Archive for May, 2008

Bobaljik Colloquium on Thursday

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Getting ‘Better': On Comparative Suppletion and Related Topics

Jonathan Bobaljik
University of Connecticut
Location: Cobb 201
Time: 3:30pm

I present and discuss four or five universals drawn from across-linguistic study of comparative and superlative morphology. Special attention is given to three generalizations regarding root suppletion in the comparative degree of adjectives (good-better, bad-worse). These generalizations, I contend, have a variety consequences for morphology, semantics and perhaps syntax, particularly in the areas of lexical decomposition (at whatever level this obtains) and the formal treatment of suppletion vs. irregularity. Although comparative suppletion is rare (though attested) outside of Indo-European, and although the data sample is small within any one language, the generalizations over the total data set are surprisingly robust. Two generalizations are given here:

The Comparative-Superlative Generalization:

If the comparative degree of an adjective is built on a suppletive root/stem, then the superlative is also suppletive. The superlative may use the same root as the comparative, or may be further suppletive, but will not use the basic adjectival root. Thus the schema in (1), where A, B, C refer to phonologically unrelated roots.

(1) A – A – A completely regular: short, short-er, short-est
A – B – B suppletive: bad, worse, worst
A – B – C doubly suppletive: Latin ‘good': bonus – melior -optimus
A – B – A *unattested* * bad – worse – baddest

I argue that this generalization favours analyses in which the superlative is not merely related to the comparative (e.g., both involve degree operators), but is rather _derived_from_ the comparative: [[[SHORT]-ER]-(ES)T]. Put somewhat more contentiously, I argue (with a qualification) that UG excludes a morpheme “-EST” (Superlative) that attaches directly to adjectival roots.

The Comparative-Change-of-State Generalization:

If the comparative degree of an adjective is built on a suppletive root, then a derived change-of-state verb (inchoative or causative) will also be suppletive. The verb may use the same root as the comparative (bad – worse – worsen; bonus -melior – meliorare), or may be further suppletive, but will not use the basic adjectival root.

By parity of reasoning to the first section, I must conclude (contra Dowty and others) that change-of-state verbs always include the comparative at some level of representation (cf. Kennnedy & Levin). I will defend this view against a variety of possible objections and examine apparent counter-examples.

BA honors

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Congratulations go to the following eight graduating majors in linguistics, who have all finished their BA theses (the most ever), and to their advisors (in parentheses):

  • Eric Bjerstedt, “The dominance of the unmarked in prosodic reduplication.” (Jason Riggle)
  • Christine Boylan, “Causal inference processing in narratives: A fMRI study and review of methodology.” (Amy Dahlstrom)
  • Elise Johnston, “Manually mapping the cognition of a culture: Revealing cognitive models in American Sign Language.” (Steven Clancy)
  • Nicholas Kontovas, “An analysis of recent loans into the Standard Uyghur lexicon: What semantic distribution and phonological interpretation reveal about transmission environment.” (Alan C. L. Yu)
  • Eric Prendergast, “Notice! The pragmatic basis for Balkan object reduplication in Albanian, Macedonian, and Bulgarian.” (Victor Friedman)
  • Patrick Rich, “Hitting (at) the problem: An analysis of the conative construction/alternation.” (Steven Clancy)
  • John Sylak, “Lak verbal morphology.” (Victor Friedman)
  • Noah Yavitz, “Evaluating semantic accounts of the equative”. (Chris Kennedy)

Undergrads moving on

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Many of our graduating seniors will embark on new and exciting adventures soon:

  • Christine Boylan will be working as lab manager of Alec Marantz & Liina Pylkkänen’s lab at NYU.
  • John Sylak is going to Berkeley for his PhD in Linguistics.
  • Eric Prendergast received a Fulbright to study in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia.

If you’re a graduating senior and want to report your future whereabout, please e-mail

Guo awarded the Bloomfield prize

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Congratulations to Shu-yu Guo, who is the recipient of this year’s annual Leonard Bloomfield prize (for the graduating linguistics major with the highest grade point average in courses towards the major: his grade point average in linguistics was 3.98)!

Photos from JerryFest

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Andy Rogers has generously made available pictures he took at the Pragmatics, Grammatical Interfaces, and Jerry Sadock conference in honor of Jerry‘s retirement. You can click here to view them.