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Durham University

Department of Philosophy

Un-Cartesian Linguistics

A project funded by the AHRC and DFG (Award AH/H50009X/1)

Department of Philosophy - University of Durham

Department of Linguistics - LMU Munich


  1. Summary
  2. Staff
  3. Future Events
  4. Past Events
  5. Publications (of the group in Durham)
  6. Conference Papers

1. Summary

For 400 years a guiding philosophical intuition on the nature of language has been that language is a - more or less deficient - medium for expressing our thoughts. But thoughts as such are independent of language. Linguistic signs, which serve the purpose of expressing thought, are arbitrary and regulated by convention. This view is a decisive component of the general, or rational, grammars arising in the 17th century, which was taken up and updated in the Chomskyan project of generative (universal) grammar. We argue that this early modern, Cartesian axiomatics is at the root of a number of theoretical and empirical impasses in current linguistic theory. We develop another, non-rationalist, conception of universal grammar, which is historically inspired by a second, today largely forgotten, universal grammar tradition: the late medieval Modistic grammars. These are guided by the leading idea that language is non-arbitrary: the organization of the linguistic sign is the organization of thought, with both organizations reflecting the structure of the real. Rather than assuming that thought is independent of language, we thus pursue the intuition that the grammaticalization of the hominid brain gave rise to a sapiens-specific mode of thought, which changed the organization of meaning radically. One of the more obvious challenges to this view is putative evidence supporting an ‘autonomist' conception of grammar. Against such a conception we heuristically assume that there are no processes in grammar that are arbitrary in regards to either their phonetic or semantic interpretation.

Our research is grouped into three components. The first consists in an overarching and foundational project, which is most explicit in regards to the historical dimension of the overall project. It centres on the attempt to exploit the theoretical potential of the late medieval universal grammar paradigm. We wish to systematically relate the basic ideas of this theory to more recent theories in the area of universal grammar and semantics. In this, we also aim at demonstrating the extent to which theories of language today are influenced by often sub-conscious axiomatic assumptions.

The second component deals with the axiomatic collisions of current formal syntax and formal semantics: on a typical rationalist conception, syntax is unmotivated, whereas semantics is motivated. Semantics, furthermore, is related to ontology, which usually is perceived in nominalist terms: the world consists of singular objects, the paradigmatic signs of which are proper names. The mapping between syntax and semantics is said to be arbitrary and unmotivated. We defend, by contrast, that certain forms of meaning are inherently grammatical.

The third component opens the view towards cross-linguistic comparisons and specifically looks at the universality and nature of the parts of speech, viewed as identified through the Modists' modes of signifying.

 2. Staff
Principal Investigators:
Wolfram Hinzen (Durham)
Elisabeth Leiss (Munich)

Postdoctoral Research Fellows:
Alex Drummond (Durham, 2011-2012)
Surachai Payawang (Munich, 2011-2012)
Jadwiga Piskorz (Munich, 2011-2012)
Michelle Sheehan (Durham, 2010-2011)
Martina Werner (Munich, 2009-2011)

Doctoral Research Fellow:
Ulrich Reichard (Durham, 2009-2012)

3. Future Events

The Unity of the Proposition and the Unity of the Sentence

24 - 25 September 2012, University of Durham


John Collins (University of East Anglia)
Richard Gaskin (University of Liverpool)
Wolfram Hinzen (University of Durham)
Jeffrey King (Rutgers)
Ulrich Reichard (University of Durham)
Graham Stevens (University of Manchester)

Reference and Antecedence:  How far does the grammar reach?

28 - 29 August 2012, University of Durham

Invited speakers:

Paul Elbourne (Queen Mary, University of London)
Eric Reuland (University of Utrecht)
Floris Roelofsen (UC Santa Cruz, University of Amsterdam)
Johan Rooryck (Leiden University)
George Tsoulas (University of York)

 4 Past Events

International Conference: The Past and Future of Universal Grammar (16-17 December 2011, University of Durham, Calman Learning Centre).

International Workshop: UG: The Minimum (18 December 2011, University of Durham, Durham Union).

International Conference: The Character of Mind. Co-organized with Nirmalangshu Mukherji and Bijoy Boruah. Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla, India, 18-20 March 2011. Summary.

