Tag Archives: Syntax
7/06-07 Variation and Syntax: Where are we now, and where do we go next?

July 6-7, 2013
2353 Mason Hall

Organizer contact: Jeffrey Parrott (jkparrott@gmail.com)

Click here for workshop website.

See Workshop Description

Alan Munn, Michigan State University
Jeffrey Keith Parrott, University of Copenhagen

Supported by the National Science Foundation BCS-1265444

Invited speakers:
David Adger, Queen Mary, University of London
Leonie Cornips, Meertens Institute, Amsterdam
Bill Haddican, Queens College, City University of New York
Cristina Schmitt, Michigan State University
Jennifer Smith, University of Glasgow
Sali Tagliamonte, University of Toronto

For at least the past two decades there has been a growing interest in the reconciliation of sociolinguistic variation and syntactic theory. These vital fields of inquiry have been estranged virtually since their inception, with longstanding disputes mainly centered on fundamental methodological and theoretical issues. However, recent work (e.g., Adger & Smith 2005; Adger 2006; Adger & Smith 2010; Nevins & Parrott 2010, among others) has demonstrated that variationist empirical methods are indeed well suited for investigating variable phenomena of relevance to syntactic theorizing, and furthermore that independently developing theories of syntax and its interfaces have become sufficiently articulated that plausible mechanisms of intra- and inter-individual variation can be proposed. Thus, the purpose of this workshop is not only to synthesize our current understanding of syntactic variation, but to stimulate future collaborative research beyond the conventional domains of either variationist sociolinguistics or theoretical syntax. For instance, application of both variationist empirical methods and refined theoretical concepts (e.g., Adger 2010; Parrott 2012) to the study of second- or first-language acquisition (e.g., Smith et al. 2007; 2009; Parrott 2009), multi-lingualism or -dialectalism, language/dialect attrition or death, heritage languages or dialects, or other emerging topics increases the potential for unification of an even greater scope. To such ends, the workshop is primarily aimed at students and young researchers and features three invited one-hour lectures and up to fourteen 30-minute talks, along with panel commentary, small group collaboration, and plenty of time allotted for general discussion.

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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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Syntactic Variation: Sentences and Utterances

Ralph Fasold – Georgetown University
Course time: Tuesday/Thursday 11:00 am – 12:50 pm
2333 Mason Hall

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This course will explore how inherent variability, as asserted by linguistic variation scholarship, can be understood with respect to variation in syntax. We will limit ourselves to what Suzanne Romaine has referred to as “pure syntactic variables”, as opposed to morphosyntactic/ morpholexical, morphophonemic and pure phonological, variables.  The approach to syntax that we will assume is the Minimalist Program (MP) of Noam Chomsky. Relating variation in “pure syntax” to the MP is more daunting than it might at first seem, because MP theory and variation theory are not about the same thing.  MP syntax is about sentences.  Variation analysis is about utterances.  Sentences are abstractions; utterances are observable events. One cannot, strictly speaking, write or speak a sentence, only an utterance approximating one. The course will propose that we need separate approaches to sentences and utterances.  Both contribute to the understanding of language, but are fundamentally separate.

We will take up in detail four cases of “pure” syntactic variation: 1) the alternation among which, that and zero in relative clauses as studied by Tagliamonte et al (2005), 2)  the variation between pronouns and reflexives that exists even where the classic binding theory forbids it, 3) variation in word order in Dutch verb clusters as researched by Barbiers (2005), and 4) the alternation between preposition stranding and pied-piping of WH-noun phrases. The second and third cases emerge from my own research.

The approach will be in-class lectures augmented by Powerpoint slides.  There will be two out-of-class assignments, in which students will be asked to search an online corpus for examples that support or challenge the analyses of reflexives and pied-piping presented in class. The assignments will call for a discussion of how the examples relate to the presented analyses.

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