Current Proseminars

Proseminars are the special topics advanced graduate courses taught in our department, with course numbers in the 250 range. Typically these are prepared lecture courses given by faculty, but with strong student participation. They usually assume that enrollees will have already taken the core graduate courses in the relevant area.

This page reports proseminars being taught in the current academic year. We also include other graduate courses when their content has changed for the current offering.

For an archive of old proseminar topics, please visit the archive page.


Winter 2019
Ling 251

Shu-hao Shih

This seminar will focus on issues concerning the phonetics-phonology interface. In particular, we
will discuss in detail how phonetic experiments and phonological theories inform each other.
Topics include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • syllable weight
  • stress assignment
  • vowel reduction
  • harmony
  • tone sandhi
Ling 252: Case (and agreement)

Hilda Koopman

This seminar is organized around current theoretical issues surrounding case (morphological case, abstract Case, the relation to the “categories” Kase/(functional), P, D, C, its interpretative effects (animacy, person, number, “definiteness”, affectedness…), structural case and inherent case, the (possible) relations to agreement, its role in noun verb asymmetries, etc, etc.

To get a sense of the historical development leading to the current theoretical landscape, we will read and evaluate the original literature: starting with the introduction of Case theory in On Binding Chomsky (1980) and Lectures on Government and Binding Chomsky (1981), to the version of Knowledge of Language (1986), and the Principle and Parameter framework, leading to the contemporary Probe/Goal treatments of the Minimalist Program (Inherent case theory, Dependent Case theory, Antisymmetry (Ps as Probes), Nanosyntax, and my own understanding in this area). Special attention will be paid to the evaluation of the (complex empirical) landscape, with a constant eye on future development (i.e. development of the SSWL database).


Fall 2018
Ling 251: Learning Phonotactics

Megha Sundara


Spring 2018
Ling 252: Control

Domonique Sportiche / Tim Stowell

We intend to assess the current state of the art in Control Theory in a variety of domains (and in particular in the domains discussed in Landau’s 2015’s book: a two tiered theory of Control). We will discuss or at least touch upon all the (non disjoint) topics below, focusing in part on the participants’s interests, and our own.

  • The typology of control structures: obligatory vs non obligatory, full control vs partial control, etc…
  • The relation between control types and structural factors: complement structures vs adjunct structures, control verbs vs control nominals vs control adjectives, control into infinitives vs control into gerunds vs control into nominals, …
  • The  interpretation of control structures: choice of controller, control shift, de se/ non de se distinctions, control and binding, etc…
  • The derivation of control structures: movement vs binding, backward control, …
  • The distribution of control structures: why do different control structures with their individual properties distribute the way they do.

One general theme underlying our discussion is an attempt to disentangle structural factors and semantic factors entering into the properties of control.

We use two texts as starting basis for discussion (which will be made available).
Landau, Idan. 2013. Control in generative grammar: A research companion. Cambridge University Press.
Landau, Idan. 2015. A two-tiered theory of control. MIT Press.

Ling 252: Degrees and definiteness

Dylan Bumford / Yael Sharvit

The current plan is to look at a variety of compositional issues concerning degree constructions in the presence of definites and maximality operators, but what form this takes exactly will depend a bit on participants’ interests. Superlatives will feature prominently, where the issues have come to a head in the literature, but we will also investigate other sorts of quantificational adjectives in definite environments, including at least ordinals, ‘only’, and numerals, as well as more general issues surrounding the scope of comparatives, measures, and amounts.

Ling 252: Intervention Effects in Syntax and Acquisition

Nina Hyams / Anoop Mahajan

In this proseminar we will discuss intervention effects in A and A’ dependencies. The general notion of intervention is:

(1)   …  α … γ …β…

γ blocks relating α and β if (i) γ c-commands β, and γ does not c-command α, and (ii) γ and α share the target features that β is attempting to relate to. The feature could in principle be (a) syntactic (triggering movement), (b) morpho-syntactic (triggering Agree), or (c) semantic (scope/NPI licensing). We intend to focus on (a), and possibly (b).  Syntactic intervention includes A and A’ intervention (also head movement intervention). A-movement intervention has been investigated in the domains such as subject raising being blocked in the presence of an intervening experiencer, and an overt indirect object blocking object shift in Scandinavian. A’movement intervention effects include certain wh-island effects, and wh-movement blocked by negation, among other phenomena.

