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Full Title: DGfS 2015 Workshop: What Drives Syntactic Computation? Alternatives to Formal Features

Location: Leipzig, Germany
Start Date: 04-Mar-2015 - 06-Mar-2015
Contact: Dennis Ott
Meeting Email: click here to access email
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Meeting Description: Formal features (FFs) continue to figure prominently in various areas of syntactic theorizing. Displacement in particular is widely held to be effected by FFs or their properties (EPP, discourse-related features, etc.); External Merge, too, is commonly taken to satisfy featural requirements. However, various researchers have expressed skepticism toward this reliance on oftentimes arbitrary triggers and the 'Last Resort' character of syntactic computation in general (e.g., Chomsky 2001:6, Fanselow 2006, Zwart 2009), and some have sought more principled replacements. This workshop aims to explore and assess such alternative approaches to the causal forces underlying syntactic operations and their effects on interpretation and externalization.

Various lines of research have emerged that all seek to minimize the role of featural triggers. Reinhart (1995, 2006) argues that notions such as referentiality, scope, or focus cannot be reduced to FFs, despite their close association with syntactic operations (e.g., scrambling, QR, focus fronting). Instead, these operations are taken to apply freely in syntax, with variable effects on interpretation and externalization (see, e.g., Fox 1999, Szendroi 2001, Neeleman & van de Koot 2008). Moro (2000, 2004) and Ott (2012) argue that movement creates structural asymmetries required at the interfaces, an approach which Chomsky (2013) extends to the elusive 'EPP' and the vexing problem of intermediate movement steps. Even the traditional assumption that movement of wh-phrases is triggered by corresponding FFs in the C-system has not gone unquestioned (Simik 2012).

Borer's (1984) conjecture that parameters are exclusively expressed in terms of features of functional heads traditionally assigns FFs a central role in linguistic variation. Deviating from this tradition, some researchers now speculate that variation may be restricted to the morphophonological (PF) component (e.g., Berwick & Chomsky 2011). An illustration is provided by Richards (2010), who argues that the wh-movement parameter is derivative of the prosodic requirements of wh-phrases and wh-questions in a given language, which can be achieved by either syntactic or prosodic means. As a result, stipulations of 'feature strength' and the like become obsolete.

Below the word level, frameworks such as Nanosyntax likewise emphasize the role of morphophonology in driving syntactic computation (Starke 2011). Sublexical movement is motivated indirectly, by the need to arrive at syntactic configurations for which there is a matching lexical item: what feature-based systems would take to be a 'crashing' derivation here corresponds to the impossibility of lexicalizing a syntactic subtree -- an independent output condition (cf. Bobaljik & Thrainsson 1998 on V-raising).

These promising developments notwithstanding, featural triggers of syntactic operations continue to reign supreme in various domains of syntactic theory despite questionable explanatory success; however, in most cases more principled explanations have yet to be articulated. This workshop will seek to explore the prospects, scope and limits of alternative ways of motivating syntactic computation and locating crosslinguistic variability in natural language.

Invited Speakers:

- Gereon Müller (U Leipzig)
- Norvin Richards (MIT)
- Kriszta Szendroi (UCL)
Linguistic Subfield: Computational Linguistics; General Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Linguistic Theories; Syntax
LL Issue: 25.3299

This is a session of the following meeting:
Annual Meeting 2015 of DGfS (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft)

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