Lexical Functional Syntax
Joan Bresnan is Sadie Dernham Patek Professor in Humanities Emerita at Stanford University and a Senior Researcher at Stanford's Center for the Study of Language and Information. One of the principal architects of lexical-functional grammar, Bresnan is a former President of the Linguistic Society of America, an inaugural Fellow of the LSA, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Fellow of the Cognitive Science Society, a Fellow of the Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences, and a Guggenheim Fellow. Ash Asudeh is University Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Oxford, Hugh Price Fellow at Jesus College, and Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Carleton University. He is a recipient of an Early Researcher Award from the Province of Ontario and the E.W. Beth Prize. He is the author of The Logic of Pronominal Resumption (2012). Ida Toivonen is Associate Professor of Linguistics and Cognitive Science at Carleton University. She has published on phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics; and is the author of Non-Projecting Words (2001), and co-editor of Saami Linguistics (2007). Stephen Wechsler is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Texas. He is the author of The Semantic Basis of Argument Structure (1995), and co-author of The Many Faces of Agreement (2003).
Lexical Functional Syntax
One fundamental problem for the design of universal grammar is the great variability in modes of expression of languages. Languages differ radically in the ways in which they form similar ideas into words and phrases. The idea of two small children chasing a dog is expressed in English by means of a phrase structure in which conceptual components of the whole - the concept of the two small children and the concept of the dog being two such components - correspond to single phrases. Phrases are groups of contiguous words that are units for substitutions, remain together as units under stylistic permutations and paraphrases of a sentence, constrain the pronunciation patterns of sentences, and are subject to ordering constraints relative to other words and word groups. The (simplified) phrase structure of an English sentence is illustrated in (1): 1
In this structure, the word combinations the two small children and that dog are noun phrases (NPs), in which the words cannot be separated, and there is also a verb phrase (VP). When the phrases are freely broken up, the result is ungrammatical or different in meaning:
The simple correspondence between conceptual units and grammatical phrases seems so natural to the English speaker as to appear a necessary feature of language itself - but it is not. Consider Warlpiri, a language of the people who have inhabited Australia since long before the colonization of that continent by English speakers. 2 Example (3) shows the phrase structure of a Warlpiri sentence expressing the same idea as the English sentence (1). 3 But in Warlpiri, every permutation of the words in the sentence is possible, with the same meaning, so long as the auxiliary (Aux) tense marker occurs in the second position. In particular, the word orders of all the bad English examples in (2) are good in Warlpiri.
It is not true that Warlpiri lacks phrases altogether: syntactic analysis has shown that some phrases (NPs but not VPs) do optionally occur, and there is evidence for a somewhat more articulated clause structure including a focus position to the left of Aux. 4 What appears to the left of Aux may be a single word, as in (3), or a single multi-word NP, which then allows the nonfinal case-marker to be omitted, as in (4):
But crucially, the sole item appearing to the left of Aux cannot be a VP, nor is there any other evidence that VP is ever a phrasal constituent in Warlpiri. 5 The subject of a Warlpiri sentence is not identified by its position in the phrase structure, as it is in English, but rather by the appearance of the ergative case marker -rlu . More generally, phrases are not essential to the expression of conceptual units. The coherence of a conceptual unit in Warlpiri is indicated by means of word shapes rather than word groups : noncontiguous words that form a conceptual unit must share the same formal endings - case and number morphology. In (3) the word for 'small' shares the dual and ergative endings -jarra and -rlu with the word for 'child' which it modifies, and these endings differ from those of the words for 'dog' and 'that', which are null. Thus the words kurdu-jarra-rlu ('child-DUAL-ERG') and wita-jarra-rlu ('small-DUAL-ERG') jointly express the concept of 'two small children' and jointly serve as subject of the sentence - regardless of whether those words appear together as a constituent (as in (4)) or not (as in (3)).
This difference between Warlpiri and English exemplifies a broad crosslinguistic generalization observed by many students of linguistic typology: across languages, there often appears to be an inverse relation between the amount of grammatical information expressed by word structure and the amount expressed by phrase structure. Words must appear in a sequence since they cannot