Tag Archives: Institute Theme
Comparative Syntax

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

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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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Linguistic Diversity and Language Change

Lyle Campbell – University of Hawaii, Manoa
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
1401 Mason Hall

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In keeping with the theme of the Institute, Universality and Variation, this course addresses language diversity and language change, and how they interact with one another. It investigates broadly the following questions:

(1) How many language families are there in the world? How do we know?

(2) How many language isolates are there in the world, and how can we investigate their history?

(3) What are the prospects for finding new language classifications and thus of reducing the ultimate number of independent language families? How might controversial proposals of distant genetic relationship be resolved?

(4) How many of the existing languages are endangered? What are the implications of this for linguistic diversity and the classification of languages? Can endangered languages undergo changes that are not possible in fully viable non-endangered languages? What are their implications for historical linguistics generally?

(5) What implications does the discovery of unusual or unique linguistic traits in recent documentation of endangered languages have for how we view universals, linguistic typology, and aspect of language change?

(6) How do language contact and diffusion affect views of linguistic diversity?

(7) What is the relevance, if any, of human genetics, the farming/language dispersal hypothesis, and related matters to language classification and linguistic diversity?

Students at any level of preparation in linguistics are welcome to register for this course, although it will be clearest for students who have had at least a solid introduction to general linguistics and some familiarity with the basic concepts of phonology/phonetics, grammar, and historical linguistics.

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