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.


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A final stroll through the complexity zoo in phonology

🕑 8 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 September 09, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 subregular, phonology, locality, strictly piecewise, strictly local, tier-based strictly local, typology, learnability

After a brief interlude, let’s get back to locality. This post will largely act as a recap of what has come before and provide a segue from phonology to syntax. That’s also a good time to look at the bigger picture, which goes beyond putting various phenomena in various locality boxes just because we can.


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Full non-locality: Strictly piecewise

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 August 24, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 subregular, phonology, locality, strictly piecewise

We’re continuing our stroll through the subregular locality zoo, still in the service of ultimately being able to say something about syntax and its interface with PF and LF. We started out with SL as the most restrictive kind of locality. The step to the TSL region corresponds to a relativized notion of locality where it’s not absolute locality that matters, but your position relative to other elements of a specific type. TSL is actually a cluster of different classes, with standard TSL at the very bottom. Depending on what context information the TSL tier projection may take into account, TSL expands to ITSL, OTSL, or IOTSL. While IOTSL has a very liberal notion of locality that can even accommodate insane patterns like nati, it still involves some level of locality. That’s in stark contrast to the strictly piecewise (SP) dependencies of Rogers, Heinz, Bailey, Edlefsen, Vischer, Wellcome, and Wibel (2010), which throw locality out the window.


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Extensions of TSL

🕑 8 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 August 22, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 subregular, phonology, locality, tier-based strictly local

The previous post covered the essentials of strictly local (SL) and tier-based strictly local (TSL) dependencies over strings. We saw that even though TSL generalizes SL to a relativized notion of locality, it is still a restrictive model in the sense that not every non-local dependency is TSL. In principle that’s a nice thing, but among those non-local dependencies beyond the purview of TSL we also find some robustly attested phenomena like unbounded tone plateauing. Fair enough, but that does not mean that unbounded tone plateauing is entirely non-local.


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The subregular locality zoo: SL and TSL

🕑 10 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 August 19, 2019 in Tutorials • 🏷 subregular, phonology, locality, strictly local, tier-based strictly local

Omer has a recent post on listedness. I have a post coming up that expands on my comments there, but it isn’t really fit for consumption without prior knowledge of subregular complexity and how it intersects with the linguistic concept of locality. So I figured I’d first lead in with a series of posts as a primer on some of the core concepts from subregular complexity. I’ll start with phonology — for historical reasons, and because the ideas are much easier to grok there (sorry phonologists, but it’s a playground compared to syntax). That will be followed by some posts on how subregular complexity carries over from phonology to syntax, and then we’ll finally be in a position to expand on Omer’s post. Getting through all of this will take quite a while, but I think it provides an interesting perspective on locality. In particular, we’ll see that the common idea of “strict locality < relativized locality < non-local” is too simplistic.

With all that said, let’s put on our computational hats and get going, starting with phonology. Or to be more specific: phonotactics.


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More observations on privative features

🕑 7 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 June 17, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 features, privativity, phonology, syntax, transductions

In an earlier post I looked at privativity in the domain of feature sets: given a collection of features, what conditions must be met by their extensions in order for these features to qualify as privative. But that post concluded with the observation that looking at the features in isolation might be a case of the dog barking up the wrong tree. Features are rarely of interest on their own, what matters is how they interact with the rest of the grammatical machinery. This is the step from a feature set to a feature system. Naively, one might expect that a privative feature set gives rise to a privative feature system. But that’s not at all the case. The reason for that is easy to explain yet difficult to fix.


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Some observations on privative features

🕑 9 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 June 11, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 features, privativity, phonology, syntax

One topic that came up at the feature workshop is whether features are privative or binary (aka equipollent). Among mathematical linguists it’s part of the general folklore that there is no meaningful distinction between the two. Translating from a privative feature specification to a binary one is trivial. If we have three features \(f\), \(g\), and \(h\), then the privative bundle \(\{f, g\}\) is equivalent to \([+f, +g, -h]\). In the other direction, we can make binary features privative by simply interpreting the \(+\)/\(-\) as part of the feature name. That is to say, \(-f\) isn’t a feature \(f\) with value \(-\), it’s simply the privative feature \(\text{minus} f\). Some arguments add a bit of sophistication to this, e.g. the Boolean algebra perspective in Keenan & Moss’s textbook Mathematical Structures in Language. So far so good unsatisfactory.


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Underappreciated arguments: Underlying representations

🕑 4 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 May 28, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 phonology, morphology, underlying representations, abstractness, bimorphisms, T-model

Time for another entry in the Underappreciated arguments series. This post will be pretty short as it is a direct continuation of the previous entry on how the inverted T-model emerges naturally from the bimorphism perspective. You see, the very same argument also gives rise to underlying representations in phonology and morphology.


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A song of middles and suffixes

🕑 3 min • 👤 Thomas Graf • 📆 May 21, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 phonology, subregular, strictly local, fun allowed

Am I the only one who’s worn out by the total lack of fun and playfulness in all public matters? Everything is serious business, everything is one word away from a shit storm, everybody has to be proper and professional all the time, no fun allowed. It’s the decade of buzzkills, killjoys, and sourpusses. Linguistics is very much in line with this unfortunate trend. Gone are the days of Norbert Hornstein dressing up as Nim Chimpsky. It is unthinkable to publish a paper under the pseudonym Quang Phuc Dong (that’s at least a micro-aggression, if not worse). Even a tongue-in-cheek post on Faculty of Language is immediately under suspicion of being dismissive. Should have added that /s tag to spell it out.

Compared to other fields, linguistics has never been all that playful, perhaps because we’re already afraid of not being taken seriously by other fields. But we’ve had one proud torch bearer in this respect: Geoff Pullum. His Topic… comment column should be mandatory grad school reading. Formal Linguistics Meets the Boojum is a classic for the ages (and did, of course, get a very proper and professional response). My personal favorite is his poetic take on the Halting problem. So I figured instead of complaining I’d lead by example and inject some fun of my own. To be honest, I’m probably better at complaining, but here we go…


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Computational Phonology Workshop 3

🕑 2 min • 👤 Jeffrey Heinz • 📆 April 21, 2019 in Discussions • 🏷 phonology, subregular, Stony Brook, IACS, photos

Yesterday at Stony Brook, we concluded an informal workshop on computational phonology, which focused on theoretical, logical, model-theoretic, and automata-theoretic aspects of phonology (and some syntax). Here ‘informal’ means the workshop itself has no advanced schedule of talks, nor are there any talks except for the co-located Linguistics Colloquium and Frontiers series talks. Instead we list topics we are interested in presenting and presenters lead discussion, utilizing the whiteboard and as much time as they want, or until the group becomes restless. We take breaks when we want, and have plenty of time to ask questions, talk with each other, and get to see what we are working on. Personally, I find it very refreshingly different from national and international conferences which (perhaps necessarily) come with a planned schedule of tighly-timed talks, Q&A and so on.

I wanted to take a moment to sumarize some of the big picture issues that emerged for me over the past couple of days.


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