According to the Strong Minimalist Thesis (Chomsky 2001 et seq.), language is an optimal solution to interface conditions, in that language is an optimal way to link sound and meaning. There is a significant asymmetry between the semantic interface, the system of thought, and the sensorimotor interface externalizing it, the first having primacy. This conference targets the asymmetry between these two interfaces, both generated by a binary syntactic combinatorial operation.

In addition to the main program, a workshop on Unpronounced elements at the interfaces will be held within the conference. Recent work has shown that empty elements are pervasive in natural language syntax. In addition to well-known phenomena of movement copies, ellipsis and null pronouns, lexical and functional categories such as prepositions, articles and verbs are often unpronounced. For example, in English there are strong reasons to believe that John went there. should be analyzed in terms of a null preposition as in John went TO there.
This workshop targets the implications of these empty elements for the interfaces. What role do they play in morphology? What determines whether some word or morpheme is pronounced? What role do they play in the semantic interpretation? What do they tell us about human cognition?

The conference will also host a roundtable on Variation in functional categories, targeting a deeper understanding of language variation in the structure and the pronunciation of their constitutive elements.

On-site registration is free and open to all.

     Anna Maria Di Sciullo, Director LAD

     Laboratoire de recherche sur les asymétries d'interface      [LAD]
     Département de linguistique UQAM      [website]
     Visiting scholar NYU      [website]
     Tel: 1 (514) 987-3000, #3519
     Fax: 1 (514) 987-0377
     Cell: 1 (929) 855-7200

Invited speakers

Conference program

This conference targets the asymmetry between the semantic interface and the sensorimotor interface externalizing it.

In addition to the main program, a workshop on Unpronounced elements at the interfaces will be held within the conference.

The conference will also host a roundtable on Variation in functional categories, targeting a deeper understanding of language variation in the structure and the pronunciation of their constitutive elements.

Conference program (PDF)