Workshop: (A-)Voiding the Lexicon (4-5 December 2010, LMU Munich)

L&MRG meeting with Paul Pietroski (8-9 June 2011, University of Durham)

L&MRG meeting with Anders Holmberg (10 February 2011, University of Durham)

L&MRG meeting with Noel Burton-Roberts (27 January 2011, University of Durham)

L&MRG meeting with Robert Truswell (14 January 2011, University of Durham)

L&MRG meeting with John Mikhail (19 September 2010, University of Durham)

L&MRG meeting with Markus Werning (3 December 2009, University of Durham)

5. Publications (of the group in Durham)


Arsenijevic, B. and Hinzen: On the absence of X-within-X recursion in human grammar. To appear in Linguistic Inquiry.

Biberauer, T and Sheehan: Disharmony, Antisymmetry, and the Final-over-Final Constraint. In Ways of Structure Building, eds. M. Uribe-Etxebarria and V. Valmala. Oxford: OUP.

Biberauer, T. and Sheehan (eds.): Theoretical Approaches to Disharmonic Word Orders. Oxford: OUP.

Drummond: The ban on rightward P-stranding is a global constraint. To appear in Snippets.

Drummond, A. and D. Kush: 'Reanalysis' is Raising to Object. To appear in Syntax.

Hinzen: Human nature and grammar. To appear in Philosophy.

Hinzen: Mind and Language. Under contract with CUP.

Hinzen: Minimalism. To appear in Handbook of Philosophy of Linguistics, eds. T. Fernando & R. Kempson. Elsevier.

Hinzen: Narrow syntax and the Language of Thought. To appear in Philosophical Psychology.

Hinzen: Naturalism pluralism about truth. To appear in Truth and Pluralism, eds. C. Wright & N. Pedersen. Oxford: OUP.

Hinzen: Phases and semantics. To appear in Phases - Developing the Framework, ed. A. Gallego. New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hinzen: Recursion and truth. To appear in Recursion, eds. P. Speas & T. Roeper. Oxford: OUP.

Hinzen: Syntax in the atom. To appear in Handbook of Compositionality, eds. M. Werning, W Hinzen & E. Machery. Oxford: OUP.

Hinzen: The emergence of complex language. To appear in Complexity and Cognition, eds. D. MacFarland and K. Stenning. Palgrave.

Hinzen: The philosophical significance of universal grammar. To appear in Language Sciences.

Hinzen, D. Kirkby and J. Mikhail: Your theory of the evolution of morality depends on your theory of morality. To appear in BBS.

Hinzen, Sheehan, Drummond and Reichard (eds.): New Directions in UG: Special issue of Language Sciences (in preparation).

Hinzen, Sheehan and Reichard: The Philosophy of Universal Grammar. Under contract with OUP.

Reichard: Inference and Grammar: Intersectivity, Subsectivity, and Phases. To appear in Belfast Working Papers in Linguistics. Proceedings of the Irish Network in Formal Linguistics Conference2011.

Sheehan: A note on Case-assignment to CP. To appear in Snippets [].

Sheehan: Explaining the Final-over-Final Constraint. To appear in Theoretical approaches to disharmonic word orders, eds. T. Biberauer and Sheehan.

Sheehan: Some implications of the strict LCA and a copy theory of labelling. To appear in Syntax.

Sheehan and Hinzen: Moving towards the edge. To appear in Linguistic Analysis 37 (3-4): 205-485.


Reichard: Making Events Redundant: Adnominal Modification and Phases. Philosophical and Formal Approaches to Linguistic Analysis, ed. by P. Stalmaszczyk. Frankfurt a. M.: Ontos: 429-455.


Biberauer, T. and Sheehan (eds.): The Linguistic Review (Special Issue on Particles) 28.

Biberauer, T. and Sheehan: Introduction: Particles through a modern syntactic lens. The Linguistic Review (special edition on Particles in Syntax) 28: 387-410.

Drummond and N. Hornstein: Basquing in Minimalism: A Review of 'Of Minds and Language'. Biolinguistics 5: 347-365.

Hinzen: Emergence of a systemic semantics through minimal and underspecified codes. In Biolinguistic Explorations, eds. A.M. di Sciullo & C. Boeckx. Oxford: OUP, 417-439.

Hinzen: Language and thought. In The Oxford Handbook of Minimalism, ed. C. Boeckx. Oxford: OUP, 499-522.

Hinzen, N. Mukherji, B. Boruah: The character of mind. Biolinguistics 5 (3): 274-283.

Hinzen and D. Poeppel (eds.): The cognitive neuroscience of semantic processing. Special Issue of Language Cognitive Processes 26 (9), 1297-1456.

