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Noam Chomsky  

Howard Lasnik and Terje Lohndal

Noam Avram Chomsky is one of the central figures of modern linguistics. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 7, 1928. In 1945, Chomsky enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania, where he met Zellig Harris (1909–1992), a leading Structuralist, through their shared political interests. His first encounter with Harris’s work was when he proof-read Harris’s book Methods in Structural Linguistics, published in 1951 but completed already in 1947. Chomsky grew dissatisfied with Structuralism and started to develop his own major idea that syntax and phonology are in part matters of abstract representations. This was soon combined with a psychobiological view of language as a unique part of the mind/brain. Chomsky spent 1951–1955 as a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows, after which he joined the faculty at MIT under the sponsorship of Morris Halle. He was promoted to full professor of Foreign Languages and Linguistics in 1961, appointed Ferrari Ward Professor of Linguistics in 1966, and Institute Professor in 1976, retiring in 2002. Chomsky is still remarkably active, publishing, teaching, and lecturing across the world. In 1967, both the University of Chicago and the University of London awarded him honorary degrees, and since then he has been the recipient of scores of honors and awards. In 1988, he was awarded the Kyoto Prize in basic science, created in 1984 in order to recognize work in areas not included among the Nobel Prizes. These honors are all a testimony to Chomsky’s influence and impact in linguistics and cognitive science more generally over the past 60 years. His contributions have of course also been heavily criticized, but nevertheless remain crucial to investigations of language. Chomsky’s work has always centered around the same basic questions and assumptions, especially that human language is an inherent property of the human mind. The technical part of his research has continuously been revised and updated. In the 1960s phrase structure grammars were developed into what is known as the Standard Theory, which transformed into the Extended Standard Theory and X-bar theory in the 1970s. A major transition occurred at the end of the 1970s, when the Principles and Parameters Theory emerged. This theory provides a new understanding of the human language faculty, focusing on the invariant principles common to all human languages and the points of variation known as parameters. Its recent variant, the Minimalist Program, pushes the approach even further in asking why grammars are structured the way they are.


The Locative Existential Construction in Chinese  

Yang Gu and Jie Guo

The locative inversion constructions are characterized by a noncanonical word order where a locative phrase is inverted preceding the verb and the thematic subject follows the verb. This phenomenon is found quite common crosslinguistically, though whether “inversion” is the right label for the constructions or not remains controversial. Issues regarding the status of the locative phrase, Case assignment, unaccusativity, verb argument structure, agreement, and the mechanism that triggers this noncanonical word order have been the major concerns in various proposals. The closest constructions that exhibit similar word order found in Chinese are locative existential constructions (LECs). However, the assumption of locative inversion in the constructions requires substantial empirical support. The Chinese LECs depict or present the existence of an entity or an eventuality. As in English and other languages where locative inversion prevails, issues related to the grammatical function of the locative phrase, Case assignment, and types of verbs in LECs draw a lot of attention from researchers in Chinese linguistics. In particular, research on the types of verbs in LECs has important bearing on the possible syntactic derivation of locative existential sentences. The discussions in this article show that the verbs allowed in the constructions vary. Some are intrinsically intransitive postural verbs, and many others are lexical-syntactically derived from ditransitive placement verbs such as fang ‘put’, gua ‘hang’, etc. via decausativization. The result of the derivation yields verbs that show alternation with their ditransitive counterparts. These derived verbs are seemingly similar to the unaccusative member of the causative~unaccusative pairs in English, but different in terms of their argument structure and syntactic behavior. The intransitive and the derived verbs found in the LECs are shown to have the same lexical semantic sense of spatial configuration and can be treated on a par with a template of [y Location HAVE z Theme]. The abstract verb HAVE, meaning existentiality but lacking manner of existence, can be lexicalized by verbs, specifying various manner of existentiality. In other words, the argument structure of the verbs in the constructions is , where the location is realized by a locative phrase, which is a noun phrase in Chinese, base generated in [Spec, vP] in accordance with VP-internal Subject Hypothesis, and the theme by another noun phrase denoting an entity. It is the lexical semantics of these verbs that accounts for not only the general properties of Chinese LECs shared with other languages like English but also the language particular properties such as the word order and the aspect marker obligatorily used in Chinese LECs. Given these particular properties, Chinese LECs are shown not to involve locative inversion.


