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Müller, Gereon: Derivational Syntax: Arguments and Challenges

Strong arguments for a derivational organization of syntax are provided by opaque interactions of grammatical building blocks (like rules, constraints, or schemata), i.e., by counter-bleeding and counter-feeding phenomena. Some of these opaque interactions can be captured in declarative/representational approaches by enriching representations (e.g., by traces/copies), others less straightforwardly so, and some not at all.

Arguments for extremely small local domains in derivational syntax (as in phase theory) are typically based on conceptual considerations (economy, learnability), but they can also be empirical in nature: Assuming a larger accessible domain (for syntactic rules/constraints), a wrong output would be predicted.

Assuming a derivational syntax with small accessible windows (as in some versions of the minimalist program) leads to a restrictive theory, but at the same time it raises potential problems. In particular, the questions arise of (i) whether there are meta-constraints on the order of operations (cf. Pullum (1979), McCawley (1984), Chomsky (2013)), and (ii) how phenomena can be addressed where it looks as though the accessible parts of a derivation must be larger after all because crucial information that would be needed for proper constraint/rule evaluation is otherwise lost. On the basis of improper movement and remnant movement constructions in German and other languages (where the two potential problems co-occur), I will argue that this challenge can be met in a simple way.


  • Chomsky, Noam. 2013. Problems of Projection. Lingua 130, 33–49.
  • McCawley, James. 1984. Exploitation of the Cyclic Principle as a Research Strategy in Syntax. In Wim de Geest and Y. Putseys (Eds): Sentential Complementation, Dordrecht: Foris, 165–183.
  • Geoffrey Pullum. 1979. Rule Interaction and the Organization of a Grammar. New York: Garland.

Maintained by Stefan Müller

Created: October 31, 2013
Last modified: January 09, 2019

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