Tuesday, December 31, 2019


Here is a step by step procedure for generating a FLEx file from an ELAN file, and then generating an ELAN file from the FLEx file.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Writing a Statement of Purpose for Linguistics Graduate School

All linguistics graduate schools require prospective students to write a Statement of Purpose (SOP). And faculty members of those schools place great weight on them. From personal experience, I can say that the SOP is the most important document that I read when evaluating a student application.

So what exactly is a SOP and why is it so important?

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Two Kinds of Data in Syntactic Fieldwork: Experimental and Non-Experimental

[This is a revision of an earlier post (October 9, 2019), responding to feedback that I received at that time.]

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Two Poles in North American Linguistics Departments

In this post, I will lay out the contours of two evolving poles in North American linguistics departments: psycholinguistics/computational versus fieldwork/documentation. I am not claiming that any particular department exactly matches the descriptions I have given below. Many departments are a mix of the two basic types, but my feeling is that things are changing very rapidly and departments are tending to gravitate toward one of the two poles (more frequently toward the psycholinguistics/computational pole).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Remembering Sam Epstein (by Chris Collins)

Sam Epstein was professor at Harvard from 1988 to 1997. During this time, he directed the thesis work of a string of stellar syntax students, including (amongst others) Hisa Kitahara, Geoffrey Poole, Dianne Jonas, Erich Groat, John O’Neill and Marylse Baptista. These students were all an integral part of the Cambridge syntax community. I often saw them at MIT talks, and when I went to Harvard to attend a talk. Some of them are still close colleagues today (most notably Erich Groat, with whom I have had the pleasure of collaborating in recent years).

Monday, December 16, 2019

Summary of OWG Blog (December 16, 2019)

My blog recently passed 20,000 page views (not including my own page views). In honor of that occasion, I have decided to summarize the statistics for my blog as of today.

Basic Consultant Skills for Transcribing and Translating Oral Texts

Recently, I had the pleasure of transcribing and translating some oral texts with the help of my consultants. I took the opportunity to jot down some consultant skills that are useful when dealing with oral texts. As skills, they need to be learned and practiced.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Kua Fieldwork 2019-12-02: Goals and Report

The goals and report of the following blog entry will give you a somewhat gritty low-level view of the kinds of things that I am doing nowadays in my fieldwork and why I am doing them. It will also allow you to see the kinds of issues that face me in working with consultants.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Monday, November 25, 2019

Writing a Conference Abstract in Syntax – Some Practical Advice

It is that time of year again, and I have been doing some abstract reviews. I have quickly written up the following advice to help abstract writers.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Papers that I would love to write (but do not have time for right now)

Here is a list of papers that I would love to write, but do not have time for right now.

Rate of Transcription in Syntactic Fieldwork

As I have discussed in previous blog posts that non-experimental data, such as transcribed oral texts, is an excellent source of syntactic data.

In this blog post, I outline some of the factors that affect the rate of transcription of recorded oral texts when doing syntactic fieldwork. If anybody knows of relevant literature on this topic, please let me know. A systematic survey amongst fieldworkers would probably be useful in helping to understand the process, and maybe to help make it more efficient.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Fieldwork Tip of the Day

December 10, 2019
Fieldwork Tip of the Day: Your consultants on a particular language will all have different strengths. Learn to find and develop those strengths. For example, even if two consultants are both fluent native speakers, they may differ in their abilities to do certain tasks (e.g., folk tales, syntactic elicitation, lexical elicitation, tone matching, etc.).

November 16, 2019
Fieldwork Tip of the Day: Test all equipment (including cables, batteries, chargers, adaptors) before going to the field.

November 15, 2019
Fieldwork Tip of the Day: Try to have a backup of all equipment (two recorders, two mics, two cables of each kind). Include backup equipment in the budget.

November 14, 2019
Fieldwork Tip of the Day: Avoid recording in a room with cement walls. There will be echo. If you must do so, hang blankets on the walls.

November 2, 2019
Fieldwork Tip of the Day: You can learn as much about the syntax of a language by trying to learn how to speak it as you can by any other means (e.g., elicitation, texts).

November 1, 2019
Fieldwork Tip of the Day: Download e-copies of all your manuals and put them in one place on your computer, including manuals for cameras, mics, speakers, audio recorders, etc. These are searchable, and might come in handy in the field.

