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MIT Linguistics: Department of Linguistics & Philosophy

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Syntax-Semantics Reading Group
Spring 2010

The primary aim of LFRG is to give you an opportunity to have informal discussions of your own and other people's ideas without having to worry about saying something wrong. Thus, practice talks and presentations of works in progress (or in regress) or papers that you find interesting are especially welcome.

The range of possible topics include semantics, syntax, their interface, and whatnot having a connection to either syntax or semantics. The idea is that a lot of research does not fit into the straight jacket of a narrow area - though it is by no means required to have any interdisciplinary interests to attend LFRG.

Meetings this semester alternate between Mondays 11.30AM - 1PM and Wednesdays 4PM-5.30PM, and are held in room 32-D831.

There are basically four main kinds of meetings: 1) presentations of one's own work, including in progress and in regress; 2) a genuine reading group meeting: everyone reads, or at least browses, some interesting paper, and we discuss it; 3) a tutorial-like meeting where the persons in charge tell everyone something about not so widely known things - like cool experimental techniques, math tools, new empirical results, etc., and then optionally people say what they think about that; and 4) brainstorming sessions: the persons in charge provide a topic and the necessary background, and the point is to generate some ideas about what one can do about the topic.

Meetings and changes in the schedule are announced here and by email to interested people. If you want to receive the email announcements, want to be in charge of a meeting, or have any other comments about the Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, email Tue Trinh or Igor Yanovich. An incomplete list of previous meetings: Fall 2009, Spring 2009, Fall 2008, Spring 2008, Fall 2007, Spring 2007, Fall 2006.

Claiming an LFRG slot is not scary at all - so don't hesitate to do that!

February 22, Monday

Brainstorming/Open discussion:

"How to put things right - a brainstorming session on corrective discourse particles", led by Patrick Grosz.

Patrick will introduce some data and ideas about the distribution of German particles 'ja' and 'doch', and then there will be an open discussion of those two and similar particles in your favorite language.

March 1, Monday


"Some things you want to know about modal logic, but don't know you do", by Igor Yanovich.

The idea is to review, in an informal manner (read: without doing much technical stuff), several simple results from the modern period of modal logic development. Instead of focusing on different systems like K etc. and completeness, the tutorial will take the so-called semantic perspective and discuss modal logic as a tool for talking about relational structures in a certain way. Topics which are likely to emerge: the standard translation from modal logic into a fragment of first-order logic; bisimulations and bisimulation-equivalence; limits of the expressive power of the standard modal logic, and some ways to enrich it.

If you want to read, or at least browse, something before going to the meeting (or instead of going), read this. It is a wonderful introductory chapter from the "Handbook of modal logic", written by Johan van Benthem and Patrick Blackburn - two really important guys in current modal logic, who also happen to write very readable texts accessible even for beginners.

March 8, Monday


Hadas Kotek, "An indefinite amount relative: evidence from Romanian"

I will present some data and ideas about so-called definite and indefinite amount relatives in Romanian. I identify two main differences between these two constructions - to do with the kinds of information that they presuppose, and the kinds of readings that they allow. I suggest an analysis that deals with (at least some of) these facts, and then open the discussion to talk about some residual issues, most importantly regarding so-called "substance readings" of amount relatives, and to similar phenomena in your favorite language.

March 15, Monday

Work in progress:

Igor Yanovich, "A non-standard theory of vagueness"

March 31, Wednesday


Patrick Grosz, "German 'doch': An Element that Triggers a Contrast Presupposition"


This talk investigates the German particle "doch", contrasting it with the particle "ja" (Weydt 1969). I propose that in declaratives, "ja" and "doch" are weak and strong counterparts of each other, in the following sense. They share a core meaning component (uncontroversiality/familiarity, cf. Kratzer 1999), but "doch" has an additional meaning component (contrast/correction, cf. Thurmair 1991). It follows that "ja" and "doch" on their own are in competition. The particle "ja" is used when the presuppositions for "doch" are not met; in contrast, "doch" is used when its presuppositions are met, due to Maximize Presupposition (Heim 1991).

In my analysis of "doch", I argue that the correction component operates on propositional alternatives ("doch" reinforces the modified proposition p in contrast to a contextually salient alternative q that contradicts p) and is presuppositional in nature. I argue that "doch" makes use of an alternative semantics, associating with focus. This predicts correctly that "doch" triggers intervention effects (Beck 2006): It cannot associate with the same focus as another focus-sensitive element, such as "nur" ('only'). My analysis accounts for ordering restrictions, which permit "ja doch", but rule out "doch ja". Kratzer (1999) argues that "ja" operates on complete propositions and cannot occur between a quantifier and a variable that it binds. I show that "ja" also cannot intervene between a focus-sensitive particle, like "nur" ('only') and the focus. Given that "doch" is focus-sensitive, we correctly rule out "doch ja", but not "ja doch".

April 5, Monday

Practice talk (for CLS):

Peter Graff and Greg Scontras, "Comparing Pluralities"

April 12, Monday

DaeYoung Sohn and Yasutada Sudo, TBA

(Updated on 03/24/2010)