Back to list

Detail of contribution

Auteur: Luigi RIZZI

Theoretical and comparative syntax - some current issues

Abstract/Résumé: Theoretical linguistics over the last half century has put much emphasis on the combinatorial character of human language syntax, revisiting classical observations on the unbounded nature of the system, and developing new formal tools to capture the combinatorial properties. In the first part of this talk I will review the fundamental mechanisms of linguistic computation which have been proposed and refined over fifty years of formal grammatical research. Much progress in the development of syntactic models has been made possible, among other things, by the systematic adoption of a comparative dimension, which has greatly enriched the empirical basis of theoretical syntax. After a brief presentation of the basic computational mechanisms, the main focus of this initial part will be the fundamental issue of invariance and variation in syntax: I will look at recent versions of the ideas of parametric syntax, and review aspects of the current debate on these themes. The discussion will be based on the distinction between the format and locus of parameters, and will be concluded with the outline of an approach to syntactic variation consistent with minimalist guidelines. The second part of the talk will offer a partial overview of the study of syntactic representations which is pursued under the rubric of “the cartography of syntactic structures”, with special reference to the study of the left periphery of the clause. I will review some arguments in favor of rich cartographic representations, based on the assumption that the left periphery of the clause is populated by a sequence of functional heads, the criterial heads (Top, Foc, Q, etc.), expressed in some languages by overt morphemes. Such heads have the syntactic function of attracting an element to their specifier, and the interface functions of creating configurations for the proper interpretation of scope-discourse semantic properties (topic - comment, focus – presupposition, operator – scope domain), and for the assignment of the special intonational contours going with such constructions. I will address the issue of the search for a “further explanation” of the functional sequence, whereby properties of ordering and cooccurrence restrictions are traced back to more fundamental principles of linguistic computations: I will argue that the search for “further explanations” is an integral component of the cartographic endeavor. The last part will try to combine cartographic issues with the theory of labeling recently proposed by Chomsky. It will be shown how the labeling approach can be instrumental for the “further explanation” of freezing effects observed in cartographic studies.