Thursday 2 June – Prerna Nadathur

Speaker: Prerna Nadathur (Universität Konstanz)
(Joint work with Elitzur Bar-Asher Siegal, Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Title: Modeling progress: event types, causal models, and the imperfective paradox
Date: Thursday 2 June
Venue: Online (join our mailing list to receive link)
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Abstract
Under progressive marking, telic predicates (e.g. write a novel, run a marathon) can describe events that fail to reach culmination, an effect famously known as the imperfective paradox (Dowty 1979).  Prominent accounts of the effect tie the truth of telic progressives to the accessibility of culmination (Dowty, Asher 1992, Landman 1992, a.o.), intensionalizing the progressive operator (PROG), so that it instantiates qualifying (culminated) eventualities across a set of modal alternatives to the evaluation world.  This approach faces empirical challenges from acceptable progressives of unlikely-to-succeed events (e.g., cross a minefield) and progressives in ‘out of reach’ contexts, where culmination is circumstantially precluded by reference-time facts (cf. Szabó 2008, Varasdi 2014).

We propose an approach on which telic progressives are instead sensitive to (mereological) structure inherited from an event type introduced by (telic) predicate P.  An event type constitutes a formal causal model (e.g., Pearl 2000) in which P‘s culmination condition C occurs as a dependent (caused) variable.  The model provides a set of causal pathways for realizing C, each of which comprises a set of jointly sufficient conditions (events and/or properties) for C, and establishes (sets of) conditions which preclude C.   On this approach, the progress of an actual (token) P-eventuality can be measured with respect to the event type.   A reference time situation  satisfies PROG(P) just in case it is a plausible cross-section of an incomplete causal pathway in Pmust verify some but not all the conditions in a causal pathway for C, and fail to verify a sufficient set of conditions for non-culmination.

This approach severs the truth of telic progressives from the locally-assessed likelihood of culmination, shifting the intensional element of imperfective paradox effects from the progressive aspectual operator to the mereological structure of telic predicates themselves.    We show that this delivers improved judgements for challenging paradox data, including progressives of unlikely and ‘out of reach’ events, and—by means of the special status awarded to intentions in models for agentive predicates—offers an immediate account of progressive data where an agent’s intentions appear to supersede realistic assessment of the likelihood of culmination.

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Thursday 19 May – Giuseppe Rugna

Speakers: Giuseppe Rugna (University of Florence/LUCL)
Title: The morphosyntax of wh-paradigms and wh-copying
Date: Thursday 19 May
Venue: Lipsius 123 [note room change]
Time: 15.00 – 16.15 hrs [note time change]

Abstract
This talk addresses the question of how grammars can classify wh-elements into construction-specific paradigms. The paradigmatic nature of wh-elements can be observed in different ways in externalization. One such ways pertains to the distinction between e.g. interrogative vs relative elements, which can assume different morphophonological and morphosyntactic properties in different languages (e.g. Standard Dutch interrogative wie vs relative die, Italian interrogative che vs relative cui, etc.; cf. Rugna to appear). Furthermore, in so-called wh-copying constructions (e.g. Felser 2004, Barbiers et al. 2009), languages can spell-out intermediate copies differently from the copy at scope position, and in disparate ways (e.g., as free relative pronouns in German (Pankau 2013), as headed relative pronouns in Dutch (Barbiers et al. 2009, Boef 2013), as full-fledged copies in Afrikaans (Lohndal 2010), as personal pronouns in Seereer (Baier 2018)), a seemingly problematic state of affairs under the Copy Theory of Movement. Assuming that the grammar bars construction-specific features (e.g. [+interrogative] [+relative]; Chomsky 1981), questions arise as to the nature of wh-elements and their interaction with Merge and the interfaces. In this talk we attempt to address such issues by arguing in favor of a minimalist framework that eschews morphosyntactic features and relegates most morphophonological operations at the mapping with PHON.

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Thursday 12 May – Jutta Hartmann

Speakers: Jutta Hartmann (University of Bielefeld)
Title: Syntax-Information-Structure Interaction: Data and analysis
Date: Thursday 12 May
Venue: Online (join our mailing list to receive link) / watch on campus in Lipsius 121
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Abstract
In this talk, I discuss a number of different structures which show different ways of the interaction of syntax and information-structure: specificational copular clauses in Germanic, clefts and pseudoclefts, and (apparent) topic movement in German. These structures ilustrate different concepts of information-structure and different ways of interaction with syntax. I propose that such interaction should indeed be modelled as part of syntax, but in close interaction with an information-structural module. The core idea is that syntax and information-structure interact during the derivation with phases being sent to the information-structural module, which assigns feature bundels to these structures. The feature bundels combine information-structureal features, formal features readable in syntax, semantic features readable to LF, and phonological features relevant for PF. In this way, this module handles the interaction with context. I discuss the merits of such an appraoch compared to syntactic approaches using TopP and FocP, and contrast it with interface proposals for such an interaction.

