Contrastive linguistics (5cr)

This course focuses on the connection between linguistic description, typological variation, and formal linguistics by addressing a number of specific linguistic phenomena through the traditional grammar modules and their interfaces. One of the main goals of formal linguistics is to try to model the spectrum of variation documented in natural languages, which is not unlimited or random. In order to achieve this goal it is necessary to arrive at accurate descriptions of individual languages that allow us to compare them with different properties from other languages. Linguistic typology, the study of linguistic universals or parametric approaches from the perspective of universal grammar address this topic with different theoretical and analytical tools that we will attempt to understand through a review of several case studies with a strong crosslinguistic component.

Master courses
Mandatory Linguistics courses
Start / End: 
12/01/2021 - 16/03/2021
Tuesdays, 14:30 - 17:30
Online. Please email instructor for the link.
● Getting acquainted with models of formal analysis of language, focusing on morphosyntax and semantics topics.
● Examining a number of topics that have been and are central to linguistic theorizing.
● Learning linguistic argumentation.
● Learning how to present linguistic research.
Structure and Contents: 

The course will be organized around the following topics:


1. Introduction  [Jan 7th]

Setup of the course. Practical aspects and organizational issues.

Types of approaches to linguistic variation.



2. Interrogatives: crosslinguistic approaches to their syntax [Jan 14th]

Interrogative sentences are an extremely rich domain in order to study how languages resort to different grammatical strategies for the encoding of the same semanticopragmatic meaning of a question. Special attention will be devoted to the interplay among different grammar components across languages.


Cheng, Lisa. 2009. Wh-in-situ, from the 1980s to now. Language and Linguistics Compass: 3.3: 767-791.


3. Comparative syntax and information structure: topic and focus [Jan 21st]

Languages vary as to how they encode information structure notions like topic and focus in their grammars. After introducing some core notions of syntactic analysis, we will concentrate on the syntactic encoding of topic/focus categories across languages.


Alexiadou, A. 2006. Left Dislocation (including CLLD). In The Blackwell Companion to Syntax, eds. M. Everaert & H. van Riemsdijk, 668-699. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kimmelman, Vadim & Roland Pfau. 2016. Information structure in sign languages. In: Féry, C. & S. Ishihara (eds.), The Oxford handbook on information structure, 814-833. Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Villalba, X. 2000. The syntax of sentence periphery. Ph.D. dissertation. Chapter 3: pages 133-160. 



4. The role of non-manual features in sign language grammars [Jan 28th]

In sign languages, non-manual features encode linguistic properties at different levels (lexicon, morphology, syntax, prosody). We will concentrate on the crosslinguistic variation described so far for languages in the visual-gestural modality.


Pfau, R. & J. Quer. 2010. Nonmanuals: their grammatical and prosodic roles. In Cambridge Language Surveys: Sign Languages, ed. D. Brentari, 381-402. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dachkovsky, S. & W. Sandler. 2009.  Visual Intonation in the Prosody of a Sign Language. Language and Speech  52(2/3): 287–314.

Crasborn, O. et al. 2008. Frequency distribution and spreading behavior of different types of mouth actions in three sign languages. Sign Language & Linguistics 11:1: 45–67.



5. Creole grammars and new languages. Language genesis and variation [Feb 4th]

“Young” languages have been claimed to share some core structural properties in the morphosyntax. Arguments and counterarguments for this claim will be examined. A parallel thread on sign languages will place the discussion in the broader topic of language genesis and the role of the innate language faculty.


Aboh, E.O. & U. Ansaldo. 2007. The role of typology in language creation: A descriptive take. In Deconstructing Creole. U. Ansaldo, S. M Mathew, and L. Lim eds., 39–66. Amsterdam : John Benjamins.

