Location: Haines Hall 220
On the Symmetry Between Merge and Adjoin
A crucial task for syntactic theory is to determine what syntactic operations are made available by the human capacity for language, what their properties are, and why they have the properties they do. This talk aims to bring us closer to that goal by pushing forward our understanding of adjunction. It is argued that a minimal extension of the system developed in Zyman to appear—building on, but modifying, ideas from Bruening 2013, a.o.—makes possible an analysis of adjunction that is simple, explanatory, and empirically successful. On this analysis, there are two structure-building operations—Merge and Adjoin—whose definitions are similar but not identical, differing primarily in which of the two operands projects. This approach puts us in a good position to tackle two related questions: 1) why Merge and Adjoin both exist, and 2) why their definitions are similar but not identical. The answer that is offered to both questions is that Merge and Adjoin are “fillings-in” (elaborations) of a more elementary ur-operation Combine that does not incorporate projection/labeling. (Precise proposals are made as to both 1) why Combine was “filled in” and 2) why it was “filled in” in such a way as to yield Merge and Adjoin specifically.) Contrary to a widespread consensus, then, the statement in the definition of Merge to the effect that what selects projects is not an arbitrary, unexplained stipulation, but rather one-half of the double/symmetric “filling-in” just mentioned. Finally, the approach to Merge and Adjoin developed leads to the expectation that there should be no A-over-A Condition. Some apparent empirical problems for that conclusion are shown to be just that: only apparent. Overall, then, the goal of the talk is to bring us a step closer to fully understanding the seemingly recalcitrant phenomenon of adjunction, as well as its relationship to Merge.
Bruening, Benjamin. 2013. “By Phrases in Passives and Nominals.” Syntax 16.1: 1–41.
Zyman, Erik. To appear. “On the definition of Merge.” Syntax.