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LINGUIST 2SY3 Syntax (C01)

Academic Year: Winter 2019

Term: Winter

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Ivona Kucerova


Office: Togo Salmon Hall 509

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23456


Office Hours: Mondays 2-3pm

Course Objectives:

Syntax is the study of sentence structure, how words are put together to form larger meaningful units. Much of the work in syntax deals with the problem of characterizing the mental grammar of a speaker, i.e., what is the nature of the unconscious knowledge that a native speaker has that allows him/her to produce an infinite number of new sentences.

This course is intended to help you develop the tools to do syntactic analysis of natural languages. Rather than focusing on the details of the theory per se, we will be concerned mainly (a) with syntactic argumentation, i.e. how to form hypotheses about data and ‘argue for’ them given certain assumptions; and (b) with the development of a precise vocabulary to describe syntactic facts across languages.

By the end of the course you should be able to answer the following five questions:

1. How are linguistic structures built?

2. What syntactic properties are shared by all natural languages?

3. What syntactic properties distinguish them?

4. What are the goals and most desirable properties of a theory of the syntax of human languages?

5. To what extent can the goals of a theory of syntax be reconciled with traditional grammar descriptions?

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

The textbook for the course is: Dominique Sportiche, Hilda Koopman, Edward Stabler. 2014. An Introduction to Syntactic Analysis and Theory. Wiley-Blackwell.

The class will closely follow the material in the textbook but some parts might be different. For the purposes of examination, the material presented in class will be binding.

Method of Assessment:

The course will be a combination of lectures and problem-solving exercises. In the tutorial-style part of the class, students will have a chance to apply the skills acquired in the lectures to new sets of data, raise questions, and form new hypotheses (either individually or in small working groups). The learning will be reinforced by weekly or bi-weekly problem sets. Students are expected to read relevant chapters from the textbook before the class.

Evaluation criteria:

4% – Active-learning participation (based on i-clicker score; see details below)

35% – Weekly or biweekly short homework assignments (online submission)

40% – 2 in-class mid-term exams (each worth 20%) (testing cumulative knowledge)

20% – In-class final exam (testing cumulative knowledge)

1% – participation in a research experiment (1 hour; SONA)

100% - Total

This course is mainly problem-solving oriented. The problem sets are designed to develop your analytical abilities by letting you do what linguists actually do. Homework is extremely important – you learn by doing, not just by listening or reading. Homework will force you to use the information you learned in class and/or read in your book in actual problems in a creative manner. Be prepared to work ahead. Start your homework early. This way you have time to discuss it with your classmates or with me.

Note to non-native English speakers: Much of the data in the course will come from English. Sometimes on problem sets you may need to decide whether a particular sentence is grammatical or not. If you are a non-native speaker of English, you cannot make such judgements, and so you must ask native speakers for their judgements. This is perfectly acceptable. I will typically not require you to make judgements on exams.


1. The midterm tests and the final exam will be held at the regular class time. Students who are aware of a conflict should inform Dr. Kucerova as soon as possible so that alternate arrangements can be made. Legitimate requests for alternate arrangements will be accepted only with appropriate documentation, and only if the request is made two weeks in advance. Appropriate documentation includes a note from a coach that the student will be participating in a scheduled team event, or a note from a professor or academic advisor concerning a conflicting test (i.e. a test scheduled at the same time, not merely on the same day, as the Ling 3II3 midterm). The only documentation that will be accepted within two weeks of the midterm is medical documentation.

2. There will be a short assignment almost every week (about 8 in total). Assignments must be submitted electronically through the avenue system. Assignments submitted on paper will be graded as zero. Assignments must be typed (not hand-written). If diagrams and other pictures are included, they must be embedded within one submitted file. We anticipate that there may be one assignment a student cannot complete or in which a student gets a significantly lower score; it is for this reason that the lowest mark of this component of the course will be dropped when final marks are calculated.

3. The active-learning component of the grade is measured by the i-clicker (4%). This is a pass/fail grade (either 0, or 4): a student must attend at least 75% of classes (based on student’s i-clicker record) and in those classes the student must answer at least 75% of the questions.

4. Every student is required to have their own i-clicker. If you don’t have the machine yet, you can obtain it from the Titles bookstore. In order to get your participation mark, you have to register your machine at You are strongly encouraged to register your machine by the end of the first week. If your clicker is not registered, you will not get your attendance points. Also, attendance points will not be awarded retroactively. It is your responsibility your clicker is properly registered. If it is not registered properly, you will loose attendance points.

5. 1% of the final grade is allocated toward a participation in a research experiment within the Dept. of Linguistics and Languages (SONA). Details and an alternative option to gain the point to be distributed in the class.

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

Late assignments will be graded 0. Only assignments submitted online will be accepted. Even though some class-work will be in small groups, only individual work will be accepted for the evaluation. If you are not sure what counts as individual work, do not hesitate to ask Dr. Ku?cerov´a for help with determining the boundaries.

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. 7

Preliminaries & Morphology

chpt 1 & 2

Week 2

Jan. 14

Phrase structure

chpt 3

Week 3

Jan. 21

Clause structure

chpt 4

Week 4

Jan. 28

Other phrases

chpt 5

Week 5

Feb. 4

X-bar theory

chpt 6

Week 6

Feb. 11

Binding and hierarchy I & Exam 1 (Feb. 13)

chpt 7

Week 7

Feb. 18

midterm recess


Week 8

Feb. 25

Binding and hierarchy II

chpt 7

Week 9

March 4

Apparent violations of locality I

chpt 8

Week 10

March 11

Apparent violations of locality II

chpt 8

Week 11

March 18

Wh-questions and locality I & Exam 2 (March 20)

chpt 10

Week 12

March 25

Wh-questions and locality II

chpt 10

Week 13

April 1

Wh-questions and locality III

chpt 10

Week 14

April 9

Final exam