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H2020

ClauSeInTEL Report Summary

Project ID: 656044
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.3.2.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ClauSeInTEL (Clausal Selection: Integrating Theoretical with Experimental Linguistics)

Reporting period: 2015-09-01 to 2017-08-31

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Natural human languages make available different clause types (most commonly, declarative, interrogative, and imperative) that may function as complements to predicates (verb, noun, and adjective). Predicates combine with their clausal dependents in predictable ways, and native speakers arrive at this knowledge without explicit instruction, solely by being exposed to an appropriate linguistic environment. For linguistic theory, the crucial question is how this “instinctive” knowledge is represented in whatever grammatical capacity makes language use possible. The standard view that selectional information is stored in the lexical specification of the predicate (the selector) has recently been called into question and challenged by the development of a new idea: predicates and their complements (selectee) are embedded inside structural hierarchies of grammatical elements (“functional categories” encoding notions such as modality, tense, aspect, definiteness, etc.); it is the interaction between these functional categories that establishes the corresponding predicate-complement dependencies. In other words, this approach says that it is basically the grammatical properties of the construction that determines the relation between the predicate and its complement, reducing selectional requirements to grammatical ones. The objective of this research project was to take a newly developed, and promising, theoretical approach to clausal complementation, and extend it to new complement types, and in doing so, determine how best to develop and extend the approach. The targeted breakthrough towards accomplishing this goal was to bring together cutting-edge theoretical research with experimental methods. To this end, the project ensured the robustness of the empirical data that was used to build the theoretical approach by incorporating behavioural linguistic experiments.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The project examined in detail the syntax and semantics of the functional structures that the selector and the selectee are embedded within. Within this context, one question that was addressed was how the encoding of clausal complement selection is negotiated between the lexical properties of the selector/selectee and the functional structures that the selector/selectee embed. This also addressed the question of the extent to which it is necessary to appeal to lexical properties as well as functional ones. Another question was how the encoding of clausal complement selection is negotiated between the purely syntactic properties of embedded clauses and their semantics, crucially investigating the extent to which aspect is implicated (as it is in nominal dependents) vs. other functional properties of clauses, such as modality. To this end, the project incorporated a cross-linguistic dimension in order to investigate the way the relevant functional categories impact on clausal selection. This is important in that the theoretical models make claims about the nature of the representation of selection in human grammar, rather than in a particular language. The project concentrated on Greek and English, and to some extend on German, partly because of the research expertise of the research team involved, but also because these languages provide an ideal comparison: they differ in both how flexible their word orders are in clauses (which is connected to the richness of functional structure at the periphery of the clause); and they differ in how they grammatically encode a major distinction of clausal type: finiteness. Developing an understanding of how Greek and English (and German) behave paved the way towards specificing the theoretical concepts relevant to capturing the phenomena and their cross-linguistic variation. Overall, the project developed an explicit theoretical model that derives the core generalizations discovered, and that is capable of providing a new and original understanding of certain aspects of clausal selection across languages.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

Clausal selection by predicates lies at the heart of linguistic representation as it combines syntactic, semantic, and lexical information. Yet, no extant theoretical approach can fully capture the way predicates embed their clausal complements. The position that most approaches take is that the syntactic and semantic encoding of complement selection projects from the lexical properties of the selector. However, such “projectionist” models have been argued to be theoretically wanting: they provide a fundamentally taxonomic description of the relevant relations and induce redundant encoding in the system. State-of-the-art approaches instead propose that the syntactic and semantic encoding of selection does not project from the lexical properties of either the selector or the selectee. The dependency rather involves relationships between functional structures which encode grammatical features such as definiteness, numerosity, tense and aspect. Such “neo-constructionist” accounts obviate the flaws of their “projectionist” predecessors by arguing that these functional structures register purely grammatical meanings and are argued to be broadly comparable (that is, non-idiosyncratic) across different languages, opening up the way to explaining a host of important generalizations about how syntactic selection relates to grammatical semantics cross-linguistically. A conjecture about clausal complementation that falls within the neo-constructionist view, tracing back to the very beginnings of modern linguistic theory, is that clausal arguments are dominated by a nominal shell. Under this view, clausal complementation reduces to an instance of nominalization, and this, in turn, is in line with the neo-constructionist view that treats clausal complementation semantically as some kind of modification. The conjecture under consideration has been investigated from various perspectives, and the upshot is that the nominal shell may translate to a definite or an indefinite element. The nominalization view has so far restricted attention to the (un)grammaticality of two types of clausal complements (declarative and yes/no interrogative), and has never been applied to the other major type of interrogative clausal complements: wh-questions. Furthermore, the nominalization view of clausal complementation has not convincingly shown that there are absolutely no lexical properties involved. In fact, outside clausal complementation, some variants of the neo-constructionist approach propose a minor role for lexical features. Extending the range of phenomena that the approach applies to will provide evidence as to exactly what aspects of lexical properties are irreducible, and hence improve the approach. Concentrating on the evidence provided by wh-questions within the neo-constructionist approach, this highly successfull research project examined the absolute minimum of lexical features that guide clausal complmentation in the presence of the appropriate functional/grammatical properties. Apart from its major scientific impact, the results obtained by this 2-year research project are expected to provide broader value to the fields of: (i) Teaching of Second/Foreign Languages, an issue of growing importance in a more diverse European Union requiring more effective communication among its citizens; (ii) Language Disorders, contributing towards a more inclusive society; and (iii) Language Typology, enhancing the European Research Infrastructure.

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