the Action of 21 April 1806.

*Careful readers will notice that a single piece is missing from the puzzle. We can only assume this is intentional, and is meant to represent the ever-incomplete nature of our work as linguists.


Phonology Circle 4/10 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: Cyclicity in Standard French: the role of stem-base perceptual similarity
Date/Time: Monday, April 10, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

In Standard French, stems in derivatives behave regularly or cyclically depending on the phonological shape of the suffix: stem-final mid vowels behave regularly if the suffix starts with a non-schwa vowel or a glide, and cyclically otherwise. I compare two approaches to explain this pattern: a syllable-based analysis (cf van Oostendorp 2004 on a similar pattern in Dutch), and a perceptually-based analysis. The syllable-based analysis predicts that cyclic application entails identical syllabification of the base-final consonant and its correspondent in the stem. The perceptually-based analysis predicts that cyclic application entails greater perceptual similarity of the base-final consonant and its correspondent in the stem. A comparison of the results of two experiments (a small experiment based on a syllabification task and an experiment based on a discrimination task) suggests that the perceptually-based analysis is superior: it can better explain the difference between liquid-initial suffixes (before which stems behave cyclically) and glide-initial suffixes (before which stems behave regularly). The results of this study are relevant for two debates in phonology: whether phonotactics are better explained in syllable-based or perceptually-based terms (Steriade 1999), and whether phonetic detail plays a role in cyclicity (Steriade 2000).

LFRG 4/12 - Neil Banerjee

Speaker: Neil Banerjee (MIT)
Title: A problem with future-shifting
Date and time: Wednesday April 12, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The English verbs hope and want are future-shifters in that they allow their non-future complements to be interpreted as occurring in the future.

(1) a. Paul hopes to win the championship.
b. Sam wants to live in Boston.

Assuming that non-finite clauses behave like bound present tense, Abusch (2004) builds the future shift into the lexical semantics of future-shifting verbs. Work by Lekakou and Nilsen (2008), as well as Klecha (2016) suggests that the difference, while lexical, can be made to fall out from Condoravdi’s (2001) diversity condition and the modal base of the attitude report. This gives us a lexical semantics where the future is introduced because of the modal base of the attitude report. Verbs compatible with non-doxastic modal bases are predicted to be future-shifters. Independent evidence from want suggests that it can indeed have a non-doxastic modal base, and is also a future-shifter. But the prediction then is that hope and want should then have the same truth conditions in the following case.

(2) a. I have what I want
b. *I have what I hope

Evidence from other future shifters in English (other attitude verbs, antecedents of conditionals, probability reports) suggests that locating the source of futurity in the modal base may not be on the right track. I leave finding the right track as a puzzle for the future.

Ling-Lunch 4/13 - Ezer Rasin

Speaker: Ezer Rasin (MIT)
Title: Severing stress from phonology
Date/Time: Thursday, April 13th, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

According to the consensus view in generative linguistics, the cognitive module known as ‘phonology’ is responsible for various phonological computations, including the computation of word stress, tone, and segmental processes. I will present two differences between stress and segmental phonology to motivate a modular decomposition of phonology, where the computation of stress is carried out in a separate module with a limited interaction with the rest of phonology:

1) Information Encapsulation: drawing on observations by de Lacy (2006) and Blumenfeld (2006), I propose a universal asymmetry between stress and segmental processes. Segmental processes are often sensitive to the position of stress (In American English, for example, [t] is flapped between a preceding stressed vowel and a following unstressed vowel, as in políDical vs. politícian) but the computation of stress is never directly sensitive to segmental information: stress patterns like ‘stress the rightmost vowel followed by a velar’ are unattested, and can be excluded in the modular architecture if the input to the stress module excludes representations of segmental features.

2) Weak Generative Capacity: Heinz (2014) observes that the computational complexity of attested stress patterns goes beyond that of segmental patterns. In particular, stress patterns can require exactly one primary stress per word, but segmental patterns that require exactly one e.g. sibilant per word are unattested. This difference places stress and segmental phonology in two different domains of the Chomsky hierarchy of formal languages, a hallmark of modularity.


Explanatory adequacy in formal semantics 4/14 - Keny Chatain

The reading group on explanatory adequacy in formal semantics continues this week with a discussion of the paper “The logical primitives of thought” by Piantadosi, S. T., Tenenbaum, J. B., and Goodman, N. D. led by Keny Chatain.

Speaker: Keny Chatain (MIT)
Title: Piantadosi, S. T., Tenenbaum, J. B., and Goodman, N. D. (2016). The logical primitives of thought: Empirical foundations for compositional cognitive models. Psychological review, 123(4):392–424 (link)
Date/Time: Friday, April 14, 2:00-3:00pm
Location: 32-D831

The notion of a compositional language of thought (LOT) has been central in computational accounts of cognition from earliest attempts (Boole, 1854; Fodor, 1975) to the present day (Feldman, 2000; Penn, Holyoak, & Povinelli, 2008; Fodor, 2008; Kemp, 2012; Goodman, Tenenbaum, & Gerstenberg, 2015). Recent modeling work shows how statistical inferences over compositionally structured hypothesis spaces might explain learning and development across a variety of domains. However, the primitive components of such representations are typically assumed a priori by modelers and theoreticians rather than determined empirically. We show how different sets of LOT primitives, embedded in a psychologically realistic approximate Bayesian inference framework, systematically predict distinct learning curves in rule-based concept learning experiments. We use this feature of LOT models to design a set of large-scale concept learning experiments that can determine the most likely primitives for psychological concepts involving Boolean connectives and quantification. Subjects’ inferences are most consistent with a rich (nonminimal) set of Boolean operations, including first-order, but not second-order, quantification. Our results more generally show how specific LOT theories can be distinguished empirically.

Tenure for Omer Preminger

Special congratulations to distinguished alum Omer Preminger (PhD ‘11) on his promotion to Associate Professor with tenure at the University of Maryland!


A new Haitian Creole-English elementary school opens in Boston

Faculty member Michel DeGraff shares with us the news of the opening of the first dual-language Haitian Creole-English elementary school in Boston, as reported in The Atlantic:

“I think this is a great example of linguistics and education for social justice—-and an antidote against “othering” in our political era. I particularly like these headlines from the Atlantic:  ”Dual-language programs universally focus on both language and culture, giving students who come from that given culture an opportunity to see their own histories prioritized by their schools and giving other students an opportunity to develop a deep appreciation for people who are different from them.”“



AFLA 24 happened over the weekend, and MIT was represented by students both current and erstwhile. TC Chen (Ling-11) and Mitcho Erlewine (PhD ‘14) gave talks, while Julie Anne Legate (PhD ‘02) was an invited speaker.

