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.

Opening Remarks: Antisymmetry and Comparative Syntax
Chris Collins, NYU
March 29, 2019

Welcome everybody to this workshop celebrating Richard Kayne’s 75th birthday anniversary and the 25th anniversary of his MIT Press monograph, the “Antisymmetry of Syntax”. As many people in this room may know, this year is also the 50th anniversary of Kayne’s 1969 MIT thesis “The Transformational Cycle in French Syntax” (directed by John Robert Ross). And so in celebrating Kayne’s career this weekend, we should also make sure to keep his thesis in mind.

In order to understand the impact of his thesis, it is necessary to understand generative syntax at Paris VIII (Vincennes) which Kayne joined in 1969 after graduating from MIT. The university itself was only founded in the fall of 1968 after the civil unrest in France in May of the same year. From Wikipedia: “As soon as it opened, Vincennes became the venue for a continuation of 1968, being occupied almost immediately by student radicals, and being the scene of violent confrontations with the police.”

Chomsky, in a letter to Robert Barsky (reported in “The Chomsky Effect”) describes the situation as follows: “In the 1960s, almost nothing was allowed in France. In the 1970s, things began to change, by accident. As you may recall, they set up a branch of the university at Vincennes, hoping to banish all the disruptive third world and radical types there, and the intellectual establishment didn’t pay much attention to what was happening. A student of ours …, who is a really brilliant linguist, took a position there … and pretty soon every smart young linguist in Europe was going to study with him. That spawned modern European linguistics…(letter of 9 September, 1997)”

So that was the atmosphere of the university where generative grammar took a hold in France and in Europe more generally. The linguistics faculty in 1969 included Nicholas Ruwet and Maurice Gross.  Ruwet was already a prominent generative syntactician who had written “Introduction à la grammaire générative” in 1967. And Gross was sympathetic to generative syntax. The 70s at Paris VIII were a golden age of syntax, where students from all over Europe came and studied, as briefly described in the introduction to the 1994 book “Paths toward Universal Grammar: Studies in Honor of Richard S. Kayne” edited by Cinque, Koster, Pollock, Rizzi and Zanuttini. In retrospect, it is clear that the work emanating from Paris VIII, heavily influenced by Kayne’s teaching, set the stage for the Principles and Parameters model of syntax that was articulated in Chomsky’s 1981 book “Lectures on Government and Binding”. A quick look at the name index of LGB will reveal the importance of Kayne and his students from Paris VIII.

In reading Kayne’s 1969 thesis, I was struck by how similar the writing style is to his current writing style. Throughout the thesis, Kayne is applying classical syntactic argumentation developed in the context of English in order to understand a system that on the surface looks completely different. And in the process he not only helped to prove the importance of the general framework, but also unearthed hundreds of interesting generalizations and contrasts that are still relevant today.

For the first five chapters Kayne is investigating various transformational rules, including L-Tous, R-Tous, Clitic-Placement, Faire-Attraction, A-Insertion, Comp-Order and Se-Insertion. The sixth chapter puts together several of the themes from the earlier chapters, and shows how some systematic differences between reflexive and non-reflexive clitics can be accounted for in terms of “the principle of the transformational cycle”. Kayne (pg. 185) summarizes: “…this analysis is a strong argument for the existence of the cycle in syntax. In searching for linguistic universals, one is interested, not in properties that happen to be true of existing languages, but in principles which can account in a simple way for an otherwise hopelessly complicated mass of data.”

This search for deep and abstract principles of Universal Grammar that hold across different languages is one (very indirect) way of doing comparative syntax that is well represented in the generative tradition.

A second way of doing comparative syntax is the standard Principles and Parameters model, where a series of differences between two languages is explained in terms of a single parameter. A classical example of such an analysis is the 1981 Paper “On Certain Differences between French and English” where Kayne proposes that preposition stranding and ECM are found English but not French because of a single difference in the properties of prepositions in the two languages: in English, but not French, P can govern structurally.

Later, Kayne refined this method in terms of micro-comparative syntax, described in the following memorable quote from the 1996 paper “Microcomparative Syntax: Some Introductory Remarks”: “If it were possible to experiment on languages, a syntactician would construct an experiment of the following type: Take a language, alter a single one of its observable syntactic properties, examine the result to see what, if any, other property has changed as a consequence of the original manipulation. If one has, interpret that result as indicating that it and the original property that was altered are linked to one another by some abstract parameter.” The idea is by looking at very closely related languages, one can approximate this type of experiment.

