Sharpening the empirical claims of generative syntax through formalization
Course Description: There is often confusion or skepticism about just what empirical claims are being made by research in generative syntax. A certain proposal about the grammatical transformations involved in, say, question-formation or passivization, will be intended as a description of certain mental structures. But it is easy to lose track of how debates over which particular derivational mechanisms provide the best analysis of a particular grammatical construction can or should be connected with these mental/cognitive kinds of research goals. This course aims to show that one way to make this connection more concrete and understandable is via more explicitly formalized models of generative syntax.
We will begin by reviewing the ways that grammars in general can be understood as hypotheses about cognitive objects, based on examples with simpler and more frequently formalized finite-state and/or context-free models. We will then investigate ways in which the Minimalist Grammar (MG) formalism can be used to bring the same kind of explicitness and precision, and hence the same kind of cognitive significance, to proposals set in the framework of modern generative grammar.
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