FROM THE PREFACE to LEXICON AND GRAMMAR
A central theme in this book's approach to lexical theory is that contextual
features in individual entries must be formally simple, uniform in format, and
stated in terms of psychologically accessible categories--i.e., categories which
classify the concrete words of PF, not the abstract phrases of LF; as real as
these latter are, they are not present in the data used by the child. That is,
the many detailed properties of complex constructions (e.g., participles, nominalizations,
passives) must derive from syntactically combining extremely transparent lexical
entries. These entries can contain no diacritics or purely formal features.
The motivation for this is simply a classic Chomskyan argument from poverty
of the stimulus. What individual children do in learning a specific language
is acquire a hoard of lexical entries for "small" grammatical items,
both bound and free. Now we observe that not only some but essentially every
one of these learned grammatical items differs syntactically from its closest
counterparts in closely related languages. For example, if there is a handful
of grammatical free or bound English morphemes lexically specified as exact
translations of French ones, they are exceptions which prove the rule (I have
yet to encounter a single one). Given that pre-school or unschooled children
learn hundreds of these language-particular grammatical items fast and well,
their lexical representations must have a simple and uniform format, expressed
in categories readily accessible in the linguistic data, i.e. subcategories
On the other hand, the facts of rapid acquisition do not suggest that lexical
insertion theory, presumably uniform across the species, has to itself be transparent,
any more than transformational theory or phonological theory are transparent.
The structure of the uniform lexical theory developed in this study is subject
only to general considerations of parsimony, elegance and empirical coverage
which we require of any scientific enterprise.
Curiously, most generative treatments of the lexicon, including those of Chomskyan
inspiration, search for extreme simplicity just where it seems least likely
to be found: areas of species-wide genetic predisposition which have taken eons
to perfect are felt to be governed by simple statements such as "affect
alpha." Yet in the area where poverty of the stimulus and rapid acquisition
have some force, the largely non-genetic lexical lists, essentially any quasi-formalized
linguistic or conceptual properties are attributed to individual items and no
principles regulate either lexical form or the lexicon-syntax interface. I do
not see how this combination of abstract principles operating on unconstrained
lexicons contributes to explaining acquisition of actual languages. Worse, the
unformalized nature of the lexicon renders largely untestable any empirical
claims made for the derivational component of UG (which depends on "projection
from the lexicon").
The literature under the rubric of Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, which
human time limitations have prevented me from seriously investigating, does
nonetheless seem to have a failing in this area as well, though one that is
not so maddening as the hand-waving approach to the lexicon widely practiced
in transformational syntax. While HPSG pays careful attention to formalizing
the lexicon, it seems to care less about constraining it. Practitioners seem
to be complacent and satisfied that if it works (i.e. can be computationally
modeled), it's (relatively at least) good enough. In my tentative excursions
into this literature, I sense little concern with trying to formulate a theory
of lexical entries all and only of whose possible instantiations are realized
in the lexicon of a language or some collection of languages.
This book therefore focuses on the urgent need for a formal, constrained and
empirically revealing theory of a syntactic lexicon. To satisfy this need, it
proposes new principles regulating subcategorization which determine how syntactic
structures project from a language's lexicon. In the theory developed here,
the trees projected by lexical subcategorization frames are not always copies
of the frames themselves, as they are in the first classical proposals of Chomsky's
(1965) Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. This study's highly restrictive sub-theories
of grammatical categories and features, abstract case, derivational levels and
economy principles have the consequence that sisterhood between a selecting
and selected element is only subcategorization's "simplest case."
The data and paradigms here are for the most part drawn from English, but properties
of Romance languages also form an essential part of the argumentation, and some
points are discussed in terms of constructions from yet other languages, especially
This study defends a strictly syntactic approach to the lexicon, i.e. it elaborates
a theory of c-selection (subcategorization) and argues against the use of any
thematic grids or lexical conceptual structures in grammatical computation.
Constructions which have been widely invoked as necessarily involving semantic
selection, such as the spray/ load alternation, propositional complements, light
verbs and understood arguments are shown to be better analyzed without it (cf.
especially Chapters 2, 6 and 9). A central organizing factor for this approach
to the lexicon is a crucial distinction between an item's "cognitive syntactic"
features F used in syntactic derivations and its "purely semantic"
features ƒ which are not (Chapter 1). The first use of the former (Chapter
2) sharpens the theory of c-selection by using these features in lexical frames
(e.g., +___ANIMATE rather than +___DP and +___PATH rather than +___PP).
The principal innovation based on the F/ƒ distinction is the proposal
in Chapter 3 that the lexicon consists of two quite different components, a
grammatical lexicon bereft of purely semantic features (the "Syntacticon")
and a mental lexicon which consists of the open classes of the more specified
contentful lexical items (the "Dictionary," which is the faculty of
human linguistic memory and culture). There are only four categories in the
Dictionary (N, V, A and P), what I term "nature's bottleneck" in a
final discussion in Chapter 10. Dictionary items are always inserted at the
outset of transformational computations on a domain, as in Chomsky (1965). The
perennial question "why do transformations exist?" is answered as
follows: to assemble sets of disparate open class items in structures which
can be communicated at the Phonological Form interface (PF) and interpreted
at the Logical Form interface (LF).
In contrast to the Dictionary, the Syntacticon is regulated by a theory of multi-level
lexical insertion: the feature composition of a lexical item in the Syntacticon
determines at which stage in a derivation it is inserted, i.e., satisfies its
c-selection properties. I take it that sweeping statements about levels of lexical
insertion are empty unless tied to predictions about particular items satisfying
specific insertion contexts. Chapters 4 and 5 explore the predictive consequences
of this study's theory of multi-level insertion for the Syntacticon's bound
morphemes and Chapters 6 and 7 for its free morphemes. In the limiting case,
entirely uninterpreted Syntacticon items are inserted at PF; in particular,
the entire class of items traditionally called inflections are characterized
as "late-inserted" in this way. Inflections which apparently contribute
to meaning (past tense, noun plurals, etc.) in fact serve only to license empty
nodes in other interpretable free morpheme positions (I, D).
While developing the theory of the Syntacticon and multi-level insertion,
I argue not only against semantic selection but also against any autonomous
"morphological component" with combinatorial properties, in the lexicon
or elsewhere. I claim the only statements needed for morphology are those with
phonological effects, possibly conditioned by syntactic factors. The entire
content of morphology is thus akin to interface statements such as a rule of
Classical Greek, "verbs and adjectives receive penultimate stress."
Except for the effects of such statements, the combinatory principles of bound
morphology are exactly the same as those governing the syntax of free morphemes,
especially those of compounding (Chapter 3). Supposed differences between compounding
and morphology in e.g. Romance languages are shown to be differences between
free and bound morphemes.
The notion that categories in trees are associated with lexical items only
in the course of derivations raises the question of how these categories act
prior to such insertion. Many analyses in this book demonstrate that a category
in a head position does not act like a head until it is lexically filled. This
principle regulating underlying empty heads is introduced in Chapter 4 and used
throughout the rest of the study. Since grammatical elements can be inserted
at later derivational levels, the empirical properties of particular grammatical
elements are typically due to (i) their delayed status as head of a construction
and/ or (ii) whether they are interpreted in Logical Form. Simple and uniform
lexical specifications leading to insertion of single morphemes at two or three
derivational levels provide novel explanations for many previously poorly understood
complex grammatical patterns, for example in both the passive and perfect periphrastic
constructions of Germanic and Romance (Chapter 5).
In Chapter 6, Syntacticon entries of the form X, +___Y are shown to induce syntactic
"flat structures" if both X and Y are the same category and X lacks
purely semantic features ƒ (i.e., is subject to late lexical insertion).
This peculiar conjunction of properties provides analyses which solve many recalcitrant
syntactic puzzles of especially the Romance languages. Causative, restructuring,
linking and light verbs, which have all been treated differently in the literature,
actually realize very similar structures. The explanations all crucially exploit
the notion of "empty underlying head." Another area which demonstrates
the explanatory power of syntactically empty heads is a range of PPs headed
by grammatical P, including adjuncts as well as complements (Chapter 7).
Chapter 8 builds to what is in some way the intellectual climax of the book.
It begins by extending case theory and refining certain formal properties of
subcategorization in a way that fully defines, in conjunction with the category
and feature theory of Chapter 1, the notion of "possible syntactic part
of a lexical entry." This chapter demonstrates that quite general and familiar
classes of complements in the English lexicon instantiate all and only the structures
predicted by the category and subcategorization theories of this book. This
reformalization of the notion "lexical entry," after twenty years
of promissory notes in the ever novel coinages of theta theory, semantic selection,
conceptual structures and the like, finally proposes limits imposed by Universal
Grammar on the construct "possible lexical entry." This step removes
the vagueness that has been associated with the lexicon for decades and enables
us to embed the study of syntactic derivations in a fully generative system,
in which all modules are formalized.
The last two chapters pursue another hypothesis that privileges syntax over
any active role for the lexicon in language use. These chapters argue that all
understood arguments are represented syntactically; a case is made against various
notions of "unprojected arguments" which have appeared in the literature.
In particular, Chapter 9 justifies unexceptional, purely syntactic representations
for "null complement anaphora" and "null generic objects,"
and derives obligatory PRO as a by-product of subcategorization for a V-headed
rather than I- or C-headed complement. Finally, Chapter 10 argues for a discourse-governed
reference of optional PRO subjects, which turn out to have a broader distribution
than usually envisioned and include subjects of imperatives and agent phrases
in verbal passives. All understood arguments are thus syntactically present
A potentially controversial psychological implication of this study is that
language can express only those combinatory meanings which simply "arise"
from valid syntactic combinations. In the view developed here, syntax determines
entirely any propositions we can formulate about our mental world and yet is
largely independent of and provides very little insight into how we otherwise
conceptualize it. Moreover, a little reflection shows (see in particular the
concluding sections of each of the last three chapters) that our mental world
and the form of natural language are almost entirely incommensurable, at least
in terms of our ability to consciously reflect on them. So for example, while
models of propositions are always discrete and almost invariably two-dimensional,
our conceptualizations are obviously continuous and three or four dimensional:
The room slowly filled with smoke.
Thus, even if thematic relations between a verb and its arguments are just "convenient
mnemonics for particularly prominent configurations" in conceptual structures
(Jackendoff 1987: 385), a given verb's lexical conceptual structure, while psychologically
applicable to the world, is still linguistically opaque and unlikely to correspond
to any structure in a grammatical phrase marker outside the verb. Consequently,
any pieces of conceptual structure attached to lexical items remain unanalyzable
and are hence next to useless as a guide to more general knowledge about the
interface of conceptual structure with syntax.