Universität Mannheim / Philosophie / Anglistisches Seminar / Anglistik IV / Mitarbeiter / Prof. Dr. Carola Trips / Website of my textbook "Syntax in three Dimensions"

Syntax in three Dimensions

book_cover.jpgThis book deals with syntax in three dimensions: in part I with the history of grammatical theory, in part II with synchronic aspects of Present-Day English, and in part III with diachronic aspects of English. The most prominent linguistic terms and phenomena are discussed in their historical context and are taken up again in the synchronic and diachronic parts. In this way they can be viewed from different perspectives.

At the end of each chapter a summary and recommendations for further reading is provided as well as exercises in parts II and III. There is also a webpage for this book with more material, a glossary, and model answers of the exercises. The aims of the book are 1) to provide an introduction to the history of grammatical theory in order to show how and why generative grammar evolved (alongside other theories); in this way, generative grammar is presented in its historical context, and the motivation for the ideas and assumptions of this theory becomes clear; 2) to show that the terms and phenomena

discussed are still applicable and interesting today; 3) to investigate phenomena of Present-Day English and their development in the history of English by means of authentic data, and to find explanations for the developmental paths they took by applying theory.


This book primarily aims at undergraduate students of English or linguistics who have already acquired some knowledge of syntax and generative syntactic theory. It is also well suited for students specialising in syntax, syntactic theory, and language change. It can further be used as a study aid for final exams.


Model Answers

Model answers to the assignments can be downloaded here.


A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z

abstract case

Abstract Case (or "Deep Case") is an abstract notion of case distinct from the morphologically marked case (cf. "case") used in Case theory (subtheories of Generative Grammar). Abstract Case is present even in languages which lack morphological case on noun phrases; it is usually assumed to be congruent with morphological case when such features are present. For example in German dative case is marked morphologically as in Ich helfe ihm ('I help him') whereas no such case marking is found in the English sentence (but Case is still there).


In previous centuries the need for an academy dealing with linguistic matters was discussed and debated in England (on the model of the French académie française). Due to the increase in the production of grammars in the 17th and 18th centuries and the rising number of grammarians, calls for an academy to codify the English language by publishing an authoritative grammar and dictionary dwindled.


Step in the process of standardization: a selected variety of a particular language must gain acceptance by a group of speakers/users who are capable of influencing other speakers.


In valency grammar, a functional unit determined by the valency of the verb. Actants are required by the valence of the verb and are the equivalents of arguments (in generative grammar).

active voice

Term used in grammatical analysis of voice, referring to a sentence, clause or verb form where from a semantic point of view the grammatical subject is typically the actor in relation to the verb. Active voice generally expresses the AGENT as the subject of a sentence as in The linguist reads the book (vs. passive voice The book was read (by the linguist).).


An optional or secondary element in the structure of a sentence or clause. It may be removed without affecting the structural identity of the rest of the construction. The clearest cases are adverbials, e.g. The linguist read the book yesterday where the temporal adverbial can be omitted without affecting the grammaticality of the sentence. In generative grammar the term also refers to a rule which places these elements in adjacent positions with the aim of specifying how these structures fit together in sentences. So the adverbial yesterday is adjoined to the VP (this is also called Chomsky-adjunction).


A relevant factor in sociolinguistic studies.


Agglutinating languages stick grammatical and lexical forms together, the result of which is the concatenation of elements.


Syntactic relation between words and phrases which are compatible, in a given construction, by virtue of inflections carried by at least one of them.


A variant of a phoneme which does not make a meaning difference, in contrast to phoneme; e.g. aspirated [ph] in initial positions.

analogical levelling

Reduction or elimination of morphophonemic alternation within a morphological paradigm.


Synchronic or diachronic process by which conceptually related linguistic units are made similar or identical in form, especially where previous phonetic change had created a variety of forms.


A form or a type of language in which separate words realise grammatical distinctions that in other languages may be realized by inflections. For example in The front of the house the of-phrase denotes the partitive which in a (more) synthetic language like German it is expressed by genitve case Die Vorderseite des Hauses.


In general terms an irregularity in language. In the analogy vs. anomaly debate Greek philosophers discussed whether languages are regular (analogy) or whether they are irregular (anomaly). For example the plural -s in English as in dogs is regular whereas the -en ending in oxen is irregular.


The property of language by which there is in general no natural relation between the form of a simple lexical unit and a thing etc. it is used to refer to. E.g. there is nothing in the nature of the sounds and meanings to explain why cat is the word for a cat and not, for example, a dog or a pencil, etc.


In Government and Binding Theory, arguments are elements (e.g. noun phrases) which are required by verbs in order to fulfill certain syntactic functions (subject, object, etc.) in a sentence. So in the sentence The linguist reads a book we have two arguments, the linguist functioning as the subject, and a book functioning as the direct object. The term actually derives from predicate calculus and is often found in discussion of semantic theory to refer to the relationship of a name or other term to the predicate with which it combines to form a simple proposition.

argument structure

The lexical representation of argument-taking lexical items --typically verbs, but also nouns (especially nominalizations), adjectives, and even prepositions--that specifies sufficient information about these items' arguments to allow their syntactic realization to be determined. An argument structure typically indicates the number of arguments a lexical item takes (e.g., the core participants in the eventuality a verb denotes), their syntactic expression, and their semantic relation to this lexical item (Beth Levin's definition). So the sentence The linguist reads a book contains the lexical verb read with its core participants the linguist and a book which are syntactically expressed by a DP (NP) each. Their semantic relation to the verb is such that the the linguist is the AGENT and a book the THEME of the event of reading.


Greek philosopher and universal scientist who lived 384-322 BC. Wrote on many subjects including poetry, rhetoric and linguistics.

Aristotle: portrait bust. Photograph. Britannica Academic. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.

Aspects model

Model of grammar based on Chomsky's "Aspects of Theory of Syntax" from 1965. According to this model, grammar consists of a generative syntactic component as well as of an interpretive, semantic and phonological component. Deep structure is generated by phrase structure rules, subcategorization and lexical insertion. This model was the starting point of derivational generative models.

asymmetric verb second (V2)

A type of a verb second language where the finite verb only consistently occurs in the second position in main sentences but not in subordinate clauses. Verb second may occur in this type of clause if the verb of the main sentence is a so-called 'bridge verb'. In German we find clauses like Er behauptete, der Mann habe das Bild gestohlen ('he claimed that the man had stolen the painting') where the finite verb haben occurs in the second position.


An aspect that is studied in sociolinguistics where the social meaning of the language system and language use and the common set of conditions of linguistic and social structure are investigated.

basic word order

Word order studies (=study of linear relation of words and phrases within larger units) are carried out in terms of linearization patterns called basic word order. The term captures the fact that there are word order preferences rather than strict word order rules in terms of the grammatical status of the elements involved. The basic order is typically identified with the order that occurs in stylistically neutral, independent, indicative clauses with full noun phrase participants, where the subject is a definite human agent, the object is a definite non-human patient and the verb represents an action, not a state or a process. The criterion for basic order often is its statistical dominance in texts.

Otto Behaghel

German professor and germanist who lived from 1854 to 1936. He formulated Behaghel's laws, which are still important in theme and rheme research, today.

Behaghel, Otto. Photograph. Britannica Academic. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.


Movement in psychology which sought to eliminate all reference to subjective concepts or experience; the data were accordingly restricted to the observable reactions of subjects to observable stimuli. B. F. Skinner applied these ideas to language which meant that language is verbal behaviour learnt through operant conditioning and reinforcement.


According to de Saussure one of the basic characteristics of linguistic signs. Linguistic signs consist of a signifier (material sign, which can be realized phonetically or graphemically) and signified (conceptual sign). Importantly, signifier and signified are inseparable.

binary parameters

In generative grammar, a variable in the rules or constraints of universal grammar, whose value is determined for individual languages; determination and setting of the values of a particular parameter implies a grammar for a specific language that is consistent with universal grammar: the learner chooses a particular option for a specific language from within the framework of universal grammar; these parameters are predicated upon the opposition of two units, e.g. upon the presence or absence of certain features.

bridge verbs

Verbs which permit a complementiserless verb second complement. Often these verbs are so-called verba dicendi (verbs of saying). In more general terms in generative grammar bridge verbs are verbs which allow extractions from finite complements, e.g. Who do you think met Bryon? vs *Who do you regret/whisper met Bryon? (but this aspect is not discussed in the book).

Franz Bopp

German linguist who pioneered the comparative work on Indo-European languages. He lived from 1791 to 1867.

Bopp, Franz. Engraving. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Leonard Bloomfield

American linguist who lived from 1887 to 1949. He published the influential textbook Language and led the development of structural linguistics in the United States during the 1930s and the 1940s.

Bloomfield, Leonard. Photograph. Yale University. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.

Karl Brugmann

A German linguist, specializing in Indo-European linguistics, who lived from 1849 to 1919. He is best known for his contribution of two volumes about phonology and morphology in Morphologische Untersuchungen auf dem Gebiete der indogermanischen Sprachen.

Brugmann, Karl. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

William Bullokar

An English printer and phonetist who lived during the 16th century. He devised a phonetic alphabet for the English language, which consisted of 40 letters. He also authored Bref Grammar for English, the first grammar of the English language, in 1558.


(1) In traditional grammar it refers to a grammatical category of inflected words which serves to indicate their syntactic function in a sentence and, depending on the function, involves government and agreement.
(2) In generative grammar Case (with a capital c) refers to an abstract notion distinct from (1). Abstract Case is present even in languages which lack morphological case on noun phrases. Case theory - one of the sub-theories of Government-Binding theory - deals with the assignment of abstract Case and its morphological realizations, restricting the distribution of lexical NPs at S-Structure.

Case Grammar

General term for linguistic theories which employ the concept of "deep case" (semantic roles or thematic relations) as the central means of explaining both the syntactic structure as well as the meaning of sentences. Deep cases name the various semantic roles of the various "participants" in the situation described by the verb.