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Thursday 28 April – Justin Case

Speakers: Justin Case (University of Ottawa/LUCL)
Title: Constructing the Siona nominal from the bottom up: a Minimalist perspective
Date: Thursday 28 April
Venue: Lipsius 121
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Abstract
This talk focuses on the Ecuadorian variety of Siona, a Tukanoan language of the Western branch spoken by roughly 200-300 individuals, with a special emphasis on the syntax of nominal structures. Over the past decades there has been a lively discussion in the literature regarding how much structure is hosted within the extended nominal projection and whether all nominals can be unified as a single category, corresponding to a (more or less) universal structure (e.g., Abney 1987, Alexiadou 2004, Chomsky 1995, and many others). Here I contribute to this discussion by considering the structure and functions of nominals (DPs) as particular to the empirical facts of Siona – a language with, among other relevant properties, a mildly agglutinating character, a mid-sized inventory of nominal classifiers, a plural marker split, complex differential case marking patterns, and radical argument drop. Translated to the perspective of generally accepted tenets of minimalist structure building, I address (i) which heads are projected to form nominal “words” and DP-internal modifiers, (ii) the set of features that these heads host, (iii) some aspects of adnominal modification, in the absence of an independent syntactic adjectival category. Finally, I discuss these baseline facts in the context of microvariation across the Tukanoan family and languages belonging to neighbouring families which display similar defining properties of the North-West Amazonian (NWA) typological profile.

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Thursday 21 April – Kristel Doreleijers & Marjo van Koppen

Speakers: Kristel Doreleijers (Tilburg University/Meertens Institute) & Marjo van Koppen (Utrecht University/Meertens Institute)
Title: ‘New’ dialect grammar across borders: Brabantish hyperdialectisms at the interface of sociolinguistic enregisterment and focus marking
Date: Thursday 21 April
Venue: Lipsius 121
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Abstract
This talk focusses on Brabantish, a Low Franconian dialect variety spoken in the southern Dutch province of North Brabant. In the Netherlands, dialects are currently in a stage of dialect levelling. Due to contact with the standard language and other language varieties, many typical local dialect features disappear. Simultaneously, dialects are losing their position to Dutch as a first language and a home language. However, recent research within the area of North Brabant shows that these processes of convergence and language shift are accompanied by divergence, i.e., the magnification of dialect features. To illustrate this, we zoom in on one specific Brabantish dialect feature: the adnominal marking of lexical gender. Recorded dialectal speech and social media data reveal many hyperdialectisms that emphasize a deviation from the standard language, i.e., overgeneralizations of the masculine gender marking suffix. We argue that the production of these non-expected forms is driven by both language-external and language-internal factors, especially in the dialect of ‘new’ speakers. In the first place, the adnominal gender feature becomes linked with social and place-based identities in a sociolinguistic process of enregisterment. In addition, the gender marker seems to be gaining a new function as a marker of information structural focus at the DP and CP level. Drawing on work in progress, we hypothesize that both processes are mutually reinforcing.

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Thursday 10 March – Matthijs Westera

Speaker: Matthijs Westera (LUCL)
Title: What are questions? An English-centered, pragmatics & prosody-based perspective
Date: Thursday 10 March
Venue: Lipsius 121
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Abstract
What are questions? What are the meanings of interrogative sentences, such that speakers can rely on them for asking questions? What kinds of pragmatic constraints govern questions, analogous to what the Gricean maxims would do for assertions? And how do these issues relate to notions such as ‘declarative question’, ’embedded question’ and ‘Question Under Discussion’? A certain perspective on these issues emerged from my work on exhaustivity/scalar implicature, in which I have found that attention plays a crucial role, and English prosody. In a nutshell, asking a question amounts to drawing attention to pieces of information that you consider worth making common ground. In the talk I will make this more precise, and illustrate it by means of a number of empirical puzzles surrounding questions in English. Along the way I will revisit the notion of Question Under Discussion and reflect on the relation between unembedded and embedded questions.

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ComSyn: Spring 2022

The new season of ComSyn will run from March through June. Talks will be on the same day and time as the previous season: Thursdays, 16:15-17:30 CET. All talks will be in Lipsius 121, aside from 19 May in Lipsius 131.

In principle, talks are planned to be in person (with drinks afterwards), but of course this will remain subject to covid measures—particularly for international speakers.

