Tag Archives: Syntax
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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Pidgins and Creoles: Social and Cognitive Aspects

Marlyse Baptista – University of Michigan
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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Some of the most compelling questions in the field of pidgins and creoles consist in identifying the linguistic sources and cognitive forces that shape a given creole: why does a particular creole look and sound the way it does? Where do its linguistic properties come from? What are the original populations and languages that contributed to its genesis?  This investigation ultimately hopes to shed light on two major cognitive questions:  how does the mind pull together linguistic materials from distinct sources to form a creole? What is the nature of the cognitive processes involved in creole formation?  In exploring some of these queries, this particular course will focus on the processes of convergence, relexification and grammaticalization and will contrast, regarding the latter point, general theories of grammaticalization (Lehmann, 2002; Hopper & Traugott, 2003; Fischer, 2007) with their generative (Van Gelderen, 2004) and usage-based (Tomasello, 2005; (Boyer & Harder, 2012) counterparts.  Comparing these approaches will allow us to gauge how each framework accounts for specific aspects of creole grammars and to assess their contribution to our understanding of how creole languages develop.   Besides its focus on cognitive issues in creole formation, other major topics in this course will include:

1) Socio-historical contexts of creole genesis, how a distinct history of population contact results in distinct structural outcomes;

2) examination of the morpho-syntactic properties of a set of creole languages;

3) contributions of L1 and L2 to the emergence of creole specific features.

Students enrolling in this class should have taken and introductory course in linguistics.

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Sentences and the Social: Representing Syntactic Variation

Julie Boland – University of Michigan
Lauren Squires – Ohio State University
Course time: Monday/Wednesday 1:30-3:20 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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Knowing the grammar of your language entails understanding how meanings map to syntactic structures, but these mappings are not strictly one-to-one.  We know, for example, that “Chris gave the book to Kim”  and “Chris gave Kim the book” are semantically equivalent and interchangeable. Likewise, we know “That car don’t run” is semantically equivalent to “That car doesn’t run,” but the two expressions are not interchangeable because the former is sociolinguistically marked. In this class, we explore the intersection of syntactic variation and sentence processing. Our approach assumes that knowledge of syntactic alternants, and of the social patterning of those alternants, is incorporated into our mental representations of grammar. As such, this knowledge should also be reflected in psycholinguistic theories. We will consider current theorizing that bears on this topic, and its limitations. Readings and discussion will address the following set of issues:

1. How do children deal with syntactic variation in the input?

2. How do adults represent and acquire syntactic variants that they themselves don’t use?

3. What is the role of language variation in sentence processing?

4. How do/can current models of linguistic competence and processing accommodate syntactic variation?

This course will be taught seminar-style, with students leading some of the discussions. The readings will focus on recent experimental research using a variety of online and offline methodologies. Students will work together to develop research proposals, which they will present to the class and write up as a final paper.

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