07 December 2014


This will be the last WHISC of the year, and it’s dominated by sad news. The UMass linguistics community lost two of its members last week: Emmon Bach and Pius Tamanji. WHISC will return with the Spring semester at the end of January.

Emmon Bach

With a heavy heart, WHISC announces that Emmon Bach died of pneumonia on November 28 at his home in Oxford. Emmon retired in 1992 from UMass, where he was Sapir Professor of Linguistics, and subsequently held a position as Professorial Research Associate at SOAS until 2007, when he became affiliated with Oxford University. He joined the UMass Linguistics department in 1973, two years after its inception, as a half-time Visiting Professor and became a full-time member in 1975. He served as department head from 1977 to 1985.

Emmon worked mostly in syntax, semantics and morphology, and he was instrumental in giving UMass’s linguistics department the porous boundary between syntax and semantics that it continues to enjoy. He wrote the first textbook on transformational grammar in 1964. His second text, Syntactic Theory, in 1974, set a kind of benchmark for the many on syntactic theory that have followed. In 1989, he wrote a gentle introduction to formal semantics, Informal Lectures on Formal Semantics, aimed at bringing formal semantics to a wider audience. 

A great deal of present work in syntax and semantics has the shape it does because of Emmon. His work on transitive verb phrases in English in the 1970s, for example, led him to an operation he dubbed “right-wrap” which combines a verb and its object in a non-concatenative way. This idea, and the effects it captures, became built into HPSG frameworks and later, by way of Richard Larson’s work, into transformational grammars. His important 1986 paper “The algebra of events” provides a framework for thinking about eventualities that continues to shape research in this area, as does his 1981 paper “On time, tense, and aspect: an essay in English metaphysics.” Much of his work in the last couple decades has been on word grammar, where he has been bringing the toolkits used for analyzing the syntax and semantics of sentence grammar into the word domain. His most recent work includes two papers co-authored with his wife, Wynn Chao: “The metaphysics of natural language(s)” and “Semantic types across languages,” both published in 2012.

Emmon also had a career-long active engagement in linguistic fieldwork. He began working on the Wakashan language Haisla in the 1970s, visiting Kitimat British Columbia, where the Haisla speaking community is, off and on for the rest of his life. For several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he became associated with the University of Northern British Columbia, where he taught linguistics and cotaught Haisla. It's his work on Haisla, a polysynthetic language, that informs much of his research on word grammar.

You can learn more about Emmon’s life at his UMass website, and at the obituary on Language Log, here, at which a growing number of testimonials are accumulating. Oxford University’s notice is here, and Jim Blevins has put together a preliminary website for Emmon here. His funeral will be Saturday, December 13th, at St. John’s Chapel in Oxford. Go here for more information. It is likely that there will be other events in memory of Emmon, and WHISC will report them as they form.

Emmon was a dear friend to generations of students and colleagues at UMass. He will be greatly missed.

Pius Tamanji

It is with great sadness that WHISC reports the death of UMass alumnus Pius Tamanji, who died a week ago, November 30, in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Pius was Professor of linguistics at the University of Yaoundé I, and had written numerous papers on the syntax, typology and sociolinguistics of the Grassfields Bantu languages spoken in Cameroon. His latest major work, published in 2009, was a comprehensive descriptive grammar of Bafut, an understudied language spoken in Cameroon, and his native language. He earned his PhD in 1999 from UMass with a dissertation on the structure of determiner phrases in Grassfields Bantu languages, including Bafut. This work led to a string of papers on agreement, nominal adjectives and other issues relevant to the internal life of determiner phrases in these languages. In 2003, he coauthored, with Ngessimo Mutaka, an Introduction to African Linguistics. His 2009 grammar of Bafut was preceded by papers on its clausal structure and verbal morphology, which interacts in interesting ways with negation. Pius was active in language preservation work in Cameroon, and also worked with deaf communities there. He was a popular teacher, and supervised a large number of theses and dissertations. 

He also had close connections with linguistic communities in Germany. He spent the 2003 academic year at the University of Cologne with an Alexander von Humboldt Research fellowship, and visited the University of Hamburg in 2008, where he negotiated a program of cooperation between the University of Yaoundé and Hamburg. He returned to the University of Hamburg as a DAAD visiting professor in 2010.

Pius was an important promoter of linguistic science in Cameroon. He was a member of the steering committee of the World Congress of African Linguistics, and was responsible for organizing several large, successful linguistic conferences in Africa.

During his time in the department, Pius was not just valued for his linguistics. He was a steady source of good cheer and support, responsible for organizing many social events, including regular football matches (he was an excellent player). He is missed.

Robert Staubs speaks at PRG tomorrow

Ivy Hauser and Coral Hughto write:

PRG will be meeting Monday at 7:30pm.  Robert will be preparing for a talk in some form (maybe a practice talk, maybe a discussion of the material in the talk).  We will have dinner and meet at Ivy's house in Northampton. 

Please RSVP if you plan to come so we will know how much food to get.

Heather Burnett speaks on Friday

Heather Burnett will give a talk entitled “Vagueness and Scale Structure in Delineation Semantics” on Friday, December 12 at 3:30 in the seminar hub (ILC N400). An abstract of her talk follows.

In this presentation, I present a new theory of the relationship between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and adjectival scale structure set within the Delineation semantics framework (Kamp, 1975; Klein, 1980, among others). From an empirical point of view, I argue that the four principle subclasses of adjectival predicates (relative adjectives (ex. tall), total absolute adjectives (ex. dry), partial absolute adjectives (ex. wet), and non-scalar adjectives (ex. atomic)) can be distinguished along three dimensions: 1) how their criteria of application can vary depending on context; 2) how they display the characteristic properties of vague language; and 3) what the properties of their associated orders (a.k.a. scales) are. It has been known for a long time in the literature (cf. Unger (1975), Pinkal (1995), Kennedy (2007), McNally (2011) a.o.) that there exist connections between context-sensitivity, vagueness, and scale structure; however, a formal system that expresses these connections has yet to be developed. By combining insights into the relationship between context-sensitivity and scalarity from the lineation semantics framework with insights into the relationship between tolerance relations and the Sorites paradox from Cobreros, Égré;, Ripley & van Rooij (2012)’s Tolerant, Classical, Strict (TCS) framework, I propose such a logical system. Using this framework, I show that the association of particular classes of adjectives with their particular kinds of scales can be derived from their context-sensitivity and vagueness properties. In other words, I argue that from independently necessary theories of context-sensitivity and vagueness, we arrive at a full theory of gradability and scale structure in the adjectival domain.

Sang-Im Lee-Kim appears in the Journal of the International Phonetic Association

Sang-Im Lee-Kim’s article "Revisiting Mandarin “apical vowels”: An articulatory and acoustic study" has appeared in the latest volume of the Journal of the International Phonetic Association. Go here for more information.

Summer School on Mathematical Philosophy for Female Students

The summer school is open to women with a keen interest in mathematical philosophy. Applicants should be female students of philosophy, or philosophically minded logicians, mathematicians, or scientists at an advanced undergraduate level, in a master program, or at an early PhD level. To apply for participation, please fill out our application form, and send it together with a cover letter (including a statement of motivation) and your CV (ideally everything in one pdf file) to mathsummer2015@lrz.uni-muenchen.de. A separate letter of recommendation should be sent to the same address. If you want to present your own project, please send an abstract (up to 500 words) together with your application documents. The deadline for applications is March 1, 2015. Decisions will be made by March 15, 2015. The participation fee is 200€ (Note that the participation fee does not cover accommodation expenses). The language of all events will be English.

Some familiarity with the material presented in David Papineau's book Philosophical Devices: Proofs, Probabilities, and Sets is advisable.


Call for papers: Language at the Interface

"Language at the Interface" will meet at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, on April 24-26, 2015. The call for papers has gone out. A description of the workshop, as well as instructions for sending abstracts, follows.


Peter Carruthers (Maryland)

Wolfram Hinzen (Barcelona/Durham)

Friederike Moltmann (CNRS/NYU)

Anna Papafragou (Delaware)

Conference Overview

Serious and detailed proposals concerning the relationship between language and thought—or, as it might be put today, the language-cognition interface—have recently emerged within the cognitive sciences. Within linguistics, for example, a program of research broadly known as the “Minimalist Program” is underway whose guiding assumption is that the computational system of language is only as complex as it needs to be to meet the demands of the cognitive systems it interacts with, making it crucially important for the study of language to have some understanding of what these cognitive systems are like. Within psychology, a complementary research program concerns the relationship between language and our core cognitive systems. This program investigates how language is implicated in the emergence of distinctively human representations that cut across these core systems (i.e., domain-general representations), making it crucially important for these investigators to have some understanding of what language is like such that it can be recruited to this task. These programs illustrate the way that serious thinking about the language-cognition interface is rapidly changing the sorts of questions we can ask about the nature of distinctively human thought.

The aim of our three-day conference is to explore a wide range of questions at the intersection of linguistics, psychology, and philosophy that might be raised in connection with these and other lines of research into the place of language in the architecture of the mind. So, for example, a key claim made within the core-cognition framework is that language exhibits none of the modular limitations of the core systems that make use of it. How is this to be reconciled with the common assumption that language is a modular system? Moreover, it is standard for Minimalists to assume the existence of substantive constraints that emerge from the systems of thought with which language is assumed to interact. But to what extent is it explanatory to appeal to an antecedent system of thought to explain linguistic phenomena? Could a more radical view of the connection between language and thought be sustained? More generally, we might ask how these and other programs of research should shape our inquiry into language and the mind. Should the philosophy of mind be accorded a larger role in the study of language than it typically is? Should the philosophy of language play a more significant role in the study of the mind?

Important Dates

We invite 1–2 page abstracts on any topic related to the language-mind interface, broadly construed. Send anonymized abstracts to latkins@sfu.ca by January 15, 2015, and include personal information (name, institution, contact information) in your email.

For more information about the conference please visit the conference website or contact the conference organizers: Ashley Atkins (SFU) and James Martin (Princeton/SFU).

Fellowships for the LSA Linguistic Institute

The LSA Institute is being hosted by the University of Chicago this summer, from July 6 to July 31. The LSA provides fellowships to help defray the costs for students who wish to attend the Institute. Here is a description of these fellowships:

Ordinary fellowships provide full tuition for the Institute, and a small number of "named fellowships" provide additional funds. All student members of the LSA (apart from previous fellowship recipients) are eligible to apply.  Non-members may join here.  

To begin the application process, student members may click here (login required) or, if already logged in to the LSA website, click here to access their user profile and then click the large green "Submit Fellowship Application" button.  More information about the Institute and the fellowships is available here. While Institute fellowships are restricted to students, anyone may attend the Institute.

For more information about this year’s LSA Institute, go here.

Workshop on the Morphological, Syntactic and Semantic Aspects of Dispositions

The goal of this workshop is to explore questions about the morpho-syntax, semantics and underlying ontology of words and constructions used to describe dispositions. The central aim of the workshop is to develop a better understanding of how existing and novel insights from different approaches to dispositions can be integrated into a single theory of dispositions and their linguistic descriptions. 

Invited Speakers
Artemis Alexiadou (Stuttgart)

Elena Castroviejo (Madrid)

Ariel Cohen (Ben Gurion)

Bridget Copley (Paris)

Nora Boneh (Jerusalem)

Hans Kamp (Stuttgart)

Marika Lekakou (Ioannina)

John Maier (Cambridge, TBC)

Christopher Piñón (Lille)

Stephan Schmid (Berlin)

Barbara Vetter (Berlin)

We welcome submissions for a 20 minute talk (followed by 10 minutes of discussion) or a poster on any topic relevant to the goals of the workshop (see below). We particularly welcome contributions addressing the linguistic relevance of philosophical insights on dispositions or the philosophical relevance of linguistic insights on dispositions.

All submitted abstracts should be written in English and be limited to two single-spaced pages, complete with examples and bibliography. All texts should fit within two A4 pages, with 2,54 cm/1-inch margins all around. Each abstract should start with the title (centered) at top, above the main text. Use font size 12 throughout (except for examples), preferably in Times or Times New Roman. The abstract should be camera-ready. Authors may submit at most one individual and one co-authored abstract.

Save your abstract as a PDF. Name your abstract with your last name followed by the suffix pdf (e.g., huang.pdf). Submit your abstract via the EasyChair Conference, online submission system:


Please leave your name and affiliation out of the abstract. Please indicate whether your abstract is for a talk, a poster or both.

Deadline for submissions: March 1st, 2015 

Notification of acceptance: March 31st, 2015

Questions to be addressed 
1. What are the truth conditions of dispositional statements?
2. How are these truth conditions determined compositionally?
3. In what ways can dispositions be linguistically expressed?
4. What are linguistic tests for dispositionality?
5. Are there distinct notions of ‘disposition’ between which a linguistic theory of disposition description should distinguish?
6. Among the words that can be used to express dispositionality are nouns, adjectives and verbs. What systematic connections are there between the ways in which different parts of speech do this, in particular between deverbal nouns and adjectives and the underlying verbs?
7. What role do temporal and aspectual sentence constituents play in the verbal expression of dispositions?
8. How do dispositional statements differ from habitual and frequency statements?
9. What relations are there between dispositions and causality?
10. One of the constructions that can be used to describe dispositions are middles. (An example: the German sentence `Dieser Satz liest sich leicht’ (‘This sentence is easy to read’)). Is ‘middle’ a morpho-syntactic or a notional concept? Where do the argument positions of disposition-expressing middles come from? What is the syntax-semantics interface for these constructions?

A more detailed description of the questions the workshop aims to address can be found on the general information page of the workshop:


Satellite meeting of ICPhS 2015

Megan Armstrong writes:

There will be a satellite meeting of ICPhS 2015 on developing an  international prosodic alphabet (IPrA) within the Autosegmental-Metrical framework. The workshop is organized by Sun-Ah Jun, José Ignacio Hualde and Pilar Prieto. More information can be found on the workshop's website: