Project A1

3rd Phase - The Syntactic Expression of Information Structure and the Architecture of Grammar

The overall goal of A1 for the third phase of the SFB 632 lies in the formulation of a model for the interaction of narrow syntax and information structure. Much current work on this topic assumes the base hypothesis of the so-called cartographic approach (Rizzi 1997 et seq), where information-structural notions like topic and focus are directly represented in narrow syntax as formal features heading functional projections. The cartographic approach predicts, by design, that the effects of information structure on syntax are categorical (i.e., factor F invariably triggers structure S). However, available evidence (Keller and Alexopoulou 2001 and others) indicates otherwise –i.e., information structure effects on syntax are optional/gradient (factor F triggers structure S only in a certain percentage of cases). In order to account for the observed data distribution, we follow a model (cf. Fanselow and Lenertová 2010) where narrow-syntactic operations are triggered exclusively by morphosyntactic features and therefore cannot be influenced by information-structural factors. We refer to this as the Strong Modularity Hypothesis (SMH).

This approach raises the question of how to deal with the influences of information structure on syntactic structure (e.g., focus and topic movement, among others). Part of the project will consist in the development of an Optimality Theoretic model of grammar where the output of core syntax (a set of candidate structures) is inputted to an evaluation component. This component contains, among others, a number of constraints linking narrow-syntactic configurations and information-structural factors, which allow us to determine the degree of markedness of specific structures given specific contexts. Consequently, the influence of information structure on narrow syntax falls out from the fact that these constraints will rank some candidate structures higher (i.e., less pragmatically marked) than others. Additionally, we will explore OT models incorporating weighted constraints in order to account for the gradience and the optionality inherent to the syntactic expression of information structure.

In order to support the theoretical work just defined, we are planning a number of empirical studies (both acceptability rating and production tasks) aimed at precisely determining the strength of the different pragmatic factors involved. Note that part of the goal of A1 is to ascertain the adequacy of the SMH in languages with prosodic and morphological systems different from those investigated during the second phase of the SFB 632. As a consequence, we plan to carry out these experiments on a number of different languages.

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2nd Phase - Phonology and Syntax of Focusing and Topicalization

The purpose of A1 is the identification of an optimal model for the interaction of syntax and phonology in the context of the expression of information structure. Ideally, this will allow us to understand the way syntax influences the prosodic component of grammar and vice versa, as well as the actual composition of the means of expressing information structure both universally and in a given language.

In its first period, the project emphasized the expression of focus, with a few excursions into general aspects of prosodic organization and the expression of topicality, and the main languages of investigation were German and Japanese. Our results have led us to question certain assumptions of standard grammatical models. For example, several phenomena were identified and described in which syntactic structure and operations seem influenced by prosody, which is quite unexpected in the traditional Y-model, in which syntax always feeds phonology but not vice versa. Ample evidence for recursion in prosodic structure raises the question as to the validity of the Strict Layer Hypothesis for prosodic phrasing. In order to account for these problems, some theoretical proposals were made.

Based on such findings from the first period, the project’s emphasis in the second period will be laid on hierarchical aspects of information structure. To achieve the goals to be described below, the project will continue the systematic examination of the prosodic structure (pitch range, integration, etc.), as well as investigate several entirely new questions. Special attention will be paid to the recursion and embedding of information structure. Relevant questions include, among others: whether and how far information structure can be embedded; how prosodic and syntactic recursions are related, what the best grammatical model that explains the syntactic and prosodic recursions in a parallel manner is; and how such a model explains the recursion of information structure (if any).

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1st Phase - Phonology and Syntax of Focusing and Topicalisation

Project A1 examines the interaction of phonology, syntax, and information structure from both a theoretical and an experimental perspective. Our aim is to develop a theory of information structure that takes syntactic and phonological aspects equally into account, and which is able to cover and interpret gradient phenomena. In the tradition of generative grammar it is assumed that grammatical principles can be clearly assigned to modules such as syntax, phonology, and semantics, and that these modules interact only as blocks. However, the expression of focus, topic, and other information structural components shows that in many cases these components interact in such a way as to attain an optimal rendition of information structure. So, for example, focused and topicalized phrases show up in prosodically preferred positions, and metrical principles enforce variations of word order which are reflected in syntax.

Project A1 examines and develops proposals on prosodic phrasing that are not based on a primacy of syntactic structures. An optimality theoretic approach allowing for the simultaneous influence of different factors serves as a working hypothesis. We intend to develop a model for the phonology of information structure; to this end, we will conduct a series of experimental studies.

