Thursday 24 March – Enoch Aboh

Speaker: Enoch Aboh (University of Amsterdam)
Title: Back to D
Date: Thursday 24 March
Venue: Van Eyckhof 2/003
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

In this paper, I return to a debate I had at a distance with Zeljko Bošković in the years 2008-2011 when based on independent empirical facts we made similar observations about the universality of the category D, but drew opposite conclusions. In a series of studies investigating the universality of D, Bošković (2008, 2009) argues that the absence/presence of articles in languages correlates with very specific clausal properties of which some are summarized under table 1.

Properties Languages without article Languages with article
Left-branch extraction yes no
Adjunct extraction yes no
Scrambling (e.g., long distance scrambling from finite clause) yes no
Multiple wh-fronting yes no
Clitic doubling no yes
Transitive nominals with two genitives no yes
Island effect in head-initial relatives yes no
Majority reading of MOST no yes
Negative raising no yes

Table 1: The DP/NP parameter (adapted from Bošković 2008)
Though these properties may turn out to be areal, they indicate that the presence/absence of articles in a language depends on clausal properties rather than a parameter that regulates the pronunciation of the category D. In maintaining the traditional view that D is a primitive category, Bošković concluded that languages which lack T also lack D.

While this correlation might hold, the idea that D is a primitive syntactic category subject to tense parameter is not unproblematic, though. Outside Romance and Germanic, the category is notoriously fuzzy. Many languages of the world do not have (in)definite articles of the Indo-European type, but encode definiteness by other syntactic devices that are not expressions of D (e.g., pre- vs. post-verbal position, classifiers, modifiers, see Cheng & Sybesma 1999, Aboh 2004). In Kwa, bare nouns freely occur in argument and non-argument positions, where they can be interpreted as (in)definite or generic depending on context. These ‘radical’ bare noun languages therefore seem not to require D, unlike modern Germanic and Romance. In this regard, it is interesting to note that while most modern Romance and Germanic languages (e.g., French, English) have (in)definite articles, these were not present in the relevant source languages (e.g., Latin) or at earlier stages of their development (e.g., Old English). Accordingly, D is a derivative category in these languages. Given this state of affairs, it is perfectly legitimate to ask:
a. What conceptual motivation do we have for postulating the category D as a syntactic category (independent of clausal properties)?
b. Why do (in)definite articles develop in some languages but not in others?

In addressing these questions, I argue that there is no category D in the strict sense, but C, which may take the form of so-called articles when it heads a nominal predicate. More explicitly, D is a mere label used to refer to a nominal C(omplementizer). Under this view, we can reduce the number of phases to just two (i.e, C, p), where ‘little p’ stands for predicates in general.

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Thursday 10 March – Wei-Tien Dylan Tsai

Speaker: Wei-Tien Dylan Tsai

Title: Operator Binding and the Syntax of Analyticity

Date: Thursday 10 March

Time: 15.15-16.30

Venue: Eyckhof 2-003


In this talk, we entertain the possibility that peripheral features play a crucial role in the formation of the upper layer of a sentence, which can be checked by either external Merge or internal Merge (i.e., Move) according to the parameter-settings of individual languages. Along this line, topic prominence is regarded as the result of peripheral feature checking, and the null topic hypothesis à la Huang (1984) is reinvented as a null operator merger to fulfill interface economy in the left periphery. In this regard, Chinese provides substantial evidence from obligatory topicalization in outer affectives, evaluatives, and refutory wh-constructions, which applies only when the licensing from a D(efiniteness)-operator is blocked.

The idea also extends naturally to the issues concerning pro-drop and bare nominals in general. Namely, we may well compare Chinese obligatory topicalization to those residual cases of verb-second (V2) in English, all being manifestation of the strong uniformity. Topic prominence can also be reinvented in this new light: The null topic operator can be regarded as the quantifier part of a definite argument, just like a Q(uestion)-operator or a polarity operator (call it an $-operator) that functions as the quantifier part of a wh-phrase:

  1. D-operator binding for bare nominals in-situ:

            [Dx-Top]         . . .       N(x) . . .

  1. Q-operator binding for wh- in-situ:

            [Qx-Int]           . . .       wh(x) . . .

III.      $-operator binding for indefinite wh:

[$x-Mood] . . . wh(x) . . .

