Max Planck Institute
for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Linguistics

Typological tools for field linguistics


Control structures

Why control? Control structures (also called "equi") were one of the first constructions to attract the interest of theoretical linguists. Over the last thirty years, these constructions have remained at the center of syntatic and semantic theorizing, shaping our understanding of language structure.

A control structure is composed of two clauses, one of which has an overt (expressed) subject, called the controller. The other clause has a covert (deleted or unexpressed) subject, called the controllee, which is co-referential with the controller. For example, 'Kim tried to talk to Sandy' is analyzed as [1Kimcontroller tried [2to Kimcontrolleetalk to Sandy.]]

About the Project
Until very recently, it was assumed that control structures in English were representative of control structures cross-linguistically. Specifically, it was assumed that the controller always preceded the controllee. Recent syntactic proposals, especially analyses of "backwards control," however, have challenged these assumptions.

Backward control has been proposed for such "exotic" languages as Tsez and Malagasy, but it has also been suggested in analyses of Japanese and Korean. This project sets out to examine whether such variations in control patterns are mere quirks, or if there is an underlying regularity to their appearance that can be linked to other aspects of a language's grammar.

About this site
To test this hypothesis, we are collecting reports for a variety of languages, especially under-documented languages. Each report includes a language profile describing specific morpho-syntactic properties of the language, as well as a control profile, which includes data supporting analyses of specific control patterns.

This web site was developed by linguists for linguists. Our goal is to make it easy to find and to share research and data about control in a theory-neutral framework. We encourage you to browse the collection and to consider contributing your own research. If you have other suggestions for improving the site as a resource for the linguistics community, please contact us.

Principle investigators are Maria Polinsky and Eric Potsdam. Graduate student researchers include Shin Fukuda, Youssef Haddad, Peter Jenks, and Nayoung Kwon. Past participants include Laura Kertz (through 2006), Philip Monahan (through 2003), and Antje Thiessen (through 2003). Programming and technical support were provided by Robert Lee, Richard Liu, Ezra Van Everbroeck, Laura Kertz, and Marc Silver.

The questionnaire
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Developed by
Maria Polinsky