Author Archives: coralwilliam

Schwarzschild in Linguistics, Fri. 4/24 at 3:30pm

Roger Schwarzschild of MIT will be giving a talk in the Linguistics department titled “The Paradox of Mass Plurals” this Friday, 24 April at 3:30pm in ILC N400. Abstract follows. All are welcome.

“The Paradox of Mass Plurals”

The nouns used in (1) below are ‘lexical plurals’.

(1) He keeps the *books*
He gave me bad *directions*.

They contrast with the plurals in (2) below:

(2)  He bought two books.
They went in two different directions.

Other examples of lexical plurals are *coffee-grounds, proceeds, measles,canned-goods, remains, special effects, dregs, fumes*

I adopt the split analysis of plurality (Acquaviva 2008, Lowenstamm 2008, Alexiadou 2011, Kramer 2012) according to which the plural [*s*] in (1) is the realization of n[+PL], a morpheme that nominalizes category-neutral roots.  The [*s*] in (2) is the realization of Num[+PL].  The plurals in (1) and (2) do not block one another, since they are formed from different pieces (compare:  irregular *men* which blocks **mans*).   The meanings of lexical plurals are idiosyncratic — a common feature of words formed from roots, noted by the above cited references. But problems remain.

Lexical plurals are always mass nouns.  Assuming there is some semantic basis to the mass/count distinction, the meanings of lexical plurals are predictable *to some extent* and that needs to be explained.  Moreover, this feature of lexical plurals is not a peculiarity of English. Ojeda (2005), from whom the title of this talk was borrowed unchanged, provides examples of ‘mass plurals’ in Zuni and in Lingala (Bantu).  He further records that “according to Welmers (1973, 159), there is a semantic correlation in the large Bantu family between being a noun that denotes masses or liquids and being a noun that belongs to the plural Class 6.” (see also Taraldsen 2010:fn8 on Nguni). These then are the questions I’ll address:

Q1 Why does the combination of a root and n[+PL] produce a mass noun?

Q2 What, if anything, is plural about the meanings of these nouns?

Q3 Assuming that the idiosyncratic meanings of lexical plurals are encoded in the root, how do we guarantee that this meaning *only*surfaces in the presence of n[+PL] (rather than in any syntactic context that requires a mass meaning)?

– Following Schwarzschild (2011), I’ll argue that simple nouns are  predicates of states. This will allow for two kinds of pluralization,  within a state and among states, corresponding to inner, n[+PL] and outer  Num[+PL] plurals.

– Next, I’ll argue that a state is in the extension of a count noun only  if it is a state with a single participant. It follows, that n[+PL] are non-count.  And, given certain mereotopological assumptions about liquids (Grimm 2012), it will follow that liquid nouns must denote multi-participant states — hence are candidates for n[+PL] marking.

– Finally Q3 has to do with a correlation between word meaning and  morpho-syntactic context. I’ll propose a way to tie these two together  using ideas from Artstein (2004) about focus below the word level.

Kaufmann in Linguistics, Tues. 4/21 at 4:00pm

Magdalena Kaufmann of UConn will be giving a talk in the Linguistics department titled “Embedded imperatives: venturing into the cross-linguistic picture” on Tuesday 21 April at 4:00pm in ILC N400. Abstract follows. All are welcome.

Embedded imperatives: venturing into the cross-linguistic picture

Many languages are taken to have grammatical marking of imperative clauses (verbal morphology, clause type particles). For a long time, the standard assumption had been that such markers cannot occur in embedded sentences  (“Imperatives cannot be embedded”). More recent research has discovered a series of counter-examples to this generalization. At the same time, it remains to be acknowledged that embedding is severely restricted cross-linguistically. Building on, and extending, what I discussed in Kaufmann (2012, ch. 6.1), I investigate patterns in the exceptions to the putative ban on embedded imperatives. I focus on data from English, German, Japanese, Korean, and Slovenian (specifically, the interpretation of the imperative subject), and I suggest an account in terms of clashes between shiftable (in the sense of Schlenker 2003) and unshiftable indexicality. While the talk will focus mostly on imperatives in reported speech, I will discuss some connections to imperative marking in relative clauses and in matrix wh-sentences.

