Category Archives: syntax

Friday, May 25: Guglielmo Inglese (Pavia/Bergamo)

The final Language Variation & Change workshop meeting of the year will take place this Friday, May 25th at 3:30 pm in RO 301. Our speaker will be Guglielmo Inglese, a visiting student from the University of Pavia and the University of Bergamo. Please see below for more information.

“The middle voice in Hittite: between synchronic description and diachronic explanations”
Guglielmo Inglese (University of Pavia & University of Bergamo)

Research middle voice in Hittite has mostly focused on morphological issues, such as the shape and the distribution of the middle endings, both from a synchronic and a diachronic perspective. Much less attention has been paid to the function of the middle voice. In this talk, I will present some preliminary results on an up-to-date description of the syntax and semantics of the Hittite middle voice.

Based on the exhaustive analysis of middle verbs occurring in original Old, Middle, and New Hittite texts, I will provide a thorough treatment of the various functions performed by this morphological marker. On the one hand, I will address the issue of media tantum, i.e. middle verbs lacking an active counterpart, including transitive deponent verbs, and suggest possible motivations for their idiosyncratic behavior. On the other hand, I will focus on verbs showing diathesis alternation, and investigate the meanings associated to oppositional middles. These are passive, reflexive, anticausative (decausative), and reciprocal. The description of each function will be framed in current trends in the typology of valency changing operations. As I will show, the middle voice behaves as a verb-sensitive valency reducing strategy, as the semantic interpretation of middle forms is partly constrained by the semantics of the individual predicates.

Finally, I discuss how synchronic approaches largely fail in providing a satisfactory description of the middle voice, and show that much of the attested synchronic variation can be better understood in diachronic terms. In doing so, I briefly illustrate how the various functions are diachronically related, and provide a tentative sketch of the development of the middle voice in the attested history of the language.

Friday, May 18: Andrew Ollett (UChicago)

There will be a meeting of the Language Variation and Change Workshop this Friday at the usual time and place (3:30 in RO 301). Our speaker is Andrew Ollett, a visiting professor in the SALC department. Please see below for details. Hope to see you there!

“The Disappearing iti: Clausal Complements in Middle Indic
Andrew Ollett (University of Chicago)

Clausal complements work differently in Sanskrit than they do in modern Indic languages like Hindi, Marathi, and Bengali. What happened in the thousands of years that separate these stages? Texts in Middle Indic languages, which represent a stage between Sanskrit and the modern languages, reveal a shift away from the direct construction with the complementizer iti. This talk will lay out the different strategies of complementation that are used in Sanskrit and Middle Indic, their distribution in and across texts, and how changing strategies of complementation interact with the changing role of the particle iti. I argue that the use of iti as a complementizer is well-established in early Middle Indic, but over time, it is used less often for clausal complements than it is for clausal modifiers, whether adnominal or adverbal. These tendencies only take us part of the way to the situation in modern languages, but they reveal important patterns of syntactic change that operated across the Indic languages.

Wednesday, May 2: Ricardo Etxepare (CNRS)

Our visiting syntax guru, Ricardo Etxepare, will be speaking at LVC this Wednesday, May 2nd at 12 pm in Foster 103. Lunch will be served.

Details about his talk can be found below, and you can learn more about his research at his website:

Hope you can make it!

“Economy governed microparameters: a view from Basque dialects”
Ricardo Etxepare (CNRS, IKER UMR 5478)

The general question:

The general question I would like to address in this talk is the following: what can we learn about mental properties, more particularly about language as a cognitive system, from the spatial distribution of linguistic variables? I would like to show that correlated variation (that is, correlative distribution patterns involving syntactic phenomena), can help us understand formal relations between pieces of I-language, and uncover certain basic aspects of the acquisition device that go beyond UG. The geolinguistic information used for this work is of the traditional sort, based on data gathered from elicitation methods, and mapped into cartographic resources.

More concretely:

The phenomenon: The presentation will be devoted to examine the syntactic distribution of auxiliaries in Basque, which is subject to significant variation along the west-east axis.

The microparameter: In eastern varieties, the auxiliary can behave as a semi-lexical or light verb, and then has the same distribution of so-called “synthetic verbs” in Basque, which possess a lexical root. In central dialects, the auxiliaries correspond to the lexicalization of purely functional material, probably of T/Agr (Arregi and Nevins, 2012). This microparameter has effects in other areas of the grammar, particularly in the left periphery of the clause.