Consequently, a Chinese topic is either an XP in the Spec-head relation with Top, or a discontinuous DP consisting of a peripheral D-operator and an in-situ nominal. In the case of pro-drop, a P(redication)-operator is raised instead to trigger predication on a null discourse topic in Huang’s (1994) sense. P-operator is essentially the syntactic counterpart of a l-operator in semantics (cf. Chierchia 1984, 1985): 

  1. P-operator binding for pro-drop:

            [PredP Topic [Px-Pred [TP  . . . ex . . . ] 

Furthermore, we present evidence showing that the scope-taking property of mei ‘every’ is realized not through Quantifier Raising (QR), but by merging a distributive operator (i.e., the implicit counterpart of dou) directly to the left periphery:

  1. “-operator binding for mei-NPs:

[“x-Dis] . . . mei-NP(x) . . .

We this complete the spectrum of the operator binding construals in question. In a robust analytic language such as Chinese, where a phrase can be constructed in a sentential magnitude (cf. Tsai 1994), this is not only possible but also necessary.

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Thursday 25 February – Maria Tenizi

Speaker: Maria Tenizi

Title: Revealing Α Possible Do-Support Technique in Cypriot-Greek. Implications and Analysis of the Left Periphery

Date: Thursday 25 February

Time: 15.15-16.30

Venue: Eyckhof 2-003


The presentation will point at Cypriot-Greek syntax through data analysis and overview. The analysis will focus on the formation of interrogative sentences in the dialect in an attempt to make the complementizer-activating process explicit. This empirical problem will be looked upon in detail in order to refer to the work done so far and the further study needed. Making a reference to do-support in English and Romance languages, a possible link to Cypriot Greek will be sought aiming at exemplifying this technique as a possible one in Cypriot Greek as well. Having talked about that, this exact phenomenon in Cypriot Greek, will be ultimately brought to surface to sketch the insertion mechanism, alongside the environments it is triggered in, and the implications this emergence implies for syntactic theory.


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Thursday 11 February – Hossam Ahmed

Speaker: Hossam I. Ahmed (Leiden Institute for Area Studies)

Title: Reconstructing Verbal Complementizers in Arabic

Date: Thursday 11 February

Venue: P.N. van Eyckhof 2/003

Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

Abstract: A class of Modern Standard Arabic complementizers known as ‘ʔinna and its sisters’ demonstrate unique case and word order restrictions. While CPs in Arabic allow both Subject-Verb (SV) and Verb-Subject (VS) word order and their subjects show nominative morphology, CPs introduced by ʔinna ban a verb from directly following the complementizer. Preverbal subjects in ʔinna clauses show accusative case marking, while postverbal subjects show nominative morphology. Previous research explains these restrictions as default case or Multiple Case Assignment, both problematic for Case Theory as they violate the Activation Principle.

I explain word order and case effects of ʔinna within the framework of Phase Theory and Feature Inheritance (FI). Morphological, historical, and usage evidence point out that ʔinna-type complementizers have verbal properties similar to illocutionary verbs. Taking Case to be a reflection of phi features that T heads receive from higher heads (e.g. Complementizers) via Feature Inheritance, the nominative-accusative alternation on preverbal subjects can be attributed to the selection of C heads: phi features on null complementizers and conditionals reflect as NOM, while phi features on Verbal Complementizers (VCs) reflect as ACC. Nominative postverbal subjects in ʔinna clauses are explained as an effect of anti-agreement at Spell-Out. Postverbal subjects and the Case probe on T are PF local, allowing for impoverished case agreement. Preverbal subjects and the Case licenser belong to different Phonological Phrases. To satisfy the Recoverability Condition, full case agreement is required between T and the subject, resulting in accusative morphology on the subject. Finally, the requirement that ʔinna-clauses have an intervener between ʔinna and the verb is explained by associating the full phi features of ʔinna with EPP. As the phi set is inherited from ʔinna to T, the EPP property is satisfied by the preverbal subject or by adverbial intervening between ʔinna and the verb.

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Thursday 17 December – Marieke Meelen

Speaker: Marieke Meelen (LUCL)

Title: Reconstructing the Rise of V2 in Middle Welsh

Date: Thursday 17 December

Venue: Van Wijkplaats 3/006

Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

Abstract: Middle Welsh word order has been a ‘vexed’ problem for a long time. First of all, because the basic order was verb-second (called the ‘Abnormal Order’ by Welsh grammarians), whereas Old and Modern Welsh exhibit verb-initial patterns. Secondly, there is a wide range of V2 patterns (subject, object, adjunct or verbal-noun-initial) in Middle Welsh and the distribution of those is not at all clear.