Yet a third way of doing comparative syntax can be found in his 1994 MIT Press monograph, the “Antisymmetry of Syntax”. That work looks at typological gaps in large numbers of languages (e.g., there is no mirror image of a V/2 language), and concludes that there is a principle of UG (the Linear Correspondence Axiom) constraining the relation between hierarchical structure and linear order.

Throughout his career, Kayne has explored the landscape of comparative syntax. What are the ways in which the comparison of two or more I-languages can lead us to conclusions about the structure of Universal Grammar? In his work, he has clarified key notions, developed powerful methodologies and put forth far ranging proposals. And these are the things we are here to discuss this weekend.

In these last 14 years at NYU, I have had the opportunity to interact with Kayne in various ways (including the creation of a powerful internet database of comparative syntax). By having him as a colleague, I have learned a lot about how to do syntax just by osmosis. Somewhat surprisingly, given the theme of this workshop, most of what I have learned from him has nothing to do with comparative syntax or the Antisymmetry of Syntax. Rather, it concerns English syntax, semantics and morphology.

For example, Kayne’s work shows that there is still a lot of syntax left to discover even for the best studied languages such as English (in spite of occasional pronouncements about the “end of syntax”). After reading a Kayne paper, one always comes away thinking that the structures and derivations of even simple constructions (e.g., involving the numeral one) are much more complicated and interesting than has previously been proposed. Kayne’s work has strengthened my belief that we have only now uncovered the tip of the iceberg of English language syntax. And I would go so far as to say that a clear understanding of UG will not be possible until more of the iceberg is uncovered.

A second area where I have been influenced by Kayne is morphology. The underlying assumption of much of Kayne’s work is that one can understand morphological phenomena in terms of syntax, a position which seems curiously out of line with current theories which rely on a special morphological component with morphology specific rules in order to explain morphological facts. Kayne has recently written a series of papers articulating this view, including the 2016 paper “What is Suppletive Allomorphy: On went and *goed in English”.

A third area where Kayne’s work has helped to sharpen my thinking is the relationship between syntax and semantics. Kayne has proposed a profusion of empty elements in syntactic structures to a much greater extent that is normally countenanced, and these empty elements play an interesting role in semantic interpretation.

For example, in the 2014 paper “Comparative Syntax and English Is To”, Kayne analyses constructions like: You are to return by midnight in terms of a silent passive participle akin to meant/expected/supposed. About the interpretation, he asks:  How could be possibly “shift” to a deontic modal interpretation? What theory of syntax/semantics could allow that without allowing all sorts of unwanted, but imaginable “shifts”?

I point out that Kayne’s perspectives on morphology and semantics are at least partially parallel. In both cases, the goal is to avoid special mechanisms that only play a role at the interfaces, and to give explanations in terms of the restrictive devices already needed in syntax.
To wrap things up, let me take this opportunity to thank Stephanie Harves of the NYU Department of Linguistics for organizing this event. For funding, I would like to thank the Global Institute for Advanced Study at NYU and colleagues from the NYU Department of Linguistics.

Barksy, Robert. 2007. The Chomsky Effect. MIT Press, Cambridge.

Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding. Foris Publications, Dordrecht.

Cinque, Guglielmo, Jan Koster, Jean-Yves Pollock, Luigi Rizzi and Raffaella Zanuttini. 1994. Paths toward Universal Grammar: Studies in Honor of Richard S. Kayne. Georgetown University Press, Washington, D.C.

Kayne, Richard. 1969. The Transformational Cycle in French Syntax. Doctoral Dissertation, MIT.

Kayne, Richard. 1981. On Certain Differences between French and English. Linguistic Inquiry 12, 349-371.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. The Antisymmetry of Syntax. MIT Press, Cambridge.

Kayne, Richard. 1996. Microparametric Syntax. Some Introductory Remarks. In J.R. Black and V. Motapanyane (eds.), Microparametric Syntax and Dialect Variation, Benjamins, Amsterdam, ix-xviii (reprinted in Parameters and Universals).

Kayne, Richard. 2014. Comparative Syntax and English Is To. Linguistic Analysis, 39, 35-82.

Kayne, Richard. 2015. What is Suppletive Allomorphy: On went and *goed in English. Ms., NYU.

Paris 8 University. Wikipedia entry:

Ruwet, Nicholas. 1967. Introduction à la Grammaire Générative. Librarie Plon, Paris.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.