CSSL23 / Course Descriptions

Computation, Learning, and Phonological Typology

Adam Albright & Eric Baković
Massachusetts Institute of Technology & UC San Diego

In this course we will discuss some ways in which phonological typology — the distribution of types of subsystems of sound & sign patterns — can be explained and formally modeled. Traditionally, typological predictions have focused on the basic assumed component(s) of a given phonological theory, such as definitions of the possible representations, the possible ranking/weighting conditions of a given set of constraints, and/or the possible forms of rules and their interaction. More recently, attention has turned to factors that influence grammar learning, such as the relative complexity of representing common vs. rare/unattested patterns, or the complexity of learning them. We will assess what has and hasn't been explained about phonological typology from both of these broad perspectives.

No prior knowledge of computational modeling or programming is assumed. Some prior experience with Optimality Theory would be helpful, but is not necessary.

Agreement Systems

Elena Anagnostopoulou & Ümit Atlamaz
University of Crete & Boğaziçi University

This intermediate class is an exploration of Agreement Systems from a theoretical and a typological perspective. It offers an overview of the current state of the art in the theory of agreement and tests its predictions against a broad range of phenomena across languages. Major theoretical issues include Agree, Probe-Goal relations, Locality, Direction of Agree, Cyclic-Agree, Multiple Agree, and the relationship between Agree as a syntactic operation and its surface realization in the form of agreement or case. Major empirical issues include crosslinguistic variation in the number and nature of agreeing heads (v, T, C, etc.), choice of agreement targets (subject, object, PP, etc.), features involved in agreement relations (person, number, gender, class, animacy, etc.), nature of inverse systems, and hyperagreement among others. The languages discussed range over Indo-European, Bantu, Caucasian, Algonquian, Aramaic and others. Participants are expected to be familiar with basic syntactic theory of the sort used in introductory syntactic classes or textbooks (such as the CreteLing Introduction to Syntax class).


Karlos Arregi & Ivy Sichel
University of Chicago & University of California, Santa Cruz

The grammars of many languages often seem to encode socially relevant distinctions, such as gender, social distance, and politeness. The overarching questions that guide this course are whether there is a grammar of social relations, and what the division of labor is between morphosyntax, semantics, and pragmatics in accounting for the encoding of these social relations. We will discuss these questions through the lens of sociolinguistic, morphosyntactic, and semantic literature, and topics will include gender-neutral pronouns (e.g. singular they in English), gender (un)markedness as seen in reference to gender-mixed groups, honorification, T/V distinctions, and dismissiveness. Some background in syntax, morphology, semantics, or sociolinguistics is recommended, but not required.

Intermediate Semantics

Rajesh Bhatt & Yael Sharvit
University of Massachusetts, Amherst & UCLA

This intermediate course in semantics will cover phenomena such as definiteness, polarity items and superlatives. It will introduce formal techniques and concepts (e.g. assignment functions, degree quantification, contextual variables, and type shifting) that have been useful in the analysis of these phenomena. In addition to examining these phenomena from the lens of synchronic semantics, we will attempt to engage with the relevant literature from diachronic semantics.

Prerequisites: Participants are expected to be familiar with basic set theory, boolean logic and compositional interpretation of syntactic trees of the sort used in introductory semantics classes or textbooks (such as Heim & Kratzer and the like).

Comparative syntax and semantics of Slavic

Barbara Citko & Roumyana Pancheva & Sergei Tatevosov
University of Washington & UC Santa Cruz & Lomonosov Moscow State University

In our quest to understand the faculty of language, comparative linguistic research has been crucial for identifying universal grammatical principles and constraints on possible variation. In this class we will continue the comparative tradition by focusing on cross-linguistic variation among and within East, West, and South Slavic through the lens of four case studies: multiple wh-movement, genitive of negation, aspect, and numerically-quantified noun phrases. These are phenomena for which the Slavic languages have become well-known; we will examine their significance for the larger generative enterprise. The course will thus be informative not only for students with special interest in Slavic, but also for those interested in theoretical syntax and semantics more broadly.

Level: Intermediate
Prerequisite: a semester (or equivalent) of graduate-level coursework in generative syntax and semantics.

Introduction to Semantics

Cleo Condoravdi
Stanford University

This course will cover the main analytical concepts and technical tools used in the study of linguistic meaning and use.

We will focus on varieties of implications, such as entailments, presuppositions, and conversational implicatures, on the basics of semantic composition and on modeling inherent properties of language, such as ambiguity, vagueness and context-dependence. No background in semantics is required.

