Stony Brook Linguistics at NELS 48 (October 27-29)

Conference: The 48th Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 48) 
Date: October 27-29, 2017
Location:  Reykjavík, Iceland

Our department is doubly represented at this year's NELS in Reykjavík, Iceland. Extending recent results from his paper in Phonology, Thomas Graf is giving a talk on the complexity of phonological locality conditions in the special session Locality relations in phonology. Hongchen Wu, Richard Larson, Yaobin Liu, Lei Liu, and Gary Mar will present their joint work on Mandarin quantifier as a poster in the general session.

Abbreviated abstracts are shown below, and full 2-page abstracts can be found in the conference program.

Thomas Graf: Locality domains and phonological c-command over strings

A lot of recent work in computational phonology seeks to pinpoint the complexity of phonotactic dependencies from a formal perspective. Numerous mathematical classes have been proposed, but Graf (2017) subsumes them all under the umbrella of interval-based strictly piecewise dependencies (IBSP). IBSP treats all phonological structures as strings that are subject to non-local constraints. Every local dependency is reanalyzed as a non-local constraint that is restricted to a locality domain of bounded size. If all phonotactic dependencies are IBSP, then we should only encounter phenomena that are either local or non-local, but not both. I show that this prediction is not borne out: several attested phenomena combine local and non-local information. However, a more relaxed notion of locality domains allows IBSP to produce these patterns while avoiding overgeneration. The make-up of these relaxed locality domains bears a striking resemblance to c-command in syntax, supporting the idea that phonology and syntax may be closely related on a computational level.

Hongchen Wu et al.: Rethinking quantifier scope in Mandarin

It has been claimed that Mandarin is a scope rigid language, because unlike English simple transitives (‘three students speak every language.’) with both surface and inverse scope available, Mandarin counterparts generally show surface scope only. However, in other contexts (e.g. relative clauses), scope freezing disappears, just like the corresponding English counterparts. Based on Wu (2017)’s proposal that the topic-prominent property of Mandarin meets the eye for Mandarin quantifier scope interpretation, we suggest that Mandarin transitives are identical to those of English up to TP, but contain an additional, higher TopP projection, to whose Spec Mandarin subjects typically raise. Once subjects move to TopP position, a position with no truth-value content, neither optional quantifier lowering of the subjects or raising of the objects can be applied; hence Mandarin trainsitves with only surface scope available are expected under Fox (2000)’s scope theory. This account also predicts that (i) in clausal environments where TopP is unavailable, Mandarin transitives should show quantifier scope ambiguity; (ii) ceteris paribus scope freezing in Mandarin should be confined to subjects and objects. Directs objects and PP objects should show scope permutation; (iii) quantified subjects understood as non-topical should allow for inverse scope; and (iv) Mandarin subjects should show ambiguity in sentences with modals. These predictions appear correct. This then leads to a wider rethinking of scope in Mandarin wherein “scope freezing” is not a general property of the language, but rather found with subjects and objects when the former function as topics.