The present research project will investigate the meaning associated to certain functional categories and, at the same time, we will try to achieve a better understanding of how speakers compose the meaning of complex linguistic expressions where certain functional categories participate.
Our initial hypothesis is that functional categories have semantic import in two different ways: either (i) they encode an inherent semantic content, or (ii) they introduce a formal semantic operation. We aim at testing this hypothesis on a range of functional categories across three syntactic domains: the nominal domain (Det / Num), the verbal/sentential domain (Neg / Asp / Voice / Deg / little v), and the peripheral domain (Foc / Top / Force / Voc). We are not only interested in the exact semantic contribution of each functional head, but also in the interaction between each other (e.g. Neg and Deg in exclamative sentences; Voc and Force in imperative clauses; Det and Top in nominal expressions in sentence-initial position; Asp and Voice in passive sentences). We will study the way these functional categories are encoded cross-linguistically, and their implications for different modules of the theory of grammar by exploring various linguistic phenomena whose meaning depends on the semantic import codified in specific functional projections. In this project, we aim at addressing the following main questions:
- Do all functional categories contribute in a similar way to the meaning of the sentence? Should we identify differences across categories and across languages?
- How do their meanings interact within and across domains?
- Can we think of functional categories as encoding instructions at the LF and PF interfaces?
- Can all these functional projections be semantically expletive? What are the repercussions of potential expletiveness across some functional categories for a general theory of grammar?
The project will provide new knowledge on a wide variety of languages (Catalan, Spanish, French, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, English, Russian, Basque, Greek, and Mandarine Chinese). We will combine theoretical and experimental perspectives in order to improve our understanding of the meaning that native speakers of different languages attribute to functional categories in various linguistic constructions.
We are convinced that this project will open up interesting theoretical and empirical perspectives and lead to new insights in the study of the semantic contribution of functional categories in linguistic theory.