Thursday 15 September – Pavel Rudnev

Speaker: Pavel Rudnev (University of Groningen)
Title: PPI-disjunctions in Russian
Date: Thursday 15 September
Time: 15.15-16.30
Venue: Lipsius 235C

Abstract:  We know since at least Szabolcsi (2002) that disjunction markers in certain languages display remarkable similarities with some in English, similarities attributable to both groups of elements’ status as positive polarity items. In the case of disjunction, this translates into the inability of disjunction to scope under a local sentential negation leading to violations of De Morgan’s laws: He doesn’t speak Russian or German in Russian can under certain circumstances be interpreted as a disjunction of negations, the narrow scope reading being unavailable. The current consensus in the literature seems to be that positive polarity is a semantic phenomenon. In this talk I suggest that positive polarity has an important syntactic component, which I show by revisiting the locality of (anti-)licensing, rescuing, the phrasal vs. clausal coordination as well as overt movement and scope in Russian.

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Comparative Syntax Meetings resume!

Our meeting resume after the summer break!

We are happy to announce our preliminary schedule:

15-9 Pavel Rudnev
29-9 Probal Dasgupta
13-10  TBA
27-10 Olaf Koeneman
10-11  TBA
24-11 Alexandra Rehn
(8-12)  (TBA)
14-12 Vera Gribanova
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Thursday 2 June – Jakub Dotlačil

Speaker:  Jakub Dotlačil (University of Groningen)
Title: Intermediate traces in mind
Date: Thursday 2 June
Time: 15.15-16.30
Venue: Eyckhof 2-003

Abstract: Since Chomsky (1973), it has been argued extensively in syntactic research that movement spanning two or more clauses proceeds in successive cycles. Furthermore, it has been noted that intermediate traces created by successive-cyclic movement should be detectable by psycholinguistic methods, for example, in eye tracking/self-paced reading (Frazier and Clifton, 1989, Gibson et al., 2004, Keine, 2015). Consider (i).

(i) Who did the consultant claim [t_who that the proposal had pleased t_who]?

Gibson et al. (2004) and Keine (2015) show that the reconstruction of the object position t_who of “pleased” is faster in (i) than in case there is no intermediate trace present. I will discuss their findings in light of a model of memory retrieval, which might predict such a state of affairs given some well-established properties of memory (temporal decline, increase of activation after a successful recall). The main questions to be addressed will be: (i) can computational models of memory be tied to syntactic models to make fine-grained predictions in psycholinguistics (cf. Lewis et al., 2005)? (ii) can such models be used to make specific linguistic arguments (in this case, the existence of intermediate traces and their localization – at CPs, vPs etc.)?

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Tuesday 17 May – Maria del Carmen Parafita Couto

NB. Different day, different room

Speaker: Maria del Carmen Parafita Couto*  (Leiden University)

Title: Ungrammatical configuration: experimental evidence from code-switching

Date: Tuesday 17 May

Venue: Van Eyckhof 1/003C

Time: 15.15-16.30 hrs

 *Joint work with Luis López (University of Illinois at Chicago) and Hans Stadthagen González (University of Southern Mississippi)


In this talk we discuss some recent results that contribute to our understanding of ungrammaticality in the realm of syntactic dependencies. Within generative grammar, a failed dependency has traditionally been accounted for in terms of (i) unvalued features on the goal, (ii) the probe or (iii) a combination of both. We propose a fourth hypothesis: the perception of a dependency as ungrammatical is a diffuse property of the items contained in the domain of the dependency. We utilize experimental code-switching data, which provides the necessary granularity to test the role of various factors in the breakdown of a dependency. We report on results from a two-alternative forced choice judgment task (analyzed by applying Thurstone’s (1927) Law of Comparative Judgment) in which Spanish-English bilingual subjects were asked to choose among different options that would violate Stowell’s (1981) Adjacency Condition. Our results lend support to the fourth hypothesis.

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Thursday 21 April – Deniz Tat

Speaker:  Deniz Tat (Leiden Institute for Area Studies)
Title: Acategorial Roots in an Agglutinating Language
Date: Thursday 21 April
Time: 15.15-16.30
Venue: Eyckhof 2-003

One of the main claims of Distributed Morphology (DM) is that word formation occurs in syntax (Halle and Marantz 1993). In this theory, a word minimally consists of a Root, an atomic unit of sound and meaning, and a categorizing morpheme that provides the Root with a category label  (Harley and Noyer 1999). The Semitic family presents some of the strongest arguments in favor of acategorial Roots, e.g. √GDL à gadal ‘grow’ in Hebrew (Arad 2005).  In this talk, I will argue for the universality of acategorial Roots by showing that they also exist in a language like Turkish, with a morphology that is as unrelated to the Semitic family as one can imagine. I will discuss this by showing two cases of allomorphy conditioned by Root adjacency (i.e. Key’s (2013) analysis of aorist and causative allomorphy in Turkish). I will also discuss the categorial status of the Roots as whether projecting or non-projecting syntactic elements, and claim that they cannot project, unlike what has been argued in the literature (e.g. Harley 2011).

Arad, M. 2005. Roots and patterns: Hebrew morpho-syntax. Dodrecht: Springer.
Halle, M. and Marantz, A. 1993. Distributed morphology and the pieces of inflection. In A view from Building 20: Essays in linguistics in honor of Sylvain Bromberger, ed. K. Hale and S. J. Keyser, 111-176. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Harley, H. 2011. On the identity of Roots. M.s. University of Arizona.
Harley, H. and Noyer, R. 1999. Distributed Morphology. GLOT 4/4, 3-9.
Key, G. 2003 The Morphosyntax of the Turkish Causative Construction PhD thesis. University of Arizona.


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Thursday 7 April- Heidi Klockmann

Speaker: Heidi Klockmann (Utrecht Institute of Linguistics OTS)

Title: The syntax of quantificational elements:drawing on insights from the distribution of features in the DP

Date: Thursday April 7                      

Venue: Van Eyckhof 2/003

Time: 15:15 – 16:30 hrs


In this talk, I focus on the syntax of quantificational elements, e.g. numerals, quantifiers, and quantifying nouns in pseudopartitive constructions, with an emphasis on identifying how the idiosyncrasies of these quantificational items interact with what I take to be uniform processes of case and agreement. In English, for example, quantifying nouns such as bunch or number are not a target of agreement, despite appearing to be the head of the construction and morphologically singular (a bunch / number of students); agreement instead targets the quantified noun, e.g. A bunch / number of students were studying in the library. The puzzle with these is how is it possible for agreement to skip over the quantifying noun in favor of the quantified noun? Numerals in English present similar puzzles, where agreement occurs with the quantified noun as opposed to the numeral, despite the presence of singular indefinite a, e.g. a hundred students were studying and similarly a whopping 75 farms have gone bankrupt. Likewise, in Polish (and a number of other Slavic languages), where there are four morphosyntactic classes of numerals, each showing a varying degree of adjectival and nominal properties, certain numerals consistently trigger default agreement and participate in numeral-specific patterns of case assignment.

Assuming case and agreement to be uniform processes within a language, it follows that it is the quantifying element itself which triggers unusual patterns of case or agreement. I take the perspective that we can understand these patterns by carefully examining the distribution of features in the structure, particularly on the quantifying element. This talk will consist of a number of case studies into quantificational elements, mostly from Polish and English, showing how the distribution of features interacts with case and agreement to produce the patterns that we find. This talk will be an exercise into a view of semi-lexicality (taking many of these quantifying elements to be semi-lexical) as a combination of the structural locus of an element and its feature composition.

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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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