Thursday 14 October – Matthew Tyler

Speaker: Matthew Tyler (University of Cambridge)
Title: Switch-reference and big PRO
Date: Thursday 14 October
Venue: Online talk (join mailing list for link / watch at Lipsius 207)
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs

Switch-reference (SR) refers to the phenomenon where an embedded clause carries special morphology to indicate whether its subject is coreferential with, or disjoint from, the subject of a matrix clause. The correct analysis of SR has been hotly debated in recent decades. A central division has been whether SR morphology is purely realizational, in that it simply computes whether the two subjects are the referentially the same or different, and inserts the appropriate marker (Watanabe 2000, Arregi & Hanink 2021, Clem 2021, a.o.), or whether the same-subject marker has a different syntax and semantics from the different-subject marker (Finer 1985, Baker & Camargo Souza 2020, a.o.).

I this talk, I wade into this debate with some novel data from Choctaw (Muskogean), concerning the interaction of SR morphology and agreement. The generalization is thus: a same-subject SR marker allows subject agreement to be suppressed, either in the embedded clause or in the matrix clause. I argue that we should interpret this generalization in terms of PRO-licensing: the same-subject SR morpheme has the ability to license obligatory-controlled PRO, which does not trigger agreement, while its different-subject counterpart cannot license PRO. Thus, at least in some languages, same-subject and different-subject SR markers make different syntactic-semantic contributions. Finally, I situate my analysis of Choctaw SR markers within the theoretical landscape of switch-reference cross-linguistically.

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Thursday 30 September – James Baker

Speaker: James Baker (Leiden University)
Title: Parametric Comparison in the Clausal Domain
Date: Thursday 30 September
Venue: Lipsius 207
Time: 16.15 – 17.30 hrs (new start time!)

This talk is about the Parametric Comparison Method (PCM), which was initially developed by Giuseppe Longobardi and colleagues: see Guardiano & Longobardi (2017) for just one representative discussion. Specifically, it’s about the application of the PCM to a new domain. In general, the PCM brings together two distinct strands of recent scientific research: (i) computational methods originally developed in the context of evolutionary biology, and (ii) a Minimalist understanding of syntactic parameters. To describe the method in a nutshell, sets of parameter values for different languages form the input to computations which output best-fit family trees for these languages.

Work to date on the PCM has focused on parametric variation within the DP. This talk presents an extension of the same methodology to the clausal domain: vP, TP and to a limited extent CP. At the time of writing, we have data on 87 proposed parameters for 36 languages: 23 from (mostly western) Indo-European and the rest from a variety of other families. The results the PCM generates from this dataset produce family trees which closely correspond to the findings of the traditional comparative method. For example, they identify Romance and Germanic and established subgroupings within them, and many other groupings of this type.

Some deviations from the traditional family trees do occur, but in these cases plausible explanations for the observed results can generally be put forward by appealing to language contact. Going beyond this, it seems that the outputs of the methods may themselves provide a tool for independently identifying possible contact effects. Overall, it’s argued that our findings are strong support for the validity of the PCM as a method of establishing family trees.

This presentation is based on joint work with Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge), as part of the project Extending Parametric Comparison

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ComSyn Autumn/Winter 2021

As covid restrictions are slowly but steadily lifting, we’re delighted to announce that the new ComSyn season will feature a blend of online and in-person talks — the latter with drinks afterwards!

Talks will be on the same day as before, but in a new time slot: Thursdays, 16:15-17:30 Amsterdam/CE(S)T. The in-person talks will be held in Lipsius 207; please join our mailing list for links to the online talks.

The full program is as follows:

30 Sep — James Baker (LUCL) — In person
14 Oct — Matthew Tyler (Cambridge) — Online
28 Oct — Marjo van Koppen (UU) — TBD
11 Nov — Halima Husic (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) — In person [Combined talk with LUSH]
25 Nov — Matthijs Westera (LUCL) — In person
9 Dec — Mike Diercks (Pomona College) — Online

Should the covid situation deteriorate, we will have to be flexible and switch back to online. We will keep you posted about all changes to the program.

Looking forward to seeing you later this semester, and with best wishes,

Maarten & Lis (The ComSyn Organisers)

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Thursday 17 June — Zhaole Yang & Hang Cheng

Speaker: Zhaole Yang & Hang Cheng (Leiden University)
Title: On Mandarin propositional assertion sentences with shì and de
Date: Thursday 17 June
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs


In Mandarin, a number of different constructions surface with a copular like element shi or a sentence final de or both. They are easily confused with cleft constructions which also contain shi and de. The current study concentrates on one type of shi…de construction which has a propositional broad focus interpretation (often translated in English as “It is (indeed) the case/situation that…”). For instance:

(1) Nà-ge  dìfang    wǒ    shì    qù-guo     de.
dem-cl  place      1sg     be     go-exp     sfp
‘It is (indeed) the case that I have been to that place.’

