Category Archives: Syntax

Katia Vostrikova Joins University of Göttingen

We’re delighted to share the news that Ekaterina Vostrikova (PhD, 2019) will be joining the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in July as a DAAD scholar, and will then in September begin a three-year position there as a post-doctoral researcher. Katia’s post-doc position is funded by a DFG project grant titled ‘A Crosslinguistic Investigation Into Phrasal and Clausal Exceptive-Additive Constructions’, and will be supervised by Clemens Steiner-Mayr.

In addition, Katia’s paper “Conditional Analysis of Clausal Exceptives” has just appeared in the newest issue of Natural Langauge Semantics (NaLS 29:2 159-227).

Congratulations, Katia!

Franklin Institute Symposium in Honor of Barbara Partee (April 19th)

We are extremely happy to announce that, in honor of Professor Barbara Partee receiving the 2021 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, the Franklin Institute and the University of Pennsylvania are organizing a special symposium honoring her and her legacy in the field.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this symposium will be held remotely, and can be viewed publicly over Zoom. It will take place on Monday, April 19th, from 9:45AM to 3PM (EST), and will feature presentations by:

  • Barbara Partee (UMass Amherst)
  • Gennaro Chierchia (Harvard University)
  • Pauline Jacobson (Brown University)
  • Florian Schwarz (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Seth Cable (UMass Amherst)
  • Christopher Potts (Stanford University)

The website for the symposium, which includes the full program (with abstracts) as well as the Zoom link for the remote presentations, can be found at the link below:

Again, this event is entirely public, and all are welcome (and encouraged) to attend.

Georgi colloquium March 5

Doreen Georgi, University of Potsdam, presented “How to account for resumptives in movement chains: insights from Igbo” in the Linguistics colloquium series March 5. An abstract follows.

In this talk I will address the general problem of how we can model the pronunciation of lower chain links when the lower copy is realized in a reduced form such as a resumptive pronoun. There are two main approaches in the literature: BigDP/stranding and spell-out approaches. Both approaches have quite general (conceptual as well as empirical) short-comings, and hence none of them can be considered the standard / widely accepted approach. Van Urk (2018) provides new arguments that favor a spell-out approach that makes use of partial copy deletion. His arguments are based on cross-linguistic patterns of phi-mismatches between the pronounced chain links. In the talk, I will present novel data from my recent (co-authored) work on resumption in Igbo (Benue-Kwa, Nigeria). The phi-mismatch pattern in Igbo is more complex than previously described patterns; in fact, it raises new challenges for a spell-out approach (and also for a BigDP approach) to chain link realization.

Culbertson colloquium Friday February 26 at 2:30

Jennifer Culbertson, University of Edinburgh, will present “Experimental evidence for learning biases in word and morpheme order” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 2:30 Friday February 26. Notice the different time – one hour earlier than usual. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here:

Recent research has suggested that the cross-linguistic and language-internal frequencies of particular word and morpheme orders might be shaped by constraints on processing combined with learned distributional information (e.g., Hupp et al. 2009, Futrell et al. 2015, Hahn et al. 2020). In this talk I discuss a set of three experiments investigating this claim using artificial language experiments. In the first two sets of experiments, I show that at least some constraints on nominal word and morpheme order in fact reflect universal learning biases, present across populations, independent of their native language. I argue that these biases are driven by simplicity and aspects of meaning, not frequency or other distributional information. In the third set of experiments, I address a well-known claim about the so-called suffixing preference, namely that it results from processing or perception of sequential information. By comparing behavioral results across language populations, I show that is likely not the case. Rather, speakers’ perception adapts to the affix order of their language.

Deniz Özyıldız’s defense December 3 10am

Deniz Özyıldız will defend his dissertation at 10am EST, Thursday, December 3. The title of Deniz’s dissertation is “Attitude Events”. The advisors are Vincent Homer and Rajesh Bhatt, and the committee includes Maria Biezma, Seth Cable and Kristine Yu. A short abstract follows.

Register here:–spj8tHdSqeLytldtLoK11Oyw7z9PM


In this talk, we place the verb “think” and its complement clauses under the microscope and see that “think” with a declarative may describe a state, in (1), and that “think” with a question must describe an event, seen by comparing (2) and (3). The state is a belief, and the event, here, a deliberation.

(1) Anna thinks that she should invite Brian.
(2) #Anna thinks whether she should invite Brian.
(3) Anna is thinking whether she should invite Brian.