TC presenting at AFLA

Credits for the picture: Michael Erlewine (mitcho)


Phonology Circle 4/3 - Kevin Ryan (Harvard)

Speaker: Kevin Ryan (Harvard)
Title: Onset vs. rime effects in phrasal weight
Date/Time: Monday, April 3, 5:00–6:30pm
Location: 32-D461

Prosodic end-weight (PEW) refers to the specifically phonological aspect of end-weight, whereby prosodically heavier constituents tend to be preferred domain-finally, all else being equal (i.e. controlling for semantics, frequency, morphosyntactic complexity, etc.). This tendency can be seen in coordination (“X and Y” or “Y and X”?) among numerous other constructions, is widespread (though not universal) cross-linguistically, and is amply supported by experiments, including wug-tests. Several explanations have been put forth for PEW, including final lengthening, complexity deferral (for reasons related to processing), metrical optimization, phonotactic optimization, and (esp. in my own work) stress-weight alignment in sentential prosody. I maintain that the stress-weight interface best explains the core properties of PEW, while the other factors are either irrelevant or at least largely orthogonal to it. One area in which the stress-weight analysis illuminates PEW concerns its differing treatment of onset vs. rime segments. For instance, in the nucleus and coda, greater sonority correlates with greater weight, while in the onset, the generalization is reversed: Greater obstruency patterns as heavier. This reversal is also evident from other types of weight systems (with phonetic rationales in Gordon 2005, Ryan 2014). Thus, I propose that PEW instantiates the same stress-weight interface that is well-documented for stress, meter, etc., a generalization of Weight-to-Stress (Prince 1983 et seq.). The proposed generalization is formalized as a stringent weight hierarchy (e.g. moraic sonorant X > moraic X > X), partly to avoid monsters, but stringency can only be maintained if one recognizes a natural class that is the union of onset obstruents (which cannot be analyzed as moraic in English) and rime segments (which are moraic), among other issues.

Syntax Square 4/4 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction, Pied-piping, and Cyclic Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday April 4, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

In my previous syntax square, I introduced possessor extraction in English. This essentially undocumented possibility in colloquial speech stands in contrast to canonical pied-piping wh-movement of possessors in English.
  1. Who do they say[[_’s cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)
  2. [Whose cat] do they say [_ is cute]? (Pied-piping)
English possessor extraction cannot happen all the time, however. In this talk, I go on to analyze the phenomenon’s restrictions. For example, non-subject DPs must be pied-piped to the edge of their clause for PE out of them to be licit, producing a unique instance of partial pied-piping. In a very general sense, pied-piping to an intermediate position provides a nice piece of overt evidence for successive-cyclic movement through intermediate specifiers of CP.
  1. *Who do they think [John likes [_’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do they think[[_’s cake] John likes _]? (PE from pied-piped object)
I argue that this pied-piping and a number of other details result from an adjacency condition between possessor and the saxon genitive (cf. Gavruseva & Thornton 2001) which interacts with phase-by-phase linearization of syntactic structure (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014). Along the way, this analysis finds a explanation for the fact that successive-cyclic movement through spec-vP cannot strand anything in English, a curious gap in the paradigm of McCloskeys’s all-stranding and true of P-stranding in English generally. This finding leads to a number of broader predictions about stranding and its interaction with movement and the nature of specifiers (cf. Ko). The interaction of English possessor extraction with existential constructions also leads to a novel argument from linearization that expletive there originates in vP (Biberauer & Richards 2005, Deal 2009).

LFRG 4/5 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English possessor extraction and LF pied-piping
Date and time: Wednesday April 5, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

The colloquial speech of many English speakers permits what looks like possessor extraction, which A’-moves a possessor (1) without pied-piping the rest of the DP (2).

1. Who do they think [[_’s fat cat] is cute]? (Possessor extraction)

2. [Whose fat cat] do they think [_ is cute]? (Standard pied-piping)

This movement is interesting in light of the fact that English is a language that otherwise obeys the Left Branch Condition (Ross 1967), which describes a lack of extraction of the leftmost constituent of a nominal phrase. I argue that despite appearances, the possessum is in fact covertly pied-piped in (1), meaning that there really is no Left Branch Condition exception here. Some evidence for this comes from parasitic gaps, where a possessum stranded in an embedded clause can bind a parasitic gap in the matrix clause, as in (3).

3. [Who did you say[_’s haircut is awful] despite wanting help from PG]?

If who moved alone and didn’t carry haircut into the matrix clause, we expect the PG to be bound by who and so refer to a person. If there was full pied-piping we predict whose haircut to bind the PG, giving a silly reading where you want help from a haircut. By the judgments of most speakers, it turns out that the silly reading is the most salient for sentences like this, with the non-silly reading being absent or difficult. Importantly, we only expect the silly reading to be available if the possessum was covertly pied-piped, binding the PG. von Stechow (1996) argues against Nishigauchi (1990), saying that covert pied-piping does not exist, or at least is not interpreted. In (3), covert pied-piping is interpreted. I also apply the logic of covert pied-piping to sluicing in answers to possessor-extracting questions, and some puzzles regarding free relatives, which don’t pattern as expected.

Ling-Lunch 4/6 - Adrian Stegovec

Speaker: Adrian Stegovec (UConn) Title: Two’s company, three’s a crowd: Strength implications in syntactic person restrictions Date/Time: Thursday, April 6th, 12h30—1h50pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

In this talk I argue for a novel approach to syntactic person restrictions (SPRs) such as the Person-Case Constraint (PCC) in ditransitives and analogous restrictions in transitives. I present data from a broad cross-linguistic survey of SPRs (101 languages), revealing a generalization on the distribution of SPRs across combinations of External-Internal and Internal-Internal arguments —- the Strength Implication Generalization: “If a language has both an External-Internal argument and an Internal-Internal argument SPR, the Internal-Internal one is never “weaker” than the External-Internal one”. I propose that SPRs arise due to the inherent person feature underspecification of relevant pronominal markers which makes them dependent on phase heads for external person feature valuation. This is shown not only to derive the generalization from standard assumptions on argument structure, but also to capture the cross-linguistic variation in SPR types in terms of lexical (micro-)variation in pronominal markers and a contextual approach to phases.

Explanatory adequacy in formal semantics 4/7 - Irene Heim

Earlier this semester there were three LFRG presentations on topics that had to do with explanatory adequacy in formal semantics. Since there was interest in discussing these issues further, a separate reading group on explanatory adequacy in formal semantics will start this week.

The goal is to discuss theoretical, experimental, and computational work in formal semantics that addresses the question of how denotations of lexical items are acquired, with a special focus on 1) typological and experimental work that contributes to the characterization of the range of possible denotations available to the child, and 2) computational work on semantic learning.

The reading group will meet on Fridays at 2-3pm in 32-D831. The first meeting’s details are below.

Speaker: Irene Heim (MIT)
Title: Type Economy
Date/Time: Friday, April 7, 2:00-3:00pm
Location: 32-D831

Lexicalist and syntactic accounts of a given construction have often been pitted against each other in the linguistic literature. Proponents of either account ought to do more than argue that their favorite account derives better empirical predictions from simpler assumptions. They also should tell us how the language learner chooses this analysis. For example, a linguist who favors a raising-to-subject analysis of verbs like seem should formulate constraints or biases which may guide children to acquire this analysis and not a lexicalist one. Informally, a bias in favor of “simpler” semantic types could fill the bill in this case. But what exactly is the relevant metric of simplicity?

MIT Colloquium 4/7 - Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (Manchester)

Speaker: Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero (Manchester) Title: The phonological lexicon, usage factors, and rates of change: Evidence from Manchester English Time: Friday, April 7, 3:30-5:00 pm Venue: 32-155 Abstract:

This paper reports the results of research conducted jointly with George Bailey (University of Manchester), Maciej Baranowski (University of Manchester), and Danielle Turton (University of Newcastle upon Tyne).

