Papers, Slides, & Handouts

Click on any citation to show a short blurb about the paper.

2021

O’Leary, M. (2021, May). Skills-Based Grading: An alternative approach to evaluation. Invited talk at the Workshop on Inclusive Teaching in Semantics presented by SALTED: the SALT Equity & Diversity committee. At Semantics and Linguistic Theory (SALT), virtually hosted by Brown University.

In this invited talk, I present the benefits of skills-based grading (SBG) as an alternative to traditional grading systems. Based on work with Richard Stockwell (Christ Church, Oxford) and Douglas Ezra Morrison (UCLA), I present both qualitative and quantitative data (collected from surveys and student grades) that suggest that SBG both lowers student stress and offers a more equitable system of evaluation. While maintaining rigorous standards, SBG is more lenient than traditional grading, in that it allows students multiple opportunities to demonstrate and gain credit for their learning. Among other benefits, the availability of multiple opportunities to earn the same credit ensures that there are not penalties for temporary setbacks; this is, in particular, fairer to students facing structural and institutional disadvantages, who are more likely to experience external stressors that lead to missed assignments.

O’Leary, M. (2021, February). Revitalizing a Pronominal System. Invited colloquium talk. University of Oklahoma, Norman.

Hän, a Dene (Athabaskan) language spoken in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, has only six remaining speakers. While we work towards revitalization as an L2, we are faced with the necessary task of rapidly documenting the details of an understudied, critically endangered language which is not used in the daily life of any of the remaining speakers. This talk discusses how ongoing theoretical work on the pronominal prefix system (used for direct object verbal prefixes, indirect object postposition prefixes, and possessor-marking nominal prefixes) can be used in language learning materials such as lessons and textbooks. I explore how a complex pronominal system with unique linguistic features can be presented to non-linguist language learners and how we can break down theoretical concepts such as reflexive and disjoint anaphors, definiteness, and salience in order to give language learners actionable generalizations to use in their new language.

O’Leary, M. (2021, February). Three Facets of Nominal Temporal Interpretation. Invited talk. SemanticsBabble, University of California, San Diego.

This work, which summarizes the bulk of my dissertation, seeks to add to our knowledge of the constraints which govern nominal property times, with the goal of a model that can predict all available nominal property times for a given noun in a given sentence. Backed by novel empirical observations, I propose three additions to the groundwork laid by Enç, Musan, Tonhauser, and Keshet (among others), namely:

(i) Nouns exhibit lexical aspect. Importantly, stage nouns in English naturally separate into two classes, which exhibit different aspectual behavior

(ii) The time arguments of nouns used to introduce novel referents are subject to a locality constraint; they are bound by the nearest scoping time abstraction--either the utterance time or the time introduced by a sentential tense.

(iii) Nominal predicates in non-novel DPs (effectively) have the evaluation time of the initial, novel use of that predicate in the discourse. Nominal lexical aspect and the temporal locality constraint only apply to predicates picking out entities novel to a discourse. In a novel DP, the nominal predicate's time argument is used to pick out the correct group of entities along a temporal dimension. However, a non-novel DP is merely anaphoric to the previously established set of entities, and therefore any use of a nominal predicate in a non-novel DP does not need to consider a time argument in order to denote the correct referents. (In this work in progress,) I argue that the tools we need to model this data require more than simple indices on DPs--we need a theory of dynamic semantics which stores variables and the predicates which describe them, so that the use of a particular nominal predicate in a non-novel DP can be used to identify which variables the DP should be coindexed with.

O’Leary, M. (2021, January). Locality constraints in nominal evaluation times. Proceedings of the 95th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America.

While time variables associated with tenses may be considered pronominal (Partee 1973), time variables selected for by verbs as their input times exhibit behavior akin to anaphors; namely, the time variables associated with verbs must be coindexed with the nearest λ above them (Percus 2000). In contrast, nouns, which also have time arguments (Enc 1981, among others), have been noted to have multiple available evaluation times —the utterance time or verbal evaluation times (O'Leary 2017). This poses a question: are nouns subject to different indexing constraints or is there some other explanation? I propose that there is no need to find a distinct coindexing constraint. Using the pre-existing constraint posited for verbs, we can get the desired results (and those that match native speaker judgements) by simply adding QR. Because nouns, but not verbs, can be raised as an effect of QR, nominal evaluation times exhibit an apparent ambiguity in coindexation that verbal evaluation times do not. Evidence comes from scope freezing and de dicto data.

This work is a modified version of a chapter of my dissertation.

O’Leary, M. & Stockwell, R. (2021). Skills-based grading: a novel approach to teaching formal semantics. Proceedings of the 95th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America.

(Winner of the Linguistic Society of America's 2021 Student Abstract Award)

Skills-based grading (SBG) provides students multiple opportunities to acquire and demonstrate mastery of course material. Following Zuraw et al. (2019), who report the first use of SBG in linguistics for teaching phonetics and phonology, we implement SBG in a formal semantics class for the first time. SBG is known to work well for teaching skills which require algorithmic approaches to arrive at an inarguably correct answer. In our application to semantics, we show that the benefits of SBG are transferable to courses skills approaching the philosophical, where there may not be a “right” answer.

Richard Stockwell and I show how semantics instructors can implement skills-based grading, a modern evaluation system shown to lower student stress and provide a lasting understanding of the material. We provide grade data and survey responses from students who were evaluated using skills-based grading in our semantics course.

Click here to learn more and access our materials.

(See our slides - below - for statistical analysis of and visual representation of grade data throughout the course. Many thanks to our statistical consultant Douglas Ezra Morrison.)

O’Leary, M., Stockwell, R., & Morrison, D. E. (2021, January). Skills-based grading: a novel approach to teaching formal semantics. Oral conference presentation at The 95th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America.

(Winner of the Linguistic Society of America's 2021 Student Abstract Award)

Skills-based grading (SBG) provides students multiple opportunities to acquire and demonstrate mastery of course material. Following Zuraw et al. (2019), who report the first use of SBG in linguistics for teaching phonetics and phonology, we implement SBG in a formal semantics class for the first time. SBG is known to work well for teaching skills which require algorithmic approaches to arrive at an inarguably correct answer. In our application to semantics, we show that the benefits of SBG are transferable to courses skills approaching the philosophical, where there may not be a “right” answer.

Richard Stockwell, Douglas Ezra Morrison, and I show how semantics instructors can implement skills-based grading, a modern evaluation system shown to lower student stress and provide a lasting understanding of the material. We provide quantitative data and qualitative responses from students who were evaluated using skills-based grading in our semantics course.

(Slides include statistical analysis of grade data throughout the course. Thank you to our statistical consultant Douglas Ezra Morrison.)

Click here to learn more and access our materials.

2020

O’Leary, M. (2020, December). Hän Pronominal Prefixes. Invited talk. Fieldwork Forum, University of California, Berkeley.

Hän, a Dene language spoken in Alaska and the Yukon Territory, only has six remaining speakers. While we work towards revitalization as an L2, we are faced with the necessary task of rapidly documenting the details of an understudied language which is not used in the daily life of any of the remaining speakers. This talk discusses ongoing theoretical work on the pronominal prefix system used in Hän for direct object verbal prefixes, indirect object postposition prefix, and possessor-marking nominal prefixes. I propose that Hän's pronominal system has a distinction between reflexive and disjoint anaphors, and a distinction between definite and indefinite pronouns, with a single phonetic form representing the disjoint anaphor and the definite pronoun. I additionally discuss the challenges of conducting fieldwork on a dying language that is seldom used, especially those that affect this particular theoretical question.

O’Leary, M. (2020, January). The Binding of Athabaskan Possessor Prefixes. Oral conference presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas 2020 in conjunction with The 94th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America 2020, New Orleans, LA.

Hän is known to be unique among Athabaskan languages—its two third person direct object pronouns are distributed based on purely syntactic features, instead of semantic ones. Similarly, Hän’s four third person possessor prefixes (hë-, jë-, yë-, and wë-), which attach to the possessed noun and are coreferent with the possessor, are largely distributed based on classic syntactic binding principles. However, I show that the binding domains are not what we might expect: yë- is governed by Principle B, but with the binding domain of an anaphor.

2019

Lehman, S. B. & O’Leary, M. (2019). Unexpected Athabaskan Pronouns. In Margit Bowler, Philip T. Duncan, Travis Major, Harold Torrence (eds.), UCLA Working Papers: Schuhschrift: Papers in Honor of Russell Schuh, 122-137.

Many Athabaskan languages have two third person singular object pronouns which occur only in conjunction with third person subjects. The distribution of these pronouns is claimed to be semantically motivated; proposed theories include inverse voice (Willie 2000), topic/focus distinction (Hale, Jelinek, and Willie 2003, Jelinek and Willie 1996, Thompson 1989, 1996, Willie 1991, 2000, Willie and Jelinek 2014, a.o.), and obviation (Thompson 1989, 1996, Aissen 2000, Rice and Saxon 2001). In stark contrast to the data from other Athabaskan languages, we present here the two analogous third person object pronouns in Hän, which are fully predictable based on syntactic traits. In Hän, the two third person object pronouns, yë- and wë-, are used to fill an obligatory object position within the VP when it is not saturated by an overt object, even when the overt object appears elsewhere in the sentence. The use of one pronoun over the other is determined by the person of the subject. - is used when the subject is third person and - when the subject is first or second person. We argue that this distinction comes from a person agreement morpheme that occurs directly before the object pronoun.

O’Leary, M, & Lehman, S. B. (2019, January). Athabaskan Pronouns: A Surprisingly Syntactic Explanation from Hän. Oral conference presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas 2019 in conjunction with The 93rd Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America 2019, New York, NY.

Many Athabaskan languages use two third person singular object pronouns. The factors behind the distribution of these pronouns is widely debated, ranging across a number of semantic motivations including topic, focus, voice, and obviation. The two analogous third person object pronouns in Hän (ISO 639-3: haa; Glottolog: hann1241), an endangered Athabaskan language spoken in eastern Alaska and the Yukon Territory, Canada, are fully predictable based on syntactic traits, especially the person features of the subject. We argue that a null third person subject morpheme immediately precedes the object pronoun, resulting in a pronoun change via simple phonology.


2018

O’Leary, M. (2018). A Lack of Embedded Evidentiality. In Betül Erbaşı, Sozen Ozkan, Iara Mantenuto (eds.), UCLA Working Papers: Proceedings for the Third Workshop on Turkish, Turkic, and the Languages of Turkey (Tu+3).

Kazan Tatar, like other Turkic languages, has a system of verbal suffixes which are generally considered to encode both tense and evidentiality. In this paper, I discuss several embedded environments where only a subset of these suffixes are allowed. I argue that the morphemes that can be used in these contexts encode tense but not evidentiality. In more conventional environments, these morphemes are compatible with evidential features, but the morphemes themselves do not carry evidential information.

Additionally, I discuss the licensing of propositional content in these specific syntactic environments, in order to explain why they are allowed to lack evidential information. Following an analysis of Korean embedded nominal clauses, I propose that propositional content is only licensed in these specific embedded clauses when the embedded proposition has been mentioned previously in the local discourse. The fact that the proposition has previously established, along with evidential material, allows a repetition of the proposition without evidential information.

O’Leary, M. & Brasoveanu, A. (2018, October). The Lexical Temporal Properties of Nominal Predicates. Oral conference presentation at California Universities Semantics and Pragmatics 11, University of California, Berkeley.