Syntax-Semantics of (S)OV languages

Ömer Demirok & Winfried Lechner
Boğaziçi University & National and Kapodistrian University of Athens

SOV-languages are cross-linguistically extremely common. Together with SVO-languages they form the most frequent type of basic word order systems. In this course we will address selected topics related to syntactic and semantic properties of SOV-systems, among them the proper analysis of SOV-structures, and their relation to SVO-orders (Kayne 1994; Haider 2013); information structural characteristics typically associated with SOV-languages (scrambling); ellipsis in OV- and VO-systems; the status of string vacuous head movement in verb final VPs; the interaction between extensional (and intensional) operators in SOV systems; and further designated properties of OV systems.
This is an intermediate-level course and requires basic knowledge of syntax and semantics.

Introduction to Experimental Psycholinguistics

Brian Dillon
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

This course provides an introduction to experimental psycholinguistics, focusing on issues in language processing and perception. In this course, we will introduce fundamental models and perspectives on language perception by exploring three topics: speech/sign perception, lexical access, and sentence processing. We will assume that students have had a basic introductory course in linguistics, but no background in psychology or statistics will be assumed. Students will be exposed to key research findings and models, will learn the basics of experimental design, and will be introduced to hands-on experimental research using free open source software for psycholinguistic research (R, PCIbex).

The semantics of moods

Donka Farkas & Paul Portner
University of California, Santa Cruz & Georgetown University

The course tackles the large and difficult issue of the semantic underpinnings of mood distribution. Concentrating primarily on the rivalry between the indicative and the subjunctive (but considering the optative and infinitive as well), we attempt to capture both empirical areas of cross-linguistic stability as well as areas of cross-linguistic variation. The data we draw upon comes primarily from Romance languages, with special emphasis on Romanian, an interesting case because of its Balkan connections. Throughout, we will attempt to point out both areas where progress has been made over the years, as well as the many issues that remain open.

Theories of verbal mood in the literature follow two tracks, which we will pursue as well, namely (i) considerations having to do with truth commitments, e.g. the relation between the proposition expressed by the relevant sentence to the world in which the speech act occurs; (ii) the presence vs. absence of a modal comparative component in the evaluation of the sentence.  After introducing the main empirical issues and the theoretical tools needed in attempting to make sense of them, we will look at mood distribution in a variety of subordinate clauses (complements, relative clauses, and adjuncts), as well as in matrix assertions, questions and imperatives.  We will pay special attention to problematic cases such as cross-linguistic and intra-linguistic variation with respect to the complements of factive emotive predicates, the mood in complements of the equivalents of hope, the surprising occurrence of the subjunctive in complements of doxastic predicates in Italian, and mood distribution in the complements of assertive speech act reports.

Prerequisite: Previous coursework in formal semantics up to the intermediate level, including intensional semantics.

The development of negation in language and thought (Week 1)

Roman Feiman
Brown University

This course will look at how children learn negation words, breaking down the problem they face into two parts. The first part is conceptual development: how do children develop the ability to think thoughts that include negation? The second part is language acquisition: Given the ability to think negated thoughts, how do children figure out how their language expresses those kinds of thoughts?

This course will look at recent debates and try to make sense of conflicting findings. What is the evidence that pre-verbal infants can think negated thoughts? Why, across many languages, are negation words among the first words children start to say, and do children really know that these words express negation right away? What information do children use -- and what challenges do they face -- in figuring out how their language expresses negation? How do both the challenges and the available information vary across languages?

There are no prerequisites, though background in language acquisition or developmental psychology will be helpful.

Intermediate Phonology

Caroline Féry
University of Frankfurt

Bruce Hayes’ observation that the phonology of a specific language is an integrated system will be taken seriously. We will compare two such systems with each other, English and Greek, and discuss their similarities and differences, and this for all constituents of the prosodic hierarchy: moras, syllables, feet, prosodic words, prosodic phrases and intonation phrases, plus the sound segments and the tonal system. The theoretical framework will be Optimality Theory. It will be shown that some differences that are located at a specific level of the prosodic hierarchy may have consequences at other levels. For instance, the fact that English makes a distinction between lax and tense vowels but Greek does not explain that English is a quantity-sensitive language and that lexical stress is largely assigned by phonology; by contrast, Greek is a quantity-insensitive language with lexical stress mainly assigned by morphology (complex words are formed by cliticization in Greek and affixation in English, another major difference). A further crucial difference between the two languages is the degree of resyllabification, assimilation, lenition, vowel deletion etc. across Greek words and the nearly total absence of such effects in English. We will establish a relation between the role played by the foot in English, while Greek puts the emphasis on larger domains, prosodic words and prosodic phrases, a distinction that also has consequences for the intonational system of the two languages.

What is semantics?

