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SynCart Report Summary

Project ID: 340297
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Switzerland

Mid-Term Report Summary - SYNCART (From maps to principles: Syntactic cartography and locality in adult grammars and language acquisition.)

Our linguistic capacities allow us to put together words to form sentences ranging from very short and simple to very long and complex, with no upper limit: no matter how long a sentence is, it can be made longer, e.g., by adding “I think that...” at the beginning. The cartography of syntactic structures is the research trend which aims at drawing structural maps of sentences as precise and detailed as possible, in view of studying how words (and smaller component of words) get organized into complex structures. The SynCart project aims at developing and integrating two lines of current syntactic research in formal linguistics: the cartography of syntactic structures, and the theory of locality, in particular the study of intervention effects, whereby the establishment of relations between different positions in the structure is hampered by intervening elements with certain characteristics.
The cartography of syntactic structures and the theory of locality are studied both in the adult grammatical systems, and in language acquisition. The main focus is on the initial part of the clause (the “left periphery”), a zone of the clausal structure which presents a rich structural map, is a major target of syntactic operations, hence a privileged domain to test locality, and raises significant difficulties for the language learner (as is shown by the study of the acquisition of complex constructions like questions and relatives).
As planned, the first part of the SynCart project has focused primarily on the theoretical foundations of cartography and locality. We have worked out a detailed systematic map of the left periphery of the clause to be used as a reference point for the successive work on specific aspects of cartography and locality, as well as for the study of the acquisition of left-peripheral constructions. This research is presented in Rizzi and Bocci (forthcoming) and, in a more general setting also assessing cartographic research on other zones of the clause, in Rizzi and Cinque (2016), where detailed maps of the major zones of the syntactic tree are presented.
The issue of “further explanation” of cartographic properties has progressively acquired a high prominence in the project: is it possible to deductively connect the discovered empirical properties of cartographic maps to fundamental mechanisms and principles of linguistic computations, as they emerge, e.g., in minimalist approaches?
In this context, our research on locality has led to elaborating a novel theory of freezing effects, whereby elements moved to certain types of positions become inaccessible to further movement. A key ingredient of the new line of analysis is the labeling algorithm (Rizzi 2014, 2015a-b, 2016a and, for applications to the analysis of different constructions across languages, Shlonsky & Rizzi forthcoming, Belletti forthcoming-a).
The study of the interfaces between cartographic structures and the systems of sound and meaning led to introducing finer typologies of left-peripheral positions, e.g., with the distinction between corrective and mirative focus in the left periphery (Bianchi, Bocci, Cruschina forthcoming).
On the language acquisition dimension, the group is conducting the study of the acquisition of complex syntactic constructions by integrating a formal linguistic theory of syntactic locality (the Relativized Minimality approach in its featural definition) with the experimental methodology of developmental psycholinguistics. This interdisciplinary approach is fully detailed in Belletti and Guasti (2015) on the acquisition of questions and relatives, and is now applied to the acquisition of other left-peripheral constructions, such as topic and focus.
The interdisciplinary methodology putting together formal linguistic locality and experimental psycholinguistic testing permits insightful results also in the study of language-related pathologies such as Specific Language Impairment in development, and adult agrammatic aphasia (Friedmann, Rizzi, and Belletti forthcoming), with possible implications for developing diagnostic and rehabilitation techniques inspired by the assumed grammar-based approach.
The website ( ) specifies the research lines developed in the project and provides detailed bibliographies of studies of cartography and locality, and of related acquisition studies.
The first half of the project was concluded by the “First SynCart Workshop” (July 11-15, 2016 see ), in which the research themes of the project were discussed with international experts and junior researchers.


Alex WAEHRY, (Head of Euresearch Genève)
Tel.: +41 22 3797560
Record Number: 191583 / Last updated on: 2016-11-21
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