In classical modular feedforward architectures of grammar, phonetic implementation does not have access to information about lexical items beyond the discrete properties encoded in phonological representations. This hypothesis accounts for fundamental facts of human language such as double articulation and the existence of neogrammarian change, but it fails to explain the fact that fine phonetic detail is also affected by gradient usage-related properties of lexical items such as token frequency and neighbourhood density.

Exemplar Theory seeks to explain the phonetic effects of usage factors by abandoning the classical hypothesis that lexical phonological representations consist solely of categorical information. Less radical approaches, however, continue to uphold this assumption: some, such as Baese-Berk & Goldrick’s (2009) account of neighbourhood density effects, rely on the notion of gradient symbolic computation, according to which phonological representations are made up of symbols that are discrete but exhibit continuously varying degrees of activation (Smolensky & Goldrick 2016).

These two approaches to the phonetic effects of usage factors differ in their diachronic predictions. In the case of lexical token frequency, in particular, it has been repeatedly observed that, synchronically, high-frequency words exhibit more lenition than low-frequency words. From this observation the proponents of Exemplar Theory infer that, during historical language change, high-frequency words undergo reduction at a relatively faster rate due to greater exposure to reductive phonetic biases, whose effects are claimed to be directly registered in phonetically-detailed lexical representations. Pace Hay & Foulkes (2016), however, this diachronic pattern has never been reliably observed, and these accounts fail to consider another logical possibility: namely, that high-frequency words are ahead synchronically but actually change at the same rate as low-frequency words.

In this talk I report the findings of an investigation into the effect of lexical token frequency on the glottal replacement of word-medial /t/ in Manchester English, using apparent-time data from 62 speakers born between 1926 and 1985 (2131 tokens). Two stringent tests (mixed effects logistic regression and comparison between curve-fitting models) show that lexical token frequency gives rise to a ‘constant rate effect’ in the sense of Kroch (1989): high-frequency words exhibit more glottalization at all points in apparent time, but the size of their advantage remains unchanged. This suggests that glottalization advances historically through an increase in the probability of application of a single process targeting both high- and low-frequency words, whilst the impact of frequency is produced by time-invariant orthogonal mechanisms, possibly involving gradient symbolic computation. Thus, the evidence is consistent with the classical assumption that lexical phonological representations consist solely of discrete categories and do not encode fine phonetic detail.

A PDF copy of the abstract (with references) is also available.


Aravind in NLLT

Good news from fourth-year student Athulya Aravind, whose paper “Licensing long-distance wh-in-situ in Malayalam” has been accepted for publication in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory. Congratulations, Athulya! Follow the link for a pre-publication draft.


Kotek to NYU

Congratulations to Hadas Kotek (PhD 2014), who has accepted a position as Visiting Assistant Professors at NYU’s Department of Linguistics next year!


Sugawara accepts Assistant Professor position

We are delighted to report that our 2016 alum Ayaka Sugawara has accepted a position as Lecturer (the equivalent of a tenure-track Assistant Professor), at Mie University. Ayaka’s dissertation concerned “The role of Question-Answer Congruence (QAC) in child language and adult sentence processing”. Fantastic news — congratulations, Ayaka!


DeGraff’s paper at PROSPECTS

Michel DeGraff published the article “Mother-tongue books in Haiti: The power of Kreyòl in learning to read and in reading to learn” in the UNESCO journal PROSPECTS (Comparative Journal of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment). The article is available here.



While WHAMIT! was on hiatus because of Spring Break, the 48th Annual Conference on African Linguistics took place at Indiana University, Bloomington. 3rd year grad student Abdul-Razak Sulemana gave the talk GETCASE is Violable: Evidence for Wholesale Late Merger.


MIT@ Формальные подходы к русскому языку

Last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the linguists of Moscow State University and Moscow State Pedagogical University hosted the second workshop on Formal Approaches to Russian Linguistics, with several MIT connections. The excellent conference was organized by frequent MIT visitor, former Fulbright Fellow and former visiting faculty Sergei Tatevosov and his colleague Ekaterina Lyutikova.  David Pesetsky and alum Ora Matushansky (PhD 2002) were the invited speakers. David’s talk was entitled “Clause size and Nominal size: towards a derivational theory of both”.  Ora, well-known for her work on semantics, syntax and morpology, spoke about … Russian phonology — specifically “A problem in the Hallean approach to the Russian verb”. In addition, alum Natasha Ivlieva (PhD 2013) of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics presented a talk on to li…to li disjunctions and Tatiana Bondarenko, a member of next Fall’s incoming class (!), spoke about “Russian applicatives and the lexical decomposition”. After FARL, David Pesetsky also presented a colloquium talk on his research concerning clause size at Moscow State University.

at the conference dinner: L to R: Ekaterina Lyutikova, David Pesetsky, Misha Knyazev, Natasha Ivlieva, Maria Vassilyéva, Tatiana Bondarenko, Sergei Tatevosov
the conference dinner.  From left to right: Katya Lyutikova, David Pesetsky, Misha Knyazev, Natasha Ivlieva, Maria Vassilyéva, Tatiana Bondarenko, Sergei Tatevosov


Phonology Circle 3/20 - Joan Mascaró Altimiras (UAB)

Speaker: Joan Mascaró Altimiras (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona/MIT) Title: Stress Dependent Harmony and Featural Affixation: Metaphony in Romance Date/Time: Monday, March 20, 5:00–6:30pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

Stress-dependent harmony in Romance (aka metaphony) has been usually analyzed as a case of phonological spreading from/licensing of a final trigger affecting the stressed vowel. In cases in which the trigger has become opaque, either an abstract analysis (Calabrese 1985, 1998) or a morphological analysis (featural affixation or similar; Kaze 1989, Finley 2009) has been proposed. The determination of trigger-target interactions has been analyzed as determined by a prosodic domain (the foot, Hualde 1989, Flemming 1994) or as licensing of features in a weak position (Cole 1998, Majors 1998, Walker 2005). In this talk, I will examine all these possibilities and suggest that even in transparent cases an analysis in terms of featural affixation cannot be ruled out given current empirical evidence, and that the original analyses in terms of foot domains might be a more appropriate solution.

Syntax Square 3/21 - Kenyon Branan

Speaker: Kenyon Branan (MIT)
Title: Contiguity Preservation: Another Look at Defective Intervention
Date and time: Tuesday March 21, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Some languages, like English, allow raising across an experiencer in sentences like [John seems to me to be intelligent]. Other languages, like Icelandic, don’t. In this talk, I will attempt to build a theory that will predict whether or not a language will allow raising across an experiencer. This theory will not make reference to the notion of defective intervention, which has commonly been used to account for the facts in Icelandic. I show that a number of other syntactic properties correlate with the “allows raising across a dative property”, and that these properties can be explained straightforwardly with Richards’ (2016) Contiguity. I then propose a requirement that Contiguity relationships may not be broken in the same phase they are created, and show that this accounts for the fact that English-like languages allow raising across a dative, but not Icelandic-like languages. Finally, I attempt to extend the account to English tough-constructions.

LFRG 3/22 - Itai Bassi

Speaker: Itai Bassi (MIT) Title: Phi features on focus-bound pronouns: a semantic account Date and time: Wednesday March 22, 1-2pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

Some researchers (Kratzer 1998, Heim 2008, a.o.) have argued that phi features on bound pronouns are not (always) semantically interpreted. Their presence, it is claimed, is a PF-only phenomenon, perhaps as a reflex of an agreement relationship with the binder of their pronoun. One motivation for this conclusion comes from focus constructions like (1). The point is that under standard assumptions about binding and about the meaning of phi features, the phi features on my better not be semantically active, or else the right interpretation of (1) would not be derived.

