November 20, 2014

Guest speaker: Susi Wurmbrand (University of Connecticut)

Our department is pleased to welcome guest speaker Susi Wurmbrand from UConn. Her research is centred around theoretical syntax, especially with reference to Germanic languages. She will be giving a talk on Friday the 28th in SS 560A, starting at 3:15 PM: Restructuring cross-linguistically: Evidence for three clausal domains. The talk will be followed by a reception in the department lounge.

Since the seminal works by Rizzi and Aissen & Perlmutter many important studies of restructuring/clause union have been provided in various generative frameworks. Due to the variability of contexts that allow restructuring (both within and across languages), most studies are restricted to specific languages and the conclusions reached in those works (e.g., about the size of restructuring infinitives or the mechanisms creating restructuring effects) are often contradictory. In this talk, I provide an overview of restructuring in 23 typologically diverse languages, and I argue that rather than a single restructuring “parameter” there are specific points of variation that conspire to create different degrees of restructuring. The cross-linguistic distribution of three restructuring properties (long object movement, clitic climbing, inter-clausal scrambling) shows that two types of restructuring need to be distinguished: voice restructuring, which determines whether a language does or doesn’t allow long object movement (such as long passive), and size restructuring, which regulates the distribution of clitic climbing and scrambling. Concretely, I argue that the cross-linguistic diversity of restructuring is derived from the existence/absence of a particular voice head and the location of the target position of scrambling and clitic movement. Following Grohmann (2003), I adopt the view that clauses are composed of three domains (A’-domain, tense domain, and thematic domain), and that size restructuring, which is hypothesized to be available universally, arises when the tense and/or A’-domains are not projected. The cross-linguistic differences in the availability of clitic climbing and inter-clausal scrambling are attributed to different target positions of these operations. Restructuring effects only arise when the target position of clitics/scrambling is within a domain that can be omitted as part of size restructuring. If the target position is in a domain lower than the domain(s) affected by size restructuring, restructuring effects do not arise. One of the main general contributions of this study is that despite the initial diversity of restructuring, certain generalizations emerge that allow us to separate language-specific points of variation from the contribution of UG that restricts this variation in predictable ways.

Susi will also be giving a shorter talk earlier that afternoon for the Syntax/Semantics Squib Section group, from 1 PM to 2 PM and also in SS 560A: Crossing phases: The cost of QR.

In this talk, I discuss issues regarding the determination of the syntactic domains which can be crossed by quantifier raising (QR). A long-standing question, for instance, is why QR is apparently clause-bound in English and not possible out of finite clauses, whereas overt A’-movement (wh-movement, topicalization) can escape from finite clauses via successive cyclic movement. The issue becomes even more puzzling when scope in antecedent contained deletion (ACD) contexts is considered, which, assuming ACD is resolved via QR, point to the conclusion that QR out of finite clauses is possible when ACD resolution is at stake. A final issue concerns the variability in judgments and significant variation across speakers, which is found mostly when QR out of infinitival clauses is considered, but also for QR from finite clauses. Based on the judgments and generalizations reported for English and Italian, the main observation I make in this talk is that scope interpretations requiring QR decrease in acceptability the more syntactic domains are crossed by movement. The hypothesis I put forward is that rather than imposing restrictions on the syntactic domains from which quantifier raising is possible (e.g., QR is ‘clause-bound’) or the application of QR itself (e.g., via Scope Economy), QR obeys the same syntactic restrictions as other A’-movement operations—i.e., QR is in principle possible successive cyclically, thus also across finite clauses. However, due to its invisibility, QR incurs a processing cost which increases with increased complexity of the structure as defined by a theory of syntactic phases. Thus, decreased acceptability (which is often gradient) reflects increased processing difficulty rather than a syntactic violation. This approach offers an explanation for the variability in judgments reported in this area, and it has consequences for the theory of syntactic movement and the determination of syntactic domains.

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