Case Theory

Basic theory of Government and Binding Theory whereby certain lexical categories can assign case; distinctions in case theory:
(1) Case is dependent on lexical items, e.g. German verb helfen to help governs the dative case.
(2) Case is dependent on semantic roles.
(3) Case is dependent on grammatical functions of lexical items, e.g. Philip's book where Philip is in the genitive case; this theory is more elaborate in case languages such as German and Latin than in English.

circumstants ⇒ circonstant

In valency grammar: a non-essential dependent unit, not determined by the valency of the verb; opposed to actant; e.g.: modifiers, adverbials: The goat likes the hay very much - very much is a circonstant of the verb like (compare the difference between argument and adjunct in generative grammar).


Roman philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, political theorist, consul, and constitutionalist who lived between 106-43 BC. He immensely influenced the Latin language and subsequently further European languages.

Cicero. Photograph. Britannica Academic. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.


In general terms the process of arranging elements in classes (e.g. phonemes, morphemes, etc.). In American structuralism it is the second step in the discovery procedures proposed by Harris. Elements like phonemes or morphemes are classified, i.e. attributed to certain classes sharing the same properties with regard to their distribution in the sentence.


A part of a complex sentence whose structure is itself like that of a sentence; thus, in particular, one which includes a verb and elements that can or must accompany it.


The final stage in the process of standardisation which refers to the compilation of a systematic statement of the rules and conventions governing the use of a language variety, typically the standard language of a community. When a language has been codified its products include spelling and pronunciation guides, grammars, dictionaries, style manuals and guides to correct usage.


Languages, words, etc. that have developed from a common ancestor, e.g. English is cognate with German, likewise English beam is cognate with German Baum ('tree').

John Colet

An English churchman who lived from 1467 to 1519. He pioneered education by replacing the old scholastic method of interpretation and held many distinguished sermons during his time.

Colet, John. Drawing. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

comparative linguistics

A major branch of linguistics in which the primary concern is to make statements comparing the characteristics of different languages or different historical stages of a language.


A term used in linguistic theory, especially in generative grammar, to refer to a speaker's knowledge of his/her language, or more precisely, to the system of rules which they have mastered so that they are able to produce and understand an infinite number of sentences, and to recognize grammatical mistakes and ambiguities. It is an idealised conception of language which stands in opposition to performance (specific utterances of speech, ability to use speech in language comprehension and production).


A term used in the analysis of grammatical function, to refer to a major constituent of sentence or clause structure, traditionally associated with completing the action specified by the verb; complement is therefore a very general notion, subsuming all obligatory features of the predicate other than the verb, e.g. objects and adverbials.


Also called subordinator or conjunction to describe a small group of grammatical elements like subordinating conjunctions (e.g. that, whether, because) which indicate the specific function of embedded sentential structures.

complex sentence

(1) Narrowly defined: a sentence that is composed of a main clause and one or more dependent clauses introduced by a subordinating conjunction.
(2) Broadly defined: a sentence that contains two or more clauses joined either by subordination, as in sense (1), or by coordinating, that is, by a co-ordinating conjunction (and, or).
(3) In transformational grammar, a sentence that consist of a main sentence as well as one or more embedded constituent clauses.

compound sentence

A sentence that contains at least two main clauses. Compound sentences differ from complex sentences in that they are asyndetic, i.e. joined without means of a conjunction, or are conjoined by means of either co-ordinating conjunctions or sentence adverbials (e.g. thus, however). They should not be confused with complex sentences which are connected by means of subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns etc.. Compound sentences can be either copulative (=co-ordinating) when connected by and or disjunctive when connected by but or or.


A term used in grammatical theory and description to refer to a relation between elements whereby one form agrees with another in some grammatical property (case, number, gender, person, etc.). In English, for example, a singular subject co-occurs with the third-person singular form of the verb in the present tense, e.g. he walks (vs. they walk). The term is also used in 'negative concord' where two negative elements occur in one sentence to express one single negation.


An alternative term for agreement or concord.


A basic term in grammatical analysis for a linguistic unit which is a functional component of a larger construction. Based on a combination of intuitive and formal (e.g. distributional) criteria, a sentence can be analysed into a series of constituents, such as subject + predicate, or NP+VP, etc.; these units can, in turn, be analysed into further constituents (e.g. a noun phrase might consist of a determiner and a noun).


A basic syntactic relation in the description of sentences as hierarchical structures; in a constituency model of grammar, two elements A and B are part of the same constituent if they are both dominated by a common element C. Constituency is determined by so-called constituency tests. (see dependency for a different notion of structuredness).


In generative grammar, the relationship between an element and the other elements it is superior to in the phrase-marker, but which it does not dominate; a constituent X is said to maximal-command Y if the first maximal projection which dominates X also dominates Y, and X does not dominate Y, and Y does not dominate X.

constituent negation

Constituent negation negates only a constituent in a sentence, whereas sentence negation negates the proposition of a sentence; c.f. He had no dinner vs. He didn't have any dinner.

constructional homonymity

Chomsky's term in the 1950s for a syntactic unit to which a generative grammar, justified in the abstraction from the meaning of sentences, assigned two or more different structures. It was then found to correspond, in many instances, to grammatical or structural ambiguity.


A term in grammatical analysis to refer to the process or result of linking linguistic units which are usually of equivalent syntactic status, e.g. a series of clauses, or phrases, or words; co-ordinate clauses are illustrated in the sentence John walked and Mary ran (the marker of linkage is and).


Any systematic collection of speech or writing in a language or variety of a language; thus, in particular, of large on-line collections, tagged and searchable for research purposes.


In the book the term is used for mutual relationships between a linguistic and non-linguistic phenomenon. For example, we have five vowels because we the body has five senses.

Martin of Dacia

Danish scholar, master of arts and theology at the University of Paris during the 13th century. He authored Modi significandi, an influential treatise on grammar.

D-structure (deep structure)

A term from transformational grammar to describe the underlying structure of a linguistic utterance; deep structure specifies the grammatical relations and functions of the syntactic elements, as well as the linguistic meaning of the elements of a sentences which contain the lexemes, the information important for the execution of transformations.


Type of inflection of nouns, articles, adjectives, numerals, and pronouns that varies according to case, gender and number; the corresponding inflectional forms of a word constitute the declensional paradigms that are subsumed in declensional classes according to regularities and predictability or practicability. English has largely lost its declensional system with vestiges apparent only in plural formations, the possessive case and object pronouns.

deep level

A term developed by Chomsky to describe the underlying structure of a linguistic utterance; it specifies the underlying grammatical relations and functions of the syntactic elements; in modern versions of Chomskian grammar the concept is not used anymore.

deep structure

A central theoretical term in transformational grammar; opposed to surface structure; deep structure (or "deep grammar") is the abstract syntactic representation of a sentence, an underlying level of structural organization which specifies all the factors governing the way the sentence should be interpreted; this level provides information which enables us to distinguish between the alternative interpretations of sentences which have the same surface form (i.e. they are ambiguous); it is also a way of relating sentences which have different surface forms but the same underlying meaning as in the relationship between active and passive structures.


Can be used as a test for constituency following the assumption that only constituents can be omitted.


Syntactic relation of dependence between two elements A and B, where B can occur without A, but A cannot occur without B (e.g. dependency between adjectives and nouns in English); (cf. constituency).

dependency grammar

A type of formal grammar, best known for the development it received in the 1950s, which establishes types of dependencies between the elements of a construction as a means of explaining grammatical relationships; syntactic structure is represented using dependency trees - sets of nodes whose interconnections specify structural relations (e.g. in a clause, the verb is seen as governor, and the dependents are noun phrases).

dependency relation

Relations between different elements of a construction as a means of explaining grammatical relationships; see dependency grammar.


Unit standing in a relation of dependency; e.g. "old" is a dependent of "men" and "terribly" of "sing" in "old men sing terribly"; a subordinate clause is a dependent clause, and so an.

dependent clause ⇒ subordinate clause

In contrast to structurally independent main clause, a formally subordinate clause, i.e. one that is dependent on a main verb in respect to word order, tense and mood, as well as illocution; important aspects for classifying subordinate clauses are formal markers (introduced by a conjunction or not), function in the sentence (subject, object, adverbial) as well as semantic considerations (temporal, clausal, modal, or conditional clauses).

descriptive (⇒ description)

General sense of this term is found in linguistics, identifying one of the main aims of the subject - to give a comprehensive, systematic, objective and precise account of the patterns and use of a specific language or dialect, at a particular point in time; in contrast with prescriptive aims of much traditional grammar (the aim here is to describe the facts of linguistic usage as they are, not how they ought to be, with reference to some imagined ideal state).

descriptive adequacy

The level of descriptive adequacy is met if a theory of grammar can account for the competence of a native speaker regarding the rules of the language.

descriptive grammar

In its broader sense, any type of non-prescriptive or non-normative description of different linguistic varieties, which codifies regularities according to use.


One of two main temporal dimension of linguistic investigation introduced by de Suassure, the other being synchronic; diachronic linguistics studies languages from the point of view of their historical development, e.g. the changes which have taken place between Old and Modern English; an alternative term is historical linguistics.


A term used in sociolinguistics and historical linguistics for the increased use of a language or linguistic form throughout an area over a period of time.


The case in which a community uses two distinct forms of the same language, one acquired through education and appropriate to one range of contexts, the other acquired before formal education and appropriate to another. Thus German-speaking Switzerland is described as a diglossic community, where the distinct varieties are Standard German and the local forms of Swiss German.

Aelius Donatus

Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric who authored the Ars grammatica in the mid-4th century AD. This work consists of the Ars minor and Ars major which found frequent use up into the Middle Ages.

Dante (Durante Alighieri)

Italian poet of the Late Middle Ages who lived from 1265 to 1321 and is better known as Dante. He authored the Divine Comedy and defended the use of the vernacular in literature which played an instrumental role in establishing the national language of Italy.

Alighieri, Durante. Profile portrait, by Sandro Botticelli. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.


Linguistic elements are discontinuous if they belong together, but do not appear next to each other in linear order, i.e. if they are separated by another element.

discovery procedures

Methods proposed by Zelig Harris in "Methods in Structural linguistics" for describing individual languages. They consist of two analytical steps, segmentation and classification, and can be applied at the phonological, morphological and syntactic level (immediate constituent analysis).


The doctrine developed especially in the 1950s by Zellig Harris and by Chomsky, that the description of a language should initially be based on evidence of distributions (=set of contexts within sentences in which a unit or class of units can appear) alone, in abstraction form and preceding the study of meaning.


A verb that takes two objects is a ditransitive verb. In English the verb teach is such a verb: in the sentence They taught us arithmetic we find two objects in the form of DPs/NPs. These sentences are alos called double object constructions. Interestingly, this verb shows an alternative construction with the indirect object in the form of a PP: They taught arithmetic to us.

do ⇒ do-deletion/insertion/support

A set of rules in generative syntax which determine the use of the empty auxiliary verb do; "do-insertion", or "do-support" inserts the verb do into a place in a structure, as part of the derivation of a sentence.


A term in generative linguistics for one type of vertical relationship between nodes in a tree diagram; if no nodes intervene between X and Y, one says that X directly or immediately dominates Y; the vertical dimension of dominance should be distinguished from the horizontal notion of precedence.

Double Base Hypothesis

Pintzuk (1991, 2002) found OV/VO word order variation in Old English and developed the idea that Old English had a 'double base': both the OV and the VO value of the relevant parameter were allowed which gave rise to two distinct grammars.

double modals

In standard Present-Day English, a modal cannot be followed by another modal: He can go home vs. *He might could go home. In some varieties of English, however, a modal can follow another modal, e.g. He might could do such a thing in Southern American English.


This hypothesis was put forward by Abney in 1987. He claims that phrases of the kind das Mädchen ('the girl') are not NPs but DPs. They are therefore not lexical projections headed by the noun Mädchen but functional projections headed by the determiner das. Before Abney's hypothesis determiners had been seen as being part of a noun phrase.

elaboration of function

Stage of language standardization; a language with a limited scope of functions acquires more and more functions until it can be used in all areas of communication.


Any of a range of doctrines in philosophy which hold that knowledge is derived from sense experience; traditionally opposed to nativism.


According to Humboldt, language can be identified as action or effective energy which he calls enérgeia. It is not to be surveyed in its entirety, but has to be seen as a continuously self-generating process.

epistemic (value)

Epistemic modality is concerned with degrees of probability or possibility (knowing and believing) and can be contrasted with deontic modality (obligation, permission, volition, intention). The example She must have liked the book illustrates the epistemic use of must (It is probable that she liked the book). In contrast, must in the sentence She must do her homework shows the deontic use of the same modal (She is obliged to do her homework).


Concept of language as the product of a completed action.

explanatory adequacy ⇒ levels of adequacy

A term used in generative grammar to refer to a level of achievement in the writing of grammars. (A theory of) grammar is an adequate model of language (i) if it is able to state what combinations of expressions do and do not give rise to grammatical sentences (observational adequacy), (ii) if it accounts for the knowledge system underlying the intuitions of the native speaker (descriptive adequacy) and (iii) if it explains how such knowledge is acquired (explanatory adequacy).

expletive pro-drop ⇒ expletive

An alternative label for "dummy" elements in government-binding theory (i.e. linguistic elements whose only function is to fill empty syntactic positions in certain syntactic structures where the valence of the verb required that they be filled); pro-drop: a term used in government-binding theory for a parameter which determines whether the subject of a clause can be suppressed. Old English was a language that allowed expletive pro-drop (you could use the verb snow without a subject) which in Present-Day English is no longer possible. You have to say It snowed yesterday.

externalised language (E-language)

A term suggested by Noam Chomsky to refer to a collection of sentences understood independently of the properties of the mind, and in this sense contrasted with internalised language (I-language). It subsumes the notion of language as a system of utterances or forms paired with meanings, which it is the purpose of a grammar to describe.


Term indicating a word order variant which is similar in form to right dislocation; sentential elements (e.g. infinitive constructions, sentential subject, object and attribute clauses, adverbial clauses) can be shifted rightwards to the end of the sentence, e.g. That she came made him glad vs It made him glad that she came.

family tree theory

The model adopted especially by Schleicher in the mid-19th century, in which historical relations among languages are seen as like those between generations in a family tree.

female teacher grammarians

From 1775 onwards, a new category of grammarians, the female teacher grammarians, arose who were, as their students, not educated along traditional lines.

Jan Firbas

A Czech linguist and a prominent representative of the Prague School of linguistics who lived from 1921-2000. He wrote over 100 papers on Functional Sentence Perspective (FSP).

Firbas, Jan. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Ann Fisher

English author and grammarian. Her A New Grammar was published in 1745, which makes her the earliest published female author on English grammar.


A term used in pragmatics and discourse analysis, to refer to relative prominence in discourse, often involving deviance from a linguistic norm; the analogy is of a figure seen against a background (backgrounding); the deviant or prominent feature is said to have been foregrounded; e.g. the use of rhyme, alliteration, and metrical regularity are examples of foregrounding operating at the level of phonology. Since foregrounding involves the dislocation of one constituent in a syntactic structure it can be used as a test for constituency. Possible constructions in which one constituent is foreground are cleft-sentences and pseudo-cleft-sentences in which information is reorganized in a sentence.


In transformational grammar: referring to any transformation which transposes a constituent from the middle or end of a string to initial position; e.g. the rule of wh-fronting places a wh-phrase (e.g. where, which books) in initial position, transporting it from the underlying non-initial position (cf. John walked there ⇒ John walked where ⇒ where did John walk).

functional phonetics

Linguistic sub-discipline which studies the phonetic aspects of speech (concrete articulatory, acoustic and auditory characteristics of sounds) with regard to its function.

functional grammar

A linguistic theory as an alternative to the abstract, formalized view of language presented by transformational grammar, and relying instead on a pragmatic view of language as social interaction; the approach focuses on the rules which govern verbal interaction, seen as a form of co-operative activity, and on the rules (of syntax, etc.) which govern the linguistic expressions that are used as instruments of the activity.

functional sentence perspective

A model of the information structure of sentences, developed in the early 1960s by Jan Firbas and other in the tradition of the pre-war Prague School. Parts of a sentence representing given information are said to have the lowest degree of communicative dynamism, i.e. the amount that, in context, they communicate to addressees is the least. These form the theme; "compare" theme.


Lexical-grammatical category, which in most languages of the world divides the nominal lexicon into formally and/or semantically motivated groups, the number of classes varying just as the kind of criteria for the division.

general grammar

In contrast to particular grammar, the term general grammar is a cover term for the attempts to develop a grammar which is based on structures and principles common to all languages.

generative grammar

(1) Cover term for a grammatical model that is based on mentalism, combinatoriality and nativsism.
(2) Synonym for Chomsky's transformational grammar: all sentences of formal and natural languages can be produced by the application of the rules of generative grammar.

generative semantics

Name for the counter position in response to Chomsky's transformational grammar; the proponents of generative semantics maintain that semantic structures are generated in a form of basic rules similar to those of predicate logic; meaning of individual lexemes is described as a syntactically structured complex of basic semantic elements.

generative transformational grammar

The core assumptions of generative transformational grammar are: (1) There are two levels of syntactic structure, namely surface structure and deep structure. This division explains why some sentences have the same surface structure but different semantic interpretations or vice versa. (2) Deep and surface structure are connected via transformations, which move elements from their position in the deep structure into a new position in the surface structure. Chomsky claims that native speakers know these relations and are therefore able to assign semantic interpretations correctly.


Theory of linguistic structure developed by Hjelmslev in the 1930s and 1940s. Glossematics is concerned with the combination of glosses (= smallest meaning-bearing units). It developed out of structuralism and extends the theory by assuming that language is a system of internal relations, which can be described independently from language-external criteria.


In generative grammar a governee is a constituent that is governed by a governor, i.e. it is c-commanded by it. For example the complement (direct object) the man of the lexical verb kill is the governee in a syntactic tree (see government).

government ⇒ govern

A term used in grammatical analysis to refer to a process of syntactic linkage whereby one word or word class requires a specific morphological form of another word or class. For example prepositions in Latin govern nouns, making a certain case form obligatory.

Government & Binding Model

Model of grammar, a descendent of Extended Standard Theory and ultimately of classical transformational grammar; according to this model, sentences have three main levels of structure: D-structure, S-structure and logical form. S-structure is derived from D-structure, and logical form from S-structure, by a single transformation, move alpha, which essentially means move anything anywhere. Various so-called sub-theories interact with this to allow just the right structures to be generated. The main sub-theories are X-Bar theory, theta government theory, binding theory, bounding theory, control theory and government theory.


In generative grammar a governor is a head that c-commands a constituent, the governee. For example a lexical verb like kill governs its complement (direct object) the man in a syntactic tree (see government).


Central term in linguistics but one which covers a wide range of phenomena being used in mass noun and count noun senses; several types of grammar: descriptive grammar (description of a language as found in a sample of speech or writing), theoretical grammar (goes beyond the study of individual languages, using linguistic data as a means of developing theoretical insights into the nature of language as such, and into the categories and processes needed for successful linguistic analysis), distinction between synchronic and diachronic grammar, traditional grammar (an attempt to summarize the range of attitudes and methods found in the pre-linguistic era of grammatical study); in a restricted sense, grammar refers to a level of structural organization which can be studies independently of phonology and semantics, and generally divided into the branches of syntax and morphology.

grammars in competition

Hypothesis postulated by Anthony Kroch (1989) in which parameter settings compete. It is manifested in the variation found in historical texts as the reflex of an innovative parametric setting which competes with and eventually supplants the reflex of the older parametric setting.

grammatical theory

Systematic description of grammar from several perspectives:
(a) grammar as the knowledge and study of a natural language
(b) grammar as a system of structural rules
(c) grammar as language theory, and in transformational grammar as a model representing linguistic competence
(d) grammar as a systematic description of formal regularities of a natural language

grammatical subject

The grammatical subject is distinguished from the underlying or logical subject of a sentences, e.g. in The cat was chased by the dog, where the cat is the grammatical subject and the dog is the logical subject.

