Comparative Syntax and Language Acquisition

Comparative Syntax and Language Acquisition

Comparative Syntax and Language Acquisition

Comparative Syntax and Language Acquisition

Synopsis

In this collection of essays, the author addresses the central issues in syntax theory, comparative syntax and the theoretically conscious study of language acquisition. Key topics are explored, including the properties of null elements and the theory of parameters. Some of the essays presented here have been highly influential in their field, while others are published for the first time.

Excerpt

The essays collected in this volume are articulated around four major research topics: the parametric approach to comparative syntax, with special reference to the properties of the pronominal systems; the theory of locality in a representational approach; the fine-grained study of structural representations, leading to a detailed cartography of syntactic configurations; and the theoretically-conscious study of language acquisition and language development. The essays have been written at different times over a period of about fifteen years. Rather then presenting them chronologically, I have opted for organizing the presentation in four sections corresponding to the major research lines mentioned above. In this introductory section, I would like to outline the theoretical context of each topic, review some of the results achieved, and discuss and speculate on possible developments.

Up until the mid-seventies, particular grammars were conceived of as systems of rules meeting some general constraints, but fundamentally specific to individual languages. For instance, French causatives differed from English causatives in that French syntax had certain transformational rules of causative formation (Kayne 1975) which English lacked, certain Italian verbs allowed clitic climbing and other phenomena disallowed in Contemporary French because Italian syntax had a restructuring rule missing in Contemporary French (Rizzi 1976, 1978a), etc. Universal Grammar (UG), the abstract theory of the human language faculty, was conceived of as a grammatical metatheory constraining the form and functioning of particular grammars (Chomsky 1973). On the one hand, UG defined the format for possible grammatical rules; in terms of the cognitive interpretation of UG as a theory of the initial cognitive state, it then defined the 'search space' for grammatical construction, the space of grammatical possibilities within which the language learner had to build

* Thanks are due to Marco Nicolis and Manola Salustri for editorial help.

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