CSSL24 / Course Descriptions


Adam Albright
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

The words of a language are generally not all identical to each other, either in terms of their pronunciation, or in terms of the phonological processes that they undergo. Traditional approaches to phonological analysis provide several different mechanisms for distinguishing words from one other: a set of contrasts is established, creating an inventory of sounds that distinguish words; phonological processes are then formulated to apply to some sounds and not others; and if all else fails, certain morphemes are marked as exceptionally undergoing or failing to undergo a particular process. In practice, the division of labor between these mechanisms is not at all clear, and many distinctions between words could be handled either as a phonological difference or as exceptionality. The choice between these analyses frequently rests on theory-internal assumptions and analytical taste. However, a good deal of work in morphology and phonology in the past quarter century has focused on "external" differences between rule-governed and exceptional forms, in terms of frequency, processing, acquisition, and diachronic change. In this course, we will survey the landscape of approaches to word-by-word differences in phonology, and consider how "external" evidence might be used to inform analytical choices in specific cases. The course will assume a basic prior knowledge of phonological analysis; some experience with Optimality Theory would be helpful, but not necessary.

Polydefiniteness (Week 1)

Artemis Alexiadou & Sabine Iatridou
ZAS and HU Berlin & Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this course, we will be concerned with Polydefiniteness in languages such as Greek, Hebrew and Norwegian. In these languages, more than one definite article may appear within the noun phrase in the presence of adjectival modification. We will discuss the conditions under which this happens, the question of whether polydefiniteness should receive a uniform treatment across languages, the issue of why the indefinite article may behave differently and various theoretical approaches to the presence of multiple determiners. Participants are expected to be familiar with basic syntactic theory

Microparameters and Macroparameters in Morphosyntax

Elena Anagnostopoulou & Ümit Atlamaz
University of Crete, IMS-FORTH & Boğaziçi University

This intermediate class will explore linguistic variation from the perspective of parametric variation, the split into micro-, meso-, and macro-parameters in particular. The course will offer an overview of the emergence, successes and failures of Parameter Theory as a way to capture cross-linguistic variation and historical change through an investigation of various morpho-syntactic phenomena. The theoretical discussion will center around the nature of parameters, whether they reflect deep properties of syntax as argued for by Baker (1996, 2008), whether they are emergent patterns derived from the lexicon (Borer Conjecture), or whether a micro-parametric view along the lines of Kayne (2000) is sufficient to capture crosslinguistic variation on the basis of various case studies. The course will focus on different scales of variation from synchronic and diachronic perspective building on insights from Roberts (2019) and colleagues who aim to build hierarchies of parameters. 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).

Language Acquisition: Developmental issues in Semantics

Athulya Aravind & Roman Feiman
Massachusetts Institute of Technology & Brown University

This course discusses the development of aspects of natural language meaning relating to quantification, number and reference. We will discuss core empirical findings from child language and outstanding puzzles. A main focus throughout will be the question of how the acquisition of these elements of natural language depend on/interact with the development of other components of the mind. Prerequisites: basic knowledge of predicate logic and compositional semantics.

Intermediate Semantics

Rajesh Bhatt & Yael Sharvit
University of Massachusetts Amherst & University of California Los Angeles

This intermediate course in semantics will cover phenomena such as definiteness, polarity items and superlatives in extensional and intensional contexts. It will introduce formal techniques and concepts (e.g. assignment functions, degree quantification, contextual variables, intensionality, undefinedness, and type shifting) that have been useful in the analysis of these phenomena. We will build towards an understanding of superlatives in intensional contexts and a treatment of Haddock descriptions. Prerequisities: 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 Heim & Kratzer and the like).

Realizational Morphology and Pieces of Inflection

Pavel Caha & Ora Matushansky
Masaryk U. Czech Republic & SFL (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique/Université Paris 8)

In languages with rich nominal inflection, such as Russian or Latin, nouns fall into declension classes in function of the sets of exponents they take. Unlike genders, declension classes do not have any syntactic effect, although they might also determine allomorphy in derivation.

In this intermediate-level course we will highlight the general architectural properties of two realizational morphological frameworks, Nanosyntax and Distributed Morphology, and apply them to the system of Russian nominal declension. Three main issues will be addressed:
  • Why are there declension classes? Can the declension class be made to follow from independent properties of a noun or is it a diacritic feature? How is it determined how many declension classes a concrete language has? How are they constrained? What should be treated as allomorphy/suppletion and what, as a declension class?
  • Do number, gender, and case form intermediate constituents (portmanteaus)? What is the general status of complex affixes in morphological theory and how are they interpreted?
  • What are the concrete principles determining the realization of a given cell in the paradigm for each declension class? Which cells are (systematically) syncretic? Is impoverishment and other morphology-specific operations a necessary feature of realizational frameworks? More generally, is a direct translation from syntax to phonological form possible without an intermediate layer of a dedicated morphological structure, with its own rules and representations?
Prerequisites: This is an intermediate-level course which presupposes introductory-level knowledge of syntax and morphology (e.g., the knowledge of syntactic trees, familiarity with morphological segmentation). 

Topics in the Structure and Derivation of Relative Clauses

Guglielmo Cinque & Ivy Sichel
Ca' Foscari University of Venice & University of California Santa Cruz

The course will cover two main relative clause typologies within an Antisymmetric approach to word order and Linearization which allows for both Raising and Head-external derivations: 1) a syntactic cross-linguistic typology of relative clauses (RCs), including externally headed post-nominal, externally headed pre-nominal, internally headed, double-headed, headless, correlatives, and adjoined RCs, aiming at a unified analysis of them; and 2) a semantic-based typology (non-restrictive, restrictive, maximalizing, kind-defining, stage- and individual-level participial RCs), derived from distinct locations for merge within the extended nominal projection. Two closely related topics will also be addressed: 1) the distribution of resumptive pronouns across types of relative clauses, and its implications for the Raising / Head-external ambiguity of RCs, parasitic gaps and island sensitivity; 2) selective acceptable extraction from RCs, and the possibility that this, too, is sensitive to the Raising / Head-external ambiguity. Prerequisites: the course will be seminar-like and will presuppose an intermediate level knowledge of syntactic theory, as covered e.g. in the MITOpenCourseware's Introduction to syntax. We will also presuppose knowledge of A-bar locality and islands, as in the chapter on A-bar movement by Norvin Richards in The Routledge Handbook of Syntax, 2017. More specific readings concerning Antisymmetry theory are the first three chapters of Richard Kayne's The Antisymmetry of Syntax. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1994 (pp.3-32) and its presentation in G. Cinque's review "The 'antisymmetric' programme: theoretical and typological implications" Journal of Linguistics 32: 447-464.

Enough! The Linguistics of Sufficiency

Cleo Condoravdi & Kai von Fintel
Stanford University & Massachusetts Institute of Technology

In this advanced course, we will attempt to get to the bottom of the compositional structure of the Sufficiency Modal Construction ("to get good cheese, you only have to go to the North End") and related phenomena. Along the way, we will have to build up a clearer picture of the SMC's ingredients and thus we will carefully discuss the semantics of modals, exclusives, association with focus, gradability, purpose clauses, and probably more. We will presuppose basic competence in formal semantics up to the intermediate level, including intensional semantics.

Experimental Syntax and Semantics: The view from Pronous and Anaphora

Brian Dillon & Elsi Kaiser
University of Massachusetts Amherst & University of Southern California

This course provides an introduction to experimental syntax and semantics, focusing on the representation and processing of pronominal and anaphoric dependencies. We will explore the various ways that psycholinguistic and experimental approaches can shed light on issues in this area, and can complement formal work. We will discuss a range of methodologies, including questionnaires/surveys, reaction-time methods, eye-tracking-while-reading, visual world eye-tracking, and EEG/ERPs. Students will also learn about conceptual aspects of experimental design that are relevant across these various methodologies. After completing the class, students will be able to understand and critically evaluate research that uses various methods, and will be able to start designing their own experiments. ​No prior experience with experimental linguistics or psycholinguistics is required. Some background in syntax and/or semantics is recommended but not required.