Aspectual properties of attitude reports, then, interact with properties that attitude verbs have in virtue of their ability to embed clauses, creating non-trivial differences in meaning as well as apparent restrictions in the distribution of embedded questions. To account for such interactions, we must structure attitude eventualities with structures provided by embedded clause denotations, and so, we work towards a system in which it is possible to do so.

Gribanova colloquium Friday November 13 at 3:30

Vera Gribanova, Stanford University, will present “Negative concord, genitive of negation, and clausal ellipsis in Russian” in the Linguistics colloquium series at 3:30 Friday November 13. An abstract follows. All are welcome!

Register here: 

In this talk, I present an in-progress investigation of interactions between the syntax of polarity in Russian and polarity-sensitive items — negative concord elements (NEG-words) and DPs marked with the genitive of negation (GoN-DPs) — in the environment of clausal ellipsis. Though both NEG-words and GoN-DPs must generally co-occur with clausemate negation in Russian, it has been known for some time that the syntactic licensing conditions for these two phenomena are in fact distinct (Franks and Brown 1995; Brown 1999). In the first part of the talk, I provide a syntax for these licensing conditions and demonstrate that this syntax, in conjunction with the application of clausal (TP) ellipsis, gives rise to the differences we observe between NEG-words and GoN-DPs as fragment answers: NEG-words can be licensed as fragment answers in the absence of an overt expression of negation in the antecedent, but GoN-DPs cannot. These differences in behavior follow from three interrelated commitments: first, that in Russian there is a low position for polarity, association with the expression of sentential negation, and a high one, which is null but semantically interpretable (Brown and Franks, 1995; Brown, 1999; Gribanova, 2017); second, that there can be fronting of the NEG-word to the left periphery in conjunction with TP ellipsis (Giannakidou, 1998; Merchant, 2004); and third, that Russian NEG-words are licensed by the higher instance of polarity (Laka, 1994; Zeijlstra, 2008) while GoN-DPs are licensed by an AGREE relation with the low expression of negation (Franks and Brown 1995, Brown 1999, Harves, 2002, Abels, 2005).
In the second part of the talk, this unified picture meets with a set of challenges that arise from the interaction between Gon-DPs and contrastive polarity ellipsis (Kazenin 2006; Gribanova 2017), in which clausal ellipsis is combined with the fronting of a contrastive DP to the left periphery, preceding a polar particle (‘yes’ or ‘no’). For some native Russian speakers, such configurations give rise to violations of the case connectivity effect usually associated with the phrasal remnant: genitive patients under negation in the antecedent can, in a narrow set of circumstances, correspond to an accusative patient remnant outside the ellipsis site. Although these effects seem to contradict prominent ideas about the identity relation necessary to license ellipsis (Chung 2013, Merchant 2013), I point out that they might be better understood in light of recent work that takes the domain for identity in clausal ellipsis (e.g. in sluicing) to be smaller than has traditionally been assumed (Rudin 2019, Anand, Hardt, McCloskey in progress).

UMass linguists take to NELS 51

The Université du Québec à Montréal is hosting the 51st annual meeting of the Northeastern Linguistics Society this week(end), 11/6 – 11/8. There’s a great slate of events lined up, including a whole bunch of interesting talks and a range of social events (including a trivia social on Friday evening!).

Information about registration can be found here. Registration is on a sliding scale: Give what you can!

UMass linguists past and present are presenting at the conference, including:

Learning and the typology of word order: a model of the Final-over-Final Condition by Shay Hucklebridge

Numeral Any: In Favor of Viability by Jonathan Palucci and Luis Alonso-Ovalle

Binding through Agree in Turkish by Lefteris Paparounas and Faruk Akkuş

3-on-3 restrictions and PCC typology by Amy Rose Deal

A set-based representation of Person features: consequences for AGREE by Christopher Hammerly

Verb Height indeed determines prosodic phrasing: evidence from Iron Ossetic by Lena Borise and David Erschler

Partially activated morpheme boundaries in Japanese surnames by Yu Tanaka and Shigeto Kawahara

See you there!

Lisa Green, Distinguished Professor

Lisa Green, professor of linguistics and preeminent expert on African American English (AAE), was among three UMass Amherst faculty members named Distinguished Professors following approval by the Board of Trustees at its Monday, July 20 meeting. The title Distinguished Professor is conferred on select, highly accomplished faculty who have already achieved the rank of professor and who meet a demanding set of qualifications.