Author Archives: Michael

Workshop on modification features UMass linguists

A workshop on modification that took place November 26-27th, was organized by current visitor Camelia Bleotu and faculty member Deborah Foucault. Three of our undergrads were invited to present: Tyler Poisson, Sarah Kim, and Mirella Vladova. The invited speaker was Tom Roeper.

WORKSHOP ON MODIFICATION (organizat de Adina Camelia Bleotu & Deborah Foucault)
Tyler Poisson (UMass Amherst): The Modificational Possessive: natural, intuitional, and experimental evidence for a syntactic analysis of generic possessives.
Sarah Kim (UMass Amherst): Acquisition of Exhaustivity for the English Definite Article in Speakers of Languages with Article Absence
Mirella Vladova (UMass Amherst): A Look Into Children’s Priority in Genitive and Prepositional Recursion.
Ioana-Amalia Luciu (University of Bucharest) & Adina Camelia Bleotu (University of Bucharest, ZAS): How Are Size, Age, Shape and Color Adjectives Ordered in English and Romanian? An Experimental Investigation
Daniela-Gabriela Truşcǎ (University of Bucharest) & Adina Camelia Bleotu (University of Bucharest, ZAS): An Experimental Investigation of the Ordering of Quality, Size and Color Adjectives in English and Romanian
 Vorbitor invitat:Tom Roeper  (UMass Amherst)How to put something inside itself

Ukrainian visiting linguist Khrystyna Kunets featured

The Daily Hampshire Gazette featured our recent visiting Fulbrighter from Ukraine, Khrystyna Kunets: “Normally, Ukrainian linguist Khrystyna Kunets spends her workday like many academics do, teaching and researching topics to which she’s devoted her professional career, such as semantics, syntax and translation studies…”

Living Languages – new journal from UMass

The first international, multilingual journal entirely dedicated to indigenous and minoritized language revitalization and sustainability was launched at UMass last month. LIVING LANGUAGES – LENGUAS VIVAS – LÍNGUAS VIVAS is an open access journal hosted by ScholarWorks@UMassAmherst The journal’s first volume can be found here: 

The editors-in-chief are our colleague Luiz Amaral (Spanish and Portuguese Studies) and Gabriela Pérez Báez, and the editorial board includes Michael Becker. The journal’s three launch events took place February 21, International Mother Language Day, 2022 being the first year of the International Indigenous Languages Decade (2022-2032).  You can watch the events on YouTube using the following links:

Gouskova colloquium Friday Feb 18 at 3:30

Maria Gouskova (New York University) will present “Morpheme Structure Constraints Revisited” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday February 18, by Zoom. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Most constraint-based frameworks embrace Richness of the Base: the assumption that no interesting generalizations are stated as constraints on the lexicon (a.k.a. Morpheme Structure Constraints, or MSCs). The main argument against MSCs is that they introduce duplication into the theory. When the same constraints define the shapes of morphemes and restrict derived words, the latter, surface-oriented constraints should be sufficient. Unlike MSCs, surface-oriented constraints are less abstract, and are independently necessary. This echoes earlier criticisms of MSCs: they are redundant, abstract, and unlearnable.

In this talk, I revisit MSCs in the context of Russian voicing. Russian voicing was Morris Halle’s (1959) original battleground against structuralism—which he, incidentally, also criticized for having a duplication problem. By treating contrastive oppositions differently from non-contrastive ones, structuralism fails to capture the generalization that Russian voicing assimilation works on all obstruents alike, whether they contrast for voicing phonemically (/b/ vs. /p/) or are obligatorily voiceless (e.g., /tʃ/). My concern is not the undergoers; rather, it is the lack of certain contrasts predicted by the popular Positional Faithfulness account of voicing neutralization in Optimality Theory (Lombardi 1999 and many others). I will show that even though this account captures the phonetics and typology of voicing contrasts, it has a problem with Russian. There are several alternatives, but all encounter some kind of a duplication problem. I will argue for MSCs against consonants such as the affricate /dʒ/ in the lexicon. Another alternative would include a host of markedness constraints covering positions where [dʒ] does not occur, but this move introduces a duplication into the analysis: the phonology of certain consonants must be handled twice. These constraints, moreover, are neither phonetically grounded nor formally sensible; all they do is plug the holes in the analysis.