Hinzen and Poeppel: Semantics between cognitive neuroscience and linguistic theory: Guest editor's introduction, Language and Cognitive Processes 26 (9), 1297-1316.

Reichard: Brandom's Pragmatist Inferentialism and the Problem of Objectivity. Philosophical Writings. Proceedings of the British Postgraduate Philosophy Conference, 69-78.

Sheehan: Review of 'Richard S. Kayne, Comparisons and contrasts'. Journal of Linguistics 47.3: 724-730.

Werning, M., Hinzen and E. Machery (eds.): The Oxford Handbook of Compositionality. Oxford: OUP.


Arsenijevic, B. and Hinzen: Recursion as a human universal and as a primitive. Biolinguistics, 4:2, 165-173.

Biberauer, T., A. Holmberg, I. Roberts and M. Sheehan: Parametric Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory. Cambridge University Press.

Biberauer, T., Sheehan and Newton: On impossible changes and impossible borrowings. Continuity and Change in Grammar, eds. A. Breitbarth, C. Lucas, S. Watts & D. Willis. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hinzen, D. Kirkby and Reichard: Review of Nirmalangshu Mukherji, The Primacy of Grammar. NDPR (2010, 10).

Holmberg, A. and Sheehan: Control into finite clauses in partial null-subject languages. In Parametric Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory, eds. T. Biberauer, A.

Holmberg, I. Roberts and M. Sheehan. Cambridge: CUP, 125-152.

Kirkby, D. and Reichard (eds.): Proceedings of the Thirteenth Durham-Bergen Postgraduate Philosophy Conference. Special issue of Philosophical Writings.

Sheehan: Formal and functional approaches to disharmonic word orders. Newcastle Working Papers in Linguistics 16.

Sheehan: 'Free' inversion in Romance and the Null Subject Parameter. Parametric Variation: Null Subjects in Minimalist Theory, eds. T. Biberauer, A. Holmberg, I. Roberts, and

Sheehan. Cambridge: CUP, 231-262.

Sheehan: The resuscitation of CED. Proceedings of NELS 40, MIT.

Sheehan: Extraposition and Antisymmetry. Linguistic Variation Yearbook 10, ed. J. Van Craenenbroeck. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 203-254.


Biberauer, T., G. Newton and Sheehan: Limiting synchronic and diachronic variation and change: the Final-Over-Final Constraint. Language and Linguistics 10 (4): 701-743.

Biberauer, T., G. Newton and Sheehan: On impossible changes and impossible borrowings. Toronto Working Papers in Linguistics 31: 1-17.

Hinzen: Hierarchy, Merge, and Truth. In Of minds and languages. The Basque Country Encounter with Noam Chomsky, eds. M. Piattelli-Palmarini, P. Salaburu & J. Uriagereka. Oxford: OUP, 123-141.

Hinzen: Prospects for an Explanatory Theory of Semantics. Biolinguistics, 2(3), 348-363.

Hinzen: Unity of Mind. In Thinking About Almost Everything, eds. A. Amin and M. O'Neill. London: Profile Books, 163-165.

Holmberg, A., A. Nayudu and Sheehan: Three partial null-subject languages: a comparison of Brazilian Portuguese, Finnish and Marathi. Studia Linguistica 63: 59-97.

Sheehan: Labelling, Multiple Spell-Out and the Final-over-Final Constraint. In Proceedings XXXV Incontro di Grammatica Generativa (STiL - Studies in Linguistics), eds. V. Moscati and E. Servidio, Siena, 231-243.

Sheehan: The Final-over-Final Constraint as an effect of complement stranding. Newcastle Working Papers in Linguistics 15: 104-125.

6. Conference Papers


Hinzen: Genetic variation in Homo sapiens in regards to language and thought as a window into Universal Grammar. In search of new ways to understand language variation, change and acquisition, San Sebastian, 25-26 July.


Sheehan: How much variation is PF variation? UG: the Minimum, University of Durham, 18 December.

Hinzen: The grammar of thought. The Past and Future of UG, University of Durham, 16-17 December.

Reichard and D. Kirkby: Comment on Guglielmo Cinque: ‘In search of Universal Grammar: The hidden structure of natural language.' The Past and Future of UG, University of Durham, 16-17 December.

Drummond: Comment on Rosemary Varley: ‘Reason without grammar.' The Past and Future of UG, University of Durham, 16-17 December.

Hinzen: The grammar of thought. 5th International Conference on Formal Linguistics, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou, P. R. China, 10-11 December.

