Colloquium Spring 2023

Linguistics Colloquium 

Schedule -- Spring 2023

Location: Chavez 301

Time/Date: 3-4:30 pm, Friday January 27

Speaker: Will Oxford of MIT and University of Manitoba

How to be(come) a direct/inverse language

In a “direct/inverse” alignment system, the agreement morphology that indexes a particular nominal is determined by the nominal’s rank on the person hierarchy rather than by its grammatical function, and a special marker indicates whether the highest-ranking nominal is the agent (direct) or patient (inverse). Algonquian languages are often seen as the prototypical example of such a system, but from a diachronic perspective, the Algonquian direct/inverse pattern is not particularly old: internal and external evidence both point to a reconstructed ancestor in which the agreement morphology shows prototypical nominative/accusative alignment. So where did the direct/inverse pattern come from, and how does the underlying syntax of a direct/inverse language differ from that of a nominative/accusative language? In this talk I propose answers to both questions. Diachronically, I propose that the Algonquian direct/inverse system arose when a gap in an innovative paradigm of verb inflection was filled by the analogical extension of an agreement pattern that was previously dedicated to passive forms. Synchronically, I propose that the direct/inverse pattern reflects the interaction of an object-agreement probe on the Voice head and an "omnivorous" probe on the Infl head. This analysis, formalized using Deal's (2015) interaction-and-satisfaction model of the Agree operation, provides an elegant account of twelve different distributions of inverse marking across the Algonquian family. These proposals allow the Algonquian system to be integrated more closely into standard typological categories and formal analyses rather than standing as a type of its own. Given the prototypical status accorded to Algonquian in typological and theoretical discussions of direct/inverse marking, the fact that the Algonquian system dissolves into simpler and less unusual parts suggests that a degree of skepticism may be in order for putative direct/inverse systems in other language families as well.


Date/Time: Friday Feb 17, 3-4:30 pm

Location: Chavez 301

Speaker: Prof. Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini

Title: On referring to oneself: attitudes de se.


For many years, philosophers (most notably Hector Neri Castañeda, Jakko Hintikka, John Perry and David Lewis) have analyzed propositions that express self-reference and self-attribution. Various explanations of the contrast between truth de re, de dicto and de se have been proposed. The issue took an interesting and novel turn when the syntax and semantics of de se expressions were examined. Gennaro Chierchia (1989), James Higginbotham (1991, 2010, 2013) and Norbert Hornstein (1999) have offered convincing explanations of the special properties of expressions of possible, impossible or mandatory self-reference. Interesting commonalities and differences between different languages are presently being explored.


Date/Time: Friday March 17, 3 - 4:15 pm

Locations: Chavez 301

Speaker: Frederik Hartmann from the University of Texas

Title: Methodological pitfalls in research on enironmental effects in phonology: a computational investigation


Over the last two decades, the question of environmental effects on phonological processes has been suggested numerous times in some quantitative research. Specifically, it has been suggested that atmospheric effects such as air pressure, humidity, temperature, but also geographic properties such as terrain ruggedness or degree of forest vegetation significantly shape a lanugage's phonolgy by virtue of, among other things, ease of articulation of certain phonetic features. While correlational studies on synchornic datasets seem to corroborate these claims, quantitative research is made difficult by the very nature of how genealogical traits evolve in language families diachronically. That is, the structure of family trees is uniquely predisposed to giving few ancestral stages disproportionate influence, yielding strong, albeit spurious, associations between enviornment and phonology in contemporary languages. This talk aims at discussing the various pitfalls and obstacles that affect the results of synchronic studies of environmental effects, potentially yielding false positive results, and proposes methods to account for the distortions.


Friday March 31

Location: Zoom

Speaker: Neil Myler from Boston University

Information TBD


Friday April 14, 9AM

Location: Zoom

Speaker: Hedvig Skirgård from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Information TBD


Friday April 21

Location: In-Person

Speaker: Fany Muchembled from Instituto Tecnologico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey

Information TBD


Friday April 28

Location: In-Person

Speaker: Shelome Gooden from the University of Pittsburgh

Information TBD