The historical background: This variation has its diachronic source in the emergence or verbal periphrases from biclausal structures (Mounole, 2011), and their varying grammaticalization into monoclausal structures. Basically, the process can be seen as one going from lexical restructuring to functional restructuring (Wurmbrandt, 2014 amongmany others).

Beyond the microparameter: When looking beyond the auxiliary domain into the domain of finite copulas, however, we realize that issues other than lexicalization are at stake. The contrasting distribution of copulas and auxiliaries across the Basque varieties examined here points out to a principle of representational economy that governs the distribution of marked and unmarked values of a micro-parameter. This principle must be part of the learning algorithm (as in Roberts, 2007; Holmberg and Roberts, 2010; Biberauer and Roberts, 2012; Roberts, 2016; and Roberts and Roussou, 2003; also Van Gelderen, 2011).

Friday, March 30: Savithry Namboodiripad (UMich)

This week we will be hosting Savithry Namboodiripad of the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on how language contact affects linguistic variation, in particular constituent order in the world’s languages. Her dissertation examined this question in Malayalam via psycholinguistic experimental methodology (you can read more here:

Please see below for information about her talk this Friday, March 30th at 3:30 pm. We will meet in RO 301.

“Contact, variation, and change in constituent order: integrating social and cognitive approaches”

Savithry Namboodiripad (University of Michigan)

Languages vary as to how flexible the order of the major sentential constituents are, and both basic (canonical) constituent order and flexibility are empirical domains which have been described as being particularly susceptible to contact-induced change (e.g., Heine 2008, Friedman 2003, Bickel et al. 2017). However, less is known about the processes by which language contact leads to change in constituent order, and what the role of flexibility might be, if any. Here, I address these topics using an approach to contact-induced change which integrates social and cognitive explanations, and I argue that systematicity in the outcomes of contact-induced change can be at least partially explained by the dynamics of language learning and use in multilingual contexts.
The talk has two main parts: first, I propose and motivate a cross-linguistically valid operational measure of flexibility in constituent order using formal acceptability judgment experiments. I present experiments in English, Malayalam, and Korean which show that this measure yields gradient results that align with what is known about the structure of each language. In addition, I show that speakers of Malayalam and Korean who have more experience with English differ quantitatively but not qualitatively from those who have less experience with English: more experience with English corresponds to a greater preference for canonical SOV order in both Korean and Malayalam.
In the second part of the talk, I discuss the details of the contact situation for both groups of speakers. The high-contact Malayalam speakers are young people who grew up in post-colonial India where English is an inextricable part of daily life, and English has led to change in Malayalam as spoken in India at all levels of linguistic analysis. The high-contact Korean speakers are English-dominant individuals who grew up in the United States, were schooled in English, and, in some cases, have limited fluency in speaking Korean. Based on the properties of these acceptability judgment experiments, I argue that the similarities between these two contact situations could explain the similar outcomes of contact. On analogy with “frontier conditions” (Nichols 2017), I discuss the potential for common contact outcomes under “post-colonial conditions” and “immigrant conditions” more broadly speaking, and posit that future investigation of these types of speech communities can shed light on other cases of contact-induced phenomena like creoles and mixed languages.
Under this approach, factors like literacy, language attitudes, and language policy are treated as causal variables which shape the contexts in which the languages and varieties in an individual’s repertoire are used and processed. Individuals inherit the social contexts in which they learn and use language (cf. ontogenetic niche). Thus, links between social structure and language structure are derivable from systematic investigation into how languages are differentially processed in multilingual contexts across the lifespan.

Friday, January 19th at 12:30: Isaac Bleaman

This week the Language Variation and Change workshop is co-sponsoring an event with Comparative Literature, who is hosting Isaac Bleaman of NYU ( Isaac will give a talk on “Hasidic Yiddish Syntax on the Internet: Competing Trends in Language Change” this Friday 1/19 at 12:30 PM in Classics 110. (Note the unusual meeting time for LVC!)
More information on his talk, as well as other events this week, can be found in the flyer below.

Friday, January 12 at 3:30 PM: Yaroslav Gorbachov (UChicago)

Please join us for the first LVC meeting of the quarter on Friday, January 12th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Our speaker will be Yaroslav Gorbachov. Please see below for details about his talk.