1. Only I brushed my teeth.

But other authors (Jacobson 2012, Sauerland 2013) have taken a more semantic view, capitalizing on the observation that (1) is a focus construction. On this approach the phi-features in (1) do contribute their usual meaning, but only at the level of the regular semantic value of the expression and not at the level of its focus semantic value.

The goal of this talk is to develop a novel account of focus constructions like (1) within the semantic approach. The core of the proposal is that (1) involves F-coindexation between the two pronouns:

2. Only [I]F1 brushed [my]F1 teeth.

My account builds on Kratzer’s (1991) version of focus semantics, where focused phrases carry an indexed F-feature. I will propose that the grammar has a mechanism that allows a focused phrase to share its F-index to matching pronouns. The fact that phi-features contribute only to the regular semantic value will be derived in this system.

I will show how the phenomenon of split binding (Rullmann 2004), which is problematic to PF accounts, can be handled in my theory rather straightforwardly.

Finally, I will try to independently motivate the notion that focus dependencies like (1) makes the dependent pronoun (silently) F-marked.


Talk 3/22 - Loes Koring

Speaker: Loes Koring (MIT)
Title: Looking for structure in strings
Time: Wednesday March 22, 3:00 – 5:00 pm
Room: 32-D461

The class of intransitive verbs poses an interesting puzzle for the language-acquiring child. The child has to work out which of these verbs project an unergative and which an unaccusative syntax. The puzzle here is that, in many languages, the surface strings these verbs give rise to, do not provide any (useful) information regarding their underlying structure. A potential complicating factor is that there are reasons to think that young children are not able to project an unaccusative structure in which the internal argument has moved up to subject position. In this talk, I will use the Visual World Paradigm to probe more directly into the underlying structure children assign to sentences with unaccusative verbs by looking at children’s processing signatures for these sentences. The results from the eye-tracking experiments I present are not only informative regarding (the acquisition of) unaccusativity, but the paradigm itself opens up a new way to uncover the underlying structures of different strings (and thus to tease apart competing hypotheses about the structure). Finally, I will discuss the implications of these results with respect to how we think about (the acquisition of) constraints on structural alternations verbs can participate in.

Ling-Lunch 3/23 — Michelle Yuan

Speaker: Michelle Yuan (MIT) Title: Against morphological diagnostics for object agreement vs. clitic doubling: Evidence from Inuktitut Date/Time: Thursday, March 23, 12:30—1:50pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

There has been much recent debate concerning the proper analysis of object agreement—whether it is true agreement (phi-feature valuation) or clitic doubling (a pronominal D0 co-referring with a DP). Various diagnostics have been put forth to determine whether a given “object-referencing morpheme” is one or the other (e.g. Preminger 2009, Nevins 2011, Kramer 2014). In this talk, I argue against the use of morphological diagnostics (as in Zwicky & Pullum 1983, also Nevins 2011) in discerning between the two, based on a comparison between Inuktitut and related Inuit languages (mostly West Greenlandic).

In Inuit, subject- and object-referencing morphemes surface as mood-sensitive portmanteaux; this has been previously taken as an argument for true object agreement in Inuit (Compton 2014). However, novel data from Inuktitut reveal that the Inuit languages actually display a split: while in West Greenlandic the object-referencing portion of these portmanteaux is underlyingly true agreement, in Inuktitut it is clitic doubling. Unlike West Greenlandic, Inuktitut displays a number of syntactic and semantic effects that strongly parallel the behaviour of pronominal object clitics cross-linguistically (e.g. Dobrovie-Sorin 1990, Cardinaletti & Starke 1999). I will moreover show that this split is not arbitrary, but falls within a broader pattern across Inuit.

Crucially, despite this contrast, the West Greenlandic and Inuktitut agreement paradigms are almost entirely identical; their morphological properties therefore have no bearing on the underlying syntax associated with these forms. To properly discern between agreement and clitic doubling, we must instead focus on syntactic and semantic diagnostics that specifically take into account the determiner/pronominal status of doubled clitics, i.e. that they are D0’s in a syntactic dependency with a co-referring DP (see, for example, Preminger 2009).


MIT LingPhil Colloquium 3/24 - Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)

This Friday, Cleo Condoravdi will be giving our third annual MIT Linguistics and Philosophy Colloquium!

Speaker: Cleo Condoravdi (Stanford)
Title: Conditional imperatives
Time: Friday, March 24th, 3:30-5:00 pm
Venue: 32-155

I present an analysis of imperatives as preferential commitments and show how preferential commitments get conditionalized in conditional imperatives, including imperatives in anankastic conditionals. The analysis allows for uses of modals and imperatives to be equivalent in their communicative effect, despite their different underlying semantics. It also accounts for a new observation about a crucial difference between modals and imperatives: while modals can be used to give advice on why a certain goal should be rescinded given the facts of the matter, imperatives cannot.

What I will talk about builds on three previous papers on imperatives and on anankastic conditionals (1, 2, 3), but there is no paper yet corresponding to the content of the talk and one does not need to be familiar with the previous work.

Juliet Stanton, new NYU Assistant Professor!

We are thrilled to congratulate our very own Juliet Stanton for having accepted a tenure-track position of Assistant Professor in phonology at New York University, Department of Linguistics! Wonderful news!


LSA 2017 Institute Fellowship Award recipient — Elise Newman

First year graduate student Elise Newman (also MIT S.B. 2016) has received an LSA 2017 Institute Fellowship Award to attend the 2017 Linguistic Institute at the University of Kentucky. Congratulations, Elise!


Precious Little at Central Square Theater

‘Tis truly the year of the linguist in popular culture (if theatre can be considered popular culture). Central Square Theater’s current season includes a play about a linguist, which several of our own linguists attended on Saturday. Precious Little, written by Madeleine George, explores the mind of linguist faced with the fact that her child may never be able to learn a language. The piece is thought provoking and the linguist humour is on point. We all enjoyed it thoroughly, and would recommend the show to anyone interested in linguistics and theatre!


Phonology Circle 3/13 - Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard)

Speaker: Aleksei Nazarov (Harvard) Title: Learning to mark exceptionality in probabilistic OT Date/Time: Monday, March 13, 5:00–6:30pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

In this work in progress, I seek to simulate how the language-learning infant learns that certain words are exceptions to their phonological grammar. Existing learners that assign exceptionality marking to words in OT (Becker 2009, Coetzee 2009) are non-probabilistic, making them unable to represent within-word variation (Coetzee and Pater 2011; see Temkin-Martínez 2010 for the necessity of representing both variation and exceptionality). The logic of those learners – comparing (pairwise) ranking conditions between words – cannot be applied to most existing probabilistic OT learners (e.g., Boersma 1997, Goldwater and Johnson 2003). I present an extension of Jarosz’s (2015) Expectation Driven Learning approach that is able to embody this logic and induce exceptionality labels. The efficacy of this approach is tested on several mini-case studies, including the case of default and exceptional Dutch stress (Kager 1989).

