Syntax-Semantics Interface

  • Building Adjectival Meaning without Adjectives

My dissertation explores a particular class of statives, namely property concepts in generative syntax and model-theoretic semantics in languages which do not have a lexical category of adjectives. My dissertation committee is as follows: Roumyana Pancheva, USC (Chair), Andrew Simpson, USC, Maria Luisa Zubizarreta, USC, Mario Saltarelli, USC, and Rajesh Bhatt, UMass Amherst.

Standard theories of attribution, predication, and comparison presupposes the lexical category of adjective. I challenge this view by exploring a class of languages from the Dravidian language family which do not lexicalize an adjective. I argue that micro parametric variation is located at the level of functional heads that property concept roots merge with in the narrow syntax. Through our critical exploration of the universality regarding the mapping of semantic meaning and the lexical category, we hope to demonstrate that examining this link between meaning and form through the eyes of syntax-semantics opens up new ways of understanding linguistic universals and variation. The dimensions of variation in the dissertation include:
          * Ontological status of property concepts
          * Variation and distributional differences of property concepts
          * Degree modification and semantics
          * Attribution, predication, and expression of comparatives 

Some of this work has appeared in conference proceedings and as an invited book chapter. 

  • Menon, Mythili and Roumyana Pancheva. to appear. Decomposing color expressions in Malayalam. Proceedings of Formal Approaches to South Asian Linguistics 2015
  • Menon, Mythili and Roumyana Pancheva. 2014. The grammatical life of property concept roots in Malayalam. Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 2013. [.pdf] [video]
  • Menon, Mythili. 2013. The Apparent Lack of Adjectival Category in Malayalam and other Related Languages. In Nobu Goto, Koichi Otaki, Atsushi Sato, Kensuke Takita eds. Proceedings of Glow-in-Asia IX 2012: The Main Session. Mie University, Japan. Pp. 157-171. [.pdf]


  • Argument Ellipsis and the nature of covert nominals

(with Andrew Simpson and Arunima Choudhury)

We look into the nature of empty nominals in Bangla, Hindi and Malayalam. These languages are interesting from the point of view of agreement. We argue agreement as proposed to be a critical factor in licensing argument ellipsis in null argument languages does not hold true in these languages, upon examining subject and object agreement.

This work has appeared as journal article in Lingua, and as a conference proceeding.

  • Simpson, Andrew, Arunima Choudhury and Mythili Menon. 2013. The derivation and licensing of covert nominals in Bangla, Hindi and Malayalam. Lingua 134, 103-128. [.pdf]
  • Simpson, Andrew, Arunima Chowdhury, and Mythili Menon. 2012. South Asian Perspectives on Argument Ellipsis. In, Bum-Sik Park eds. Three factors and Syntactic Theory. Proceedings of The 14th Seoul International Conference on Generative Grammar. pp. 370-389. [.pdf]
  • Comparatives

    Exploring Dravidian comparatives and the structure of comparatives given that the language family may not have a lexical category of adjectives. Joint work with Roumyana Pancheva. Some early work has appeared in a Sinn und Bedeutung proceeding, and in a more recent Sinn und Bedeutung proceeding.

  • Menon, Mythili. 2012. Adverbial Comparatives: Evidence from Malayalam. In: Ana Aguilar, Anna Chernilovskaya & Rick Nouwen (eds.), Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 16 vol 2. MIT Working Papers in Linguistics. pp. 461-474. [.pdf]
  • Menon, Mythili and Roumyana Pancheva. 2014. The grammatical life of property concept roots in Malayalam. Proceedings of Sinn und Bedeutung 2013. [.pdf


  • Definiteness

Here, I am interested in several projects, mostly  issues related to languages with no definite or indefinite articles. I am interested in exploring alternate ways in which these languages exhibit definiteness, specificity, and genericity. My MPhil dissertation titled 'A Cartography of Definiteness' looked at several of these issues. 

I am also interested in issues of bare plurals, weak and strong indefinites. Along with Sarah Ouwayda, I have been looking at plurals in Malayalam. A draft of our handout at the MIT Fasal 2 workshop can be found here- [.pdf]

  • Views of Measurement and Partitivity

In my most recent project, I explore phenomena from number marking languages which also allows classifiers to optionally co-occur with number. I analyze classifiers in these languages as measure nouns.  They require their complements to be interpreted as a complete semi-lattice.

