RESEARCH TOPICS

Here's some basic information about the broad topics I am working on or have worked on in the past. Most (maybe all?) of my actual papers and handouts touch on multiple topics from this collection, so you'll see individual bits of work described in multiple places. There are links to downloadable papers with their detailed descriptions in the relevant places, and you can also find all of the papers and handouts in one big chronological list here.

CASE

My dissertation was about how morphological case fits into the syntactic and morphological derivation (I argued there that morphological case is assigned post-syntactically, adopting a version of Dependent case, that it reflects and interprets syntactic structure rather than driving the syntactic derivation, and that it thus plays no role in the licensing and distribution of DPs, i.e. there is no such thing as Case-licensing or a Case Filter). A signifcant portion of my work before and since has explored a series of related topics, including: the relationship of historical developments in English ditransitive constructions to the loss of dative/accusative case distinctions; the effects of morphological case and rich inflection on word order and word order change, including the shift from OV to VO in the history of English; the argument-structural underpinnings of German inherent dative case; the status of default case and its relevance for syntactic and morphological theory; the reconstructible forms of the various case endings for the Proto-Germanic strong adjective inflection; the role of locality and cyclicity in the assignment of (dependent) case; the irrelevance of case for the distribution of for in English infinitives; how we might analyze the structural-inherent case divide by synthesizing post-syntactic and nanosyntactic approaches to morphological case; what case-sensitive patterns of irregular nominal stem allomorphy can tell us about the representation of case and the status of the nominative; an overview of the behavior and development of case in the Germanic languages. With Sandhya Sundaresan I have done case-related work on: the (non-existent) role of case in shaping the distribution of DPs in non-finite clauses, and how this feeds into our understanding of the EPP and the distinction between PRO and pro; the indepdence of nominative case from finiteness and agreement.

 

TAMIL MORPHO-SYNTAX & MORPHO-PHONOLOGY

My work over the past decade has increasingly been concerned with the Dravidian language Tamil, which has a number of interesting syntactic, morphological and phonological properties that are of relevance for current theoretical concern. Tamil contributed crucial data to my investigation of case-sensitive irregular stem allomorphy where it provides useful data on the crucial distinction between stem alternations that are implemented phonologically and those that are implemented morphologically, and also crucial nuance on how number marking can interfere with the triggering of case-based allomorphy in different ways in nouns and pronouns, which provides unique insight into the locality restrictions on allomorphy. More recently, I have embarked on a project to document and analyze patterns of allocutive agreement in different varieties of Tamil, a pattern where there is grammatical agreement not with the subject or some other argument, but with the addressee of the current speech act. This phenomenon is highly relevant for discussions surrounding the syntactic representation of speech act participants and the theory of agreement and has fed into ongoing work with Sandhya Sundaresan on a generalized theory of clause-peripheral agreement types, which attempts to incorporate my work on allocutive agreement into a more general paradigm of complementizer agreement crosslinguistically.

I have also investigated several areas of Tamil morpho-syntax in collaboration with  Sundaresan. Tamil has played a central empirical role in our work looking at how the distribution of subjects in non-finite clauses relates to case and selection, pursuing the idea that nominative case is independent of finiteness and agreement, and attempting a unified analysis of different types of null argument referred to as PRO and pro. In another collaboration we examined the verbal morphology of Tamil as a window into the cartography of the little v domain. One interesting aspect of that work where my contributions were especially important involved a transitivity-related alternation that is realized not by an easily segmentable suffix, but by gemination (and concomittant devoicing) of stem-final consonants, which raises intriguing theoretical questions for how morphology interacts with syntax and phonology and whether it is possible (and well motivated) to analyze what look like phonological processes in terms of morpho-syntactic pieces.

In ongoing independent work, I am exploring a number of historical questions related to these topics. Both the transitivity-related and the case-sensitive stem alternations pose interesting questions about how synchronic morphological irregularity arises as the result of mixtures of (regular) sound change and (analogical) morphological change, and how the possibilities here might be constrained by and yield insight into principles of how morpho-phonology relates to syntax. The allocutive agreement patterns show variation across dialects, which seems to correlate in suggestive ways with variation in the 2nd plural forms of argument agreement. It seems that we are looking at a number of recent innovations, perhaps even change in progress, with intriguing possibilities for causal relationships between changes that might again reflect something deeper about how agreement works.

 

 

COMPUTATIONAL METHODOLOGIES & IDEAS

I have over 20 years of experience utilizing and developing computational methodologies for linguistic research. I have not only applied them as research tools, but have cultivated an interest in computation, software development and computational thinking in its own right that has fed back into my research. I have used electronic corpora extensively in my research on historical syntax. This has produced several papers on the English periphrastic perfect with Artemis Alexiadou and on my own, as work on the verbal prefix ge- in Old English and a paper on the rise of the to-dative in Middle English. Furthermore, it has allowed me to develop a systematic workflow for corpus research, based around extensive automation and error-checking interspersed with cycles of hand-coding examples, and thorough, step-by-step documentation. I wrote a package of software tools to facilitate and automate this workflow and to carry out certain kinds of analysis of the outputs of corpus searches. I am also currently writing a book (under contract with Cambridge University Press) entitled Studying Syntactic Change, which deals extensively with the methodological aspects of research on historical syntax, especially the nitty-gritty of working with parsed electronic corpora. 

