What are some alternatives to Chomskian generative grammar?



What are the other common approaches to study syntax?

Note: the source is an example question from the on-topic question list in Area51.

Louis Rhys

Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 4 363

1On the one hand, things should indeed be read with the author and the intended audience in mind. On the other hand, any academic department is going to go through changes in 30 years, so keep that in mind when reading comments like Alan H's.Aerlinthe 2011-10-08T14:02:30.593


As a quick sidenote, MIT teaches a course every other year on different approaches to syntax, and they have lecture notes and readings up on their website: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/linguistics-and-philosophy/24-960-syntactic-models-spring-2006/ and http://stellar.mit.edu/S/course/24/fa09/24.960/index.html (I've never looked at them, though, so I don't know how good they are.)

grautur 2011-09-14T16:13:46.043

2I believe that is the course commonly referred to as "bad guys", so keep that in mind when reading these. ;)Alan H. 2011-09-14T23:58:51.457

The question may be broed, but it is clearly on the topic of linguistics and it has sparked several good answers. Therefore I see no reason to close it now.jknappen 2016-08-15T17:58:25.463

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-bar_theory would be a step back, right?Anno2001 2012-11-03T20:10:27.527



If you want to go in depth, check the links. To name a few:

  1. Cognitive Grammar developed by Ronald Langacker.
  2. Construction Grammar (CxG): "CxG is typically associated with Cognitive Linguistics, partly because many of the linguists that are involved in CxG are also involved in Cognitive Linguistics, and partly because CxG and Cognitive Linguistics share many theoretical and philosophical foundations."
  3. Cognitive Linguistics: "Cognitive linguists deny that the mind has any module for language-acquisition that is unique and autonomous. This stands in contrast to the stance adopted in the field of generative grammar."


Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 7 102


You may want to check out Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar, which is a non-derivational generative grammar, developed at Stanford beginning in 1987.

See: Pollard, Carl; Ivan A. Sag. (1994). Head-driven phrase structure grammar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 231


and many many more.

I will add that in NLP/CL circles, Chomsky's approaches (Principles & Parameters, Minimalist Program) seem to be mentioned only for historical reasons. Chomsky's approaches have been superseded and seem to have been almost completely abandoned. Though dependencies are not exactly a grammar formalism, they seem to be far more commonly used than all of the above in NLP/CL circles. Having said that, I believe that many psycholinguists still use Chomsky's systems for their work.


Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 2 908

Chomskyan approaches have basically never been used (or even seriously considered) in NLP/CL, so I don't think they were either superseded or abandoned. Choice of framework in those circles is almost always practical, rather than scientifically motivated, and almost always comes down to "who do I know that has a working system that I can use", "what framework do the latest prominent papers use", and "what does my advisor like", nothing about differences between the theories. Not that there's anything wrong with that...the goal in these fields isn't to study syntax.kgr 2011-10-06T15:57:09.507

Do you have any ideas on which is more important or more widespread, and in comparison to Chomskyan PSG?Mitch 2011-09-14T16:16:11.443

1I'm not sure what would give the idea that TAG (Tree Adjoining Grammar) is not Chomskyan. It is a different tree structure and derivation process than the structures Chomsky and his collaborators have used in their papers, true. But it relies on the same core idea as much of his work: a mathematically formal system in the mind, specific movement and adjunction operators, etc.Constantine 2011-09-14T18:37:26.827

LExical Functional Grammar (LFG) is often used in computational linguistics because it has multiple interfaces that work nicely from a programing perspective. Also, LFG is "non-Chomskyan" in that Joan Bresnan (one of the original architects of LFG) was a student of Chomsky's back in the 70s and much of LFG comes out of her disagreements with his position.LaurenG 2011-09-14T22:13:07.313

I think HPSG is probably the most common formalism besides principles and parameters/minimalism.Alan H. 2011-09-15T00:01:39.440