Sheehan and Hinzen: PF-parameters and clausal/nominal denotation, Workshop on Formal Grammar and Syntactic Variation: Rethinking Parameters, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 27-28 October 2011.

Drummond: Single-output syntax. The Minimalist Program: Quo Vadis? University of Potsdam, 3-6 October 2011.

Sheehan, Hinzen and Reichard: Radicalizing the interface: A case-study of intensionality. The Minimalist Program: Quo Vadis? University of Potsdam, 3-6 October 2011.

Reichard and Hinzen: The event-argument hypothesis: In search of evidence. Semantics and Philosophy in Europe, University of Bochum, 26 September - 1 October.

Hinzen and Reichard: The grammaticalization of thought. PLM, Stockholm, 16-18 September.

Reichard: Inference and Grammar. Irish Network in Formal Linguistics Conference2011, University of Ulster at Jordanstown, 25-27 May.

Hinzen: The grammar of reference and truth. LOGOS-group, UAB, Barcelona, 23 May.

Hinzen: Tarski, grammar, and truth. UPF, Barcelona, 19 May.

Reichard and Hinzen: The event-argument hypothesis: In search of evidence. PhiLang, University of Lodz, 12-14 May.

Sheehan and P. Couto: Optional inflected infinitives in Portuguese and Galician. Poznan Linguistics Meeting, special session on the syntax of gerunds and infinitives. 2 May.

Hinzen: From a grammatical point of view: Three lectures. UAB, Barcelona, April-May.

Reichard: event semantics and syntactic explanation. The Sixth Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Postgraduate Conference in Linguistics. Newcastle, 7. April.

Sheehan: The search for truth. Invited talk given at Manchester University. 29 March.

Hinzen: Deflationism, grammar, and truth. Truth Be Told: Workshop on Philosophical and Formal Theories of Truth, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 23-25 March.

Reichard: Comment on John Collins: ‘Playing Old Harry with Truth and Meaning'. Truth Be Told: Workshop on Philosophical and Formal Theories of Truth, University of Amsterdam, 23-25 March.

Hinzen: The grammaticalization of thought, in three easy steps. International Conference on The Character of Mind, Shimla, India, 16-18 March.

Sheehan and Hinzen: Reference at the edge: A grammatical account of propositions, facts and truths. Invited SyntaxLab talk given at Cambridge University, 16 March.

Hinzen: Phases and semantics. Cambridge University, 17 February.

Hinzen: Deflationism and grammar. Department of Philosophy, Glasgow University, 18 January.


Sheehan and Hinzen: Reference to facts as a grammatical phenomenon. (A-) voiding the lexicon, University of Munich, 4-5 December.

Hinzen: The philosophical significance of UG. Philosophy of Language and Universal Grammar in the frame of the PhD-Program in Linguistics at the University of Munich, 3 December.

Hinzen: The Evolution of Language: States of the art in Biolinguistics. Four lectures. Hong Kong University, November.

Reichard: Brandom's Pragmatist Inferentialism and the Problem of Objectivity. BPPA, University of Durham, 16-18 July.

Reichard: With Syntax against Event Arguments. International Workshop Thinking of Events, University of Bochum, 1 July.

Hinzen: Grammar´s gift to human nature. Human Nature, Oxford Brookes University, 15 June.

Hinzen: Parts and wholes in syntax. University of Munich, 7 June.

Hinzen: Parts and wholes in syntax. Conference on Biolinguistics, UQAM, Montréal, 27 May.

Hinzen: The causes of recursion. Language and adjoining Systems, Udaipur, India, February.

Hinzen: Deconstructing recursion. University of Edinburgh, 22 January 2010.


Hinzen: Recursion and truth. University of Wuppertal, 19 November.

Hinzen: Meaning hidden under the surface. Comments on Kneer. Graduate Conference, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 28 September.

Hinzen: Single generativity and the character of mind. University of Lisboa, 12 September.

Hinzen: Anti-Recursion and the Ontology of Truth. Recursion Conference, University of Amherst, Massachusetts, USA, 25-27 May.

Hinzen: Anti-Recursion and the syntax-semantics interface. UQAM, Montréal, 19 May.

Hinzen: Predication and truth. Predication workshop, London, Ontario, 17 May.

Hinzen and B. Arsenijevic: Discourse integration and the autonomy of semantics. Semantics and Philosophy in Europe, University of London, 18 April.

Hinzen: On the absence of X-within-X in human grammar. Institute of Philosophy, 9 April.