There is little doubt that, in the adult, specific brain lesions cause specific language deficits. Yet, brain localizations of linguistic functions are made problematic by several reported cases of normal language in spite of major brain anomalies, mostly, but not exclusively, occurring early in life. The signal cases are hydrocephaly, spina bifida and hemispherectomy. Many patients have normal syntax and lexicon, but suffer from grave problems in the use of language (they are linguistically dyspraxic), showing that the interface is affected. These cases are discussed and possible solutions are suggested: namely a vast redundancy of neurons and/or the role of microtubules as neuron-internal processors and key factors in signaling and guiding the growth and reconfiguration of the brain. [...]
Formal linguistic theory has studied language almost exclusively under conditions where systems of thought, which necessarily interact with language in its normal use, are intact and healthy. This includes the case of aphasia, where even global language impairment following focal lesions to the brain can leave non-linguistic cognitive functioning surprisingly intact. So what happens to the language faculty when cognition itself disintegrates in young adults, leaving no functional thought system in place? This question can be investigated in formal thought disorder (FTD), a syndrome seen in schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions. This talk will report from three new linguistic studies in English and Spanish of thought disordered speech, focusing mostly on the Spanish studies. [...]
One proposal about language evolution is that the Merge innovation operated solely within the system of thought, whereas externalization, the connection between the computational system and the preexisting SM system, is responsible for language variation (e.g. Chomsky 2010, Berwick & Chomsky 2016). Chomsky (2010: 61) suggests that externalization may not have involved evolutionary (genomic) change, but rather could be “a problem addressed by existing cognitive processes, in different ways, and at different times.” This suggestion about externalization is implausible because of the complexity of the language production system. Instead, the production system would have helped shape the forms that languages take on, both evolutionarily and diachronically. This study focuses on one particular aspect of the production process, clause-by-clause planning, and provides cross-linguistic evidence for a production account of some syntactic phenomena. [...]
A significant theme in current linguistic research is the acquisition of recursion. How and when exactly do children start processing symmetric or linear adjunction of items, and when do they start using asymmetric embedding?
While linear adjunction appears to be an early acquisition in language comprehension and production (Pérez-Leroux et al., 2012), embedding does not seem to be present in children’s earliest utterances (Roeper; Snyder, 2004, 2005; Roeper, 2011).
The fact that adjunction appears earlier is rather intuitive. It can be explained by the simple fact that adjoining is a way to bypass complex computation by accounting for items that are sent to storage (for instance, short-term memory) symmetrically, the way they appear. This simplicity is likely to be successful for at least a few items. Nevertheless, when there is a number of items that starts challenging memory capacity, a safer cognitive decision seems to be resorting to structure (MILLER, 1956). [...]
Bare arguments (BAs) like (1a-c) vary a great deal in distribution. French has virtually none; English freely allows bare plurals and mass nouns in every argument position, but not bare singulars; Hindi or Russian lack articles and allow both bare plurals and bare singulars.
(1) a. Hawks are widespread around here.            (Kind-level reference)
       b. Hawks eat their preys while flying.              (Genericity)
       c. I saw hawks repeatedly this morning.         (‘Ultra-narrow’ scope vs.
       d. I saw a hawk repeatedly this morning.        Wide scope weak indefinite)
Looking beyond Indo European at languages with obligatory classifiers (i.e. Classifier Languages - CLs), one finds positionally unrestricted BAs across the board, even in those typologically rare cases where a CL does have determiners (like Nuoso Yi – cf. Jiang 2017). [...]
Under the Grammatical Theory of Scalar Implicatures (GT of SIs), SIs are logical entailments of ambiguous sentences – entailments of grammatical representations containing a (covert) focus sensitive operator, exh. Conceptual and empirical arguments have been presented in favor of GT. GT is consistent with conversational maxims that can be defended on a-priori grounds. By contrast, the pragmatic alternatives require the rejection of basic truisms. In additions, GT is supported on various empirical grounds, among them considerations of modularity/blindness, the interaction between ignorance inferences and SIs, embedded implicatures, and various other areas of grammar in which Exhaustification is a key player (for a review and relevant references, see Chierchia, Fox and Spector 2012, Fox 2014, and Chierchia 2017).
However, the definitions of exh provided in most versions of GT have been suspiciously close to what is derived by Neo-Gricean mechanisms. I will attempt to resolve this conceptual difficulty by a look at the presuppositions of questions. Building on and modifying work of Dayal (1996) I will argue that exh is involved in the statement of these presuppositions and (drawing on recent work with Moshe Bar-Lev) that its definition is quite distinct from what is derived by Neo-Gricean machinery. [...]
The central explanandum of this paper is the universal, as far as I know, inability of true (not expletive) negation to appear in Before-clauses (BC):
   (1) * John left the store before Mary did not try the dress
Note, however, that negation in BCs improves in the presence of a modal:
   (2) John was happy before I wouldn't talk to him anymore
This contrast suggests that the cause of the deviant status of (1) is not a violation of a fundamentally syntactic principle. Instead, I will propose that the reason is presupposition failure. Informally, a BC carries a presupposition that there exists a unique, contextually salient and identifiable time t such that the relevant event expressed by the BC took place at t. In other words, the presupposition of the BC is identical to that associated with definite descriptions. The natural question that then arises concerns the origin of that presupposition. I will examine two options. [...]
There is a widespread skepticism whether natural language reflects ontology, not at least due to Chomsky's rejection of (external) reference as a notion involved in natural language. At the same time, ontological notions permeate not only semantics, but, in fact, also (generative) syntax. I will argue for an understanding of ontology that allows overcoming the scepticism and permits a new and important research perspective of natural language ontology, as part of both metaphysics and linguistics. [...]
In the copy theory, lower copies must be deleted under identity with a c-commanding copy so that only one copy is realized (Nunes 2004). In this view, remnant movement like (1)a poses a challenge: since some copies bear no c-command relation, we wrongly predict them to be realized, as in (1)b. I argue that there is no copy of the subject DP in the infinitival clause, unlike in (1)b. Instead, there is only a covert Det (THE in (1)c), which allows us to derive the correct word order. Two independently necessary mechanisms create this kind of structure, which in turn explains certain traits found in (1)a. [...]
(1) a. [How likely t1 to win] is [an Austrian]1? (Sauerland and Elbourne (S&E) 2002:297)
       b. [[how likely [TP [an Austrian]1 to win]]2 is [TP [an Austrian]1 t2]]
              → *How likely an Austrian to win is an Austrian?
       c. [[how likely [TP [THE]1 to win]]2 is [TP [an Austrian]1 t2]]
              → How likely to win is an Austrian?
The “cartographic program” in linguistics has yielded interesting empirical results, e.g., drawing attention to apparently stable orderings among certain types of sentence constituents (attributive adjectives, adverbs, elements of the left periphery, etc.) across a wide range of languages. However cartography’s key technical device in accounting for these distributions - hierarchies of functional heads related by functional selection - is problematic. [...]
Carlson (1983, 2006) argues that functional elements (to be dubbed f-elements) often present mismatches in form and interpretation of the kind lexical elements do not. Carlson points out that there is a learning problem if the learner is supposed to figure out functional meanings from what he/she hears. His solution to the problem is that f-elements themselves are meaningless; functional meanings are carried by features or phonetically null operators that appear on the phrases over which they scope, and their effects percolate down to heads in order to receive expression, in one way or another.
Results in the past decades converge impressively with Carlson’s vision. Consider, for example, the assumption of null operators in Ladusaw 1992 and Zeijlstra 2004 for negative concord, in Beghelli & Stowell 1997 for distributivity, in Kratzer 2005 for existential and other quantifiers, in Kusumoto 2005 for past tense, in Katzir 2011 for poly(-in)definiteness, and so on. There are also variations on that theme. The exhaustifiers EXH in Fox 2007 and O in Chierchia 2013 have syntactic status but no matching f-elements. Still further; the binding combinator “z” in Jacobson 1992 and the abstract negation in Chierchia 2013:235 do not seem to have syntactic status. The disembodied meet and join operations in Szabolcsi 2015 do not have syntactic status; they kick in either by default or to satisfy the presuppositions of overt MO or KA particles. Thus, for the logical scaffolding to be unpronounced or to be even disembodied seems to be the norm. If that is so, careful considerations of compositionality / learnability are called for.