My account, like everyone else’s, has a duplication problem. But unlike other analyses, it explains facts such as the handling of loanword [dʒ], which is borrowed as a CC cluster in Russian, and which behaves as though it is never represented as an affricate in the system. I conclude with a discussion of a learnability proposal for MSCs within a constraint-based framework, Minimum Description Length (Rasin & Katzir 2016). I discuss some complications that arise in applying Minimum Description Length to learning certain kinds of hidden structure, especially structure that allows words to be shorter and grammars to be simpler

Buccola colloquium Friday November 19 at 3:30

Brian Buccola (Michigan State University) will present “Higher-order plurality without conjunction” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 19, in ILC S331. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

A simple DP like “the animals” refers to a plurality, while a DP conjunction like “the cats and the dogs” refers, at least prima facie, to a structured, or higher-order, plurality — that is, a plurality of pluralities. A great deal of debate has focused on how to model this additional structure (Link 1984; Landman 1989; Krifka 1991; Schwarzschild 1996), with renewed interest in the typology of readings that DP conjunctions may give rise to (Grimau 2020). In this talk, I will present data indicating that higher-order pluralities can sometimes, but not always, arise even in the absence of conjunction, a result that challenges two longstanding theories of plurality. I will sketch how these two theories can be extended to capture the data, and the diverging predictions they make. Time permitting, I will also discuss how these findings bear on recent work on higher-order readings of questions (Xiang 2021; Fox 2020; Gentile and Schwarz 2020). (Based on joint work with Jeremy Kuhn and David Nicolas.)


Fox, Danny (2020). “Partition by Exhaustification: Towards a Solution to Gentile and Schwarz’s Puzzle”. Cambridge, MA. url:

Gentile, Francesco and Bernhard Schwarz (2020). “Higher-Order Quantification and Free Choice in How Many-Questions”. In: Sinn und Bedeutung. Vol. 24. Osnabrück, Germany, pp. 205–222. url:

Grimau, Berta (2020). “Structured Plurality Reconsidered”. In: Journal of Semantics 38.1, pp. 145–193. doi:

Krifka, Manfred (1991). “How to Get Rid of Groups, Using DRT: A Case for Discourse-Oriented Semantics”. In: Texas Linguistics Forum. Vol. 32, pp. 71–109.

Landman, Fred (1989). “Groups, I”. In: Linguistics and Philosophy 12.5, pp. 559–605. doi: BF00627774.

Link, Godehard (1984). “Hydras: On the Logic of Relative Constructions with Multiple Heads”. In: Varieties of Formal Semantics: Proceedings of the Fourth Amsterdam Colloquium. Dordrecht, Holland: Foris Publications. Reprinted in Link 1998, pp. 77–88.

Link, Godehard (1998). Algebraic Semantics in Language and Philosophy. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.

Schwarzschild, Roger (1996). Pluralities. Dordrecht, Holland: Kluwer.

Xiang, Yimei (2021). “Higher-Order Readings of Wh-Questions”. In: Natural Language Semantics 29, pp. 1–45. doi:

Mack colloquium Friday November 12 at 3:30

Jennifer Mack (Department of Communication Disorders and Graduate Program in Neuroscience and Behavior, UMass Amherst) will present “Comprehending speakers with aphasia: What are the effects of aphasia education?” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 12, in ILC S331. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Aphasia is a language disability caused by damage to the brain (most commonly a stroke) that affects over 2 million people in the US, resulting in difficulty in communicating one’s thoughts even though intelligence remains intact. Despite the prevalence and societal impacts of aphasia, fewer than 10% of US adults know what aphasia is. Many people with aphasia (PWA) find low public knowledge of aphasia to be one of the most challenging aspects of living with aphasia, and a substantial barrier to communicating successfully. However, no research has examined the effects of education about aphasia on the ability to communicate successfully with PWA. In this talk, I will discuss a new line of research investigating the effects of aphasia education on non-aphasic listeners’ comprehension of speakers with aphasia. First, I will synthesize two relevant lines of prior research: (1) the communication disorders literature on how education of listeners impacts their perception of speakers with communication disabilities and (2) the psycholinguistic literature examining how language comprehension adapts to atypical speech/language input. Then, I will present preliminary results from an eye-tracking experiment testing whether aphasia education impacts listeners’ online comprehension of a speaker with aphasia. Finally, I will discuss potential implications of this work for aphasia education campaigns as well as understanding how the language comprehension system adapts to neurologically diverse speakers.

