Dec 12

Trees are easy to draw.

By the way, to clarify explicitly a couple of things about the “extra credit homework” (Trees are easy to draw) that I handed out in the last class.

It says on it that is due on some imaginary Friday, but it is not. It is due on the 18th, a Tuesday, at the final.

The idea is that this essentially replaces your second-lowest homework score (your lowest homework score having already been dropped). So, it helps more if you’ve missed a homework or didn’t do well on a couple of them—but it’s also not bad as a kind of a review exercise as well. You can’t lose points by handing it in, either.

Dec 12

Schedule updated with handout links

I’ve update the Schedule page with links to PDF versions of the handouts I gave out in our last class, including last year’s final and key, and the summary notes. If you need a key for one of the homework assignments, just email me and I’ll send it to you.

On the summary notes, I observed a little bit too late that I left the last section on phases and islands in, but we didn’t really get to cover the island types very thoroughly, and I don’t think we talked about phases at all. I won’t ask questions about that on the final, therefore, and you can disregard questions on previous finals that relate to those things. I’ll try to post finals for previous years before long, though if you’re resourceful with web searching you can find them, since I’ve linking to previous finals and their keys for several years. But I’ll try to get them properly into this semester’s schedule page before long.

Dec 02

HW 7: Her brother’s Coke

The first sentence you’re asked to draw on HW7 contains a DP her brother’s Coke. This is an extension of the possession constructions we’ve looked at. What’s special about this one is that it has two possession relationships (her-brother, and brother-Coke). The trick here is just that any DP can be a possessor within another DP, that’s what makes these “recursive.” An easy way to approach this would probably be to sketch out the DP for her brother and for his Coke, and then replace the DP his in his Coke with the DP you sketched for her brother. They’re both legitimate DPs, either his or her brother are perfectly fine possessor DPs.

The other thing I noticed has to do with the capitalization of Coke. I meant, of course, the carbonated beverage distributed by the Coca-Cola company. However, note that this is not a proper name. Possession constructions are incompatible with definite DPs like proper names (“*the his dog”, “*his the dog”). If you put a proper name in that place, you can mean something, but it turns the meaning into something like possession of an instance of a kind. That is, “his James Bond” takes on some kind of meaning other than the (fictional) person James Bond possessed by him, it is something more like “his interpretation of the character” or “his action figure” or whatever, depending on the context. Something of which there are several, one of which can be possessed by him. It might have been more perspicuous if I hadn’t used something with a brand name like Coke; I could have de-capitalized it to make it clearer, except that those not hailing from the southern US might have then taken the sentence to mean something somewhat different from what I’d intended.

The reason the proper name thing is relevant is just that the head D of the topmost DP in her brother’s Coke should be the null ∅GEN, and not ∅PROPER.

Nov 17

Mid-semester score translation key

Ok, I’ve had a look at the score distribution, and how I’ve graded the midterm in the past, and so forth. If you wish to convert your midterm score to a letter grade equivalent, use the following (basically, every 2 points is a grade increment):

24 and above A
22 and above A-
20 and above B+
18 and above B
16 and above B-
14 and above C+
12 and above C
10 and above C-

This is a bit generous, since the test was so easy, but dropping a grade increment every point is too harsh, so this looks about right. The grade you get here is yours to keep, but if you got less than about 18, try to be sure you catch back up and understand what went wrong and what’s coming next. The final will not be quite so gently graded.

As for the homework, it’s really quite difficult to get a good sense of it due to the complexities of having different numbers of points per assignment, and the fact that one gets dropped. Here’s how I’m computing it, for better or worse. Each homework is just treated as a percentage (your score over the total possible), and then the lowest percentage is dropped, yielding an average percentage over 4 homework assignments. I’m scaling that the same way, so 92% and up is an A, 84% and up is an A-, 76% and up is a B+, 68% and up is a B, 60% and up is a B-, 52% and up is a C+, 44% and up is a C, etc. That’s also generous, but that balances of some of the intrinsic risk of being confusing in homework assignments, and the fact that it counts for so much of the overall grade.

So, if you do the math, you are going to almost certainly be doing better than you thought if you’d done the math before I gave the scale, but casting my eye over the results, this looks about right to me. On the generous side, but not too much so.

Nov 13

Scores to date are posted

I’ve finally had a chance to populate the scores to date on the Blackboard site for the course, so this includes all the scores from homework 1 up to the midterm. I haven’t yet done what is necessary to convert the numbers you see there into something resembling a letter grade, but it still might be worth checking what you see there to see if you have what you expected to have. I typed it all in by hand, so it is not impossible that there are typos. If you see a discrepancy in your scores, let me know.

Oct 29


Another question I got is how one determines whether a syntactic object “is bound with anything.”

I do want to make a clarification point here: there is an error in the question, and it’s actually something that often seems to be confusing to people. But binding is asymmetric. Even if X binds Y, you can’t suppose that Y also binds X. Things are not “bound with” each other, nor do you say X and Y “are bound” if either X binds Y or Y binds X. It’s a one-directional thing. X binds Y, Y is bound by X.1

But as for the question itself, the way you can tell by definition whether one thing binds another is to see whether X c-commands Y and then see if X and Y both have the same index.

