Monday:   3:10 pm-5:00 pm
Thursday: 3:10 pm-5:00 pm

Maria Polinsky:


Researchers agree that not all verb-initial (V1) languages are built the same way, and this suggests that paths toward verb-initiality may differ. This course will examine microvariation among verb-initial languages, with the emphasis the challenges these languages pose for theoretical accounts. We will start by looking at several sample cases and then discuss the following main issues: recurrent properties of V1 languages; ways of deriving V1 in modern syntactic theory; prosodic phrasing in V1 languages, and the status of left and right periphery in V1.

There is a growing body of literature on V1; we won’t have the time to read all of it in our two weeks together but it is my goal to get you oriented in the existing scholarship and raise questions for the next set of studies on V1.

There have been several influential monographs and collections on verb-initiality; they are listed below as a resource and for future reference:

  • Carnie, A. and E. Guilfoyle, eds. 2000. The Syntax of Verb-Initial Languages. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Carnie, A., H. Harley, S. A. Dooley, eds. 2005. Verb First: On the Syntax of Verb-Initial Languages. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. [V1 below]
  • Payne, D. 1990. The Pragmatics of Word Order: Typological Dimensions of Verb Initial Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Special issue of Lingua ‘Verb First, Verb Second’, Lingua 120, 2 (February 2010)


Class attendance and participation (it is a seminar style class!)

Group projects:

  • create a Wikipedia article on verb-initial languages
  • update the Wikipedia article on VO language []
  • create a bibliography of V1 languages (by language groups or by phenomena, for example, negation, question formation, ellipsis, etc.)

How to access readings

To access the readings, create an account by clicking on the “Forum Registration” button in the left sidebar. Then use the form in the left sidebar on the main page to log in.

Tentative schedule

Class I

Overview General overview. Sample data. VO languages. VSO, VOS, and V1 in disguise. V1 languages: characteristics beyond V1/VO? Main ways of deriving V1. Readings:

  • Emonds, Joseph. 1980. Word order in generative grammar. Journal of Linguistic Research 1.1, 33–54. [pdf]
  • Chung, Sandra. 2007. Properties of VOS languages. Syncom, 1 edition, ch. 52 [pdf]
  • Clemens, Lauren, and Maria Polinsky. 2015. Verb-initial word orders (primarily in Austronesian and Mayan languages). Syncom, 2 edition [pdf]
  • Benmamoun, Elabbas. 2015. Verb-initial orders, with a special emphasis on Arabic. Syncom, 2 edition [pdf]

Class II

Two types of VO languages; V and VP raising. Readings:

  • McCloskey, James. 2005. Predicates and Heads in Irish Clausal Syntax.’ V1, 155–174. [pdf]
  • Goodall, G. 2001. ‘The EPP in Spanish.’ In W. Davies and S. Dubinsky, eds. Objects and Other Subjects: Grammatical Functions, Functional Categories and Configurationality. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer, 193-223. [pdf]
  • Pearson, Matt. 2000 ‘Two Types of VO Languages.’ In P. Svenonius, ed. The Derivation of VO and OV. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 327- 363. [pdf]
  • Longobardi, Giuseppe. 2000. Postverbal subjects and the mapping hypothesis. Linguistic Inquiry 31.4: 691-702. [pdf]

Class III

Subject lowering and prosodic properties in V1. Readings:

  • Chung, Sandra. 1998. The Design of Agreement. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, ch. 4, sections 4.2—4.5 [pdf]
  • Sabbagh, Joseph. 2014. Word Order and Prosodic Structure Constraints in Tagalog. Syntax 17, 40-89. [pdf]
  • Elfner, Emily. 2015. 2015. Recursion in prosodic phrasing: Evidence from Connemara Irish. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory [pdf]

Class IV

Left and right periphery in V1. Readings:

  • Aissen, Judith. 1992. Topic and focus in Mayan. Language 68, 43–80 [pdf]
  • Lambrecht, Knud. 2001. Dislocation. In Martin Haspelmath, Ekkehard König, Wulf Oesterreicher & Wolfgang Raible, eds., Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook.(Handbücher zur Sprach- und Kommunikationswissenschaft, 20). Vol. 2, 1050-1078. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter. [pdf]
  • Verhoeven, Elisabeth, and Stavros Skopeteas. 2015. Licensing Focus Constructions In Yucatec Maya. International Journal of American Linguistics 81, 1-40. [pdf]