Phrase Structure and Movement in Japanese  

Mamoru Saito

Japanese exhibits some unique features with respect to phrase structure and movement. It is well-known that its phrase structure is strictly head-final. It also provides ample evidence that a sentence may have more complex structure than its surface form suggests. Causative sentences are the best-known example of this. They appear to be simple sentences with verbs accompanying the causative suffix, -sase. But the causative suffix is an independent verb and takes a small clause vP complement in the syntactic representation. Japanese sentences can have a rich structure in the right periphery. For example, embedded clauses may contain up to three overt complementizers, corresponding to Finite (no), Interrogative (ka), and Report/Force (to). Matrix clauses may end in a sequence of discourse particles, such as wa, yo, and ne. Each of the complementizers and discourse particles has a selectional requirement of its own. More research is required to settle on the functional heads in the nominal structure. Among the controversial issues are whether D is present and whether Case markers should be analyzed as independent heads. Various kinds of movement operations are observed in the language. NP-movement to the subject position takes place in passive and unaccusative sentences, and clausal comparatives and clefts are derived by operator-movement. Scrambling is a unique movement operation that should be distinguished from both NP-movement and operator-movement. It does not establish operator-variable relations but is not subject to the locality requirements imposed on NP-movement. It cannot be PF-movement as it creates new binding possibilities. It is still debated whether head movement, for example, the movement of verb to tense, takes place in the language.


Scope Marking at the Syntax-Semantics Interface  

Veneeta Dayal and Deepak Alok

Natural language allows questioning into embedded clauses. One strategy for doing so involves structures like the following: [CP-1 whi [TP DP V [CP-2 … ti …]]], where a wh-phrase that thematically belongs to the embedded clause appears in the matrix scope position. A possible answer to such a question must specify values for the fronted wh-phrase. This is the extraction strategy seen in languages like English. An alternative strategy involves a structure in which there is a distinct wh-phrase in the matrix clause. It is manifested in two types of structures. One is a close analog of extraction, but for the extra wh-phrase: [CP-1 whi [TP DP V [CP-2 whj [TP…t­j­…]]]]. The other simply juxtaposes two questions, rather than syntactically subordinating the second one: [CP-3 [CP-1 whi [TP…]] [CP-2 whj [TP…]]]. In both versions of the second strategy, the wh-phrase in CP-1 is invariant, typically corresponding to the wh-phrase used to question propositional arguments. There is no restriction on the type or number of wh-phrases in CP-2. Possible answers must specify values for all the wh-phrases in CP-2. This strategy is variously known as scope marking, partial wh movement or expletive wh questions. Both strategies can occur in the same language. German, for example, instantiates all three possibilities: extraction, subordinated, as well as sequential scope marking. The scope marking strategy is also manifested in in-situ languages. Scope marking has been subjected to 30 years of research and much is known at this time about its syntactic and semantic properties. Its pragmatics properties, however, are relatively under-studied. The acquisition of scope marking, in relation to extraction, is another area of ongoing research. One of the reasons why scope marking has intrigued linguists is because it seems to defy central tenets about the nature of wh scope taking. For example, it presents an apparent mismatch between the number of wh expressions in the question and the number of expressions whose values are specified in the answer. It poses a challenge for our understanding of how syntactic structure feeds semantic interpretation and how alternative strategies with similar functions relate to each other.


Generative Grammar  

Knut Tarald Taraldsen

This article presents different types of generative grammar that can be used as models of natural languages focusing on a small subset of all the systems that have been devised. The central idea behind generative grammar may be rendered in the words of Richard Montague: “I reject the contention that an important theoretical difference exists between formal and natural languages” (“Universal Grammar,” Theoria, 36 [1970], 373–398).