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A Generative Introduction

Andrew Carnie

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eBook - ePub


A Generative Introduction

Andrew Carnie

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About This Book

Andrew Carnie's bestselling textbook on syntax has guided thousands of students through the discipline of theoretical syntax; retaining its popularity due to its combination of straightforward language, comprehensive coverage, and numerous exercises. In this third edition, topics have been updated, new exercises added, and the online resources have been expanded.

  • Supported by expanded online student and instructor resources, including extra chapters on HPSG, LFG and time-saving materials for lecturers, including problem sets, PowerPoint slides, and an instructors' manual
  • Features new chapters on ellipsis, auxiliaries, and non-configurational languages
  • Covers topics including phrase structure, the lexicon, Case theory, movement, covert movement, locality conditions, VP shells, and control
  • Accompanied by a new optional workbook, available separately, of sample problem sets which are designed to give students greater experience of analyzing syntactic structure

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Part 1


chapter 1

Generative Grammar

Learning Objectives
After reading chapter 1 you should walk away having mastered the following ideas and skills:
1. Explain why Language is a psychological property of humans.
2. Distinguish between prescriptive and descriptive rules.
3. Explain the scientific method as it applies to syntax.
4. Explain the differences between the kinds of data gathering, including corpora and linguistic judgments.
5. Explain the difference between competence and performance.
6. Provide at least three arguments for Universal Grammar.
7. Explain the logical problem of language acquisition.
8. Distinguish between learning and acquisition.
9. Distinguish among observational, descriptive and explanatory adequacy.

0. Preliminaries

Although we use it every day, and although we all have strong opinions about its proper form and appropriate use, we rarely stop to think about the wonder of language. So-called language “experts” like William Safire tell us about the misuse of hopefully or lecture us about the origins of the word boondoggle, but surprisingly, they never get at the true wonder of language: how it actually works as a complex machine. Think about it for a minute. You are reading this and understanding it, but you have no conscious knowledge of how you are doing it. The study of this mystery is the science of linguistics. This book is about one aspect of how language works: how sentences are structured, or the study of syntax.
Language is a psychological or cognitive property of humans. That is, there is some set of neurons in my head firing madly away that allows me to sit here and produce this set of letters, and there is some other set of neurons in your head firing away that allows you to translate these squiggles into coherent ideas and thoughts. There are several subsystems at work here. If you were listening to me speak, I would be producing sound waves with my vocal cords and articulating particular speech sounds with my tongue, lips, and vocal cords. On the other end of things you’d be hearing those sound waves and translating them into speech sounds using your auditory apparatus. The study of the acoustics and articulation of speech is called phonetics. Once you’ve translated the waves of sound into mental representations of speech sounds, you analyze them into syllables and pattern them appropriately. For example, speakers of English know that the made-up word bluve is a possible word of English, but the word bnuck is not. This is part of the science called phonology. Then you take these groups of sounds and organize them into meaningful units (called morphemes) and words. For example, the word dancer is made up of two meaningful bits: dance and the suffix -er. The study of this level of Language is called morphology. Next you organize the words into phrases and sentences. Syntax is the cover term for studies at this level of Language. Finally, you take the sentences and phrases you hear and translate them into thoughts and ideas. This last step is what we refer to as the semantic level of Language.
Syntax studies the level of Language that lies between words and the meaning of utterances: sentences. It is the level that mediates between sounds that someone produces (organized into words) and what they intend to say.
Perhaps one of the truly amazing aspects of the study of Language is not the origins of the word demerit, or how to properly punctuate a quote inside parentheses, or how kids have, like, destroyed the English language, eh? Instead it’s the question of how we subconsciously get from sounds and words to meaning. This is the study of syntax.
Language vs. language
When I utter the term language, most people immediately think of some particular language such as English, French, or KiSwahili. But this is not the way linguists use the term; when linguists talk about Language (also known as i-language), they are generally talking about the ability of humans to speak any (particular) language. Noam Chomsky also calls this the Human Language Capacity. Language (written with a capital L) is the part of the mind or brain that allows you to speak, whereas language (with a lower-case l) (also known as e-language) is an instantiation of this ability (like French or English). In this book we'll be using language as our primary data, but we'll be trying to come up with a model of Language.

1. Syntax as a Cognitive Science

Cognitive science is a cover term for a group of disciplines that all have the same goal: describing and explaining human beings’ ability to think (or more particularly, to think about abstract notions like subatomic particles, the possibility of life on other planets or even how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, etc.). One thing that distinguishes us from other animals, even relatively smart ones like chimps and elephants, is our ability to use productive, combinatory Language. Language plays an important role in how we think about abstract notions, or, at the very least, Language appears to be structured in such a way that it allows us to express abstract notions.1 The discipline of li...

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