The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Colloquium 12/6 - Gillian Ramchand

Speaker: Gillian Ramchand (University of Tromsø/CASTL)
Time: Friday December 6th, 3:30-5pm
Venue: 32-141
Title: Minimalism and Cartography (joint work with Peter Svenonius)


While many current syntacticians have felt queasy about embracing the full extent and number of the functional decompositions as proposed in classic cartography (e.g. Cinque 1999), we believe that cartography in the broad sense is essential for any generative theory – it consists in establishing what the category labels of the symbolic system are, how they are hierarchically organized, and how rigidly. We too find it implausible that extremely fine-grained functional sequences of highly abstract heads with no deterministic relationship to compositional semantics is either universal or innate. However, we do think that the parts of the functional sequence that are universal and driven by innate mechanisms are directly related to pressure from the interfaces, and in particular to the facts about human concept formation. So we will push a strong semantically grounded thesis about why templatic effects of a certain sort emerge. It is an empirical question how fine-grained the universal spine is (cf. also Wiltschko, to appear), although we suspect with Wiltschko that it is rather abstract. In this talk I will first outline the basis for a methodological reconciliation between the practice and results of cartography, and more minimalistic pressures to explain and ground the complex ordering effects we see on the surface. Secondly, I will exemplify with a case study. Using the domain of English auxiliary orders, I argue that one cannot ignore the detailed mapping evidence, and that understanding it is crucial to making progress on the more theoretical questions of universality vs. language particularity, locality effects/phases, and the mapping to the cognitive-intentional systems of mind/brain.

In this talk therefore, I will offer entertainment both for those who like to talk about the ‘big picture’ and and for those who like to get their hands dirty: (i) an articulation of distinctive kind of research programme which many are actually embarked on but which needs a name and some more visibility, (ii) a novel compositional semantic take on aspectual auxiliaries and the modal circumstantial/epistemic distinction and (iii) a new perspective on ‘affix’-hopping.