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MIT Linguistics: Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Ling-Lunch: Fall 2012:Abstracts

Ling-Lunch is a series of weekly talks, open to all linguistics topics. It is held in an informal setting, and everybody is welcome to present their work, but preference is given to members of the MIT Linguistics Department.

We meet every Thursday from 12:30 to 1:45 pm in room 32-D461.

Meetings and changes in the schedule are announced by email to interested people. If you want to receive the email announcements, want to present something, or have any other comments about Ling-Lunch, please email the organizers.

October 4:

Maziar Toosarvandani (MIT)
Gapping is VP-ellipsis

Johnson (2009) argues that gapping — e.g. “Some had ordered mussels, and others swordfish” — does not arise through VP-ellipsis because gapping has properties that VP-ellipsis does not. He proposes instead that the gap in gapping arises through ‘low coordination’ and across-the-board movement. I first show that Johnson’s across-the-board movement account fails to generate gapping in coordination structures with corrective but (Vicente 2010, Toosarvandani, to appear). Then, I revive a version of the ellipsis account in which VP-ellipsis applies to low-coordination structures. Not only does this correctly generate gapping in corrective but sentences, but once the information-structural effects of low coordination and ellipsis are taken into consideration, it also derives the unique properties of gapping.

October 11:

Maziar Toosarvandani and Coppe van Urk (MIT)
On the directionality and nature of nominal concord: Ezafe concord in Zazaki

This talk investigates a pattern of nominal concord on the Zazaki ezafe marker, a morpheme that accompanies nominal dependents in many Iranian languages. We show that concord on Zazaki ezafe is sensitive both to the properties of the head noun and to those of the dependent. We propose an analysis of this pattern in which the ezafe first enters into a downward Agree relation with its dependent and then agrees upward with the head noun. This derives the pattern of concord and makes sense of the fact that restrictions on nominal concord in Zazaki mirror restrictions on verbal agreement. As a consequence, our analysis offers evidence that nominal concord has a syntactic signature (Mallen 1997; Carstens 2000; Baker 2008), and that the directionality of Agree is more flexible than previously thought (Baker 2008; Bejar and Rezac 2009; Zeijlstra 2012; Preminger 2012).

October 25:

Roberta D'Alessandro (Leiden University)
Merging Probes and the locus of syntactic variation. A case study.

The so-called Borer-Chomsky conjecture as formulated by Mark Baker (2008) states that all parameters of syntacticvariation are attributable to differences in features of particular items (e.g. the functional heads) in the lexicon. In this talk it will be shown that this statement is substantiated in a group of languages that show heavy microvariation: Italian dialects. It is traditionally believed that Northern and Southern dialects belong to different groups, the main differences between them being the presence vs absence of subject clitics, and the presence vs absence of person-driven auxiliary selection. The hypothesis will be explored that subject clitics and person-driven auxiliary selection are instead essentially the same phenomenon: subject doubling. Upper Southern dialects differ from Northern dialects just in the locus of an extra functional head, encoding person features. The almost perfect complementary distribution between dialects with subject clitics and languages with person-driven auxiliary selection is not accidental, but is the logical result the presence of an extra φ-probe doubling the features of the subject in different parts of the syntactic spine. Italian dialects are hence not so different from each other as they might seem.

Furthermore, the macrogroup of Italian dialects also differs minimally from some split-ergative languages because of the valued/unvalued nature of the features found on this extra head. Typological microvariation can be shown to follow from features on functional heads, just as expected.

November 8:

Jonathan Barnes (Boston University)

Much of the recent history of research in intonational phonology could fairly be characterized as an ongoing debate between so-called “configuration-based” and “level-based” approaches to the primitive elements that comprise representations of intonation contours. Configuration-based models understand intonation in terms of dynamic elements, such as rises and falls, while level-based models deal instead in static pitch-level targets (primarily Highs and Lows). As phonological opinion has settled in favor of level-based theories, it has been tempting to see a direct instantiation of phonological tone levels in local F0 turning points (e.g., maxima and minima, hereafter TPs). The study of F0 TPs from this point of view has uncovered substantial systematicity both in how tonal movements align with the segmental skeleton of an utterance, and in how they are scaled with respect to each other in the frequency domain. However, serious problems have surfaced as well: TP-locations are often ambiguous, or even unrecoverable, from the F0 record. Worse still, evidence suggests that a host of difficult-to-quantify aspects of global contour shape influence perception of contour identity, potentially overriding TP-based evidence under the right circumstances. Listeners, in other words, attend to precisely those aspects of the signal that standard level-based models predict they should ignore. In this talk, I will present evidence from paired perception and production studies involving intonation patterns in American English, in support of a new approach to the phonetics and phonology of intonation. This model, based on the notion of Tonal Center of Gravity (TCoG), captures key insights from configuration-based approaches, without abandoning the central tenets of a level-based intonational phonology. It also makes a variety of predictions concerning tonal implementation and the structure of tone inventories that are not accessible in traditional level-based terms. One of these I explore further in the context of tonal co-occurrence patterns in Chinese languages.

November 15:

Isa Kerem Bayirli (MIT)
Impossible Syntactic Representations = Impossible Morphological Expressions?

In this talk, I will argue that previous approaches to suffixhood in the inflectional domain, both in their lexicalist (Lieber, 1980 i.a. ) and syntactic (Ouhalla, 1991 i.a.) variants, fail to capture a pattern that emerges upon closer inspection. The pattern in question is this:

V-X Generalization
A morpheme that categorically selects for a verbal item is always a suffix on this verbal item.

An approach that takes suffixhood to be lexically idiosyncratic information treats this as an accident - an unsatisfying conclusion.

My second claim will be that this observation is correlated with a restriction on what kind of behavior verbal items can show:

A Restriction on the Behavior of Verbal Items
Projections headed by verbal items cannot show phrasal behavior (i.e. movement to a spec position and coordination).

The challenge posed by the English language to these claims will be argued to arise from the fact that what has been taken to be bare `VP` in English is actually a projection headed by an infinitival projection, for which independent evidence is presented.

The correlation between the generalization and the restriction given above will be formed as a causal relation, using an non-lexicalist implementation of Brody`s (2003) Mirror Theory.

All in all, we will end up having impossible morphological facts arising from an impossible syntactic representation. This adds a new dimension to debates on the exact relation between syntax and morphology.

December 6:

Yusuke Imanishi (MIT)
Parameterizing (non-)split ergativity in Mayan

Recent studies (Coon 2010, Mateo Pedro 2009, 2011) have shown that a split ergative pattern in Mayan languages such as Chol and Q’anjob’al is bi-clausal by taking the form of nominalization. Under these analyses the split ergativity in these languages derives from a particular agreement paradigm in Mayan: genitive = ergative.

These studies leave open an interesting question why other Mayan languages like Kaqchikel do not exhibit split ergativity the way that Chol and Q’anjob’al do (Mateo Pedro and Imanishi 2012).

In this preliminary talk, I address this question and attempt to propose a parametric analysis of the variation in Mayan regarding (non-)split ergativity. The languages I look at include Kaqchikel/Tzutujil/Q’eqchi’ (non-split ergative languages) and Chol/Q’anjob’al (split-ergative languages).

I focus on the independent property of a non-verbal predicate (NVP) in the languages hinted at by Coon et al. (2011): whether an NVP in a given language has the ability to raise the subject. I then argue for the generalization
(i) If an NVP in a given language does not raise the subject, the language displays (Chol/Q’anjob’al-type) split ergativity.
(ii) If an NVP in a given language raises the subject, the language does not display (Chok/Q’anjob’al-type) split ergativity.

I further address some exceptions to the generalization.