Journal of Psycholinguistic Research

, Volume 44, Issue 1, pp 65–89 | Cite as

On Directionality of Phrase Structure Building

  • Cristiano Chesi


Minimalism in grammatical theorizing (Chomsky in The minimalist program. MIT Press, Cambridge, 1995) led to simpler linguistic devices and a better focalization of the core properties of the structure building engine: a lexicon and a free (recursive) phrase formation operation, dubbed Merge, are the basic components that serve in building syntactic structures. Here I suggest that by looking at the elementary restrictions that apply to Merge (i.e., selection and licensing of functional features), we could conclude that a re-orientation of the syntactic derivation (from bottom-up/right-left to top-down/left-right) is necessary to make the theory simpler, especially for long-distance (filler-gap) dependencies, and is also empirically more adequate. If the structure building operations would assemble lexical items in the order they are pronounced (Phillips in Order and structure. PhD thesis, MIT, 1996; Chesi in Phases and cartography in linguistic computation: Toward a cognitively motivated computational model of linguistic competence. PhD thesis, Università di Siena, 2004; Chesi in Competence and computation: Toward a processing friendly minimalist grammar. Unipress, Padova, 2012), on-line performance data could better fit the grammatical model, without resorting to external “performance factors.” The phase-based, top-down (and, as a consequence, left-right) Minimalist Grammar here discussed goes in this direction, ultimately showing how strong Islands (Huang in Logical relations in Chinese and the theory of grammar. PhD thesis, MIT, 1982) and intervention effects (Gordon et al. in J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 27:1411–1423, 2001, Gordon et al. in J Mem Lang 51:97–114, 2004) could be better explained in structural terms assuming this unconventional derivational direction.


Relative Clause Lexical Item Memory Buffer Phase Head Merge Operation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.IUSS - Institute for Advanced Study of PaviaPaviaItaly

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