The Laboratoire de Linguistique de Nantes (LLING) is pleased to announce the NonFinite Subjects Conference, to be held at the University of Nantes, Nantes (France) on April 1-2, 2016.

Invited Speakers

Misha Becker, University of North Carolina 
Hazel Pearson, ZAS Berlin
Michelle Sheehan, Anglia Ruskin University
Sandhya Sundaresan, University of Leipzig


Meeting description

The conference aims at providing a forum for discussion of recent, high quality research on the subject position of non-finite structures. The workshop focuses on recent findings that shake the standard assumptions on the syntax and semantics of the subject position of non-finite structures. By scrutinizing data that does not quite fit standard approaches to non-finite subjects, we seek to question the premises and basic tenets underlying standard approaches in order to develop more explanatory analyses of the distribution and interpretation of non-finite subjects. 

We invite submission of abstracts on the syntactic, semantic and psycholinguistic aspects of this topic, with potential questions that include, but are not restricted to the following issues:

  • Lexical subjects freely alternating with PRO
  • The classical approach assumes a strict correlation between finiteness and types of subjects: finite constructions display lexical subjects, while non-finite ones only allow PRO (here used pretheoretically) or NP-traces. However, a multiplicity of data contradicts this generalization.
        In many languages lexical DPs alternate with PRO in non-finite structures (see in particular Sundaresan & McFadden 2009), including English gerunds (Reuland 1983, Pires 2007), personal infinitive constructions in Romance (Elordieta 1992, Mensching 2000, Herbeck 2011), and raising structures across a variety of languages (Szabolcsi 2009).
        Structures that are apparently finite allow PRO-like non-overt subjects in alternation with lexical subjects in languages such as Brazilian Portuguese, a phenomenon dubbed 'finite control' (for discussion cf. Rodrigues 2004, Ferreira 2007, Holmberg et al. 2009, Modesto 2011). What are the theoretical consequences of this non-complementary distribution?  Should the PRO vs. lexical subject dichotomy be abandoned?
    The standard approach relied on Case theory (Chomsky 1981). But given the aforementioned facts, can Case still be said to play a role with respect to the realizational properties of subjects (cf. Sigurðsson 1991, 2008, Landau 2006, Sundaresan & McFadden 2009, Duguine 2013)? 

  • 'Overt PRO' 
  • Languages such as Hungarian, Korean, Italian or Portuguese allow overt pronouns with the properties of Obligatory Control PRO (Borer 1989, Szabolcsi 2009, Barbosa 2009, Duguine 2013). How does the existence of 'overt PROs' fit in current approaches to non-finiteness (and in particular to control/raising)? Should we conclude that the silent nature of PRO is nothing more than a circumstantial fact (cf. Livitz 2013, Sundaresan 2014, Duguine 2015, Herbeck 2015)? Furthermore, 'overt PROs' appear to be limited to pro-drop languages (Barbosa 2009). Is this a causal correlation?  Overt PROs are pronouns in many languages, but have reflexive or anaphor-like properties in languages such as Korean (Borer 1989, Lee 2009). Can a unified explanation be given of this cross-linguistic variation?

  • Beyond infinitives: Degrees of (non-)finiteness and subjects
  • From a cross-linguistic perspective, the finiteness vs. non-finiteness dichotomy is intricate. Besides infinitives, languages display other non-inflected structures, such as gerundive constructions, or nominalizations whose subject positions can have properties that contrast with those of infinitives (cf. Pires 2007). Moreover, certain subjunctives, in particular in languages that lack non-inflected constructions, such as Greek and other Balkan languages, have been shown to display OC properties, while in other languages (e.g. Romance languages) the subject of subjunctives is typically obviative (cf. Szabolcsi 2010). A further relevant topic is that of inflected infinitives and the variety of subjects they allow (cf. Sheehan 2013, 2014). How can this range of phenomena be accounted for? How do we correlate the typology of (non-)finiteness and the distribution/interpretation of subjects and what theoretical implications should we draw?
        From a more general perspective on clausal structure, assuming a whole spectrum of non-finiteness (Haddican & Tsoulas 2012, Wurmbrand 2014), is there a corresponding array of subjects and how do the precise features of this continuum interact with the typology of subjects? Are the properties of the C-layer relevant in this regard (Rizzi 1997, Adger 2007)? What about tense and/or agreement (Wurmbrand 2001, 2014, Landau 2004)? 
     
  • Interpretation of finite vs. non-finite subjects
  • Beyond forcing the subject to be non-overt, a further tenet of the standard approach is that non-finiteness also forces the subject to be anaphoric/referentially dependent. To what extent does this correlation hold since, as noted above, in many languages referentially free expressions (overt or null) also occur in nonfinite constructions.  How can these differences be accounted for?
        Should we abandon the idea that (non-)finiteness and referential dependence are causally related? In which case, should we still maintain the hypothesis that the silence of PRO-like expressions is related to their anaphoric nature (cf. Livitz 2013)? Is the notion of syntactic dependency with respect to an antecedent relevant for characterizing the types of subjects found in non-finite constructions? Ultimately, should we consider (at least) PRO and pro to be two facets of a single phenomenon (cf.
    Duguine 2015, Herbeck 2015; see also Sundaresan 2014)? 

  • Selection 
  • There is also the issue of the relation with the higher finite structure. Are the properties of non-finite subjects determined by the matrix verb that selects the non-finite construction (Borer 1989, Sundaresan & McFadden 2009, Pearson 2013, Grano 2015)? What then determines the nature of subjects of e.g. non-finite clauses in adjunct position or subject position? 
     
  • Experimental evidence
  • How do children acquire the intricate patterns of finiteness and the corresponding subject properties? Are the different constructions discussed above processed differently? More generally, what experimental or psycholinguistic evidence can be brought to bear on the issues discussed above?