LINGUIST List 24.5344

Thu Dec 19 2013

Calls: Morphology, Syntax, Linguistic Theories/Poland

Editor for this issue: Bryn Hauk <>

Date: 19-Dec-2013
From: Lobke Aelbrecht <>
Subject: Nanosyntax: How Going Fine-Grained Enables a Better Understanding of Language
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Full Title: Nanosyntax: How Going Fine-Grained Enables a Better Understanding of Language
Date: 11-Sep-2014 - 14-Sep-2014 Location: Poznań, Poland Contact Person: Amélie Rocquet, Eric Lander and Karen De Clercq
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >
Web Site:
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories; Morphology; Syntax

Call Deadline: 15-Jan-2014

Meeting Description:

This workshop will bring together researchers who take the nanosyntactic approach to language. The aims of the workshop are to discuss both old and new data from a nanosyntactic perspective, to highlight the advantages of this approach and to discuss its consequences.

2nd Call for Papers:

We are organizing a Nanosyntax workshop at the Societas Linguistica Europea 2014, which will take place September 11-14, 2014 at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland ( We therefore kindly invite you to submit an abstract related to our workshop theme (see description below) by January 15, 2014 via the Submit Abstract form

The abstract should 1) be anonymous, 2) contain between 400 and 500 words (exclusive of references), and 3) state research questions, approach, method, data and (expected) results. Workshop slots are 30 minutes, with 20 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of discussion. All abstracts undergo a reviewing process by the SLE organizers and by us. Your abstract will receive three scores: two from members of the SLE 2014 scientific committee and one from us, the workshop convenors. Notification of acceptance will be sent by March 31, 2014.

All workshop participants pay the conference fee that corresponds to their category, though everybody is invited to become a member and get a reduction. See and No reduction for one-day participation is possible.


Amélie Rocquet (

The theory of Nanosyntax (Starke 2009, 2011a, b; Caha 2009) is built on a radical implementation of the cartographic tenet according to which every (morphosyntactic/semantic) feature is a head (‘one feature, one head’ Cinque & Rizzi 2008: 50). More concretely, it assumes that all individual features project their own structural layers and combine into binary-branching trees. As a consequence, Nanosyntax takes the atoms of syntax to be smaller than previously thought: in fact, the atoms are submorphemic. This is contrary to the mainstream view that morphemes are inserted into terminal nodes.

An example to illustrate this comes from French (Starke 2011a: 4-5, 2011b).  The French verb forms (il) entr-a ‘(he) has entered’ and (il) entr-ait ‘(he) entered’ both express past tense, but entr-a (the passé simple) expresses perfective aspect, whereas entr-ait (the imparfait) does not. In Nanosyntax, this is interpreted as showing that features for both tense (T) and aspect (Asp) must be packaged into the portmanteau morpheme -a in entra. Furthermore, the features T and Asp must be merged in a particular order (dictated by the functional sequence). Evidence for this order comes for instance from the fact that languages which realize aspect and tense agglutinatively, e.g. Russian, always do so in a given order (Schmidtke 2006, Dahl & Velupillai 2011, Dryer 2011), with the Asp-morpheme closer to the stem than the T-morpheme. Such examples have led to the claim that T is higher than Asp in the hierarchy (for more discussion see also Tenny 1987, Cinque 1999, Harwood 2013). In nanosyntactic terms the morpheme -a in French entra thus spells out the phrasal constituent [TP [AspP]]. More precisely, Nanosyntax assumes that there exists in the lexicon a vocabulary item which pairs the phonological form /a/ with the syntactic structure [TP [AspP]]. When the structure [TP [AspP]] is built in syntax, it can be lexicalized by the morpheme -a since the syntactic and lexically stored structures match.

In Nanosyntax when two readings are lexicalized by the same morpheme, this means that the underlying structures associated with these readings are in a subset/superset relation with one another (Caha 2009, Pantcheva 2011, Starke 2009, 2011). More precisely, Nanosyntax allows for a lexically stored structure to match a syntactic structure if the latter is a subset of the former. For instance, in the domain of Case, the Hungarian morpheme -val syncretizes comitative and instrumental readings. The lexically stored structure of -val is shown in (1). Importantly, the structure in (1) contains the structure of the instrumental case, which is shown in (2). Thus the instrumental structure in (2) can be spelled out by the same morpheme that lexicalizes the comitative case.

