Syntax and Semantics

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Claire Beyssade & Patricia Cabredo Hofherr


The Syntax and semantics (Syntaxe et sémantique) research group is dedicated to the study of syntax and semantics and their interfaces with prosody and pragmatics.

Our research combines first hand data from a wide range of languages with explicit formalisation. Precise formalisation of linguistic hypotheses underpins the comparison of similar phenomena across a range of typologically diverse languages with the aim to identify the contribution of the Faculty of Language as well as cognitive constraints resulting in the emergence of invariant properties across languages.

The group leads the project Langues et Grammaires en Ile-de-France (LGIdF), that offers linguistically informed descriptions of the languages spoken by recent immigrants Ile-de-France in a format that is accessible to the general public. The themes of this project are further developed in a research group on the Grammar of heritage languages, coordinated by Elena Soare.

You can find the program of the Syntax & semantics seminar here.

Researcher Members: here   /   PhD members: here / Calendar SynSem Seminar

Présentation des axes de recherche

Program one: Ontology and Combinations

This program develops issues that revolve around the question of grammatical ontology at the syntax-semantics and semantics-cognition interfaces. The studies seek to formally analyze the primitives that make up a grammatical ontology and the operations that combine these components. Another line of research focuses on the relationship between grammatical ontology and cognitive (or conceptual) ontology.
The program oversees the research network OASIS : Ontology as Structured by the Interfaces with Semantics.

The studies examine those primitive units that come into play in cognitive and linguistic representations:

  • (i) descriptions of eventualities (events, states and properties, time, degrees),
  • (ii) the individual (mass/count, reference to space, relations of possession),
  • (iii) the relations between individuals and events (agentivity, dispositions, intentions, aptitudes, attitudes) and
  • (iv) the relations between individuals, events and worlds, and situations (reference, intentionality, modality).

Program two: Meaning, Modality, and Interaction

This program brings together studies situated at the interfaces of prosody, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics, examining the meaning of utterances and their context. The work in this program is grouped along three lines.
  • the semantics of non-assertive utterances and the conditions of their use
  • the expression of modality
  • speech acts
A study in progress rhetorical questions in French. Inspired by the experimental protocol developed by B. Braun, N. Déhé et al., we carried out a production experiment in an attempt to characterize the prosody of rhetorical questions in French.  Preliminary results show wide variation in production, leading us to develop experiments in perception, which would allow us to determine whether rhetorical questions constitute a class in itself, or whether they are part of a continuum from simple, information-seeking questions to questions  biased in varying degrees.

Program three: Formal Syntax and Interfaces

This program conducts research on formal syntax and the interface between syntax and semantics. The studies in progress focus in particular on three themes:

  • consideration of the primitive operations in syntax (Agree, Merge, Move)
  • the syntax of complex predicates: auxiliaries, copulas, and light verbs; serial verbs; idiomatic expressions
  • syntactic processes which transform predicates to arguments (free relatives, correlatives, relative clauses) and their psycholinguistic correlates

L'opération porte le Groupe de recherche sur les séries verbales qui réunit des chercheurs des Thèmes Syntaxe et sémantique et Sourds et Langues des signes (Thème 5).

Program four: Creole Grammars

The Creole Grammars program is a continuation of research on the grammar of creole languages carried out at the UMR 7023 since the 1990s. The studies in this program seek to promote exchange between detailed studies of creole languages and the research developed in formal linguistics.
The studies conducted focus on the analysis of various future markers in creole languages (Copley, Cabredo pr. 2), the structure of predication and complementation (Cabredo, Zribi-Hertz, pr. 3) and phonology (Lahrouchi, Wauquier, section 1 Phonology, Interfaces, Modelization).
The program coordinates the research group on serial verbs, which brings together researchers from the Syntax and Semantics section and the Deaf and Sign Languages section of the UMR 7023.
The Creole Grammars program steers the Research Group on Creole Grammars (GRGC) and organises a monthly seminar on Creole Grammars.

Projets de recherche associés

Research Group on Creole Grammars (GRGC) (page GRGC) (voir le programme du séminaire Grammaires Créoles)
Langues d'héritage (IRN) (page Langues d'héritage)
Langues et Grammaire du Monde dans l'Espace Francophone (LGMEF) (anciennement Langues et Grammaire en Ile de France (LGIdF) (page LGIdF) (site www LGIdF)
Ontology as Structured by the Interfaces with Semantics (OASIS) (site www OASIS)
Cooperation with the Faculté de Linguistique Appliquée in Port-au-Prince (page www)
Seri verbs: Multiple complexities (July 2017- March 2021, PI Matthew Baerman, Surrey Morphology Group, U. Surrey) (page www)

Publications représentatives

Amsili, Pascal & Beyssade, Claire 2020.  ‘Antiprésupposition et préupposition obligatoires'. In Beyssade C. (ed.), Au delà du sens littéral : les implicatures.
Amsili, Pascal & Beyssade, Claire. 2021. Plus in the French negative system: a presuppositional and non-quantificational n-word. In Adina Dragomirescu & Alexandru Nicolae (eds.), Romance Languages and Linguistic Theory 2017: Selected papers from Going Romance 31, Bucharest, John Benjamins, pp 30-47.

Aristodemo, V., B. Giustolisi, G. Zorzi, D. Gras, Charlotte Hauser, Rita Sala, J.  Sánchez Amat, C. Donati & Carlo Cecchetto 2022. On the nature of role shift: insights from a comprehension study in different populations of LIS, LSC and LSF signers. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory,

Avram, Larisa, Mardale, Alexandru & Soare, Elena. A paraître. Differential Object Marking and Diachronic Incrementation in Child Heritage Romanian. Revue Roumaine de Linguistique LXVIII, n° 1-2 / 2023. Edité par Gabriela Alboiu & Alexandru Mardale. In honour of Virginia Hill. 