Syntax Square 3/14 - Colin Davis

Speaker: Colin Davis (MIT)
Title: English Possessor Extraction and Linearization
Date and time: Tuesday March 14, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

Continuing from my previous Syntax Square, I analyze English possessor extraction, which is interestingly restricted. One such restriction that becomes apparent in long-distance possessor extraction is that non-subject DPs must be pied-piped to the edge of their clause for PE out of them to be licit:
  1. *Who do they think [John likes [t’s cake]]? (No PE from object in-situ)
  2. Who do they think[[t’s cake] John likes t]? (PE from pied-piped object)
I argue that this and other restrictions result from an adjacency condition between possessor and the Saxon genitive (cf. Gavruseva & Thornton 2001) which interacts with phase-by-phase linearization of syntactic structure (Fox & Pesetsky 2005, Ko 2005, 2014). Along the way, this analysis provides further evidence for Ko’s claim that specifiers of a head cannot be rearranged, finds an explanation for a general lack of spec-vP stranding in English, and additionally, an independent argument from linearization that expletive there originates in vP.

LFRG 3/15 - Robert Pasternak

Speaker: Robert Pasternak (Stony Brook/MIT) Title: Want comparatives and the natural language metaphysics of desire Date and time: Wednesday, March 15, 1-2pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

Bach (1986) famously argues that part of the task of model-theoretic semantics is to engage in what he refers to as natural language metaphysics: in short, the determination of what sorts of objects and relations must be included in our model in order to account for the full range of possible meanings in natural language. In this talk, I will propose a natural language metaphysics of desire states—-and a semantics of want to go with it—-in which the intensity of desire tracks the part-whole relations of a desire state in a particular dimension. This is based on two independent observations from the literature. The first is that want can appear in comparatives in which the intensity of desire is being compared (Villalta 2008, Lassiter 2011):

1. Ann wants to leave more than Mary wants to stay.

The second observation is that verbal comparatives require that the measure functions used track part-whole relations of eventualities (Nakanishi 2007, Wellwood et al. 2012, Wellwood 2015). Hence, (2) can be a comparison of the time or distance of Ann’s and Mary’s running (since a running event covers more time/distance than its proper parts), but not the speed:

2. Ann ran more than Mary did.

If this constraint is to hold more generally, and if want comparatives—-which by all appearances are verbal comparatives—-allow for a comparison of intensity, then intensity of desire must track part-whole relations of desire states. After illustrating what such a natural language metaphysics might look like, as well as how the denotation of want interacts with the part-whole structure of such states, I then show how this view can be folded in with von Fintel’s (1999) broadly Hintikkan semantics of want, in which the denotation of want universally quantifies over bouletically ideal worlds.


Talk 3/16 - Robyn Orfitelli

Speaker: Robyn Orfitelli (University of Sheffield)
Title: Middle Class Acquisition
Time: Thursday March 16, 12:30 – 2:30 pm
Room: 32-D461


One of the most discussed puzzles in language acquisition is that children learning English (and a typologically diverse array of other languages) are delayed in acquiring adult comprehension of verbal passives and subject-to-subject raising (1a-b), but show very early comprehension of numerous other forms of A-movement, including subject-to-object raising and unaccusatives (2a-b).

I have previously argued that the cause of this split is that the sentences in (1) violate locality restrictions on movement, making them impossible for young children to derive, while the sentences in (2) do not violate these restrictions. In this talk, I present data from three studies investigating the acquisition of the A-movement that derives the middle voice (3), and a related structure with similar properties (4). Both (3) and (4) are structurally ambiguous: the nominative subject may be interpreted as either the external argument (reading i) or internal argument (reading ii) of the predicate, making these ideal test cases for locality-based intervention accounts.

Collectively, the data from the three studies suggest that children have no difficulty representing internal arguments as subjects, despite their non-canonical alignment, and the extreme rarity of sentences like (3) and (4) in child-directed speech. I discuss the significance of these findings for both our understanding of A-movement acquisition, and for our understanding of implicitly represented arguments in syntactic/semantic structure.

  1. a. Amber was seen by Graham.
    b. Amber seems to Graham to be lying.
  2. a. Amber believes Graham to be lying.
    b. Amber arrived.
  3. Adorable kittens sell easily.
    i. Adorable kittens make particularly talented sales-cats.
    ii. Adorable kittens can easily be sold.
  4. Scientists make great parents.
    i. (Mad) scientists create great parents (a la Dr. Frankenstein).
    ii. Scientists are generally great parents.


The 40th edition of GLOW (Generative Linguistics in the Old World) will take place later this week (March 15—17) at Leiden University Centre for Linguistics. As usual, MIT will be represented by many current students and alumni.

Hagit Borer (PhD ‘81) is the invited speaker of the main conference.

There will also be workshops during GLOW. Laura Downing and Lisa Cheng (PhD ‘91) organized the workshop Syntax-Phonology Interface – What does Phonology need to know about Syntax and vice versa. Eulàlia Bonet (PhD ‘91) will be the invited speaker and will give the talk Phases and prosodic domains in exponence and phonology. At the same workshop, Nomi Erteschik (PhD ‘73), Gunlög Josefsson & Björn Köhnlein is presenting the work titled Mainland Scandinavian Object Shift, Match Theory and Prosodic Displacement.

Hamida Demirdache (PhD ‘91) and Janet Grijzenhout organized the workshop Heritage Language Knowledge and AcquisitionHeritage Language Knowledge and Acquisition. Esther Rinke, Cristina Flores & Pilar Barbosa (PhD ‘95) will give the talk Null objects in Heritage Portuguese and Jiyoung Choi & Hamida Demirdache the talk Experimentally investigating intervention effects in adult, child and Heritage Korean

Ezer Rasin will take in part in special workshop called The Interface Within, presenting the work titled ‘Predictions of a phonological architecture with stress encapsulation’.

Finally, GLOW is also hosting a special workshop to honor the retirement of Hans Bennis. Timothy Stowell (PhD ‘81) is one of the invited speakers, talking about ‘Government by Agreement’.


A new linguistic summer school in Crete

Several faculty (Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, and Shigeru Miyagawa) will be teaching at the Crete Summer School of Linguistics at the University of Crete, in the beautiful city of Rethymnon, from July 10 to July 21, 2017.

Kai will be teaching a class on modals and conditionals, Sabine will be teaching an Introduction to Syntax class, and Shigeru will be teaching two classes, one on the topic of his recent monograph, Agreement Beyond Phi, and one on language and animal communication in evolution.

Full information (including details on the application due April 10th), can be found on the summer school website.


Phonology Circle 3/6 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT) Title: GETCASE is Violable: Evidence for Wholesale Late Merger Date/Time: Monday, March 6, 5:00–6:30pm Location: 32-D461

In this talk, I examine reconstruction effects in a class of A-bar constructions in Bùlì, building on recent proposals about the mechanisms that yield reconstructions asymmetries in A and A-bar movement Takahashi and Hulsey (2009) and the asymmetries within English preposition stranding (P-stranding) Stanton (2016).