Carlson, G. (1983). Marking constituents. In F. Heny & M. Richards (eds.), Linguistic categories: Auxiliaries and related puzzles I (pp. 69–98). Dordrecht: Reidel.
Carlson, G. (2006). ‘Mismatches’ of form and interpretation. In V. van Geenhoven (ed.), Semantics in acquisition (pp. 19–36). Berlin: de Gruyter.
Many works have contributed to a deeper understanding of why so much diversity exists in the crosslinguistic expression of subjunctive. Yet the universal patterns remain challenging. Dependency has been seen as its hallmark. As a corollary, it is traditionally considered the mood of subordination. However, subjunctive matrix clauses exist and both their structure and interpretation are relevant for its theoretical account. In 1 we outline our proposal for the syntactic derivation of subjunctive concentrating on complement clauses; in 2 we consider main subjunctives, in 3 obviation and its exemptions. We take languages with and without subjunctive morphology on the verb (Portuguese vs. Greek, Bulgarian, Russian). [...]
Both pronominal doubling and overt expletives are often taken to be instantiations of LF/PF-asymmetries: the former involve the double pronunciation of a single (set of) semantic feature(s), while the latter involves the spell-out of a purely formal feature or requirement (the EPP). This paper looks at the combination of these two asymmetries: pronominal doubling of expletive pronouns in Dutch dialects. I argue that in both cases the asymmetry is only apparent: neither the expletive nor the doubling is semantically vacuous. [...]
In Japanese Right Dislocation (JRD) construction, interrogative wh-phrases cannot appear at the right side of the matrix verb, as exemplified in (1). In contrast, Negative Polarity Items (NPIs) such as nani-mo ‘anything’ can appear in the dislocated position as in (2). Since both an interrogative wh-phrase and an NPI have to be syntactically licensed by a Q-particle and a NEG head, respectively, the difference of acceptability requires an explanation. Although three different approaches have been proposed previously for JRD: Clause-External, Clause-Internal, and Bi-clausal (Leftward movement + deletion) Analysis, we cannot provide a satisfactory explanation in syntactic terms under any approach, because the same structural position would be assigned to the dislocated interrogative wh-phrase and the NPI. The answer, therefore, must be found in the semantic/ pragmatic or phonological aspect of the construction. In this paper, assuming that covertly juxtaposed clauses are interpreted independently in the semantic/pragmatic component, we will account for the contrast between (1) and (2) in a unified way under the Bi-Clausal Analysis of JRD constructions. [...]
(1) *John-wa tabemasita ka, nani-o
       John-TOP ate.polite Q what-ACC
       intended: ‘What did John eat?’
(2) John-wa tabenakatta yo, nani-mo.
       John-TOP did not eat PRT anything
       ‘John didn’t eat anything.’ [...]
Over half of the world’s languages with gender have a system with only feminine and masculine values (Corbett 2006), constituting a ‘semantic core’ corresponding to natural (female/male) gender. Languages also tend to lose grammatical gender for inanimates, and objects lacking natural gender over time (e.g., English, Amharic among others). If grammatical gender is formally coded as an interpretable feature on some (+human/+animate) nouns, and as uninterpretable on others (cf. Kramer 2009, 2015), then the loss of grammatical gender indicates a strong preference for gender interpretability at the semantic interface. In this paper, drawing on both diachronic and synchronic micro-level data from Awadhi (Indic), I argue against a purely interface-driven analysis for gender realization. Gender realization is instead contingent on other concurrent syntax-internal processes. [...]

