Core Grammar, Case Theory, and Markedness

  • Howard Lasnik
  • Robert Freidin
Part of the Studies in Natural Language and Linguistic Theory book series (SNLT, volume 20)


Core grammar (CG) is universal grammar’s substantive contribution to the grammar of a particular language. It consists of a set of general rules or rule schema (e.g. “move α”), conditions on rules (e.g. the recoverability condition for deletions), and filters (e.g. *[that [NP e]]) — all of which provide a severely limited set of possible grammars from which certain properties of language follow.1 The contents of the grammar are organized into various components, each with its specific properties. The various components interact modular fashion, in a way determined by the general organization of grammars. Following Chomsky and Lasnik (1977), we adopt the organization in (1).


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  1. 1.
    For further discussion of this and related points, see Chomsky (1980a) and Lasnik and Kupin (1977).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    We assume that the domain of the PIC and NIC is S rather than S based on arguments given in Freidin and Lasnik (1981).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Presumably the correct notion of Case is rather abstract since many of the essential properties covered by Case theory (cf. Chomsky (1980a)) are manifested in languages which have no overt Case-marking — e.g., Vietnamese.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    The two filters divide the class of NP types (e.g., trace, PRO, and lexical NP) differently. See Freidin (1978, fn. 35) for discussion.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    No rule for genitive Case was given in Chomsky (1980a). We assume that N rather than N is the relevant node for Case-assignment because of examples like (i) and (ii) (i) John’s interesting proofs (ii) *The proofs the theorem which would be analyzed as (iii) and (iv) respectively. (iii) (N John’s [N interesting proofs]] (iv) [N the [N proofs the theorem]] In (iii), N, but not N, governs John given our definition of “govern”, which is discussed immediately below. In (iv), the theorem would be incorrectly assigned genitive Case if (6d) mentioned N and not N. If the complementizer for is not analyzed as [+P] then another rule of Case-assignment dealing with for-infinitive constructions must be added to (6).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    See fn. 13 for the definition given in Chomsky (1980a) and also for a discussion of some potential problems connected with it.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Under this definition, two categories need not be immediately dominated by the same category to be sisters. As far as we can tell, this creates no problems.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    The PRO case is noted in Chomsky (1980a fn. 30) but not the NP-e case.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    WH-NP’s that are Case-marked under the *N filter analysis will have Case-marked traces under our analysis. WH-NP’s that are not Case-marked will have traces that are also not Case-marked.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    A conceivable alternative analysis would have Case-assignment apply before all transformations. Then the derived subject of a passive would acquire the Case of the position to which it moves. We have not explored the consequences of this possibility. Below, however, we will argue that Case-assignment follows Deletion. Given this, of course, it must also follow movement.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Chomsky (1980a) presents a different solution. There, Case-assignment for WH-phrases is taken to be part of the WH-movement rule. This is identical in effect to the second proposal in the text. However this analysis seems contrary to the spirit of the modularity hypothesis for the structure of CG since it complicates the internal structure of the movement component, perhaps unnecessarily.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Chomsky (1980a) proposes that oblique Case is assigned in the base. Oblique case is then carried along under NP movement, ultimately conflicting with the assigned Case of the derived position of an oblique NP. This proposal was intended to capture the general impossibility of preposition stranding under NP movement. An alternative compatible with surface structure assignment of oblique Case is suggested in Chomsky (1980a fn. 30) and developed in May (1981). The essence of the proposal is an ((inverse)) *NP filter which assigns * to any empty NP (except WI-I-e) bearing Case. The object of a preposition will thus be unable to passivize. Assuming that passive participles do not assign Case, normal passives and reanalyzed pseudopassives will still be allowed.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Taking theory A in conjunction with the definition of government proposed in Chomsky (1980a), this situation is significantly worse. In this paper the relation “governed” is defined as: a is governed by ß if a is c-commanded by ß and no major category or major category boundary appears between a and ß.2’ (p. 25) Footnote 29 reads: This convention builds in the “adjacency and c-command” condition of the *[NP-to-VP] filter. Excluded are the structures ß[ya and ßya, where y is a major category. The notion “government”, like the notion “grammatical relation”, must be defined at a level of abstraction that excludes from consideration parenthetical elements, interpolated adverbs, and the like. This definition is less restrictive than the one given in (7) above. Under this analysis of Case-assignment, (27) and (29) both fall within the core phenomena. What is “marked” under this analysis is the illformedness of (29). It is difficult to imagine how CG would be modified to exclude (29) on the basis of evidence available in the acquisition situation.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Henk van Riemsdijk (personal communication) has informed us that reciprocals in Dutch occur in structures analogous to (30a) whereas reflexives may not occur in structures analogous to (30b).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1990

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  • Howard Lasnik
  • Robert Freidin

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