LINGUIST 750: The Most Interesting Topic in Syntax and the Most Interesting Topic's Processing

  • Who Brian Dillon & Kyle Johnson
  • When Tuesday 2:30 - 5:15PM
  • Where ILC N458

Course overview

In this proseminar-style course we will examine the notion of competition in constraining anaphoric reference. We will survey models that use competitive principles to regulate speakers’ preferences for anaphoric expressions. We will consider both formal and psycholinguistic approaches to this question, looking at the role of ambiguity, structural simplicity, and speaker-internal memory pressures in regulating what anaphoric expressions speakers can, or tend to, use to refer.

One empirical focus of our proseminar will be the ‘Repeated Name Penalty,’ the finding that across several languages, there is a penalty for repeating a name across sentence boundaries when a more minimal referring device would do. Note, for instance, the improvement that comes by changing the title of our course to “The most interesting topics in syntax and its processing.” There is a penalty for repetition where it is not needed. What relation, if any, does this constraint bear to principles that regulate an anaphor’s within-sentence referential potential?

In addition, a more exploratory goal of our proseminar is to ask whether similar principles are at play in governing the distribution of anaphoric expressions beyond names and definite descriptions, such as verb-phrase ellipsis and object drop in East Asian languages.

Students will be exposed to a wide range of approaches to this question.

Course requirements

Enrolled students will be expected to:

  • Attend weekly class meetings, read assigned readings, and come ready to discuss.
  • Give two presentations throughout the semester. One presentation will be of a paper drawn from the course readings; the second will be a paper related to the student’s project.
  • Write a final term paper on a topic of the students’ own choosing. Students will be especially encouraged to find common ground between the content of this proseminar and their current research interests outside of this class; come meet us early on to discuss possibilities.

Course schedule

Date Topic Readings Presenter
Tu 93 Introduction Grodzinsky and Reinhart (1993), Dowty (1980), Levinson (1987) Kyle
Tu 910 Binding Theory Bach and Partee (1980), Kiparsky (2002), Reinhart & Reuland (1993) Kyle
Tu 917 Binding Theory: Competence Reinhart & Reuland (1993) Kyle
Tu 924 Binding Theory: Performance Kush & Dillon (2019), Kazanina et al (2007), Drummer & Felser (2019). Brian
Tu 101 Cataphora Brian; Erika presents Ledoux et al. (2007)
Tu 108 Repeated Name Penalty Marty (2018). Optional: Schlenker (2005) Brian; Shay presents Marty (2018)
Tu 1022 Bayesian inference and competition,ad hoc signaling game,ad hoc signaling game with varying utterance costs, pronoun interpretation model Goodman et al. (2013), Schulz et al. (submitted) Brian
Tu 1029 Defining the competition Fox & Katzir (2011) Kyle; Kaden presents Fox and Katzir (2011)
Tu 115 Navigating the Competition Kyle
Tu 1112 Prominence and pronoun choice Arnold (2010), Rosa & Arnold (2017), Fukumura et al. (2013) Brian
Tu 1119 Ellipsis and object drop Sakamoto (2019) Kyle; Duygu presents Sakamoto (2019)
Tu 123 Be Vapid! Synthesis Kyle
Tu 1210 Student presentations
Brian Dillon
Associate Professor

I am a psycholinguist who studies syntax, semantics, working memory, and sentence comprehension.