18 March 2012

Bhatt at GIST

Rajesh Bhatt's coauthor, former syntax guru Roumi Pancheva, will be presenting their paper at GIST, Generative Initiatives in Syntactic Theory, held March 22-23 at the University of Gent.  The title and abstract of their talk follows.

Two Superlative Puzzles

We discuss two cases where superlatives interact with relative clauses with puzzling consequences. The first case concerns the distribution of relative readings of superlatives inside relative clauses (e.g., “the boy who Mary likes the most”). We demonstrate that the facts require that the head be interpreted inside the relative clause. The second case concerns the licensing of subject infinitival relatives by superlatives (“the first man to walk on the moon”). Here too we suggest that the head is interpreted inside the infinitival clause but the superlative is external.

Schueler (2005) observes that relative clauses with relative readings of superlatives are non- intersective. Thus, “John is the boy who runs the fastest” does not entail that John is the fastest person; that could be Sally, with John being the fastest only among the boys. Schueler’s account utilizes the head external analysis of relative clauses with an additional mechanism where the comparison class of the superlative is restricted by the external head of the relative clause. This mechanism ensures that the comparison class is only composed of boys, delivering the desired result. However, we show that the problem identified by Schueler also arises in cases where the relative reading of the superlative is dependent on an element other than the relative pronoun (e.g., “John is the boy who MARY likes the most”), yet his treatment doesn’t generalize to these cases. Adopting an analysis where the head is interpreted internal to the relative clause allows for a uniform treatment of all cases of relative readings of superlatives inside relative clauses.

Bhatt (2006) offers arguments that the licensing of non-modal subject infinitival relatives by superlatives requires reconstruction of the superlative to a relative-clause internal position. Inspired by the discussion in Sharvit (2010), concerning the cross-linguistic distribution of such relatives and their temporal interpretation, we reanalyze these cases as infinitival complements of the superlative operator: [the [first [man to walk on the moon]]], i.e., the superlative does not originate inside the infinitival clause but the head does. One of the arguments in support of the first point, namely the clause-internal origin of the superlative, is that relative readings which should be available go missing (compare “MARY likes the tallest man”, which permits a relative reading where of all the relevant people who like men, the man who Mary likes is the tallest vs. “MARY likes the tallest man to walk on the moon”, which lacks such a reading). We derive this result from the fact that the infinitival clause provides the comparison class. Whenever the comparison class is explicitly given, as in “Mary likes the tallest man of the three”, relative readings are absent. Concerning the second point, namely the origin of the head, we show that the temporal dependence between the head and the infinitival clause, is naturally accommodated if the head is interpreted inside the infinitival clause.

To conclude, superlatives provide two different arguments for the head-internal interpretation of relative clauses.

UMass at the 34th DGfS Meeting

Lyn Frazier was a plenary speaker at the 34th DGfS Meeting at Frankfurt University on March 9th. The title of her talk was "Processing Ellipsis: Explorations at the Edge of Grammar." (An abstract follows.) Former student Maribel Romero was another plenary speaker, her talk was titled "From Form to Meaning."

In addition, Anisa Schardl gave a talk entitled "Finnish - hAn and the QUD" and former students Maria Beizma and Kyle Rawlins gave a talk entitled "Or What?"