Jacob Grimm

A German philologist, jurist, and mythologist who lived from 1785 to 1863. He is the discoverer of Grimm's Law, but more popularly known as one of the Brothers Grimm and the editor of Grimm's Fairy Tales.

Grimm, Jacob. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Grimm's Law

In historical linguistics, a sound law first worked out by Jakob Grimm in 1822; it shows the regular way in which the Germanic sound system diverged from that of Indo-European; 9 sets of correspondences were shown, which fell into a clear phonetic pattern: voiced aspirates (aspirated plosives and fricatives) in Indo-European became voiced plosives in Germanic; voiced plosives became voiceless plosives; and voiceless plosives became voiceless aspirates. This explains, for instance, why words which begin with /p/ in Latin, Greek or Sanskrit, generally have /f/ in English (e.g. pater - father). Certain exceptions to this law were explained by later philologists; see also Verner's Law.

group genitive

General designation for the English construction where the genitive ending is added to the last element in a noun phrase containing post-modification or co-ordination, e.g. the University of London's grant, Morecambe and Wise's humour.

Zellig Harris

American linguist, mathematical syntactician, and methodologist of science who lived from 1909 to 1992. He is best known for his work in structural linguistics and discourse analysis and for the discovery of transformational structure in language.

Harris. Photograph. The Online Dictionary of Language Terminology. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.


A term used in grammatical description to refer to the central element which is distributionally equivalent to the phrase as a whole. Headedness also determines any relationships of concord or government in other parts of the phrase or sentence; for instance, the head of the noun phrase a big man is man, and it is the singular form of this item which relates to the co-occurrence of singular verb forms, such as is, walks, etc. In phrases as the verb phrase has put, the head is put, and it is this verb which accounts for the use of object and adverbial later in the sentence.

Head-driven Phrase Structure Grammar (HPSG)

A syntactic theory which builds on the insights of generalized phrase-structure grammar, categorical grammar and certain other approaches. A central feature is that categories incorporate information about the categories with which they combine. The consequence of this is that very few rules are necessary, all important syntactic and semantic processes being driven by information contained in lexical entries. For example, a single rule provides for all lexical category and complement structures (see also binding).


Head-final languages are represented by German, Dutch, Japanese or Korean, where the heads appear on the right within phrases (e.g. German weil ich [VP das Buch lese].


Head initial languages are represented by e.g. English, where the heads appear on the left within phrases (e.g. read the book, the verb in the verb phrase is to the left of the noun phrase).

Head Movement Constraint

In Government and Binding Theory, the Head Movement Constraint states that heads cannot move across the top of other heads.

head parameter

Principle assumed in generative syntax, especially in the relation to Universal Grammar, which concerns the position of heads within phrases. Since parameters are binary in nature, head can either occur head-finally or head-initally.

historical linguistics

Historical linguistics studies languages from the point of view of their historical development, e.g. the changes which have taken place between Old and Modern English; an alternative term is diachronic linguistics.


Humanism subsumed a variety of beliefs, methods and philosophies which emphasise the human realm. It is an education/mode of inquiry which developed and spread during the 13th and 14th centuries. The basic principles of Humanists were Classicism (returning to the classic ages and analysing works thereof), Realism (rejection of traditional assumptions, with the aim of an objective analysis of experiences), and virtue.

Wilhelm von Humboldt

Prussian philosopher, government functionary, diplomat and linguist. He made important contributions to the philosophy of language and to the theory and practice of education. The Humboldtian education ideal was the foundation of educational systems in Germany, USA and Japan.

Von Humboldt, Wilhelm. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 01 Jul. 2015.


Identity is used as a factor in sociolinguistics. It can influence speakers in selecting one linguistic variant over another.


A term used in government-binding theory (at first symbolized as INFL, later as I) for a functional category which subsumes various grammatical properties - in particular, tense, person and number. In X-bar theory, I is like the lexical categories N, V, A and P in that it is a minimal category with two phrasal projections, I' and I''. Like lexical heads, I can function as a governor. IP (formerly I'') is the maximal projection of I, is usually referred to as inflection phrase.


Abbreviation for internalized language, a term suggested by Noam Chomsky to refer to a language viewed as an element of the mind of a person who knows the language, acquired by the learner, and used by the speaker-hearer. It is seen in contrast with E(xternalised)-language.


A regressive assimilation where the stem vowel of a word assimilated to a following /i/ or /j/ in pre Old English (OE) times. This is how the irregular plural forms developed (e.g. goose-geese).

I-to-C movement

Instance of head movement where finite verbs move from the I(nfl) head to the C(omplementizer) head.

immediate constituent analysis

This method decomposes the sentence (in a top-down fashion) into immediate constituents which build the next segment on the next level. A sentence is divided into two maximal constituents, these constituents are divided into two constituents, etc, until the smallest constituents occur.


Polysynthetic (or incorporating) languages where syntactic relations in a sentence are expressed by compounding lexical and gram- matical elements into long and complex words, and syntactic functions like object or adverbial may be incorporated into the predicate.


Family of languages including most of those spoken in Europe, and the major languages of all but the southern part of the Indian subcontinent.


Inflectional or synthetic languages express grammatical relations within a word. So inflectional endings express grammatical relations, and lexical and grammatical meanings/functions are thus expressed in one word.

Inherent Case

Case refers to an abstract notion which is distinct from the morphologically marked case. Case Theory is one of the sub-theories of government-binding theory which deals with the assignment of abstract Case and its morphological realizations, restricting the distribution of lexical NPs at S-structure; inherent Case is assigned to NPs in D-structure and must be assigned as a special property of the lexical verb.

inner organ

In Humboldt's theory, language is an inner organ which precedes thinking and perceiving.

innere Sprachform

According to Humboldt, the semantic and grammatical structure of language embodying the elements, patterns and rules imposed on the sounds of speech. Partly it is defined by its universality but partly it is also defined by the Sprachform that defines each language individually. The universal nucleus of the grammar of speech are the verb ('Nerv der ganzen Sprache') and the pronoun due to its anaphoric character.

Interpretive Semantics

In Noam Chomsky's version of generative grammar where syntax is considered an autonomous generative component the semantic component has a purely interpretive character in that it interprets the syntactically motived abstract deep structures through semantic rules, i.e. gives them one or more readings. The aim is to describe the competence of the ideal speaker/hearer who can semantically interpret any sentence under any of its grammatical derivations.


An intransitive verb requires no object (complement).


Method of self-observation.


Isolating languages do not express grammatical relations within a word. So different words are needed for lexical and grammatical meanings/functions.

Jespersen's Cycle

On the example of negation in English, the Danish linguist Otto Jespersen showed how the process of grammaticalization works in a cyclical fashion.

Roman Jakobson

A Russian-American linguist and literary theorist who lived from 1896 to 1982. Jakobson's three principal ideas in linguistics play a major role in the field to this day: linguistic typology, markedness, and linguistic universals.

Jakobson, Roman. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2015.

Sir William Jones

An Anglo-Welsh philologist, puisne judge and a scholar of ancient India. He proposed the existence of a relationship among European and Indian languages which would later be known as Indo-European languages.

Sir William Jones. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 6 Feb. 2005.

Samuel Johnson

An English writer, poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer who lived from 1709 to 1784. He is perhaps best known as the subject of the most famous English biography The Life of Samuel Johnson. His importance for Modern English is based on his work A Dictionary of the English Language which was published in 1755. It was the most important English dictionary until the Oxford English Dictionary was released 150 years later.

Johnson, Samuel. Painting. Wikimedia. Web. 15. Dec. 2016.


According to Saussure, an umbrella term for langue (the abstract) and parole (the concrete).

language acquisition

The acquisition of language, generally the first language/mother tongue or second languages.

language acquisition device

Human mechanism postulated by Noam Chomsky in connection with the linguistic interpretation of rationalism, to explain the phenomenon that children although the linguistic utterances of their environment represent only deficient and incomplete input gain a command of the syntactic rules of their mother tongue in a relatively short time and can produce and understand an almost unlimited number of grammatical expressions.

language contact

A situation in which two or more languages coexist within one state and where the speakers use different languages alternately in a specific situation. Such linguistic contacts can have a political, historical, geographic, or cultural-historical basis.

language diversity

Throughout history, the phenomenon of language diversity has been treated very differently. Whereas in the Christian tradition following the story of the Tower of Babel, linguistic diversity had been seen negatively, the comparative linguists of the 19th century tried to determine language families and aimed at systematically classifying individual languages and dialects.

language typology

The classification of languages into types, especially by sets of similarities seen as logically connected (note that there is no geographical relation.


Term used in the syntactic analysis of sentences: either an element (like an adverbial) is adjoined to a maximal node to its left or right. For example in the sentence He successfully applied for the job the adverbial successfully is left-adjoined to the VP in a syntactic tree.

leftward movement

Syntactic operation in which an element is moved to the left of its original position. An example of this type of movement is V-to-I/T movement.

Lexical Functional Grammar (LFG)

A linguistic theory in which the role of the mental lexicon is essential, and grammatical functions are only taken as primitive. The syntactic structure of sentences consist of a constituent structure (c-structure) and a functional structure (f-structure), which represent superficial grammatical relations.

William Lily

An English classical grammarian and scholar who lived between the 15th and 16th century. He was coauthor of the most widely used Latin grammar textbook in England and a pioneer of Greek learning.

linear precedence ⇒ Linear Precedence Rule (LP rule)

A rule in generalized phrase-structure grammar in the form of X < Y specifying that X must precede Y. Together with immediate dominance rules and various general principles, LP rules generate phrase-markers.


One of the three major characteristics of the linguistic sign.

linguistic sign

Principal idea of de Saussure's theory. The linguistic sign has three major characteristics: bilaterality, arbitrariness, and linearity.

locative inversion

A PP with the function of a locative adverbial can occur as the first constituent in a sentence and is then followed by the finite verb and the subject (leading to a verb second sentence).

local operations ⇒ Locality Principle

This Principle is part of Universal Grammar and states that that movement has to be short, i.e. not span too much of the sentence. In a sentence like Will the manager have fired Eric? only the first auxiliary in the sentence can move because movement is shortest (*Have the manager will fired Eric?). Other types of movement like subject raising or wh-movement are also subject to this principle.

logical subject

The subject of a sentence can be defined in semantically or grammatically; e.g. in There are three students working on this project, there would be the grammatical subject, whereas three students is considered to be the logical (or notational) subject.


One of three subdivisions of Hellenistic philosophy besides ethics and physics.

Logical Form

Level of syntactic representation in Government and Binding theory which operates between surface structure and semantic interpretation. Various rules operate between surface structure and Logical Form (LF). Syntactic constraints apply to these rules, so LF is a syntactic level of representation. Logical Form disambiguates the semantics of a sentence. At this level the scope relationships between operators are syntactically represented by c-command relationships - an operator has scope over a constituent X when the operator c-commands the constituent X at Logical Form. Thus the sentence everyone1 loves someone2 can be transformed by quantifier raising to someone2 [everyone loves-2 ], which is interpreted by semantic rules as there is an X, and for every Y (it is true) Y loves X.


Type of syntactic movement where properties of an element are "moved" to a lower position in the tree structure (compare Chomsky's idea of affix hopping (1957)).

Robert Lowth

A Bishop of the Church of England and Oxford Professor of Poetry who lived during the 18th century. In 1762 he authored A Short Introduction to English Grammar one of the most influential textbooks of English grammar.

Lowth, Robert. Engraving. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.


Abbreviation for maximal-command; in generative grammar, a constituent X is said to m-command Y if the first maximal projection which dominates X also dominates Y, and X does not dominate Y, and Y does not dominate X.

main clause

In a complex sentence, a main clause is an independent clause, i.e. it can stand on its own as a sentence.

maintenance: ⇒ language maintenance

In sociolinguistics, referring to the extent to which people continue to use a language once they are part of a community in which another language has dominant position. For instance, immigrant groups may maintain their language despite the dominance of the language of their host country.

marked ⇒ markedness

The binary distinction between marked and unmarked linguistic forms is based on the assumption that when there are two alternative forms, one is more natural, more frequent and more easily acquired by the child during language acquisition than the other. Unmarked forms are therefore default options whereas marked forms signify a departure from the neutral or expected.

Villém Mathesius

Czech linguist, literary historian and scholar of English and Czech literature. He pioneered the theory on theme and rheme and was one of the founding fathers of the Prague School.

Mathesius, Villém. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2015.


In the Minimalist Program, an operation which forms larger units out of those already constructed. Specifically, merge is a process which combines lexical elements in the numeration with partial trees - a basic operation, along with move, in the process of tree construction.

Minimalist Program (MP)

A development in generative linguistic thinking which emphasizes the aim of making statements about language which are as simple and general as possible. All representation and derivational processes should be as economical as possible, in terms of the number of devices proposed to account for language phenomena (Principle of Economy). There should be no redundant elements in the representation of a sentence structure (Principle of Full Interpretation). The four levels of representation recognized in standard Government and Binding Theory (D-Structure, S-Structure, logical form (LF) and phonetic form (PF)) are reduced to two: LF and PF, referred to as interface levels.


A term used in grammatical and semantic analysis to refer to contrasts of mood which are signalled by the verb and associated categories. English has a class of modal auxiliaries among which are may, can, shall and must. Modals have a number of properties that sets them apart from other auxiliaries like no -s for the third person singular, no -ing or -en forms.


In generative transformational grammar, movement refers to a basic kind of transformational operation. Movement transformations have the effect of moving constituents from one part of the phrase-marker to another (the "landing site"), as in the formation of passive sentences.

naturalist-conventionalist debate

According to the naturalists (one proponent of which was Heraclitus), the shape of words and their meanings are based on natural affinity, whereas the conventionalists (one proponent of which was Democritus) claimed that this relation is based on convention and agreement. The most compelling pieces of linguistic evidence put forward by the naturalists were the etymology of words, onomatopoeia (e.g. cock-a-doodle-doo), and sound symbolism. The conventionalists' arguments, on the other hand, were based on the assumption that words (vocabulary) can be changed at will (e.g. if speakers decided to refer to the concept of table by using the word form of chair), and that this change does not affect the efficiency of language.

negative concord

A construction that employs two negatives to express a single negation. It is also called double negative or double negation. Old English was a language which showed this phenomenon.

negative concord languages

A language/variety, in which two (or more) negative expressions in a given syntactic domain combine to express a single logical negation. (E.g. the two negations in I don't know nothing actually express positive meaning in non-standard English).


The Neogrammarians (other names are Jungrammatiker or Young Grammarians) were a group of predominantly German linguists working at the University of Leipzig in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Leading linguists of this group were Hermann Paul, Karl Brugmann, Karl Verner and Otto Behagel. They argued against the Romantic idea that language is the key to the world. For them language was an objective phenomenon which requires detailed, minute description. Further, they believed that only historical linguistics could be truly scientific, that language is orderly and rulegoverned, and that all instances of language change, which for them were mainly sound changes, can be explained by rules.


Related to the difference between inherent and structural case. In languages like German dative case of the object in an active sentence is retained in the passive sentence whereas accusative case in the active sentence alternates with nominative case in the passive sentence. The first case has been called neutralisation under passivisation.

nominal agreement

The term "agreement" refers to the correspondence between two or more sentence elements in respect to their morphosyntactic categories. Nominal agreement affects elements accompanying the noun, such as determiners, adjectival attributes, and appositions, which agree with their antecedent in case and other categories: cf. German Sie sucht einen Jungen, ihren kleinsten Sohn. "She is looking for a boy, her youngest son", where Jungen "boy" and Sohn "son" are both accusative masculine.


Opposite of agreement mainly relating to subject-verb agreement. Non-agreement is found in varieties of non-standard English, e.g. If you’re a staunch union member there is advantages, where is and advantages do not show agreement.

non-negative concord languages

A language in which each morphologically negative expression corresponds to a logical negation. In Standard English the sentence I don't know nothing means 'I know everything'.

notational subject

The term refers to the semantic definition of the subject: in the sentence There are three students working on this project, three students is the logical (or notational) subject.

null subject

In generative grammar, the term null subject refers to a phonologically empty constituent, i.e. the subject is not marked morphologically. Languages like Spanish or Italian show null subjects (Leggo il giornale 'I read the newspaper')

null subject parameter

One of the most well investigated parameters in Generative Grammar. If the parameter has a positive value for a specific language, the subject is not expressed morphologically.


A grammatical category used for the analysis of word classes displaying contrasts as singular, plural, dual (two), trial (three), paucal (few), etc.

observational adequacy

A term used in generative grammar to refer to a level of achievement in the writing of grammars. The first level of adequacy is reached if the grammatical model is able to state what combinations of expressions do and do not give rise to grammatical sentences.

William of Ockham

English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher and theologian who lived between the 13th and 14th century. He is believed to have been the center of most major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. His most influential contribution is Occam's razor, a problem-solving principle.

Ockham, William. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.

OV approach

Assumption that Object-Verb word order found in data actually reflects the basic word order of a language.

John Palsgrave

A priest of Henry VIII of England's court who lived from 1485 to 1554. He was known as a tutor and textbook author and created the first grammar of the French language, L'esclarcissement de la langue francoyse.


A basic term in linguistics for the set of substitutional relationships a linguistic unit has with other units in a specific context. Paradigmatic relations can be established on all levels of language, for example on the level of the sentence a noun like dog, house etc. can replace cat in I saw the cat.


In Government-Binding Theory, parameters are used to specify the types of variation that a principle of grammar manifests among different languages. It is suggested that there are no rules of grammar in the traditional sense, but only principles which can take a slightly different form in different languages. For example, a head parameter specifies the positions of heads within phrases (e.g. head-first in English, head-last in Japanese). Determining the parametric values for given languages is known as parameter-setting. The overall approach has been termed the principles and parameters (PPT) theory of universal grammar.


One of the two subdivisions of language established by de Saussure. Parole is the spoken word as the concrete realisation of language as it is used. Instances of parole are based on the system of langue and vary according to register, age, dialect, among other factors.

particular grammar

One of two major variants of grammar, as opposed to general grammar; particular grammar applies the arbitrary conventions found in common use of a particular language to unchanging general principles.

passive voice

Verbal voice contrasting with the active and in some languages the middle voice. Passive constructions describe the action expressed by the verb semantically from the point of view of the patient or another non-agentive semantic role. In this process the valence of the verb when used actively is usually changed: the subject becomes a prepositional object, usually optional, and an object, usually the direct object, becomes the subject: A neighbour saw the robber; The robber was seen by a neighbour. The passive is usually formed by specific auxiliaries or verb affixes.


In generative grammar, the transformation of a sentence from its active to its passive form is known as passivisation.

Hermann Paul

German linguist and lexicographer who lived from 1846 to 1921. He was a prominent Neogrammarian and is mostly known for his work Prinzipien der Sprachgeschichte which has been translated to English Principles of the History of Language.

Paul, Hermann. Portrait. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.


Language is seen as a set of specific utterances produced by native-speakers, as encountered in a corpus. It is opposed, in this sense, to the conception of language known as competence. The utterances of performance will contain features irrelevant to the abstract rule system, such as hesitations and unfinished structures, arising from the various psychological and social difficulties acting upon the speaker. These features must be discounted in a grammar of the language, which deals with the systematic process of sentence construction.


A speech sound which is identified as the realization of a single phoneme.


