Alison Biggs: The Syntax of Argument and Event Structure (Week 1)

Theories of the relationship between predicates and their dependents underpin the foundations of syntactic theory. This course offers a syntactically grounded introduction to argument and event structure in current theory, highlighting issues that emerge when syntax comes into contact with theories of morphology and semantics.

The course will proceed in three parts. To begin we briefly review some of the major lines of debate that inform current theories of argument and event structure, including in the choice between projectionist and separationist models; theories of Roots, especially with respect to Linking and Framing; and thematic and event structural decomposition. 

The second part of the course introduces a syntactically explicit model of argument structure alternations based on current assumptions in generative syntax (Minimalism), as well as some aspects of realizational models of morphology (such as Distributed Morphology). To constrain discussion, we will focus on the syntactic introduction of agentively-interpreted External Arguments, including the morphosyntax of the verbal structures that Agents occur with, and some key effects that emerge where syntax interacts with the interpretive interfaces (Voice morphology, implicit Agents). Representative topics might include the syntax of (in)transitivity; passives; impersonals; causatives; nominalizations; and so on.

The third part of the course explores some puzzles in argument realization at the syntax-semantics interface involving (apparent) mismatches in the mapping between argument introduction in syntax and argument interpretation in semantics. We will practice using syntactic diagnostics to tease apart the effects of the structural/syntactic aspects of argument interpretation from their lexical, semantic, and pragmatic properties. We will also consider the kinds of grammars that such effects require. 

This course is designed for an intermediate-to-advanced syntactic audience. Background in generative syntax (constituency and phrase structure; Case; A-movement) is necessary. Background in morphology and semantics is useful but not required.