We will also look at the role of intervention in children’s development of A and A’ dependencies, including passives, raising, relative clauses, wh-question, clitic left dislocation (Italian), clefts. Experimental studies across a range of languages demonstrate that young children show intervention effects in cases where adults do not. So, one goal is to understand why children are unable to circumvent intervention where adults can, and also what implications (if any) their more restrictive grammars have for syntactic theories of intervention.


Fall 2017
Ling 251: Speech planning and the phonological grammar

Kie Zuraw

Phonological grammars evaluate whole words, phrases, or utterances. But speech unfolds in real time. To decide whether to apply the rhythm rule to the word ‘Mississippi’, we need to already know the following word’s stress pattern (‘legislators’ vs. ‘biologists’). By contrast, to decide whether to apply raddoppiamento sintattico to the Italian word ‘bella’, a speaker needs to know about the *preceding* word–which has already been retrieved (‘città’ vs. ‘vita’). Does this make raddoppiamento easier than the rhythm rule? If so, does that show up anywhere in the grammar, or purely in processing difficulty (errors, hesitations, etc.)? How much phonology can be explained by factors in speech planning, such as whether crucial information has to be remembered vs. anticipated, and how detailed that information is?

There are big questions here that I don’t expect we’ll answer: is there a separate phonological grammar (that feeds into the processing system), or is the grammar just a different level of description of the processing system? If the grammar is a separate module, what kinds of information does it exchange with speech planning?

But, to get closer to being able to address those questions, we will get a handle on what’s known about speech-planning effects in observable phonological phenomena, and check out proposals that incorporate aspects of speech planning into the grammar.

Topics to be covered, with (just a few) sample authors:

  • Speech planning basics: models and findings (Levelt, Ferreira, Keating & Shattuck-Hufnagel, …)
  • Production planning and the domain of a rule (Wagner/ Sonderegger/Kilbourn-Ceron/Clayards)
  • Counterbleeding as a failure of speech planning?
  • Speech planning and phonological directionality–probably a lot about tone sandhi here (Zhang, Hsu, Tsay & Myers…)
  • Phonetic paradigm uniformity (Goldrick, Seyfarth & al.)
  • Speech planning and word structure (Himmelmann)
  • OCP effects as grammaticalized planning errors (Walker)
  • Grammar proposals that integrate aspects of speech planning
Ling 254: Implicit Prosody

Jesse Harris 

Recent studies show that many of the factors that influence phonological and prosodic/intonational structure (such as rhythm, stress, and phrasing) also guide syntactic parsing decision, in that (a) the ease with which a word is accessed and integrated into a structure is in part a function of its phonological/prosodic congruence with preceding text, and (b) ambiguous strings are preferentially resolved towards meanings that conform with default prosodic properties, particularly grouping, of words and phrases.

This proseminar explores the role of prosody in parsing from the perspective of adult language comprehension by reading a rapidly growing literature on the prosody-syntax interface, initiated in part by Janet Fodor. We examine evidence for ‘implicit prosody’, i.e., the assumption that a prosodic structure in projected onto a text in silent reading, and the methods for best investigating inner voice in natural language comprehension settings. We will be particularly interested in how prosodic representations can affect various stages of processing, from generating phrase structures to correcting misanalysis. Cross-linguistic differences will be of particular interest as different languages follow somewhat different processing profiles and are subject to different phonological and prosodic constraints.

Ling 252: Tense and aspect

Tim Stowell 

The class will aim to provide participants with a broad overview of tense/aspect phenomena, and of syntactic and semantic accounts of them.  (Re semantic approaches, I will rely on participants in the class for assistance with formal issues.)

We will begin today with a survey of phenomena including the topics listed below; how much time we spend through the quarter on individual topics will depend in part on the interests of the participants in the course.

Participants in the class will be encouraged to suggest topics and also to lead discussion on particular topics and papers, though  people who simply wish to audit the course are welcome too.