Physics cranks = syntax cranks?

🕑 2 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 January 15, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 physics, syntax, Minimalism

Congratulations, you’re reading the shortest Outdex post yet! Peter Woit of Not Even Wrong, reacting to Sabine Hossenfelder of Lost in Math fame, has another post on the lack of progress in high-energy particle physics. If you’ve been following the debate about string theory and super symmetry in recent years, nothing in the post will shock you. What I find fascinating is that you could replace “particle physics” by “Minimalism” in this debate and the whole thing all of a sudden looks very familiar.


Continue reading

Semantics: Corrections and further thoughts

🕑 6 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 January 08, 2020 in Discussions • 🏷 semantics, donkey sentences, parsing

This is a follow-up to my previous post on semantics. It has been pointed out to me that this post contains several inaccuracies and grave omissions. Some of them are in the summary of Lucas’ talk, and that would probably have been noticed earlier if I had provided a link to the slides or the paper. Thanks to Lucas for sending me those by email and for walking me through the account again. I’ll briefly explain some of the misleading points later on in this post.

But the much bigger issue is that I failed to point out that Lucas wasn’t just presenting his own work. He made it very, very clear that this was joint work with Dylan Blumford (UCLA) and Robert Henderson (UArizona). I’m really upset with myself about that one, in some sense giving partial credit is even worse than giving no credit at all, and the latter is already a dick move. My sincerest apologies to Dylan and Robert.

If I had run the post past Lucas before publishing it, a lot of this could have been avoided, so I’ll make that a priority for future posts that talk about work that I’m not well-acquainted with. Alright, so let’s talk a bit what I got wrong and how that affects the central message of the previous post.


Continue reading

Semantics should be like parsing

🕑 5 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 December 28, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 semantics, donkey sentences, parsing

I spent a few days before Christmas at the Amsterdam colloquium, which exposed me to a much heavier dose of semantics than I’m used to. I’ve always had a difficult relation with semantics. On the one hand I like that it has its fair share of KISS theories, and generalized quantifier theory is aesthetically very pleasing to me. On the other hand most of semantics is pretty dull, and I think that’s because semanticists put way too much stuff in their theories that has nothing to do with natural language semantics. I’ve previously had a hard time putting this into concrete terms, but Lucas Champollion’s invited talk on donkey sentences finally presented me with a specific example.


Continue reading

To slide or not to slide?

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 21, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 talks, student advice

Even though I’m slowly growing into my role as tenured professor, I still haven’t developed a taste for saying the same thing over and over again — at least not when I’m aware it’s the same thing over and over again. One thing that comes up a lot is questions by new students about their presentations, be it in class or at a conference. So I figured I might actually be able to save everybody some time by just posting my standard remarks on the Outdex, preserved for eternity. Who knows, it might even be hilarious 30 years from now to read about how we did things in the academic stone age. Just like it’s hard to talk about mimeographs nowadays without a smirk on your face.

Okay, then let’s tackle the very first issue, one that is still so contentious in some parts of the field that it might rip asunder the fabric of space and time: slides or handouts?


Continue reading

More circumambience in syntax

🕑 2 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 14, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 subregular, syntax, movement, complementizer agreement, relative clauses, English, French

This is a very short follow-up to my previous post on circumambient patterns in syntax. I just realized that there’s another, very robust example that makes all the cases look even more mundane: complementizer alternations in English relative clauses.


Continue reading

Circumambient patterns in syntax

🕑 12 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 11, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 subregular, syntax, phonology, tone plateauing, movement, complementizer agreement

Last week I gave an invited talk at UMass on the subregular program and the computational parallels it reveals between syntax and phonology. If you’re curious, the slides are on my website. The talk went over a lot better than I expected, and there were lots of great questions. UMass has a tradition of letting students ask questions first before the faculty get to chime in, and the students were relentless in a good way. I think there was only 5 minutes left for faculty questions at the end. It was a great experience, and probably the best question period I’ve ever been on the receiving end of.

Anyways, after the colloquium Brian Dillon asked a few questions about more complex movement cases, and those are very interesting because they’re yet another instance of computational parallelism between phonology and syntax: tone plateauing = movement-driven complementizer agreement.


Continue reading

Shellshock

🕑 8 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 November 06, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 syntax, Larsonian shells, constituency, CCG, Minimalist grammars

This semester I am teaching a seminar on computational syntax. It’s mostly on subregular syntax, but I started out with a discussion of CCG. CCG is noteworthy because it is a theory-rich approach that has managed to make major inroads into NLP. It would be cool if we could replicate this with MGs, but in order to do that you need a killer app. Subregular complexity might just be that because CCG doesn’t have a regular backbone, so it can’t have a subregular one either (more on that in a future post). CCG’s killer app was flexible constituency and a one-to-one mapping from syntax to semantics. You combine that with a corpus (CCGbank) and an efficient parsing algorithm (e.g. supertagging with A* parsing), and you have something that is both linguistically sophisticated and sufficiently fast and robust for practical applications. Anyways, this post collects some of my thoughts on flexible constituency and how it could be emulated in MGs. Spoiler: shells, lots and lots of shells.


Continue reading

We need a framework?

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 October 30, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 methodology, subregular

As you might know, Stony Brook hosted AMP, the American Meeting on Phonology, a week ago quite a while ago (yikes, almost November again). Jane Chandlee started off the conference with an invited talk on the subregular view of phonological mappings from underlying representations to surface forms. It was well received, but during the question period Bruce Hayes (no, not that Bruce Hayes) made a point that I found puzzling: “You need a framework!” Unfortunately I didn’t have time to ask Bruce afterwards what exactly he meant by that. But every conceivable interpretation I’ve come up with I vehemently disagree with, and I think Bruce’s demand for a framework stems from incorrectly applying the linguistic modus operandi to computational work.


Continue reading

Locality, suppletion, and cognitive parallelism

🕑 11 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 October 23, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 suppletion, locality, prosody, subregular, syntax

Oh boy, this month is killing me. I know I promised you one more detailed discussion of subregular complexity before we finally get back to the topic that started it all, Omer Preminger’s post on listedness. But in the interest of time I’ll merge those two posts into one. That means some points will be a bit more hazy than I’d like, but I think it will work just fine nevertheless (and for those of you sick of this series of posts, we’ll get to something new sooner). Alright, with that out of the way, here’s the basic question: why aren’t PF and LF more alike?


Continue reading

Syntax as phonology: Syntactic constraints as string constraints

🕑 12 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 September 29, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 subregular, syntax, locality, c-command, constraints, islands

The previous post in this series discussed the lay of the (is)land from the perspective of TSL (I’m so disappointed in myself for not making this pun last time; better late than never). I mentioned that the TSL view cannot handle all island constraints. Sometimes, we need an alternative approach. But this alternative approach doesn’t come out of nowhere. It is also what we need for all kinds of licensing constraints, and it also handles restrictions on movement that are not island constraints.


Continue reading