(2) Zài-shì-nèi              shì     bìxū     dài        kǒuzhào      de.
at-room-inside       be      must    wear     mask            sfp
‘It is (indeed) the case that one must wear a mask in indoor spaces.’

(3) Wǒ    shì    chángcháng   qù       nàli      chīfàn         de.
1sg    be     often                go        there    eat.meal     sfp
‘It is (indeed) the case that I often have my meals there.’

(4) Zhāng Sān     shì   zhīdào    zhè-jiàn      shì          de.
Zhang San     be     know     dem-cl         thing      sfp
‘It is (indeed) the case that Zhang San knows this thing.’

In addition to the situation denoted by the predicate, these sentences also involve the speaker’s conviction about the proposition when shi and de appear. This study first defines the key syntactic and semantic properties of such propositional assertion sentences that can be distinguished from other constructions with shi and/or de. On the basis of these, shared features of all types of predicates that can be licensed in the scope of shì…de are examined. The licit predicates must be finite, stative, and declarative. Three selectional restrictions imposed by the propositional assertion sentences are accordingly put forth: [+finite], [+stative], and [-q]. We further argue that [+stative] is associated with de, [-q] is associated with shì, and [+finite] is related to both. In addition, the function of modals (e.g. (2)), aspects (e.g. (1)), and habitual elements (e.g. (3)) in relation to eventuality is discussed. We argue that they can serve as “type shifters”, turning eventives into statives.

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Thursday 3 June – Fabienne Martin

Speaker: Fabienne Martin (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Title: Requiem for a Theme
Date: Thursday 3 June
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15:15-16:30
Conjugation classes in Romance and beyond are typically seen as not contributing anything deterministic to the syntax or semantics; they are just a morphological necessity, often encoded by theme vowels. Contrary to this view, we explore the intuition that most French “Group 2” verbs have semantic characteristics, namely that they denote change of state. We provide a first experimental test of this hypothesis and outline a formal analysis. Our conclusion is that “Group 2” contains a productive verbalizing Cause morpheme /i(s)/ which speakers are able to generalize from. French has thus no conjugation classes as such, and only limited use of theme vowels. Rather, it has regular verbs (-er, “Gr. 1”), regular verbs with the /i(s)/ suffix (“Gr. 2”) and a small set of irregulars (“Gr. 3”).
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Thursday May 20 – Martina Wiltschko

Speaker: Martina Wiltschko (Universitat Pompeu Fabra)
Title: The grammar of knowing: A lesson from cross-linguistic patterns for markedness
Date: Thursday 20 May
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs


In this talk, I present evidence from a range of linguistic phenomena that the most unmarked types of clauses are used to assert a speaker’s knowledge about the actual world. This evidence includes propositional attitude verbs, modality, clause-typing, mood, evidentiality, and discourse particles. While it is not the case that knowledge cannot be marked as such, I show that it need not be linguistically marked. This invites the conclusion that knowledge is also the most basic mental representation, thus contributing to a long-standing philosophical debate regarding the nature of knowledge.

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Thursday March 18 – Zoë Belk, Ad Neeleman & Joy Philip

Speaker: Zoë Belk, Ad Neeleman and Joy Philip (UCL)
Title: What divides, and what unites, right-node raising
Date: Thursday 18 March
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs


We argue, following Barros and Vicente (2011), that right-node raising is either the result of ellipsis or of multidominance. The analysis is supported by four considerations. (i) Right-node raising has properties indicative of ellipsis, as well as properties indicative of multidominance. (ii) These properties can be combined, but only in limited ways. A pivot created through ellipsis may contain a right-peripheral secondary pivot created through multidominance, but not vice versa. Hence, a linear asymmetry in mixed patterns is predicted that is indeed present in the data. (iii) The two derivations are not in free variation, due to a restriction that multirooted multidominance structures can only be closed under coordination. Therefore, right-node raising in non-coordinate contexts displays properties indicative of ellipsis, but not properties indicative of multidominance. (iv) Multidominance gives rise to a difficulty in linearization that can be solved through a pruning operation. We show that the same operation delivers right-node-raising-as-ellipsis. Thus, right-node raising is either multidominance plus pruning, or pruning only. This explains why the two derivations are subject to the same word order restrictions.

