June 3, 2016


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Keynote talk by David Adger

Head movement with no heads and no movement

Usually simplification of a syntactic system leads to an increase in its expressive power, as the removal of restrictions widens the potential richness of representations. The proposal, within Minimalist Syntax, to reduce the structure building part of the grammar to the operation Merge, has led to an explosion in the kinds of derivations and representations admitted by the theory. We have External Merge, Internal Merge, Self Merge, Under Merge, Parallel Merge (and its cousin Sideways Move), Late Merge (and its big sister, Wholesale Late Merger), Morphological Merge(r), as well as an increase in the kinds of structure admitted, with Roll Up, Remnant Roll Up, and Head Roll Up. And the field hasn't yet really got its hands on Pair Merge and various imaginable versions of that.

This lecture, points out the problem, and suggests two avenues to reduction of this richness. One is to impose a restriction on the design of the structure building system: syntax builds hierarchical structures that can be mapped to semantic interpretation with no loss of information. That is, the system does not have the capacity to change structure without semantic effect. The other avenue is to reduce the complexity of the structure building operation itself.

I then tackle head movement operations, showing that structures where head movement has applied do not feed more information to the semantics than those where it hasn't applied: head movement phenomena are, as has been often noted, semantically vacuous. I also show that the word building capacity of head movement has to be separated from the positioning of a head with respect to other elements in structure. But this means the structure changing operation of head movement is needed neither for semantics, nor for morphology. I develop a system where head movement effects are firmly placed in the mapping from structure to pronunciation to account for this.

David Adger, Professor of Linguistics at Queen Mary University of London

Keynote talk by Paola Merlo

The quest for language universals: Multilingual computational results and methods

The domain of language is distinguished by the complexity of the representations and the sophistication of the domain theory that is available. It also has a large amount of observational data available for many languages. The main scientific challenge for computational linguistics is the creation of theories and methods that fruitfully combine large-scale, corpus-based approaches with the linguistic depth of more theoretical methods. I report here on some recent and current work from our group, where large-scale, data-intensive computational modelling techniques are used to address linguistic questions about language universals, properties that apply to all existing languages, despite their well-documented diversity. On the one hand, we investigate the factors that govern one of the most apparent sources of diversity across languages: the order of words.

First we report on work that investigates whether typological frequencies are systematically correlated to abstract syntactic principles at work in structure building and movement. Then, we investigate higher level structural principles of efficiency and complexity: the availability of several large-scale treebanks allows us to ask this question in a novel way. In a large-scale, computational study, we confirm a trend towards minimisation of the distance between words, in time and across languages. On the other hand, much like the comparative method in linguistics, cross-lingual corpus investigations take advantage of any corresponding annotation or linguistic knowledge across languages. The third case study shows that corpus data and typological data involving the causative alternation exhibit interesting correlations explained by the notion of spontaneity of an event.

Paola Merlo, Professor in Computational Linguistics at the Université de Genève