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Comparative Syntax: English


Admission requirements

BA English language and literature, BA Linguistics or something comparable


All humans can learn any language as a native tongue. For this reason, the most central hypothesis in current linguistic research is that all languages share abstract syntactic principles. The first goal of comparative syntactic investigations is to discover whether syntactic principles are shared in this sense and what kind of principles are shared this way. The second goal is to understand how these principles allow for variation among languages and how syntactic variables are connected. This leads to a general theory of syntax for natural languages. The first part of this course (Blok 1) is an introduction to comparative syntax. We discuss and compare the most imporant theories, such as Principles and Parameters, Minimalism, Parameter hierarchy and the different levels of syntactic variation, microvariation (between dialects), mesovariation (between typologically related languages) and macrovariation (between typologically different languages). We also discuss possible research methods in comparative syntax and get to know online databases that are available.
The second part (Blok 2) deals with microvariation in English concering the fine structure of various clauses (declaratives, interrogatives). We will pay special attention to word order in the left periphery of the clause, and will study variation in the following phenomena among others: auxiliary inverstion, negative inversion, the position of topics, the position of focus and split subjects.

Course objectives

  • Students can understand the most important issues in comparative syntactic research of the English language.

  • Students have insights into the most important theories in current comparative syntactic research

  • Students are familiar with the most important research methods theories in current comparative syntactic research and can use thier knowledge in their own research

  • Students can carry out their own comparative syntactic research on English, including a presentation and writing of an essay


The timetable is available on the MA Linguistics website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours.

  • Weekly seminars: 13 X 2 = 26 hours

  • Preparation seminars: 13 x 3 = 39 hours

  • Literature study: 65 hours

  • Presentation: 20 hour

  • Own research, essay and presentation: 130 hours

Assessment method

  • paper and presentation of own research (80%)

  • presentation of a paper (10%)

  • active participation (10%)

Resit: students who fail the course may take the resit..


Blackboard will be used for course materials.

Reading list

Blackboard ( will be used to store course material when possible.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in [English]) and Dutch

Students other than MA Linguistics need permission from the coordinator of studies before enrolling.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable


Please contact Student administration van Eyckhof for questions.


This first part of this ourse is shared between Comparative Syntax in de MA Linguistics. In the first blok, all students follow the same classes, in the second blok there are 3 groups (Dutch, English and Chinese). The course instructor in the first blok is Sjef Barbiers. The course instructors in the second blok are Anikó Lipták (English), Lisa Cheng & Rint Sybesma (Chinese), and Sjef Barbiers (Dutch).