01 March 2015

Eric Bakovic visits department

Eric Bakovic will be visiting the department Thursday and Friday. He will be giving the department colloquium on Friday at 3:30 in N400. The title of his talk is "Ensuring the proper determination of identity: a model of possible constraints.” An abstract follows.

Some phonological patterns can be described as sufficient identity avoidance, where 'sufficiently identical' means 'necessarily identical with respect to all but some specific feature(s)'. The first part of the talk addresses this question: why are specific features ignored for the purposes of determining sufficient identity? In previous work (Bakovic 2005, Bakovic & Kilpatrick 2006, Pajak & Bakovic 2010, Brooks et al. 2013ab), we have found that patterns of sufficient identity avoidance where a specific feature F is ignored also involve F-assimilation in the same contexts. Direct reference to sufficient identity is thus unnecessary: sufficient identity is indirectly avoided because F-assimilation would otherwise be expected, resulting in total identity. Avoiding sufficient identity without assimilation is the better option, as predicted by the minimal violation property of Optimality Theory. This analysis predicts rather than stipulates the features that will be ignored for the purposes of determining sufficient identity. (Several corollary consequences of the analysis will also be discussed in the talk.) The explanatory value of the analysis, however, is predicated on the absolute non-existence of constraints directly penalizing all-but-F identity, which could be active independently of F-assimilation. The second part of the talk addresses this question: how can such constraints be ruled out formally? I propose a deterministic model of constraint construction and evaluation that results in just the types of constraints necessary for the analysis above. More broadly, the proposed model is intended as a contribution to our formal understanding of what a 'possible constraint' is.

Jyoti Iyer in Syntax Workshop

Jyoti Iyer will be presenting some of her work in the Syntax Workshop on Thursday at 10AM in N451.

Vincent Homer in Leipzig

Vincent Homer is an invited speaker at the session on “Varieties of Positive Polarity Items” at DGfS in Leipzig this week. His talk, entitled “Wide-scope taking PPIs” is on Thursday, March 5. You can learn more here.

Trivial WHISC

In recognition of the high levels of scholarship held by the members of the UMass linguistics community, as well as the recognized prowess in games of trivia that some have earned, WHISC introduces a linguistic trivia question.

The Question:

Who wrote the following passage and when was it written?

Language, as I remarked earlier, is like seeing and hearing in that it can’t be taught or learned. Who has ever seen anybody teach language to a child? Some of you may have experienced how hopeless it is to teach language to children, as has been tried occasionally. I am sure that anybody who has ever had the opportunity to observe a child between the age of two and four was surprised about the sudden use of a word or a word form. We rarely know where the child got it from. The child grabbed it on some occasion or other; and grabbing means creating.  – We thus shouldn’t talk about learning of language by children. If there isn’t any teaching, there isn’t any learning either. What we do with children to lead them towards language is exactly what a gardener does with a seed from which he wants to produce a plant: we provide them with the necessary conditions for growth, namely human society. The gardener doesn’t truly make plants grow. Likewise, we do not teach children how to speak. A flower grows following the laws of nature. In the same way, language is generated in the consciousness of a child following the laws of the mind.

Send your responses to WHISC!

Symposium on Linguistic Inequality on Friday

Linguistic Inequality: Language and Power in the Americas 
March 6, 2015

Cape Cod Lounge, Student Union

Symposium Schedule: 

9:00am-9:15am: Breakfast and Introductions

9:15am-10:45am: Jennifer Leeman, Associate Professor of Spanish Linguistics, George Mason University, “Inequality and the Representation of Latin@s in the Era of School Reform: Accent-Based Discrimination in Arizona”

10:45am-11:00am: Break

11:00am-12:30pm: Nelson Flores, Assistant Professor of Educational Linguistics, University of Pennsylvania, “From Social Transformation to Official Antiracism: The Unexamined Whiteness of Bilingual Education”

12:30pm-1:30pm: Lunch

1:30pm-3:00pm: José Del Valle, Professor of Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian Literatures and Languages, City University of New York, “Post-Political Language Policies and the Erasure of Inequality”

UMass at GLOW

The program for GLOW 2015, which will take place in Paris this April, has become available and UMass will be there. Ethan Poole and Stefan Keine will be presenting their paper “Intervention in tough-constructions,” and Coral Hughto, Joe Pater and Robert Staubs will be presenting their paper “Grammatical agent-based modeling of typology.” UMass alumnus Winnie Lechner is presenting his paper with coauthors Spathas, Alexiadou and Anagnostopoulou “On deriving the typology of repetition and restitution,” and UMass alumnus Keir Moulton is presenting his paper with Nino Grillo “Mismatching Pseudo-Relatives Describe Event Kinds.” You can learn more here.

