Simpler Syntax

Simpler Syntax is the title of a 2005 book by Peter Culicover and Ray Jackendoff. The authors argue that modern minimalist syntax is going in the wrong direction, adopting ever more complex structures and derivations, and making overly strong assumptions about linguistic universals. Richard Kayne's theory of antisymmetry is one example they cite. Antisymmetry proposes specifier-complement-head as the "basic" branching order, based on the notion of an asymmetric c-command. This leads to rather complex derivations of certain phenomena, such as heavy NP shift. For Culicover and Jackendoff, the difference in order between (1) and (2) is simply a different ordering of the children of the verb phrase.

(1) I gave the books I bought yesterday to John
(2) I gave to John the books I bought yesterday

In antisymmetric theories, a number of movements are required to derive both structures, with the "shifted" structure in (2) derived by one or more additional movements.

Culicover and Jackendoff propose that the syntactic, semantic and phonological components of the language faculty are all generative; that is, there is no asymmetric dependence between any of these components. In contrast, it is traditionally assumed that syntax is the only generative component, the function of the semantic and phonological components being merely to "interpret" syntactic structures. Culicover and Jackendoff suggest that there is a flexible, constraint-based mapping between these different components which do not privilege any one over the others. In this, they are following the earlier proposals of Jerrold Sadock in his Autolexical Syntax model.


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