Rice U Symposium: The Genesis of Syntactic Complexity

Suzanne Kemmer kemmer at RICE.EDU
Wed Mar 12 20:07:57 UTC 2008

12th Biennial Rice University Symposium on Language
Rice University
March 27th-29th, 2008


Bernd Heine, Marianne Mithun, Matt Shibatani,
Holger Diessel, Cecilia Rojas, T. Givón, Guy Deutscher,
Martin Hilpert, Brian MacWhinney, Eric Pederson & Mitzi Barker,
Diego Fernandez-Duque, Östen Dahl, Andrew Pawley,
Claire Bowern, Nathan Tublitz, Don Tucker, Derek Bickerton

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.

Symposium website:


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