Foundations of Extended Projections

We at CASTLFish at UiT were recently thrilled to host a workshop on the Foundations of Extended Projections on  October 27-28, 2022. Due to funding cuts and  cuts even to the places where one can apply for basic research funding, it appears that CASTLFish will be very very poor from now on. To spend the little stash of cash we had left (which must be handed back by the end of 2022) we thought it would be appropriate to hold a conference on extended projection, since Peter Svenonius and I have a fairly well cited collaborative paper on the topic, and lots of strong opinions!

So two days of fun and stimulation were had by all!  Hour-long talks, lots of discussion, and lots of late night conversations. Just what we like up here in the Arctic as the days are drawing in. We also like controversy, and new radical ideas, and thinking from first principles. We got lots of that as well!

The programme can be found here, where you can read the authors´own abstracts.


A small in person workshop with people who are interested in thinking about the same general issue but from a variety of different perspectives is a great model for a stimulating and productive workshop.  The notion of the functional sequence and cartography has been a question of great theoretical interest over the last couple of decades, although detailed questions of descriptive cartography have not in themselves created much of a buzz. The main interest has been generated by the more controversial positions on the fine grainedness and universality of the hierarchy of projections.   At one extreme, ardent cartographers embrace a highly articulated and specific order of functional projections which forms an innate template for all speakers of human language. At the other extreme, distaste with overly specific representational innateness and universality claims leads to syntacticians essentially discarding the whole subfield and concentrating on other topics like Agree, Merge, Locality, or Labeling.

However, in my view, questions of Agree or Merge cannot be usefully discussed if the representational primes of the system are not agreed on. Thus cartography in the mundane sense of just figuring out what the categories and labels active in a particular grammatical system are, is  an important component of any computational or descriptive claim for the system. This `boring´ descriptive work is often left undone because both  camps seem to assume that whatever they have in their list of categories box  is universal (whether coarse grained or fine grained). If it’s  universal then the individual syntactician  does not need to figure it out on a language by language basis, they can just take it off their chosen ideological shelf.  But if Ramchand and Svenonius (2014), and Wiltschko (2018) are right, then we cannot in fact take those details for granted.

One of the outcomes of this small workshop was an emerging consensus that the language particular details are non-trivial, and that arguments for the lexical vs. functional distinction and the existence of a particular functional item must be argued for on language particular grounds, and without the help of a universal semantic template. This is because the notional categories themselves cannot be defined in a non circular fashion (Pietraszko, Ramchand, Tsai) without diacritics for `zone´—- cause, possibility, inception are notional categories that exist at many levels, and in certain languages many verbs can be used both functionally and lexically (Aboh, Pietraszko). I myself argued that conceptual, essential content as enshrined in the lexical symbol (located in declarative memory) is architecturally distinguished in every language from the referential and instantiational information in which it is clothed. This abstract distinction cuts across many of the notional semantic labels that are in common use within cartographic templates.

Other outcomes of the workshop were the beginning to an investigation into the crosslinguistic variation in the kinds of verbs that allow ECM, and whether this can be handled by notions of size, or truncation (Wurmbrand). Diercks and Tang presented detailed linguistic descriptive work investigating the representation of information structure in Bantu and Chinese respectively. Their proposed solutions convinced me that with respect to Focus and Givenness, the connection to functional items in the hierarchy of projections is far from obvious. Diercks asked us to believe in countercyclic Merge, which instead prompted a very productive discussion about alternatives.  Paul argued that the proposed FOFC language universal really is undermined by very basic constructions in Chinese, and that arguments putting those constructions aside do not work.   

Another major feature of the workshop was the willingness of the participants to think from first principles in fresh ways about the foundational questions in this domain. I have been growing weary of large  conferences where researchers present their work in an environment closely tied to the job market, to the demonstration of professional skills and talents, to competition for air time,  hyper-sensitivity towards market forces and what is currently trendy in our field. We unfortunately inhabit an academic space where this has become a necessary feature of professional meetings— the narrowing of jobs and resources, and the commodification of academia, has led to a hypercompetitive environment, and lots of stress and burnout.  Our small workshop was a refreshing change from that other kind of conference and one which all of our attendees appreciated, across a widely  diverse speaker group from well seasoned to early researcher status. Many of our speakers  expressed the idea that they were going to `say something controversial or crazy’ , or `try something new’ (Wurmbrand, Diercks, Pietraszko).   Adger told us about his new mereological foundations of phrase structure as an alternative to the set based metaphor. The mereological algebra, he argued, was better suited to the part/whole relationships we build through hierarchies. Svenonius showed how we could model the hierarchical orderings of the extended projection with all its gaps and repetitions and language specific detail using a finite state machine. Zhang speculated about what would happen if we countenanced the existence of functional items without category.

All in all, I feel grateful that CASTL  had the luxury and privilege to host such an event, and pay for all accepted papers to attend. We, and our own students, could witness linguists describing, explaining, arguing and generally doing what they do best trying to figure stuff out.

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