SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics

Dynamic Syntax

Course Code:
Course Not Running 2016/2017
Unit value:
Year of study:
Year 3
Taught in:
Term 2

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

At the end of the course, students will be familiar with the model of Dynamic Syntax and will be able to critically assess analyses of different linguistic phenomena formulated in it. They will be able to relate empirical evidence to linguistic argumentation, and are encouraged to think of syntax as part of a wider cognitive claim about humans’ knowledge of languages.


Total of 22 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week

Scope and syllabus

Dynamic Syntax is a formal model of utterance description which tries to articulate and substantiate the claim that humans’ knowledge of language is essentially their ability to parse spoken language in context. DS provides an explicit model of how hearers build incrementally (that is, from ‘left to right’) a semantic representation (an interpretation) from the information provided by the words they encounter and from contextual information. From this perspective, knowledge of language is not so much ‘knowing that’ (‘competence’) but ‘knowing how’ (‘performance’), which leads to a number of challenges to current thinking about syntax. 

Method of assessment

One data assignment (40%), one 3,000 word essay (60%).

Suggested reading

  • Cann, Kaplan, & Kempson. 2005. Data at the syntax-pragmatics interface: English resumptive pronouns. Lingua 115.
  • Cann R, R Kempson, L Marten (2005) The dynamics of language. Oxford: Elsevier.
  • Cann, R., R. Kempson, L. Marten, M. Otsuka & D. Swinburne, 2004, On the left and on the right, in D. Adger, C. de Cat & G. Tsoulos, eds., Peripheries, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 19-47.
  • Carston R (2002) Thoughts and utterances. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Kempson, R. Cann, R. Kiaer, J., 2006. Topic, focus and the structural dynamics of language. In Molnar, V. and Winkler, S, (eds.), The Architecture of Focus, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 59-82
  • Kempson R, W Meyer-Viol, D Gabbay (2001) Dynamic syntax. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Kempson R, W Meyer-Viol, M Otsuka (2003) Growth of logical form: the dynamics of syntax. In J Peregrin (ed.) The Dynamic Turn. Oxford: Elsevier, 121-147.
  • Marten L (2002) At the syntax-pragmatics interface. Oxford: OUP.
  • Marten L (2005) The dynamics of agreement and conjunction. Lingua 115, 527-547.
  • Marten, Lutz, 2007, Focus strategies and the incremental development of semantic representations: evidence from Bantu. In Enoch Aboh, Katharina Hartmann and Malte Zimmermann, eds., Focus Strategies: Evidence from African Languages, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Marten, Lutz and Ruth Kempson, 2006, Dynamic Syntax. In Keith Brown, ed., The Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics, 2nd ed., Oxford: Elsevier, Vol. 4, 33-37.
  • Marten, Lutz, Ruth Kempson and Miriam Bouzouita, 2008, Concepts of structural underspecification in Bantu and Romance. In Cécile de Cat and Katherine Demuth, eds., The Romance-Bantu Connection, Amsterdam: Benjamins, 3-39.
  • Purver, M., Cann, R., & Kempson, R. 2006. Grammars as Parsers: Meeting dialogue challenges. Research on Language and Computation 4. 289-326
  • Shaer, B. and Frei, W. Dislocated Elements in Discourse Routledge. London: New York.
  • Sperber D, D Wilson (1995) Relevance: communication and cognition. 2nd ed. Oxford: Blackwell.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules