Introduction to Syntax / I

Michal Starke

What is the theory of syntax a theory of? How come syntacticians think that the answer to this question guides us in constructing the theory itself, defining the whole 'generative enterprise'? What are the basic ideas underlying current syntactic theories ('Principle and Parameters')? And what is this 'Principle and Parameters' thing in the first place? Why is the acquisition of language by babies so central to the theory of syntax? Do current theories really say that a very small number of principles (say less than 10) define the syntax of all languages? But do they really say that every sentence has 60 syntagms in it? If they do, why would that be and advance over previous approaches?

This class is a basic introduction to the theory of syntax. We will answer questions like those above, in a way accessible to those of you who have very minimal (or no) exposure to current syntactic research. The goal is to give you a broad understanding of the issues involved. I will try to avoid the technicalities of the current theories as much as possible (so there will be no details of minimalism, antisymmetry or other currently competing theories) and will rather concentrate on the general picture of what it is that we are trying to explain and why.