Kai von Fintel
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this intermediate/advanced class, we will explore some foundational questions about the nature of semantics. Topics include: internalism vs externalism; the idea of natural language metaphysics/ontology; the position of semantics vis-a-vis cognitive science and/or philosophy; questions of expressive power and type economy; issues of modularity; the connection between language and thought; critiques of mainstream formal semantics from authors like Chomsky, Jackendoff, and Pietroski. Some basic competence in formal semantics (such as that concurrently taught in the Introduction to Semantics) will be presupposed.

Introduction to Neurolinguistics

Yosef Grodzinsky
Hebrew University of Jerusalem

This course will discuss the brain bases for linguistic and communicative ability, and ways to investigate them. I will address two main questions:
  1. How is linguistic theory relevant to the scientific study of the human brain? 
  2. How are results produced by neuroscience-based methods, and brain-related constraints, relevant to linguistic theory?
Answers to these questions require complex neurolinguistic considerations. I will begin by presenting central experimental, neuroanatomical, and analytic methods that are currently used in the study of the neural basis of linguistic ability. This will be followed by a review of recent neurolinguistic results that make contact with syntactic and semantic questions, as well as of applications of Large Language Models (non-structural AI models applied to language) to the study of brain processes that pertain to language. 

Among other things, I will present results that seem to identify the neural bases for the computation of downward entailingness at a surprising degree of precision. The course will conclude with some puzzles and open problems, as well as demonstrations of clinical applications of the methods in the field – I will show how fine semantic questions can be tested in clinical settings, and in fact in the operating room, with awake patients that undergo neurosurgical procedures.

Throughout the course, I will put special emphasis on methodological issues and questions of experimental design, that will hopefully help interested students to create their own theoretically relevant experiments in the future.

Prerequisites: Basic knowledge of syntax and propositional logic, some knowledge of semantics. 

Intermediate Syntax

Caroline Heycock
The University of Edinburgh

This intermediate syntax class will be structured around two different but related questions about syntax:
  • Variation: To what extent do(es) our syntactic theory/ies predict how languages can/cannot differ from each other in their syntactic systems?
  • Variability: How do(es) our syntactic theory/ies account for variability/optionality within a single syntactic system? Or is it the case that if we look carefully enough, there is no such thing?
We'll look at some of the differing proposals that have been made about these two questions, and consider and evaluate some of the empirical and theoretical arguments that have been advanced for them. Prerequisites: familiarity with some of the core concepts of syntax, equivalent to mastery of the material covered in CreteLing's Introduction to Syntax.

Morphological relatedness and phonological identity

Paul Kiparsky & Donca Steriade
Stanford University & MIT

In many grammatical systems, morphologically complex forms, whether derived or inflected, must be partly or completely identical to related, often simpler forms. There is no consensus on the mechanisms that bring about all these identities. Well-understood principles, such as the phonological cycle and Stratal OT, account for many of them. But in other cases, the forms required to be identical appear to share no morphosyntactic properties, or appear to stand in the wrong structural relation for a cyclic derivation.

Our class reports on progress made in reducing these identities to well-understood principles. The phenomena we explore are known as Paradigm Uniformity (involving stem identity), Syncretism (affixal or other whole-exponent identity), Paradigm Distinctness, and, time permitting, Morphomes (or syntactically arbitrary instances of syncretism). Our focus is on developing a constraint set and a grammatical architecture that do not result in substantial overgeneration relative to the attested identity patterns among morphologically related forms.

This is an intermediate-level course which presupposes introductory-level knowledge of phonology and some exposure to Optimality Theory.

Evolution and Language (Week 1)

Shigeru Miyagawa & Ian Tattersall
Massachusetts Institute of Technology & American Museum of Natural History NYC

In this course, we will explore how modern humans developed the high cognitive capability that makes it possible for us to have language. First, we will look at ideas about how humans and language evolved. Scrutiny of the fossil and archaeological records reveals that the transition to symbolic reasoning happened very late in hominid history - indeed, within the tenure of anatomically recognizable Homo sapiens. Given the intimate interdependence of modern cognition and language, the most plausible cultural trigger for symbolic thought processes was the spontaneous invention of language in an African isolate of early Homo sapiens at (very approximately) 100,000 years ago. To try to see how language formed, we will compare language of the modern humans with systems of communication employed by other animals, particularly the systems employed by birdsong, and by the alarm calls of Old World monkeys. We will identify similarities and differences as a way to explore how human language might have emerged in evolution in the time frame given. No background in linguistics is required.

