Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marcel den Dikken

Subject Categories



Copula; English; Finiteness; Syntax; Tense


The central thesis of this work is that a clause consisting only of left-peripheral functional structure can be fully finite. Generative models of clause structure typically assume that a finite clause must be tensed, including a projection of T and a temporal relation between the proposition and the utterance context. In light of evidence from tenseless languages, this assumption has come under scrutiny in recent years. This dissertation offers a new body of evidence from English, a tensed language, in support of the claim that finite clauses can lack the projection of T.

Drawing on the results of formal acceptability experiments, this dissertation presents an original investigation of the understudied family of specificational copular amalgam sentences (e.g., She wrote about finiteness is what she did), which differs from canonical specificational copular sentences with respect to a number of syntactic and semantic properties. The most salient of these properties is the occurrence of a root clause in the role of logical and structural subject. I propose that copular amalgam sentences are finite, but their functional spine consists only of the C-domain, lacking projections of T and V. Since C-domain heads can project in the absence of T and V, there can be no implicational relation between higher and lower heads in the functional sequence.

Copular amalgams show that finiteness can be reduced to phenomena originating in the left periphery of the clause. These phenomena include [T] and [phi] inflection, the licensing of an independently referential subject, and independent anchoring of the proposition to the utterance context. Independent anchoring, which is typically conflated with temporal anchoring in the T domain, obtains via deixis to the utterance context in finite clauses that lack T. This dissertation has two main contributions: to catalogue the properties of a typologically rare, yet understudied construction, and to challenge the Extended Projections model of the clause.

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