A well known asymmetry between A and A-bar movement is that: while A-movement bleeds binding Condition C, A-bar movement doesn’t. This led to the conclusion that: while A-movement optionally leaves a trace, A-bar movement obligatorily leaves a copy (Sauerland 1998, Fox 1999). This conclusion, however, posses a serious challenge to the copy theory of movement. To resolve this, Takahashi and Hulsey (2009), extending the idea of late marge (Lebeaux 1988, Chomsky 1995) and adopting insights from (Fox 2002), argue that late merger is allowed whenever an output representation can be interpreted in the semantic component (wholesale Later merger(WLM)). By this operation, they maintain that there is no distinction between A and A-bar movement with respect to the copy theory, independent properties of grammar like Case, account for the reconstruction properties of A and A-bar movement: while WLM can apply to A movement because it involves movement from a non-Case position to a Case position, WLM cannot apply to A-bar movement because A-bar movement involves movement from a Case position to a non-Case position. The goal of this talk is to show that wh-questions in Bùlì, a Gur language spoken in Ghana, provides new evidence for WLM. In particular, I argue that the outcome of overt movement in the language is as a result of ranking the constraint LATEMERGE, which requires constituents to merge as late as possible, above GETCASE, which penalizes a Caseless NP and *TOOLATE, which assigns a violation to late merge if the relationship it establishes is not the structurally highest of its type (Stanton 2016). I argue that the interactions of these constraints are responsible for the cross linguistic variations we observe between A-bar extractions and reconstruction effects in Bùlì as well as other well studied languages, including English.

Data and Analysis: Bùlì permits wh-phrases to appear in the left periphery of the clause (1a-b). The sensitive of these phrases to islands (1c) is taken as evidence to show that they undergo movement.

(1)  a. (ká) bwa ātì bí:ká dìgì: Q what C child.DEF cook ‘What is that the child cooked?

b. ká lām būnā ātì bí:ká dìgì:Q meat which C child.DEF cook ‘Which meat did the child cook?’

c. *ká bwa ātì bí:ká dà gbáŋ ālī: Q what C child.DEF buy book CONJ

In analyzing this data, I assume that the QP moves overtly to the Spec, of ātì. However, unlike movement of the whole QP-NP-DP complex from the base position (2), I propose that it involves movement of QP-DP followed by Late merging the NP lām ‘meat’ to the structure at the final landing site (Takahashi and Hulsey 2009, Stanton 2016). This derivation, I argue, is responsible for the lack of reconstruction effects in the language (2b). Since Ajohn foto ‘picture of John’ (2b) is merged after moving the QP and DP, the co-referential pronoun, wà‘3SG’ doesn’t c-command a copy of John in the base position, hence its ability to bleed principle C.

(2) a. [ká [lām] būnā ] ātì bí:ká dìgì ká būnā]

b. ká Ajohnfoto kūnā ātì wài à-yā:lī: Q John picture which C 3SG IMPF-like ‘*Which picture of John does he like’


Syntax Square 3/7 - Snejana Iovtcheva

Speaker: Snejana Iovtcheva (MIT)
Title: An Applicative Account of Bulgarian Double Object Constructions
Date and time: Tuesday March 7, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

I will present and discuss data on Bulgarian ditransitives, in which clitic doubled Goal arguments differ systematically from their non-double counterparts. More concretely, I will demonstrate that clitic doubled ditransitive constructions, behave in par with English Double Object Constructions (DOC) of the type [I gave John the book], while non-doubled ditransitive constructions behave like Prepositional Ditransitive Constructions (PDC) of the type [I gave the book to John].

The DOC/PDC distinction is not obvious right away since the language has free word order and Goal arguments are always marked with the same preposition na. The correlation between clitic doubling in DOC and the absence of clitic doubling in PDC has already been established for Spanish (Cuervo 2003) and Romanian (Rivero & Diaconescu 2006, Diaconescu 2007). In my analysis on Bulgarian DOCs, I follow Marantz (1993), Pylkkänen (2003), Cuervo (2003) and Slavkov (2008) and I propose that na-marked clitic doubled Goals in Bulgarian are introduced by functional ‘Low’ Applicative heads. The clitic itself is treated as a spell out of the Appl0.

In addition to contrasting clitic doubled na-Goals to non-doubled na-Goals, I will discuss also na-marked arguments of transitive and unaccusative verbs and I propose that the language has also ‘high’ Applicative heads, which are introduced above the VP domain.


LFRG 3/8 - Matthew Mandelkern

Speaker: Matthew Mandelkern Title: Bounded Modality Date and time: Wednesday, March 8, 1-2pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

To what degree does the meaning of an epistemic modal claim like ‘It might be raining’ resemble the meaning of an avowal of ignorance like ‘For all I know, it’s raining’? Progress on this question has been made by exploring differences in how constructions along these lines embed—-in particular by exploring their behavior as part of larger constructions like Wittgenstein (1953)’s ‘It might be raining and it’s not’ and Moore (1942)’s ‘It’s raining and I don’t know it’, respectively. A variety of approaches have been developed to account for those differences. All approaches, however, agree that the infelicity of unembedded Moore sentences and unembedded Wittgenstein sentences is to be explained in roughly the same way: such sentences are classically consistent, but commitment to both conjuncts is incoherent.

In this paper I argue against this consensus. If this consensus were right, then disjoined Moore sentences, and disjoined Wittgenstein sentences, would be felicitous. This prediction is borne out for disjoined Moore sentences, but not for Wittgenstein sentence. This creates a puzzle, since there is decisive reason to think that ‘Might p’ is consistent with ‘Not p’. I propose a new theory of epistemic modals and their interaction with embedding operators which predicts that, while ‘Might p’ is indeed consistent with ‘Not p’, when evaluating their conjunction, ‘Might p and not p’, we are forced to do so relative to an accessibility relation which makes the conjunction false. I show that this theory accounts not only for Wittgenstein sentences and their disjunctions, but also for the subtle behavior of embedded modals across the board. The upshot is that there is much in common between ‘For all we know, p’ and the meaning of ‘Might p’—-and thus much that is correct in the standard semantics for the latter—-but also a crucial difference: interpretation of the latter, but not the former, depends in a striking way on the intersentential dynamics of information.

Talk 3/9 - Roni Katzir

Speaker: Roni Katzir (MIT and Tel Aviv University) Title: Choosing between theories of UG using compression-based learning Time: Thursday March 9, 12:30-2:30pm Room: 32-D461 Abstract:

I will discuss an approach to learning — compression-based learning — and show how it can help us choose between competing grammatical architectures in some cases where adult judgments alone are insufficiently informative.

Compression (or the principle of Minimum Description Length; also very closely related to Bayesian approaches) considers both the size of the grammar and that of the description of the data given the grammar and attempts to minimize their sum. By doing so, compression guides the learner to hypotheses that balance between generality and the need to fit the data. Compression appears to match subjects’ generalization patterns in a variety of tasks, and it has yielded working learners for realistic linguistic theories in different domains.

I will review these properties of compression-based learning and show how we can use it to compare between competing architectures with two case studies, one in phonology and one in semantics. The phonological case study concerns constraints on underlying representations (also known as morpheme-structure constraints), which were central to early generative phonology but rejected in Optimality Theory. Evidence bearing directly on the question of whether the grammar uses constraints on URs has been scarce. I will show, however, that if the child is a compression-based learner, then they will succeed in learning patterns such as English aspiration if they can use constraints on URs but run into difficulties otherwise. In semantics, I will discuss two architectures for the representation of quantificational determiners: building blocks and semantic automata. While both choices support the representation and learning of quantificational determiners, I will show a specific domain where they predict different learning paths.