Round table on variation in functional categories

Some morphemes are more prevalent than is traditionally assumed, while others are less so. In this talk I will suggest that the definite article belongs to the former, while 3SG inflection belongs to the latter, essentially replacing the latter by the former, at least in some cases. More concretely: English verbal inflection is strange in having a 3SG -s which contrasts with zero in all other persons and which is absent in the past. The German 3SG verbal inflection -t is also strangely absent in the past. In fact, 3SG is strange in and of itself, if it is correct that 3rd person is really absence of person, and singular is really absence of number, i.e. 3SG is simply not. But if there is no such thing as 3SG, English -s and German -t cannot be strange variants of 3SG morphemes. In fact, I will discuss the possibility that they are, instead, a sort of present tense morphemes, anchoring the clause in the utterance situation. I will further suggest that there is some plausibility to the idea that they are variants of the definite article. If correct, there are two variants of the definite article in the clausal spine, one affixed to the finite verb and one in the left periphery. [...]
Accounting for language variation is something that generative syntax has had to deal with since the beginning. The view from the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1995) is that the Faculty of Language is unique, and what determines variation are the interface conditions, usually imposed by PF (LF is assumed to feature a one-to-one mapping to narrow syntax). What remains obscure is the existence of many phonologies, not justifiable in terms of SM interface (given the fact that phonological rules are largely independent of phonetics). Furthermore, in a modular view of grammar which has minimalist concerns at its core, it is not clear why syntax and phonology should work with different tools. Ideally, syntax and phonology should work with the same tools, and mapping between them should be direct and isomorphic (if we take the “interface” conditions seriously, we can imagine NS to be instructed by PF requirements, in a crash-proof model).
In this talk, I wish to propose that language variation is not a result of syntax-PF mapping non-isomorphism, nor of idiosyncrasies imposed by the SM system, but it is rather intrinsic to the tools that are used by the two modules. In particular, I wish to propose that syntax and phonology work with the same set of features, which are however defined in a more articulated fashion than usual. [...]
Most current syntactic theories of interpretive properties of φ-features (Kramer 2009, 2015, Ouwayda 2014, Harbour 2016, among others) work with an implicit assumption that the interpretation of the morphological realization of φ-features is isomorphic to their narrow-syntax realization. There is a new body of work that partially attempts to remedy this implicit assumption by using locality-based syntactic tests (Bobaljik & Zocca 2011, Wurmbrand 2016, Bejar 2017). Yet, even this type of work implicitly assumes an isomorphic mapping. If we take seriously the Y-model, especially in its latest Minimalist Program incarnation, there is no obvious reason why this should be the case. In fact, in the light of what we know about the interfaces it would be surprising if the CI interface did not transform the narrow-syntax representation of φ-features in a way analogical to the processes at the PF interface, as modeled in the Distributed Morphology framework. In this talk I propose a theory of mapping syntactic features to the interfaces that attempts to strictly separate syntactic and semantic properties of features such as person, and will present several case studies demonstrating how feature valuation and geometry may get altered at the semantics interface and what consequences it has for syntax and morphology. [...]

