Friday, September 29, 2017

Scalar Modification of Quantifier Phrases

In this paper, I give an analysis of the syntax and semantics of expressions like almost everybody, absolutely everybody and nowhere near everybody. I show how the interpretation of such expressions involves reference to scales of generalized quantifiers in the sense of Horn 2001.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Negating Gradable Adjectives

The last sigh of my summer vacation....
Here, I try to give the semantics of un- in the framework of Collins and Postal 2014.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Syntax I Syllabus (Fall 2017)

Here is my syllabus for Syntax I for Fall 2017. Comments welcome!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Outer Negation of Universal Quantifier Phrases

This is a new article on negated quantifier phrases.

This paper discusses two ways of negating DP quantifier phrases. In one way, NEG modifies the quantifier D directly with the structure [[NEG D] NP] (inner negation). In the other way, NEG modifies the whole DP with the structure [NEG DP] (outer negation). I give evidence based on negative polarity items that negated universal quantifier phrases like not every student involve outer negation.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

On the Subject of Negative Auxliliary Inversion

Here is a new paper about negation co-written with Frances Blanchette. We investigate NAI which is a construction found in some varieties of English (not mine):

(1) Ain't nobody done you wrong.

In this example one has both negative concord (n't and nobody represent together one semantic negation), and NAI (since the auxiliary appears to the left of the subject). We present three properties of NAI, and show how all of them follow from the following assumption:

(2) In NAI, the subject is negative.

Actually, it turns out that (2) does not have to be stipulated. Although (2) clearly holds for (1) we also show it holds for (3):

(3) Didn’t many people go to the party.

In our analysis, (3) has the subject [NEG [many people]], and NEG cliticizes to Fin.

This paper is the strongest argument since Horn clauses for the analysis of some NPIs as unary NEG structures, which was a key assumption of CP2014, and which is completely contrary to mainstream assumptions about negative polarity items.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Curriculum Vitae (July 2017)

Here is the most recent version of my CV. If anybody wants any of the papers, books, handouts, or has any other questions, let me know.

Incomplete Comparatives as Ellipsis

I have been sitting on this paper for around two years. I don't know what prevented me from finishing a distribution draft. Perhaps, I did not have enough time, especially while I was Botswana. Or I was not fully convinced of the judgments. Lastly, there are lots of mysteries (especially about islands) that really bug me. I feel the solutions are in reach, but I don't know what they are. It is possible that I am afraid others will step in and come up with the solutions to the mysteries before I can. Whatever the reason, here it is. It forms the last paper in a sequence with some other papers of mine (available on Lingbuzz): "Relative Clause Deletion", "Adjunct Deletion", "Quantifier Domain Restriction" (and more distantly the phenomena of 'ghosting' in Collins and Postal 2012). These are all very non-standard cases of ellipsis, and none of the 'ellipserati' (a term I learned from Matthew Barros, coined by Ken Safir) would accept them, I believe.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Grammatical Analysis (undergraduate) (Spring 2017)

Here is the syllabus for my undergraduate syntax course. You can see how I tried to incorporate Merge into the course. Once again, I would be happy to discuss the syllabus with anybody.

Negation Seminar (Spring 2017)

Here is the syllabus for my seminar on negation for Spring 2017.
I would be happy to discuss the issues, if anybody is interested.
The course did not perfectly match the syllabus.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the seminar were the guest talks!

Syntax II (graduate level) (Spring 2017)

Here is the syllabus for my graduate Syntax II course, Spring 2017. I would be happy to receive feedback, or talk about it.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Penumbra of a Paper

Let me define the penumbra of a paper as the data, hypotheses, speculations, argumentation, theory, etc. that do not make it into the final version of the paper, even though they are in some sense relevant and played a role in your thinking when writing.

When starting to write a paper, you hardly knows what it will contain at the end. Of course, there is a main idea, a central argument, some core data, but the way that the paper actually turns out in the end is largely undetermined by what you start with at the beginning of the process. As you write the paper, you write a paragraph or page, and then delete most of it, you group some scattered paragraphs into a section, you cobble things together, find a new argument, fill in the gaps and add paradigms. You may realize that somebody has already worked quite a bit on one of your generalizations or hypotheses, so then you rewrite to incorporate that work.

