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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Language Typology

Edward L. Keenan and Laura Kalin
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 3:30-5:20 pm
2306 Mason Hall

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This course focuses on syntactic typology. We correlate syntactic types with
genetic and areal groupings of languages and certain morphological patterns. We present five major topics selected on a broad semantic basis. For each topic we present patterns of variation, review or suggest explanations for them and assess how well they can be characterized in current syntactic theory. We close with a formal presentation of how to state language universals over syntactically non-isomorphic languages.

Our topics:

1. Word order types: Verb Final, Verb Initial, Serial Verb Languages
Hixkaryana: ?The odd man out
2. A. Relative Clause Formation
Prenominal, postnominal, resumptive pronouns, finite/non-finite verbs
B. Valency Affecting Operations (VAOs)
Rich Voice Systems (W. Austronesian)
Rich Applicative Systems (Bantu)
Syntactic Role: VAOs feed extraction
3. Anaphora Patterns in the World’s Languages
Reflexives: templatic, affixal, clitics, full arguments
Reciprocals: templatic, affixal, clitics, full arguments
4. Quantification in the World’s Languages
D(eterminer) Quantifiers
A(adverbial) Quantifiers
Linguistic Invariants over non-isomorphic grammars

Pre-requisite for this course: an introductory linguistics course (with at least some basic syntax).


Syntactic Typology, Syntactic Theory, and Syntactic Reconstruction

Mark Hale – Concordia University
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 9:00-10:50 am
2336 Mason Hall

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This course is designed to walk students, beginning with conceptual basics, through the myriad of complex issues which surround the relationship between the two distinct approaches to `universalism’ (typological generalization and formal model construction) and the task of syntactic reconstruction. There is considerable debate in the literature as to the possibility of actually reconstructing the syntax of a protolanguage, with a general split between nay-sayers (usually ‘formalists’, though I myself hate using labels) and advocates (usually ‘functionalists, though, ditto) regarding the process.

We will begin with a consideration of the relationship between typology,  formal model construction and reconstruction methodology in a somewhat less controversial (though still subject to much debate) domain: that of phonological reconstruction, thus exploring the debate between typologists and formalists in a domain within which there is no serious dissent as to the practability of reconstruction.

We next turn to a survey of typological approaches to syntactic structure, including the wealth of new tools (e.g., the WALS database) now available to assist scholars in establishing an empirical foundation for their investigation.  The general theoretical issue of the ‘grounding’ of typological generalizations will be raised at this juncture as well (since this forms part of the basis for the conflict between ‘functionalists’ and ‘formalists’ in reconstruction).

Next, we turn to the often very different kinds of generalizations that ‘formalist’ models seek to account for, the types of evidence which are offered up for such generalizations, and the ‘grounding’ (in this case, in UG) of the accounts offered.

We turn finally to the question of how these two types of approach play out for the issue of syntactic reconstruction. What are the ‘units of analysis’ in the two domains which COULD (in principle) be reconstructed? What would the successful reconstruction of such units tell us about the ‘syntax’ (in the descriptive sense) of the proto-language and what would it leave unclear?

In conclusion, we move to the practical consideration of three specific ‘test cases’:

(1) embedded clause stuctures in Proto-Indo-European,

(2) the ergative vs. accusative reconstruction of Proto-Polynesian and

(3) Wackernagel’s Law and the ‘left periphery’ (i.e., syntax-discourse interface) in Proto-Indo-European. We will conclude with some general lessons, open avenues for future research, etc.

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