For more information, see http://dgfs.uni-frankfurt.de/dgfs/dgfs_de.html

Processing Ellipsis: Explorations at the Edge of Grammar

It will be suggested that stringent grammatical conditions on ellipsis should be maintained, requiring syntactic matching of antecedent and elided constituent in the case of Verb Phrase Ellipsis, certain morphological features aside, (Sag, 1977 a.o.), and requiring movement of the ‘answer’ to a Focus projection with ellipsis of the TP in the case of fragment answers to questions (Merchant, 2004). However, speakers at times erroneously produce utterances that violate these stringent conditions, e.g., producing a syntactic blend of an antecedent from one utterance and an elided constituent appropriate for a closely related (competitor) utterance. These ungrammatical utterances can be repaired under the same conditions as garden-path misanalyses, namely, when few repair operations are needed and there is lots of evidence for those operations. The acceptability of such utterances depends on the difficulty of the repair and on whether the input sounds like a familiar form, possibly an error, that might be produced by normal sentence production mechanisms. Evidence supporting this account suggests that, in addition to the general form-meaning pairing characterized by the grammar, there is also a performance-based pairing of forms and meanings that is token-based, rather than type-based; this performance pairing results from implicit knowledge of the performance systems as well as grammar. The performance pairing of form and meaning is not tied to ellipsis per se, and thus its existence has implications not only for our understanding of ellipsis but more generally including, for example, the interpretation of quantifiers. The account suggests that certain problematic examples do not require us to complicate our grammatical theory but instead are appropriately explained in the realm of systematic language performance.

The Roeper Linguistics Club

Tom Roeper writes:

I had the unique pleasure of talking to the Roeper linguistics Club over skype---they are a group of bright high school kids at the Roeper School.  If anyone would like to share some interesting linguistic work with high school kids----I could arrange another session. It is fun.

Noah Constant receives Mellon

Congratulations to Noah Constant who has received a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation fellowship for the 2012-13 academic year!

Call for Papers: Texas Linguistics Society Conference

13th Texas Linguistics Society (TLS) Conference
June 23-24, 2012
University of Texas at Austin

TLS is a graduate-student run conference in linguistics organized by the Texas Linguistics Society and the Department of Linguistics at the University of Texas at Austin. This year's TLS is co-located with the North American Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information and associated workshops and symposia.


TLS 13 will be structured around two para-sessions: (1) the semantics and pragmatics of questions and question-based models of discourse, and (2) signed languages and meaning. While we encourage submissions related to these themes, we are also interested in submissions on topics of general linguistic interest. Papers on language related topics from disciplines including anthropology, cognitive science, neuroscience, philosophy of language, and psychology will also be considered.

--- Keynote Speakers ---

Nicholas Asher (IRIT, CNRS/Université Paul Sabatier)
Erin Wilkinson (University of Manitoba)

--- Invited Talks ---

Kathryn Davidson (University of Connecticut)
Jeroen Groenendijk (University of Amsterdam)
Richard Meier (University of Texas at Austin)
Josep Quer (ICREA & Universitat de Barcelona)
Craige Roberts (The Ohio State University)

--- Submission Information ---

One page abstracts (plus references) should be submitted in PDF or DOC format through EasyChair at https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=tls13.  11-12 point font, please.  Authors whose abstracts are accepted are encouraged to submit a short paper (10-20 pages). These will be collected into an edited volume for publication.

--- Important Dates ---

* Abstract Submission Deadline: April 16, 2012
* Notification of Acceptance: May 7, 2012
* Pre-proceedings Paper Submission Deadline: June 10, 2012
* Final Draft Submission Deadline: August 31, 2012

UMass at WCCFL

The annual meeting of the West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics is meeting April 13-15 at the University of California, Santa Cruz. There are several talks by people in the UMass community, including:

Wendell Kimper with Riikka Ylitalo will present "Variability and Trigger Competition in Finnish Disharmonic Loanwords."

Noah Constant will present a poster entitled "Topic Abstraction as the Source for Nested Alternatives."

Jesse Harris will present a poster entitled "On the Semantics of Domain Adjectives in English."

UMass at GLOW

The annual meeting of the Generative Linguists of the Old World is at Potsdam on March 28-30, and there are several members of the UMass community giving talks.

Brian Dillon, with co-authors Ewan Dunbar and William Idsardi, is presenting "Learning Phonetic Categories by Learning Allophony and vice versa."

Noah Constant is presenting "Topic Abstraction as the Source for Nested Alternatives: A conservative Semantics for Contrastive Topic."

Satoshi Tomioka is presenting "Focus matters in New-Hamblin semantics."