Adone, Dany. 2012. Language emergence and creolisation. In Sign Languages (Handbooks of Linguistics and Communication Science, HSK), eds. R. Pfau, M. Steinbach & B. Woll, 862-889. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Kegl, J. et al. 1999. Creation through Contact: Sign Language Emergence and Sign Language Change in Nicaragua. In Language Creation and Language Change: Creolization, Diachrony, and Development, ed. M. DeGraff, 179-237. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Coppola, M. and A. Senghas. 2010. Deixis in an emerging sign language. In Sign Languages (Cambridge Language Surveys), D. Brentari, ed.,  543-569. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



6. Strategies of relativization [Feb 11th]

Languages employ different types of syntactic strategies in relativization: externally headed relative clauses, internally headed relative clauses, free relative clauses, the correlative construction etc. Moreover, different types of items are used for relativization: wh-words, demonstratives, adnominal modification markers, complementizers. The aim of the class is to show what all these different options have in common, and what are the effects of some of these particular strategies/items.


Grodzinsky, Y. 1989. Agrammatic Comprehension of Relative Clauses. Brain and Language 37: 480-499.

van Riemsdijk, H. 2006. Free Relatives. In The Blackwell Companion to Syntax, eds. M. Everaert & H. van Riemsdijk, 338-382. Oxford: Blackwell.

Vries, M. de. 2005. The fall and rise of universals on relativization. Journal of Universal Language 6.

Lipták, Anikó.  2009. The landscape of correlatives: An empirical and analytical survey. In A. Lipták, ed., Correlatives Cross-Linguistically, 1-46. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.


7. Linguistic reports: quotation and (in)direct speech [Feb 18th]

In order to report somebody else’s utterances, languages resort to a wide range of morphosyntactic strategies. We will explore some of the variation attested in reported speech structures and will question a clear-cut division between direct and indirect speech. We will devote some attention to the notion of quotation and to the theoretical problems posed by mixed or hybrid quotation.


Quer, J. 2011. Reporting and quoting in signed discourse. In Elke Brendel, Jörg Meibauer, & Markus Steinbach (eds.), Understanding Quotation,  277-302. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter (Mouton Series in Pragmatics).

Vries, Mark de. 2008a. The representation of language within language: a syntactico-pragmatic typology of direct speech. Studia Linguistica 62: 39-77.

Suñer, M. 2000. The Syntax of Direct Quotes with Special Reference to Spanish and English. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 18.3: 525-578.

Jäger, Andreas. 2010. Reported speech constructions and the grammaticalization of hearsay evidentiality: a cross-linguistic survey. STUF - Language Typology and Universals  63.3: 177-195.



8. Negative structures: syntactic and semantic variation [Feb 25th]


Parameters in the expression of sentential negation have been extensively studied from typological and formal perspectives. The main parameters will be inventoried, as well as the types of approaches that try to account for the variation we find.


Zanuttini, R. 2001. Sentential Negation. In The Handbook of Contemporary Syntactic Theory, Mark Baltin and Chris Collins (eds.), 511-535. Oxford: Blackwell. 

Giannakidou, A. 2006. N-words and negative concord. In Blackwell Companion to Syntax, edited by Martin Everaert and Henk van Riemsdijk. Volume III: chapter 45. Oxford : Blackwell.

Déprez, V. 1999. The Roots of Negative Concord in French and French Based Creoles. In Language Creation and Language Change: Creolization, Diachrony and Development , ed. Michel DeGraff, 375-428: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.



9. Indefiniteness and polarity [Mar 3rd]


Indefinite expressions have been shown to display significant variation in their licensing possibilities and their interpretation, both intralinguistically and crosslinguistically. In this class we will take a closer look at the phenomenon known as polarity and to the types of accounts that have been offered to account for it.


Giannakidou, Anastasia. 2011. Positive polarity items and negative polarity items: variation, licensing, and compositionality. In: Heusinger, Klaus von; Maienborn, Claudia & Portner, Paul (eds.).

Gutiérrez-Rexach, Javier. 2010. Varieties of Indefinites in Spanish. Language and Linguistics Compass 4/8: 680–693.

Martí, Luisa. 2009. Contextual Restrictions on Indefinites: Spanish Algunos vs. Unos. In Giannakidou, A. and Rathert, M. (eds.), Quantification, Definiteness and Nominalization, 108-132. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Von Heusinger, Klaus. 2011. 42. Specificity. In von Heusinger, K. von , C.Maienborn P. Portner (eds.), Semantics (HSK 33.2) , 1025–1058. Berlin: de Gruyter.