Tom Roeper doesn't go to Brazil, but Luiz Amaral does

Tom Roeper writes:

In unrewardingly dramatic fashion,  I managed to fail to get on a plane  because of a nosebleed, supposed to go with Luiz Amaral (UMass Spanish dept) to the first meeting  of Abralin 2015 (the Brazilian LSA) near Indian villages in Belem, deep in the Amazon,.  Then after a heroic effort (in my estimation) to get up at 5AM to deliver my talk by skype, the technology failed, but nonetheless, Luiz managed to very successfully present the powerpoint for me on “Is there a recursion trigger?  Adapting Merge, Search, Label to an Acquisition Model” where we also presented a video made by Anca Sevcenco, just visiting at UMass, of our recent experiments at the Holyoke children’s museum. 

The talk was at  a round table on recursion organized by Marcus Maia, a visitor at UMass, where he presented parsing work on recursion in Karaja.  A talk by Luiz on recursive genitives in Wapachana, another by Uli Sauerland, a UMass visitor (also interrupted by technical problems), and Suzi Lima  on her work on Numerals, were given.  This week Luiz is giving a minicourse on  pedagogical grammars, Suzi is giving a course on Experimental Semantics, but mine on adapting acquisition methods to fieldwork unfortunately won’t happen.

Final Call for Papers: Workshop on 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)

Questions to be addressed by the Workshop:
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
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?

For a more detailed outline of the Workshop, please consult the Workshop


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. 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.

Extended Deadline for submissions: March 8, 2015
Notification of acceptance: March 31, 2015

Contact: dispositions.workshop@gmail.com


Second Call: BCGL 8

CRISSP (KU Leuven) and UiL OTS (Universiteit Utrecht), as part of the joint NWO/FWO project ‘The Syntax of Idioms’, are proud to present the 8th Brussels Conference on Generative Linguistics: The grammar of idioms.
Workshop description
According to the Fregean principle of compositionality, the meaning of a complex expression is determined by the meanings of its parts and the rules used to combine them. This principle is flouted in the case of idioms (cf. Katz & Postal 1963; Fraser 1970; Katz 1973; Chomsky 1980; Machonis 1985; Schenk 1994; Grégoire 2009; among others). Every language contains idiomatic expressions which, by definition, denote a meaning that is not simply derivable from (the combination of) the meanings of the individual lexical items of that expression. A canonical example is kick the bucket, the meaning of which has nothing to do with either kicking or buckets; it simply means ‘to die’. The existence of such expressions within natural language gives rise to many questions which have puzzled linguists for years, such as how these phrases are formed syntactically, whether they are restricted to certain structural domains, or how it is that we are able to deduce the idiomatic interpretation of such phrases despite there being no clues as to their meanings within any of the individual lexical items that comprise these expressions.    
The purpose of this workshop is to discuss and explore the phenomenon of idioms with the aim of gaining better theoretical and empirical insights into how such expressions are able to occur within natural language, and what sorts of rules of language they are governed by. More specifically, issues that we would like to see addressed at this workshop include, but are not limited to, the following: 

