Crash-free syntax and crash phenomena in model-theoretic grammar

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The problem of obtaining a ‘crash-proof syntax’ has proved a difficult one for the Minimalist Program (Chomsky, 1995). This paper argues that this difficulty stems from the intrinsic enumerative-generative nature of the framework, since model-theoretic frameworks of grammar are crash-proof by definition (Pullum & Scholtz, 2001). The latter do not describe, define or produce derivations, or any kind of linguistic structure for that matter. The production of linguistic structures is left to the performance modules (i.e. comprehension and production), which consult the competence grammar module in order to determine which structures are possible. On the other hand, it is clear that the construction of syntactic structure performed by performance modules can – and often does – go awry during production and comprehension. A proper general theory of language should account for such empirically motivated performance ‘crashes’. Because they lack the notion of derivation, model-theoretic frameworks are better suited to be integrated with theories of how linguistic structure is actually built in production and comprehension. It is unclear what psychological correlate, if any, there is to derivations and crashes in a Minimalist setting. It is known since Fodor et al. (1974) that a derivational theory of complexity has no psycholinguistic grounding. Model-theoretic frameworks do not have this problem precisely because they are process-neutral.


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