Akkuș colloquium Friday November 5 at 3:30

Our own Faruk Akkuș will present “Cross-referencing oblique arguments in Kurdish varieties” (joint work with Mohammed Salih and David Embick) in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 5, in an unexpected location: ILC S331. That’s neither ILC N400, nor Zoom. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

This study examines the system of argument indexation patterns in various Iranian languages with split-ergativity, focusing on Standard (Sulimaniyah) Sorani (SSK), Garmiani Sorani (GK) and Laki varieties. Our analysis of these patterns identifies a hitherto understudied Oblique/Oblique alignment system in GK, and has a number of implications for how phi-features are realized.

Focusing on the indexing effects shown by a certain type of possessor, along with the prepositional-arguments of ditransitives, we demonstrate that such effects are sensitive to abstract case features, rather than an alignment split per se (or avoidance of clitic-stacking). We also argue that the indexing patterns suggest an indirect relationship between morpho-syntactic operations and morpho-phonological realization, thus Sorani provides arguments against a substantive “clitic versus agreement” dichotomy. “Agreement” forms are sometimes moved clitics, and “clitic” forms are sometimes the result of Agree.

UMass linguists and alumni at AMP 2021

This year’s Annual Meetings on Phonology (AMP) will be zoomed from Toronto, October 1–3. The Annual Meetings on Phonology began as Phonology 2013 here at UMass.

Current students and faculty will present talks and posters:

Our alumni will be presenting as well:

Summer Activity at the Center for the Study of African American Language

Fund for Teachers Fellow (2021) Brittanee Rolle, a 12th grade English teacher at Butler College Prep (of Noble Network of Charter Schools) on the South Side of Chicago, IL, spent time at the Center for the Study of African American Language (CSAAL) in June. According to the mission statement, Fund for Teachers strengthens instruction by investing in outstanding teachers’ self- determined professional growth and development in order to support student success, enrich their own practice, and strengthen their schools and communities. Ms. Rolle received a grant to learn about ways in which professors, museums, and classroom teachers have developed strategies to embrace and explore African American English (AAE) while teaching Standard American English. Her philosophy of education is to not demand that children of color give up what they are to become something else, yet to give them the tools to demand the world to make room for them. During her time at CSAAL, Ms. Rolle engaged in discussions about linguistic approaches to the study of AAE, and she explored ways linguistic descriptions of AAE could be useful in classroom practice, especially in projects, lessons, and instruction in literature. During her visit, Ms. Rolle met with three CSAAL research assistants and linguistics majors, Dan DeGenaro, Samuel Lederer, and Chloe Ostiguy, via Zoom to hear about some of the child and adult AAE data they have been analyzing. Ms. Rolle also attended a session with Professor Kristine Yu (Linguistics), who talked about a current sounds project on the tense/aspect marker BIN in AAE and introduced some apps and software that can be used in classrooms to project visual illustrations of differences in pitch patterns and contours that might be associated with different constructions.

Founded in 2006, CSAAL in Humanities and Fine Arts is a center of excellence in research on the various dimensions of African American language and a resource for communities across the country, with a commitment to furnishing information and training to teachers and other professionals who address issues of language and dialect used by children in school and pre-school environments.

Incoming class of 2021

We are delighted to introduce to you our very accomplished incoming class! Here they are:

  • Özge Bakay, who says:
    “I am Özge (she/her) from Istanbul, Turkey (although originally from Bursa, known as “the green city of Turkey”). I mainly work on Turkish and Laz and I really enjoy psycholinguistics and prosody. Also, I can’t help thinking about how to learn more stuff about computational linguistics, especially during the times when I am not even supposed to be thinking such as during shavasana, which is basically at the end of my every single yoga practice.”
  • Peyton Deal, who says:
    “I’m Peyton (he/him), and I’m from Minnesota. I work mainly on Māori and other Polynesian languages. Several of my interests are phonology, phonetics, metathesis, and vowel hiatus. My hobbies include brutalist architecture and nature walks, and I like to read poetry, fiction, and sci-fi.”
  • Eva Neu, who says:
    “I’m Eva and I focus on syntax and the syn-sem interface. I did my undergrad in Berlin before getting a Master’s in Linguistics and a British accent at UCL. I like dance and yoga, continental philosophy and obsessing about punctuation. My pronouns are she/her.”
  • Breanna Pratley, who says:
    “Hi! I’m Breanna! I come from a small town in Ontario, Canada whose slogan is “It’s worth the drive”. I work on psycholinguistics, formal syntax, and their interface. I also like glitter, dinosaurs, and overenthusiastically decorating my planner. My pronouns are she/her.”