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Syntax/semantics group, 11/12 – Martina Martinović

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday November 12th at 1:30pm. Martina Martinović will be presenting work titled “Control and restructuring in Wolof”:
ABSTRACT: In this talk I discuss the phenomenon of control in the Niger-Congo language Wolof, which has the following interesting properties. First, Wolof only exhibits Exhaustive Control; Partial Control is not possible in the language. Second, all control predicates in Wolof exhibit restructuring properties, both those that cross-linguistically generally restructure, and those that have been argued to never restructure. And finally, only predicates that do not take direct objects participate in control. I will show that these properties give support to Grano’s (2012, 2015) claim that there are two strategies for establishing control: one that results in Exhaustive Control (for Grano, following Cinque (2004), this is raising), and another that results in Partial Control (involving a PRO). Wolof has only one of those strategies. While Wolof does not have direct evidence that the strategy resulting in Exhaustive Control indeed involves raising, it does offer some indirect support for this. First, all control structures restructure, suggesting a reduced complement size that would allow raising. Second, only verbs with no objects allow control, which straightforwardly follows from the Minimal Link Condition. And finally, even if raising to object exists (as argued in Postal 1974), it does appear to be cross-linguistically rare. If EC is raising, this would explain the absence of object control in Wolof. I offer additional evidence for a reduced structure of infinitival complement from cliticization.  

Syntax/semantics group, 10/29 – Jonathan Palucci and Justin Royer NELS practice talks

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday October 29th at 1:30pm. Justin Royer and Jonathan Palucci will be presenting work that they will be presenting at the upcoming NELS conference. Justin’s talk is titled “Binding and the low/high abs parameter in Mayan” and Jonathan’s is titled “Numeral any: In favour of Viability”.

Syntax-semantics reading group, 10/22 – Emily Goodwin on systematic syntactic parsing

This week’s syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday October 19th at 1:30pm. Emily Goodwin will be presenting her ongoing work on systematic syntactic parsing:

ABSTRACT: Recent work in semantic parsing, including novel datasets like SCAN (Lake and Baroni, 2018) and CFQ (Keysers et al., 2020) demonstrate that semantic parsers generalize well when tested on items highly similar to those in the training set, but struggle with syntactic structures that combine components of training items in novel ways. This indicates a lack of systematicity , the principle that individual words will make similar contributions to the expressions they appear in, independently of surrounding context. Applying this principle to syntactic parsing, we show similar problems plague state of the art syntactic parsers, despite achieving human or near-human performance on randomly sampled test data. Moreover, generalization is especially poor on syntactic relations which are crucial for the compositional semantics.

Syntax/Semantics reading group, 10/15 – Carol-Rose Little and Justin Royer

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday October 15th at 1:30pm.

In preparation for Peter Jenks’ upcoming colloquium talk, Carol-Rose and Justin will be leading a discussion on Jenks’ (2018) LI paper Articulated definiteness without articles.

Abstract: While it lacks a definite article, Mandarin makes a principled distinction between unique and anaphoric definites: unique definites are realized with a bare noun, and anaphoric definites are realized with a demonstrative, except in subject position. The following proposals account for these facts: (a) bare nouns achieve definite interpretations via a last-resort type-shifting operator ι, which has a unique definite meaning; (b) demonstratives can occur as anaphoric definites because they have a semantic argument beyond their nominal restriction that can be filled by an index; and (c) bare nominal subjects are topics. A principle called Index! requires that indexical expressions be used whenever possible. Mandarin is contrasted with Cantonese, which, like English, is shown to have access to an ambiguous definite article

Syntax/Semantics reading group, 10/04 – Carol-Rose Little

The syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday October 4th at 1:30pm. If you haven’t done so, please register at the following link to join meetings: https://mcgill.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMsc-uupzMiGNDqNbAYrfn2b0ffCR0GDMJ2?fbclid=IwAR2XsoMQrLoYaaw9iejJJvfGrykVWSAPPegdGF-iiIKT51Yo7dz1eWxPXmM
This week, Carol-Rose Little will present work entitled Participant plurals across Mayan and the treatment of features
Drawing on data from the morphology of participant plurals across Mayan languages, I argue that we must treat person features as binary, rather than privative. To make the inclusive/exclusive distinction, I argue that Mayan languages utilize the same set of features, but the way these features are spelled out varies across the languages. I present data demonstrating that Mayan languages derive the inclusive/exclusive distinction form a generalized first person plural, and then add morphemes to this form to make a specified inclusive or exclusive form. Some Mayan languages have a more specified inclusive form (e.g., Itzaj), whereas other Mayan languages have a more specified exclusive form (e.g., Ch’ol). I argue that the template utilized across Mayan is best captured under a binary feature approach to person (e.g., Noyer 1992, Watanabe 2013) rather than a privative feature approach to person (e.g., Harley & Ritter 2002). I end with consequences of this analysis for capturing person crosslinguistically.

Syntax/Semantics Group – no meeting this week

Syntax/Semantics Group will resume regularly schedule meetings next week, stay tuned!

