Roots 2017

Roots V will be hosted by the Department of Linguistics of Queen Mary, University of London and the Department of Linguistics of  University College London on June 17-18, 2017 (with an opening session on the evening of June 16th).

Organizers: Hagit Borer (Queen Mary, University of London), Andrew Nevins (UCL), Melisa Rinaldi (QMUL).

Conference Programme now available! Roots V Programme


The relationship between syntactic structure and syntactic terminals has always been at the core of important debates within generative grammar. Are such terminals phonologically abstract or phonologically concrete? Do they correspond to features, to ‘morphemes’, or are they fully listed items, possibly ‘words’ or ‘lexemes’? If the latter, do such terminals correspond to well-defined units of meaning? Do such terminals have syntactic properties which inform the structure they project, or, alternatively, do the properties of terminals derive from the structure that they are embedded within, and with the structure itself otherwise constructed? Finally, are there in actuality ‘syntactic terminals’ in the commonly understood sense altogether? Differently put, is there any syntactic reason to assume that, for example, an N head dominates anything which emerges from some vocabulary list, be it formal or substantive?

In the past two decades or so, a body of research has emerged which seeks to disassociate the hitherto assumed link between syntactic terminals and ‘words’ or ‘lexemes’. In their stead, the syntactic terminals of functional heads are frequently assumed to consist of abstract formal features which are phonologically realized post-syntactically, while non-functional terminals are frequently assumed to consist of roots, with the latter presumed to have no syntactic category, and little, if any, other properties which could impact the syntax. Within such approaches, the ‘lexeme’ as such, is at best a derivative notion, and the ‘word’ is treated as an emerging configuration created by syntactic combinatorial processes, and corresponding, within any given phonological system, to some well-formed phonotactic unit (e.g., the domain of main stress in English).

This research agenda broadly described remains incomplete, however, without a fuller theoretical articulation of the way in which the combination of roots and formal features conspire to give rise to the properties traditionally associated with ‘words’ or ‘lexemes’. On the syntax-semantics side, such an articulation must address, among other issues, the emergence of categories for a-categorial roots; the emergence of argument structure and event structure in the absence of listed words; the emergence of morphologically complex words, and possibly most complex of all, the emergence of their meaning. On the phonological side, and in the absence of ‘words’ or ‘lexemes’ as such, important questions concern the relationship between phonological words and constituent structure, and by extension, the phonological properties of both roots and abstract formal features in isolation and in combination with each other.

As is clear, therefore, a fuller understanding of what roots are is at the core of this investigation, as the formal properties of roots will bear on the range of solutions proposed for all these issues, and the success of these solutions will, in turn, bear on the correct characterization — indeed, the existence — of roots as a valid grammatical category. Constructive dialogues intending to elaborate on the properties of roots have informed a series of workshops in the past 9 years, and we view this workshop as the latest among them, bringing together researchers working within different approaches to discuss the place of roots, as such, in present day linguistic modeling through an investigation of their interaction with syntactic structure and syntactic features; their phonological properties; their role in the construction of ‘lexical’ meaning (or content), and crucially, through an investigation of their psycholinguistic/neurolinguistic reality. More specific questions include, at the very least, the following:

  1.  Can roots be inserted in any syntactic context (with clashes conceptually and contextually excluded), or alternatively, do roots come with some properties that delimit their syntactic insertion (e.g. ontological types or selected arguments)?
  2. How does syntactic category come about, in the absence of listed categorial specification for roots?
  3. What (if any) are the phonological properties of roots? Is there root suppletion? Do roots exercise (morpho)phonological selection, and if so, how is it delimited?
  4. What (if any) are the phonological realizations of formal features (Vocabulary items, in DM)? Can Vocabulary Items exercise (morpho) phonological selection?
  5. What (if any) are the semantic properties of roots? Specifically, do roots have meaning, or content, in isolation? How do they acquire content in context?
  6. How can we model the non-compositional content of complex words? Note that this is a question regardless of whether roots in isolation have content.
  7. What psycholinguistic and neurolinguistic evidence can be brought to bear on the existence of roots as well as possibly formal features as syntactic terminals?

Invited speakers


Faculty: £18

Students: £10

Students who also attended the ACTL Summer school: £8

These prices are for online pre-registration only.  Onsite registration rates are £25 for academic staff, £15 for students, and £10 for students otherwise registered to ACTL summer school.


There will also be a conference dinner on Saturday 17/06. You can purchase a ticket (£27) alongside your main conference booking at the QM eshop.


Useful Information


  • LOCATION: Roots V opening session will take place at UCL (Chandler House –  Room: G10)
  • GETTING AROUND: Information on how to get to UCL can be found here.


  • LOCATION: The Saturday and Sunday sessions will take place in the ArtsOne Lecture Theatre at QMUL (number 37 on the campus map):  QMUL Campus Map.
  • GETTING AROUND: Information on how to get to QMUL can be found here.
  • ACCOMMODATION: It is possible to book accommodation on campus. Details on rates and how to book can be found here.



The conference dinner will take place on Saturday 17/06 at Ariana. The restaurant, which offers Persian-Afghan cuisine, is located within walking distance from the conference location.

Screenshot 2017-06-02 11.27.20


Poster guidelines

Posters must be A0 size, portrait orientation (841 mm wide x 1189 mm high)


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