Bart Hollebrandse, with Petra Hendriks and Jacolien van Rij is presenting "Eye gaze patterns reveal subtle discourse effects on object pronoun resolution."

For a full schedule, see http://www.ling.uni-potsdam.de/~glow/program.html

Seth Cable at SULA

Seth Cable's paper "Distributive Numerals in Tlingit: Pluractionality and Distributivity" has been accepted to the seventh annual meeting of Semantics of Under-Represented Languages in the Americas (SULA), which will take place May 4-6 at Cornell University.

Congratulations Seth!

Roeper in Germany

Tom Roeper gave two talks in Germany a couple weeks ago. He presented joint work with Jill de Villiers at a conference on Recursion, Complexity and Typology at Konstanz. The title of their talk was "Avoid Phase: wh-infinitives and movement in acquisition." And he gave a paper titled "Internal Merge vs Topic Shift in Acquisition" at the ZAS conference on Discourse Cohesion in Berlin.

Congratulations Tom!

Definites Workshop at University of Düsseldorf in June

Workshop title: "Semantic and typological perspectives on definites", CRC991 #3
Conference date: June 01 -- 02, 2012
Location: Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf

The Cooperative Research Centre CRC 991 "The Structure of Representation in Language, Cognition and Science" of the University of Düsseldorf is pleased to announce a workshop on "Semantic and typological perspectives on definites", to be held on 01 - 02 June 2012 at the Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf.

The workshop will center on the following topics:

Definiteness and concept types: The view that definiteness is a means of marking a noun's use as a functional concept entails essential semantic aspects such as a classification of nouns into concept types, and shifts among these types. The idea that determination mirrors concept types calls for statistical and psycholinguistic evidence -- e.g., can the cognitive effort for ac-complishing a type shift be attested?

Article splits: It is common for languages with definite articles to exhibit marking asymmetries according to the conceptual noun type. The opposition of pragmatic uniqueness (most notably anaphorically used sortal nouns) and semantic uniqueness (most notably functional concepts such as size/mother/head of, and individual concepts such as proper names) has proven to be significant, in that the latter types tend to be marked only if the former are.

Likewise, pragmatic and semantic uniqueness are morphosyntactically distinguished by different article forms (typically, phonologically strong vs. weak). Case studies especially cover varieties of German and Frisian. The conditions for fusion of prepositions and definite articles in Standard German have been analysed as one instance.

Grammaticalisation of definiteness marking: Besides the familiar grammaticalisation path (demonstratives 'weaken' their function and develop into definite articles), in, e.g., some Uralic languages the function of possessor agreement suffixes is extended so as to mark uniqueness in non-possessive contexts.

Special uses of (non-)definite descriptions: definite descriptions without unique reference (e.g., German die meisten / die Hälfte von 'most/half of'), including configurational uses (take the lift / the bus), and 'bare definites' such as to school, in jail/hospital.

List of contributors:
Bert Le Bruyn (University of Utrecht), Anne Carlier (University of Charles-de-Gaulle - Lille 3), Maria Cieschinger (University of Osnabrück), Xuping Li (EHESS, Paris), Christopher Lucas (SOAS, London), Ulrike Mosel (University of Kiel), Brigitte Pakendorf (CNRS, Lyon 2), Frans Plank (University of Konstanz), Magdalena Kaufmann (prev. Schwager; University of Göttin-gen), Erhard Voeltz (University of Frankfurt/Main), Dorothea Brenner, Elizabeth Coppock, Adrian Czardybon, Doris Gerland, Christian Horn, Nico Kimm, Sebastian Löbner, Albert Ortmann, Robert D. van Valin, Jr (all Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf).

The workshop is organised by the member projects C01 and C02 of the Cooperative Research Centre CRC 991 "The Structure of Representation in Language, Cognition and Science" (http://www.sfb991.uni-duesseldorf.de/), sponsored by the German Research Foundation (DFG).