Course information

Intermediate Syntax, Fall 2018

(CAS LX 422, GRS LX 722)

Meeting time TR 11:00-12:15, CAS 222
Instructor Paul Hagstrom
Phone (617) 353-6220
Office 621 Commonwealth Ave., Rm. 105
Office Hours T 5-6; W 11-12; R 12:30-1:30 (and by appointment)

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

Course Description: In this course, we will develop the basic tools to model syntactic knowledge using the most widely-used modern framework (“minimalism”). Data drawn from a variety of languages will be used to evaluate hypotheses as the model is developed, the goal being to arrive at some understanding not only of how the syntax of human language “works” but also of why it works that way, what the dimensions are along which languages do and do not vary. We will review phenomena that have contributed substantially to the development of the theory and identify areas where significant understanding has been achieved as well as areas where more needs to be done. By the end of the course, we will have a precisely formalized model that has wide coverage and makes specific predictions that can be tested. The topics covered in the course represent the most fundamental areas of current syntactic research, such that students having completed the course will be in a good position to pursue further study of syntax through the professional academic literature or advanced courses.

Students completing this course will…

  • Learn the modern framework for syntactic analysis in widespread use, enabling an understanding of the modern syntactic literature beyond those covered in this specific course
  • Gain an understanding of the ways in which the current theory improves over earlier approaches, and how it connects more broadly to theories of cognitive processing
  • Learn to work within a concretely specified syntactic framework to make and assess specific falsifiable predictions
  • Further develop analytical skills in analyzing data and evaluating theoretical accounts and approaches
  • Gain experience with the major areas of syntax where significant understanding has been achieved

Course Requirements and grading

Category LX422 LX722
Assignments (lowest score dropped) 50% 40%
Midterm exam 20% 15%
Final exam 20% 15%
Class participation 10% 10%
Graduate work n/a 20%

Class participation will be assessed on the basis of your attendance record and your level of participation in class discussions/in-class exercises.

The Assignments will be problem sets. Your lowest assignment grade will be dropped in calculating the assignment average. Graduate students will have additional readings for discussion.

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 laid down during the first half of the course.

Those registered for LX722 will have some additional readings and homework based on those.

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. Assignments will be posted here or handed out in class generally on Thursdays, and are generally due the following Thursday. Homework assignments can be sent (whenever feasible, and unless otherwise indicated) by email, or handed in on paper. It is your responsibility to ensure that electronically submitted material is in a readable format—if there is a question (for example, if you use a special font or an obscure word processor), send it early for verification. Unreadable submissions do not count as having been handed in. Email submissions must be before the start of class on the day they are due. Late assignments are not accepted, except under relevant extenuating circumstances.

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 good way to do that is with phpSyntaxTree (source on github). We will spend some time in class talking about this.

Attendance. Please let me know of any unavoidable absences, whether for religious, personal, or health reasons, as soon as you become aware of them. If you know you will be observing one or more religious holidays this semester, please examine the schedule to determine which class days you will need to miss, and let us know by email as soon as possible. We will work with you to help you catch up on missed work, in accordance with BU’s policy on religious absences: (

No make-up exams will be granted, unless compelling personal, religious, or medical reasons force you to miss an examination and you have permission in advance. The decision to grant or refuse a make-up exam is mine. A make-up exam will always be accommodated in the event of a religious absence.

Readings/Videos. There is no textbook for this course (although it tracks relatively closely to David Adger’s (2003) Core Syntax book), although sometimes readings may be assigned. You will be told how to access any that are assigned. At various times during the semester, I plan to post video lectures that you will be notified of here and will be expected to watch before the relevant class, so it can be discussed in class. In general, the goal is to use class time to reinforce, practice, and extend material found in readings, homework, or posted videos.

Electronic communication. We live in an electronic age. You (unlike me) have always lived in an electronic age. You are expected to be reachable via your BU email address. The central communication center for the course is the course blog. Announcements, notes on readings, homework errata, and other information will be posted there on a regular basis, and things that are posted there will be assumed to have been communicated. Homework assignments can be sent (whenever feasible, and unless otherwise indicated) by email, or handed in on paper. It is your responsibility to ensure that electronically submitted material is in a readable format—if there is a question (for example, if you use a special font or an obscure word processor), send it early for verification. Unreadable submissions do not count as having been handed in.

Classroom etiquette. No cell phones, except when special permission is given to take photographs of the board. Laptops are to be used only when for taking notes. In the case of note-taking, there is some evidence that you’d be better off doing it the old-fashioned way: Either way, please turn off notifications on your laptop/phone/tablet, and close social networking portals, while in class. Particularly without a textbook, the material in the class is important to absorb and everyone behind you can see and will be distracted by whatever you have going on on your screen.

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 things 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.