Generative Syntax in the Twenty-first Century: The Road Ahead

Athens, Greece

May 28-30, 2015

Read Gillian’s posts on the event on her blog Language (navigate back to May 2015)

Read Norbert Hornstein’s post on the event, on his blog the Faculty of Language

This event is jointly organized by linguists at CASTL, Athens, Stuttgart, NTNU, and CUNY/HAS

Location: University of Athens, Auditorium “Ioannis Drakopoulos”, Panepistimiou 30; please see the map.


Marcel’s summary of the Locality session is available here.

Marcel’s summary of the Phonology and Morphology session is here.

The final program is available here.

The list of accepted posters, with linked abstracts, is available here.

 Invited speakers: 

 All the invited participants have contributed written statements ahead of the round-table. See below for links to all statements.

  •  Elena Anagnostopoulou (University of Crete) — statement
  • Mark Baker (Rutgers University) — statement
  • Jonathan Bobaljik (University of Connecticut) — statement
  • Lisa Cheng (Leiden University) — statement
  • Rose-Marie Déchaine (University of British Columbia) — statement
  • Janet Dean Fodor (CUNY Graduate Center) — statement
  • Norbert Hornstein (University of Maryland) — statement
  • Julie Anne Legate (University of Pennsylvania) — statement
  • Joan Maling (Brandeis University) — statement
  • Jason Merchant (University of Chicago) — statement
  • Gereon Müller (University of Leipzig) — statement
  • David Pesetsky (MIT) — statement
  • Maria Polinsky (Harvard University) — statement
  • Gillian Ramchand (University of Tromsø) — statement
  • Henk van Riemsdijk (Arezzo, Italy) — statement
  • Luigi Rizzi (University of Siena & University of Geneva) — statement
  • Ian Roberts (University of Cambridge) — statement
  • Peter Sells (University of York) — statement
  • Ivy Sichel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem) — statement
  • Spyridoula Varlokosta (University of Athens) — statement


  •  Artemis Alexiadou (University of Stuttgart)
  • Marcel den Dikken (CUNY Graduate Center & Hungarian Academy of Sciences)
  • Winfried Lechner (University of Athens)
  • Terje Lohndal (Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim)
  • Peter Svenonius (University of Tromsø – The Arctic University of Norway)


Generative Syntax in the Twenty-First Century: The Road Ahead will be a 3-day round-table taking stock of generative syntax and discussing the future of the field. It will take place in Athens, Greece, and feature discussions and a poster session. 


We want to incite a high-level discussion of foundational issues with a group practical in size and with a reasonable number of shared background assumptions in hopes of producing a concrete result in the space of three days. Ideally we are aiming for a white paper which will reaffirm the theoretical core of the discipline; that is, outline major assumptions and concepts that we believe are shared by most transformational generative syntacticians today. We think this may be helpful for the field in addressing the three challenges mentioned below.

We also want to identify major outstanding research questions. We want to attempt to identify the major burning questions concerning syntax and its interfaces. This is not in order to determine the research agenda of individual researchers. Rather, we believe that it is part and parcel of taking stock to also think about what lies ahead.

In addition to plenary and group discussions, there will be a poster session, in which in particular young and early-career-stage researchers will be encouraged to participate. We very much want to hear what these are working on, and in addition we think they will make valuable contributions to the plenary discussions.

Rationale: Generative syntax has made important contributions to our understanding of language, and with it, the human mind. The field continues to be fecund and vibrant and new discoveries and developments continue apace. However, the rapid growth and development of this still-young field leaves it without a clear and uncontroversial canon, especially in syntax. In principle, there is nothing wrong with this. However, it raises a few challenges, three of which we will briefly outline here.

A major challenge concerns the coherence of the field. Given the large number of different analytic approaches, it has resulted in small groups working on x, y, or z. From a scientific point of view, this is not problematic, but it raises difficulties when it comes to interaction, funding, recruitment and external visibility. We want to discuss ways of improving this situation. We believe that this is especially important given that linguistics and generative syntax are not major fields compared to e.g., psychology or physics. In addition to being problematic in its own right, the proliferation of approaches further exacerbates the problem of teaching and supervision.

Another challenge is related to teaching and supervision. During the time when Government and Binding (GB) was pursued, Liliane Haegeman’s and Andrew Radford’s widely used textbooks were sources that quickly enabled students to read original research papers. Given the proliferation of different assumptions within the Minimalist Program (MP), the situation is different today. Different textbooks build on different assumptions, and they differ significantly when it comes to how much they explain the transition from GB to the MP. This in turn makes it increasingly difficult for students to make the jump from reading textbooks to the original research literature. Our impression is that this was easier two decades ago and we would like to discuss if it is possible to fix this.

A third challenge is related to publications. Because minimalist syntacticians generally cannot rely on a shared core of hypotheses and principles, each paper has to build its case from the ground up. This has already resulted in extremely long papers, much longer than in most other sciences. It is not clear that this is benefitting the field.



The project originated from a discussion concerning ways in which a conference could be organized in Greece in order to signal support for the linguistics community in the southern Balkans, a group of people who has severe difficulties attending conferences and partake in discussions due to the current economic situation; money for research-related activities is all but gone and salary cuts have been severe. So a guiding idea was to bring a conference to Greece. Along with the potential benefits the event might have on a local level, another motive in the background was the ongoing pursuit of strategies for getting EU-level research funding for collaborative projects with Greek linguists.