The Six Commandments

This week, CASTL-LAVA’s Professor II Jason Rothman organized a major event in Reading featuring Chomsky and several other speakers, including two of our other Professor II’s, Terje Lohndal and Tanja Kupisch.

The event was a major success, and Chomsky did a convincing impersonation of Moses coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Commandments, which in this case were six in number:

  1. Thou shalt have no other adequacy before Descriptive Adequacy

2. Remember the Strong Minimalist Thesis, to keep it holy

3. Thou shalt not squander Computational Resources

4. Thou shalt not fail to apply an operation if its structural conditions are met (Determinacy)

5. Thou shalt not be incoherent (Coherence: something can’t refer to Mary in line 1 and to John in line 3)

6. Thou shalt not be inaccessible (Recursion: Every object is accessible to further operations)

Continuing the impersonation of a stern messiah tasked by an even sterner diety to whip the masses into line, Chomsky pretended to be furious with Parallel Merge, who was breaking about three or four of the Commandments, which was Unacceptable! He also banished into eternal darkness such apostates as Sideways Merge, Triggered Merge, the elimination of Internal Merge by recasting movement as External Merge, and Crash-Proof Grammar.

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Colloquium: Positioning Kinande phrasal harmony in phonetics, phonology, and syntax

On Friday, April 21st, Laura Downing and Martin Krämer will present joint work on

‘Positioning Kinande phrasal harmony in phonetics, phonology, and syntax’

In the CASTL colloquium slot, E-0105 at 14.15.


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Laura Downing on Tone, Accent, and Intonation

Our CASTLFISH professor II Laura Downing is holding a minicourse again this term, this time on tone, accent and intonation, which will take place on Wednesday the 19th (2-4) and Thursday the 20th (10-12 and 2-4):

  • 19.04. 14.15-16.00 in room E1004 and
  • 20.04. 10.15-12.00 and 14.15-16.00 in C1006.

Here is what Laura promises:

Typological Issues in Tone and Accent

The course will be divided into 3 parts: Tone (why it’s different), Tonal Accent, and Intonation.

1. Tone- why it’s different

As Hyman (2011) has argued, tone can do everything that other features can do — and more. This part of the course will survey the autosegmental properties of tone highlighted in Hyman (2011) and other recent work, like Downing (2005, 2006) and Gordon (2016, chapter 7). The lecture will focus on tonal mobility, tonal inflections and tonal morphemes, the autosegmental properties that seem to be the most tone-specific and most understudied by non tone specialists.

2. Tonal Accent

Traditionally, prosodic systems have been divided into 3 categories: stress, tone and pitch accent (or tonal accent). However, Hyman has written a number of papers arguing that tonal accent is not a coherent, canonical prosodic category. To understand his point of view, we will critically discuss two recent papers of his: Hyman (2012, 2014).

3. Intonation

Very little work has been done on the typology of intonation, as noted in Zerbian (2010). We will survey this topic from an Africanist perspective, highlighting what recent work on intonation in African languages (like Downing & Rialland  2017 and Rialland & Aborobongui 2017) contributes to our understanding of how — or whether — intonation reliably signals sentence type (affirmative vs. declarative), syntactic structure (both XPs and clauses) and focus.


– Downing, Laura J. 2005. The Emergence of the Marked: Tone in some African reduplicative systems. In Bernhard Hurch, ed. (in collaboration with Veronika Mattes). Studies on Reduplication. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 87-108.

– Downing, Laura J. 2006. Compounding and tonal non-transfer in Bantu languages. Phonology 20, 1-42.- Downing, Laura J. and Annie Rialland. 2017. Introduction. LJ Downing & A Rialland (eds), Intonation in African Tone Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

– Gordon, Matthew. 2014. Disentangling stress and pitch-accent: a typology of prominence at different prosodic levels. In Harry van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and Typological Issues. Cambridge University Press, 83-118.

– Gordon, Matthew. 2016. Phonological Typology. Oxford: OUP. – chapter 7 only

– Hyman, Larry M. 2011. Tone: is it different? In the 2nd edition of the Handbook of Phonological Theory.

Prepublication version available at this link:

– Hyman, Larry M. 2012. In defense of Prosodic Typology. Linguistic Typology 16, 341–385.

– Hyman, Larry M. 2014. Do all languages have word accent? In Harry van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and Typological Issues. Cambridge University Press, 56-82.

– Rialland, Annie & Martial Embanga Aborobongui. 2017. How intonation interacts with tone in Embosi. In Downing & Rialland. Intonation in African Tone Languages.