The full program is as follows:

Date Speaker (Affiliation)
10 March Matthijs Westera (LUCL)
31 March Balthasar Bickel (University of Zurich) [POSTPONED]
21 April Kristel Doreleijers (Tilburg University/Meertens)
28 April Justin Case (University of Ottawa/LUCL)
12 May Jutta Hartmann (Bielefeld University)
19 May Giuseppe Rugna (University of Florence/LUCL)
2 June Prerna Nadathur (University of Konstanz)
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Thursday 9 Dec – Michael Diercks

Speaker: Michael Diercks (Pomona College)
Title: Building Bridges: Developmental Minimalist Syntax
Date: Thursday 9 December
Venue: Online (get the Zoom-link through the Mailing List)
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Abstract
By many measures, the generative grammar project in its current iteration (the Minimalist Program) has been highly successful as a framework motivating and organizing syntax research on the world’s languages. Nonetheless, contemporary generative grammar remains relatively intellectually isolated, with a relatively minor impact on the cognitive sciences more generally. While there are likely many reasons for this, among the major ones is that there has not been much success linking particular components of the Minimalist syntactic framework to particular cognitive properties outside of the grammaticality judgments it is based on. In particular: why does a Minimalist derivation of a sentence build structures bottom-up when language is neither produced nor perceived in that way? Is a Minimalist derivation nothing more than an extended metaphor?

This talk sketches a framework that has the potential to be a bridge out of our isolation. Building on a long history of similar ideas, Developmental Minimalist Syntax (DMS) proposes that the reason that bottom-up derivations model adult syntax so well is that adult grammars (in part) encode the developmental pathways by a child acquires grammatical knowledge. Specifically, DMS claims that so-called ”Universal Grammar” (UG) is in fact a precise description of cognitive biases about the configuration that we mentally represent grammatical knowledge in when we acquire it. That is to say, Merge does not only build adult grammatical structures; the reason it does so is because it describes the format that occurs when children successfully arrive at a grammatical generalization in acquisition. DMS claims that the Minimalist derivation of a sentence recapitulates the child’s developmental pathways precisely because adult grammatical knowledge retains those earlier stages of knowledge. DMS therefore predicts fairly tight correspondences between timelines of acquisition and sequences of derivational steps in a Minimalist analysis.

Ideas along these lines have persisted in the field for a long time (e.g. Radford 1990, Rizzi 1994). Part of the the novel contribution of DMS is that it suggests that acquisition does not correspond specifically to structural height in adult grammar, but to sequences of the Minimalist derivation. Because structures are canonically built bottom-up, this generally does correspond to structural height. But it also opens the door to instances where acquisition is out of sync with structurally height: what this predicts is that it should correspond to an ”out-of-sync” Minimalist derivation. We suggest that such patterns do in fact occur in adult grammars: they are the counter-cyclic phenomena that the field has long considered a thorn in its side. Look-ahead effects are where something happens in a derivation before it ”should” (according to a strict bottom-up cycle): we suggest this corresponds to ”early” acquisition of a piece of grammar by children. Likewise, Late Merger inserts material into the structure after it ”should:” we suggest this corresponds to a child acquiring a piece of grammar after its surrounding structures.

Acquisition data suggest that this is plausible, though our own novel empirical work is in a fledgling state. The reason we continue to pursue the idea, though, is that it has the potential to connect the large, abstract structures (and complex derivational sequences) of Minimalist analyses with a large data set (child language) that is distinct from the grammaticality judgment data that Minimalist analyses are built on. If this idea were to hold up, it would begin to construct a bridge both for syntacticians to make direct predictions about acquisition, but also for acquisitionists to make direct claims about adult syntax. A lot of work is necessary before we get to that point, though. This talk sketches a framework based on what we know so far.

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Thursday 11 Nov – Halima Husić

Speaker: Halima Husić (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
Title: Individuation and Countability of Event Nominals
Date: Thursday 11 November
Venue: Lipsius 207
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs
Abstract: Derived nominals which carry an eventive meaning have been thoroughly discussed in syntax and semantics with respect to a variety of phenomena including verbal/nominal properties, argument structure, aspectual properties, or polysemy. Considering nominal properties, such as pluralization, the issue shifts to the count/mass distinction and the need to determine whether such event nominals are count or mass. In this regard, several theories have been put forward arguing that aspectual properties or the argument structure drive the countability of such nominals. Thorough corpora studies have shown, however, that the issue is not as clear-cut as assumed. On the contrary, event nominals are subject to great variation. In my thesis I investigated 200 de-predicated nouns in COCA and identified generalizations regarding the distinctive features that drive countability in event nominals and meaning shifts which result in a change of countability as well. In this presentation we will look into different ways of individuating event nominals and how these cases differ from ordinary counting constructions. We will show that the distinction between individuation and countability is essential in understanding how the count/mass distinction is manifested in eventive nominals.

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Friday 5 Nov – Ur Shlonsky

This Friday there will be an extra in-person ComSyn Talk by Ur Shlonsky (University of Geneva):

Speaker: Ur Shlonsky (University of Geneva)
Title: Focus preposing and its role in Bantu inversion, inverted copular sentences and contrastive ellipsis
Date: Friday 5 November, 11:15-12:45 (note different timeslot)
Venue: Lipsius 208 (note different room)
Abstract:
The existence of a dedicated VP-peripheral FocusP in UG remains moot outside cartographic circles. I bring syntactic evidence to bear in its favor and illustrate the role of movement to a low focus position in the computations that underlie Bantu inversion, inverted copular sentences and contrastive ellipsis.

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