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Speaker Series presents, Dr. Jim Wood

Date & Time:
October 13, 2017 | 3:00 pm - 4:00 pm
CHD 420
Jim Wood (Yale University)


Extended Benefactives in Southern American English

While it is well known that vocabulary and accents vary from region to region, it is somewhat less well known that the rules for constructing sentences (i.e., syntax) also vary across dialects. In this talk, I will present some results from the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project’s ongoing research on variation in American English syntax, focusing on the results of large-scale surveys. When we build geographic maps of speakers’ judgments of sentence acceptability, we find several types of patterns. Some sentences have clear or statistically reliable regional distributions, while others do not. I will focus on an instance of the former, and show how geographical maps of acceptability judgments can be used to shed light on the syntactic structures underlying those judgments. I present a detailed case study of a variety of dative constructions that are characteristic of Southern U.S. English, and discuss the implications they have for syntactic theory.

In particular, we propose that in sentences like (1), the beneficiary (you) forms an underlying constituent with the theme (a nice cake) to the exclusion of the verb, as in the low applicative analysis of Pylkkänen (2002) and others. We then discuss examples suggesting that this constituent has a wider distribution in Southern U.S. English than in other varieties, where it can be the complement of a preposition, as in (2), or the subject of a small clause, as in (3).

(1) They baked you a nice cake. (‘... a nice cake for you’) (General U.S. English)

(2) I’ll be right back with you some tea. (‘... some tea for you’) (Southern U.S. English)

(3) Here’s you a piece of pizza. (‘... a piece of pizza for you’) (Southern U.S. English)

We propose that this wider distribution follows from a featural difference between a functional head—call it “Appl”—in Northern and Southern varieties, with the result that low ApplP in Southern American English is essentially a kind of noun phrase, and  thus appears in positions where noun phrases are found. If on the right track, the proposal suggests that “Appl” is not a distinct primitive category after all, but rather can be reduced, (at least in part) to more familiar syntactic categories such as “verb” and “noun”.


Jim Wood is an assistant professor in the Department of Linguistics at Yale University and associate editor of the Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics. His primary research interests lie in syntax and its interfaces with morphology and semantics. His dissertation work at New York University was published in Springer’s Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory series as Icelandic Morphosyntax and Argument Structure (2015). Since 2012, he has been a leading member of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project and is a co–principal investigator on the National Science Foundation grant funding its work. His research has been published in Natural Language & Linguistic Theory, Linguistic Inquiry, Syntax, American Speech, and elsewhere.