Category Archives: Syntax

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.

Hammerly to UMN / UBC

Congratulations to Christopher Hammerly, who has accepted a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota and has accepted a tenure-track assistant professor position in the Department of Linguistics at the University of British Columbia. This fall he’s off to MN to continue his research on Ojibwe, and then will begin at UBC in the summer of 2021. Have fun Chris, and best of luck in the next stage of your career!

Faruk Akkuş to UMass

We are delighted to welcome Faruk Akkuş to UMass Linguistics. He will be starting as Assistant Professor in Fall of 2021. He is currently finishing up his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. He describes his research interests as follows (

“My work is at the intersection of theoretical syntax and its interfaces with morphology and semantics, with a focus on endangered and un(der)studied languages. I study cross-dialectal variation in sentence structure, building primarily on data collected through fieldwork on un(der)documented languages. I specialize in Arabic dialects—particularly the so-called peripheral varieties, Turkish, Mutki Zazaki and Cherokee.”