Introduction to Semantics

Donka Farkas
University of California, Santa Cruz

The course introduces students to some of the basic empirical and analytical notions in semantics/pragmatics, and the formal tools used to capture them. The first part of the course focuses on the core inter-sentential meaning relations semantic theory aims to account for, i.e., entailments, presuppositions and conversational implicatures, pointing out the tight connection between the two subfields of linguistics that study them, namely semantics and pragmatics. The bulk of the course is devoted to discussing some basic empirical issues and the formal tools meant to tackle them. We will focus on compositional interpretation, quantification, and some problems in nominal semantics. The course ends with a brief discussion of the connection between sentence forms (declaratives, interrogatives, imperatives, exclamatives) and their effects on the context in which they are uttered. No background in semantics is required.

Language Change

David Goldstein & Paul Kiparsky
University of California, Los Angeles & Stanford University

This intermediate course reviews some major empirical findings about morphosyntactic and semantic change, and their implications for theories of language structure and use. We will focus on three topics: unidirectional change (grammaticalization, ``drift'', and convergence), recurrent long-term cyclic trajectories (Jespersen's negation cycle, the headedness cycle, the definiteness cycle), and field effects in lexical semantic change (chain shifts, antonyms changing in lockstep). In each case, we will ask how such historical processes might be formally modeled in current analytic frameworks, how the generalizations governing them might be causally explained, and whether the diachronic evidence can sharpen our theoretical understanding of language. Participants should have a basic knowledge of syntax, but no background in historical linguistics will be assumed.

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 three main questions:

(a) How is linguistic theory relevant to the scientific study of the human brain?
(b) How are results produced by neuroscience-based methods, and brain-related constraints, relevant to linguistic theory?
(c) Do current alternative perspectives (most notably, Large Language Models) provide an adequate account of what we know about brain-language relations?

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 phonetic, 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 design experiments and interpret their results coherently (which often is no small matter).

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

Intermediate Syntax

Caroline Heycock
University of Edinburgh

The overarching topic that this class will be structured around is the question of how lexical projections acquire subjects. Within this, we'll investigate two subtopics: (i) verbal predicates and the syntax of vP(s); (ii) nominal predicates and the syntax of DP(s) and small clauses. Prerequisites: If you took "Introduction to Syntax" in a previous iteration of CreteLing, you will be in good shape to take this class. Alternatively (or in addition), please check that you are familiar with the material in the lecture notes for the first 14 lectures in Sabine's MIT course Language and its structure II: Syntax, which are helpfully freely accessible online.

Definiteness and Plurality in First and Second language Acquisition (Week 2)

Tania Ionin & Lyn Tieu
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign & University of Toronto

This class presents an overview of research into the acquisition of definiteness, plurality and related concepts by both first and second language learners. Both morphosyntactic and semantic aspects of definiteness and plurality are addressed. With regard to first language acquisition, we will discuss children's developing knowledge of the definite/indefinite distinction, their developing comprehension of the singular/plural distinction, their production of regular and irregular plural marking, and how definiteness and plurality interact with maximality and homogeneity in child language. With regard to adult second language acquisition, the following topics are addressed: learners' sensitivity to such concepts as definiteness, kind-reference and the mass/count distinction; learners' accuracy with articles and plural marking in both production and judgments; transfer from the learners' native language in this domain; and the role played by semantic universals, including atomicity and definiteness. No prior knowledge of acquisition is assumed; some background in syntax, morphology and/or semantics is recommended, but not required.


Kyle Johnson & David Pesetsky
University of Massachusetts Amherst & Massachusetts Institute of Technology

This course introduces the phenomena that are generally classified as 'ellipsis', and develops the criteria often used to distinguish ellipses from other forms of anaphora. It will also introduce the still evolving theories intended to describe where ellipses can occur and how they fit into a larger framework of anaphora. These theories make predictions about the taxonomies of ellipses, and at present those taxonomies lean towards a view that there are two kinds of ellipses, distinguished mainly by virtue of whether the anaphoric is clausal or sub-clausal. We will spend some time investigating the scope and typology of one of the sub-clausal types: Verb Phrase Ellipsis. In particular, we will investigate how Verb Phrase Ellipsis interacts with Verb Movement, creating ellipses that allow the head of an elided phrase to remain. The equivalent of an introductory course in syntax is required, and some familiarity with semantic formalism will be helpful. We will assume no prior knowledge of ellipsis, however.

