Thursday, December 29, 2022

The Sleeping Child

Chomsky 1957 discusses the following paradigm contrasting adjectives like interesting and present participles like sleeping (see pages 73-75):

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Biography: On the River

 When I was around eight, my family’s standard of living shot upward dramatically. John Todd, a senior partner in my father’s law firm, settled a case involving a person who became a paraplegic as the result of an auto accident. The liability in the case was clear, so the only question was ‘how much.’ My father used his portion of the substantial settlement for the mortgage on a house on the banks of the St. Croix river in Prescott Wisconsin, which is approximately half hour drive from the Twin Cities in Minnesota. That house was by far the most beautiful house I have ever lived in, and perhaps the most beautiful house I have ever set foot into.

100,000 Hits

My blog has reached 100,000 hits as of December 1, 2022. The monthly average is over 2,500 hits/per month for the last six months. 100,000 seems like a significant threshold in the evolution of my blog!!! When I get to a million, we will have a real celebration.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Stranding Quirky Case: Revisiting Case Connectivity in Icelandic

The distribution of quirky case in control and raising structures has been taken as a strong argument against Hornstein’s 1999 movement analysis of control (see for example, Landau 2003 amongst many others). In this squib, I argue that it is possible to adopt a movement analysis of control, while at the same time capturing the distribution of quirky case. 

.pdf version

Thursday, November 17, 2022

there as a bound variable

1. Introduction

The purpose of this squib is to show that there, but not here, can function as a bound variable. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

An Interview with Selikem Gotah on the Ewe Language.

This is an interview with Ghanaian Selikem Gotah about the Ewe language. The interview took place over e-mail from November 9, 2021 to January 21, 2022. Then there was a follow up later starting from September 10, 2022 until November 16, 2022.


Saturday, October 29, 2022

Where to Publish a Syntax Monograph

In this blog post, I provide a list of places where you can publish a monograph on formal/theoretical/generative syntax. The results are listed alphabetically by series title (instead of by publisher name, since sometimes a single publisher has two series). In each case, I try to provide (a) the series title, (b) the publisher, (c) the editors names and e-mail addresses, (d) a URL and (e) a short description (taken from the website).

Friday, September 30, 2022

Brainstorming: Possible Seminar Topics (Spring 2023)

The following is a list of possible seminar topics for Spring 2023. That is, each item below represents a different seminar topic for the semester.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Responding to Reviewers: 10 Pieces of Advice

It is often necessary to respond to reviewer comments. For example, if you submit a paper, and the editor’s decision is “revise and resubmit” or “accept with major revisions”, you will be required to respond to reviewer comments. 

I have responded to reviewer comments hundreds of times throughout my career, not only for papers and books, but also grant applications.

This blog post lists some pieces of advice that you might find useful.

Monday, August 29, 2022

Foundations of Minimalist Syntax

In this blog post, I put together most of my papers on the foundations of minimalist syntax. At a later date, I will add commentary. I have written many more papers using minimalism as a framework for analysis, but these papers specifically focus on foundational issues.

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Summer Reading 2022

I have been an enthusiastic reader of fiction since a very young age. The other category that I particularly enjoy is biographies and autobiographies. 

Favorite Violin Pieces

Some of my favorite violin pieces. No rhyme or reason, just pieces I enjoy. I learned about all of them long ago while my children were taking violin lessons. I have listed two links for each piece, since for some reason the links do not always work. Nathan Milstein is probably my favorite violinist, especially for the Bach Sonatas and Partitas.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Syllabus Syntax I (Fall 2022) (Rough Draft -- Comments Welcome!)

 Here is a rough draft of my Syntax I syllabus for Fall 2022 (graduate level). I am posting it to elicit comments. 

Syllabus Syntax I (Fall 2022)

Here are a few of the things you can comment on:

1. Readings: Are the readings well-selected? Are they accessible to beginning grads? Are they important? Is there a good mix of classical and more recent readings? Have I omitted important readings?

