Presentations & Unpublished Work


Several talks on the typology of relative clauses, often with Nik Gisborne, exploring the notion of ‘parallel evolution’: the tendency of related languages to follow similar diachronic trajectories, even in the absence of contact. Most of the big picture is grounded in fine-grained corpus analyses of English wh-relatives, for now; in future, we hope to compare the English diachrony with diachronies of other related and unrelated languages. One proceedings paper has been published (Quantificational variability and the genesis of English headed wh-relatives, Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 19), and another is in press (Where do relative specifiers come from?, preprint here). I've been using talks over the last couple of years to slowly fill in other parts of the story:

  • An early broad overview is here (invited talk, Edinburgh, 2014);
  • A poster from DiGS XVII (Reykjavik, 2015), on dating of syntactic and semantic evidence for the emergence of headed relatives in English.
  • Slides from Evolang XI (New Orleans, 2016) describing an apparent Constant Rate Effect (in the sense of Kroch 1989) which cannot be reduced to competing forms realizing the same function, and could instead be construed in terms of competing functional specifications of a given form.
  • A colloquium talk given at York on the implications of Middle English relatives for the ongoing debate about the syntax of headed relatives (e.g. raising vs. matching).
  • A workshop talk (Cambridge), picking up on the Evolang talk above, and arguing that aspects of the history of English relatives can only be understood as shifts in the functions associated with stable forms, rather than the forms associated with stable functions.

There's loads more like this; if you want a copy of a particular presentation, email me.


A Parsed Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English (with Rhona Alcorn, Jim Donaldson, and Joel Wallenberg). Paper presented at the 1st AMC symposium, Edinburgh, 2016, and now written up for inclusion in the proceedings. A work-in-progress report on a 190,000 word parsed corpus we are constructing on the basis of a selection of the texts included in Meg Laing's Linguistic Atlas of Early Middle English. Read more about the corpus project here.


Scope, binding, and what’s beyond the surface. Invited talk series, UCL (2015). Talk 1; Talk 2; Talk 3. Similar work has been presented at the Universities of Oxford, Ottawa, and Edinburgh, and at ZAS in Berlin. This is work in progress which attempts to argue for a monostratal, surface-oriented variant of minimalism, based on a reconceptualization of movement as a composite relation, where two otherwise dissociable relations (one thematic, one syntactic) coincide. The first published exposition of these ideas is my chapter Reconstruction, control, and movement.

This work all grew out of an unfinished squib co-authored with Ad Neeleman (2006). There’s also 175 pages of loose ends in the process of being tidied up. They're still too messy for public consumption, but if you want a copy right now and (paradoxically) you’re very patient, once again, email me.


Syntacticizing agentivity effects: Prospects and problems. Invited talk, Potsdam workshop on idioms, 2015. Gisbert Fanselow contacted me and asked me to contribute to a workshop on idioms. I pointed out that I had no history of working on idioms — was he sure he meant me? ‘Don't worry’, replied Gisbert. ‘We know what you do.’ I was intrigued. I am in the process of writing this up — current draft available here.

The paper I came up with is a response to papers by Heidi Harley and Megan Schildmier Stone, and Elena Anagnostopoulou and Yota Samioti, in Syntax and its Limits, an OUP volume that I co-edited with Raffaella Folli and Christina Sevdali. Harley & Stone, and Anagnostopoulou & Samioti, demonstrated that fixed agents do not appear in partially flexible idioms, and develop syntactic analyses for this fact. I take their basic finding to be correct, but demonstrate that the ‘no agent idioms’ effect is more plausibly grounded in event semantics and the fact that object experiencer predicates are even weirder than people had previously noticed..


Event composition and event individuation. Revised version to appear as a chapter in the Handbook of Event Structure that I am editing for OUP. Extending some of the ideas about event individuation that I developed in my monograph Events, Phrases, and Questions.


Noun phrases and nonprojecting heads, Canadian Linguistics Association, Victoria, BC (2013). Joint work with my student Paul Melchin. My half of this consists of trying to find a third way in the debate over the DP-hypothesis, stemming from Abney (1987). I have been interested in this topic ever since a productive debate with Geoff Pullum in the Meaning and Grammar Research Group at the University of Edinburgh. Geoff (like Ben Bruening) has a strong argument from c-selectional asymmetries that D is not the head of the noun phrases (see also this critical literature review that I put together for the research group in 2009, going through some of the many different things people actually believe about the internal structure of noun phrases). If the Pullum/Bruening argument holds, I show that D is indeed not the head of the noun phrase in terms of c-selection, but is still a target for head movement which is hierarchically more prominent than other such targets within the noun phrase (as the work on Greenberg’s Universal 20 by Cinque, and Abels & Neeleman, shows). That would be a nice phrase-structural factoid to play with.

Paul’s half of this talk consists of convincing me that it’s all much more complicated than that, because no-one really understands c-selection anyway. Spoilsport. Hopefully, by the time he finishes his thesis, we'll both understand it better than we currently do.


English and the typology of nonrestrictive relative clauses. Canadian Linguistic Association, Waterloo, ON, 2012. Earlier related work was presented as Syntactic and Semantic Dependencies in Early Modern English Relative Clauses 32. Jahrestagung der Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft, Humboldt-Universität, Berlin (2009). This follows up on work published in NLLT (paywalled, preprint here), and presented in various forms at Tufts, McGill, Groningen, ICHL in Nijmegen, and Edinburgh. All this work focuses on a strange Early Modern English construction which I call the “relative with a leftward island”. All the earlier work, leading up to the publication, concentrated on where this construction came from. These presentations try to say something about how it disappeared, and engage with (hopefully refine) Cinque's 2008 typology of nonrestrictive relatives.