Current research projects

Grammatical Strength in Prosodic Morphology: Typology and Theory

Project title:Grammatical strength in Prosodic Morphology: Typology and theory
Principal Investigator:Eva Zimmermann
Funding organization:DFG (Independent junior research groups)
Funded since:2019

The speech sounds of languages have gradient phonetic properties. The final sound of the English word ‘bad’, for example, has arguably different acoustic properties in contexts like ‘bad times’ and ‘bad guys’ for most speakers: It is partially devoiced in the former context but not in the latter (Zsiga, 2013, 49). The phonological representation that encodes speakers’ grammatical knowledge, however, abstracts away from this particular gradient difference and the same phonemic representation of a voiced obstruent /d/ is standardly assumed in both contexts. This neutralization is a consequence of the fundamental assumption that linguistic representations are categorical: An element is present or not and either has a certain property or not (Chomsky and Halle, 1968). This research group investigates the hypothesis that such asymmetries where apparently identical grammatical elements behave differently is indeed due to differences in their gradient strength (Smolensky and Goldrick, 2016; Rosen, 2016; Zimmermann, to appear). It hence challenges the view of categorical linguistic representations and argues that grammatical computation is sensitive to gradient differences.This research group will develop a typology of the three strength-based patterns of competition, lexical under- and overapplication, and lexical cooperation. The expectation is that they are restricted in systematic ways that follow from a formalization of strength in phonological theory but remain coincidental under alternative models of grammar without reference to strength. In addition, most alternative accounts of these phenomena rely on morpheme-specific phonological constraints or sub-grammars (Inkelas et al., 2004; Inkelas and Zoll, 2007; Pater, 2009) whereas the assumption of strength in phonological representations allows a modular organization of grammar where the phonology has no direct access to morphological information. The area that is best suited for this study is Prosodic Morphology and thus the broad empirical domain of changes in the suprasegmental properties of words (=length, accent, tone) that are not predictable from the phonological structure alone but refer to morpho-syntactic information. Prosody is not only the empirical domain where most implicit or explicit notions of strength have been proposed in the literature (Halle and Vergnaud, 1987; Vaxman, 2016b), the main aim of Prosodic Morphology is to connect morphology and phonology via phonological representations, which is exactly the main goal of a theory of phonological strength as well.

Syntactic structure removal

Project title:Syntactic structure removal: A new approach to conflicting representations
Principal Investigator:Gereon Müller
Funding organization:DFG (Reinhart Koselleck Projects)
Funded since:2016

Systeme, die über strukturaufbauende Operationen verfügen, weisen üblicherweise auch komplementäre strukturabbauende Operationen auf Das mlnimalistische Programm (Chomsky (2001; 2013)) ist wesentlich durch eine strukturaufbauende Operation gekennzeichnet, die sowohl für die inkrementelle Generierung syntaktischer Repräsentationen verantwortlich ist, als auch für die Modellierung von Bewegung, nämlich Merge. Das vorliegende Projekt verfolgt die Hypothese, dass eine komplementäre strukturabbauende Operation Remove nicht nur aus konzeptuellen Gründen erwartbar ist, sondern direkt durch die empirische Evidenz gestützt wird und einen ganz neuen Blick ermöglicht auf eine Reihe von bislang in minimalistischen Analysen vernachlässigten bzw. nicht zufriedenstellend analysierten Phänomenen. Konkret geht es um empirische Bereiche, die die Annahme konfligierender syntaktischer Repräsentationen nahegelegen: (i) Diathesen (z.B. Passiv. Antipassiv), (ii) Tilgungsoperationen (z.B. Sluicing), (iii) Reanalyseprozesse (z.B. Restrukturlerung, Bewegungsasymmetrien) und (iv) Oszillationseffekte (z.B. NP vs. DP).Unter der Annahme, dass Merge und Remove denselben Beschränkungen unterliegen (insbesondere dem Strikten Zyklus), ergibt sich die Vorhersage kurzer Lebensspannen des von Strukturabbau betroffenen Materials. Diese Effekte werden in den empirischen Untersuchungen eine zentrale Rolle einnehmen. Die Studien sind dabei einerseits bzgl. grammatischer Phänomene sprachvergleichend angelegt. Andererseits soll Strukturabbau auch für die Grammatik einer Einzelsprache (des Deutschen) insgesamt im Detail erforscht werden, inkl. erstmaliger Erstellung eines umfassenden minimalistischen Fragments.

Anaphors vs. agreement

Project title:Anaphora vs. agreement: investigating the "Anaphor Agreement Effect"
Principal Investigators:Sandhya Sundaresan & Hedde Zeijlstra
Funding organization:DFG
Funded since:2015

The Anaphor Agreement Effect (AAE henceforth) describes an observation, originally due to Rizzi (1990), that no language is attested where anaphors (i.e. expressions, such as *herself* our *ourselves* that must be bound by an antecedent in the sentence or clause they occur in) are capable of triggering regular person, number, and/or gender agreement on finite verbs. In simple terms, this means that an anaphor may never be the source of regular verbal agreement. For instance, in a language that exhibits object agreement, the verb in a sentence like *we like ourselves* could never receive a 1st person plural object agreement marker. It remains as yet unclear whether the AAE reflects a universal ban in natural language or rather simply a strong tendency among languages. Nor is it clear what the exact range of variation is in strategies for avoiding violations of the AAE. This a point with respect to which languages differ. For instance, in certain languages like Albanian, the agreement marker on the verb, when controlled by an anaphor, takes on a default form (3rd person singular instead of 1st person plural with a 1st person plural anaphor); in other languages like Inuit, the anaphor has to appear in a non-regular, agreement-blocking case, for instance a dative, when it appears in a position where it would have controlled agreement; and even other languages have special agreement markers that go with anaphors to prevent them from triggering regular agreement. This project, the first large-scale examination of the AAE, aims at resolving these unclarities, on the one hand by empirically investigating the universality of the AAE and the range of variation in strategies that languages exhibit to avoid violating it, and on the other hand by providing a theoretical explanation for the AAE and its cross-linguistic manifestations. Two PhD students to be supervised by the PIs, one located in Leipzig and one in Göttingen, will carry out in-depth typological studies on an array of languages to investigate the AAE in its full extent. This research will not only result in a more complete explanation of the AAE, but also yield a better understanding of the nature of anaphoric binding and verbal agreement in general. In particular, the long-standing question as to whether anaphoric binding reflects a type of morphosyntactic agreement (where the anaphors person, number and gender features must agree with that of its antecedent) can finally be addressed in this project by directly examining how that anaphoric binding and verbal agreement interact.

last modified: 09.08.2019