4x4 Break Down (October 27 2019)

In this post, I narrate my vehicle breakdown and the lessons I learned from it.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Introduction (Belletti and Collins 2019)

This paper is the introduction to the volume on Smuggling to appear (OUP) edited by Adriana Belletti and Chris Collins.

Belletti and Collins 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Thought as Syntax

Abstract: In this paper, I outline an approach to the study of thought from a syntactic point of view. I propose that sentences (in the sense of generative syntax) are thoughts. Under that assumption, I use natural language syntax as a probe into the structure of our thoughts, and show how such a probe sheds light on how we make deductions and our capacity for imagination.

Keywords: thought, syntax, logic, semantics, imagination

Monday, October 21, 2019

A Smuggling Approach to the Adjunct/Argument Asymmetry

In this mini-squib, I sketch an approach to the adjunct/argument asymmetry that is based on smuggling. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Syntactic Tip of the Day

December 29, 2019
If you are looking for a syntax topic, go to the border wars. For example, there are many interesting problems at the syntax-semantics interface (implicit arguments, anaphora, negation), that have alternative syntactic and semantic analyses. And the other borders are just as volatile: syntax-morphology, syntax-phonology and syntax-pragmatics.

December 25, 2019
Grammaticality judgments should be given in context. A sentence judged as marginal or ungrammatical out of context (out of the blue) might seem better in context. A skill that syntacticians develop is to find contexts that render a sentence grammatical, if there are any.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Basic Consultant Skills for Linguistic Fieldwork

I have recently had the pleasure of working with a number of new consultants. I took the opportunity to jot down some of the basic skills that they needed to learn in my sessions with them.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Training Program: Linguistic Fieldwork on the Khoisan Languages of Botswana

Training Program: Linguistic Fieldwork on the Khoisan Languages of Botswana
(Supported in part by NSF Award BCS-1760980)

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Some notes on the EPP (by Jeffrey Punske)

The EPP can be a vexing principle for early practitioners of Chomskyan syntactic theories. This is, in part, because the theoretic apparatus that underlie the EPP have been shifted away from. Yet, the EPP in some form generally remains. Thus, the goal of this blog post is to sketch a brief history of the EPP and outline its current status. I will also discuss some remaining potential issues with the EPP.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Two Kinds of Data in Syntactic Fieldwork

This blog post is a prelude to future blog post: Why Video? In that blog post I will tackle the question of why a generative syntactician, like me, should care about video? But before I get to that point, I need to tackle some background issues concerning the source of data in syntactic fieldwork.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Syntactic Puzzle

(partially taken from Facebook post on August 16, 2018)
I came up with this puzzle while visiting Erich Groat at his cabin in upstate NY.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Some things I learned in the Peace Corps that helped me with linguistic fieldwork.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Togo from 1985 to 1987. Here is a short list of things I learned then that have been helpful to me in doing linguistic fieldwork ever since (especially in Togo, Namibia and Botswana).

Friday, October 4, 2019

Solar Power for Linguistic Fieldwork

Here is my solar power set up for 2019-2020. Some of this post is modified from a Facebook post on December 19, 2015, when I had a similar set-up. The whole system cost roughly 740 US dollars (panel, inverter, controller and battery). There are photos of the set-up at the end of the post.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Tips for Recording Sound when Shooting Video in Linguistic Fieldwork

I am a linguist doing linguistic fieldwork on highly endangered Khoisan languages. Part of my project is to produce video documentation of people speaking those languages.

As a beginning film maker, I have found the following tips to be useful in obtaining high quality sound recordings to accompany video. I have learned most of these the hard way, by actually making mistakes.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Golden Oldies in Syntax

Why read the Golden Oldies?

I define a golden oldie as a paper in the framework of generative syntax written in the 60s and 70s (roughly between and including Chomsky (1957) “Syntactic Structures” and Chomsky (1981) “Lectures on Government and Binding”).