(1) [Comitative[Instrumental[Dative[Genitive[Accusative[Nominative]]]]] (Caha 2009: 24)

(2) [Instrumental[Dative[Genitive[Accusative[Nominative]]]]]

The nanosyntactic perspective has also led to a more precise understanding of phenomena such as case-marking (Caha 2009), the interaction of prepositions and verbal prefixes/particles in Slavic and Germanic (Pantcheva 2012), the syncretism patterns in English tense, aspect and voice markers (Starke 2011ab), deverbal nominalizations (Fábregas 2012), the internal structure of wh-expressions (Vangsnes 2011, Baunaz 2012, 2013) and wh-movement (Starke 2011b), the order and scope of derivational and inflectional verbal affixes in Bantu (Muriungi 2008), clausal complementation (Franco 2012), the relation between sentential and constituent negation (De Clercq 2013), differential object marking and nominal possession (Rocquet 2013), and the reinforced demonstrative in the Old Germanic languages (Lander, in prep.).

This workshop will bring together researchers who take the nanosyntactic approach to language. The aims of the workshop are to discuss both old and new data from a nanosyntactic perspective, to highlight the advantages of this approach and to discuss its consequences. Questions we would like to see addressed include (but are not limited to) the following:

1. The study of syncretisms has proven a useful tool for uncovering the fine-grained hierarchical structure of case morphemes (Caha 2009), path morphemes (Pantcheva 2011), class-markers in Bantu languages (Taraldsen 2010) and negation (De Clercq 2013), among others. Syncretisms also appear in other domains, such as phi-features and complementizers. What kind of syncretisms are there? What do they reveal about the internal structure of vocabulary items? What are the implications for the functional sequences at stake?

2. Most research on syncretisms is restricted to syncretisms within one domain, as illustrated by the Hungarian case syncretism discussed above. However, syncretisms are not limited to members of a single grammatical category (Baerman et al. 2005: 103ff, Caha & Pantcheva 2012). For instance, in Russian, the masculine singular instrumental endings on adjectives have the same form as their plural dative counterparts (cf. nóv-ym 'newMASC.INSTR.SG/MASC.DAT.PL'). This syncretism involves two dimensions, case and number, and thus two functional sequences. How do we model the ordering of these two functional sequences in order to capture the existence of this syncretism (Caha & Pantcheva 2012, Taraldsen 2012, van Craenenbroeck 2012)? In other words, what do cross-categorial syncretisms tell us about the underlying structure of morphemes? More generally, the question arises how multiple functional sequences are combined.

3. In nanosyntax the need to lexicalize syntactic structures can trigger what is known as spellout-driven movement. If no match between the structures in syntax and the lexicon can be found, then the syntactic structure can be altered by movement to enable spell out.  Are spellout-driven movements different from non-spellout-driven (e.g. feature-driven) ones? If they are, the following questions arise. Where do spellout-driven movements stop and non-spellout-driven movements start? Whereas in Minimalism (Chomsky 2000, 2001) feature-driven movement is taken to arise from an Agree relation between the features of two heads, in Nanosyntax all features project their own layers. How, then, do we capture agreement or non-spellout-driven movements in Nanosyntax?

4. Given the idea that each feature corresponds to one projection, the question arises whether both lexical and functional vocabulary items should be entirely decomposed into multiple, individual features. That is, does the nanosyntactic perspective imply that there is no principled difference between lexical and functional categories? If so, this raises the issue of why lexical items are more malleable and coercable than functional categories (Borer 2005ab, van Craenenbroeck 2012). How can these differences be captured in Nanosyntax?


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Baunaz, Lena. 2013. The structures of French complementizer que. Ms under review, University of Geneva.
Baermann, Matthew, Dunstan Brown & Greville Corbett. 2005. The syntax-morphology interface - A study of syncretisms. Cambridge University Press.
Borer, Hagit. 2005a. In Name Only. Structuring Sense, Volume I. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Lander, Eric. In prep. The nanosyntax of the Northwest Germanic reinforced demonstrative. Ms. Ghent University.
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Page Updated: 19-Dec-2013