Hot off the press: Miyagawa’s Agreement Beyond Phi

Shigeru Miyagawa’s most recent book, Agreement Beyond Phi has just been published by the MIT Press as an LI Monograph. Building on his previous monograph Why Agree? Why Move?, this book investigates agreement in so-called agreementless languages in arguing for a unified view of grammatical features that includes both phi-features and discourse configurational features.

Miyagawa opens up formal syntax to include discourse-related phenomena and thus contributes to the building of a new research agenda.”—Liliane Haegeman

Congratulations Shigeru!


Syntax Square 2/28 - Abdul-Razak Sulemana

Speaker: Abdul-Razak Sulemana (MIT)
Title: Q-particles and the nature of Covert movement: evidence from Bùlì
Date and time: Tuesday February 28, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

It is a well known fact that wh-questions in many languages may contain an in-situ wh-phrase. The nature of this wh-phrase, however, has been a contentious issue in the literature. While some have argued that the in-situ wh-phrase undergoes covert movement at LF (Aoun, Hornstein, and Sportiche, 1981; Huang, 1982; Nishigauchi, 1990; Pesetsky, 2000, Richards, 1997; 2000; Nissenbaum, 2000; Cable, 2007; 2010; Kotek, 2014; 2016), others have argued against this view (Watanabe 1992; Chomsky 1995; Reinhart 1998). A well-known puzzle for proponents of covert movement are the apparent differences in island-sensitivity between overt and covert movement — leading Huang (1982), for example, to propose that island-sensitivity is a property of S-structure or PF but not LF. The goal of this paper is to show that wh-questions in Bùlì provide strong arguments for covert movement of wh-in situ that eliminate the need to posit any overt/covert differences in island-sensitivity cross-linguistically. The key to this demonstration is the distribution of an overt Q-marker in Bùlì, and Bùlì’s status as an in-situ language.


LFRG 3/1 - Athulya Aravind and Ezer Rasin‏

Speakers: Athulya Aravind and Ezer Rasin‏ Title: The nature of the semantic stimulus: quantifier learning as a case study Date and time: Wednesday March 1, 1-2pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

Language acquisition involves making sense of unanalyzed input: the child brings to the task a hypothesis space, each point in which represents a grammar, and she chooses a point in that space that can generate the input. If two grammars G, G’ are compatible with the input and the child ends up converging on G, we can draw interesting conclusions regarding acquisition: it could be, for example, that G’ is outside of the child’s hypothesis space, or that the child is biased towards choosing G over G’. The literature on acquisition in syntax and phonology has identified cases where the input is not rich enough to eliminate alternatives to the adult grammar, suggesting that learning in those domains is non-trivial.

Our goal is to evaluate the richness of the input in semantics, and our case study is the acquisition of quantificational determiners. We address the following question: are there logically weaker or logically stronger alternatives to quantifier meanings that are compatible with the child’s input, or is the input rich enough to eliminate competing hypotheses? We report our preliminary conclusions from a study of several English CHILDES corpora:

  • Systematic truth-conditional evidence for ruling out logically weaker meanings does not seem to be available. Obvious candidates for providing such evidence like the direct rejection of a child’s utterance and the use of quantifiers in downward-entailing environments were either absent from most corpora or consistent with weaker meanings.
  • Contextual evidence for ruling out logically weaker meanings is available. We identify contexts where a weaker meaning for a quantifier would violate some pragmatic constraint. If children can use this contextual evidence early enough, then logically weaker meanings would be incompatible with the input.
  • With respect to logically stronger alternatives, the situation is quite different. We construct classes of quantifiers with complex, logically stronger meanings designed to be consistent with any finite number of utterances. If such quantifiers are in the child’s hypothesis space, then converging on adult meanings would require non-trivial induction.

Thursday, 3/2 — talk by Victoria E. Mateu

Speaker: Victoria E. Mateu (UCLA) Title: On the Acquisition of Raising and Control: A Cross-linguistic Study Time: March 2 (Thursday), from 12:30 – 2:30 Room: 24-121 Abstract:

This study investigates the delays observed in the acquisition of raising with seem (e.g. Mary seems to John _ to be cautious) and control with promise (e.g. Mary promises John _ to be cautious). One prominent explanation for the difficulties with these constructions holds that it is related to the presence of the intervening argument. Crucially for this type of accounts, an intervener is possible with Spanish prometer ‘promise’, but not with the modal-like verb parecer ‘seem’. The experiments presented here were designed to answer the following questions: i) are the delays observed in these constructions due to intervention effects? If so, ii) are they grammar- or processing-based? and iii) if they are grammar-based, is the grammatical machinery used to by-pass the intervener the same in raising and control?

The results obtained from the raising experiments reveal that Spanish-speaking children comprehend raising sentences with the semi-modal verb parecer by age four, while English-speaking children experience difficulties with raising seem until at least age six – even when the intervening argument is not overtly produced. This cross-linguistic asymmetry suggests that the (overt or covert) intervening argument is the root of the difficulty. Consistent with intervention accounts, the results obtained from the control experiments reveal that both English- and Spanish-speaking children show difficulties comprehending control with promise/prometer until at least age six.

Regarding our second question, an in-depth look into the raising and control data reveal two different groups of children: i) below-chance group: children who lack the grammatical means to circumvent the intervening argument and ii) chance and above-chance group: children who have an adult grammar system but still experience difficulties due to their immature processing system. We refer to this as the Dual Source Intervention hypothesis.

Importantly for our third question, our results do not show a correlation between performance on raising and control in all children –some children perform below chance with raising and above chance with control and some vice-versa, showing a grammatical dissociation between these two constructions. This has important consequences for syntactic theories that claim that raising (with seem) and control (with promise) are derived similarly (e.g. by A-movement, Hornstein 1999, Boeckx & Hornstein 2004, i.a.; or Smuggling, Belletti & Rizzi 2013).


MIT Colloquium 3/3 - Vera Gribanova (Stanford)

Speaker: Vera Gribanova (Stanford) Title: Head movement, ellipsis, and identity Time: Friday, March 3rd, 3:30-5:00 pm Venue: 32-155 Abstract:

In this talk I examine paradigms of crosslinguistic variation concerning the the verbal identity condition in verb-stranding ellipsis, building on a recent proposal about the mechanisms that yield head movement configurations (Harizanov and Gribanova, 2017).

When phrasal material is extracted from ellipsis sites (e.g. in sluicing), violations of lexical identity of the extracted material are permitted under focus of that material (Schuyler, 2001; Merchant, 2001). This is usually attributed to the licensing condition on ellipsis (Rooth 1992, Heim 1997, Merchant 2001), which takes distinct variables inside the ellipsis domain and its antecedent to be identical. I focus on analogous paradigms with head movement out of ellipsis sites (yielding verb-stranding), which appear to lead to contradictory conclusions regarding the architectural status of head movement. Languages like Russian - among them Hungarian, European Portuguese, and Swahili - permit mismatches between extracted parts of the verbal complex and their corresponding antecedent components under focus, just as with phrasal extraction in sluicing. Languages like Irish and Hebrew do not permit such mismatches under any circumstances, pointing to a postsyntactic status for head movement: there is no genuine movement out of the ellipsis site, giving rise to a total identity requirement (Schoorlemmer and Temmerman, 2012; McCloskey, 2016).