Saturday, September 14, 2019

2019_09_16 (Sasi Fieldwork)

After three weeks with Kua, I am now moving on to my first fieldwork trip to Mokgenene for the year. I have already been there twice, once to deliver blankets to my consultants on July 3rd and another time for the delivery of the clothing to the children on August 8th. This time, I plan to stay in Mokgenene for two weeks to kick off my video documentation project. This project is part of an ELDP and ACLS funded project that will begin in earnest on January 1st (the official grant start date). I this short trip, I plan to do preliminary recordings and make sure my consultants are comfortable with the arrangements.

I have a house from the VDC council allocated to me, where I plan to stay for two weeks. Since there is no electricity in the village, I will bring my solar panel.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

2019_08_26 (Kua Fieldwork)

I have brought our Kua consultant to Gaborone for two weeks. The most general goal of work on Kua now is to finish the grammar (co-authored with Andy Chebanne) so we can get it published. The only section that needs to be added is a short introductory section on the phonological inventory of the language (consonants including clicks, vowels and tones).

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Backup Workflow for Linguistic Fieldwork

Backup workflow for Linguistic Fieldwork (based on a Facebook post of July 4, 2019) (workflow created by me and Zach).

Summer 2019 Fieldwork by the Numbers

During July and August 2019 (up to August 9th), we (Andy, Zach and I) did fieldwork on Cua, an endangered central Khoisan language spoken in southeastern Botswana.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Fund Raising Update (August 8 2019)

The following blog is an update on our fund raising efforts for the project "Poverty Relief in Rural Botswana". The information can also be found on the GoFundMe site: https://www.gofundme.com/f/poverty-relief-in-rural-botswana

Run-and-Gun Video for Linguistic Fieldwork

In working with the Cua this summer, Zach and I have developed an easy high-quality video set up which we call "run-and-gun" (following terminology used in the video world).

Monday, July 22, 2019

Outer negation of universal quantifier phrases

Abstract: 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 (contra Hoeksema in Linguist Anal 16:25–40, ; in: ESCOL ’87, pp 100–113, ).

Outer negation of universal quantifier phrases

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Best All-in-One Negation Package

The following papers all explore the issue of negating quantifier phrases. The topic is extremely rich, and has barely been scratched in the existing literature on negation and quantification (with the exception of "split scope" for which there exists a small literature). They all start from the assumption that it is possible to combine negation directly with a quantifier phrase: [NEG QP]. All of the papers were all written in the framework of Collins and Postal 2014. I do not include papers here on NEG Raising, which raises related but different issues.

Description of Ewe Repository

Ewe is a Gbe language, spoken in Ghana, Togo and Benin in west Africa.

The Ewe Repository is a collection of articles and books on and in Ewe for serious Ewe scholars. As of today (June 13, 2019) it contains 289 files. It is not accessible publicly on the internet, although we are looking into creating an internet accessible version. If you are an Ewe scholar, and are interested in joining, the price of admission is to send me paper or book on or in Ewe that we do not already have. Then I will sign you up. Even if you do not want to be a member, if you have books or papers on or in Ewe, please send them to me.

Best All-in-One Ellipsis Package

The following papers all defend the claim that ellipsis is vastly more pervasive in English syntax than any current theory countenances. In fact, I view current theories to be excessively conservative. I also include my paper co-authored with Andrew Radford to illustrate the idea of ghosting (from Collins and Postal 2012).

Best All-in-One Morphology Package

This package is more of a promissory note, than a real package. I am not a morphologist, and have not done extensive work on morphology. That being said, I have very specific views on what a theory of morphology should be like. My basic point of view is derived from works such as Baker (1988) and Pollock (1989), and diverges radically from current theories of morphology in the DM and nano-syntax traditions.

The most extreme position one can take is: There is no morphological component in UG. In particular, there are no operations or processes or properties (e.g., suffixal vs. affixal) or representational primitives that play a role in word formation that are different from those found in the syntactic component. So that is the research agenda.

All of the papers here try to get at this way of looking at things in one way or the other. My views on morphology are most closely aligned to those of Richard Kayne (especially his recent papers), but also to those of people like Hilda Koopman and Judy Bernstein.

Except for the "Logic of Contextual Allomorphy" and "A Note on Derivational Morphology", none of the papers is really directly about morphological issues. But they contain ideas that I feel will play a role in a successful theory of morphology. For example, "Home Sweet Home" talks a lot about the distribution of empty elements in the syntax. Such empty elements are also needed in morphology (e.g., zero allomorphs of various kinds). 

