Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Scalar Modifiers of Quantifier Phrases (Collins 2022, Glossa)

Abstract: This paper analyzes the syntax and compositional semantics of scalar modifiers of quantifier phrases in expressions like almost every student, absolutely every student and nowhere near every student. The semantics is based on scales (positive and negative) of generalized quantifiers.

Keywords: scalar modifiers, positive scale, negative scale, negative polarity items, endpoint quantifiers

Scalar Modifiers of Quantifier Phrases

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Failure in Linguistics: A Case Study

In an earlier blog post, I talked about “failure” in linguistics and gave some strategies for dealing with it. 

Embracing Failure in Linguistics

In this blog post I talk about one of my personal failures. The only purpose of this post is to convey a personal anecdote. I do not mean to make any general statements about the field of syntax and the direction it is going in. Nor do I intend to elicit any sympathy. I realize I am an extremely fortunate person in many ways. Rather, this post is meant to be biographical, sketching some events in my life and my reaction to them. Nothing else is intended, so please do not read anything else between the lines, or calculate any far-fetched implicatures.

Syntax Example Game

Syntax Example Game

An important skill in doing syntax research is finding examples. The best syntacticians are usually also very good at finding interesting example words and sentences.

The purpose of the game is to generate example words or sentences that conform to some condition. For example, the players may be looking for NPIs (negative polarity items, defined as those words that only occur in downward entailing environments). 

Other possible conditions include: prefixes, islands, irregular plurals, DE contexts, idiom chunks, constituent structure tests, theta-roles, speaker imposters, etc. The sky is the limit.


1. The game requires two players, A and B. 

2. A starts by giving an example: 

A: ever

I didn’t ever see him.

*I ever saw him.

3. B then responds with his/her example: 

B: at all

I don’t like him at all.

*I like him at all.

4. The process repeats, and the last person to give an example wins.

5. The players, A and B, must both agree that each example is valid

(e.g., that the example shows what it is meant to show).

6. If a player disagrees, he/she can challenge. 

7. If a player is challenged, he/she can defend the example by asking others, searching on the internet, consulting a linguistics paper, etc.

8. Players must be honest about their judgments and use challenges appropriately. Challenges should be used very parsimoniously.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Collins and Stabler 2016 (Appendix)

The appendix to Collins and Stabler 2016 contains proofs of various theorems that were given in the paper. We usually have a few people ask for it each year, so I thought I would post it in a convenient place (my blog):

Collins, Chris and Edward Stabler. 2016. A Formalization of Minimalist Syntax. Syntax 19, 43-78.


Sunday, March 27, 2022

A Conversation with Noam Chomsky about Language and Thought

This interview took place by e-mail starting from November 4, 2021 lasting until November 8, 2021. In some minor cases, the text has been lightly edited, and the order of the questions has been changed.

Cite as: Collins, Chris. 2022. A Conversation with Noam Chomsky about Language and Thought. Ordinary Working Grammarian [Blog].

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Relative Clause Deletion Revisited (Abstract, Handout, Video for Talk)

Relative Clause Deletion Revisited
(‘You’re on mute’ ellipsis seminar series 2021-2022)
Chris Collins, New York University

March 4, 2022

This talk revisits the basic results of Collins (2015, 2018) concerning relative clause deletion. These results include examples with coordination and comparatives, identity and parallelism requirements, examples of deletion of other modifiers in the nominal domain, the difference between definite and indefinite DPs, reconstruction effects, strict and sloppy readings and the consequences for the syntactic structure of relative clauses.

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Complexity of Trees, Universal Grammar and Economy Conditions

Abstract: In this squib, I argue that the child faces a severe computational complexity problem in parsing even the simplest of trees: the number of possible trees grows exponentially as a function of the number of lexical items. Principles of UG and economy conditions have the result of drastically decreasing the complexity of the parsing task, making language acquisition possible.

The Complexity of Trees, Universal Grammar and Economy Conditions