The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Syntax Square 2/26 - Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University)

Speaker:  Ljiljana Progovac (Wayne State University)
Title: Syntax in the shadow of evolution: Stepping stones into hierarchy, Move, recursion, and coordination
Time: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 1-2pm
Location: 32-D461

It is often stated that the nature of human language cannot be fully understood without reference to its evolution. Here I consider how one such (theoretically grounded) reconstruction of syntax may lead to a deeper understanding of attested syntactic phenomena, both those well-supported in syntactic theory (e.g. the small clause foundation of sentences), and those which remain largely unresolved (e.g. islandhood). The reconstruction leads to a proto-syntax characterized as flat, symmetric, intransitive, and static (without Move). Arguably, these rigid but robust beginnings still pervade the fabric of modern syntax, intertwined and interspersed with more modern forms, producing some intricate effects and echoes of the past, including islandhood. I will consider a variety of approximations of such proto-syntactic structures in modern languages, as well as intermediate/ambivalent forms, with the focus on the parataxis-coordination-subordination dimension (the intransitive-middle-transitive dimension was discussed in last semester’s Syntax Square talk). Both of these continuums/progressions are of relevance to the gradual emergence of the hallmarks of modern syntax, and each is characterized by ambivalent and overlapping intermediate forms. The postulated approximations of proto-syntax not only exhibit different syntactic behaviors relative to their (more) hierarchical counterparts, but they also rely on different processing strategies when investigated in neurolinguistic experiments. 
This is a practice talk for one of the three lectures to be given in Tokyo and Kyoto, Spring School in EvoLinguistics, March 2019.