Barberà, Gemma & Patricia Cabredo Hofherr (eds.) 2018. Impersonal human reference in Sign Languages. Numéro spécial de Sign Language and Linguistics, 21(2).

Beyssade, Claire (ed.) 2020. Au delà du sens littéral : les implicatures. ISTE éditions.
Beyssade, Claire ; Delais-Roussarie, Elisabeth, 2022. The Prosody of French Rhetorical Questions.  In Andreas Trotzke & Anna Czypionka (eds.), Non-canonical Questions from a Comparative Perspective. Special Issue of Linguistics Vanguard, pp. 277-286.
Beyssade, Claire, à paraître. Signification et mises à jour du contexte. In Gerda Hassler (ed.) Le contexte en question, ISTE éditions.

Cabredo Hofherr, Patricia  & Denis Creissels 2022. Morphology-syntax mismatches in agreement systems:  the case of Jóola Fóoñi. Word Structure 53:3. 252-282. (Free access)
Cabredo Hofherr , Patricia 2021. Verbal plurality cross-linguistically. In Cabredo Hofherr & Doetjes (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Grammatical Number, 307-341. OUP.
Cabredo Hofherr , Patricia 2021. Nominal number morphology. In Cabredo Hofherr & Doetjes (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Grammatical Number, 135-163. OUP.

Cecchetto, Carlo & Caterina Donati 2022. Labeling (Reduced) Structures: When VPs Are Sentences. Linguistic Inquiry, doi:
Cecchetto, Carlo & C. Donati 2019. Against the parallelism between the NP and the clause: evidence from idioms. Linguistics.
Giustolisi, B., J. S.  Martin, G. Westphal-Fitch, T. Fitch & Carlo Cecchetto 2022. Performance of Deaf Participants in an Abstract Visual Grammar Learning Task at Multiple Formal Levels: Evaluating the Auditory Scaffolding Hypothesis. Cognitive Psychology DOI: 10.1111/cogs.13114
Hauser, Charlotte, Giorgia Zorzi, Valentina Aristodemo, Beatrice Giustolisi, Doriane Gras, Rita Sala, Jordina Sánchez Amat, Carlo Cecchetto & Caterina Donati 2021. Asymmetries in relative clause comprehension in three European sign languages. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics 6(1): 72. 1–36. DOI:

Ionin, Tania & Ora Matushansky 2018. Cardinals. The Syntax and Semantics of Cardinal-Containing Expressions. Linguistic Inquiry Monographs. MIT Press.

Iordachioaia, Gianina & Soare, Elena (eds) 2020. Nominalization, numéro thématique de la revue Zeitschrift für Wortbildung/ Journal of Word Formation.…;

Levet, Dominique,  Elena Soare & Anne Zribi-Hertz 2021. Français et langues du monde : comparaison et apprentissage. Paris : Hachette.

Matushansky, Ora & Joost Zwarts 2017. Making space for measures. In NELS 47: Proceedings of the Forty-Seventh Annual Meeting of the North East Linguistic Society, vol. 2, ed. by Andrew Lamont and Katerina Tetzlo, pp. 261-274. Amherst, Massachusetts: GLSA (Graduate Linguistics Student Association)
Matushansky, Ora, Nora Boneh, Léa Nash, & Natalia Slioussar. 2020. To PPs in their proper place. In Proceedings of FASL 26, ed. by Tania Ionin and Jonathan MacDonald, 228-245. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Michigan Slavic Publications.
Matushansky, Ora 2021. Intersecting location and possession. Linguistic Variation  21, 174-213.
Matushansky, Ora 2021. Locatives are not cases: Evidence from Lak. Typology of Morphosyntactic Parameters 4/2, 81–97.

A. Staub, F. Foppolo , C. Donati, Carlo Cecchetto 2018. Relative clause avoidance: Evidence for a structural parsing principle. Journal of Memory and Language, 98, 26 - 44,

Zribi-Hertz, Anne 2022. French-based creole languages. Oxford Encyclopedia of Romance Linguistics (part of Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics ed. by M. Aronoff). Oxford University Press. Doi:
Zribi-Hertz, Anne & Loïc Jean-Louis. 2018. General Locative Marking in Martinican Creole (Matinitjè): a case study in grammatical economy. Quaderni di Linguistica e Studi Orientali (QULSO)  4 : 151-176. Firenze University Press. (Open access <>)
Zribi-Hertz, Anne & Loïc Jean-Louis 2022. Une composition biverbale productive en martiniquais : éclairage créole sur la grammaire du français et le concept d’univerbation. LINX 84.
Zribi-Hertz, Anne & Loïc Jean-Louis 2022. The syntax of directional Serial Verb Constructions in French-based creoles. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 37-1 : 114-159.


Syntax, Semantics, Pragmatics, Creole Grammars, Semantic ontology, Linguistics and L2-French teaching (cf. projet LGIDF), Heritage languages, Interfaces, Intonational meaning, Information structure, Formal Grammar - Basque, Catalan Sign Language (LSC), English, French, Georgian, German, Haitian Creole, Italian, Italian Sign Language (LIS), Martinican Creole (Martiniquais, Martiniké), Mauritian creole (Morisyen), Romanian, Russian, Seri, Spanish.