LINGUIST List 25.2858

Tue Jul 08 2014

Calls: Syntax, Lang Acquisition, Ling Theories, Computational Ling, General Ling/Germany

Editor for this issue: Anna White <>

Date: 08-Jul-2014
From: Dennis Ott <>
Subject: DGfS 2015 Workshop: What Drives Syntactic Computation? Alternatives to Formal Features
E-mail this message to a friend

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

Date: 04-Mar-2015 - 06-Mar-2015
Location: Leipzig, Germany
Contact Person: Dennis Ott
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >
Web Site:

Linguistic Field(s): Computational Linguistics; General Linguistics; Language Acquisition; Linguistic Theories; Syntax

Call Deadline: 31-Aug-2014

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)

2nd Call for Papers:

We invite submissions addressing issues related to the workshop topic from any domain of formal linguistics, including computational modeling of syntax and acquisition research. Pertinent research questions include (but are not limited to) the following:

- Can syntactic theory avoid recourse to FF triggers entirely in favor of general efficiency principles and interface conditions, or is their postulation inevitable -- and perhaps even desirable -- in at least some domains (e.g. to capture parametric variation, minimality/intervention effects, idiosyncratic selectional properties, etc.)?
- Can a model without featural constraints on Merge be sufficiently restrictive? Is a syntax that is blind to FFs appropriately equipped to capture optionality vs. obligatoriness of operations, including crosslinguistic variability (e.g., with regard to ''EPP effects,'' free word order, or verb movement)?
- Can putative constraints on Merge be beneficially restated in terms of their effect on output, and (how) can such effects be evaluated without ''look ahead''? Do output conditions, if not syntax itself, make reference to FFs, assigning them the role of ''indirect triggers''?
- What are the computational implications of abandoning FFs as restricting the application of Merge, as e.g. in Minimalist Grammars? What role do FFs play in the acquisition of syntax, and what are the implications of a free-Merge system for learnability?

Talks will be 20 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of discussion. Submissions are limited to two per author, at most one of which can be single-authored. Abstracts must not exceed two single-spaced pages (letter or A4, one inch/2.5cm margins, minimum font size 11pt), including data and references. Abstracts must be fully anonymized.

Submission via EasyAbs only:

Page Updated: 08-Jul-2014