Project Description

Yale Grammatical Diversity Project: English in North America


Minimal differences found in linguistic varieties that are overall very similar provide linguists the opportunity to take a close look at where grammatical systems differ, and how exactly they differ. Within generative linguistics, Kayne’s (1975) detailed comparison of the syntax of French and English proved so fruitful that it led to a detailed comparison of more closely related languages, within a single family. This opened the way to detailed comparisons of closely related Romance languages and to comparative work done on the syntax of closely related varieties within the Germanic, East-Asian and Bantu languages.

Over the last two decades, this work has expanded beyond the study of widely spoken, national languages (like French and Italian, or Icelandic and Swedish) and begun to examine syntactic differences among local varieties spoken by considerably smaller numbers of people. For example Paola Benincà, Cecilia Poletto, and their collaborators have been examining the syntax of many linguistic varieties spoken in Northern Italy first, and more recently in central and southern Italy, a major work that has resulted in a number of publications (e.g. Poletto 2000, Beninca and Poletto 2004, Beninca et al. 1990–present, among others). Sjef Barbiers, Hans Bennis and their collaborators have been studying the syntactic properties of many linguistic varieties spoken in the Netherlands, a very systematic and well organized initiative that has led to the publication of the Syntactic Atlas of the Dutch Dialects, an impressive piece of work that makes a very important contribution both at the empirical and at the theoretical level. Others in Europe have since followed suit and created research groups like the Scandinavian Dialect Syntax project, the Nordic Microcomparative syntax project, as well as others at the national level in several countries.

To this day, however, in the domain of syntax, there has not yet been a systematic attempt to collect studies on minimal differences among varieties of English spoken in North America. Linguists have carried out interesting work on topics like double modals, negative inversion, and subject-verb agreement; and research is currently being done on personal datives, positive anymore, the needs washed and other constructions. But these contributions have not yet been brought together in a way that offers a global picture of the various domains of micro-syntactic variation. We would like to make the first step toward filling this gap.

Recently, we have published an edited volume of papers entitled Micro-Syntactic Variation in North American English [Oxford University Press, eds. Raffaella Zanuttini and Laurence R. Horn], which includes detailed studies of drama SO, the so don’t I construction, negative inversion, transitive expletive constructions, personal datives, long-distance reflexives, the needs washed construction, and multiple modals, among other phenomena. Currently, our work is supported by National Science Foundation grant BCS-1423872 The Microsyntax of Pronouns in North American English to Jim Wood and Raffaella Zanuttini. This funding has allowed our project to move into Phase II, as described below.


Our work aims to bring together information concerning micro-syntactic variation in varieties of English spoken in North America with the ultimate goal of fostering research in this area. In particular, our work is motivated by the following objectives:

  • Create a venue where people can find information concerning morpho-syntactic variation within varieties of English spoken in North America
  • Inspire current and future linguists to document and analyze morpho-syntactic variation within varieties of English spoken in North America
  • Collect and make available new findings on morpho-syntactic variation within varieties of English spoken in North America

Phase I

  • Compile a complete list of the areas of grammar that exhibit morpho-syntatic variation
  • Show examples of the attested morpho-syntactic variation
  • Document which factors (age, ethnicity, location, etc) restrict a phenomenon’s distribution
  • Make available information concerning who has written about it and where
  • Encourage, solicit and foster new research on morpho-syntactic variation

Phase II

  • Collect new empirical findings on morpho-syntactic variation
  • Collect new theoretical findings on morpho-syntactic variation
  • Organize the information in a way that allows queries likely to reveal correlations and implicational relations