Smallest sound unit in a language which is meaning distinguishing; the method to find phonemes is to find minimal pairs (=a pair of words in which everything except for one portion under consideration is identical).

Phonetic Form

A term in Generative Grammar for the output of the phonological component of a grammar, or the phonological component itself; also called Phonological Form. The term is given a revised status in the Minimalist Program.

phonological attrition

A term that refers to the gradual loss of phones in specific phonological environments.

phrase marker

Term in the earliest form of transformational grammar for the structure assigned to a sentence by a set of phrase structure rules, in advance of rules for transformations.

phrase structure rules

Phrase structure rules are rewrite rules for constituents of the form S ⇒ NP + VP. This rule should be read as an instruction to replace the sentence symbol S with a noun phrase (NP) and a verb phrase (VP). The symbol to the left of the arrow is replaced by the symbols to the right of the arrow.


A philosopher in Classical Greece during the 4th and 3rd century BC and founder of the Academy in Athens. He is believed to be one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging, and influential authors in the history of philosophy.

Plato. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Plato's problem

Argument in language acquisition that the samples of language which are available to a child during her first language acquisition are insufficient to explain the child's innate linguistic knowledge (poverty of stimulus).


In polysynthetic languages syntactic relations in a sentence are expressed by compounding lexical and grammatical elements into long and complex words, and syntactic functions like object or adverbial may be incorporated into the predicate.

practical grammar

A type of grammar which aims at teaching a language (pedagogical grammar). Practical grammars first came up in medieval times to teach Latin, and during the 18th century to teach English.

Prague School

School of linguistics centered on the Prague Linguistic Circle. It is recognizable as such from the late 1920s. Its journal, Travaux du Cercle Linguistique de Prague was published from 1929 until the Second World War. The Prague School united structural linguists emphasising the function of units, e.g. in phonology, the role of phonemes in distinguishing and demarcating words, and in syntax the role of sentence structure in context. The school was important in the 1930s above all for phonology, where ideas originating in this period are the source for later work especially by Jakobson and Martinet. A functional view of the sentence, fostered by Mathesius, was to lead in the 1950s to the theory of Functional Sentence Perspective.


A pre-stage in the development of the English modals where they still show properties of lexical verbs, e.g. they could still take objects.

prescriptive ⇒ prescription

A term used by linguists to characterize any approach which attempts to lay down rules of correctness as to how language should be used, using criteria as purity, logic, history or literary excellence.


An aspect that is studied in sociolinguistics where the social meaning of the language system and language use and the common set of conditions of linguistic and social structure are investigated.

primary linguistic data

A term in language acquisition (based on Generative Grammar) which refers to the language input of the child, deriving from parents, siblings, etc.


A term used in grammatical theory for broad grammatical rules applying to language structure in general e.g. the Projection Principle or the Principle of Structure Dependency.

Projection Principle

A central Principle of Generative Grammar which projects the properties of lexical entries onto the structure of a sentence. It states that the subcategorization requirements of lexical items must be satisfied at all levels of representation. It is expressed in the structure of a phrase: for example a head noun (N) heads units that are Ns, up to the level of an NP.

pronoun exchange

One process which clearly indicates the usage of a variety of English, as in Her said to I (meaning 'I said to her).

Marcus Fabius Quintilian

A Roman rhetorician who hailed from Hispania and lived during the 1st century. He authored a twelve-volume textbook on rhetoric named Institutio Oratoria.


In transformational grammar, a rule for deriving certain infinitive constructions by which the subject noun phrase of an embedded sentence is "raised" into the subject or object position of the matrix sentence in the transition from deep structure to surface structure. The rest of the sentence is marked as "infinitive".


17th century branch of philosophy following Renèe Descartes. The core assumption is that there is some knowledge which humans did not acquire through interaction with the external world but which must be built in. Chomsky developed this idea in Cartesian Linguistics and established that in language, too, there is an innate aspect. He based this on the fact that language is an activity specific to humans, that language ability is creative and that there is a distinction between an internal and an external language system.


The reorganization of syntactic struture by which the surface representation remains identical, but the hierarchical deep structure is changed.


In the field of grammar, categorization refers to the establishment of a set of classifactory units or properties used in the description of language, which have the same basic distribution, and which occur as a structural unit throughout the language. In the course of language change, there may be alterations in the category status of a unit (=recategorization). For example the English pre-modals underwent the process of recategorization from lexical verbs to auxiliaries.


Another term for government (see government).

Regularity Hypothesis

Postulated by the Neogrammarians. It says that sound change is regular and inviolable (no exceptions), it excludes sporadic changes and is restricted to a particular speech community at a particular time.

residual Verb Second language

In V2 languages, as the name implies, the finite verb consistently occurs as the second element in the sentence. More precisely, it follows exactly one constituent (XP). Both English and French have been referred to as 'residual V2' languages, since a finite verb or auxiliary may occupy C in a restricted set of sentences like constituent questions and sentences introduced by a negative element.


Part of the central notion of behavioral psychology (stimulus vs. response) according to which human behaviour can be explained after a model of a mechanical apparatus: all forms of experience, ideas and intentions are interpreted as the result of an interchange between observable stimuli and the corresponding responses.

resumptive pronoun

In grammatical analysis the term resumptive refers to an element or structure which repeats or in some way recapitulates the meaning of a prior element. An example for resumptive pronouns can be observed with Mary, I know her.

rewrite rules

A rule which is interpreted as an instruction to replace one string of elements with another. Thus, given the string a b c, a rule b ⇒ x y is an instruction to rewrite it as a x y c. At the beginning of Generative Grammar a grammar was at first presented as a set of rewrite rules. The units it generated were sentences, hence S as an initial symbol, or one-member string, from which rewriting began. The first of a set of phrase structure rules, as set out for English in the earliest formulation, had the form S ⇒ NP + VP: rewrite S as the string NP + VP. Another had the form VP ⇒ Verb + NP: thus NP + VP could be written as NP + Verb + NP, and so on. The structures were assigned accordingly, by rules for transformations. This formulation was effectively sidelined in the 1960s, as problems of formalization became less central.


According to Methesius' model of Satzperspektive, known/old information is expressed by the theme (topic, given), and what is said about the known information is expressed by the rheme (new, comment).


Traditionally a discipline concerned with the effective use of language, to persuade, give pleasure, and so on. It is distinguished from grammar in the ancient Western system of education. Rhetoric tended, in the nature of things, to overlap with grammar, and many topics once claimed for it are now claimed instead for sundry branches of, or on the borders of, linguistics: especially for parts of syntax, pragmatics, stylistics, and sociolinguistics.

rightward movement

Syntactic operation in which an element in a sentence moved to the right of its original position in the surface structure.

root sense (root modality)

The non-epistemic sense of modals, which deals with obligation, permission, ability etc. One example would be the use of can in the sentence He can sing.


The least abstract level of syntactic structure in Government-Binding Theory. Derived by successive modifications from the notion of surface structure in Standard Theory of transformational grammar; effectively jettisoned, as a distinctive level of representation, in the programme of minimalism.


Latinized name of Francisco Sánchez de las Brozas, whose theoretical work on Latin grammar (Minerva: seu de causis linguae latinae) appeared in its definite form in 1587.

Edward Sapir

German-born American anthropologist and linguist, who lived between 1884 and 1939. He formulated the classification of Indigenous languages of the Americas and had a major part in developing the modern concept of the phoneme.

Sapir, Edward. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

The hypothesis that language affects or even determines cognitive processes such as thought and experience.


Mathesius introduced the model of Satzperspektive (sentence perspective) which analysed sentences according to their communicative function. He stated that a sentence is ordered based on its information structure: known/old in- formation is expressed by the theme (topic, given), and what is said about the known information is expressed by the rheme (new, comment).

Ferdinand de Saussure

Swiss linguist and semiotician, who lived from 1857 to 1913. He is considered to be one of the major founders of 20th-century linguistics and semiology and also contributed to other human sciences like philosophy, psychology, sociology and anthropology.

Saussure, Ferdinand. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

August Wilhelm Schlegel

German poet, critic, and translator, living from 1767 to 1845. He is best known for his translations of Shakespeare and also was the first professor in Sanskrit on the European continent.

Schlegel, August Wilhelm von. Photograph. Britannica Academic. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.

August Schleicher

German linguist who lived in the mid-19th century. He authored A Compendium of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-European Languages and invented the Stammbaumtheorie (family-tree theory) to portray language development.

Schleicher, August. Photograph. Britannica Academic. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.

scholastic ⇒ scholasticism

General term for the schools of philosophy in western Europe in the high Middle Ages; important in the history of linguistics for the development of speculative grammar.

school of Port-Royal

A scholar in search of language universals; at this school which was a monastic community outside Paris the empiricist grammarian Claude Lancelot and the philosopher Antoine Arnauld wrote the work Grammaire générale et raisonnée (1660) with the aim to define the rational order underlying language. According to these scholars language reflects three fundamental mental operations: first, forming a concept, second, forming a judgement, and third, reasoning. They further claimed that these three operations were found in all linguistic categories in all languages. So here mental processes are directly related to grammar for the first time. Their work became highly popular and influential in the following decades, and many scholars reading it identified two different approaches to dealing with language: General grammar and particular grammar.

Schulgrammatik (school grammar, traditional grammar)

Type of grammar based on Aristotelian logic and ancient Greek and Latin grammars, often as an aid to learning these languages and interpreting classical texts. Its general characteristics are:
(a) classification of data into formal categories,
(b) classification based on logical, semantic, syntactic, and extralinguistic criteria, with little attention paid to functional aspects of communication,
(c) primarily a prescriptive attitude,
(d) usually written rather than spoken language as the subject,
(e) grammatical explanations often confusing synchronic and diachronic aspects,
(f) rules that are not explicit or exhaustive.


One of two steps in Harris discovery procedures; segmentation of the material through substitution, i.e. through paradigmatic interchangeability of elements having the same function.


