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University of Connecticut College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Linguistics

Wurmbrand | Meitner Fellowship

Published on November, 21 2017 at 11:22am

Wurmbrand | Meitner Fellowship

Susi Wurmbrand's project Universals and variation in clausal complementation has been funded as part of the Lise Meitner Programme by the Austrian Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF). Congratulations Susi!


A core form of linguistic recursion involves verbal subordination configurations. A sentence with a main verb plus one or more auxiliary verbs is typically seen as a mono-clausal configuration, whereas a sentence containing an additional finite clause commonly instantiates a bi-clausal configuration. A simple mono/bi-clausal division becomes insufficient, however, once the entirety of embedding structures is considered. Instead we find different degrees of clausehood along a scale of syntactic complexity, with auxiliaries on one end and finite clauses at the other end. The over-arching hypothesis of this project is that the scale of clausehood is a fundamental property of language, which reflects an implicational hierarchy of minimal clause size as determined by an interplay of syntactic and semantic properties of embedding. The hypothesis is based on the observation that there is a cross-linguistically stable split of embedded clauses into three types of complements which are defined semantically and form the complexity scale: (most complex) propositional attitude » future » tenseless (least complex). This scale is observable cross-linguistically through a diverse set of restructuring signature effects—morphological, syntactic, semantic, and processing properties, which distinguish between the three types of complements in showing increasing transparency potential and/or decreasing syntactic complexity from the left to the right on the scale. The specific hypotheses tested are: i) every language (with sentential embedding) shows at least some restructuring signature effect; ii) no language/property shows (a) increasing transparency or (b) decreasing complexity from right to left on the scale. Differences among different types of complementation can be found in a wide range of languages, but since language-specific factors often mask properties common across languages, a direct surface-oriented comparison of complementation configurations is not always possible. The use of implicational hierarchy effects and restructuring signature properties provides a new way to compare structural complexity across languages, despite language-specific differences. The tools and resources developed in this project allow approaching the question of what grammatical properties are common to languages at a more abstract level, and what the extent of variation is.