NSF grant awarded to Jim Wood and Raffaella Zanuttini

August 27, 2014

Congratulations to lecturer Jim Wood and professor Raffaella Zanuttini, who are co–principal investigators of an NSF grant that begins September 1 and continues to 2017. Their study is titled “The Morphosyntax of Pronouns in North American English” and forms part of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project (YGDP). The YGDP’s initial phase focused primarily on collecting and mapping attested examples of morphosyntactic phenomena that exhibit variation in North American English and making this information freely accessible to linguists as well as a non-specialist audience. This grant allows the YGDP to take a step beyond this, broadening their empirical coverage to include several constructions that have not been investigated before, while simultaneously sharpening the focus of a specific research question, namely: In what contexts is the distribution of pronouns distinct from non-pronominal determiner phrases, and why?

One of the goals of this new stage of the YGDP is to narrow the gap between theoretical syntax and traditional dialectology. Funding from the NSF grant will allow the PIs and others on the YGDP team to create surveys that will be administered online through Amazon Mechanical Turk and then followed up on via face-to-face interviews. Data collected will include both demographic information useful for sociolinguistic research as well as acceptability judgments relevant for theoretical work. Two phenomena will form the core of this investigation: locative datives and split partitives.

Locative datives have been attested in several areas of the South and Midlands and involve a locative expression, a dative beneficiary, and a theme DP, as in Here’s you a piece of pizza. These locative datives appear to be related to personal datives (John needs him a new pickup truck), which have been studied extensively by professor Larry Horn, who will also be contributing to the work carried out under the grant. Research funded by the grant will aim to answer questions regarding the morphosyntactic properties of the locative dative construction, its relation to the personal dative construction, and its social and geographic distribution.

Although split partitives like We don’t any of us need anything occur in Appalachian English and appear superficially similar to Appalachian English transitive expletives (There can’t nobody ride him), Raffaella and Judy Bernstein (William Patterson University) have discovered in prior work that many American English speakers accept split partitives but not transitive expletives. The surveys administered during this project will be designed to reveal the constraints on the DPs involved in the split partitive construction, teasing apart the predictions of two analytical hypotheses that Jim and Raffaella have developed.

While focusing on locative datives and split partitives, the surveys will include filler sentences; some fillers will be control sentences, but others will serve as test sentences for pilot studies of other understudied points of inter-speaker variation within North American English. Some of these phenomena, such as copy-raising of an embedded object, have been discussed in the theoretical literature, but little is known about their social and geographic distribution. Others, like the all the further construction, have been investigated by dialectologists but have not received attention within theoretical syntax. These pilot studies will form the seeds of future avenues of dialect syntax research for the YGDP and help the team bridge the divide between sociolinguistics and micro-comparative syntax.

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