First stage in the process of standardisation. One variety must be selected from a pool of varieties in order to be accepted by a group of speakers.

semantic roles

Synonym for "deep case" in case grammar; usually the roles of nouns etc. in relation to a verb, e.g. in I can feel it in my chest the semantic roles of I, it, and in my chest might (in one account) be those of experiencer, theme, and locative.

semantic equivalence

Term used in sociolinguistics where variation is seen as two (or more) variants of one underlying variable. The variants maintain semantic equivalence.

sentence negation

A construction in grammatical and semantic analysis. Sentence negation expresses the contradiction of some or all of a sentence's meaning. In English grammar, it is expressed by the negative particle not or n't.


An auxiliary may occur in a sentence-medial position, i.e. it follows the subject and precedes the VP.

Seven Liberal Arts

Saint Augustine (354-430) wrote a book on seven liberal arts, which consisted of seven disciplines which were divided into two groups: the trivium comprising grammar, rhetoric, and dialectic (the language arts), and the quadrivium comprising arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy (mathematical arts).


According to the analysis of de Saussure, every sign has two aspects, one of which is the material sign, the signifier (signifié), which is realised phonetically (image acoustique) or graphemically. For example, the signifier of 'tree' is the graphemic and phonetic representation <tree> and [tri:], and the signified is the concept of 'tree' that a speaker has in his mind of this object.


According to the analysis of de Saussre, every sign has two concepts, one of which is the signifier, which is the conceptual design. For example, the signifier of 'tree' is the graphemic and phonetic representation <tree> and [tri:], and the signified is the concept of 'tree' that a speaker has in his mind of this object.

simple sentence

A simple sentence contains only a subject and a predicate, e.g. I saw him.

Burrhus Frederic Skinner

American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher. He was born in 1904 and died 1990. His views greatly influenced education and philosophy.

Skinner, B. F. Photograph. Britannica Academic. Web. 1 Jul. 2015.


A Classical Greek philosopher who lived during the 4th century. He is believed to be one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy and best known through the writings of his student Plato.

Socrates. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2015.

sound change

Quantitative or qualitative change in sound; historical change in the sound system of a language, motivated either phonetically (to the trend towards simplicity in the articulatory effort), phonologically (related to the trend towards maximal contrasts and distinctiveness of speech sounds in communication), by language-external factors (related to social or social-psychological motivation, i.e. trend towards maximum radius of communication, optimal individuation in interactions with others, adaptation to norms of specific social groups, and so on) or by analogy (trend towards simplifying acquisition and economy).


In sociolinguistics, this term refers to a prestige variety of language used within a speech community. Standard languages/dialects cut across regional differences, thereby providing a unified means of communication, and therefore an institutionalized norm used in the mass-media, teaching, etc. Linguistics forms or varieties which do not conform to this norm are referred to as "sub-standard" or "non-standard".

Georg Stiernhielm

A Swedish poet and pioneer of linguistics, who lived from 1598 to 1672.

Stiernhielm, Georg. Portrait. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

strong inflection

A strong inflection is distinguished in Germanic from a weak inflection. A weak form in Old English would be one normal in an expression with definite reference; a strong form elsewhere.

strong verbs

A strong verb has forms distinguished by ablaut where those of a weak verb are distinguished by a suffix. This sing is strong (sing-sang-sung), while play is a weak verb (play-played-played).

structural Case

In Case Theory - one of the sub-theories of Government-Binding Theory - (see Case), structural Case is assigned to NPs at S-structure.

Sturtevant's Paradox

The paradox by which sound change is regular but creates irregularity while analogical change is irregular but creates regularity.


Languages in which a subject can but does not have to be realised morphologically, e.g. in Italian you can say "lego il libro" where the finite verb "lego" contains the information 1. Person Singular about the subject.


The sequence of the constituents subject and verb is syntactically reversed to verb-subject.


In grammatical analysis, to refer to the process or result of linking linguistic units so that they have different syntactic status, one being dependent upon the other, and usually a constituent of the other; subordinate is usually contrasted with superordinate. Subordinate clauses are illustrated in the sentence "John left when the bus arrived": the subordinating conjunction is "when"; in endocentric phrases, the term subordinate is also used to refer to the words which modify the head, e.g. in all the very big cars, all the very big is subordinate to cars, and very is subordinate to big.


A term to refer to the process or result of replacing one item by another at a particular place in a structure. In grammar, the structural context within which this replacement occurs is known as a substitution frame, e.g. in the sentence The _ is angry, and the set of items which can be used paradigmatically at a given place is known as a substitution class. So in this example all animate nouns in the singular can fill this slot (girl, man, etc.). Substitution is used as a test for determining syntactic constituents since we assume that only constituents of the same kind can be substituted in a syntactic structure.

surface level

Defined by Chomsky as one aspect of the syntactic structure of a sentence. Established at a less abstract level than deep structure, and the form of representation seen throughout all modifications of what he later called the "Standard Theory", as determining the phonetic interpretation of sentences.

surface structure

Central theoretical term in transformational grammar, opposed to deep structure; the surface structure of a sentence is the final stage in the syntactic representation of a sentence, which provides the input to the phonological component of the grammar, and which thus most closely corresponds to the structure of the sentence we articulate and hear. Analysing a surface string of morphemes through constituent analysis is a universal procedure which indicates many important facts about linguistic structure; but it by no means indicates everything, e.g. it gives no explanation for the recognition of ambiguous sentences.

symmetric verb second

Refers to languages which show Verb Second both in main sentences and subordinate clauses. Theoretically, the verb moves to the second position in both sentence types. Modern Icelandic and Yiddish have been classificed as symmetric Verb Second languages.


One of the two main temporal dimensions of linguistic investigation that were proposed by Ferdinand de Saussure (the other being diachronic). In synchronic linguistics, languages are studied at one specific point in time: one describes a "state" of the language, disregarding whatever changes might be taking place. For instance, one could do a synchronic description of the language of Chaucer.

synchronic variation

Synchronic states are not homogeneous, rather they are heterogeneous (speech habits differ from speaker to speaker). Synchronic variation has been seen as a prerequisite for linguistic change.


The relation between two or more words in a paradigm that have different morphosyntactic features but are identical in form. For instance, the distinction between past tense and a past or passive participle is syncretized (past: walked, participle: walked).

syntactic variation

Term that refers to expressing the same in different ways syntactically. Different perspectives on this phenomenon can be found: variationist sociolinguists assume that inherent variability is a property of grammar, formal linguists like generativists remove variation from the core grammar and attribute it to competition between grammars.


Relation between elements that form part of the same form, sequence, construction, etc.; e.g. between s, p and r in a form such as spring, or between a subject and a verb in constructions such as Bill hunts. Defined by Saussure as a relation "in praesentia", i.e. between units present in the same sequence. Opposed by him to associative; opposed later, from the 1930s onwards, to paradigmatic.


A term in linguistics to refer to the study of the rules governing the way words are combined to form sentences in a language; the study of the interrelationships between elements of sentence structure, and of the rules governing the arrangement of sentences in sequences.


Synthetic languages are languages where grammatical relations are expressed within a word. For example inflectional endings express grammatical relations, and lexical and grammatical meanings/functions are thus expressed in one word.


An inflectional category whose basic role is to indicate the time of an event etc. in relation to the moment of speaking. It is therefore a category used in grammatical description of verbs, referring primarily to the way the grammar marks the time at which the action denoted by the verb took place.

Lucien Tesnière

French linguist who lived from 1893 to 1954. In his book Éléments de syntaxe structural, which was published posthumously, he proposed an approach to the syntax of natural languages that would become known as dependency grammar.

Tesnière, Lucien. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.


The T-Model is a model of grammar prevalent in the Principles and Parameters framework, which has the general structure in (i):

/ \

It is usually assumed that, in English, DS (D-structure) is generated by rewrite rules, or is projected from the rules of X-bar theory, and obeys the conditions of theta-theory and the Extended Projection Principle. SS (S-structure) is derived from DS by the repeated application of affect alpha (e.g. NP-movement and Wh-movement), and must meet the demands of Case theory, and possibly Binding Theory. LF (Logical Form) is derived from SS through the application of affect alpha (e.g QR, Wh-raising (see Wh-in-situ)), and is regarded as the interface with the conceptual system; possibly, LF obeys Binding Theory and is the locus of gamma-checking (gamma-marking). PF is derived from SS and is considered the interface with the articulatory-perceptual system. Both PF and LF are subject to the principle of Full interpretation. The division of labor among the three syntactic levels of representation (DS, SS, LF) is subject to debate, and may vary across languages.

taxonomic structuralism ⇒ distributionalism

Branch of American structuralism which claims that the description of a language should be based on evidence of distributions alone, in abstract form and preceding the study of meaning.

thematic roles

In the generative Government and Binding theory (GB), semantic roles are called thematic roles (or theta-roles for short); e.g. agent or patient.

thematic subject

Also referred to as "grammatical subject"; the subject as defined traditionally, as a specific argument of a verb, opposed to a logical subject. E.g. in "Yesterday I was delayed by fog", the thematic subject is "I", i.e. it is the element with which "was" agrees; but the logical subject would be "fog" (the fog was responsible for what happened).


In Mathesius' "Satzperspektive", known/old information is expressed by the theme (topic, given), and what is said about the known information is expressed by the rheme (new, comment).

Theory of Government and Binding

A version of the theory of Universal Grammar which claims that human languages consist of principles that are the same for any grammar and parameters that allow grammars to vary in limited ways (s. Theory of Principles and Parameters). It refined deep and surface structure into the more technical notions of D-structure and S-structure.

Theory of Principles and Parameters

Theory developed by Noam Chomsky in the 1980s which claims that natural language grammars are not constructed out of construction-specific phrase structure and transformational rules but of something more general. Principles state conditions on grammaticality that are not confined to a specific construction in a specific language but are in principle applicable to all constructions in all languages. The variations found between languages is defined by parameters which are set during first language acquisition based on the input the child is exposed to.