Listgarten at Machine Learning and Friends Lunch, Thurs. 4/16 at 12:00pm

Jennifer Listgarten of Microsoft Research will give a talk titled “Methods for Genome and Epigenome-Wide Association Studies” at the Machine Learning and Friends Lunch this Thursday, 16 April at 12:00pm in CS150. Abstract follows. All are welcome.

“Methods for Genome and Epigenome-Wide Association Studies”

Understanding the genetic underpinnings of disease is important for screening, treatment, drug development, and basic biological insight. Genome-wide associations, wherein individual or sets of genetic markers are systematically scanned for association with disease are one window into disease processes. Naively, these associations can be found by use of a simple statistical test. However, a wide variety of confounders lie hidden in the data, leading to both spurious associations and missed associations if not properly addressed. These confounders include population structure, family relatedness, cell type heterogeneity, and environmental confounders. I will discuss the state-of-the art approaches (based on linear mixed models) for conducting these analyses, in which the confounders are automatically deduced, and then corrected for, by the data and model.

Wagner in Linguistics, Fri. 4/17 at 3:30pm

Michael Wagner of McGill University will give a colloquium talk titled “Additivity and the syntax of ‘even'” in the Linguistics department this Friday, 17 April at 3:30pm in ILC N400. All are welcome. Abstract follows.

Additivity and the syntax of ‘even’
Beaver & Clark (2003, 2010) observe that certain focus operators such as ‘only’ and ‘even’ differ in various ways from focus sensitive operators such as ‘always’. This talk presents analysis that derives at least some of these differences from a difference in their syntax: ‘only’ takes two syntactic arguments, a focus constituent which can be of any type, and a second argument, which has to compose with the first to form a proposition (following similar syntactic proposals in Rooth 1985, Mccawley 1995, Krifka 1996). The distribution of ‘only’ is further constrained by a constraint that assures that the size of the focus constituent must minimized (potentially motivated semantically, as proposed in Wagner 2006). Adverbs like ‘always’, by contrast, operate over a single argument.

A challenges to this view is the syntax of ‘even’, which seem to place it between the two categories of focus operators. We can get a better understanding of the syntax of ‘even’ once we control for whether ‘even’ is used additively or not. Whether ‘even’ carries an additive presupposition remains controversial. While Horn (1969), Karttunen and Peters (1979), Wilkinson (1996) and many others have argued that it does, Stechow (1991), Krifka (1992) and Rullmann (1997) reached the opposite conclusion. This talk identifies a new syntactic generalization about when ‘even’ triggers an additive presupposition, which provides further evidence for the analysis of the syntax of focus operators advocated here. It also reconciles the contradictory findings about additivity in the earlier literature.  The analysis offers a new perspective on syntactic constraints on the distribution of related focus operators in German noted in Jacobs (1983) and Büring & Hartmann (2001).

Hyman in Linguistics, Fri. 4/3 at 3:30pm

Larry Hyman will be giving a colloquium talk titled “Multiple argument marking in Bantoid” in the Linguistics department this Friday, 3 April at 3:30pm in ILC N400 (abstract follows). All are welcome.

“Multiple argument marking in Bantoid”

