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Comparative Syntax Research Area

Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages and Linguistics


Research Projects

Members of the cluster are actively involved in a wide range of syntax-related research. This page gives details of various projects in Cambridge and features a selection of papers by cluster members.  

Rethinking Comparative Syntax (June 2011 onwards)

This 2.5 million euro project, funded by the European Research Council, will be led by Ian Roberts and will last for five years. The project will employ three postdoctoral researchers (led by Theresa Biberauer) and five PhD students and, additionally, bring Anders Holmberg (Newcastle University School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics) to Cambridge in a part-time capacity as an affiliated consultant. This grant will enable Cambridge to cement its reputation as one of the world's leading centres in generative linguistics.

Go to the project website


Continuity, Contact and Change: The morphosyntax of the Hellenic (Romeyka) varieties in Pontus (Spring 2010-2011)

The project deals with the synchrony and diachrony of Romeyka in Pontus, which are Hellenic varieties still spoken in north-east Turkey and on which little is known (but cf. Mackridge 1987, 1995). A linguistic project on Romeyka is urgent because: (a) Romeyka is endangered; and (b) Romeyka is severely attrited (by Turkish). An analysis of syntactic data deriving from ongoing fieldwork will shed light on the following research questions: (i) Widespread macro-/micro variation; (ii) The extent to which Romeyka participated in the koineization during the Hellenistic period and/or whether it derives directly from Ancient Greek dialects in contrast to the rest of the Hellenic varieties which emerged out of Medieval Greek; (iii) To what extent it participated in the Balkan Sprachbund -if only by 'leapfrogging' (cf. Joseph 2000); (iv) If Romeyka evolved -at least largely- outside the Balkan Sprachbund, it should be possible to assess the impact of contact in the Balkans and the extent to which this contact led to the formation of Modern Greek; (v) Contact-induced change due to Turkish and/or Caucasian and how we can model it. Overall, we will contribute to the understanding of the evolution of Greek syntax, language contact, and language change.

This project is funded by a Stanley J. Seeger Visiting Research Fellowship in Hellenic Studies at Princeton University, and the Principal Investigator is Ioanna Sitaridou.


Syntactic Government (2008-2011)

This project focuses on the phenomenon of syntactic government. Alongside agreement, government is traditionally identified through inflectional morphology; it can be understood as a type of featural dependency which links linguistic elements making up a clause and which is captured with a syntactic rule, e.g. 'verbs of this class govern genitive case of their objects'. The broader questions asked are where to draw the lines between subcategorisation, semantic selection, and co-occurrence.

This project, funded by a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship, is being carried out by Anna Kibort. Anna also continues to contribute to the formal syntactic framework of Lexical-Functional Grammar (LFG), in particular to the development of its argument structure model, and is a member of a network connecting LFG linguists in the South of England, who meet at SOAS London once a term for a day of presentations and discussion. These meetings are student-oriented and anyone working on or interested in LFG is very welcome to attend.


Structures and Linearization in Disharmonic Word Orders (2007-2011)

This project investigates a possible constraint on word orders across languages: a head-final phrase cannot immediately dominate a head-initial phrase (the Final-over-Final Constraint, or FOFC). In Greenbergian typology and in Principles-and-Parameters (P&P) theory, the existence of grammars mixing head-final and head-initial orders poses a problem, as they are exceptions to the Greenbergian word order universals and to the directionality parameters of P&P theory. FOFC, however, is a generalization about mixed or "disharmonic" systems, which, when properly formulated, makes predictions about disharmonic orders, allowing some, excluding others. Thereby it also makes predictions about language change. The objectives of the project are to: establish the scope of FOFC by synchronic and diachronic investigation of a variety of constructions in a range of languages; consider the consequences of FOFC for the theory of the mapping between hierarchical structure and linear order; and consider the consequences of FOFC for a theory of syntactic change.

This is an AHRC-funded joint project, involving Theresa Biberauer and Ian Roberts, as well as researchers from Newcastle University.


The development of negation in the languages of Europe (2006-2010)

This project was run by David Willis.

Go to the project website


Null Subjects and the Structure of Parametric Theory (2002-2007)

This project investigated the null-subject parameter, in order to establish whether the correlations that it has been claimed to account for could be explained in terms of parameter interaction. The project produced work on the typology of linguistic correlations and the theory of parameter interaction.

This was an AHRC-funded joint project, involving Theresa BiberauerIan Roberts and David Willis, as well as researchers from Durham University / Newcastle University.

Go to the project website