Best All-in-One Passive Package

I post here some links to recent papers that I have written on the passive. All these papers are written in the framework of Collins (2005). The main claim of that paper is adopted from Chomsky 1957 into modern terms: "...the external argument is merged into the structure in the passive in the same way as in the active." My recent papers explore and defend this claim. Collins (2005) and my recent papers run directly contra to most mainstream approaches to the passive (including those of Bruening, Legate and Alexiadou). Not all of the following papers are available on Lingbuzz.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Power of Editors

This note was originally posted on Facebook on January 25, 2019. There have been some minor changes. I got some great feedback from Pauline J. on that post, in case readers are interested in pursuing what other people think. These notes are based on my experiences with journals, editors and reviewers over the last ten years or so. I want to emphasize here that I greatly appreciate the time that editors and reviewers put into their jobs.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Foreword to Postal 2010

This is the foreword to Paul Postal's 2010 MIT Press book "Edge-Based Clausal Syntax". Once again this will not be posted to Lingbuzz.

Two Conceptions of VoiceP

I wrote this paper during my seminar on argument structure in Fall 2018. The paper is fairly rough, and I could spend a lot of time getting the logic to be perfect. But I am leaving for Botswana on June 26 (2019), so I thought it was better to get it out there before I left.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Spelling-Out NEG

In Collins and Postal 2014, a set of mapping rules were given for spelling out the abstract morphemes NEG and SOME. In this paper, I eliminate these mapping rules without loss of empirical coverage.

Thursday, May 23, 2019


There is an effect when students start to learn syntax that I will call imprinting: Whatever proposal is presented first to a student becomes the standard. Subsequent proposals face a burden of proof not faced by the original, in the sense that subsequent proposals need to show how they are superior to the original proposal (and why the original proposal is wrong). All things being equal, the original wins.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Khoisan Languages

This is a website built by students in my Spring 2018 seminar: The Khoisan Languages.
We are still interested in getting volunteers to add languages and data, and to make
the site more accessible. This summer (2019), we have a volunteer Mirella B.,
who will be working on the project.


Friday, May 10, 2019

Instructions for Grammar Elicitation Session Bundles.

These are the instructions from our ELAR deposit for N|uu. The way that I store my data is very useful to me as a syntactician, so I thought I would share it. For elicitation, I record every sentence that I elicit individually, at the time I elicit it. One immediate benefit of this procedure is that I can use the recording to verify my transcription right away. As a consequence, my transcriptions are usually pretty accurate. Another benefit is that I can play the recording over and over, without having to bother the consultant with several repetitions of the same sentence (which can be tiring for them). 

Saturday, May 4, 2019

ACLS (American Council of Learned Societies) Fellows for 2019-2020

I have applied for this in the past, but did not get it. This time I was successful. Judy B. helped a lot, reading over my proposal and giving me feedback. So that is an important tip: Try to get advice from a successful past awardee.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Summary of Fieldwork Discussion Group 2018-2019

Here is a summary of our series of fieldwork talks for the academic year 2019-2019.
If you are interested in presenting next semester, please contact me.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Internal Structure of Reflexive Pronouns

It does not look like I will be able to finish this squib to the degree I would want before I leave for Botswana. So I am posting it on my blog.

The Internal Structure of Reflexive Pronouns

Friday, April 19, 2019

Timeline of Wh-in-situ

I prepared this for my course. I thought others might find it useful. If anybody thinks I have left out something important, or made a mistake, let me know.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Opening Remarks: Antisymmetry and Comparative Syntax

Here are my opening remarks for the workshop in honor of Richard Kayne held at NYU on March 29 and 30, 2019.


Saturday, March 23, 2019


I have been catching up on a show called Counterpart on cable TV (as of March 2019) with my daughter. Here is the premise, as summarized on Wikipedia: “Howard Silk has been working for a United Nations agency based in Berlin for thirty years; however, his rank is too low for him to be told what his work really involves. In fact, the agency oversees a crossing point to a parallel Earth (the "Prime world"), a copy of Silk's world. This crossing point was opened or created by East German scientists in 1987 and these two versions of Earth have been diverging ever since.”