@Constantine, you are right, a lots of linguists do not know what the Chomskyan essence is.XL _at_China 2014-11-10T05:45:31.977

@Mitch: When I asked my professor this question about 6 months ago, I was told that there is no clear-cut answer to that. HPSG does seem very popular at our university, but Pollard, who co-created it, says he hasn't done HPSG in 15 years.prash 2011-09-15T11:54:28.890

@Alan: what is "principles and parameters/minimalism"? Is that another alternative to Chomsky? Can you put it in an answer and explain it?Mitch 2011-09-15T12:21:15.953

@Constantine: I don't know what you mean... many of these formalisms have movement- and adjoining-like operations. TAG is as different from Chomskyan tradiditions as any of these. There was even a paper that shows that all 4 formalisms I mentioned to be mathematically equivalent.

prash 2011-09-15T12:21:34.450


Principles & Parameters/Minimalism is certainly not dominant in NLP/CL circles, but not absent either. Have a look, for example, at the work of UCLA's Ed Stabler and Sandiway Fong of the University of Arizona.

pensator 2012-03-07T13:12:53.670

@Mitch: No, principles & parameters is the overall framework that Chomsky and others work in. Minimalism is a particular program that Chomsky set in motion almost two decades ago, in which they try to eliminate as much of the theoretical apparatus (of Government-Binding theory) as possible. So both are "Chomskyan", and they are nowadays more or less the same thing, as far as I can tell.Alan H. 2011-09-16T22:53:52.753


Don’t forget the “no particular approach” approach.

Haspelmath: “If there are no frameworks, then what should I teach my students in syntax classes? My answer is: The best syntax class is a field methods course, and the second best syntax class is a typology course.” - Framework-free grammatical theory.


Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 2 581


It's true that no approach is "framework-free," but it has been argued that descriptive theories and explanatory theories need not be one and the same. In fact, one such argument can be found here: http://linguistics.buffalo.edu/people/faculty/dryer/dryer/desc.expl.theories.pdf

James Grossmann 2013-09-16T18:33:38.073


I think what Haspelmath is implying is a more bottom-up (i.e. empirical and inductive) approach to language description. Of course, we can never completely abandon models ("language" or "sentence" are abstractions themselves), but at least we can try to get closer to the linguistic elements themselves, instead of starting with a high-level framework. Haspelmath explained his approach more in depth in other papers, but my favourite discussion is the one used by Lazard (2002)

Fryie 2013-09-18T15:25:32.483

I disagree with Martin Haspelmath. There is no such thing as "framework-free" analysis or linguistics. In the paper you mentioned he says that "grammatical descriptions must make use of abstract general entities such as rules, schemas and constraints". I wonder how he establishes those "abstract" general entities in a framework-free approach.Alex B. 2012-04-19T23:24:42.333

Oooh, nice. Reminds me, need to get a hold of Dixon's BLT-books (it's a sandwich! it's Basic Linguistic Theory!) one of these days.kaleissin 2011-09-20T20:30:58.400


Role and Reference Grammar

Briefly, from Wikipedia:

In RRG, the description of a sentence in a particular language is formulated in terms of (a) its logical (semantic) structure and communicative functions, and (b) the grammatical procedures that are available in the language for the expression of these meanings.


Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 161


There are formalized dependency-based grammars, such as Meaning-Text Theory or Functional Generative Description. A simple Google search will give you links to papers and books.


Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 1 727


Automodular Grammar (Sorry, no Wikipedia page)

A framework by Jerrold Sadock in which each module of language (Syntax, Semantics, Morphology, etc.) is completely independent of the others.

Dan Milway

Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 412


AUG - Applicative universal grammar, by Shauman. It somewhat mix of chomsky ideas with semiotic approach.

Alexey Kruchenok

Posted 2011-09-14T05:54:06.353

Reputation: 1

4Welcome to Linguistics.SE! We're looking for long answers that provide some references, explanation, and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations.bytebuster 2017-11-30T11:04:43.707