2. Topics: Are the topics well-selected? Do they fit into the stated purpose of the course? Are there any missing topics? Do the topics selected represent activity in the field? Do the topics fit together? Are they in a sensible order?

3. Pace: Is there enough time for each topic? Should topics be added? Deleted?

4. Gender Balance: Is the syllabus gender-balanced?

5. Mechanics: Is everything clearly stated on the syllabus? Are there errors? Is it readable? Are the expectations of the course clear?

Monday, August 15, 2022

Chapter 1: Early Years

This is the first page of my autobiography, for which I have now written about 31 pages. If there is interest, I will post further installments as time goes on.

Brainstorming about Poverty Relief in Rural Botswana

In this blog post, I present some ideas on poverty relief in rural Botswana. These ideas are the result of regular trips to Botswana since 1996.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Photos of Summer 2022 Cua Expedition

A few photos of our recent NSF funded expedition in Botswana to document Cua, a central Khoisan (Khoe-Kwadi) language. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Summary of Fieldwork Skills for Cua NSF Project

In July 2022, we focused on lexical and syntactic elicitation. We recorded only a small amount of video since Zach and I already obtained a large amount in 2019. We did not do work with ELAN or with oral texts during this session. That is why ELAN is not listed below.

In the list below, I focus on fieldwork skills. The grammar content areas we covered can be found in the table of contents of Collins and Chebanne 2017.

Monday, August 1, 2022

Essential Properties of a Descriptive Grammar

1. Accuracy

Are the words and sentences transcribed accurately?

Are generalizations stated in the grammar accurate? 

2. Clarity

Are the generalizations stated clearly and non-technically?

Are the descriptions and explanations clear and non-technical?

3. Readability

Is the grammar organized to maximize readability?

(examples, text, order of chapters, order of sections, etc.)

4. Combinatorial Richness

Does the grammar report on the existence of combinatorially possible forms?

5. Thematic Richness

Does the grammar cover constructions characteristic of the region?

Does the grammar cover constructions characteristic of the language family?

Does the grammar cover the usual categories of a descriptive grammar? 

Does the grammar miss important constructions?

6. Insightfulness

Does the discussion in the grammar represent a deep understanding of what is going on in the language? Or is it just a list of sections, each containing illustrative examples?

Summer 2022 Fieldwork by the Numbers

During June (last week) and July (the entire month) of 2022, we (Andrea, Olivia and I) did fieldwork on Cua, an endangered central Khoisan language spoken in southeastern Botswana. We did the fieldwork in Gaborone and Diphuduhudu.

Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Two O’clock Blues

I usually divide my fieldwork day into two parts, morning and afternoon. In the morning, I work with one team, and then in the afternoon I check the work with another team. This set-up, when possible, gives me confidence in my results, and also allows me to get a feeling for variation, since the different teams will produce slightly different utterances.

Likes and Dislikes of Living in Rural Botswana

These likes and dislikes are based on my experiences living in Diphuduhudu (local language: Cua) and Mokgenene (local language: Sasi) in rural Botswana during my linguistic fieldwork. The locations I stayed at are called ‘settlements’, meaning that they were created as places where the ‘Basarwa’ (Khoisan population) could move to for access to amenities (e.g., school, clinic). I have no experience living in other kinds of rural villages in Botswana.

I am grateful to the people of these villages for their friendship and for supporting my research. Just to be clear, I love staying in the village and doing fieldwork. The likes and dislikes are presented in no particular order.

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

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Syllabus: Syntax II (Spring 2022)

 Here is my syllabus for the second semester graduate introduction to syntax, co-taught with Gary Thoms this year. Comments and questions welcome!

Syllabus: Syntax II (Spring 2022)

Syllabus: Grammatical Analysis (Spring 2022)

 Here is my syllabus for the undergraduate introduction to syntax. I will also post the handouts from time to time. There may be some Zoom videos too. Comments or questions welcome!

Syllabus: Grammatical Analysis (Spring 2022)