Itamar Kastner

Papers and Talks

E-mail me if you'd like the TeX source for any of these.

See my CV for the full list, including invited talks and papers.


2019Itamar Kastner. The Valence of Voice: Hebrew morphosyntax at the interfaces. Book-length manuscript.
[lingbuzz] [pdf]
2019Itamar Kastner. Blocking in Distributed Morphology. Handbook chapter draft.
2019Itamar Kastner and Matthew A. Tucker. Non-concatenative Morphology in Distributed Morphology. Handbook chapter draft.
2019Matthew Tyler and Itamar Kastner. Serial verb constructions and the syntax-prosody interface. Under review.
2016Itamar Kastner. Form and Meaning in the Hebrew Verb. Doctoral dissertation, New York University.
[LingBuzz] [pdf] [abstract +/-]

This dissertation is about the basic building blocks that make up words, and how these building blocks interact with the rest of the grammar. The grammar is generally viewed as an inventory of contentful units and the rules governing their combination. One question for linguistic theory is what these units might be like. Are they different for different languages? A second question is how these pieces are put together, and again we ask whether these combinatory processes are the same in different languages. A third question is to ask what we can build. This study concentrates on building verbs, specifically how the grammar builds their structure in a way that then constrains semantic interpretation and phonological pronunciation.
The empirical domain is the verbal system of Modern Hebrew, where this work attempts to unify our treatment of concatenative and non-concatenative morphology. The hypothesis put forward is that hierarchical syntactic structure, once generated, must be interpreted according to specific locality constraints when transferred to the interfaces with semantics and phonology. At each interface additional calculations take place. These calculations are interface-particular: semantics and phonology are not identical objects of study. Yet the two have in common a locality constraint on calculations that derives directly from the syntactic structure. In addition, individual lexical items ("roots") place their own requirements on the meaning and/or the pronunciation. The theory developed here limits this influence of roots to the two interfaces, making the claim that individual roots have no syntactic features. Nevertheless, roots are active at the interfaces in ways that are predictable once the right generalizations are sought out. The phonological form of roots is relevant at the phonology and their lexical semantics is relevant at the semantics: roots have no syntactic features, only interface requirements.
Hebrew, being a contemporary Central Semitic language, shows the kind of non-concatenative, "root-and-pattern" morphology that is organized around consonantal "roots" and prosodic "templates", the latter consisting of a prosodic shape, certain vowels and an affix. The account put forward argues that Hebrew roots are abstract lexical elements which combine with discrete syntactic functional heads. The combination, once fed through the phonology of the language, results in morphophonological templates which are not primitives of the system in and of themselves. The architecture defended supports the view of constrained interpretation at the interfaces which lies at the core of this proposal, using non-hierarchical surface forms in order to mount an argument for hierarchical structure.
Chapter one of the dissertation introduces the issues at hand and the basics of the Hebrew verbal system. It also reviews a number of earlier approaches which help set the stage for the analysis that follows.
Chapter two develops the syntactic-semantic part of the proposal, defining the syntactic elements needed to derive verbal morphology both for Hebrew and crosslinguistically. It is shown that the different combinations of these elements produce the verbal system of Hebrew in a way that is constrained, in the semantics, by the lexical idiosyncrasies of individual roots.
Chapter three takes the proposed structures and manipulates them in the phonological component of the grammar. The view of linearization pursued here is shown to make correct predictions. The effect of different classes of roots is highlighted, and the point is made that verbal templates are not holistic morphemes but the spell-out of distinct functional heads.
Chapter four takes a quantitative approach, surveying previous psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic work on Semitic languages and presenting novel findings from a recent magnetoencephalography experiment. These findings support the claims made in the previous chapters regarding the organization of the system.
Chapter five considers how the child might acquire this system. Recent developmental findings are surveyed and a novel computational model is discussed. This chapter outlines a model of Semitic acquisition in which the consonantal character of roots is used as a learning cue, leading to acquisition of basic verbal templates and eventually the system as a whole.
Chapter six concludes, recapitulating the main contributions of this work: derivations in a generative grammar combine rigid grammatical principles with unstructured lexical material. This dissertation defends an explicit view of how such combination takes place.
2014Itamar Kastner and Vera Zu. The syntax of implicit arguments. Ms., NYU.
[info +/-]
A term paper from 2014 that Vera and I get asked for sometimes. E-mail me for a copy.


2019Itamar Kastner. Inchoatives in causative clothing: Change of state in Modern Hebrew heXYiZ.
The Linguistic Review.
[paper] [pdf]
2018Itamar Kastner. Templatic morphology as an emergent property: Roots and functional heads in Hebrew.
Natural Language and Linguistic Theory.
[paper] [preprint] [abstract +/-]

Modern Hebrew exhibits a non-concatenative morphology of consonantal "roots" and melodic "templates" that is typical of Semitic languages. Even though this kind of non-concatenative morphology is well known, it is only partly understood. In particular, theories differ in what counts as a morpheme: the root, the template, both, or neither. Accordingly, theories differ as to what representations learners must posit and what processes generate the eventual surface forms. In this paper I present a theory of morphology and allomorphy that combines lexical roots with syntactic functional heads, improving on previous analysis of root-and-pattern morphology. Verbal templates are here argued to emerge from the combination of syntactic elements, constrained by the general phonology of the language, rather than from some inherent difference between Semitic morphology and that of other languages. This way of generating morphological structure fleshes out a theory of morphophonological alternations that are non-adjacent on the surface but are local underlyingly; with these tools it is possible to identify where lexical exceptionality shows its effects and how it is reigned in by the grammar. The Semitic root is thus analogous to lexical roots in other languages, storing idiosyncratic phonological and semantic information but obeying the syntactic structure in which it is embedded.
2018Itamar Kastner, Liina Pylkkänen and Alec Marantz. The form of morphemes: MEG evidence from masked priming of two Hebrew templates.
Frontiers in Psychology.
2018Esti Blanco-Elorrieta, Itamar Kastner, Karen Emmorey and Liina Pylkkänen. Shared neural correlates for building phrases in signed and spoken language.
Scientific Reports 8:5492.
2017Itamar Kastner. Reflexive verbs in Hebrew: Deep unaccusativity meets lexical semantics.
[paper] [abstract +/-]

Reflexive verbs in Modern Hebrew show specific morphological marking: only one of the seven verbal templates in the language can be used for reflexives. Yet this morphological marking also appears on anticausative and reciprocal verbs, which have different syntactic and semantic properties. I provide an analysis of reflexivity in Hebrew which does not make reference to dedicated reflexive morphosyntax. By combining independent functional heads, the proposal explains what in the syntax underlies this morphology and how different kinds of verbs end up with identical morphophonological properties. To this end, I consider the lexical semantics of individual lexical roots as well as the syntactic configurations in which roots and arguments are embedded. The resulting theory is one in which lexical roots trigger specific interpretations of the syntax at the interfaces.
2017Itamar Kastner and Frans Adriaans. Linguistic constraints on statistical word segmentation: the role of consonants in Arabic and English.
Cognitive Science.
[paper] [preprint] [abstract +/-]

Statistical learning is often taken to lie at the heart of many cognitive tasks, including the acquisition of language. One particular task in which probabilistic models have achieved considerable success is the segmentation of speech into words. However, these models have mostly been tested against English data, and as a result little is known about how a statistical learning mechanism copes with input regularities that arise from the structural properties of different languages. This study focuses on statistical word segmentation in Arabic, a Semitic language in which words are built around consonantal roots. We hypothesize that segmentation in such languages is facilitated by tracking consonant distributions independently from intervening vowels. Previous studies have shown that human learners can track consonant probabilities across intervening vowels in artificial languages, but it is unknown to what extent this ability would be beneficial in the segmentation of natural language. We assessed the performance of a Bayesian segmentation model on English and Arabic, comparing consonant-only representations with full representations. In addition, we examined to what extent structurally different proto-lexicons reflect adult language. The results suggest that for a child learning a Semitic language, separating consonants from vowels is beneficial for segmentation. These findings indicate that probabilistic models require appropriate linguistic representations in order to effectively meet the challenges of language acquisition.
2017Itamar Kastner and Vera Zu. Blocking and paradigm gaps.
Morphology 27(4):643-684.
[paper] [preprint] [abstract +/-]

Gaps in morphological paradigms are often explained in terms of blocking: generating one form is blocked by the existence of a paraphrase. Another way of thinking about paradigm gaps dissociates their existence from competition between forms. Unlike in competition-based approaches, systematic gaps can be seen as true gaps; the system might not generate a certain form, but this form is not considered in comparison to others. Adopting this latter approach, we argue that inflectional paradigms are neither morphosyntactic primitives nor the result of competition. This claim is supported by data from two unrelated languages. For Hebrew, we demonstrate that a passive gap is not the result of competition with analytic paraphrases. For Latin, we show that a cyclic, syntax-based approach is superior to a theory that generates nonactive verbs in the lexicon and has them compete against each other. Systematic paradigm gaps are thus argued to result from syntactic structure building, without competition regulating independent morphological constructions.
2017Irit Meir, Mark Aronoff, Calle Börstell, So-One Hwang, Deniz Ilkbasaran, Itamar Kastner, Ryan Lepic, Adi Lifshitz Ben Basat, Carol Padden and Wendy Sandler. The effect of being human and the basis of grammatical word order: insights from novel communication systems and young sign languages.
Cognition 158:189-207.
[paper] [abstract +/-]
This study identifies a central factor that gives rise to the different word orders found in the world’s languages. In the last decade, a new window on this long-standing question has been provided by data from young sign languages and invented gesture systems. Previous work has assumed that word order in both invented gesture systems and young sign languages is driven by the need to encode the semantic/syntactic roles of the verb’s arguments. Based on the responses of six groups of participants, three groups of hearing participants who invented a gestural system on the spot, and three groups of signers of relatively young sign languages, we identify a major factor in determining word order in the production of utterances in novel and young communication systems, not suggested by previous accounts, namely the salience of the arguments in terms of their human/animacy properties: human arguments are introduced before inanimate arguments (‘human first’). This conclusion is based on the difference in word order patterns found between responses to depicted simple events that vary as to whether both subject and object are human or whether the subject is human and the object inanimate. We argue that these differential patterns can be accounted for uniformly by the ‘human first’ principle. Our analysis accounts for the prevalence of SOV order in clauses with an inanimate object in all groups (replicating results of previous separate studies of deaf signers and hearing gesturers) and the prevalence of both SOV and OSV in clauses with a human object elicited from the three groups of participants who have the least interference from another linguistic system (nonliterate deaf signers who have had little or no exposure to another language). It also provides an explanation for the basic status of SOV order suggested by other studies, as well as the scarcity of the OSV order in languages of the world, despite its appearance in novel communication systems. The broadest implication of this study is that the basic cognitive distinction between humans and inanimate entities is a crucial factor in setting the wheels of word ordering in motion.
2015Itamar Kastner. Factivity mirrors interpretation: The selectional requirements of presuppositional verbs.
Lingua 164:156-188.
[paper] [preprint] [abstract +/-]

Different verbs can take different kinds of arguments. Factive verbs such as remember and forget take clausal complements which are presupposed to be true. Verbs such as say and think do not presuppose the truth of their complements. I suggest that the complements of presuppositional verbs like remember, forget, admit and deny are actually definite DPs, picking out a discourse referent in the Common Ground. It has been established that certain effects arise in clauses embedded by presuppositional verbs: only complements can be extracted from them and argument fronting inside of them is not allowed. We also note that they can have DP pro-forms (which). This stands in opposition to non-presuppositional clauses, where extraction and fronting are possible, and only CP pro-forms (as, so) are possible. The DP view allows for a uniform solution to these puzzles, based on spoken and signed languages; the crucial distinction is whether the matrix verb selects for a definite entity (presuppositional) or for a proposition (nonpresuppositional). Finally, we introduce crosslinguistic data showing that the entity/proposition split parallels a split in interpretation between DP and CP complements: a presuppositional DP complement is interpreted like a presupposed entity, while a nonpresuppositional CP complement has the semantics of a novel proposition. This way of looking at clausal complements also allows us to account for the behavior of sentential subjects, which have been argued to be both nominal and factive. I flesh out these generalizations and show that they emerge as a natural result in our framework. With sentential subjects as with clausal complements, factivity and presupposition correlate with the syntactic category of the argument. I take this to imply a form-meaning isomorphism in the syntax and semantics of what a verb licenses (DP vs CP).
2015Masha Westerlund, Itamar Kastner, Meera Al Kaabi and Liina Pylkkänen. The LATL as locus of composition: MEG evidence from English and Arabic.
Brain and Language 141:124-134.
[paper] [abstract +/-] [highlights +/-]

Neurolinguistic investigations into the processing of structured sentences as well as simple adjective-noun phrases point to the left anterior temporal lobe (LATL) as a leading candidate for basic linguistic composition. Here, we characterized the combinatory profile of the LATL over a variety of syntactic and semantic environments, and across two languages, English and Arabic. The contribution of the LATL was investigated across two types of composition: the optional modification of a predicate (modification) and the satisfaction of a predicate’s argument position (argument saturation). Target words were presented during MEG recordings, either in combinatory contexts (e.g. “eats meat”) or in non-combinatory contexts (preceded by an unpronounceable consonant string, e.g. “xqkr meat”). Across both languages, the LATL showed increased responses to words in combinatory contexts, an effect that was robust to composition type and word order. Together with related findings, these results solidify the role of the LATL in basic semantic composition.

- We investigated the generality of linguistic composition responses in the LATL.
- We measured responses to two types of composition: argument saturation and modification.
- We measured responses in two languages, English and Arabic.
- The LATL is robustly engaged in composition across both rule types.
- The LATL shows similar combinatory responses across both languages.
2014Itamar Kastner, Irit Meir, Wendy Sandler and Svetlana Dachkovsky. The Emergence of Embedded Structure: Insights from Kafr Qasem Sign Language.
Frontiers in Psychology 5:525.
[paper] [abstract +/-]

This paper introduces data from Kafr Qasem Sign Language, an as-yet undescribed sign language, and identifies the earliest indications of embedding in this young language. Using semantic and prosodic criteria, we identify predicates that form a constituent with a noun, functionally modifying it. We analyze these structures as instances of embedded predicates, exhibiting what can be regarded as very early stages in the development of subordinate constructions, and argue that these structures may bear directly on questions about the development of embedding and subordination in language in general. Deutscher (2009) argues persuasively that nominalization of a verb is the first step -- and the crucial step -- towards syntactic embedding. It has also been suggested that prosodic marking may precede syntactic marking of embedding (Mithun 2009). However, the relevant data from the stage at which embedding first emerges have not previously been available. Kafr Qasem Sign Language might be the missing piece of the puzzle: a language in which a noun can be modified by an additional predicate, forming a proposition within a proposition, sustained entirely by prosodic means.
2009 Itamar Kastner and Christof Monz. Automatic Single-Document Key Fact Extraction from Newswire Articles.
Proceedings of the Conference of the European Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics (EACL 2009), pages 415-423.
[pdf] [bib] [data] [slides] [abstract +/-]

This paper addresses the problem of extracting the most important facts from a news article. Our approach uses syntactic, semantic, and general statistical features to identify the most important sentences in a document. The importance of the individual features is estimated using generalized iterative scaling methods trained on an annotated newswire corpus. The performance of our approach is evaluated against 300 unseen news articles and shows that use of these features results in statistically significant improvements over a provenly robust baseline, as measured using metrics such as precision, recall and ROUGE.
Book review
Review of The Syntax of Roots and the Roots of Syntax (Alexiadou, Borer and Schäfer 2014, Oxford University Press). Language 92(1):210-212.

As Editor

2020 Stela Manova, Harald Hammarströom, Itamar Kastner and Yining Nie. What is in a morpheme? Theoretical, experimental and computational approaches to the relation of meaning and form in morphology. Word Structure 13(2).
2018 Itamar Kastner and Beata Moskal. Non-local contextual allomorphy. Snippets 34.
[link] [pdf]

Conferences (recent and upcoming)

(2020) Matthew Tyler and Itamar Kastner. Morphology feeds prosody in Degema serial verb constructions: A reply to Rolle (2019). LSA 2020.
Patricia Irwin and Itamar Kastner. Type theoretic lexical semantics and the roots of verbs in syntax. Poster at LSA 2020.
2019 Patricia Irwin and Itamar Kastner. Formalizing the syntax-lexical semantics interface: A type-theoretic approach. OASIS 2.
Itamar Kastner and Fabienne Martin. Pieces of meaning in unexpected places: Wug-ir and wug-er nonce verbs receive a different default semantics in French. Poster at OASIS 2.
Daniil Bondarenko, Onur Özsoy and Itamar Kastner. Grammatical factors in morphological processing: Evidence from allomorphy. Poster at Architectures and Mechanisms of Language Processing (AMLaP).
Daniil Bondarenko, Onur Özsoy and Itamar Kastner. Grammatical factors in morphological processing: Evidence from allomorphy. Poster at the 32nd CUNY Conference on Human Sentence Processing (CUNY).
Odelia Ahdout and Itamar Kastner. Intransitive verbs in Hebrew and the input to nominalization. Poster at the 93rd annual meeting of the Linguistic Society of America (LSA).
2018 Daniil Bondarenko, Onur Özsoy and Itamar Kastner. Sensitivity to allomorphy in morphological processing. In the 2nd Conference on Interdisciplinary Approaches to Linguistic Theory (CIALT 2).
Odelia Ahdout and Itamar Kastner. Non-active verbs in Hebrew and the input to nominalization. In the 49th meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS 49).
Odelia Ahdout and Itamar Kastner. The interaction of nominalization and Voice. In the 4th Workshop on Aspect and Argument Structure of Adverbs/Adjectives and Prepositions/Participles (WAASAP 4).