Spring 2001
University of Chicago

Syntax 2 (Linguistics 205/305)


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Technical specs:

Time:  TTh 10:30-11:50
Place:  Cobb 206
Instructor: Jason Merchant
Office hours: Tu 1-3pm or by appointment
Office:  Classics 305
Tel:  (70)2-8523
email:  merchant@uchicago.edu

There are two related goals of this course:
 1.  To introduce the fundamentals of recent work in theoretical syntax
 2. To develop the analytical and expository skills necessary for success in linguistics

Course description:

This course introduces the fundamental goals and assumptions of current syntactic theory through the examination of primary data from natural languages with the goal to put you in a position to pursue more advanced study on the structure of human languages and to provide a foundation for your own research.  After reviewing the basic concepts of modern grammatical theory, the course moves on to the principles of current theoretical syntax: phrase structure and constituency, the interaction of syntax and the lexicon, and the nature and type of movement operations.  Strong emphasis is placed on providing coherent argumentation and empirical justification for theoretical claims, as well as overall understanding of theoretical concepts.  Although the primary source of linguistic data will be English, examples may also be drawn from other languages.

Teaching method:

Lecture and discussion.  Problem sets to develop skills in analysis of primary data, construction of empirical arguments for theoretical claims, and expository writing.

Evaluation method:

Weekly problem sets involving 4-8-page write-ups; take-home final of 10-15 pages.  Evaluation will be based about equally on analytical content and strength of argumentation, with particular focus on the presentation of empirical justification for claims and the form and clarity of the prose.

Weekly assignments: 75%, final: 15%, class participation: 10%.


Supplementary readings from L. Haegeman (1994), Introduction to Government and Binding Theory (2nd ed.) and L. Rizzi (1990), Relativized Minimality, as well as possibly other short readings.

Overview of the contents of the course:

Time permitting, the following topics will be covered (roughly in the order below):

Guidelines for writing up assignments:

The assignments will take the form of short papers aimed at explaining sets of problematic data using, and (where necessary) extending, the set of assumption adopted in class.  Emphasis will be placed on providing empirical justification for claims, strength of argumentation, and form and clarity.  You are encouraged to work together in developing solutions to the problems in the assignments, with the following two requirements:

(i) you must acknowledge your collaborators (i.e., include a footnote saying who you worked with), and
(ii) you must write up the assignments individually

Write-ups should be in prose, with all examples, trees, rules, etc., numbered.  The general structure will be to introduce a set of data (pointing out generalizations as necessary), explain their significance, propose or reiterate one or several hypotheses about the data, and argue for the superiority of a particular hypothesis on the basis of the data, introducing new data as relevant.

In general, assignments will be handed out on Thursdays, and due at the beginning of class on the following Tuesday.  We will generally spend a good deal of Tuesday’s class developing a theory of the data in the assignment.  For this reason, late assignments cannot be accepted.