COPPOCK COLLOQUIUM

This Friday, May 4th, at 1:45 pm in Humanities 1, Room 210, there will be a colloquium by Liz Coppock (Boston). Her talk is entitled “Most vs. the most in languages where the more means most.” Afterward, there will be a reception at 3:30pm in the Silverman Conference Room. The abstract is given below:

This paper focuses on languages in which a superlative interpretation is typically indicated merely by a combination of a definiteness marker with a comparative marker, including French, Spanish, Italian, Romanian, and Greek (‘DEF+CMP languages’). Despite ostensibly using definiteness markers to form the superlative, superlatives are not always definite-marked in these languages, and the distribution of definiteness-marking varies across languages. Constituency structure appears to vary across languages as well. To account for these patterns of variation, we identify conflicting pressures that all of the languages in consideration may be subject to, and suggest that different languages prioritize differently in the resolution of these conflicts. What these languages have in common, we suggest, is a mechanism of Definite Null Instantiation for the degree-type standard argument of the comparative. Among the parameters along which languages are proposed to differ is the relative importance of marking uniqueness vs. avoiding determiners with predicates of entities that are not individuals.

ROBERTS AND ZAITSU AT CLS

Anissa Zaitsu and Tom Roberts were in Chicago last weekend at CLS 54. Anissa presented a talk on why-VP constructions, bravely arguing in the Ellipsis session that they are derived non-elliptically. Tom gave a talk about experimental work on the pragmatics of biased polar questions in Estonian. They report a collegial environment, full of plenty of new friends and raucous multilingual karaoke.

THREE SLUG PAPERS IN LI

A paper by Ryan Bennett (PhD ’12 and current faculty member), Boris Harizanov (PhD ’14), and Robert Henderson (PhD ’12) has appeared in the latest issue of Linguistic Inquiry (LI). The paper, entitled “Prosodic Smothering in Macedonian and Kaqchikel,” proposes a novel analysis of dependent morphemes which idiosyncratically trigger prosodic restructuring of their hosts.

Another paper by Boris Harizanov appears in this issue, entitled “Word Formation at the Syntax-Morphology Interface: Denominal Adjectives in Bulgarian.” The paper seeks to understand mismatches between syntactic representations and corresponding morphological representations.

A paper by faculty member Ivy Sichel also appears in the issue, entitled “Anatomy of a Counterexample: Extraction from Relative Clauses.” The paper argues for an approach to extraction from RCs where locality is determined syntactically, in combination with a more fine-grained structure for RCs and a theory of how extraction interacts with the theory of locality.

KUSSIN-GIKA RECEIVES DEANS’ UNDERGRAD AWARD

Congratulations to current linguistics major (and history double major) Ian Kussin-Gika, whose project “Kinderlach and Communists: or A Comparison between Soviet Ethnic Policy and Labour Zionism Through the Lens of the Infamous JAO” has been selected to receive a 2017-18 Deans’ Undergraduate award. The award will be recognized at the Annual Humanities Spring Awards Celebration. The announcement of the award states that “the projects submitted this year were outstanding and reflect the high caliber of work of the students who undertook research projects.”

Congratulations again, Ian!

ADLER TO NLP COMPANY

Congratulations to alum Jeff Adler (MA ’17), who will soon be starting a new job at NLP Ad Tech company Semasio. He reports:
Starting May 21, I will be working at a new NLP Ad Tech company Semasio, currently based in Germany and Portugal, but moving their HQ to New York City. Semasio uses “semantic behavioral targeting” to create user profiles that advertisers can use to more accurately and efficiently reach their target audience. For anyone whose interesting, I’ll unpack what that means:
One of the primary focuses of Advertising Tech (“Ad tech”) is to discover algorithmic methods of chopping up the population into demographic segments, so that the right people are hit with the right advertisements. Semasio’s language-based take on this challenge is to first, extract keywords from the web, and build a gigantic semantic network based on which keywords correlate with others. Then, information is gathered about where past consumers of a given product would fall in this network. That is, what is the semantic profile of people who have purchased a given product in the past. Finally, we locate users who have not yet purchased the product, but fall in similar quadrants on the network. In this way, we use a linguistic bottom-up, data-driven approach (= probabilistic, = Surfeit (= Not Poverty) of the Stimulus, = Generativisits will roll their eyes but haters gon’ hate, right?) to build consumer profiles.
My role at the company will be Client Development Manager. Basically, that means I will be consulting with our clients to show them how to best use our software, and what kind of analytic insights we can gain by tweaking different parameters. So, this means is that I will not be doing much NLP or data science or even coding myself, but rather, acting as an ambassador for the product, and the language/data scientists that built it. The reason I say this is to make the point that, for any graduate students who are flirting with the idea of leaving academia, but are afraid that, unless they can code, they will have no avenue, they are Dead Wrong.
There are tons of opportunities for people who, even if they do not want to be on the technical side of things, can communicate technical topics in a easily-digestible manner. In other words, if you’re the type of person who, like me, hated learning R but loved giving talks, or just discussing interesting topics, you’re so much more marketable than you think you are. To that end, if anyone wants to talk about how to find those opportunities, feel free to write!
Congratulations again, Jeff!