– Zerbian, Sabine. 2010. Developments in the study of intonation typology. Language and Linguistics Compass 4/9, 874-889.


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Friday Colloquium: Bożena Rozwadowska

Bożena Rozwadowska, University of Wrocław, will be presenting on:

Aspect-related properties of Polish nominalizations

Polish is a language which has a variety of derived nominalizations. In addition to the so called deverbal nominalizations (similar to derived nominals in other languages, including English and Russian) it also has the so called verbal nominalizations, which have an external nominal distribution and which realize their satellites in the genitive and not the accusative case, yet inherit grammatical aspect and other verbal properties from the base verb. In particular, they preserve the imperfective/ perfective contrast. I will discuss the aspectual properties of Polish nominalizations in relation to the lexical verb classes they are derived from. I will compare action nominalizations to psych nominalizations with the purpose of evaluating the claim (proposed for other languages) that psych nominalizations are stative, independently of the aspectual characterization of the base (cf. Fábregas and Marín (2012) and Fábregas, Marín and McNally (2012)).

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Three discourse referents under a certain assignment walk into a bar…

On March 23rd, Sergey Minor defended his thesis, Dependent Plurals and the Semantics of Distributivity. Most linguists have learned about the difference between cumulative and distributive readings in examples like:

Two opponents posed twelve questions.

On the distributive reading, each of the two opponents asked twelve questions; there would have been twenty four distinct questionings involved. If a question along with its answer lasts ten minutes, then this event would take at least four hours (setting aside the possibility of simultaneous questions).

On the cumulative reading, two opponents are involved in questioning, and a total of twelve questions get asked, and the reading is compatible with different combinations of opponents posing different questions, for example they might have each posed six questions, in which case the event could have been over in two hours, or one might have posed one question and the other eleven.

Quantifiers like both and most allow the distributive reading but not the cumulative one.

Both opponents posed twelve questions.

If there were a cumulative reading, it would allow for a scenario in which twelve questions together were posed by the pair of opponents. No such reading is available.

However, quantifiers like both and most do allow what has come to be known as the dependent plural reading.

Both opponents posed questions.

For this sentence, there is a distributive reading in which the two opponents each posed questions, in the plural; hence this would take at least forty minutes. But the bare plural questions also has a dependent plural reading here. On the dependent plural reading, both opponents were involved in questioning, and multiple questions were posed, but each opponent may have only posed a single question.

Dependent plurals may also be dependent on non-quantificational referents, but not on singular (strongly distributive) quantifiers like each and every. In the following sentence, unlike the previous one, only a distributive reading is possible, and each opponent must have posed multiple questions.

Every opponent posed questions.

Minor shows in his thesis that dependent plurals are more interesting than you ever imagined, and develops an account for different ways of expressing that more than one object is present in a situation. He adopts a modified version of the framework of Plural Compositional Discourse Representation Theory, or PCDRT, adapting it with the addition of a type for events as well as operators for exhaustivity and distributivity.

I leave it as an exercise to the reader to compute the readings in the following:

Four analyses are applied to three types of determiners interactive with three types of plurals on five hundred pages.

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Gillian Ramchand featured on Linguist List

Our own Gillian Ramchand, world’s northernmost Trinidadian Scot, is featured on the LINGUIST list – her mini-autobiography is a great read.



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Upcoming PhD students at CASTL

LAVA just scored another CASTL PhD position, which will be advertised later this year. This will be in addition to the three students coming this summer: Sigríður Björnsdóttir (LAVA), Maud Westendorp (CASTL-FISH), and Natalia Jardon (CASTL-FISH).



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Gillian Ramchand is chair of GLOW

The organization Generative Linguistics in the Old World has been promoting generative linguistics in Europe and elsewhere for about 40 years. The highlight every year is the annual spring ‘colloquium’ featuring about twenty hour-long talk slots by speakers selected through a highly competitive double-blind abstract selection process. It was held in Tromsø in 2007, and before that in 1995.

The 2017 colloquium was in Leiden, where Tromsø was represented by Martin Krämer at the Prosody-Melody workshop, Terje Lohndal and Tanja Kupisch in the Heritage Language workshop, and by Laura Downing, who co-organized a workshop on the Syntax-Phonology Interface.

In 2018 GLOW will be in Budapest, and after that it will be held in Oslo in 2019, and in Rabat in 2020.

At this year’s colloquium, our very own Gillian Ramchand was tapped to serve as chair of the GLOW board. That’s a great honor so congratulations are in order!