  • The “size” and building blocks of idioms: Is there a size limitation to idioms? That is, aside from verbs and their arguments, can idioms be comprised of any other syntactic material? Can they also be built from tense, modality, aspect, or passive voice, for instance, or material from the CP domain? Are there nominal, adjectival or prepositional idiomatic expressions besides the more familiar verbal/clausal ones? What implications might this have for the theory of idiomatic constructions (cf. Chomsky 1980, 1981; Marantz 1984; McGinnis 2002; Svenonius 2005; Hoeksema 2010; Harwood 2013, 2014)?
  • The opacity and transparency of idioms: How do opacity and compositionality interact in idioms? Are they completely frozen structureless atoms or are they built up by the same (or similar) syntactic and morphological structure building mechanisms that are responsible for non-idiomatic expressions? What is the internal organization and makeup of idioms? What is their external syntax, i.e. how does material contained within the idiom interact with material that is not part of the idiom (cf. Makkai 1972; DiSciullo & Williams 1987; Marantz 1984; Fellbaum 1993; Nunberg et al. 1994; Van Gestel 1995; Ifill 2002)?
  • Idioms and syntactic diversity: Can we attest micro- and macro-variation in the syntax of idiomatic expressions and if so, where? Do different languages allow different sizes of idioms and/or different syntactic behaviour of idioms?  What implications does this have for the theory of idioms in particular, and what does this tell us about cross-linguistic variation in general (cf. Everaert 1996; Hoeksema 1996, 2010; Hoekstra 2009; Fellbaum 2014; Fellbaum et al. 2003)?
  • How should idioms be defined? Where does one draw the line between an idiom and simply a fixed expression such as a well-known metaphor? Does a discontinuous idiom constitute an idiomatic expression in the same way that a continuous idiom does? Should opaque/non-compositional idioms be considered apart from transparent/compositional idioms? Should idioms that exhibit syntactic or lexical flexibility be considered alike with inflexible idioms (cf. Chomsky 1981; Nunberg et al. 1994; O’Grady 1998; Ifill 2002; Svenonius 2005; Grégoire 2009; Hoeksema 2010)?


  • The meaning of idioms: Exactly how is the meaning of an idiomatic construction derived when it follows in no (obvious) way from the meanings of any of the individual lexical items that comprise it? Are idioms stored in our mental lexicon, and if so, how (cf. Chafe 1968; Bach 1974; Fellbaum 1993; Nunberg et al. 1994; Jackendoff 1997; Marantz 1997a,b; Ifill 2002; Svenonius 2005; Grégoire 2009)?
  • How are idiomatic expressions processed? What is the role of literal processing during the interpretation of idiomatic expressions? Can idiomatic meaning be accessed directly, or is literal processing crucial in the access of idiomatic meaning? What is the role of structural, lexical, and contextual factors in the retrieval, interpretation of, and processing of idiomatic expressions? How do syntactic compatibility, lexical compatibility, and contextual expectations influence real-time processing of idioms and their non-idiomatic counterparts (cf. Swinney and Cutler 1979; Cacciari and Tabossi 1988; Gibbs & Nayak 1989; Cutting and Bock 1997; Sprenger, Levelt & Kempen 2006; Holsinger 2011, to appear)?
Diachrony and Acquisition
  • Diachronically speaking, when and how does an expression become an idiom? How does an idiom form?
  • How are idioms acquired by L1 learners of a language (cf. Elbers 1989)?
Invited speakers

Christiane D. Fellbaum (Princeton)
Louise McNally (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
Manfred Sailer (Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main)
Abstract guidelines
Abstracts should not exceed two pages, including data, references and diagrams. Abstracts should be typed in at least 11-point font, with one-inch margins (letter-size; 8½ inch by 11 inch or A4) and a maximum of 50 lines of text per page. Abstracts must be anonymous and submissions are limited to 2 per author, at least one of which is co-authored. Only electronic submissions will be accepted. Please submit your abstract using the EasyChair link for BCGL8: https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=bcgl8
 Important dates
  • First call for papers: January 21, 2015
  • Second call for papers: February 15, 2015
  • Abstract submission deadline: March 15, 2015
  • Notification of acceptance: April 15, 2015
  • Conference: June 4-5, 2015
Conference location

CRISSP – KU Leuven Brussels Campus
Warmoesberg 26
1000 Brussels
Organizing institutions

Center for Research in Syntax, Semantics & Phonology (CRISSP) – KU Leuven
Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS (UiL OTS) – Universiteit Utrecht
Contact us by email: bcgl8@crissp.be