 

Upon coming to ZAS, I took over the coordination of the ZAS Database of Clause-embedding Predicates, which documents the complementation patterns of lexical predicates in a number of languages on the basis of naturally occurring examples extracted from corpora. I led the efforts to take (what was until then) a project-internal research tool and publish it in a format that would be useful to outside researchers. This meant taking the existing SQL database with its powerful, but idiosyncratic and unstable, project-internal interface for data entry, editing and search, and producing a more user-friendly public version that could be searched without special training or intimate knowledge of the project. This new version was designed in close collaboration with Peter Meyer (IDS, Mannheim), who also implemented the new search interface, and was made publicly available in 2018 at https://www.owid.de/plus/zasembed/. You can check out the Users Guide for a detailed description of the database, and a paper I co-wrote with Meyer which goes deeper into the design choices that went into the innovative web application for searching and exploring it. 

 

Finally, computational thinking has also influenced how I think about certain theoretical aspects of syntax and morphology. This is most directly visible in an approach locality I have been working on under the label of phase stitching, which reimagines phase theory in a way that takes a lot of its inspiration from concepts of encapsulation and information hiding found in object-oriented (and other types of) programming.

 
 

AGREEMENT

Agreement of various kinds has played a role in several different projects I've worked on over the years. I did a historical-comparative analysis of the pronominal origins Germanic strong adjective inflection that discussed how the development of concord fed into the differentiation of nominal and adjectival inflection in Proto-Germanic. My work on case assignment argued against the popular idea that case and agreement are two sides of the same coin and, among other things, that the two show different locality profiles. My work with Sandhya Sundaresan on DP distribution and the properties of (embedded) subjects made the case that nominative case is independent of agreement. More recently I have worked extensively on the description and analysis of allocutive agreement in Tamil, where an agreement suffix reflects properties of the addressee. In collaboration with Sandhya Sundaresan I have explored how a generalized theory of agreement can make sense of allocutive agreement in comparison with different types of complementizer agreement. Ongoing work with Sundaresan, Hedde Zeijlstra and Rob Truswell is heavily concerned with how different types of agreement compare with various other syntactic dependencies with respect to selective opacity, locality and adjunct/complement distinctions

 

FINITENESS, SUBJECTS & EMBEDDING

A consistent concern of my work has been the treatment of subjects and subject positions and how this inevitably feeds into issues of finiteness and clausal embedding. It was a running theme in my dissertation, as the odd things that happen to subjects in funny embedded and non-finite contexts played a central role in the theory of DP distribution based on syntactic Case, which I argued against; similarly, I have taken apart the persistent but unsupportable idea that the distribution of for in English infinitives is determined by the case needs of the following subject. In a series of collaborations with Sandhya Sundaresan, I looked at: the relevance of case in comparison to selection for the distribution of subjects in non-finite clauses cross-linguistically; the often denied independence of nominative case from finiteness and agreement; the weird modularity-threatening properties of the English EPP as a requirement for specifically overt subjects in specific contexts, and how it might be dealt with in terms of interactions between prosodic and syntactic factors; the idea that the two interpretively distinct silent subjects referred to as PRO and pro could be analyzed as underlyingly a single element that gets differentiated in the course of the syntactic derivation based on the structural context. Related to the overarching research program on Embedding, linking and constituent boundaries in spoken language, grammar and discourse that ran at ZAS through the end of 2019, I explored an approach to finiteness in terms of a continuum of degrees of dependency of the embedded clause on the matrix along multiple dimensions, implemented in cartographic terms, which fed into several of the bits of work described above and was described programmatically in a response paper. I also led the team working on the ZAS Database of Clause-embedding Predicates, published with a purpose-built search interface in 2018 and freely accessible for research use at https://www.owid.de/plus/zasembed/ (check out the Users Guide here).

