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MIT Linguistics: Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Ling-Lunch: Spring 2013: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.

February 21:

Abhijit Debnath, University of Hyderabad
Search for a Minimal Agent Predicate Link preference in Recursive Agent Distribution Strategy for Embedded Clauses

The current paper reports two reading experiments in Bangla, (also introducing an ongoing ERP experiment) carried out in order to ascertain whether a Minimal AgentPredicate Association could be a the default preference that results in increase of processing complexity when the number of association links between any agent and the predicates of the sentence (which are the verbs either in matrix clause or embedded clause) increases. Bangla provides a more sensitized design for the tests by providing the location of the matrix verb (having control information) at the end of a sentence (like Japanese).

March 7:

Igor Yanovich, MIT
Variable-force modality on the British Isles

Recent semantic fieldwork in the Pacific Northwest uncovered modals which may render sometimes English necessity modals, other times English possibility ones without being ambiguous (Rullmann et al. 2008, Peterson 2010, Deal 2011). The analyses for those modals either attribute the peculiar behavior to a radical difference from the “European standard” in the semantics of the modal (Rullmann, Matthewson and Davis), or in the shape of the overall modal system (Deal). In this talk, I add to the typology of variable-force modality the Old English *motan (>modern must), which is analyzed in the earlier literature as a possibility modals with perhaps marginal necessity uses. Only by the end of the 15th century did the modal become a normal necessity modal it is now.

I show that in Old English ‘Alfredian’ prose *motan was an unambiguous modal carrying a presupposition of determined future which explains the peculiarities of the modal’s distribution, and creates a variable-force effect. Then I turn to the semantics of the modal in the AB dialect of Early Middle English (a literary variety written in the West Midlands in the first half of 13th century, remarkably focussed for the period of overall decline in English text production). I show that in Early Middle English, *moten (<*motan) was truly ambiguous between necessity and possibility. We can thus observe in the history of English a change from a true non-ambiguous variable-force modal, into a modal ambiguous between possibility and necessity, into a normal necessity modal.

March 21:

Martin Rohrmeier (MIT)
Introduction to musical syntax

In recent years, the cognitive link between music and language has been subject to various debates across disciplines ranging from linguistics, music, psychology, computer science, up to evolution and anthropology (e.g. Patel, 2008; Rebuschat, Rohrmeier, Cross & Hawkins, 2011; Katz & Pesetsky, submitted). One particular domain, in which an overlap between music and language has been frequently discussed, is syntax. Lerdahl & Jackendoff (1983) have specified a theory of tonal (Western) music which postulates nested, recursive dependency relationships that are modeled in analogy to linguistic syntax. However, a number of features of generative musical rules is not sufficiently specified in their theory. This point is addressed by a novel approach to describe musical syntax, which specifies an exact, general set of recursive generative rules and casts empirical predictions (Rohrmeier, 2011). In my presentation I will give an introduction into musical syntax and what it means to *hear* musical dependency and tree structures. I will compare these predictions with recent converging experimental evidence from cognitive and computational work.

All relevant musical concepts will be introduced and no particular music theoretical knowledge is required.

Katz, J. & Pesetsky, D. (submitted). The Identity Thesis for Language and Music, lingBuzz/000959 (2009).
Lerdahl, F. & Jackendoff, R. (1983). A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge, MA.
Patel, A.D. (2008). Music, Language, and the Brain. Oxford University Press, New York.
Rebuschat, P., Rohrmeier, M., Cross, I., Hawkins (2011) Eds. Language and Music as Cognitive Systems. Oxford University Press.
Rohrmeier, M. (2011). Towards a generative syntax of tonal harmony. Journal of Mathematics and Music, 5 (1), pp. 35-53.


April 4:

Ricardo Bermúdez-Otero, University of Manchester
Lexical storage and cyclic locality in phonologically driven allomorph selection

If exponence proceeds cyclically, so that cycles define local domains for allomorph selection, then empirical evidence from the size of allomorph selection domains can be used to determine the size of lexically stored exponents. Spanish, for example, exhibits a well-known instance of phonologically driven allomorph selection in which allomorphs containing stressed [jé] and [wé] alternate with allomorphs containing unstressed [e] and [o]: e.g. cué nta ‘count/tell.3 SG’ ~ contámos ‘count/tell.1PL ’. In the deverbal adjective [N [V co ntá ] ble] ‘countable’, the monophthongal allomorph c onta- is chosen during the second cycle of the derivation, when stress moves to the second syllable. This instance of allomorphy must therefore involve competition between stems (i.e. between two exponents of the verb lexeme CONTAR ), rather than between roots (i.e. between two exponents of the √-node √CONT ). Two lines of evidence support this analysis of the Spanish diphthongal alternation. First, the assumption of stem storage removes the need for declension diacritics in Spanish nominal and adjectival morphology. Secondly, it correctly predicts that, historically, lexemes that share a root but belong to different categories can cease to display the same allomorphic behaviour: e.g. the stem of the verb contár ‘count/tell’ still participates in the diphthongal alternation, whereas the stem of the noun cuénto ‘fable, fibb’ no longer does (cf. c uentéro ‘fabulist, fibber’). These results provide evidence against theories of morphology that restrict lexical storage to roots and to exponents of single functional heads.