Syntax/Semantics reading group, 09/24 – Alex Göbel

The first syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Thursday February 24 at 1:30pm. Please register in advance at the following link in order to join meetings: https://mcgill.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJMsc-uupzMiGNDqNbAYrfn2b0ffCR0GDMJ2?fbclid=IwAR2XsoMQrLoYaaw9iejJJvfGrykVWSAPPegdGF-iiIKT51Yo7dz1eWxPXmM

For our fist meeting, postdoc Alex Göbel will present work entitled On the role of Focus-sensitivity for a typology of presupposition triggers. We will also set up the schedule for the Semester, so feel free to come with ideas!
Abstract: Presupposition triggers have been noted to make up a heterogeneous set that varies along multiple dimensions. In this presentation, I investigate the role of Focus-sensitivity for such a typology of presupposition triggers. The hypothesis I will be testing is that triggers differ in the mental representations they access depending on whether they are Focus-sensitive or not. For triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity, such as `again’, I hypothesize that their presupposition needs to be entailed by the Common Ground, in line with the classic treatment by Stalnaker. In contrast, Focus-sensitive triggers like `also’ require a linguistic antecedent in the discourse model. I present experimental data evaluating two predictions of this hypothesis. The first prediction is that the salience of the linguistic material satisfying a given presupposition should matter for Focus-sensitive triggers, analogous to how salience affects pronoun processing. In contrast, triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity should not be sensitive to salience in the same way, with a possible analogy being the way in which the order of premises is relevant to the validity of a conclusion in a syllogism. The second prediction is that Focus-sensitive triggers will be harder to globally accommodate than triggers lacking Focus-sensitivity, on the assumption that the Common Ground is subject to cooperative principles that render accommodation a standard practice of communication, whereas constructing the linguistic material required for an antecedent is not subject to those principles. I conclude with some discussion of the broader theoretical implications of the experimental results.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 2/26 — Jacob Hoover

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Wednesday February 26 at 3:30 in room 117. Jacob will be presenting work entitled: Accounting for variation in number agreement in Icelandic DAT-NOM constructions.
Abstract: I investigate Icelandic constructions where the subject takes dative, and the object takes nominative, using the ‘feature gluttony’ mechanism for agreement proposed by Coon and Keine (2019) <https://ling.auf.net/lingbuzz/004224>. Literature on Icelandic (Sigurðsson and Holmberg, 2008) describes systematic variation in number agreement across speakers being organized into three separate varieties: Icelandic A, B and C. I propose that the differences between varieties can be explained by two independent parameters:

1) The order of probing and movement operations, and
2) Whether dative subject DPs have a visible number feature.
The proposal captures the patterns reported in the data and gives a principled description of this example of syntactic variation, predicting observed optionality with ambiguity in the grammar.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 2/19 — Mathieu Paillé

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Wednesday February 19 at 15:30 in room 117. Mathieu will be presenting work entitled: Tucking-in in nominative-third languages.

Abstract: It is widely accepted in minimalist syntax that a head H may have more than one specifier, and when more than one XP moves to Spec-H, the second XP that moves may (or must) “tuck in” under the first XP (Richards 1997). Rackowski (2002) argues that thematic specifiers must always be a given head’s lowest specifier, because (i) they must tuck-in, and (ii) they must externally merge following all instances of internal merge. In this presentation, I provide evidence from a subset of Philippines languages (focusing on Cebuano) that this is not so: thematic specifiers need not be a head’s lowest specifier. The evidence comes from a new analysis of the “nominative-third” phenomenon (Sells 2000, Travis 2011), in which the subject is placed third in a sentence, following the verb and EA but preceding all other phrases.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 2/12 — Jonny Palucci

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Wednesday February 12 at 15:30 in room 117.
Jonny will be leading a discussion on Crnič’s (2020) “Number in NPI Licensing.”

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 1/29 — Justin Royer and Jessica Coon

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Wednesday January 29 at 15:30 in room 117.  Justin and Jessica will be presenting work entitled: A puzzle on binding and extraction in Mayan. The recommended reading is Aissen 2000 “Prosodic Conditions on Anaphora and Clitics in Jakaltek”

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 1/22 – Masashi Harada

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Wednesday January 22 at 15:30 in room 117. Masashi will be presenting work entitled: Fragment Answers as Specificational Copular Sentences Disguised by Ellipsis

In many cases, questions such as who wrote this? can be answered not only by a sentence such as Jane wrote it but also by a non-sentential phrase or fragment such as Jane. So-called ellipsis analysis of fragments argues that fragments are indeed full sentences disguised by ellipsis (e.g., Jane wrote it) (e.g., Morgan 1973). On the other hand, another line of analysis proposes a mechanism which enables fragments to make the same assertion as their sentential counterparts without relying on ellipsis (e.g., Stainton 2006). One type of arguments in favor of the latter analysis is the fact that some fragments behave differently from their sentential counterparts in their acceptability. In this talk, however, I will argue that one type of such data can indeed be explained by the ellipsis approach. Specifically, I propose that some fragments are underlyingly copular sentences with a schematic form It/That is DP. I demonstrate that the proposed analysis follows for free from independently motivated analyses of pronouns, copular sentences, and ellipsis (e.g., Merchant 2004, Schlenker 2003).