Introduction to Super Linguistics

Pritty Patel-Grosz & Philippe Schlenker
University of Oslo & École Normale Supérieure Paris

In this introductory level class, we will offer an introduction to Super Linguistics (using the term 'super' in its original Latinate meaning 'beyond'), which we define as the application of formal linguistic methodology (and methodology inspired by linguistics) to diverse non-standard objects (beyond standard linguistic objects of study). Several topics have already been explored under the Super Linguistics umbrella, including the syntax/semantics of gestures, music, dance, non-verbal pictorial representations, animal calls, and animal gestures. In this course, we zoom in on iconicity in sign language, iconic and interactive gestures, ape gestures, and music and dance syntax and/or semantics. In doing so, we connect these newly established objects of study to more traditional objects of study, in particular, formal semantic modeling of iconicity, discourse management, and the semantics-pragmatics interface more broadly. This class is introductory in that it does not presuppose familiarity with super linguistic topics (e.g., iconicity, sign language, gesture, emojis, music, dance, animal semantics). However, introductory level knowledge in syntax, semantics and pragmatics will be presupposed.

Language abilities in neurodevelopmental disorders: Learning from cross-syndrome comparisons (Week 2)

Alexandra Perovic
University College London

In this course, we review experimental research examining language abilities of children with Autism Spectrum, Developmental Language Disorder (DLD, formerly Specific Language Impairment, SLI), Williams syndrome and Down syndrome. Cross-syndrome comparisons of grammar in clinical populations can lead to increased understanding both of the theoretical basis of the development of the grammar, as well as the construction and evaluation of the theory of a particular impairment. Whenever possible, we review findings from direct cross-syndrome comparisons: autism vs. DLD, autism vs. Williams syndrome, Williams syndrome vs. Down syndrome, focusing on phenomena that have been shown to be vulnerable in these populations, e.g. tense marking, binding, passives.

We will also discuss methodological challenges in doing research with clinical populations, especially with regards to the widely reported heterogeneity of their language and cognitive abilities, which may affect representativeness of our population samples and suitability of methods used. This course requires basic knowledge of syntax.

Introduction to Phonology

Douglas Pulleyblank
University of British Columbia

This course is an introduction to phonological analysis. We'll focus on ways that sounds are represented in human language, how they are hierarchically structured, and how sound patterns are accounted for. We will consider patterns from many different languages, examining patterns of both distribution and alternation, and looking at phenomena such as assimilation, dissimilation, metathesis, stress and reduplication. We will look at what is special about these sorts of phenomena and how linguists approach their treatment. The focus will be on gaining practice in data analysis, with a focus on constraint-based frameworks. The course is introductory in nature; no background is required.

Dissimilation: Destroyer of Clauses

David Pesetsky
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Clauses come in a wide variety of types and sizes in the languages of the world. In this class, we will ask why this is so, and explore one possible answer in greater detail. A growing body of recent work has focused on this question, most notably by Wurmbrand and her colleagues. Most recently, work by the instructor of this class and others such as G. Müller have advanced a crucially derivational view of the typology of clauses: according to which many clause-type differences reflect reduction of a full-sized clause into smaller ones. This class will offer a systematic introduction to this work, but will also advance a new conjecture: that size differences among clauses result from a dissimilation process ("Kinyalolo's Generalization") triggered whenever the subject of a clause moves to its edge that eats away at the clause edge in specific ways that may (but do not necessarily) shrink its size. To this end, we will also touch on recent work on syntactic dissimilation by Yuan, Richards, and others. This class will be advanced-level insofar as it will partly be presenting new work, but the systematic approach to its topic should make it accessible to intermediate-level students as well.

Introduction to Syntax

Norvin Richards
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This course introduces the beginning student to some of the central methodologies and results of contemporary syntactic theory in the Minimalist tradition. The goal will be to provide the student with a brief foundation for syntactic theorizing and a working knowledge of movement, agreement, and the conditions on structure building. The course is structured around a set of lecture notes and problem sets. This class is introductory, so no background is required in Syntax.

Bilingualism over the Lifespan (Week 2)

Antonella Sorace
University of Edinburgh

This course will focus on bilingualism (in the broad sense of learning more than one language) over the lifespan: in childhood (including simultaneous and consecutive bilingualism), in adulthood, and at an older age. Topics covered will include:
  • How languages are learned at different stages of life: the role of predispositions, individual differences, input and experience;
  • Ultimate attainment in adult second language (L2) learning: how far can adults go?
  • How the native language (L1) selectively and predictably changes as a result of learning an L2;
  • How the processes of L2 learning and L1 change are related for different linguistic structures;
  • How linguistic and cognitive factors interact with each other at different ages;
  • What different kinds of data (naturalistic case studies, corpora, experimental findings) contribute to addressing particular research questions.
No background for this course is required.

Sabine Iatridou
Vina Tsakali

Maria Angelou
Sabine Iatridou
Ioanna Kappa
Despina Oikonomou
Vina Tsakali

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