10. Syntax of argument structure [Mar 10th]

Argument structure relates to three modules of grammar: syntax, semantics and the lexicon. In this class we present the syntactic side of this domain, including phenomena such as thematic roles and their hierarchies, case, passives, unaccusatives and middles, as well the syntax-lexicon and syntax-semantics interface in the domain of argument structure. 


Hale, Kenneth, and Samuel Jay Keyser (1993), “On Argument Structure and the Lexical Expression of Syntactic Relations.” In Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser, eds., The View from Building 20: Essays in Linguistics in Honor of Sylvain Bromberger, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 53–109.

Acedo Matellan, Victor. 2010. Argument structure and the syntax-morphology interface. PhD thesis, Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona. Pages 37-53 and 86-96.

Majid, Azifa, Melissa Bowerman, Miriam van Staden, and James S. Boster. 2007. The semantic categories of cutting and breaking events.

Espinal, Maria T. & Jaume Mateu. 2007. Argument structure and compositionality in idiomatic constructions  The Linguistic Review 24.1: 33-59.


Each unit will focus on a given subject. The first part of the class will be devoted to a general presentation of the empirical and theoretical aspects of the topic under study, and the second part will consist of student presentations on a specific piece of work related to the topic of the week and a group discussion on the bibliography papers.

The final grade will be based on the following. First, 30% of the grade will be based on continuous assessment of class participation, plus a class presentation of an article related to the issues under discussion. The remaining 70% of the grade will be based on a final take-home exam at the end of the quarter, for a period of 7 days (distributed on March 10th  due on March 17th).
Basic Bibliography
  • Aloni, M. & P. Dekker. 2016. The Cambridge Handbook of Formal Semantics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Carnie, A., Sidiqqui, D. & Y. Sato (eds.). The Routledge Handbook of Syntax. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
  • Cheng, L.-L- & N. Corver. 2013. Diagnosing Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Cinque, Guglielmo & Richard S. Kayne. 2005. The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Syntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dikken, Marcel den. 2013. The Cambridge Handbook of Generative Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Freidin, Robert. 2012. Syntax. Basic concepts and applications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Haspelmath, Martin / König, Ekkehard / Oesterreicher, Wulf / Raible, Wolfgang (eds.). 2001. Language Typology and Language Universals. An International Handbook. 2 vols. Berlin / New York: Walter de Gruyter.
  • Lidz, J., Snyder, W. & J. Pater. 2016. The Oxford Handbook of Developmental Linguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Mairal, Ricardo & Juana Gil (eds.). 2006. Linguistic universals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Quer, J., C. Cecchetto, R. Pfau, C. Donati, M. Steinbach, C. Geraci & M. Kelepir (scientific directors). 2017. SignGram Blueprint. A Guide to Sign Language Grammar Writing. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton.
  • Roberts, Ian (ed.). 2016. The Oxford Handbook of Universal Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Song, J.J. 2013. The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Typology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Additional references
  • Abbott, Barbara. 2010. Reference. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Heusinger, Klaus von; Maienborn, Claudia & Portner, Paul (eds.). 2012. Semantics. An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Volume 3. Berlin: DeGruyter.
  • Heusinger, Klaus von; Maienborn, Claudia & Portner, Paul (eds.). 2011. Semantics. An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Volume 2. Berlin: DeGruyter. 
  • Maienborn, Claudia; Heusinger, Klaus von & Portner, Paul (eds.). 2010. Semantics. An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning. Volume 1. Berlin: DeGruyter.  
  • Rauh, Gisa. 2010. Syntactic Categories. Their Identification and Description in Linguistic Theories Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Riemer, N. 2016. The Routledge Handbook of Semantics. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
  • Scalise, Sergio; Magni, Elisabetta & Bisetto, Antonietta (eds.). 2009. Universals of Language Today. Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 2009, Volume 76 Springer.
  • Szabolcsi, Anna.  2010. Quantification. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • de Villiers, Jill; Roeper, Tom (eds.). 2011. Handbook of Generative Approaches to Language Acquisition. Studies in Theoretical Psycholinguistics, Handbook 41. Springer.