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 11/25 — Carol-Rose Little and Mary Moroney

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Monday (25/11) at 14:30 in room 002.

We will have two guest speakers from Cornell University: Carol-Rose Little and Mary Moroney. The titles and abstracts for their presentations are found below:

Carol-Rose Little

Title: Absolutive case assignment and the Mapping Hypothesis

Abstract: In this talk, I apply insights from the Mapping Hypothesis (Diesing 1992) to object case assignment in ergative languages (Aldridge 2004, 2008; Legate 2002, 2008; Coon et al. 2014). Objects remaining in the VP can receive an existential interpretation Diesing (1992). It is therefore expected that under theories of syntactic ergativity where the object must move, an existential interpretation should not be available for the moved object. In the first part of the talk, I present data from fieldwork with Ch’ol on bare nouns. I account for the available interpretations of bare nouns in Ch’ol, a language where the object is licensed absolutive case in situ. In the second part of the talk, I present analyses of Tagalog and Eskimo-Aleut languages, where objects must move. In these languages, an existential interpretation is not available for the object, unlike in Ch’ol. I end with implications for (i) the interpretation of absolutive objects; (ii) available type shifters in natural language; and (iii) languages with and without overt definite articles.

Mary Moroney

Title: Reference and Number Marking: Implications from Shan

Abstract: Shan, a Southwestern Tai language spoken in Myanmar, Thailand, and nearby countries, uses bare nouns to express both unique and anaphoric definiteness, a distinction identified by Schwarz (2009). This contrasts with languages like Mandarin and Thai which Jenks (2015) and (2018) claimed use bare nouns for unique definiteness and demonstrative phrases for anaphoric definiteness. I analyze this pattern of data using a type shifting analysis (Chierchia 1998; Dayal 2004; Deal & Nee 2018; among others). This talk examines examples of Donkey Anaphora and draws implications about the connection between plurality and expressions of (in)definiteness.

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 11/18 — Mathieu Paillé

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Monday (18/11) at 14:30 in room 002. 
Mathieu will be presenting work entitled: Contradiction in copular clauses
Abstract: Some copular clauses, like “This fork is a spoon,” appear to be contradictions. The effect appears specifically when the subject and predicate are thought of as forming a partition. Surprisingly, the effect is merely pragmatic: it is easily cancelled through clause-internal modifiers, as in “This fork is also a spoon” or “This fork is simultaneously a spoon” (i.e., it is a spork). I argue the effect arises from an Exh(austivity) operator (Chierchia et al., 2011) on copular clauses and its interaction with the predicate’s focus alternatives. This set of focus alternatives is necessarily small; many copular clauses are not contradictions, which means their subject and predicate do not come from the same set. The use of ‘also’ as a fix for contradictory copular clauses dovetails with Bade’s (2016) claim that the obligatory use of additive particles works to defeat exhaustivity implicatures.

Syntax-Semantics Reading Group, 11/11 — Richard Compton

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting group will take place Monday (11/11) at 14:30 in room 002.

Richard Compton will be giving a presentation entitled: On pronouns in Inuktut.

The schedule for the syntax-semantics reading group can be found at the following link: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KmuPoC7LolwS6Z79qZs6BFbgCnYOED8An3l3IA-pOuk/edit?usp=sharing

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 11/4 — Ingy Hamza

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Monday (04/11) at 14:30 in room 002.

Ingy Hamza will be giving a presentation entitled: Verb morphosyntax structure in Standard Arabic (Perfective and Imperfective).

Syntax/Semantics reading group, 10/28 – Michaela Socolof (on Foley 2019)

Our next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Monday (28/10) at 14:30 in room 002.

Michaela Socolof will be leading a discussion about Steven Foley’s recent poster at NELS 50: The Principle Minimal Compliance and derivational competition in South Caucasian agreement

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 10/28 — Michaela Socolof

Our next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Monday at 14:30 in room 002. Michaela will be leading a discussion about Steven Foley’s recent poster at NELS. The link to his abstract can be found here: https://nels50.mit.edu/program

Syntax/Semantics Reading Group, 10/21 — Michaela Socolof & Bernhard Schwarz, Justin Royer

The next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place Monday (21/10) at 14:30 in room 002.

There will be two practice talks for NELS:

1) Michaela and Bernhard will present joint work with Aron Hirsch entitled “Which-questions, uniqueness, and answerhood: Evidence from disjunction”.

2) Justin will present “An apparent syntax-prosody mismatch as right extraposition: Evidence from Mayan”.

Abstracts for both talks can be found in the NELS program at the following link: https://nels50.mit.edu/program

Syntax/Semantics reading group, 10/7 – Martina Martinović

The  next syntax-semantics reading group meeting will take place this Monday (07/10) at 14:30 in room 002.

Martina will be presenting work on progressive constructions in Wolof.

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