Another way to answer that question is in fact to use Binding Theory and possible meanings—probably the safest way to do this is by checking judgments about Principle C: if you put “he” in for X and “John” in for Y and it’s ungrammatical (but would be fine if Y were “Mary”), then X almost certainly binds Y. That is:

Xi introduced Yi to Zi.

X binds Y and X binds Z, and Y binds Z.

If you put “He” in for X and “John” in for Y, it’s bad.

*Hei introduced Johni to Z.

But it’s fine with “Mary”:

Hei introduced Maryj to Z.


*Hei introduced Y to Johni.
Hei introduced Y to Maryj.
*X introduced himi to Johni.
X introduced himi to Maryj.

1 It is conceptually possible for X to bind Y and Y to simultaneously bind X if X and Y c-command each other— that is, if they are sisters. This situation will never arise, though. The only such combination Binding Theory would allow would be two anaphors combined together (“himself himself”) and you couldn’t Merge them together to form a larger object because it wouldn’t check any features or satisfy the Hierarchy of Projections. So, for all practical purposes, if X binds Y, Y does not bind X.

Oct 29

Maximal, minimal, and intermediate projections

One of the questions I got was asking for a clarification of “maximal”, “minimal”, and “intermediate” projections. I’d encourage you to read the summary notes if you haven’t, because I do go into this there, but here’s another version of that, possibly in a bit more detail.

Maximal, minimal, and intermediate projections—so, what the whole syntactic derivation is about is taking a set of lexical items and “arranging” them by combining them together two at a time. So, when you pick up two of these lexical items, you combine them into one, and we need to know what to call the thing we’ve got as a result (the thing made from the two objects we combined). The idea is that each of the lexical items has a bunch of properties, maybe most significantly its category (it’s a noun, or a verb, for example). Once we’ve combined two lexical items into one object, we need to know what the properties of that object are, and it appears that what happens is that the property of the combined object are the same as the properties of one of the things we combined to make it.

So in every combination of two objects to make a combined object, one of the two objects is special, since it’s the property of the special one that determine the properties of the combined object. We say that the features (properties) of the special one “project” up to the combined object—which just means that the combined object has the same properties as the special one had.

So, that’s essentially what it means to say that the features of an object “project” (proj├ęct, as in “form a projection”). The terms maximal, minimal, and intermediate projection just refer to points along the path of a feature’s projection. A minimal projection is the place where the features start, when the features haven’t projected anywhere. This would be the head of a phrase. A maximal projection is the point beyond which a feature no longer projects—so, when you combine two objects and the special one’s features project to the combined object, the *other* object is necessarily a maximal projection because its features didn’t project any higher than that. An intermediate projection is just any point along the path of projection that is neither at the top nor the bottom.

Now, that’s kind of abstract—in terms that are probably more familiar, a “minimal projection” corresponds to the head of a phrase, like the V in a VP. A “maximal projection” corresponds to the whole phrase, the VP in a VP. And an “intermediate projection” corresponds to the nodes in the middle, for example the V′ in a VP. So, the maximal projection of V is the VP it heads, the minimal projection of V is the V itself, and the intermediate projections of V are any V′ nodes between V and VP.

Oct 28

Monday wind-day

So, turns out classes have been canceled tomorrow, which—although doesn’t directly affect the midterm scheduled for Tuesday—does mean that I’m not going to be able to meet with people who had questions about the midterm material. To the extent that the power’s on at least, I will plan to post questions I get and answers I provide here, though. I’ve already gotten a couple over email that I plan to put here. So, stay tuned here and feel free to email me questions you might have.

Oct 21

HW5: The missing slides

I mentioned in class that I was going to post the missing slides referred to in homework 5, and I did, but I neglected to post anything here about the fact that I had. But here they are: The missing slides from the end of handout #11.

The homework makes reference to these slides in an inaccurate way (particularly since they were not on a handout). It says “handout 8b in the last ‘Auxiliaries moving to T’ slide on page 7.” And by that what I really mean is: “The last of the three missing slides I just linked to above.”

As I kind of walked through in class, question 1 says “Run through the definition of Agree, just as I did above for the first step, …” By this I mean, replicate the bullet points above that, based on the definition of Agree from handout #11. The example I gave above question 1 was what you would do if X were V, F1 were [uN*], Y were NP, and F2 were [N], based on the very first step of the derivation, where V and NP are Merged to form VP. In question 1 you are asked to do this same thing but for a step a little bit later in the derivation, at the point where Perf has Merged with vP to form PerfP, using Perf for X, v for Y, [Perf] for F1, and [uInfl:] for F2. When I say “You have exactly two to do” I mean that you will run through this definition once in question 1, and then a second time in questions 2 through 4 (and 5, sort of).

Last point: In the second problem, part 4, it says “The part of our system that causes auxiliaries to move to T is that part on page 6 of handout 10 that you looked at earlier”. Very confusing, very inaccurate. That’s the same slide you were looking at before, it’s the last of the three missing slides I linked to at the top of this post.

Probably you could figure it out anyway, but just so that you’re confident that you’re looking at the right stuff, I hope I’ve now set the record straight.

Oct 04

HW4: Due October 11

As announced in class today, the due date for homework 4 has been postponed. It is now due next time, which—as it happens—is a week later. I will update the schedule page shortly, but:


Also, given that, you can now disregard the previous posting.


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