The 12th Biennial Rice University Symposium on Language

The Genesis of Syntactic Complexity: An Interdisciplinary Symposium

The 12th Biennial Rice University Symposium on Language, co-organized by Matt Shibatani (Rice University) and T. Givón (University of Oregon), will be held in the Farnsworth Pavilion of the Ley Student Center on March 27th-29th, 2008. The topic—“The genesis of syntactic complexity”—in part builds on the success of the 11th biennial symposium on complex verb constructions and explores the genesis and nature of syntactic complexity from an interdisciplinary perspective. Structural complexity may be defined broadly as the “chunking” of linear-sequential structure into hierarchic one (cf. Herbert A. Simon 1962 “The architecture of complexity”). The creation of such hierarchic structure is a common process language shares with motor control, vision, memory, and music. It is often associated with the move from attended to automated processing. Our symposium will focus on one particular type of syntactic complexity, that of clauses (‘propositions’) embedded inside other clauses—under a unified intonation contour. We examine two syntactic domains in which such embedding structures are generally found to cluster: (i) in the verb phrase (complex predicates, clause-union, verb complementation), and (ii) in the noun phrase (relative clauses and noun complementation). The symposium will concern itself primarily with the genesis of these complex structures, comparing the three main developmental trends of language: Diachrony, child language development, and evolution. For all three, we will explore the linguistic, cognitive, neurological and biological aspects of the genesis and development of complex syntax.