Data from a syntactically and pragmatically annotated corpus show that the sentence-initial position in Middle Welsh could be occupied by contrastively focused constituents at first, but later also by contrastive topics and new information focus as well as Aboutness and Familiar topics. In this talk I show how these V2 patterns developed by carefully reconstructing their syntactic history from earlier patterns with hanging topics and focussed cleft constructions in Old Welsh and related Celtic languages. I argue that a combination of pragmatic and syntactic features explains which word-order pattern appears in which particular context, thus contributing to a better understanding of the origin and distribution of these ‘Abnormal’ patterns in Middle Welsh and knowledge about the development of V2-patterns in general.

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Thursday 3 December – Christos Vlachos

Speaker: Christos Vlachos (Queen Mary University of London)

Title: Wh-inquiries revis(it)ed

Date: Thursday 3 December

Venue: Van Wijkplaats 3/006

Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

Abstract A standard (hypo)thesis, within the framework of Generative Grammar, has been that a wh-parameter may broadly classify languages into two types with respect to how they form wh-questions: languages like English usually front wh-elements, while languages like Chinese usually realize wh-elements in situ. Wh-fronting languages may also feature wh-in situ arrangements, and a tacit (hypo)thesis, tied to the aforementioned one, is that fronting configurations map to information-seeking (“true”) questions, while the in situ counterparts correspond to echo (“pseudo”) questions. Neat as this taxonomy may appear to be, in Greek, which is a typical wh-fronting language, each wh-configuration may map to either meaning. This evidence, in turn, raises the question as to “how much” of the relevant semantics is registered in the relevant syntactic structures. This is the question that this talk will address, by capitalizing on already documented evidence from distribution, interpretation and intonation. The idea to be spelled-out is that part of the relevant semantics is calculated in syntax, while another part is computed by intonation.

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Thursday 19 November – Anna Volkova

Speaker: Anna Volkova (Higher School of Economics (Moscow) & Utrecht University)
Title: Locally bound possessives in Mordvin languages 
Date: Thursday 19 November
Venue: Van Wijkplaats 3/006
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

Reuland (2011) and Despic  (2011, forthcoming) propose the following correlation between the prevalence of dedicated reflexives and definiteness marking: Languages without prenominal definite articles employ dedicated reflexive possessives while languages with prenominal definite articles employ simple pronominals. The question is, then, why this would be so, and whether more basic properties of the computational system underlie this correlation. In my talk I contrast data on the use of locally bound possessives in two Mordvin languages: Shoksha Erzya and Moksha. Neither language has prenominal definite articles, hence in both one would expect to find a dedicated reflexive possessive. In Moksha, indeed, a dedicated reflexive possessive es’ is used to encode this relation (1), while in Shoksha Erzya a genitive form of a pronominal is employed (2).

(1)  Son      kel’k-si                            es’         c’ora-nc.
       S/he     love-npst-3sg.s.3sg.s  self
She loves her son. (Moksha)

(2)  Son       aj-n’ijh-sa-za                               sons’inde       brat-t.
       S/he     ipf-see-prs-3sg.o.3sg.s             s/he.intf.gen  brother-def.gen
He sees his brother. (Shoksha Erzya)

Moksha es’ is feature deficient in number and person (which is complemented by the obligatory presence of a possessive marker on the head noun), unlike the pronominal in Shoksha Erzya. The question is then, what could explain the difference, and what it entails for the Despic-Reuland conjecture. I argue that the relevant factor is not the presence of a DP shell on the object NP per se, but that a broader range of intervening factors enters into an explanation.

Despic, Miloje. 2011. Syntax in the Absence of Determiner Phrase. PhD dissertation, University of Connecticut.
Despic, Miloje. Forthcoming. Phases, Reflexives and Definiteness. Syntax.
Reuland, Eric. 2011. Anaphora and Language Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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Thursday 5 November – James Griffiths

Speaker: Jemes Griffiths (Utrecht University)
Title: The syntax of reformulative appositions 
Date: Thursday 5 November
Venue: Van Wijkplaats 3/006
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs


Reformulative appositions (RAs) are appositions that provide alternative and often more informative names for the referents (1a) or concepts (1b) that their anchors denote. (In (1), appositions are italicised and anchors are boldfaced.)

(1)         a.       The Big Apple, or New York, is a huge city.

b.       Bren confusticates, i.e. perplexes, Swantje.

I claim that reformulative appositions are coordinated with their anchors in a ‘regular’ manner. In other words, I claim that (1a) fits the coordination schema in (2), which is identical to the schema for an utterance such as Bill and Ben slept.

