Issue 2013/01/18

Birner Colloq Today

Betty Birner (Northern Illinois) will be giving a colloquium today at 3:30 in the Greenberg room. Her talk is entitled: ‘How is inversion like an allophone?’ If history is any guide, there will be a social at 5 (following the talk), so come on out for both!

How is inversion like an allophone?
By the same reasoning that leads us to posit abstract phonemes with contextually conditioned allophones, we can discern abstract syntactic constructions defined by a single discourse function but instantiated by distinct ‘alloforms’ conditioned by their syntactic environment. I argue that inversion and by-phrase passives in English constitute one such pair of alloforms, based on shared functional constraints and complementary distribution. I propose that two subject postposing constructions in Italian constitute another set based on similar evidence. I moreover argue that, as with phonemes, minimal pairs of syntactic constructions may be found which differ in a single feature and have correspondingly distinct discourse functions, and also that the mapping of syntactic forms into more abstract constructions is language-specific. Finally, I report on ongoing research pointing to a possible new analysis of English inversion as an alloform of two distinct abstract constructions.

Paster Paper Discussion for P&P

Calling all soundies! The Phonetics and Phonology workshop will be discussing Mary Paster’s (Pomona) new paper on productive processes and historical resdiue in phonology. Take a look here (the PDF is in a link to the upper left), and come to the Greenberg room at 12:15 today.

CrISP Meeting on Tuesday

The Crosslinguistic Investigations in Syntax-P, a collaborative research group with UC Santa Cruz, is meeting at 5:15 on Tuesday (1/22) in the chair’s office to discuss organizational matters. Come and bring any ideas you have about things you’d like to read and/or present.

Barker at Joint CoCoLangCog Lab Meeting Tuesday

If you haven’t had enough abbreviations lately, there will be a joint CoCoLangCog lab meeting on Tuesday at noon in Jorday 102. Chris Barker from NYU will be giving a talk on “Evaluation order and binding in natural language”.

Order matters for quantificational binding in natural language: “Everyone^i loves his_i mother” has a reading on which the quantifier binds the pronoun, in which case the sentence expresses a general thought about filial love. But “His_i mother loves everyone^i” does not have a bound reading, and can only express a thought about a single saintly woman (this contrast is known as `crossover’). Apparently, a quantifier must precede a pronoun in some sense before it can bind the pronoun. But the relevant notion of precedence is not linear order: in “The relative of his_i that everyone^i loves the most”, the pronoun linearly precedes the quantifier, yet binding is possible. We propose that the relevant notion is *evaluation order*, and we adapt techniques from the theory of computer programming languages in order to make this notion precise and explicit. The result is a competence grammar in which it is possible to talk about the order in which expressions are processed.

Sociolunch Wednesday

Come to the Greenberg room at noon next Wednesday (1/23) for the first Sociolunch of the quarter. This week’s meeting topic will be Language and Place, and Kate Geenberg will lead the discussion.


To all of the following:

  • Annie Zaenen, who had this Festschrift published in her honor. Many current and former Stanford folks contributed!
  • Brad Davidson (PhD, 1998), who over a year ago was promoted to General Manager at Ogilvy CommonHealth Behavioral Insights, a division of Ogilvy and Mather. CommonHealth’s work is healthcare communications, an area Brad delved into in his dissertation, Interpreting Medical Discourse: A Study of Communication in a Hospital Clinic. Read more here.
  • Janneke Van Hofwegen, who received the 2013 Presidential Honorary Membership Award at the American Dialect Society Annual meeting at the LSA in Boston – awarded to students who have “promise of continuing contributions to our field and to the American Dialect Society”.

Look Who’s Talking

Cleo Condoravdi is giving a talk this weekend at USC’s Conference on Linguistics for Metaphysics.