Ramchand – Situations and Syntactic Structures

Advanced Course in Syntax-Semantics

Situations and Syntactic Structures



Cartography tells us that there are robust crosslinguistic generalizations about the ordering of meaning elements in an extended functional projection (Cinque 1999).

Moodspeechact> Moodevid  > Modepist  >  T > Modcirc  > Asp > Voice > Cause > V

Moreover, at the bottom of every functional sequence, we find evidence for a  kind of substantive, conceptual, rich, yet flexible kind of  meaning, as denoted by open class items.

Evidence for this kind of layered meaning is pervasive and exceptionless crosslinguistically, yet it currently look `accidental’, `templatic’  from the point of view of our formal ontologies.

Even those who are uncomfortable with the universalist claims coupled with fine grained `cartography’ , nevertheless subscribe to the C > T > V template of extended verbal projections and language specific rigid ordering (see also Ramchand and Svenonius 2014).

The question is who should bear the burden of explanation for these generalizations? On the one hand, Syntacticians describe, and then stipulate the labels in their hierarchic structures.  Any such generalizations are either primitive or will eventually be explained by their semantics colleagues. But on the other hand, Formal semantics has not traditionally cared about the evidence for semantic layering that comes from morphosyntax or cartography.  Compositional semantics can be made to track the syntax, but does not attempt to explain it either.

In this course, I propose a new theory of meaning composition that tracks cartographic generalizations more organically. The empirical ground comes from the ordering of auxiliary elements in English. Each day we take a new auxiliary construction and summarize the semantic and syntactic generalizations known about it, before fitting   it in to the proposed syn-sem framework.

Day 1: Introduction: Motivation and Formal Underpinnings

Day 2: The Progressive

Day 3: The Passive and the Perfect

Day 4: The Perfect and Circumstantial modality

Day 5: Epistemic modality.



Ramchand, Gillian. 2018. Situations and Syntactic Structures. LI Monograph Series no. 76. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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