October 29th: Heather Burnett (Université de Toulouse 2- Jean Jaurès/Ecole normale supérieure) – Utrecht

We are happy to announce that on Wednesday, October 29th, Heather Burnett (Université de Toulouse 2- Jean Jaurès/Ecole normale supérieure) will give a LUSH talk in Utrecht. We hope to see you all there!

Date: Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

Time: 15:00 – 16:30

Location: Utrecht, Kromme Nieuwegracht 80, room 1.06 (Ravensteynzaal)

Speaker: Heather Burnett

Title: Reflections of Grammar in Patterns of Variation: Variable Negative Concord in Dialects of French and the Architecture of the Syntax-Semantics Interface

Abstract: This paper addresses the contributions that studies of syntactic variation can make to the construction and evaluation of formal syntactic and semantic theories. In particular, I argue that data associated with patterns of language use can provide a new testing ground for grammatical theories of phenomena at the syntax-semantics interface, one that will allow us to distinguish between existing analyses that are all descriptively adequate when applied to categorical data. As an illustration of this proposal, this work presents a new empirical investigation into asymmetric (also known as non-strict) negative concord systems of the kind found in languages like Italian, Spanish and European Portuguese. I argue that the many previous analyses of these patterns in the literature are difficult to distinguish from an empirical point of view because, despite the great diversity in their philosophical backgrounds and technical machinery, they all make roughly the same predictions when it comes to the basic paradigms associated with categorical asymmetric negative concord. I propose that one way of breaking this ‘stalemate’ is to extend the dataset that we expect our theories to account for to include variable asymmetric concord systems, such as the Montréal French system. Based on the results of a quantitative study of the distribution of bare and concord structures in the Montréal 84 spoken corpus (Thibault and Vincent, 1990), I argue that (an appropriately modified) extension of de Swart (2010)’s analysis for the Spanish categorical pattern set within a bidirectional Stochastic Optimality Theory framework provides the most satisfactory account of the forms, interpretations, and frequency distributions of sentences containing negative indefinites in Montréal 84. The success of this new analysis, which crucially relies on Jespersen (1917, 1933) and Horn (1989)’s neg first constraint, provides additional empirical support for this existence of such a principle in natural language, as well as support for the use of probabilistic grammars in the analysis of phenomena at the syntax-semantics interface. Furthermore, I argue that the case study presented in this paper opens up a new line of research that uses linguistically and socially conditioned syntactic variation data as a way to bring new empirical arguments to debates in formal syntactic and semantic theory.

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