Chapter 1. Structure at the bottom
Generative Semantics set out to unearth the intricacies of paradigms by applying the same computational devices that helped generative grammar account for syntagmatic dependencies. The proposal failed on empirical grounds, as paradigmatic relations lack the productivity, transparency and systematicity of syntagmatic ones, which the computational approach is ideal at capturing. That said, Ray Jackendoff observed in the late eighties how one significant fact that the demised paradigm was designed to capture continued to be puzzling: logically possible though syntactically impossible gaps in lexical paradigms. The classic instance, due to Paul Postal, emphasizes the absence of verbs in any language whose meaning is, say, “meet x and relatives”, a construction whose description in Generative Semantics terms would violate the Coordinate Structure Constraint (other such impossible verbs can be constructed on the basis of any other syntactic principle). This note discusses how Jackendoff’s puzzle has not been resolved, and speculates that an Evo-Devo treatment of the puzzle might be possible if we think of the problem in two stages: at a language acquisition phase that lasts up to roughly puberty and at a consolidation phase that ensues thereafter.