Introductory Notes and References
What is going on in the mind of a three-year-old? A young human child, who can't yet learn to add 2 and 2 or to tie its shoe, is putting together in her/his head the grammar of the surrounding language. This is an astounding feat, as evidenced in part by the fact that linguists (scientists who study language) have yet to fully understand how any such grammatical system works or precisely what it contains. By around the age of 5, this child will possess a very sophisticated adult-compatible version of the language. This fact is tacitly recognized in many cultures that only let children begin formal schooling at around that age. The main requirement for such schooling is that the child be able to speak the language well enough to talk to and understand an adult stranger, namely the teacher. So around the age of 3, children are in the midst of developing the grammar of their language (or languages, in multilingual settings).
To make the question above somewhat more specific, what we are asking is this: What does the child learn when (s)he learns a human language? If we define a language as the set of all of the sentences that are possible (i.e. German is all that stuff that sounds like German, etc.), then the fact that there is no "longest" sentence in a human language clearly indicates that the language (the set of possible sentences) is infinitely large and could not be "memorized" or learned directly. So instead, the child must be creating a "grammar" (the traditional term used above), or better, a computational system, a system that lets the speaker "compute" any of the infinitely many possible sentences of the language. In essence, when we study and do research in linguistics, what we are trying to discover are the particulars of this computing system. What are its basic elements, and what are the rules of their combination into the things that we call sentences?
This book is intended as a brief introduction to modern generative syntax in the Chomskyan tradition. There are many fine introductions to this subject that are more lengthy and detailed. The purpose of this shorter text is to offer in a highly readable style an amount of information and accompanying work that is significant, but that also can be covered at a reasonable pace in a quarter or trimester format, or in half of a full semester, where the other half might deal with other aspects of linguistic analysis, readings in linguistics, or competing theories. Though brief, this work nonetheless has the goals of (1) introducing the reader to terms and concepts that are core to the field of syntax; (2) teaching the reader to understand and operate various syntactic analyses, an essential aspect of hypothesis formation and testing; (3) offering the reader the reasoning behind the choice of one analysis over another, thus grounding the reader in linguistic argumentation; and (4) preparing the reader for more advanced study of/research into syntactic systems.
No introductory work offers or can offer a complete picture of the field, but the topics dealt with here are central to the study of syntax. They form a coherent set that will serve the purpose of facilitating more in-depth study and research. As many have come to realize, this is one of the most fascinating areas in the study of human cognition.
This text deals with various areas of syntactic analysis that are fundamental to formulating modern theories of syntax. Rather than giving many elaborated references to current work, I will focus here on citing works that were foundational to the analyses discussed in this book, or that offer broad insight into them. The discussion of language acquisition in Chapter 1 is based on observations noted in Slobin (1979), and those of Chomsky (1999). In Chapter 2, some of the traditional grammar