LINGUIST List 26.1026

Sat Feb 21 2015

Diss: Linguistic Theories, Syntax: Bacskai-Atkari: 'The Syntax of Comparative Constructions: Operators, Ellipsis Phenomena and Functional Left Peripheries'

Editor for this issue: Danuta Allen <>

Date: 20-Feb-2015
From: Julia Bacskai-Atkari <>
Subject: The Syntax of Comparative Constructions: Operators, Ellipsis Phenomena and Functional Left Peripheries
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Institution: Universität Potsdam
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2014

Author: Julia Bacskai-Atkari

Dissertation Title: The Syntax of Comparative Constructions: Operators, Ellipsis Phenomena and Functional Left Peripheries

Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories

Dissertation Director:
Gisbert Fanselow
István Kenesei

Dissertation Abstract:

Adopting a minimalist framework, the dissertation provides an analysis for the syntactic structure of comparatives, with special attention paid to the derivation of the subclause. The proposed account explains how the comparative subclause is connected to the matrix clause, how the subclause is formed in the syntax and what additional processes contribute to its final structure. In addition, it casts light upon these problems in cross-linguistic terms and provides a model that allows for synchronic and diachronic differences. This also enables one to give a more adequate explanation for the phenomena found in English comparatives since the properties of English structures can then be linked to general settings of the language and hence need no longer be considered as idiosyncratic features of the grammar of English.
First, the dissertation provides a unified analysis of degree expressions, relating the structure of comparatives to that of other degrees. It is shown that gradable adjectives are located within a degree phrase (DegP), which in turn projects a quantifier phrase (QP) and that these two functional layers are always present, irrespectively of whether there is a phonologically visible element in these layers.
Second, the dissertation presents a novel analysis of Comparative Deletion by reducing it to an overtness constraint holding on operators: in this way, it is reduced to morphological differences and cross-linguistic variation is not conditioned by way of postulating an arbitrary parameter. Cross-linguistic differences are ultimately dependent on whether a language has overt operators equipped with the relevant – [+compr] and [+rel] – features.
Third, the dissertation provides an adequate explanation for the phenomenon of Attributive Comparative Deletion, as attested in English, by way of relating it to the regular mechanism of Comparative Deletion. I assume that Attributive Comparative Deletion is not a universal phenomenon, and its presence in English can be conditioned by independent, more general rules, while the absence of such restrictions leads to its absence in other languages.
Fourth, the dissertation accounts for certain phenomena related to diachronic changes, examining how the changes in the status of comparative operators led to changes in whether Comparative Deletion is attested in a given language: I argue that only operators without a lexical XP can be grammaticalised. The underlying mechanisms underlying are essentially general economy principles and hence the processes are not language-specific or exceptional.
Fifth, the dissertation accounts for optional ellipsis processes that play a crucial role in the derivation of typical comparative subclauses. These processes are not directly related to the structure of degree expressions and hence the elimination of the quantified expression from the subclause; nevertheless, they are shown to be in interaction with the mechanisms underlying Comparative Deletion or the absence thereof.

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