Course information

Introduction to Syntax, Fall 2020

(CAS LX 321, GRS LX 621, MET LX 521)

Meeting time MWF 11:15 - 12:05 In The Cloud
Instructor Paul Hagstrom
Phone (617) 353-6220
Office 621 Commonwealth Ave., Rm. 105
Office Hours MF 12:30-1:30, T 12-1 (and by appointment)

Prerequisite: CAS LX250 (Intro to Linguistics), or consent of instructor.

Course Description: Introduction to syntax as an object of inquiry. Students build an increasingly sophisticated model of syntactic knowledge to account for data from English and other languages, constructing and evaluating alternative hypotheses about how sentence structure works.

This course can be taken as CAS LX 321, as GRS LX 621, or as MET LX 521. Students registered for GRS LX 621 or MET LX 521 will have more significant responsibilities, reflecting the graduate nature of the course.

Students completing this course will…

  • Gain an understanding of the complexity and diversity of syntactic structures of natural language
  • Learn how to construct and test hypotheses, and evaluate arguments based on linguistic data
  • Learn how to construct and evaluate theoretical models
  • Gain an implicit understanding of the historical development of theoretical approaches to natural language syntax
  • Gain a foundation for further study of syntax

Course Requirements and grading

Category LX321 LX521/621
Assignments (lowest score dropped) 56% 40%
Midterm assignment 14% 10%
Final assignment 14% 10%
Participation 16% 15%
Graduate work n/a 25%

The midterm and final activities will not be exams, but will instead be essentially homework assignments with a shorter due date and at a more general level. They count slightly more than the individual homework assignments. There will be 9 regular homework assignments, but the lowest scoring of them will be dropped from the grade computation. So, there are 8 homework assignments, separate from the midterm assignment and the final assignment.

Graduate students will have additional readings and discussion questions.

Class participation will be assessed on the basis of your attendance record and your level of participation in class discussions/in-class exercises. Participation includes activity in Slack discussions and in section meetings. It is possible to participate even asynchronously, but participation is still essential.

Both the Midterm and the Final examinations will be a mixture of problem-solving and short-answer questions. The Final will not be cumulative, in the sense that pre-Midterm material will not be tested directly on the Final. However, post-Midterm material builds heavily on the conceptual foundations set up during the first half of the course.

Course policies

Copyright. All materials used in this course are copyrighted. Reproducing class materials, or uploading them to websites, is a copyright infringement. Most course material is available already on this very site, but things that are not made available are not to be made available to people outside the course.

Assignments. Homework assignments will be handed in, graded, and returned using Gradescope. This is accessible through Blackboard. The due dates will be as listed there. Late assignments generally will not be accepted.

Neatness counts. You will not be given the benefit of the doubt for unreadable answers or trees. Points taken away by a grader made angry by illegible responses will not be refunded even if the underlying answer is arguably correct. Ideally, you will typeset your trees. A possible way to do that is with phpSyntaxTree (source on github). Or using LaTeX on Overleaf. We will spend some time in class talking about this.

Attendance. The class will meet three times a week on Zoom, unless otherwise announced. If you cannot attend these meetings, they will be recorded for later review. However, it’s better to be present synchronously if you can. If you wish not to be recorded, you can turn your camera off.

Recordings. Here is the boilerplate text about recording. It holds for this class. All class sessions will be recorded for the benefit of registered students who are unable to attend live sessions (either in person or remotely) due to time zone differences, illness or other special circumstances. Recorded sessions will be made available to registered students ONLY via their password-protected Blackboard account. Students may not share these recordings with anyone not registered in the course and may not repost them in a public platform.

Students have the right to opt-out of being part of the class recording. Please contact your instructor or teaching assistant to discuss options for participating in the course while opting out of the class recording.

No student may record any classroom or other academic activity (including advising sessions or office hours) without my express written consent. Unauthorized use of classroom recordings – including distributing or posting them – is also prohibited. If you have (or think you may have) a disability such that you need to record classroom activities, or need other assistive services, you should contact Disability & Access Services to request an appropriate accommodation.

Readings/Videos. There is no textbook for this course, although sometimes readings may be assigned. You will be told how to access any that are assigned. At various times during the semester, I might post video lectures that you will be notified of in Slack.

Because this is a course being conducted remotely for the most part, it is important that you are set up in the Slack workspace and monitoring it regularly for announcements. That will be the main channel for communication, discussion, posting homework keys, etc. You should also be reachable via your email address.

Academic integrity. It is essential that you read and adhere to the CAS Student Academic Conduct Code. Graduate students must also follow the policies of the GRS Academic Conduct code.

Collaboration. If you decide to form a study group to work together on assignments, your collaboration should not go beyond discussing ideas together. In other words, you must write up your own assignment separately from the group, using only your own words (except when quoting other work directly, in which case use citations as standard). The underlying principle is that what you turn in should reflect your understanding and show your own ability to communicate the ideas. Here of some examples of you should not be doing:

  • Having one or more members of the group produce a “group draft,” “group essay plan,” or “group grammar,” which individual members of the group then customize.
  • Writing up on separate computers while conferring with each other in real time (whether in person or via skype, chat services, or any other medium).
  • Using another student’s complete assignment as a reference when completing your own.

Furthermore, when assignments are problem-set-based rather than essay-based, I’d encourage you to try to work alone, at least at first, before coming together with fellow students. Otherwise, it will be hard for you to tell how much you’ve really understood. That said, working with a study group after that is actually quite helpful and also encouraged.