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Principal Investigators

  • Prof. Dr. Gisbert Fanselow (1st Phase, 2nd Phase, 3rd Phase)
  • Prof. Dr. Caroline Féry (1st Phase, 2nd Phase)
  • Dr. Luis Vicente (3rd Phase)

Former Staff Members

  • Dr. Radek Šimík
  • Dr. Shinichiro Ishihara
  • Elena Titov
  • Marta Wierzba

Affilated Scholarship Holders

  • Paul Roger Bassong (University of Yaounde) 2011-12
  • Mayumi Hosono (University of Leiden) 2011-12
  • Maria Shkapa (Moscow State University) 2011-12
  • Júlia Bácskai-Atkári (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest) 2012-13
  • Emilio Servidio (University of Siena) 2012-13
  • Bern Samko (University of California at Santa Cruz) 2013-14
  • Henry Zamchang Fominyam (University of Yaounde) 2014

Student Assistants

  • Verena Ehrenberg
  • Maxine Prothmann


March 2015 Workshop What drives syntactic computation? Alternatives to formal features.
December 2014 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Case-assignment in Elliptical Comparatives. Syntax-Semantics Colloquium, Universität Potsdam.
June 2014 Invited Talk Šimík, R. & Wierzba, M.: Expression of information structure in Slavic: Experiments and modeling. Kolloquium Slawistische Linguistik, Humboldt Universität Berlin.
June 2014 Invited Talk Šimík, R. & Wierzba, M.: Expression of information structure in Slavic: Experiments and modeling. Linguistics in Göttingen Colloquium, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.
June 2014 Talk Šimík, R. & Wierzba, M.: Expression of information structure in Slavic: Experiments and modeling. Olomouc Linguistics Colloquium 2014, Palacký University in Olomouc.
April 2014 Invited Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Optional Ellipsis in Comparatives. Budapest Phonology Circle and Linguistics Discussion Group (BuPhoC), Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest.
April 2014 Invited Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Comparative Deletion and the Overtness Requirement. Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest.
February 2014 Talk Wierzba, M.: Focused object fronting is emphatic – an effect of syntax or prosody? Linguistic Evidence, Tübingen. Download
February 2014 Poster Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Diachronic Evidence and the Relation between Interrogative Markers and Focus. Linguistic Evidence 2014, Universität Tübingen. Download
January 2014 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Deletion, Operators, and Comparative Clause Formation Cross-linguistically. Syntax-Semantics Colloquium, Universität Potsdam.
January 2014 Invited Talk Šimík, R. & Wierzba, M.: The relation between information structure, prosody, and word order in Slavic: A crosslinguistic experimental study. Phonology-Syntax Circle, ZAS Berlin.
December 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Information Structure and Clausal Comparatives in Czech and Polish. 10th European Conference on the Formal Description of Slavic Languages (FDSL-10), Universität Leipzig.
October 2013 Talk Wierzba, M., Fanselow, G. & Vicente, L.: The interaction of factors facilitating displacement to the left periphery Research Day (ATALA - Labex EFL): Quantitative approaches in corpus linguistics and psycholinguistics: Word order and constituent order, Paris. Download
October 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Comparative Deletion in Germanic. Comparative Germanic Syntax Workshop 28 (CGSW 28), Universität Leipzig.
September 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Identity and Comparative Deletion. Identity in Ellipsis Conference, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics.
September 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: More in Ellipsis on English Comparatives (and Elsewhere). PhD Day of the SFB-632, Universität Potsdam.
May 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Operators in Comparative and Parenthetical Clauses. PhD Day of the SFB-632, Universität Potsdam.
May 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Extended Projections of Adjectives and Comparative Deletion. 25th Scandinavian Conference of Linguistics (25-SCL), workshop: Syntax and Semantics of Adjectives, University of Iceland.
May 2013 Talk Šimík, R., Wierzba, M. & Kamali, B.: Prosodic marking of givenness in Czech. Formal Approaches to Slavic Linguistics (FASL) 22. McMaster University, Ottawa.
April 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Hungarian Embedded Interrogatives from a Diachronic Perspective. 3. Sprachwissenschaftliche Tagung für Promotionsstudierende (3. STaPs), Ruprecht-Karl-Universität Heidelberg.
March 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Parenthesis and Comparative Operator Deletion. 35th Annual Meeting of the German Society of Linguistics, workshop: Parenthesis and Ellipsis: Cross-linguistic and Theoretical Perspectives, Universität Potsdam.
February 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Reanalyse in den Komparativsätzen des Ungarischen. Diachronen Teestunde, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
January 2013 Talk Bacskai-Atkari, J.: Comparative Operator Deletion and the Functionally Extended AP. Syntax Colloquium, Universität Potsdam.
December 2012 Invited Talk Šimík, R., Wierzba, M. & Kamali, B.: Evidence for prosodic treatment of Czech scrambling. Syntax Oberseminar, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
October 2012 Poster Leffel, T., Šimík, R. & Wierzba, M.: Pronominal F-markers in Basaá. Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society (NELS) 43. City University of New York.
June 2012 Talk Bassong, P., Leffel, T., Šimík, R. & Wierzba, M.: Information structure-related fronting and pronominal morphology in Basaá (Bantu). 15th Internal Workshop of the SFB632, Wandlitz.
March 2012 Talk Šimík, R.: On prolog-style multiple questions in natural language. Questions in discourse: First DFG network meeting. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt.
January 2012 Talk Wierzba, M.: Subparts of contrastive topics and the syntax-information structure interface. ConSOLE XX, Leipzig. Download