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The syntax of nominal copular clauses: theoretical and empirical  perspectives (starting in 2024, DFG-AHRC funded project)

PIs:  Jutta M. Hartmann (Bielefeld University),  Caroline Heycock (The University of Edinburgh)

Co-Is: Isabelle Roy (Nantes University), Roberto Zamperelli (University of Trento)

One fundamental aspect of language is that sentences are composed of a subject and a predicate. In the best understood cases, the predicate is built around a verb, as in (1a) ‘My cousin teaches.’ But predicates can also be built around nouns, as in (1b) `My cousin is a teacher.’ The copula "be" that English requires here is absent in some other languages: semantically the predicate in the nominal copular clause (1b) is "a teacher”. The properties of nominal copular clauses are a long-standing issue for linguistics and philosophy: this project aims to address the challenging and potentially revealing questions posed by such clauses through systematic and detailed cross-linguistic investigation into their syntax and semantics, broadening the empirical landscape beyond well-studied languages to less studied ones. Issues that will be investigated include those in (I)–(III): (I) How many structurally different kinds of nominal copular clauses do languages use? If we start from the traditional distinction between predicative examples like (1b) and equatives like (2) ‘Stephen King is Richard Bachman!’   (= ‘Richard Bachman is Stephen King’), how do we analyse examples like (3) ‘In the dark, I thought your aunt was you!’ (≠ I’ thought you were your aunt’), which also involve two individuals, but change their meaning if reversed? Is it just a coincidence that some languages use the same copula in all these cases—and others—or are some of them in fact structurally identical despite differences in meaning? Given that identity is a quintessentially symmetric relation in logic, why is its expression in language typically asymmetric? (II) Is the structure of noun phrase predicates different from the structure of noun phrases in their other uses? What does the answer tell us about how the meaning of complex expressions is built up from their parts? (III) Nominal copular sentences are unusual in that the second noun phrase can have some unexpected subject properties. For example, in some languages the typical subject position is taken by the first noun phrase, but the verb agrees with the second, which also has the case for a subject (German ‘Das Problem bin/*ist ich/*mich’ vs English ‘The problem *am/is *I/me’). These “edge cases” allow us to refine and test competing hypotheses about the nature of fundamental processes like agreement and case-assignment. Where documentation is lacking for relevant languages, online questionnaires will be used to elicit data in carefully constructed experiments using methods and paradigms already honed by the PIs. In addition to the empirical and analytical work done within the project, it will also contribute to future crosslinguistic work by producing and disseminating a detailed framework for eliciting data on copular constructions designed for use by researchers working with less well documented languages.

Projects in CRC1646 „Linguistic Creatitivity in Communication“ (starting date: April 2024)

Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Ralf Vogel

Co-Spokesperson Prof. Dr. Joana Cholin, Prof. Dr. Jutta M. Hartmann

A01: Creativity in (morpho)syntactic variation: The role of analogy

PIs: Dr. András Bárány/ Prof. Dr. Jutta M. Hartmann

A01 investigates the role of analogy in the formation of novel, creative morphological forms and syntactic structures both within and across languages. In particular, the project hypothesises that the existence of a grammatical structure can lead to novel, structurally similar expressions which are well-formed in a specific context, even though they are not accepted as grammatical by the speech community. We investigate this hypothesis experimentally for long-distance agreement in Hungarian, as well as embedded clauses in German and other languages.

A03: The creative listener: Interpretation at the interface of prosody, syntax and information structure

PIs:  Jutta M. Hartmann, Farhat Jabeen, Petra Wagner

A03 is concerned with the creative interpretation of utterances where the information structure and/or prosody of an utterance do not match a given context. The main question is how and under what circumstances such mismatches are taken to be meaningful, such that they give rise to creative enrichment of meaning by the listeners based on formal markings of focus (prosodic or syntactic). A03 concentrates on creative meaning adjustments and inferences based on implicit focus alternatives. We investigate four languages (German, English, Hungarian, Urdu), which differ in their formal markings of focus providing a cross-linguistic perspective on creative meaning enrichment.

B03: Indirectness in discourse: interrogatives, implicit meaning and incongruence  PIs:  Tanja Ackermann, Jutta M. Hartmann, Arndt Riester

B03 investigates how non-literal meaning emerges in indirectness within discourse. We examine indirect speech acts based on interrogatives and indirectness in question-response sequences (e.g. in interviews), adopting a cross-linguistic perspective including German, English and Japanese. Using various empirical sources, such as grammatical descriptions, experiments and corpus studies, we look at how formal syntactic factors (clause types) and the structure of discourse (questions-under-discussion) contribute to indirectness, which mechanisms allow for enrichment of conventional interpretation, and which contexts facilitate or limit such creative interpretation.


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