  • This work was presented as a poster at the 89 LSA, in Portland (January 8-11, 2015).


  • Agreement

Agreement has proven to be very difficult to locate in grammar. There are many different theories about the location of agreement. Some theories locate agreement in narrow syntax, others in a post-syntactic component, and a new set of hybrid theories locate grammar both in syntax and in PF. I am broadly interested in looking at the nature of agreement across languages, particularly regarding the question of why some languages have verbal agreement or nominal agreement and other languages do not. I am involved in two projects:

  • Closest conjunct agreement. This resulted out of field work done in Marwari. Here is a draft of CCA in Marwari- [.pdf]
  • Number agreement in relative clauses- This is work done with Elsi Kaiser and Felix Hao Wang. More details under the Language and Music section. 


  • Copulas- Spanish ser/estar

            (with Alfredo Garcia-Pardo)

           We look into the decomposition of the adjective phrase in Spanish by correlating the different kind              and sub-kind readings available in relative and absolute adjectives to the presence of the to be                        copulas- ser and estar.         


  • Finiteness and the role of tense/aspect/modality

Issues related to the TAM domain. Particularly investigating the questions of whether tense plays a role in Malayalam and the nature of finiteness in Malayalam and Dravidian.

  • Possession and Dative/Locative alternation

( with Hany Babu M.T)

Interested in the expression of possession and the role of HAVE/BE in alienable/inalienable possession. 

Experimental Linguistics


  • Cognitive processing similarities between music and language

         (with Elsi Kaiser)

In a series of experiments, we are studying the relation between language, music, vision, and artificial language. Particularly, we are interested in the shared resources across these domains. The cross domain priming studies answers questions regarding the dependencies and representations found between distinct domains, such as music and language. 

Menon, Mythili and Elsi Kaiser. in prep. Structural priming between music and language. 

  • Our 26th CUNY conference poster, Consequences of 'music to one's ears': structural integration priming from language to music, can be found here.

To achieve cross-linguistic replication of our results, I traveled to Spain to conduct similar experiments. This research was funded by the USC Del Amo Foundation Scholarship for Summer 2013.

  • Our 20th AMLaP conference poster, Priming from Music to Language: Effects of Number Marking on the Priming of Relative Clause Attachment in Spanish, can be found here.


  •  Biases in parsing and mechanisms behind structural priming

With Felix Hao Wang from Psychology, USC, we are also looking at artificial language learning and its role in learning and processing dependencies. 

Hao, Felix Wang, Mythili Menon, Elsi Kaiser. 2015. Statistical Structures in Artificial Languages Prime Relative Clause Attachment Biases in English. In  Noelle, D.C,  Dale. R ,  Warlaumont, A.S,  Yoshimi. J, Matlock, T.,  Jennings. C.D , &  Maglio, P.P. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 37th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. pp. 2607- 2612.[.pdf]

  • Our 27th CUNY conference poster's abstract, Nonadjacent lexical dependencies in an artificial language prime relative clause attachment biases can be found here

Language Documentation

  • Judeo-Malayalam

(with Roumyana Pancheva and Hari Menon)

We are interested in documenting Judeo-Malayalam, spoken by 40 Jewish people in Jew town, Cochin. This language is actively used by 6 elderly people living around the vicinity. Along with the death of this language, the earliest Jewish settlement in India (Cochin Jews) will cease to exist. Documenting this language and culture is thus of highest priority. A project overview can be accessed here. More details can also be found on our website. If you are interested in helping us with the documentation, or knowing more about this project, please email me. 

  • Menon, Mythili and Hari Menon. In Prep. Jews of Kochi: A Coffee Table Book (Expected 2016)

           I will be giving an invited talk at an upcoming workshop on intangible heritage festival. 

  • [UPCOMING] Menon, Mythili.  Oral traditions and language documentation. 10-13 December, 2015. Sree Sankara University of Sanskrit, Kalady, Kerala.