Syntactic locality and tree adjoining grammar: Grammatical, acquisition and processing perspectives

Robert Evan Frank, University of Pennsylvania


It has been widely recognized that the relations human grammar exploits are sensitive to constraints on structural locality. Indeed, much research in generative syntax has focused on the precise characterization of the locality conditions that grammatical processes respect. In this dissertation, I propose that locality reflects the underlying formal system with which grammars are represented. In particular, I argue that the formalism of Tree Adjoining Grammar (TAG) is the appropriate meta-language for grammatical principles. TAG provides a mechanism for composing phrase structure representations from small structural domains, and in so doing, restricts the class of possible grammatical principles to those expressible over these domains. Under this view, the existence of locality conditions is not directly stipulated, but instead follows from the representational machinery which the formal grammar makes available. I consider evidence from three domains of linguistic inquiry which provide convergent support for this view. I first address the problem of constructing a grammatical theory in the principles and parameters framework in the context of the TAG formalism. I develop a substantive theory of the atomic objects of TAG, elementary trees, and argue for a Condition on Elementary Tree Minimality (CETM) which restricts the domain of an elementary tree. The CETM combined with TAG versions of the Projection Principle and the Empty Category Principle yields elegant analyses of a range of constructions including raising, copular sentences, wh-movement and gerunds. Next, I turn to the domain of parsing and demonstrate how a TAG-based theory of grammar resolves the apparently incompatible demands of grammatical transparency and computational efficiency. The model I develop operates incrementally by processing in elementary tree-sized chunks, as determined by the CETM. This view of incrementality is supported by psycholinguistic evidence concerning the closure points of syntactic processing. Finally, in the domain of acquisition, I argue that the assumption that children cannot perform the more complex operation of TAG, adjoining, explains relative difficulties in the acquisition of seemingly disparate constructions including wh-movement, control, raising, and relative clauses. This represents a new kind of explanation for the time course of acquisition through properties of formal and computational complexity.

Subject Area

Computer science|Linguistics|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Frank, Robert Evan, "Syntactic locality and tree adjoining grammar: Grammatical, acquisition and processing perspectives" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9308570.