Current research topics

  • Degrees of finiteness as degrees of dependency in embedded clauses

    Is has long since become clear that a binary distinction between finite and non-finite clause types is not sufficient. Instead, we need to recognize a series of degrees of independence along at least two dimensions -- a referential dimension, which is concerned above all with the interpretation of the subject, and a temporal dimension. Clause types are distinguished in terms of how much they depend on a superordinate clause or are independent in terms of these two (and potentially other) dimensions. My research in this area pursues the hypothesis that the clause types of a given language nonetheless form a single hierarchy, i.e. that they can be strictly ordered according to their (in)dependence, and that this manifests itself in syntactic structure: more independent clauses have larger structures, more dependent ones have smaller structures. (in part in collaboration with Torgim Solstad (ZAS, PB3), Tonjes Veenstra (ZAS, PB4) und Sandhya Sundaresan (Universität Leipzig))

    In collaboration with my colleagues Kerstin Schwabe und Torgrim Solstad in PB3, and with the help of our database of clause-embedding predicates, I'm also researching in what ways the (dependency- and finiteness-related) properties of an embedded clause are determined or influence by those of the embedding predicate.

    ["Towards a theory of the typology of clausal dependency", Handout of a talk at ZAS, October 2013 (PDF)]
    [McFadden, Thomas. 2014. On subject reference and the cartography of clause types: A commentary on the paper by Biswas. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32. 115-136.]

  • Case structures and case theories

    I am working on three topics that have to do with the theoretical treatment of case morphology and related syntactic, semantic and phonological phenomena. First, I'm researching the case-based distribution of irregular noun stems, proposing that this singles out the nominative, which potentially can offer important insights into the structure of case categories.
    ["Why nominative is special: Stem allomorphy and case structures", Handout of a talk given at GLOW, April 2014 (PDF)]

    Second, I'm developing a new theory of the distinction between structural and inherent case that gets its inspiration from two currently competing theories of case, which seem at first glance to contradict each other.
    ["Deducing the structural/inherent/quirky case distinction from competing theories of case", Handout of a talk given at CGSW, September 2014 (PDF)]

    Third, I am investigating, in collaboration with Sandhya Sundaresan (Universität Leipzig), the distribution of nominative-marked DPs in unexpected positions in a series of languages, which leads to analyze the nominative, not just in such instances, but also more generally, as a default case that has nothing directly to do with agreement, finiteness or subjecthood.

  • Preverbal ge- in the history of English

    Old English had a verbal prefix ge-, which is cognate with the ge- in German geschlagen, gehören. Its distribution was similar to that of its Germanic relatives, but with interesting differences in the details, and the suffix was lost in the further development of the language. In German and Dutch, on the other hand, it has become a crucial part of the regular inflection and irregular derivation of verbs. In a large-scale corpus study, and relying on recent developments in the theories of aspect and verbal structure, I am attempting to capture the syntactic and semantic properties of the suffix in Old English, as well as to understand its further development and eventual loss.
    ["Preverbal ge- in Old and Middle English", July 2015, to appear in ZASPiL]

  • An alternative phase theory: putting things together instead of taking them apart

    In work that is still in a preliminary stage, I am pursuing an alternative conception of Chomsky's theory that the syntactic derivation proceeds in punctuated stages -- so-called phases -- which are completed and removed, thus determining locality domains. I think of phases as modules, which are constructed independent of each other and then stitched together at the end. The locality effects derive from properties of the stitching operation, which really does treat the phases as modules, i.e. as opaque domains with transparent interfaces.
    ["Stitching phases together: Domains and edges as modules and interfaces", Handout of a talk in Leipzig, December 2014 (PDF)]