(2)         [[The Big Apple], or [New York]], is a huge city.

I use a variety of arguments to support this claim. To provide two here: (i) I show that RAs are not opaque to c-command, as is typically assumed (for instance see (3), where ATB-movement is observed), and (ii) I show that an understudied subset of RAs that permit ellipsis license gapping, which is reserved for coordinative environments (see (4), where chevrons denote ellipsis).

(3)         [Which country]1 do you hate the motorways of t1, or as the Americans say the highways of t1, the most?

(4)         He went there last month, Sting <went> to New York, I mean.

I also show that this analysis of RAs is superior to the ‘orphanage’ analysis, according to which RAs are remnants of elliptical clauses that are derived in syntactic isolation to their host clauses (5).

(5)         The Big Apple, [New York <is a huge city>], is a huge city.


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Thursday 29 October – Mark de Vries

Speaker: Mark de Vries (University of Groningen)
Title: The Proleptic accusative as an exceptional Exceptional Case Marking construction
Date: Thursday 29 October
Venue: Van Wijkplaats 3/006
Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

This talk (representing joint work with Marjo van Koppen and Lucas Seuren) is about the so-called proleptic accusative. This construction type is relatively rare, but attested in a number of different languages (e.g., Latin, German, Nahuatl). I will discuss data from Middle Dutch in particular, which enables us to shed new light on the matter. An example is the following:

Maer  die         serjanten       sijn     kenden          den     coninc            van         Israël,

but   the         sergeants         his      knew             theacc    king              of        Israel

dat        hi        niet     was   harde   fel.

that       henom   not      was   very    fierce

lit. ‘But his sergeants knew the king of Israel, that he wasn’t very fierce.’ (Rijmbijbel,      v.12643, translation ours)

What is interesting is that there appear to be too many arguments in the main clause, one of which is thematically related to the subordinate predicate. It can be shown that the proleptic accusative is crucially different from complex cases of raising. Instead, we explore two novel and competing hypotheses about its structural properties. We first suggest that an analysis in terms of clausal coordination and ellipsis straightforwardly solves a number of syntactic complications, but this leads to problems with semantic interpretation in various cases. We then propose that the seemingly additional accusative argument in the matrix can be base-generated as an embedded hanging topic of the complement clause involved. This requires exceptional accusative case marking across a clause boundary by the matrix verb. The necessary combination of various prerequisites explains why the proleptic accusative is only sporadically found across languages. Importantly, however, it is now clear how this complex construction type can be decomposed into more basic syntactic ingredients without additional stipulations.


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Thursday 15 October —Melissa Farasyn

Speaker: Melissa Farasyn  (University Gent)

Title: Agreement patterns in Middle Low German non-restrictive relative clauses

Date: Thursday 15 October

Venue: Lipsius 235B

Time: 15:15 – 16:30 hrs 


In this talk I will focus on agreement patterns in Middle Low German (MLG) non-restrictive relative clauses, particulary in relative clauses with a first or second person antecedent. This implies the following kinds of structures, in which some kind of agreement has to be achieved between antecedent, relative pronoun and VfinRel:

            O here de du my geschapen hefst

            O lord REL you me created have-2SG

‘O lord who has created me’

(Ey(n) Jnnige clage to gode, Münster, 1480)

            dat=tu mijn vader woldest wesen de mijn schepper bist

that=you my father would be REL [ ] my creator are-2SG

‘that thou wouldst be my father, who [thou] art my creator’

(Dat myrren bundeken, Münster, 1480)

The establishment of agreement between these elements can result in different agreement types, which will be called agreement patterns or agreement chains (Kratzer 2009). Starting point of detecting these patterns will be the ones found in High German (HG), since these were already largely described (f.e. Ito & Mester 2000, Kratzer 2009, Trutkowski & Weiß to app.). I will use the constraints for detecting the phenomenon in HG to explain how we can find these – not that common – patterns in a MLG corpus. Based on a focused corpus study, I will give an overview of the syntactic distribution of the agreement patterns and I will focus on the patterns themselves. Using a privative feature system, a preliminary analysis of the agreement chains and the mismatches in MLG will be given. Further evidence for this analysis will be shown by looking at a former pilot study about null pronominal subjects in MLG (Farasyn & Breitbarth to app.), revealing some remarkable similarities to phenomena found in this study as well, as for example a strong influence from the discourse and the frequent occurrence of deficient pronouns (Cardinaletti & Starke 1999) in the Wackernagel position .



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