Hierarchical structures in phonology, morphology and syntax

27th-28th October 2016

Organised by:

  • Antonio Fábregas
  • Martin Krämer
  • Gillian Ramchand
  • Peter Svenonius

Keynote speakers:

  • Laura Downing (University of Gothenburg-UiT)
  • Natalia Slioussar (HSE Moscow & St. Petersburg State University)
  • Michael Wagner (McGill University)
  • Rachel Walker (University of Southern California)

The program and abstracts can be found here.

Aims and content of the workshop

The hierarchical organization of linguistic structures in syntax, phonology, and morphology is a fundamental part of current linguistic research, either as a background assumption or as a focus of inquiry.

Linguistic hierarchy can be understood in two ways, structural and categorial.

Structural hierarchy is purely configurational: the subject of a matrix clause c-commands the subject of an embedded complement clause because the matrix is hierarchically superior to the complement. Morphology has an analogue (or homologue) of this; for example, a deverbal nominalization involves a nominal element which is superior to a verbal element (this is often analyzed as syntactic embedding, hence a homologue). This kind of purely structural hierarchy is less typical in phonology, but may exist. For example, purely structural hierarchy could be seen in a feature geometry if the difference between V-place and C-place is that C-place is an undominated place node, while V-place is a place node which is embedded inside another place node.
The other sense of linguistic hierarchy is categorial. Categorial hierarchy involves an extrinsic asymmetry between categories, for example in a thematic hierarchy where Agent outranks Patient, or a grammatical function hierarchy where Subject outranks Object, or a sonority hierarchy where vowel outranks liquid. Categorial hierarchies have disparate sources. A nonuniform taxonomic organization of features, for example one in which a tense-lax distinction is relevant for vowels but not consonants, can be understood in terms of categorial hierarchy.

Generative linguistics has often reduced categorial hierarchy to structural hierarchy, for example in deriving many properties of subjects from their occupying a high structural subject position rather than their bearing a distinct grammatical function.

However, the functional hierarchy which is the focus of cartography centrally links categorial to structural hierarchy without reducing either to the other, so that when for example C and T are combined in a single clause, C structurally dominates T and is a distinct category. A feature geometry (like the one proposed by Harley and Ritter for phi) may be understood to restrict merge, projection, or labeling in such a way that structural hierarchy respects or reflects categorial hierarchy.

Similarly, if a Clements-style feature geometry describes the tier-based structure of a segment, then structural and categorial hierarchies interact, and neither is reduced to the other.

In this workshop, we aim to address central issues pertaining to these notions of hierarchy. We are especially interested in topics that address the interfaces or which transcend or unify traditional domains of syntax, phonology, and morphology. Some of the topics that are of interest to this workshop include, but are not restricted to, the following.


Issues relating especially to structural hierarchy:

a)     The relation between hierarchy and the structure-building procedures: are there operations (such as head-movement or sideward movement, in some proposals) that do not create new levels of hierarchical complexity?

b)    Can affix ordering facts be explained in a principled way using hierarchical structure in syntax and morphology? To what extent are prosodic reordering solutions needed to explain the order between exponents?

Issues relating mainly to intrinsic hierarchies:

a)     What are the sources of intrinsic hierarchies?

b)    What is the status of feature geometries? Are they simply descriptive devices to state empirical generalisations or are they real theoretical notions that produce principled predictions?

c)     What is the status of the prosodic hierarchy in phonological analysis? Is it indispensable? Is it recursive?

d)    To what extent do hierarchical constituents defined in morphosyntax match the hierarchical constituents defined in phonology?  And to what extent can syntactic structure be opacified by phonological operations?

Issues especially relating to the relation between structural and intrinsic hierarchies

a)     What is the relation between hierarchy and labeling?

b)    Does segmental phonology show the same kind of evidence as syntax for hierarchical structures beyond feature geometries? This can be asked of segment-internal properties (e.g. how is voicing related to coronality in /d/?) as well as of the organization of sets of segments (e.g. how is the onset related to the nucleus?).


We invite two-page abstract submissions (Times NR 12, single-spaced, margins set to 2.54/3.17), including examples and references, for 40 minute-long oral presentations (30+10). Submissions should be sent as anonymous attachments to hierarchicalstructurecastl@gmail.com