The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Course announcements, Spring 2016

24.956 Topics in Syntax: Finiteness and clause size

Instructor: David Pesetsky
Tuesdays 2-5
Room: 32-D461
website: http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp16/24.956 (nothing there yet, sorry!)

We too easily become used to facts about language that should strike us as strange. One of these is the menagerie of clause types and clause sizes in the world’s languages that are categorized with ill-understood labels such as infinitive, non-finite, gerund, nominalized, large, small, restructuring, defective, and more.

I come to this class with a germ of an idea with two parts, the first of which is familiar, the second of which is probably novel:

Many (ambitious version: all) of these distinctions should be reduced to distinctions in clause size — specifically, given a universal hierarchy of clausal projections, which one is the highest in a given clause? This is familiar to us from analyses in which raising infinitives differ from English for-infinitives merely in the addition of a complementizer layer, and restructuring infinitives differ from their non-restructuring counterparts in the absence of (all or most) layers above the verbal domain. One can imagine extending the spirit of such proposals to other clause-type distinctions as well.

Non-full-size clauses are often (ambitious version: always) created derivationally, as an obligatory concomitant of movement from that clause. In a nutshell: if an extended version of Erlewine’s (2015) version of an Anti-locality condition is correct, an element α that has merged in the higher clausal domain cannot exit the clause by first moving to its edge (because such movement is too short). Either some process must render the phase transparent (Branan 2015; Rackowski & Richards 2005), which I will try not to assume — or else α itself must already occupy the phase edge. My proposal: if Anti-locality prevents you from moving to the phase edge, make the phase edge come to you! — by deleting the structure that separates you from it. In the most ambitious version of the proposal, this is the source of all infinitives and other reduced clauses. In a deep sense, this proposal is a return to standard theories of clausal complementation before Bresnan’s dissertation, in which distinctions between finite and non- finite clauses were the result of syntactic transformations, and absent in the base. This similarity will be discussed.

In Raising constructions, for example, on this view, it is not a property of certain small infinitives that they trigger Raising, but rather a property of Raising that it triggers the creation of an infinitive. An array of mysterious absences that correlate with movement may have a similar source: doubly-Filled COMP effects, that-trace phenomena, and anti-agreement, to begin with. The proposal also interacts with Halpert’s (2015) work on the interaction of raising with the distribution of clausal φ-features. And yes, if all infinitives are created by movement of their subject (or similar high element), we are committed to the notorious Movement Theory of Control — so we have to join the effort to understand how the many objections to that proposal might be surmounted.

I will begin the class with a very rough look at the proposal and some of its motivations — but the class as a whole will not be devoted to developing the proposal per se, but rather to learning about the phenomena that it (or any other proposal on this topic) should cover, and the most promising approaches that have been developed.

Schedule for the first two weeks of the semester:

  • Week 1: my germ of an idea
  • Week 2: Raising and ECM — a closer look

Topics to be covered in the other weeks include:

  • Anti-agreement (credit: Nico Baier for suggesting readings)
  • Complementizer-trace effects
  • Clausal cartography (Rizzi 1999 and work in that tradition)
  • Restructuring (including both Wurmbrand’s older book and most recent work)
  • Bantu hyper-raising and clausal φ-features (including Halpert’s most recent work)
  • Raising in languages without non-finite clauses (guest speaker: Sabine)
  • English for-infinitives and their distribution
  • Gerunds and “nominalized” clauses cross-linguistically
  • Movement Theory of Control (including lots of Landau)
  • (No ordering of topics implied yet. Schedule to be determined after the first class.)


As an experiment, this class will have something of the spirit of Syntactic Models, in that I am not requiring a final paper or squibs.

Instead, I will ask for:

  • weekly submission of a comment or question+discussion based on that week’s reading
  • co-presentation of one or two of the papers assigned during the term (how many depends on registration numbers)
  • investigation and short presentation or co-presentation of an issue connected to the class topics in a language or language family of your choice — your presentation + detailed handout will be sufficient to fulfill this requirement.

If you find the class topic interesting and plan to attend, please consider registering! My hope is that people who attend will be active participants, and without the burden of a final research paper will find it more attractive to register — so they truly involve themselves in these fascinating topics.

24.979 Topics in Semantics

Instructors: Kai von Fintel, Sabine Iatridou, Roger Schwarzschild
Time and room: F10-1 (32-D461)
Readings: https://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/sp16/24.979/materials.html

1. Nominal semantics (first 4 or 5 sessions)

In the first third of the seminar, Roger will explore some issues in nominal semantics. In the stative clause “Jack is a lawyer”, the noun ‘lawyer’ describes a state that Jack is in. That’s a reason to posit a state-argument for the noun. On a neo-Davidsonian analysis, that would be the only argument the noun has. We’ll explore the motivation and consequences for adopting the idea that (simple) nouns are 1-place predicates of states (= the N-state hypothesis).

  • I. We’ll review discussion of neo-Davidsonianism – the hypothesis that syntactic arguments are not semantic arguments but rather combine via thematic roles.
  • II. Simple nouns divide into count nouns and mass nouns. We’ll eventually want see what the N-state hypothesis allows us to say about this distinction. In part II, we’ll take a look at analyses of mass nouns, particularly those that try to treat mass nouns as plurals.
  • III. The N-state hypothesis and: how to combine a predicate with a noun phrase argument, the semantics of number marking, mass-count, counting, thematic-roles.

Reading for the first classes: Parsons 1995 and then Chierchia 1998.

2. Counterfactual marking (remainder of the semester)

In the final two thirds of the seminar, Sabine and Kai will look at counterfactual marking, both its morphosyntax and its contribution to meaning. Counterfactual marking occurs, of course, in “counterfactual” conditionals, but also in wishes, in some expressions of weak necessity, and elsewhere. There are already some readings on the Stellar site.

Class requirements include two squibs on the two topic areas and will be discussed further in the first meeting.

Auditors are welcome to pick and choose their attendance.