You may also get feedback, causing to you cut entire sections that seemed like a core part of the paper at the beginning, or to add entire sections that did not seem very relevant at first. Ultimately, you produce an unchangeable final, published paper.

But in the end, a lot gets left out. This is the penumbra of the paper. The more you have thought about your paper, and the more time you put into it, the larger and more dense the penumbra grows.

The penumbra can contain lots of references and connections to the content of those references. Some of this stuff comes up at talks, where audience members ask questions trying to go deeper into the topic. Later the penumbra can split off into other papers, or projects, or to prevent you from pursuing a reckless path, so nothing was a waste of time.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On the Implicit Argument in the Short Passive

In this paper, I investigate some syntactic and semantic properties of the implicit argument in the short passive. Based on the distribution of secondary depictive predicates, I argue that the short passive contains a syntactically projected null argument. I propose that this argument can either be an ultra-indefinite in the sense of Koenig (2008) or a null version of the generic pronoun one. I analyze ultra-indefinites as DPs without phi-features. Lastly, I discuss the consequences of my conclusions for the nature of VoiceP and the status of implicit arguments generally.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Kua Grammatical Sketch

After a year of teaching, and advising, I am now back to Khoisan. The first project is to finish up the Kua grammatical sketch. Here is the current TOC. If you have questions, let me know.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Andrew Wiles Quote

A quote from Andrew Wiles on mathematical research that captures the spirit of work on syntax. I felt like this when we were looking at imposters, for example. I feel like this now in looking at negated quantifier phrases. And the same words could characterize any in-depth syntactic study.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ever Since CP2014

In this post I summarize some of the developments since the publication of Collins and Postal 2014 "Classical NEG Raising".

Friday, May 12, 2017

Sasi Spelling Primer

Here is the Sasi Spelling Primer:
If you have any questions, or comments, just let me know. We are still working on it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Useful Links for Syntacticians

A list of useful links for syntacticians. I will update this if people send me other links.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Syntactician (song)

These are the lyrics of a song I wrote. It is meant to be sung to the music of "Highwayman" (sung by Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash):

You know your a syntactician when...

This was originally posted March 31, 2011 on Facebook. Changes and updates are in red.

Recording onto Your Computer

Here are some instructions for making high quality recordings directly onto your computer. It took me a while to figure out all the steps needed, and Tim Mathes provided the key by suggesting the ZoomH4n as an audio interface.

African Linguistics School Fact Sheet

This is a fact sheet I put together for potential donors. I created the ALS on the model of the EGG, and invited Enoch Aboh, Akin Akinlabi and John Singler to be co-organizers. If you have ideas for funding sources, please let me know.

Friday, April 21, 2017


This was originally posted to Facebook on October 24, 2012.

Forward to Postal 2010

This is my forward to Postal 2010 "Edge-Based Clausal Syntax" (MIT Press)

Obituary: Henry Honken

This obituary was originally posted on LinguistList (co-written with Bonny Sands).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Obituary: Jeffrey S. Gruber

This is the obituary I wrote for Jeff Gruber, originally posted to the LinguistList April 9, 2014.

Happy Birthday

This is a post repeated from a Facebook post on Monday, June 17 (one day after my 50th birthday). I have added annotations and changes in red.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Research Statement (as of November 2017)

Here is the most recent statement (November 2016) of my research interests, including argument structure, anaphora, negation and African linguistics.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Statement of Objectives

My 'Statement of Objectives' in applying to the MIT Department of Linguistics (1988-1993). So this is almost 30 years old now. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why Formalize?

This post orginally appeared on the Faculty of Language blog (February 10, 2014).


A huge issue in linguistic research is what I will call canalization. The basic problem is that whatever set of data and set of generalizations that have been uncovered so far, it is very difficult to get off of that track.

Fear of Syntax

Fear of Syntax
A leitmotif in the history of linguistics is Fear of Syntax.

What Kind of Syntactician Are You?

Syntacticians are not a uniform bunch. There are different different ways of looking and theory and data that define them. Here is a sample of what is out there. These may not be the most appropriate or interesting of names. If you have alternative names for the categories, please let me know. Of course, a person's personality might be composed of several of these basic types. This categorization is not meant to be offensive. All of these categories of people are immensely valuable, in my opinion.