April 11:

Benjamin Storme, MIT
Hittite present tense and its interaction with aspect

In this talk, I will show that Hittite, which has a present tense (PRES) and an asymmetric imperfective morphology (IPFV versus zero), patterns basically as English and Japanese.

When PRES refers to the utterance time, IPFV and zero are in complementary distribution: IPFV associates with eventives, and zero with statives (cf English examples in (1)). IPFV has a wider use than the English progressive, though: it must also be used in generic sentences with an eventive predicate.

(1a) *John builds a house (now).
(1b) John is building a house (now).
(1c) John is in his office (now)
(1d) *John is being in his office (now).

When PRES does not refer to the utterance time but to an interval in the future, the restriction on eventives no longer holds, as in Japanese.

When PRES refers to an interval in the past in its so-called « historical present» use, the situation is more contrasted: in one text, it behaves as PRES referring to the utterance time (eventives have to associate with IPFV) ; in another text, it behaves as PRES referring to an interval in the future or as PAST (eventives don’t need to associate with IPFV, as it is the case for English historical presents).

April 11:

Anthony Brohan and Sudheer Kolachina
Backward Control in Telugu: An illusion?

(Based on squib for 24.951)

The phenomenon of Backward control is evidence of crucial importance when it comes to choosing between the two dominant approaches to control discussed in the literature- Hornstein’s movement theory of control (Hornstein, 1999) and Landau’s empty category-PRO coreferenced with the controller through Agree (Landau, 2001).In recent years, there have been claims about the existence of Backward control in Telugu, a Dravidian language (Haddad, 2007, 2009a,b) and a movement-based analysis has also been proposed to account for these structures. In this squib, we evaluate these claims by taking a closer look at the data on which they are based. The results of our study suggest that what appear to be backward control structures in Telugu are the result of a combination of constraints on the distribution of pro and scrambling effects. We also present an alternate analysis of the structures discussed in previous work which is supported by additional evidence from the language.

April 18:

Bronwyn M. Bjorkman, University of Toronto
Possession and necessity: from individuals to worlds

(Joint work with Elizabeth Cowper.)

The modal use of possession is well known from the “semi-modal” ‘have (to)’, but is not unique to English: the same broadening from possession to necessity is found in many languages, including Spanish, Catalan, German, and Hindi (Bhatt 1997). We argue that this grammaticalization path is available because possession and necessity are both built on a prepositional relation of containment or inclusion. In possession this relation holds between individuals, in necessity between sets of worlds corresponding to the modal base and the proposition.

Many have proposed that the syntax of possession is prepositional, and that verbal have (and its counterparts in other languages) occurs when the possessive preposition occurs where be would otherwise appear (Freeze 1992, Kayne 1993, a.o.). Levinson (2011) has recently argued that this possessive preposition should be identified as (non-locative) WITH, expressing a relation of inclusion or containment. We argue that this relation of containment or inclusion also appears in the composition of universal modality, but between sets of worlds rather than individuals. A modal operator composes first with a modal base (i.e. a set of epistemically or deontically accessible worlds), and then with a proposition (also modelled as a set of worlds). A universal modal operator requires that a proposition be true in all accessible worlds—-i.e. the set of worlds corresponding to the modal base must be a subset of the set of worlds corresponding to the proposition.

This subset relation mirrors the inclusion/containment relation expressed by possessive WITH. It is this common semantic core, we propose, that is reflected by the grammaticalization of ‘have’ from possession to necessity.

April 25:

Ayesha Kidwai, Jawaharlal Nehru University
EX-It: On the syntax of finite clause extraposition and pronominal correlates in Hindi and Bangla

In this talk, I revisit the familiar question of finite clause extraposition in Hindi and Bangla, and the co-ocurrence of this phenomenon with pronominal correlates in the matrix clause. Examining the facts from rightward scrambling, WH-construal and bound anaphora in the two languages, I will suggest that such a non-canonical rightward positioning of finite complements is effected by a generalised, and revised, version of TH/EX (Chomsky 1999/2001). I propose that while this ‘displacement’ is driven by interface conditions holding both at the PHON and SEM interfaces . Furthermore, I will suggest that that the distribution of correlate/expletive pronominals that may occur in construction with such finite clauses is fundamentally unrelated to the extraposition operation per se, and relates instead to a SEM interface requirement on the merger of complement CPs in the verbal projection.

May 16:

Aniruddh D. Patel, Dept. of Psychology, Tufts University
Speech-music rhythmic relations: empirical studies

Rhythm is widely acknowledged to be an important aspect of speech and music, and theoretical work on rhythm within each domain has long expressed interest in possible connections with the other domain. Yet empirical studies comparing rhythm in speech and music are rare. In this talk I will argue that the paucity of research reflects a fixation on periodic rhythms in human auditory cognition, and that meaningful connections between linguistic and musical rhythm are more likely to be found in the domain of nonperiodic rhythms, i.e., in systematic patterns of timing, accent, and grouping which have nothing to do with periodicity. Two lines of cross-cultural empirical research will be used to support this argument, one concerning differences in how Americans vs. Japanese listeners hear simple nonlinguistic rhythms, and one concerning reflections of speech rhythm in instrumental classical music.