Variation in the structuring of discourse: the grammar of perspective, clause typing and common ground management [VASTRUD]

​Reference:  PGC2018-096870-B-I00, Ministerio de Ciencia, Innovación y Universidades & Agencia Estatal de Investigación, with the support of FEDER (EU)

Time span: 01/01/2019-31/12/2021


Linguistic variation has been a puzzle to theoretical linguistics since it appeared in the picture. From this moment on, syntactic theory has profusely attempted to explain how variation is constrained in virtue of an innate faculty of language and a series of macro-/micro-parameters. Later on, formal semantics progressively introduced cross-linguistic data in its compositional analyses, thus getting on board in the general quest regarding where variation in the interpretive domain stems from. Alongside this comparative perspective, in the temporal axis, languages also change in a constrained way, which has also been the object of formal study both in syntax and semantics. Synchronic tools have been successfully employed to analyze data from different periods of time and to explain the mechanisms of change. Even some of the social factors affecting meaning change are nowadays channeled by means of game-theoretic models that aim to have predictive power. There is yet a third axis in which underlies the notions of variation and change in relation to the faculty of language, namely neuro-diversity. One example is the population in the Autism Spectrum, which has an atypical linguistic performance that still remains to be fully understood from a linguistic point of view. A sophisticated and explicit analysis of the faculty of language as instantiated in population with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) in collaboration with other cognitive scientists can shed light on the not-less important question of how the faculty of language interacts and affects other cognitive modules.


The purpose of VASTRUD is to explore the interface between grammar and discourse across the three mentioned axes (cross-linguistic variation, diachronic change, and neuro-diversity). Discourse is the study ground of semantics viewed as the discipline that is concerned with how the utterances of interlocutors in conversation affect the body of shared commitments and beliefs. In parallel, through the analysis of an increasing number of under-represented languages and varieties, some syntacticians have proposed to incorporate not only information structure notions and sentential force specifications in the architecture of grammar, but also information regarding the epistemic state of the agents in conversation, the interpretive effect of prosody or instructions as encoded in speech acts. Along with this, population on the autism spectrum is characterized by having difficulties with pragmatics. However, not much is known about whether/how this impairment is linked to grammar. All this makes the syntax-discourse interface a critical domain to understand how languages vary (in the three axes).


The overarching goal of this project is to i) gain a better understanding of (the nature of) the elements that play a role in structuring discourse, and ii) to study how languages vary in their grammatical coding of discourse-related notions. Our study ground is thus not just the clause but rather more complex meaning units that can receive formal treatment, such as complex sentences and even larger portions of discourse, where notions such as rhetorical relations, the (old-new) status of the information that is conveyed, and the perspective of the discourse participants (speaker and addressee) are not only relevant, but also obey restrictions that can be scrutinized and modeled.


The members of VASTRUD are the following (appearing in alphabetical order):


Elena Castroviejo (PI, ‘research team’)

Maia Duguine (‘work group’)

Ricardo Etxepare (‘work group’)

Katherine E. Fraser (‘work group’)

Aritz Irurtzun (‘work group’)

Aitor Lizardi Ituarte (‘work group’)

Nerea Madariaga (‘research team’)

Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria (‘research team’)

Laura Vela-Plo (‘work group’)