Slavic ‘animacy’/’virility’ as a contact phenomenon?
Yaroslav Gorbachov (University of Chicago)
It appears to be commonplace in the literature to assume that the “animacy” category of Russian (which has evolved from an earlier “virility” category) is a contact phenomenon (thus, e.g., Andersen 1980, Thomason, Kaufman (1988:249)). In this paper I discuss the “animacy”/“virility” category in a broader context of differential object marking (DOM) and argue that it is unlikely to have arisen in Slavic as an areal feature due to contact with Uralic.

Friday, November 3 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) — joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us for a talk by Adam Singerman at a joint meeting with the Morphology & Syntax workshop, on Friday, November 3rd at 1 PM in Cobb 119. Details in the attached abstract.

Evidentiality, grammatical number, and physical position in Tuparí

Adam Singerman (University of Chicago)

Friday, October 6th at 3:30 PM: Jessica Kantarovich (UChicago)

Please join us for a talk by yours truly at LVC on October 6th at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. Details about the talk are below.

Alignment shift in Chukotkan: the case against contact-induced change

Jessica Kantarovich
University of Chicago

The Chukotkan branch of the Chukotko-Kamchatkan family displays an unusual kind of ergativity, with unambiguously ergative case marking on nouns but an “ergative split” in the verb. Based on Fortescue’s (1997, 2003) reconstructions and the accusative patterning of Kamchatkan, ergative case marking appears to be an innovation in Chukotkan. While Fortescue argues that this change arose due to substrate effects from Yupik, I argue that this is unlikely, based on other contact-driven changes in both language families and the nature of this contact. Instead, I propose that the change was internally-motivated, stemming from the reanalysis of a passive participial.


Friday, March 3rd at 3:30 PM: Brian Joseph at LVC

LVC is very pleased to be hosting Brian Joseph of OSU this Friday, March 3rd. We hope you can join us for his talk at 3:30 PM in Rosenwald 301. As always, there will be a small reception following the talk.

Social and Semantic Factors in the Diffusion of Morpho-Syntactic Change — Evidence from the Infinitive in Greek and the Balkans”

Brian Joseph
Ohio State University

A key feature differentiating latter Greek from Classical Greek is the demise of the verbal category and set of verbal forms known as the infinitive.  Starting in Koine Greek of the Hellenistic period, we see a gradual erosion of the domain of the infinitive – both as to use and as to form – culminating in the modern form of the language with no infinitive at all.  Rather, there is only finite subordination with verbal forms marked for person, number, and aspect, and in some instances tense.  Moreover, this retreat of the infinitive and spread of finite subordination is found throughout all of the Balkan languages. I trace here the spread, i.e. the diffusion, of the loss of the infinitive within Greek, first examining the semantic factors that play a role in the progression of infinitive-loss and tying it to event structure.  I then shift gears and look at a seemingly anomalous late retention of the infinitive in Jewish Greek of Constantinople, and tie that to the social circumstances of Jewish languages in general.  In this way I provide some insight into both the semantic and the social side of the diffusion of a key morpho-syntactic change in Greek and other languages in the Balkans.

Poster with Event Details

Friday, February 24 at 1 PM: Adam Singerman (UChicago) – Joint with Morph&Syn

Please join us this Friday, February 24th at 1PM in Rosenwald 208 for a joint meeting of LVC and the Morphology & Syntax workshops. Our speaker will be Adam Singerman.

Finite embedding and quotation in Tuparí

Adam Roth Singerman
University of Chicago

Tuparí (Tupían; Brazil) has innovated a finite embedding construction that bears the structural hallmarks of an internal headed relative clause. What makes this construction typologically unusual is that it instantiates an apparent violation of the Final-over-Final Condition (a proposed universal discussed at length in recent work by Biberauer, Holmberg, Roberts, and Sheehan): the Tuparí configuration shows a left-branching syntactic projection dominating a right-branching one.

This talk will present the main descriptive and analytic generalizations concerning finite embedded clauses in Tuparí and will examine the implications for current theories of syntactic disharmony: Biberauer et al’s FOFC and Hawkins’s Performance-Grammar Correspondence Hypothesis. In particular, I will show that the Tuparí facts are more problematic for the PGCH than for FOFC (even if FOFC’s appeal to innate constraints in UG is not fully satisfactory as an explanatory mechanism). 

The talk concludes with an examination of the origins of finite embedded clauses in Tuparí. While such clauses transparently involve the grammaticization of a demonstrative third person pronoun as a clausal subordinator, there is evidence that the backwards syntactic dependencies visible in direct quotation have also played a role.