Workshop on unpronounced elements at the interfaces

Recoverable deletion exists because it is itself just a subcase of movement.  Recoverable deletion involves movement into the position of the antecedent; the ‘deletion site’ is just a trace/silent copy of internal merge.
In The ball hit John in the ankle, which is an extremely important part of the human body, 'the ankle' seems to simultaneously have a specific and a generic interpretation. The solution is based on a deleted/silent TOKEN, as in:  '...hit John in HIS TOKEN OF the ankle, which is...', in which the specificity resides in HIS TOKEN and the genericity in the ankle. [...]
The ability for the human mind to compute complex numerals and time counting expressions is a consequence of the great leap from finite and continuous systems, such as the gesture system, to systems of discrete infinity, such as language, mathematics and music. Unpronounced elements, including conjunctions and disjunctions, are part of the abstract properties of human language. I focus on additive cardinal numerals and time counting expressions, and propose a derivation of these expressions relying on Internal/External Merge and third factor principles minimizing structural symmetry and externalization. The presence of unpronounced heads in cardinal numerals, one thousand AND one hundred and one vs. *one thousand and one hundred AND one, and in time counting expressions, it is two AND thirty vs. *it is two and thirty, as well as in recursive phrasal coordination and disjunction, Mary AND/OR Lucy and/or Joan vs. *Mary and/or Lucy AND/OR Joan, brings further support to the autonomy of syntax with respect to the other aspects of language. In turn, the syntax of additive numerals and time counting expressions provides a foundation for understanding their semantics as well as their externalization. Moreover, the development of recursive PP/DP structures in the child suggests and their production in specific language impairments, such as dysphasia, provides further evidence that structural asymmetry is deeply rooted in the biology of language. [...]

General and Venue Information

On-site registration is free and open to all.

How to get here
NYU Department of Linguistics is located on 10 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003 (see map and link for directions below).
All talks are held in Room 104, on the 1st floor.
A cab ride from either JFK or LaGuardia airports takes about 30 min. and costs about 60$USD.
Travel time by bus is about 90 min from either JFK or LaGuardia (bus fare 2.75$USD).
You may plan your bus ride using the MTA TripPlanner.

Hilton Garden Inn Tribeca is a 20 min. walk from the conference venue and has decent rates, but there are plenty other choices around.

At a mere 8 min. walk Il Cantinori proposes best of Tuscan cuisine (while being known as a celebrity hangout...)
But again, choices are abundant in the close vicinity.

Event Location

NYU Department of Linguistics

10 Washington Pl, New York,
NY 10003, USA
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