Caitlin Light performs research in diachronic syntax, focusing in particular on the history of the English language and its closest relatives. Much of her research focuses on information structure and the syntax-pragmatics interface, and on how our understanding of these issues may be strengthened by the use of diachronic parsed corpora and large-scale comparative studies. After receiving her BA at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, she completed her PhD in Linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania in 2012. She was appointed a Lecturer in English Language Linguistics in 2012.
- University of Michigan
BA with Distinction in German, English, and Linguistics (2003-2007)
- University of Pennsylvania
PhD Linguistics (2007-2012)
- English Language Degree Coordinator
I am primarily interested in the syntax and information structure of English and other Germanic languages, both in synchronic and diachronic perspective. I generally take a comparative approach, and I tend to believe that the behaviour of an individual language becomes clearer when considered in comparison to other languages.
My work also makes great use of quantitative data from parsed corpora of the languages I study. Quantitative data provide a unique and important perspective on the use of different syntactic forms. In addition, corpus data can be particularly helpful when considering context-sensitive phenomena such as information structure, for which elicited judgments may provide only a limited understanding of when and how a form may be used.
- The syntax and pragmatics of fronting in Germanic
This project considers a type of movement traditionally termed "topicalization," which may be realized in various Germanic languages. I undergo a detailed comparative study of the syntactic and pragmatic properties of topicalization (or "fronting") across the Germanic family, testing the hypothesis that a proposal sketched for German in Frey (2004a, 2006a,b) may be expanded to account for fronting cross-linguistically. This would mean that the apparent diversity of pragmatic properties associated with fronting has a relatively simple source: fronting occurs as the result of not one, but two possible types of movement: one purely formal movement motivated only by a grammatical requirement, and one movement with an information structural effect. The ultimate goal is a unified analysis of fronting across the Germanic language family, supported by both diachronic and synchronic evidence from English, Icelandic, German and Dutch.
- A side project stemming from this project considers the information structural properties of different pronominal elements in the Germanic family. Demonstrative pronouns prove to have a discourse effect which is central to understanding the properties of fronting in Germanic. This discourse effect is crucially different from that of personal pronouns, and we see that the two pronominal forms have distinct information structural properties. This motivates a more thorough comparative study of the syntactic and pragmatic behaviour of pronouns in Germanic. I currently pay particular attention to the behaviour of personal pronouns in Old English, which remains one of the main unanswered questions in the issue at hand.