Understanding the theory of syntax
Seminar summer 2014


Course Information

Dr. Asad Sayeed
C7.2 Seminarraum 2.11
Meeting times
Thursdays 12:00-14:00 ct
asayeed at coli d0t uni hyph3n saarland d0t de
Course language

Goals of the seminar

What makes syntax syntactic? The overwhelming majority of human beings appear to be able to acquire some form of syntax as children regardless of the linguistic environment in which they are raised, but the ability to impart this to other species has not been conclusively demonstrated (to put it mildly).

In the meantime, syntax bears some relation to phonology, morphology, semantics, and so on. What exactly is that relationship, and how much "content" does it really need to have?

A part of the answer to these questions involves teasing apart what language "delegates" to syntax, which may not necessarily be much at all! This seminar will deal with this and other related questions in the hopes of exposing students to syntactic theory and giving students the opportunity to "think theoretically". Imparting a theoretical perspective fully would take longer than a single COLI seminar: we will instead focus on how to read and understand theoretical papers at a very abstract level and (if we're lucky) how to debate and critique theoretical ideas.

THIS IS NOT A FORMALISMS COURSE. Formalisms can delineate the scope of theories, but describing a formalism is not necessarily the same as making a theoretical claim. I will mostly be focusing on a "Chomskyan" Minimalist/GB framework, but students are free to use whatever formal framework (e.g. LFG, HPSG, or even one you made up for some principled reason, or just stick with whatever I do) they like in their presentation (and term paper, as applies).

Mailing List

If you want to participate in the course, you have to sign up for the mailing list. Sometimes I will point out material this way, and I also encourage using the list for discussion purposes.

Requirements and evaluation

You are expected to do one presentation. Some of you will want to submit term papers for additional credit. Some of you will want an oral exam. The presentation and/or term paper should cover either a linguistic phenomenon relevant across languages or a particular general theoretical point. For the presentation, you can just present a single paper (in detail) if you like. Syntactic theory does not demand PowerPoint -- a handout and whiteboard presentation is perfectly good and in keeping with traditional style for theorists. You can approach me for topics and literature suggestions, just make an appointment by email.

Your participation in the presentations/discussions led by your peers is also important...

Calendar and readings

I will lecture for a few weeks, and then we will switch to student-led presentations/discussions. I may take up lecturing again if we run out of student presentations, but it will be in discussion group form. There'll usually be not more than one paper or book chapter to be read each week.

Date Topic
(15.04.2014) A couple of slides I prepared for the semester introductory day. For interest only.
24.04.2014 Introduction to the course, organizational details. Motivations, getting to know each other. No readings required for this day.
The slides here.
01.05.2014 MAY DAY. State holiday, no meeting.
I forgot this on the original schedule. The next reading is ready but you have to sign up.
08.05.2014 Methodological issues and philosophical underpinnings. Read chapter 1 of this handy free book by Sag and Wasow.
The slides are now up.
15.05.2014 More methodological issues and philosophical underpinnings, with a focus on minimalism. I will provide an excerpt of Juan Uriagereka's Rhyme and Reason. This reading you need to get from me by email/the mailing list. It's ready if you want it.
The slides on the Uriagereka reading are now up.
22.05.2014 I'm going to do an "anatomy of a syntactic argument" lecture using this paper from 2009. Try to read it for "structure" and basic ideas, I don't expect full understanding.
The slides I created for this talk.
29.05.2014 ASCENSION DAY, state holiday -- No class was held.
03.06.2014 Special replacement lecture at 10am, Aquarium C7.4.: read at least the first 15 pages of Adger and Svenonius (2009), Features in Minimalist Syntax. Preferably all of it. I will explain what it is saying in class. Should be easier than the paper I used for my "immersion" experiment last class.
The slides are here.
05.06.2014 Bryan Zhang's presentation.
Paper: Wh-in-situ in Mandarin Chinese, Hooi Ling Soh (2005). Should be available here.
12.06.2014 Ilya Kornev's presentation.
The subject is functional grammar. It's an excerpt of a functional grammar textbook that I will inform you about via the mailing list.

The rest of the calendar will unfold as I gauge interest, student presentations are scheduled, and so on.