Topics in the Morpho-Syntax and Semantics of the Altaic languages

Jaklin Kornfilt & Shigeru Miyagawa & Sergei Tatevosov
Syracuse University & Massachusetts Institute of Technology & Moscow State University

We will discuss constructions that are shared by two or more Altaic languages. `Altaic' is understood to include Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic languages, as well as Korean, Japanese, and Ainu. While these constructions are not necessarily unique to Altaic, they provide a unique opportunity to understand systems underlying language in general through comparative study among Altaic languages. Many of the constructions are not found in English and the familiar Romance languages, which gives an opportunity to study language properties without dependence on these more familiar languages that have been the central focus in theoretical linguistics, too often tilting the view of universality in their image. Some of the topics we plan to take up include:
  • Free word order and the notion of optionality
  • Genitive subjects
  • Indefinites and scope marking
  • Types of nominalized embedded clauses
  • Tensed and non-tensed relative clauses; issues of locality
  • Binding and its interactions with morphological agreement
  • Tense and aspect systems of Altaic languages
  • Operations on argument structure
  • Structure and interpretation of converb clauses
Level: Intermediate

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


Winfried Lechner & Roumyana Pancheva
National and Kapodistrian University of Athens & University of California, Santa Cruz

In this course, we will consider the syntax and semantics of comparatives ("more interesting than ..."), including issues such as comparison with and without degrees, the ontology of degrees, the semantics of "more", the syntax of comparative standards ("than ..."), cross-categorial manifestations of comparatives, and the relation between comparatives and superlatives. We will pay close attention to compositional interpretation and to the details of cross-linguistic variation. The course will be relevant to students interested in quantification, relative clauses, the semantics of measurement, parallels among adjectives, nouns and verbs, and the syntax-semantics interface more broadly. Level: Intermediate Prerequisite: a semester (or equivalent) of graduate-level coursework in formal syntax and semantics.

Super Linguistics

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

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 methods inspired by linguistics to non-standard objects (beyond standard linguistic objects of study). In this course, we zoom in on iconicity in sign language, iconic and interactive gestures, animal signals (ape gestures, monkey and bird alarm calls), and dance syntax and semantics in the primate family. This class is introductory in that it does not presuppose familiarity with super linguistic topics, however, introductory level knowledge in syntax, semantics and pragmatics will be presupposed.

Ιntroduction 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.

Phonological Opacity and Grammar Architecture

Ezer Rasin & Donca Steriade
Tel Aviv University & Massachusetts Institute of Technology

An opaque phonological process, as defined by Kiparsky 1971, is one that applies when its conditioning environment is not present on the surface, or fails to apply even though its environment is present. Opacity has played a central role in multiple important debates in the history of phonological theory, and specifically debates about the architecture of grammar: serialism vs. parallelism, rule-based vs. constraint-based phonology, cyclicity vs. surface-correspondence mechanisms, and others. We aim to shed new light on these debates by exploring two competing classes of approaches to opacity. The first of these tries to derive opacity in a unified, serial way, through sequential rule application, as in Chomsky and Halle 1968, or sequential constraint evaluation, as in Bermúdez-Otero 1999, Kiparsky 2000, and subsequent work in Stratal OT. The second class of approaches to opacity involves parallel OT analyses that exploit independently needed analytical devices, including: cyclicity understood as Base-Derivative correspondence; correspondence to surface variants; Max Feature constraints; distantial faithfulness, and others. We will examine how the typology of opaque interactions affects the theoretical landscape, including the status of unattested hypothetical varieties of opaque systems predicted by either of the approaches examined. This is an intermediate-level course, so introductory knowledge of phonology is presupposed. Some exposure to Optimality Theory is desirable.

Introduction to Syntax

Raffaella Zanuttini
Yale University

In this course we will discuss some of the main observations that linguists have made about the syntax of human language and outline how they can be captured using the tools of contemporary syntactic theory. We will go over fundamental notions such predicates and arguments and how they combine, clausal structure, c-command and movement. No prior knowledge of syntax is required.

Sabine Iatridou
Vina Tsakali

Marianna Kabouroudi
Sabine Iatridou
Ioanna Kappa
Despina Oikonomou
Vina Tsakali

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