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Theoretical Linguistics

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Suppletion, Superlatives, and the Structure of Words

This groundbreaking study of the morphology of comparison yields a surprising result: that even in suppletion (the wholesale replacement of one stem by a phonologically unrelated stem, as in good-better-best) there emerge strikingly robust patterns, virtually exceptionless generalizations across languages. Jonathan David Bobaljik describes the systematicity in suppletion, and argues that at least five generalizations are solid contenders for the status of linguistic universals.

A Study of Pronominal Agreement

Normally, a speaker uses a first person singular pronoun (in English, I, me, mine, myself) to refer to himself or herself. To refer to a single addressee, a speaker uses second person pronouns (you, yours, yourself). But sometimes third person nonpronominal DPs are used to refer to the speaker--for example, this reporter, yours truly--or to the addressee--my lord, the baroness, Madam (Is Madam not feeling well?).

The Natural Semantics of Quantifiers

In Taking Scope, Mark Steedman considers the syntax and semantics of quantifier scope in interaction with negation, polarity, coordination, and pronominal binding, among other constructions. The semantics is “surface compositional,” in that there is a direct correspondence between syntactic types and operations of composition and types and compositions at the level of logical form.

Exploring Language with Game Theory

In Meaningful Games, Robin Clark explains in an accessible manner the usefulness of game theory in thinking about a wide range of issues in linguistics. Clark argues that we use grammar strategically to signal our intended meanings: our choices as speaker are conditioned by what choices the hearer will make interpreting what we say. Game theory--according to which the outcome of a decision depends on the choices of others--provides a formal system that allows us to develop theories about the kind of decision making that is crucial to understanding linguistic behavior.

Chomsky showed that no description of natural language syntax would be adequate without some notion of movement operations in a syntactic derivation. It now seems likely that such movement transformations are formally simple operations, in which a single phrase is displaced from its original position within a phrase marker, but after more than fifty years of generative theorizing, the mechanics of syntactic movement are still murky and controversial.

A Study of (Mostly) English Object Structure

In Edge-Based Clausal Syntax, Paul Postal rejects the notion that an English phrase of the form [V + DP] invariably involves a grammatical relation properly characterized as a direct object. He argues instead that at least three distinct relations occur in such a structure. The different syntactic properties of these three kinds of objects are shown by how they behave in passives, middles, -able forms, tough movement, wh-movement, Heavy NP Shift, Ride Node Raising, re-prefixation, and many other tests.

Pronouns and anaphors (including reflexives such as himself and herself) may or must depend on antecedents for their interpretation. These dependencies are subject to conditions that prima facie show substantial crosslinguistic variation. In this monograph, Eric Reuland presents a theory of how these anaphoric dependencies are represented in natural language in a way that does justice to the the variation one finds across languages. He explains the conditions on these dependencies in terms of elementary properties of the computational system of natural language.

Clitics, Incorporation, and Defective Goals

In Agreement and Head Movement, Ian Roberts explores the consequences of Chomsky's conjecture that head-movement is not part of the narrow syntax, the computational system that relates the lexicon to the interfaces. Unlike other treatments of the subject that discard the concept entirely, Roberts's monograph retains the core intuition behind head-movement and examines to what extent it can be reformulated and rethought.

In Arguments as Relations, John Bowers proposes a radically new approach to argument structure that has the potential to unify data from a wide range of different language types in terms of a simple and universal syntactic structure.

In Localism versus Globalism in Morphology and Phonology, David Embick offers the first detailed examination of morphology and phonology from a phase-cyclic point of view (that is, one that takes into account recent developments in Distributed Morphology and the Minimalist program) and the only recent detailed treatment of allomorphy, a phenomenon that is central to understanding how the grammar of human language works.

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