Marcel den Dikken: Issues in the syntax of specificational copular sentences and (pseudo)clefts

Marcel den Dikken (CUNY)

Issues in the syntax of specificational copular sentences and (pseudo)clefts

Day-to-day schedule


Day 1: Introduction to the syntax of copular sentences

In this first class, we review the typology of copular sentences (including some subtypes are have rarely been discussed in the literature), and distill from it two basic underlying representations for copular constructions: (i) one in which the copula relates a predication relation between a non-verbal predicate and its subject in a small clause (syntactically represented in the form of a RELATOR phrase), and (ii) one in which the copula relates a fully clausal constituent (TP) to the other subconstituent of the copular sentence (either in a topic-comment structure or in a coordination-like structure).

Handout 1: Introduction to the syntax of copular sentences


Day 2: Double-NP specificational copular sentences and copular inversion

The central theme of this class is the syntax of alternations like the one between “Brian is the best candidate” and “The best candidate is Brian”. We will go through the analysis presented in Den Dikken (2006, Relators and Linkers) in detail, and discuss a possible alternative derivation involving reprojection. A brief excursion to predication constructions embedded inside DP will be made to evaluate the pros and cons of the two alternative approaches to the syntactic distribution of the copula.

Handout 2: Double-NP specificational copular sentences and copular inversion


Day 3: Specificational pseudoclefts

We start out by underpinning the distinction between two types of specificational pseudoclefts (exemplified by sentences such as What John bought was a picture of himself), between what Den Dikken, Meinunger & Wilder (2000) call “Type A” and “Type B”. The latter have a structure of the type in (i), above: their underlier is a small clause whose predicate is a free relative; the former have a topic-comment structure à la (ii), with the copula spelling out a functional head in the high left periphery that mediates the relation between a wh-question and a(n often elliptical) TP that serves as its answer. Connectivity effects for Negative Polarity Item licensing in specificational pseudoclefts will be at the forefront of the discussion. The discussion will include material not previously discussed in the literature.

Handout 3: Specificational pseudoclefts


Day 4: Semi-clefts

Constructions that, on the surface, look a lot like specificational pseudoclefts and share their semantic properties with pseudoclefts as well are on the menu for today’s discussion. The empirical focus will be the so-called “semi-cleft” construction (found in various Romance varieties, and illustrated by Portuguese A Maria comprou foi um livro ‘Maria bought was a book’. For some representatives of this construction, a reduced pseudocleft analysis will be defended; for the bulk of them, however, a mono-clausal analysis will be shown to be more appropriate.

Handout 4: Semi-clefts


Day 5: It-clefts

In the last class, we consider in detail the syntax of it-cleft constructions, and argue for a particular version of the biclausal analysis, one in which it is treated underlyingly as the pro-predicate of a small clause whose subject is the focused constituent; the sentence-final relative clause is analysed as a special type of free relative.

Handout 5: It-clefts


Reading materials:

Specificational copular sentences and pseudoclefts

Clefts and their relatives

Predication and specification in the syntax of cleft sentences