Contact a Humanities Office or Academic unit.
Find your course outlines.

LINGUIST 4LC3 Adv Syntax & Semantics (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2020

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Ivona Kucerova


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 509

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23456


Office Hours: TBD

Course Objectives:

This course is a continuation of 2SY3 and will examine advanced issues in syntax, and its interac- tions with morphology and semantics. The students will become familiar with the current theories of syntax and its interfaces and will have an opportunity to practice their theoretical knowledge on small research assignments. Topics to be covered include issues of locality, A versus A-bar move- ment, head movement, unaccusativity, raising vs. control, islands, overt vs. covert movement. The class will be a combination of lectures and tutorials. In the end of the class, students will be able to critically evaluate primary literature and begin their own research projects.

Syntax is a field of study that tries to explain why certain patterns are grammatical and other pat- terns are not. Syntacticians are especially intrigued when they discover exceptions to seemingly valid patterns. For example, English active transitive clauses systematically have a passive coun- terpart:


a. The baby chattered to us. (ACTIVE)

b. We were chattered to by the baby. (PASSIVE)


But then we find active sentences that look very much like (2a) but that do not have the passive counterpart:


a. The baby mattered to us. (ACTIVE)

b. ... (PASSIVE???)


Sometimes we can even passive sentences where the direct object looks like a locational adverb:


a. A gorilla sat on the table. (ACTIVE )
b. The table was sat on by a gorilla. (PASSIVE)

But in other cases we cannot:


a. A lamp sat on the table. (ACTIVE)

b. ... (PASSIVE???)


Here’s another example of a syntactic puzzle. Some infinitival complement clauses have a finite counterpart:


a. Sue seemed to speak French. (INFINITIVAL COMPLEMENT)
b. It seemed that Sue spoke French. ( FINITE COUNTERPART)

But not all infinitival complements can do that:


a. Sue hoped to speak French. (INFINITIVAL COMPLEMENT)


A related puzzle: we saw in 2SY3 that reflexives must be bound by the closest antecedent in their binding domain. Infinitival complements seem to obey this rule (Binding Condition A):


a. John persuaded Sue to take better care of herself.

b. *John persuaded Sue to take better care of himself.


But then we find infinitival complements that seem to violate Binding Condition A:


a. *John promised Sue to take better care of herself.

b. John promised Sue to take better care of himself.

In this class we will look into these and similar puzzles. We will learn more about crosslinguistic differences and similarities, we will look at adverbials, tense and aspect across languages. We will mostly work with English, but we will also learn something about verbs in languages like Zulu or Russian. We will talk about argument structure, case. The primary investigation will be syntax but we will consult what sentences mean whenever semantics could help us and we will pay attention to morphology whenever morphology can help us to solve the syntactic puzzles.

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

none (all materials provided in class)

Method of Assessment:

10% - active class participation (based on preparedness and discussion in the class)
10% - class presentation (related to assigned problem sets)
60% - problem sets (see below for details)
20% - final paper (either a squib on student’s own research or a critical review of literature)

There will be regular assignments; 60% of the final grade in total). Assignments will be submitted on paper in class. Late assignments will be graded zero (0). Each student will be required to present a solution and a grading scheme for one problem set. Coming up with a solution, a grading scheme, presenting it and defending it in front of the class will be worth 10% of the final grade. All students will participate in the peer-review grading process in each class.

The final paper can be either a literature review either on a topic covered in the class or related to a topic covered in the class. Alternatively, a student can submit a so-called squib, i.e., a short paper identifying a problem with a theory or a new set of data not covered by the theory. A squib does not need to contain a solution: it is enough if the student precisely characterizes why the current theory cannot account for the data. The page limit for both the literature review and a squib is 10 pages. The papers are due the last day of the classes (April 7, 2020). Papers must be submitted electronically on avenue. Late submissions will be graded zero (0).

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Assignments will be submitted on paper in class. Late assignments will be graded zero (0).

Papers must be submitted electronically on avenue. Late submissions will be graded zero (0).

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Topics and Readings:

Schedule (subject to change):




Reading assignment

Week 1

Jan. 6

From words to phrases


Week 2

Jan. 13



Week 3

Jan. 20



Week 4

Jan. 27

Head movement


Week 5

Feb. 3

English verb system


Week 6

Feb. 10

Zulu verb system


Week 7

Feb. 17

reading week


Week 8

Feb. 24

Case theory


Week 9

March 3

Raising vs. Control


Week 10

March 10



Week 11

March 17

Zulu argument structure


Week 12

March 24

Binding theory


Week 13

March 31

A-bar movement


Week 14

Apr. 7

Covert movement