A point of leverage into understanding these patterns comes from a proposal by Harizanov and Gribanova (2017), who argue in favor of a bifurcation, both empirical and theoretical, in head movement types. One type involves displacement of fully formed words to higher syntactic positions (e.g. verb second, long head movement). The other type constructs complex morphological words (e.g. affixation, compounding). They point out that the empirical properties of the two types are quite distinct, and justify a theoretical move in which they correspond to distinct operations, in distinct modules of the grammar. They propose that the operation responsible for upward displacement of heads is genuine syntactic movement (Internal Merge); on the other hand, word formation is the result of postsyntactic amalgamation, which has properties that are not associated with narrow syntax.

With this revised view in hand, we can revisit the paradoxical verbal identity patterns: we expect that mismatches in verb-stranding ellipsis will be permitted when head movement is syntactic, but not when it is postsyntactic. I present independently motivated analyses of Irish and Russian clause structure which support exactly this conclusion. Verb movement in Irish involves postsyntactic amalgamation only, predicting a strict lexical identity requirement. By contrast, verb movement in Russian involves both the syntactic and the postsyntactic head movement types, with one of the movement steps being syntactic and giving rise to the possibly of verbal mismatches in verb-stranding ellipsis.


FASAL 7 on March 4-5

The MIT Department of Linguistics and Philosophy will be hosting the seventh annual Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL 7) workshop on March 4-5, 2017. The aim of this workshop is to provide participants with a platform to discuss formal or experimental approaches to syntax, semantics, phonology and morphology from the perspective of South Asian Linguistics.

The invited speakers are:

The full program can be found on the FASAL 7 website. Attendees are requested to register for the workshop. We hope to see you there!


More on DP@60 at the SHASS blog

The MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences has a great post up about the David Pesetsky@60 workshop! The post can be seen here.


2/21, Tuesday: talk by Alexis Wellwood

This Tuesday 2/21 at 5:30-7:30pm Alexis Wellwood from Northwestern University will give a talk on “Meaning, vision, and acquisition” in the room 32D-461.

Speaker: Alexis Wellwood (Northwestern University) Title: Meaning, vision, and acquisition Date and time: Tuesday, February 21, 5:30-7:30pm Location: 32-D461


LFRG 2/22 - Masha Esipova

Speaker: Masha Esipova (New York University/MIT) Title: Focus on what’s (not) at issue: co-speech gestures, presuppositions, and supplements under Contrastive Focus Date and time: Wednesday, February 22, 1-2pm Location: 32-D461 Abstract:

I would like to discuss some of my work in progress (or, as of very recently, in regress) on the interaction of various types of non-at-issue content with Contrastive Focus.

This project started out as a reaction to the debate on the status of the inferences triggered by co-speech gestures between Ebert & Ebert (2014), who claim that those inferences are supplemental, and Schlenker (2015, to appear), who argues that they are presuppositional. We will start from an observation that sometimes co-speech gestures seem to be making an at-issue contribution, in particular, under Contrastive Focus. We will then explore the data on how co-speech gestures, presuppositions, and supplements (in particular, non-restrictive relative clauses and appositives) interact with Contrastive Focus, and will see that while those data don’t necessarily settle the debate on the status of co-speech gestures, they shed some light on how different types of non-at-issue content come to have at-issue uses.

Ling-Lunch 2/23 - Zheng Shen

Speaker: Zheng Shen (UConn) Title: Multi-Valuation and the Agreement Hierarchy Day: Thursday, February 23 Time: 12:45pm—1:50 [please note the different time] Abstract:

In this talk I present arguments for treating cross-linguistic agreement patterns of multi-valuation (Shen to appear) as an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy (Corbett 1979).

The nominal right node raising construction in (1) has been argued to involve a single probe that is valued by multiple goals; that is, it involves multi-valuation. In contrast to the multi-valued N in (1), a T node that’s valued by two singular features can be spelled out as plural in summative agreement in (2) (Grosz 2015). Thus there is an asymmetry between multi-valued N and multi-valued T which remains unaccounted for.

(1) This tall and that short student(*s) are a couple.

(2) [Sue’s proud that Bill __ ] and [Mary’s glad that John __ ] have/has traveled to Cameroon.

I argue that this asymmetry is an instantiation of the Agreement Hierarchy (Corbett 1979 et sq, Smith 2015). Cross-linguistically, three out of the four logically possible patterns of multi-valued Ns and Ts are attested (3), parallel to the original Agreement Hierarchy observed for collective nouns. I will discuss other positive consequences of this proposal, in particular regarding the agreement patterns of multi-valued adjectives and determiners reported in King and Dalrymple 2004.

Multi-valued NMulti-valued T

MIT Colloquium 2/24 - Rachel Walker (USC)

Speaker: Rachel Walker (USC) Title: Temporal Structure in Phonology Time: Friday, February 24th, 3:30-5:00 pm Venue: 32-155 Abstract:

In phonological structure, the segment root node is classically the locus of temporal organization for sub-segmental units, such as features, governing their sequencing and overlap (e.g. Clements 1985, Sagey 1986). Segment root nodes also classically mediate hierarchically between moras and sub-segmental elements, and by structurally identifying segments, roots figure in the calculation of weight-by-position, where coda consonants are assigned a mora (Hayes 1989). In this talk, I discuss evidence from phonotactic patterns that motivate an enriched representation of temporal relations, where coordination is represented directly among sub-segmental elements. Weight-by-position is also calculated over this sub-segmental temporal structure. In light of these representations, I consider implications for segment roots and suggest that root nodes be eliminated in favor of a set-based understanding of segments, extending set-based notions of feature classes (Padgett 2002).

Rachel Walker at MIT (2/22-2/24)

Rachel Walker will be here for an extended visit from 2/22-2/24. In addition to her colloquium on Friday, she will also be teaching a mini-course on Wednesday and Thursday. Details are below.

Speaker: Rachel Walker Title: Sub-segmental Representation Time/Location:

  • Wednesday 2/22: 1-2:30pm in 36-112
  • Thursday 2/23: 4-5:30pm in 36-155


In this course, we will examine the representation of sub-segmental elements in light of patterns involving the neutralization of vowel quantity contrasts in the context of coda consonants. A case study of patterns of vocalic neutralization in General American English, supported by a real-time MRI study of speech articulation, will motivate a phonological representation of sub-segments as gestures (Browman & Goldstein 1986 et seq.). Key advantages that gestures offer are the representation of temporal coordination among sub-segments and encoding of goal articulatory states that may be blended under conditions of overlap. A phonological approach will be developed that governs sub-segmental temporal relations, formalized in terms of optimality theoretic constraints, building on proposals of Davidson (2003) and Smith (2016). Cross-linguistic predictions for patterns of vowel quantity neutralization in other languages and dialects will be considered.

Save the dates: FASAL 2017

The 7th Annual Formal Approaches to South Asian Languages (FASAL) will be hosted at MIT March 4-5, 2017. The conference offers a platform to discuss formal and experimental approaches to natural language from the perspective of South Asian Linguistics.

The program is available here. The invited speakers are Miriam Butt (Konstanz), Ashwini Deo (Ohio State) and Norvin Richards (MIT).

We ask that those who are planning to attend to please register. There is no registration fee.


MITWPL 81 - Papers on Morphology

MIT Working Papers in Linguistics is pleased to announce the publication of its 81st volume, Papers on Morphology, available at the MITWPL webstore. Edited by Snejana Iovtcheva and Benjamin Storme, the volume contains the following contributions: