Comparative Syntax

Acrisio Pires – University of Michigan
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 3:30-5:20 pm
2353 Mason Hall

See Course Description

This course aims at introducing students to research on comparative syntax. It is directed to students interested in a more thorough understanding of the common properties of the syntax of human languages and of the possible variation across their structure.

Human languages have strikingly similar structural features, but at the same time they also vary in significant respects. A substantial amount of advances in our understanding of human language has resulted from the individual and comparative analysis of distinct languages. Their similarities and differences can be explored from cognitive, formal, theoretical and typological perspectives. This course focuses on a generative perspective to comparative syntax, by also taking into account insights from linguistic typology. It investigates approaches aiming at explaining both common properties and boundaries of variation across languages. Some of the questions that arise in this context are: what structural principles are common across different human languages? What kind of variation can we find across human languages? What parameters or alternative mechanisms determine the range of this variation? How can this variation be analyzed and understood in a precise way? What mechanisms give rise to this sort of cross-linguistic variation over time?

The course focus will be: (i) to introduce students to a generative approach to syntactic variation across languages, by discussing aspects of variation that have received prominent attention in the linguistics literature (e.g. word order variation regarding verb movement, wh-questions, empty categories); (ii) to explore extensions to different approaches to cross-linguistic variation (e.g. variation in clause structure and word order, and across case systems); (iii) to consider potential difficulties and limitations to unifying approaches to syntactic variation (e.g. non-configurational languages).

Students in this course should have taken an introductory undergraduate course in syntax or semantics.

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