AcqVA Colloquium (NTNU) – 2020-2021

Here is a list of talks for Fall 2020. The talks will take place either virtually on Zoom, or on Dragvoll campus.

April 12, 2021, 12:00 – Colloquium on Zoom

Dr. Craig Sailor, University of Edinburgh

When silence takes scope: A vulgar argument for null operators in English innovative V2

English is widely thought to have lost the Verb Second (V2) property around the 15th century; what impoverished V2 environments can be found in the present-day language (e.g. in interrogatives) are referred to as “residual” V2 in the literature, characterized by subject-auxiliary inversion rather than raising of the lexical verb. Still, like its Germanic relatives, English has pairs like the following, showing V2-like inversion in all interrogatives, even when it yields a surface-V1 profile in polar questions:

1) a. What has Sue read?

b. Has Sue read this?

Since Klima (1964:253), the syntax of such clauses are thought to differ only minimally: both clauses are in fact V2 environments; they vary only in whether the first-position operator is overt (1a) or covert (1b). While pleasing in its uniformity, this analysis can be a hard sell: direct evidence for the hypothesized null operator in (1b) is not easy to come by.

In the first part of this talk, I present data from a particular sentence type in British and Irish English that provides particularly clear evidence for first-position null operators in superficially-V1 environments. The sentence type in question expresses emphatic negation despite lacking overt negative morphology. What such sentences have instead is inversion (yielding surface-V1 order) alongside a conspicuous taboo word – ‘fuck’, typically – in post-subject position:

2) They’re all wearing kilts, but will I fuck be wearing one of them.

= I definitely won’t be wearing one of those.

I refer to this phenomenon as ‘fuck’-inversion (FI) for short. I present a battery of arguments showing that, perhaps counterintuitively, the negative semantics in FI sentences is not borne by the low taboo element, but rather by a null negative operator in the left periphery, where it takes exceptionally wide scope. This operator behaves in every respect like the overt negative-XP operator in canonical negative inversion clauses (“[No way] will I be wearing one of them”), drawing a clear parallel between interrogative clauses and emphatic-negative clauses with respect to their operators (overt vs. non-overt).

In the second part of this talk, I argue that FI is a very recent innovation in the history of English—it isn’t a case of “residual” V2 in the literal sense. The question immediately arises how such a restrictive V2 system could nevertheless be productive. I sketch a means by which FI could have been recently innovated in the grammar of English, adopting the core idea from Lightfoot, Westergaard, and others that language change is an epiphenomenon of the acquisition procedure, arising from the sorts of analyses that learners impose in the input. I close by extending this approach to other instances of innovative V2 from Scots and Afrikaans.


February 9, 2021, 16.00 – Colloquium on Zoom

Professor Antonella Sorace, University of Edinburgh

L2 learning and L1 change: the ecosystem of bilingualism

Recent research has shown that a speaker’s first language (L1) changes in selective ways upon exposure to a second language (L2). The aspects of L1 grammar affected by change are the same that remain variable even in highly proficient L2 speakers of the same language. Is there a relationship between openness of the L1 to change and level of L2 attainment? At this stage, this is an open question but three general approaches are emerging: first, we should treat L1 attrition as a natural consequence of language contact, first in the bilingual brain and then in bilingual communities, which may lead to language change over successive generations; second, understanding the big picture requires serious consideration of individual differences; third, it also requires interdisciplinary research on different aspects of bilingualism that combines the insights of linguistic, cognitive and social models.


October 27th, 2020, 14.00 – Colloquium on Zoom

Professor Christina Tortora,City University of New York

What-marked Yes-No questions in New York City English

In this talk (work with Jason Bishop), I describe and analyze the syntactic properties of a non-canonical Yes-No question in New York City English, which I’ll refer to as the “what-marked Yes-No question.” Consider (1) versus (2):

(1) Did he grow up on Staten Island? (a true Y-N question)
(2) What did he, grow up on Staten Island? (a what-marked Y-N question)

The sentence in (1) is a true question — a genuine request for information. In contrast, the question in (2) — used by New York City English speakers — conveys that the hearer knows or believes that the answer to the question is Yes. It is therefore a rhetorical question, though in discourse it leaves open an invitation to the hearer to expand on a topic. As a rhetorical question, it can also be used sarcastically (e.g., What am I, an idiot? What are you, some kind of a jack-ass?), but it is not restricted to such contexts (v. (2)).

In addition to the meaning and function of the what-marked Yes-No question, there are several restrictions on its form that set it apart from other kinds of interrogatives in English: (a) it has particular prosodic characteristics; (b) it allows pronominal subjects only; (c) it allows positive polarity only; (d) it allows non-modal auxiliaries only; (e) it allows non-contracted auxiliaries only; and (f) it allows only the wh-phrase “what”, regardless of the focus in the second part of the question. In this talk I discuss the restrictions in (b-f), with an eye towards understanding the syntactic structure of what-marked Yes-No questions, and how this structure reflects their meaning.


Previous semesters:

Fall 2019 and Spring 2020

Spring 2019

Fall 2018

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