Theta Criterion

A requirement in Generative Grammar that every argument must be assigned one and only one theta role (term for semantic roles such as agent or patient, cf. case roles).

Theta Theory

One of the sub-theories of Government-Binding Theory. Its main principle is the theta-criterion, which requires that every argument is assigned just one theta role and that every theta role is assigned to just one argument. Its main role is to determine the positions to which NP-Movement is possible.


A process relating representations of syntactic surface structure with that of deep structure. It is via transformations that we derive the structure of an interrogative, such as Are they coming?, from that of a declarative, such as They are coming.

transformational rules

A transformational rule consists of a sequence of symbols which is rewritten as another sequence, e.g. a linguistic structure (tree structure) is transformed into another tree structure. For example, a passive sentence is subject to transformational rules (it is built via these rules from the active equivalent of the sentence). Transformational rules are language specific and subject to numerous constraints.


A term that refers to a verb which takes a direct object as in the I stroked the cat.


A category used in the grammatical analysis of clause/sentence constructions, with particular reference to the verb's relationship to dependent elements of structure. The main members of this category are transitive, referring to a verb which can take a direct object, and intransitive, where it cannot.

Dionysisus Thrax

Greek grammarian who lived in 2nd century BC. He authored the first known work on Greek grammar in which he gave a morphological description of the language.

Tree Adjoining Grammar

A type of formal grammar which recognizes trees as primitive elements (elementary trees), combining these into larger structures. Elementary trees are of two kinds: initial trees, which contain the basic phrasal elements of simple sentences, without any recursion; and auxiliary tree, which represent recursive structures. The tag formalism makes use of the operations of substitution (in which a root node from one tree is merged with a non-terminal node in another, to produce a new tree) and adjunction (in which an auxiliary tree is attached to a non-terminal node in an initial tree).

Nikolaj Trubetzkoy

Russian linguist and historian who lived from 1890 to 1938. He is considered to be the founder of morphophonology and had a large impact on the Prague School of structural linguistics.

Trubetzkoy, Nikolaj. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Unification Grammars

(1) In its broadest sense, an umbrella term for all generative grammar models, especially those generative grammars that use a unification operation in their rule systems.
(2) In a narrower sense, a member of a family of newer grammatical models in which feature unification is used to capture the information flow in derivation. Unification grammar is based on the further development of linguistic features. Every linguistic unit is characterized by a feature structure, that is, by a number of attribute-value-pairs, whose values can be either atomic symbols or feature structures.


Properties common to all languages (a universal grammar in this sense would thus be a grammar valid for all languages).

Universal Grammar

Noam Chomsky's term for a set of principles and parameters seen as determined by the human genome and as both facilitating and constraining the development of speech in any member of the species. The subject, accordingly, of Principles and Parameters Theory posited originally in the conviction that, if it did not exist, there would be no way in which children could learn the language of their community.


Grammatical universals are properties which are common to all human languages. The following formal and logical typology of universals can be postulated: (a) unrestricted universals (e.g. every language has vowels), (b) unidirectional implications between two properties (e.g. if a languge has a dual in its number system, then it also has a plural, but not vice versa), (c) limited equivalence, which refers to bidirectional implications between non-universal properties (e.g. if a language has a lateral click, then it also has a dental click and vice versa), (d) statistical universals, which have the character of quasi-universals (e.g. with very few exceptions, nasals occur in all the world's languages), (e) statistical correlations, which refer to the relations between properties (such as, if a certain property is present, e.g. a specification of the second person singular, then the probability of the third person being specified is greater than if the second person is not specified).


A term used in linguistics in various senses, to refer to a property of language which is more neutral, common, expected or general than a corresponding property, which is said to be marked. Unmarked values in some approaches are also often called "default" values, and can be handled by conditions that a category must meet if it can, but need not meet if it cannot, e.g. the default value for case might be accusative. The current use of the term in core grammar should be noted.

Josef Vachek

A Czech linguist and bohemist who lived from 1909 to 1996. He was a prominent member of the Prague linguistic circle.

Vachek, Josef. Photograph. Masaryk University. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.

Marcus Terentius Varro

Roman scholar and writer who lived during the 1st century BC. He is believed to have authored over 600 books, amongst others De lingua latina libri XXV (On the Latin Language in 25 Books).

Varro. Photograph. Amirite. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.

V-to-I movement

Instance of head movement where verbs move from the V head to the I(nfl) head.

V-to-I-to-C movement

Instance of head movement where verbs move from the V head to the I(nfl) head to the C(omplementizer) head.


The ability of a lexeme (e.g. verb, adjective, noun) to predetermine its syntactic environment in that it places certain requirements on the surrounding constituents in reference to their grammatical characteristics. Thus the verb "greet" or "help" require a direct object.

valency grammar

A valency grammar presents a model of a sentence containing a fundamental element (typically, the verb) and a number of dependent elements (variously referred to as arguments, expressions, complement or valents) whose number and type is determined by the valency attributed to the verb. Thus, the semantic and syntactic roles of valents are described within a framework of dependency relations.


De Saussure's analysis deals with the value of a sign (valeur) in the linguistic system. He stated that language is a synchronic system of single units (signs) which have a value in this system. The value of a sign is defined through the system, in paradigmatic and syntagmatic relations. Further, the sign is in opposition to the other signs in the system, i.e they are defined by their differences.

variable rules

Concept developed to describe linguistic variation using statistical methods. A speaker's choice between (at least) two linguistic (phonological, morphological, syntactic) alternatives and their dependency on linguistic and extralinguistic environmental conditions (phonological or syntactic context, discourse conversation, identity of the speaker with a particular social group, and so on) can be calculated using individual statistical models as an indication of the probability of use of a particular variable rule.

variationist sociolinguistics

In sociolinguistics, descriptive approaches that presume the systematically ordered heterogeneity of natural languages. Such linguistic variants result from (a) spatial differences (⇒ dialect), (b) class-specific linguistic behaviour, (c) situative factors (e.g. formal vs. informal conversational contexts), (d) stages of language acquisition, (e) language contact, and (f) the origin and development of pidgin and creole languages. In all cases phonological, morphological, syntactic, lexical, and pragmatic traits of linguistic behaviour vary with regard to extralinguistic factors. Concerning the empirical investigation and the theoretical description of linguistic variations, two recent methodological positions can be differentiated: first, the concept of quantitatively determinable variable rules, and second, the approach of implicational analysis. Besides the description of linguistic variety, variational linguistics is concerned with the problems of the origin and quantification of linguistic varieties in relation to extralinguistic factors, above all with certain aspect of applied linguistics.


Generic term for a particular coherent form of language in which specific extralinguistic criteria can be used to define it as a variety. For example, a geographically defined variety is knows as a dialect, a variety with a social basis as a sociolect, a functional variety as jargon or a sublanguage, a situative variety as a register.

verb raising

This term is used in two different ways here: 1. it refers to the movement of a finite lexical verb from its base (V) position to the I position or C position (movement to the left); 2. it refers to the movement of the lexical verb to the right (movement to the right; related to phenomena in Old English).

verb movement

Syntactic operation where a verb moves from one head position to another. This operation is subject to the Head Movement Constraint.

verb second

Order of elements, e.g. in main sentences in German, in which the finite verb, either lexical or grammatical, must occur in second position: Vielleicht weißt du das nicht (lit. "Perhaps you don't know this") vs. *Vielleicht du weißt das nicht


Language native to a given community as opposed to a learned or second language. A vernacular form is a form which belongs to the speech that is native to a community.

Karl Verner

Danish linguist who studied Oriental, Germanic and Slavic languages. He lived in the 19th century and is best known for his formulation of Verner's Law.

Verner, Karl. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 20 Sep. 2016.

Verner's Law

The explanation by Karl Verner of a set of exceptions to Grimm's Law in which the Germanic reflex of a Proto-Indo-European voiceless stop was not, as predicted, a voiceless fricative. In words where it was, the accent in Proto-Indo-European, as attested by other languages such as Vedic, had fallen on the preceding syllable. Where it was not, the accent had fallen elsewhere.

verse grammar

In the stage of grammar development, verse grammar developed in schools preparing students for university (approx.. 1100-1350); these grammars consisted of a long verse of Latin grammar dealing with parts of speech, syntax, quantity, meter, and figures of speech.

VO approach

Assumption that VO order reflects the canonical order of a (VO) language.


Inversion of adverb and verb, i.e. exchanging the verb and the adverb position.

VP-internal subject hypothesis

A hypothesis in Government and Binding Theory which became popular in the 1980s. It states that in a tree structure, the subject actually originates inside the VP (and moves to Spec,IP).

wave model

Model proposed by J. Schmidt in the 1870s in which the historical relations within Indo-European and other families of languages are seen in terms of the intersection of individual changes, each originating in a specific group of speakers and spreading to others with progressively weaker effect. The image is that of the waves caused by stones dropped into different places in a pool.

weak verbs

A weak verb has forms derived by the addition of a suffix where those of strong verbs are distinguished by ablaut. An example is bark-barked-barked.

X-bar Theory

A system of grammatical analysis developed in generative linguistics as an alternative to traditional accounts of phrase structure and lexical categories, and constraining phrase structure rules in transformational grammar. In X-bar Theory, universal structural principles help build the syntactically complex categories of natural languages like NP, VP, PP etc on the basis of one structure with a maximal projection XP, with an intermediate level X' and a minimal projection X. This structure can be applied to all lexical and functional categories (VP, PP, CP, DP, etc.).


West Germanic, historically a variety of German influenced heavily by Hebrew and spoken by Jewish communities over a wide area of central and eastern Europe; after the massacre of Jews in the Second World War the largest body of speakers was in the USA.

Zeno of Citium

Greek thinker and teacher who lived from 334 to 262 BC. He is the founder of the Stoic school of philosophy which became the dominant philosophy from the Hellenistic period through to the Roman era.

Zeno of Citium. Photograph. Wikimedia. Web. 1. Jul. 2015.

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