Alexander Williams
Associate Professor, Departments of Linguistics and Philosophy

1401-D Marie Mount Hall
University of Maryland / College Park, MD 20742 / (301) 405-1607
what's my email name?

"A great part of the work of a philosopher consists, or at least ought to consist, in a struggle against language." -Frege, 1924
"Is it not possible that the next century may see the birth, through the joint labors of grammarians, and numerous other students of language, of a true and comprehensive science of language?" -Austin, 1956

Research topic

Words often express relational properties. When a word is in a sentence, the relations it implies are sometimes associated with grammatical dependencies. But in general they are not. Grammatical valence is divorced from conceptual valence, to put it in a slogan. Most of my research is about when and how implied relations do matter to grammatical structure, given this divorce. How does structure in sentences relate to structure in the thoughts we communicate in using them? I pursue this question through semantic and syntactic analysis of argument relations, explicit and putatively implicit, as well as through studies of their acquisition by infants, and online comprehension by adults. The idea that some arguments are implicit relates to a guiding interest in the division between semantics and pragmatics.

Research areas

Semantics: verbs, events, thematic relations, resultatives, implicit arguments, pragmatics
Philosophy: events, implicit content, philosophy of linguistics
Syntax: argument structure, complex predicates, syntactic theory, categorial and tree-adjoining grammars
Psycholinguistics: acquisition and processing of argument relations
Languages: Sinitic, Turkic, Tibeto-Burman, Igbo

Papers and presentations

Book: Arguments in Syntax and Semantics (2015) [Amazon], Cambridge University Press, "Key Topics in Syntax" series

Experimental projects

  • Transitivity of Sentences and Scenes in Early Language Development, NSF BCS #1551629, with Jeff Lidz
    Students: Laurel Perkins, Tyler Knowlton, Mina Hirzel
    Past students: Angela He, Alexis Wellwood, and Rachel Dudley

  • 'Submarine' (with Ellen Lau, Michael McCourt and Jeff Green)

  • My teaching

    My CV