A Derivational Approach to Syntactic Relations

A Derivational Approach to Syntactic Relations

A Derivational Approach to Syntactic Relations

A Derivational Approach to Syntactic Relations

Synopsis

A fundamental concept in all syntactic theories is that of a syntactic relation between syntactic objects. While recent work in the Minimalist Framework has attempted to explain the nature of syntactic objects in terms of simple and conceptually necessary assumptions regarding the language faculty, the relations that hold between syntactic objects has not been similarly explored. The authors initiate such an exploration and argue that certain fundamental relations such as c-command, dominance, and checking relations can be explained within a derivational approach to structure-building. This approach has significant consequences concerning the architecture of the syntactic component. Semantic and phonological interpretation need not operate upon the output phrase-structure representation created by the syntactic derivation. Interpretation is more readily computed derivationally, by interpreting the steps of a derivation, rather than the single output structure created by it. The result is a new and controversial level-free model of the syntactic component of the human language faculty. This topical and timely Minimalist analysis will interest professional and theoretical linguists, syntacticians, and anyone interested in contemporary approaches to syntactic theory.

Excerpt

The theoretical construct "transformational rule," a binary relation mapping one phrase-marker into another, has long played a central role in generative syntactic theory. Our research explores the following question: What exactly is the empirical content of transformational rules as formulated in contemporary transformational theories of universal syntax? Essentially, we will advance the hypothesis that the structure-building rules Merge and Move (Chomsky 1994) naturally express all syntactically significant relations; that is, if X and Y are concatenated, then X and Y naturally enter into syntactically significant relations. If correct, this theory will allow us to dispense with stipulated and hence unexplained definitions of syntactic relations defined on phrase- structure representations.

From Syntactic Structures through the Extended Standard Theory framework, transformations were both language-specific and construction-specific: the linguistic expressions of a given language were construed as a set of structures generable by the phrase- structure and transformational rules particular to that language. Transformational rules thus played a crucial role in the description of particular languages.

The advent of the Principles and Parameters (henceforth, P&P) framework called this model into question, first and perhaps foremost on the basis of problems of learnability: not only did the language learner have to ascertain the formal, language-specific properties of the transformational rules that generated the expressions of his/her particular language (i.e., determine both the structural description defining the input structures to which the rule could be applied and the structural change that specified the output of transformational rule-application), but the learner also had to determine both the relative order of application and the obli-

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