Birds fly, fish swim, humans speak. We have a capacity to combine expressions into unboundedly large linguistic structures (sentences and phrases) that carry a specific form and a specific meaning. As the number of such structures is in principle infinite, there must be recursive procedures that define these complex objects. Syntax studies these rule systems — grammars — and does so in three ways. It seeks to characterize grammars of particular languages and how they differ (e.g. how questions are formed in English versus Chinese); to describe the universal properties that human grammars have as a matter of biological design (e.g. why no human grammars have mirror image rules); and, most recently, to explain why the universal properties we discover have the particular character they do.
The syntax group engages in all three kinds of research, with special emphasis on the third, typically Minimalist question. Empirically, the syntax group has done extensive work on ellipsis, movement and islands, control, anaphoric binding, applicative constructions, linearization phenomena, and binding and quantifier scope, among others. Furthermore, while we aim to be at the forefront of syntactic theory (particularly within the Minimalist program), we constantly aim, in our classes and in our research, to find insight from earlier generative models developed over the past sixty years.
The Syntax Lab meets weekly, bringing together students, faculty, postdocs and visitors to discuss works in progress.