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Tromsø among the top 100 linguistics departments worldwide

QS World University Rankings is one of the most thorough attempts to quantify quality at the world’s universities. I don’t know how accurate they are but I know I like this result: Once again this year, Tromsø is ranked among the top 100 linguistics departments in the world.

The ratings are based on a combination of field-specific citations and h-indices and survey results of the institutions’ reputations (university-wide), both academically and as employers. So a great university-wide reputation like that of Oxford or Harvard can help push a department higher up on the list, while a department at a weaker university has to stand out with highly cited publications in its field to make it onto the list. In the case of Tromsø, the university itself is only in 377th place, so it seems that the department’s strong showing must be due to our producing work which gets cited.

Of course any such worldwide quantification of quality has to be taken with a grain of salt but most of the great linguistics departments seem to be on the list so in this case it seems most prudent to go with it.

Tromsø’s Medicine, Archaeology, and Biology departments are also highly ranked, but no other department at the University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway is in the top 100 in its field, making us by one measure the best department at the University!

In linguistics (as in much else), MIT and Harvard are at the very top of the QS list, along with UMass Amherst; Stanford is not far behind. In fact, MIT, Harvard, and Stanford are the top three universities overall, according to the QS list. In linguistics, some University of California campuses jostle with Penn, Maryland, NYU and Chicago for top places.

Eleven European linguistics departments are also among the top 50, including Cambridge, Edinburgh, UCL, Manchester, Amsterdam, and Humboldt in Berlin, all of which we have regular interactions with. Two strong universities also figuring in the top 50 on the list are Oxford and Lomonosov in Moscow, both of which we have occasional interactions with. Helsinki is number 46, perhaps because of their strong presence in language technology. Lancaster and Birmingham are also among the top 50, though their specialties appear not to overlap substantially with ours (I couldn’t have named a single linguist at Lancaster before I checked their website).

Tromsø didn’t make it into the top 50 but is in the unordered bottom 50 of the top 100, along with 21 other European linguistics departments. They are: in Scandinavia, Lund, Stockholm, and Oslo (sorry, NTNU!); in the UK, Queen Mary, SOAS, Newcastle, York, King’s College London, and Nottingham; in the Netherlands, Utrecht, Leiden, and Radboud; in Germany, Potsdam and Freie Universität Berlin; in Spain (er, Catalonia), Barcelona and Pompeu Fabra; and in the rest of Europe, Paris IV, KU Leuven, Vienna, Zurich, and Saint Petersburg State University.

In addition to the 33 European and 31 US linguistics departments in the top 100, there are 22 departments in Asian countries, 7 in Australia, 5 in Canada, and one each in New Zealand and Mexico.

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Exploring the semantics of Dance

A guest talk by Patrick Grosz and Pritty Patel-Grosz from the University of Oslo, who will present their recent research on form and meaning in the Indian dance form Bharatanatyam in the CASTL colloquium on Friday at 14.15 in E0105.

The talk “Exploring the Semantics of Dance” (see abstract below) will be  followed by a social gathering at the blue sofa group with food and wine. They will also give a talk on pronouns and demonstratives on Monday — more details to follow shortly.
Exploring the Semantics of Dance
Pritty Patel-Grosz, Patrick Grosz, Tejaswinee Kelkar and Alexander
Jensenius (University of Oslo)

Recent linguistic research has extended the application of formal syntactic and semantic methodology to non-linguistic phenomena such as music (Lerdahl & Jackendoff 1983, Katz & Pesetsky 2011, Schlenker 2016) and dance (Napoli & Kraus 2015, Charnavel 2016). The overarching goal of such research programs is to understand the underlying cognitive  building blocks that language shares with other aspects of human cognition. Our own ongoing research on the semantics of dance focuses on Bharatanatyam, a narrative dance form. By virtue of video and motion capture recording, we explore the possibilities of encoding co-reference and disjoint reference in this dance form. We take as our point of departure recent work such as Abusch (2013), who explores co-reference outside of spoken language in comics without text. Our pilot production study shows that disjoint reference involves more complexity than co-reference, in the sense that a larger-level group boundary (cf. Charnavel 2016) is introduced. Furthermore, in addition to a manual gesture for “a different (man/woman),” the dancer encodes disjoint reference by means of mirroring of orientation, direction and posture. We propose to account for this difference (between a manual gesture and global mirroring) in terms of an at-issue vs. non-at-issue distinction, which is reminiscent of phenomena such as speech-accompanying gestures (Ebert & Ebert 2014, Schlenker 2015).


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