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Thursday 4 March – Thomas McFadden & Sandhya Sundaresan

Speaker: Thomas McFadden (ZAS, Berlin) & Sandhya Sundaresan (U. of Göttingen)
Title: Unifying species of C-agreement
Date: Thursday 4 March
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs


In this talk, we will undertake one of the first detailed comparisons of clause-peripheral complementizer agreement (“C-agreement”) and argue that it is splintered across distinct heads which stand in agreement with dedicated extra-clausal arguments. In this, the heterogeneity of C-agreement parallels that of clause-internal agreement, which is also typically understood to involve distinct functional heads (e.g. T or v) in agreement with (often distinct) nominal arguments (e.g. a subject or object). “C-agreement” is thus a misnomer, masking a slew of disparate agreement phenomena that are rarely discussed in unison or compared (but see Baker, To Appear).

We will compare and contrast three distinct types of agreement on C: (i) downward complementizer agreeement (DCA) with an embedded subject, as seen in many West Germanic languages (van Koppen, 2017); (ii) upward complementizer agreement (UCA) with a matrix subject as in many Bantu languages (Diercks, 2013; Carstens, 2016, a.o.); and (iii) allocutive agreement (AA) with an extra-argumental Addressee, as seen e.g./ in Basque and Tamil (Oyharçabal, 1993; Miyagawa, 2017; McFadden, 2020). We will show that these patterns differ along distinct parameters which do not straightforwardly facilitate a unified analysis. Instead, we will propose that the heterogeneity of C-agreement is merely epiphenomenal of the CP itself being articulated across a sequence of C-heads in a rigid, monotonic order (cf. the functional sequence in Cinque, 1999, a.o.) — again paralleling the standard notion of a functional sequence within the TP (minimally, T > v> V). Differences in C-agreement, we will argue, fall out solely from differences, parametrized across individual structures and languages, wrt.: (i) the presence vs. absence of a probe; (ii) the height of a probe relative to the embedded CP phase; and (iii) the structure of the CP which, in turn, influences the availability of certain goals. We will conclude by showing that our model makes the right empirical predictions wrt. the distribution and typology of C-agreement, both across languages and across individual structures.

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Thursday 10 December – Olaf Koeneman & Hedde Zijlstra

Speaker: Olaf Koeneman (Radboud University) & Hedde Zijlstra (Georg-August-University Göttingen)
Title: Deriving pro drop in a non-paradigmatic way
Date: Thursday 10 December
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs


Apart from incidental contexts in which Germanic varieties allow partial pro drop (cf. Fuss 2005, Rosenkvist 2007), a categorical difference between Germanic and Romance languages is that none of former allows full pro-drop, whereas many of the latter do. This is standardly explained by reference to the whole paradigm (cf. Taraldsen 1978, Rizzi 1982, Jaeggli & Safir 1989): A language like Italian is rich overall, so it has pro drop across the board, whereas English is poor overall, so it lacks pro drop overall. Such a paradigmatic approach accounts for the fact that English does not even have pro drop in the 3rd person singular, despite the unique -s form, but it faces several problems. One of them is the existence of partial pro drop languages, which suggest that null subjects can in principle be contextually licensed, for instance in the 2nd person singular. However, a contextual approach to understanding pro drop massively overgenerates. It for instance expects English to have pro drop in the 3rd person singular. To conclude, there are two ways of expressing a link between pro drop and rich inflection (paradigmatically or contextually) and both fail. In this talk, we will sketch a way out of this conundrum and show how paradigmatic effects can be derived within a contextual approach.

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Thursday 26 November – Richard Stockwell

Speaker: Richard Stockwell (Oxford University)
Title: Contrast and Verb Phrase Ellipsis: Triviality, Symmetry, and Competition
Date: Thursday 26 November
Venue: Skype (contact us to get access to the meeting)
Time: 15.15 – 16.30 hrs

This talk, based on my recent UCLA dissertation, argues that contrast is crucial to verb phrase ellipsis (VPE). The contrast requirement comes to light from studying the interaction of VPE with triviality, symmetry, and competition. In some trivial sentences (1), VPE is ungrammatical for lack of contrast. With symmetrical predicates (2), symmetry creates semantic identity that overcomes non-identity in form, but can also lead to contrast failures. And in MaxElide effects (3) (Schuyler 2001, Merchant 2008), contrast (cf. Griffiths 2019) offers a more promising account for the ungrammaticality of VPE than competition from sluicing:

(1) If John is wrong, then he is *(wrong).

(2) John wanted to dance with Mary, but she didn’t want to (dance with him).

(3) John ate something, but I don’t know what (*he did).

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