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Ling 640X(2)---The Syntax of Ergative Languages

Fall 2002

Instructor: Hsiu-chuan Liao
Time: Tuesday/Thursday 10:30AM-11:45AM
Place: Moore 107
E-mail: hsiuchua@hawaii.edu
Office: Moore 583
Phone: 956-3244
Office Hours: Tuesday/Thursday 2:00PM-3:00PM and by appointment

Course descriptions:

Ergativity has been one of the most fascinating topics both for syntactic typologists and for theoreticians in that it challenges some well-established linguistic universals (e.g., the Accessibility Hierarchy) and the validity of some theoretical assumptions (e.g., configurationality, case-checking mechanism, etc.).
The purpose of Linguistics 640X(2) is to survey the key issues in the study of ergativity. Topics to be covered include: (a) the distinction between semantic transitivity and syntactic transitivity: the key to determining ergativity, (b) morphological ergativity vs. syntactic ergativity, (c) split ergativity, (d) the role of the category subject in ergative languages, and (e) the origin of ergativity.
We will explore how various approaches (Lexicase, Relational Grammar, Principles and Parameters, Lexical Functional Grammar, discourse analysis, etc.) deal with and/or explain the facts concerning ergativity.
Data will be drawn from a variety of languages, with a focus on the languages of the Austronesian language family (e.g., Atayal, Tagalog, Balinese, etc.).

Course requirements:
Linguistics 640X(2) will follow a seminar style of instruction (see below). There will be one (or two) assigned readings for each meeting time. We will proceed with a presenter (the instructor, a course-taker, or auditor) summarizing the highlights of the article(s) at the beginning of each class, then the floor is opened to the non-presenting course-takers and then to the auditors. All participants are expected to do the assigned readings, participate in class discussions, and make a presentation on two (or three) papers from the required reading list.
Grades will be based on reaction sheets (10%), presentations (20%), and a term paper (content 50% + format 20%).

The seminar format

The purpose of a graduate-level education is to help students develop the following three types of thinking, each of which is essential to success in academic life.

Critical thinking: uncovering inadequacies in the work of others and evaluating alternative analyses in accordance with standard scientific criteria.

Creative thinking: coming up with promising new ideas of your own.

Empirical thinking: figuring out ways to test your hypotheses and those of others.

The seminar style of instruction and discussion contributes to the emergence and refinement of these types of thinking. Here is how we will be proceeding.


Make a BRIEF handout (one or two page(s) in length) to summarize the principal points of the article. (All presenters are REQUIRED to discuss with the instructor about the handout a few days before their presentation.) You will be asked to provide a 10-15 minute SUMMARY of the paper's highlights at the beginning of your presentation. Since you should know more about 'your article' than anyone else, you should do some background reading as well---perhaps one or two of the items mentioned in the references for the article you selected.

Here are some further guidelines to help you prepare:

The goal of the presenter is to give a CONCISE overview of the day's reading(s) before opening the floor to discussion. Avoid getting bogged down in details right at the start.

The presenter has the floor for the first ten to fifteen minutes, during which time s/he presents a handout that provides:

  1. A summary of the main issues: What is the article about? What questions are being addressed?
  2. A brief summary of the motivation/background: Why are these questions interesting?
  3. A brief summary of the main findings/claims: Were the guiding questions answered? How?
  4. Could the questions have been answered better by using some alternative approach?

Then the floor is opened to questions and discussion.

Non-presenting course-takers:
You are expected to
  1. do the reading
  2. come with written notes addressing the following questions:
  1. Prepare at least one comment or critical question on the article, and turn in a copy to the instructor by 8:00AM, Tuesdays and Thursdays. (Questions of the type 'I wonder what the author meant by ...' do not count.)

Policy on auditors:
Auditors are welcome as space permits. All auditors are expected to make a presentation on one (or more) paper(s) from the required reading list and participate in class discussions.

The readings:
One copy each of the readings is available in the Reading Room and the Mail Room for the participants to photocopy. If you check out the copy from the Mail Room, please return it in two hours. No overnight check-out is permitted.

Fall 2002 Semester Calendar
Week 10 10/29/02 (Tuesday)        Topic of the term paper due
Week 11 11/05/02 (Tuesday)        Holiday: Election Day
Week 12 11/12/02 (Tuesday)        Abstract of the term paper due
Week 14 11/28/02 (Thursday)       Holiday: Thanksgiving Day
Week 16 Tuesday and Thursday    Term paper presentation
Week 16 12/13/02 (Friday)           Term paper due (at 4:00PM)