Given the typological similarities between the geographically and genetically distant Atlantic, Kordofanian and (Narrow) Bantu languages, it is generally assumed that early Niger-Congo had a synthetic structure with extensive noun class marking and derivational verb extensions (causative, applicative, etc.). However, other Niger-Congo languages show varying degrees of analyticity, some coming close to the endpoint of one morpheme per word. Much of the variation is quite clearly areal. In this paper I am concerned both with the mechanisms of change that lead from syntheticity to analyticity in the Nigeria-Cameroon borderland area, as well as the different strategies that are adopted as these languages lose their verbal extensions. The Bantoid languages I report on are typologically quite diverse. I am particularly concerned with what has replaced dative (recipient, benefactive) and instrumental applicative marking on verbs which historically allowed multiple object noun phrases (send-APPL chief letter, cook-APPL child rice, cut-APPL knife meat). The languages of this area show a remarkable variation: (i) Some languages allow multiple objects (typically with restrictions), while others do not (including some which have relic verb extensions); (ii) some have replaced verb extensions with serial verbs (take knife cut meat give child), others use adpositions (cut meat with knife for child). Still others have adopted multiple strategies for marking such arguments. In this study I sort out these strategies and attempt a micro-mapping of who has developed what where—and grammaticalizing from what (nouns? verbs?)? I will show that even adpositional languages have extensive verb serialization which they exploit for other functions (aspectual, directional, comparatives etc.), thereby raising the question of why only some Bantoid languages use serial verbs for argument marking. Although information is lacking for many languages, there does appear to be a southerly band of languages which mark datives and instruments with serial verbs. Information from Nigeria suggests that a similar distinction separates much of Lower Cross-River from Upper Cross River languages as well.

Rossi at Machine Learning and Friends Lunch, Thurs. 3/26 at 12pm

Francesca Rossi of the University of Padova, Italy will be giving a talk at the Machine Learning and Friends lunch titled “Probabilistic Conditional Preferences” (Joint work with C. Cornelio, U. Grandi, J. Goldsmith, N. Mattei, and K. B. Venable) this Thursday, 26 March at 12pm in CS150. The abstract follows.

“Probabilistic Conditional Preferences”

Preferences are ubiquitous in our everyday life. We use them to take all our decisions, either in isolation or together with others. They change over time and they get affected by our relationship with friends. We sometimes describe them explicitly but most often we show them implicitly via our actions (like clicks, follows, tweets, blogs, choices). Being able to model them faithfully and reason with them efficiently is essential in every intelligent environment.

Several formalisms exist to handle preferences of various kinds: qualitative, quantitative, conditional, etc. However, they usually assume preferences to be certain and do not provide help for describing and reasoning with uncertain preferences. Uncertainty may be present in a single agent setting, where an individual is not sure about its preferences or some noise is present, or also in a multi-agent setting, where several individuals may have conflicting preferences and uncertainty may be used to reconcile them. Probabilistic CP-nets (PCP-nets) are a formalism to model conditional qualitative preferences with probabilistic uncertainty. Under reasonable restrictions on the topology of their dependency graph, it is computationally easy to perform various tasks in PCP-nets. Thus they provide an efficient tool to model and reason with preferences. In this talk, I will describe PCP-nets and how to respond to optimality and dominance queries over them. I will then advocate for the need of a logical language to model them, and hint at their possible use in various scenarios. I will also compare them to other frameworks and will discuss preference elicitation/learning issues.

Hunter in Linguistics, Thurs. 3/26 at 9:30am

Tim Hunter of the University of Minnesota will be giving a talk titled “On Finding New Ways to Test Old Theories” this Thursday, 26 March at 9:30 am in ILC N400. The abstract follows.

“On Finding New Ways to Test Old Theories”

This talk will consist of two loosely-connected halves.

The point of departure for the first part is the observation of a surprising exception to the phenomenon known as “vehicle change”. These observations have direct consequences for our understanding of the relationship between ellipsis and movement. The generalization that emerges can also be used to construct novel tests that bear on the island-insensitivity of constructions like sluicing, and on whether the EPP is active inside ellipsis sites.

In the second part, I will present an approach to integrating minimalist syntax with information-theoretic sentence complexity metrics, from which it follows that two grammars that are extensionally equivalent — two grammars which produce the same structures, and differ only in what primitive derivational operations they use to build those structures — can nonetheless give rise to distinct predictions concerning sentence comprehension difficulty. This provides a linking hypothesis that connects sentence processing observations to subtle questions about the derivational operations that comprise human grammars (merge, move, re-merge, agree, etc.).