We present novel experimental evidence for an temporal distinction between two classes of nominal predicate, separating nouns which can be evaluated at a time distinct from the verbal tense (such as fugitive in ‘A fugitive is doing time’), from nouns which must be evaluated at the same time as the verbal predicate (such as bachelor in ‘A bachelor is kissing his wife’). We then discuss the merits for various semantic theories which may explain the distinction.

2017

O’Leary, M. (2017). Tense in Cleft Constructions. MA Thesis, University of California, Los Angeles.

This work seeks to add further depth to our knowledge of cleft constructions by examining the tense of the matrix copula. There are numerous accounts describing the semantics of clefts, but none of these have integrated the matrix tense, meaning that any current theory of cleft constructions would claim that ‘It was John that died.’ and ‘It is John that died.’ have the same formal meaning, despite the fact that there are situations in which one can be uttered but the other cannot.

This work proposes that the matrix tense overtly marks the topic time of the utterance (see Klein 1994), and that the cleft clause (e.g. ‘that died.’) is interpreted relative to that time. For instance, a past matrix tense communicates that the topic time precedes the utterance time. The property specified in the cleft clause ‘that died’ is therefore true for all individuals who died at some t prior to the topic time, rather than prior to the utterance time. These truth conditions are added to the cleft operator proposed by Büring & Križ (2013).

O’Leary, M. (2017, June). Constraints on Noun Phrase Evaluation Times. Distinguished Alumna Address at Linguistics Undergraduate Research Conference, University of California, Santa Cruz.

Working from Enç’s (1981, a.o.) claim that noun phrases are temporally independent from the tense of main predicate, I propose restrictions on the available interpretation times for both temporally independent and temporally dependent (Musan 1995) noun phrases: (i) temporally independent noun phrases are subject to a variation of the Upper Limit Constraint (Abusch 1997) and can only be interpreted at times that are “familiar” to the utterance, (ii) nouns which denote stages rather than individuals can never be temporally independent, and (iii) all temporally dependent NPs can be evaluated either at the utterance time or at the time of the main predicate of their clause.

O’Leary, M. & Lehman, S. B. (2017, May). Unexpected Athabaskan Pronouns. With Blake Lehman. Oral conference presentation at The 20th Annual Workshop on American Indigenous Languages, University of California, Santa Barbara.

A longstanding discussion in the study of Athabaskan languages has been the distribution of the two third person object pronouns (often called y- and b- pronouns, from Navajo, see Platero 1982, Rice 2000, Rice and Saxon 2001). These pronouns always occur with third person subjects and either are obligatorily included, as in Apachean languages, or are in complementary distribution with the overt object (Rice and Saxon 2001). The distribution of y- and b- pronouns is claimed to be semantically motivated, although there has been disagreement about the nature of the distinction. Proposed theories have included inverse voice (Willie 2000), a topic/focus distinction (e.g. Hale, Jelinek, and Willie 2003, Jelinek and Willie 1996, Thompson 1989, 1996, Willie 1991, 2000, Willie and Jelinek 2000), and obviation (Thompson 1989, 1996, Aissen 2000, Rice and Saxon 2001), among others. Surprisingly, the two analogous third person object pronouns in Hän, an endangered Athabaskan language spoken in eastern Alaska and the Yukon Territory, Canada, are fully predictable based on syntactic traits.

O’Leary, M. (2017, April). Semantic roles and binding as an argument for late merge. Oral conference presentation at UNC Spring Colloquium, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

I present a puzzle, originally from Minkoff (2000), which cannot be explained by any previous theory of binding.

(1) a. Maryi frightened me away from heri.

b. *The loud noisei frightened me away from iti

c. No loud noisei frightened me away from the house where I heard iti.

Following Minkoff (2004), I argue that the difference in grammaticality between (1a) and (1b) is linked to whether the antecedent is a direct or an indirect causer of the event (this distinction is arguably equivalent to whether the causation is intentional or not).

However, as long as there is at least one level of adjunction between the indirect causer and the coreferential pronoun, binding is acceptable, as in (1c). I posit that thematic role features are checked for binding acceptability at a time in the derivation before the late merge of adjuncts. Thus, indirect causers are marked as unacceptable antecedents for any bound elements that exist before late merge occurs. However, after adjuncts are added to the sentence, the bound elements within them may be bound by any antecedent, regardless of theta role.

O’Leary, M. (2017). Constraints on the Evaluation Times of Noun Phrases. LSO Working Papers in Linguistics, Proceedings from Workshop in General Linguistics 14, 47-58.

Musan (1995, a.o.) highlights a number of syntactic environments which could force a noun phrase to be temporally dependent, including weak cardinal determiner phrases and existential there constructions, while other noun phrases are subject to no such constraint and are therefore temporally independent. She concludes that these constructions are used when the noun phrase is new to the hearer, and that hearer-new noun phrases were interpreted as referring to temporal chunks, or stages, of an individual, rather than the whole temporal existence of the individual. She posited that these temporal chunks were then evaluated at the same time as the rest of the sentence.

In this paper, I provided evidence that some nouns inherently describe stages, and are therefore always temporally dependent. Additionally, I showed evidence that temporally independent noun phrases can be evaluated at fewer times than was previously thought and that temporally dependent noun phrases can be evaluated at more times than was previously thought. Temporally independent noun phrases are subject to a familiarity constraint and can only be evaluated at or before the utterance time or the predication time, whichever is later of the two. Temporally dependent nouns are subject to an accessibility constraint and may be evaluated at either the utterance time or the predication time.

O’Leary, M. (2017) The Interaction of Wh-movement and Topicalization in Hän. 2016 Dene Language Conference Proceedings, 81-88.

This paper covers wh-movement and topicalization in the Athabaskan language of Hän, and in particular the interaction of the two movements within a single sentence. It builds on previous descriptive and theoretical work to provide a novel contribution to the literature on Hän by giving evidence for a previously unattested transformation and an argument for the integration of Hän data into crosslinguistic syntactic theory.

2016

O’Leary, M. (2016, June). Dependency in Italian Verbal Paradigms. Oral conference presentation at the 2016 Institute for Collaborative Language Research, Fairbanks, AK.

Many Italian verbal paradigms have multiple stems associated with a single verb. Single paradigms can be seen to have up to five stems. These stems are defined as a “common formal core” (Aronoff 1994) shared by a group of forms, and are often associated with the “irregular” conjugations. The irregular forms seem to pattern together in noticeably predictable ways: certain verbs have paradigms that are irregular in the same ways and some forms are more likely to be irregular than others. With the noticeable level of predictability in the language, it would seem odd to say that all irregular forms are stored in the lexicon. Instead, I propose that we can minimize the necessary lexical storage space to include only one entry for each unique stem, and a set of rules for how they interact.

Following Bonami & Boye’s (2001) approach to verb paradigms in French, I present a theory of dependency for Italian, which separates Italian verb forms into eight groups. The stem for each of these groups is dependent of the stem of another group. Assuming that the dependency relationships are internalized by the speaker, this greatly reduces the amount of information that needs to be stored in the lexicon.

O’Leary, M. (2016, June). Evidentiality Conditioned Partial WH-Movement. Poster presented at the UCLA Linguistics 50th Anniversary, University of California, Los Angeles.

Evidence presented here from English and preliminary interviews with native German speakers supports the hypothesis that matrix verbs in partial wh-movement questions and sequential questions are required to be evidential verbs. An evidentiality theory would provide support for indirect dependency approach to partial wh-movement, unlike Beck & Berman (2000), which required matrix verbs to be bridge verbs and provided evidence against an indirect dependency approach.

2012

O’Leary, M. (2012, June). Italian Prepositional Contractions. Oral conference presentation at Linguistics Undergraduate Research Conference, University of California, Santa Cruz.

This presentation covers the basic morphological phenomena found in nominal and prepositional phrases in Italian, aiming to account for the contraction of prepositions and definite articles.