Oct 202019

I just got home from Oslo, where I had many really interesting interactions with several linguists. One of them was a conversation with fellow visitor Jonathan Bobaljik. We were talking about the relatively well-known observation that for many alleged “syntax-semantics mapping phenomena,” the expected mappings only go through if the syntax independently allows at least two different configurations. As Jonathan helpfully points out, this is an observation that goes back to Grice, if not Jespersen. But just because an observation is “old,” we shouldn’t overlook the consequences it has for contemporary syn-sem theories. And the consequences are very interesting. […]  [read more]

Oct 032019

Here's a thing that I'm sure happens to everyone from time to time:

  1. You read or hear about phenomenon X or generalization X or theoretical proposal X.
  2. Time passes.
  3. You happen upon some new data or a new idea, for which X proves relevant.
  4. However, it turns out that you have imperfect recall of X. Unbeknownst to you, what you have in your head is actually some rejiggered version of X – let's call it X' – which conveniently-and-suspiciously suits your current theoretical or empirical needs. [...]

[read more]

Aug 072019

This is a post about listedness: what is the nature of the idiosyncratic information that is listed in the grammar.

In traditional, lexicalist approaches, the listed atoms were lexical items. A lexical item contained, at minimum, a phonological form, a semantic interpretation, [...]

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Jun 082019

There’s been a fair amount of generative linguistics work over the past 15 years or so that identifies itself as “morphosemantics.” There are several reasons why I don’t think morphosemantics is a coherent notion. In this post, I’d like to detail some of these reasons. You’ve probably heard ~1.5 of them before, though, so if that’s the case feel free to skip ahead as needed.

The =&0=& is conceptual. As 

already discussed on this blog […]  [read more]

Mar 052019

Here is a paper by Canaan Breiss and Bruce Hayes (I will refer to the paper as B&H). To offer a brief summary of B&H’s main empirical point, it shows that the choice of syntactic ‘structure’ (i.e., both the choice of terminals and their arrangement) is probabilistically biased towards avoiding phonotactically problematic sequences (e.g. a sequence of two consecutive sibilants), even when the sequence in question arises across a word boundary. It does so by focusing on a series of well-established phonological constraints (from work on word‑level phonology), and showing that word‑bigrams whose juncture violates these constraints are underattested. This is shown to be the case in a variety of corpora, both written and spoken. Let’s refer to this as

Evidence for Phonologically-Influenced Choice of Syntactic Structure […]  [read more]

Feb 212019

This is another post, much like this one (and very much inspired by it), that is more about professional development / career issues, and less about linguistics. So if this kind of thing interests you less, maybe skip this one.

One thing that academics have to periodically do throughout their careers is write various kinds of “statements” about what they’ve done so far, and what they’re going to do in the future. This starts with your application to grad school. It continues through applications for jobs, both temporary and permanent. And if you’re lucky enough to land a tenure-track job, then it continues through the 3rd year review and into the tenure dossier. (I haven’t gone up for full professorship, but I have no doubt it would be a component there, too.)

There’s something cynical about these documents. Or at least I’ve always felt that way. How the hell am I supposed to know what I’ll be doing even one year from now? Every idea I’ve ever had (whether good or bad; that’s for others to judge) has felt, at the time, like the last idea I’ll ever have. Getting to the next one feels at least as much a matter of blind luck as it does anything else. And so the future-oriented part of these statements has always felt deeply insincere to me. Theoretical science is a creative endeavor; if it wasn’t, it could be mechanized and automated. And creativity is not a top-down, corporate-management-able affair – however much some university administrators enjoy the pretense that it is.

Though these thoughts have been rattling around in my head for years, they were recently made salient by an invitation I received to give a trio of talks somewhere (yes, yes, humblebrag). This primed the question – in my mind, and apparently in the mind of the person inviting me – about whether there would be some unifying theme to these talks beyond “morphosyntax talks given by Omer.” And the slightly amazing thing, from my vantage point, is that it was obvious to the extender of this invitation that there would indeed be such a theme, and they even articulated roughly what they assumed it would be. (EDIT: And their assessment was spot-on, imo!) Of course, these three talks are about research I’ve already done. If you asked me right now what a fourth talk would be about, if I were forced to give one, the honest answer would be that I have no freakin’ clue.

How did we get here? What on earth leads the people evaluating individuals at various career stages to expect those individuals to produce prophecies about fundamental science, a ludicrous idea on the face of it? My two cents is that there are two main forces at work here. First, the broadening and democratization of the field (by which I mean, the not-yet-done-but-gradually-progressing process whereby more and more people have access to a good education) has led to a glut of qualified candidates at every career stage, and evaluators are grasping for something, anything, that will tip the scales one way or another. And in so doing, they (we) succumb to the fallacy that fundamental science can be predicted.

I think the second force, though, is stronger and more pernicious: it’s the grant‑ification of theoretical science. As public funding for universities plummets, admin bloat swallows up much of what remains, and large swaths of the modern university turn to granting agencies (NSF etc.) as a way of plugging the shortfall, there is an expectation that

this is just how it should work now […]  [read more]

Feb 162019

Here’s a nice little thing to ponder. Suppose syntactic computation is bound by some cyclic domains – we can call them “phases” (though I am on record with the opinion that phase theory is a faded facsimile of Subjacency, and many of its more recent developments, a faded facsimile of Barriers). And suppose that we encounter a configuration like (1) in which H is able to access XP but unable to access YP, where XP and YP both seem, as far as we can tell, featurally suited to H’s needs:

(1) H ≫ XP ≫ YP                

(where ‘≫’ represents asymmetric c-command) […]  [read more]

blogpost: Kudos

 Posted by on 01/29/2019  1 Response »
Jan 292019

I just stumbled upon this: ... Notice the "Published in" field: Lisa Selkirk and Angelika Kratzer have made it publicly known that this paper received a rejection in its very first round of review from Language. I don't think it can be overstated how important it is for senior people to share [...]

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