Minimalist program

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Minimalist program is a term used in linguistics .

Dating back to the title of an article by Noam Chomsky (Chomsky 1992, A Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory ), the term an evolution of the commonly called generative grammar known syntactic theory . The Minimalist Program (hereinafter: MP) represents a radical departure from a number of previously central assumptions - in particular here is the complete renunciation of a differentiation between syntactic deep structure (a more abstract underlying syntactic structure) and the syntactic surface structure (which is created by syntactic Deformations derived from the deep structure). In addition, syntactic movement phenomena are no longer Directorate and binding ( Government and Binding explains) but a number of economic principles. Overall, the MP aims to explain the structural properties of linguistic systems as the direct result of complex interactions between the processing mechanisms of other cognitive systems.

The Minimalist Program, like the earlier versions of Noam Chomsky's Generative Grammar, is a constituent grammar in that it is based on the principle of constituency. A constituent grammar is not a dependency grammar that is based on the principle of dependence.


In order to understand the processes described by the minimalist program, it is advisable to first take a look at the underlying concept of mental processes.

Scheme of the minimalist program

Before a linguistic utterance can take place, a number of unconscious mental processes take place. From the linguistic knowledge of the individual, these processes build the linguistic utterance desired by the speaker piece by piece. The totality of these processes is called derivation . The first step in the creation of a linguistic utterance, called "numeration", takes from the mental lexicon a disordered set of those lexemes from which the sentence is to be constructed (e.g. "Hans", "buy", "car", "a" for the phrase "Hans is buying a car"). The selected lexemes are now sorted in the syntactic generator. For this purpose, the mental operation "Select" selects two elements and combines them using the operation "Merge" to form an object of a higher order (e.g. a phrase). The "Move" operation allows, under certain conditions, to move elements that have already been integrated, i.e. to change their position within the resulting linguistic structure. "Select" and "Merge" continue until a coherent linguistic form has emerged from all the disordered elements previously selected from the lexicon . "Merge" only creates objects that have a structure that is X'-conforming in the broadest sense (see X-Bar theory ) (in more recent works on the MP, however, this assumption is usually no longer made; see Bare Phrase Structure ).

The processes described so far were solely of a mental nature: in reality the speaker has not yet uttered any utterance. But now the generated lexeme sequence is actually uttered verbally: the "Spell-Out" operation is used to pronounce. In terms of language theory, it is divided into two components: a semantic ("logical form" (LF)), which contains the meaning of the linguistic utterance, and a phonological ("phonetic form" (PF)), which describes the physically measurable aspects of the utterance ( the audible acoustic output).

After the "spell-out" operation, the linguistic utterance arrives in two ways in the mental unit responsible for language processing ("FoL" - Faculty of Language): the phonological component PF via the "articulatory-phonetic interface" (AP) and the semantic component LF via the "conceptual-intentional interface" (CI). An in-depth linguistic utterance is mentally processed on two levels, on the one hand as an auditory perceived physical signal and on the other hand as a meaningful mental construct.


Numeration: "Hans", "kaufen", "Auto", "ein", INFL
 * Select - "Auto", "ein"
 * Merge  - "Auto", "ein" -> DP[ein Auto]
 * Select - "kauft", DP[ein Auto]
 * Merge  - "kauft", DP[ein Auto] -> V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]
 * Select - "Hans", V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]
 * Merge  - "Hans", V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]] -> VP[Hans V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]]
 * Select - INFL, VP[Hans V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]]
 * Merge  - INFL, VP[Hans V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]] -> I'[INFL[VP[Hans V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]]]]
 * Move   - Hans -> IP[Hans I'[INFL[VP[t V'[kauft DP[ein Auto]]]]]]


In the MP, every lexeme is understood as a set of different characteristics. First, a distinction is made between semantic , phonological and grammatical features. Features can be interpretable or non-interpretable as well as strong or weak.

  • Semantic characteristics (e.g. liveliness , English animacy ) can always be interpreted.
  • Phonological features (essentially the sequence of sounds by means of which the lexeme is acoustically realized) can never be interpreted.
  • Grammatical features are partly interpretable (e.g. tense ) and partly non-interpretable (e.g. case ).

Non-interpretable weak features must be removed from the derivation before it is transferred to the intentional-conceptual system, non-interpretable strong features even before spell-out (i.e. before transfer to the articulatory-phonetic system). Derivations that contain only interpretable features converge , derivatives that contain non-interpretable features collapse . Grammatical features can only be deleted as part of a feature check; phonological features are removed from the derivation as part of a spell-out.

Feature verification

Non-interpretable grammatical features such as B. Cases must be deleted from the derivation in the MP at the latest when the logical form level is reached (if weak features are involved), and sometimes even before spell-out (if strong features are involved). This is only possible in certain structural configurations ( checking configurations ) - in general, it is assumed that only so-called specifier-head relations come into question:


 /  \
ZP  X'
   / \
  X  YP

In the above example there is such a relation between X (the head of the phrase) and ZP (the specifier ). If the head and its specifier have an identical, non-interpretable characteristic, it is deleted from the derivation. In concrete terms:


                 /    \
                /      \
               /        \
              /          \
             /            \
            /              v'
           /             /   \
          /             /     \
         /             /       \
        /             /         \
       /             /          VP
      /             /          /  \
     /             /          /    \
    /             /          /      \
   NP            v          NP      V'
   |           /   \        |       |
   |          V    v        |       V
   |          |    |        |       |
Der Mann  sieht[i] 0     die Frau   t[i]
[Nom]              [Nom] [Akk]      [Akk]

The case features of both NPs can be deleted; the object NP ( the woman ) is in a specifier-head relation with the lexical verb ( sees ), the subject-NP is in a specifier-head relation with a phonetically empty, affixal light verb ( 0 ) with agentivischer reading to which the lexical verb is adjoint. The assumption of the existence of easy verbs is motivated independently by three-digit predicates ( Peter gave Lisa the book ), especially those with an alternating ergative / causative structure ( The ball rolled down the hill / They rolled the ball down the hill ). In fact, a whole series of other functional projections are partially accepted (AgrO, AgrS, AgrIO, T etc.), and this topic is currently being discussed lively within the scientific community. Checking strong grammatical features is the primary reason for overt syntactic movement.



Primary literature:

  • N. Chomsky: A minimalist program for linguistic theory. 1992. In: Hale and Keyser 1993.
  • K. Hale, SJ Keyser: The view from building 20: essays in linguistics in honor of Sylvain Bromberger. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1993, ISBN 0-262-08223-3 , ISBN 0-262-58124-8 .
  • N. Chomsky: The Minimalist Program. MIT Press, Cambridge, MA 1995, ISBN 0-262-53128-3 , ISBN 0-262-03229-5 .


See also