Michal Starke

GIST and the Doctoral School of Arts, Humanities and Law at University Ghent are proud to announce the lecture series


Nanosyntax by Michal Starke


Date: 7 November 2011 – 10 November 2011


The aim of the course is to introduce a recent development in formal syntax referred to as ‘nanosyntax’. This development can be seen as a further exploration of cartography (Cinque and Rizzi 2010), whose aim it is to identify the smallest building blocks of the sentence, and also of extensive work done on the internal structure of verbs, initiated by seminal work by Hale and Keyser (2002) and explored further in work by Ramchand (2008), among many others. Nanosyntax integrates the results of 30 years of Principle & Parameters research as well as the growing structuralisation of semantics

The essential starting point of nanosyntax is the simple observation that the terminal nodes of syntactic structures have become very small as syntactic trees grew – in particular thanks to developments in cartography- and at some point they crossed the line to become smaller than a morpheme -- terminals have become "submorphemic". This simple fact, noted many times, leads to profound and wide-ranging consequences once it is taken seriously.

One immediate consequence is that morphemes and words can no longer be the spellout of a single terminal. Rather, a single morpheme must "span" several syntactic terminals, and therefore corresponds to an entire syntactic phrase.

This in turn means that entire syntactic phrases are stored in the lexicon (not just terminals) and it also means that there cannot be any lexicon before the syntax - i.e. syntax does not "project from the lexicon". This apparently innocuous technical change has wide-ranging consequences, both technical and architectural, e.g. there cannot be a lexicon before syntax and hence syntax does not "project from the lexicon", syntax rather "creates" lexical items by assembling the trees which will constitute lexical items. Potentially there are some points of contact here with Constructional approaches to syntax.

Languages discussed in the course will include Bantu Nguni languages (Zulu, Xhosa, Swati), Germanic, Romance, Slavic as well as broad typological surveys.


Session plan (provisional):

Monday 7 November, 9.30-12.30 (Faculteitsraadzaal, Blandijnberg 2, firt floor): A new architecture for grammar

Tuesday 8 November, 9.30-12.30 (Grote Vergaderzaal, English Department, Blandijnberg 2, 3rd floor): The verbal system: its structure and syncretisms

Tuesday 8 November, 2.00-5.00 pm (Grote Vergaderzaal, English Department, Blandijnberg 2, 3rd floor): The nominal system: its structure and syncretisms

Wednesday 9 November, 9.30-12.30 (Faculteitsraadzaal, Blandijnberg 2, first floor): Language variation

Thursday 10 November, 9.30-12.30 (Room 0.34, Blandijnberg 2): Nanosyntax at work


Participation is free, but those wishing to attend should register by sending an email to before 8 October 2011.



Cinque, Guglielmo and Luigi Rizzi. 2010. The cartography of syntactic structures. The Oxford handbook of grammatical analysis, ed. Bernd Heine and Heiko Narrog. 51-65. Oxford University Press.

Hale, Ken and Samuel J. Keyser. 2002. Prolegomena toa theory of argument structure, MIT Press, 1-27.

Ramchand, Gillian. 2008. Verb Meaning and the Lexicon: A First Phase Syntax (Cambridge Studies in Linguistics)