 

PERIPHRASIS, ASPECT & AUXILIARY SELECTION

My first job after getting my PhD was as a postdoc on Artemis Alexiadou's project "Basis and boundaries of unaccusativity" at the University of Stuttgart. The task for my part of the project was to investigate the system of auxiliary selection and ultimate loss of the be perfect in the history of English. While we couldn't ultimately cover the latter development (because it happened much later than originally realized -- around 1900 -- and a high quality parsed corpus for that period simply wasn't available yet) Artemis and I were able to figure out -- starting from an initially curious restriction applying in past counterfactual contexts -- that the periphrases with have and be in earlier English weren't just variants of a single structure with argument-structural or Aktionsart-sensitive auxiliary selection, but represented deeply distinct constructions -- the be perfect was a stative-resultative, restricted to perfect-of-result readings, while that with have developed into a full-blown experiential perfect around 1350. Following on this, I carried out an investigation of the related distribution and function of the verbal prefix ge- in Old English; subsequently, after the later corpora in the Penn series became available, I turned to the ultimate loss of the be perfect in Late Modern English. My new project Register and the development of periphrasis in the history of English, (co-PI Artemis Alexiadou) part of the CRC 1412 Register: Language-Users’ Knowledge of Situational-Functional Variation, is also concerned with periphrasis and aspect in the context of the development of the periphrastic progressive.

 

HISTORICAL LINGUISTICS

Historical linguistics was my first love, and though I accepted long ago I would never be a real Indo-Europeanist, I have worked on specifically historical topics and historical angles on more general topics throughout my career, especially in the area of corpus-based historical syntax. I have worked on the reconstruction and pronominal origins of the strong adjective inflection in Proto-Germanicthe creation of the to-dative structure in Middle English; the shift from OV to VO order in English and other Germanic languages in relation to changes in their case systems; the historical background of the English for-to infinitive; changes to the case system across the Germanic languages; developments in the English periphrastic perfect, in particular the differences between the constructions with have and be in Old, Middle and Early Modern English (reminiscent of but clearly distinct from the auxiliary selection patterns of modern German, Dutch, French and Italian) together with Artemis Alexiadou; and the restriction and ultimate loss of the be perfect in Late Modern English; the distribution and function of the verbal prefix ge- in Old English. I am currently writing a book entitled Studying Syntactic Change (under contract with Cambridge University Press), and have begun work as Co-PI (with Artemis Alexiadou) on the DFG-funded project Register and the development of periphrasis in the history of English, sub-project B01 of the CRC 1412 Register: Language-Users’ Knowledge of Situational-Functional Variation

 

GERMANIC MORPHO-SYNTAX & MORPHO-PHONOLOGY

A long-standing empirical backdrop for my work has come from comparative investigations of Germanic languages. The case systems and related syntactic patterns of several Germanic languages figured prominently in my dissertation and in work building on it, e.g. what a comparison of German and Icelandic can tell us about locality and cyclicity conditions on dependent case assignment, the argument-structural underpinnings of inherent case in German and elsewhere, default case and the feature structure of case categories, as well as comparative and diachronic correlations between rich case and OV-VO word orders. My work on the EPP with Sandhya Sundaresan is crucially based on comparisons of English patterns with several other languages. I have an intensely comparative paper on the reconstruction of the Proto-Germanic strong adjective inflection, and a handbook article on case across the Germanic languages. Furthermore, I have been recently working on a synthesis of two rather distinct approaches the morphosyntax of case as a way to analyze the distinction between structural and inherent case, which takes class comparative Germanic data as its empirical starting point. And recent work with Sundaresan on a unified analysis of different types of clause-peripheral agreement takes West Germanic complementizer agreement patterns as one of its three main concerns.

 

FUNCTIONAL STRUCTURE & ARGUMENT STRUCTURE

A question that has come up repeatedly in my work is what various syntactic and morphological phenomena might be telling us about the detailed make-up of particular stretches of structure in the syntactic representation. I have worked on: the structure of double object constructions in the history of English; the argument-structural underpinnings of constructions assigning inherent dative in German; how the functional structures underlyling different morphological cases is relevant for case-driven stem allomorphy and for diffferences between structural and inherent cases; what allocutive agreement in Tamil can tell us about the syntactic representation of the Speech Act; how details in the structure of the C domain derive differences and similarities in the distribution of overt for and that in non-finite and finite clauses in English, and relatedly how a continuum of degrees of finiteness can be modelled by assuming differential clause sizes in monotonic containment relationships. Together with Sandhya Sundaresan I have mapped out the fine structure of the little v domain based on data from verbal morphology in Tamil and explored the inventory of functional heads in the clausal periphery on the basis of C-domain agreement, the distribution of PRO and pro, and the EPP

LOCALITY

The role of locality restrictions in shaping syntactic dependencies has popped up repeatedly in my research. I have worked on the relevant degree of locality for dependent case assignment in comparison with agreement; a re-thinking of phase theory called phase stitching, which derives locality tempered by successive-cyclicity by imagining phases as opaque modules with transparent interfaces via matching edges; the role of locality restrictions on allomorphy in deriving generalizations about the case sensitivity of irregular noun stem alternations; using locality to derive different types of C-domain agreement (allocutive agreement as well as downward and upward complementizer agreement) within a general theory of agreement (with Sandhya Sundaresan); and deriving selective opacity effects with adjuncts via path-based locality in a novel model of structure building and structure enrichment (with Sandhya Sundaresan and Hedde Zeijlstra).

 

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