On the status of positionally-defined constraints in syntax

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This paper argues that there is no justification for incorporating into linguistic theory principles whose effect is to disallow the removal of constituents occurring on non-final branches of dominating constituents. On the assumption that it is incumbent on the proponents of such principles to justify them, the central argument of this paper is based on a demonstration that none of the pertinent principles proposed so far is theoretically satisfactory or empirically tenable. Section one introduces the notion “island constraint”. Section two introduces the first of the criticized principles—as well as the rule of Verb Phrase Deletion, which that principle purports to constrain—and argues that it creates a difficulty for the theory of islands. Section three shows that the difficulty mentioned in section two can be avoided if the pertinent constraint on VP-Deletion is discarded in favour of an alternative analysis. Section four argues that the alternative of section three —but not the constraint of section two—can account for analogous restrictions on VP-Deletion found in languages other than English. Section five pursues the argument of section four with respect to rules other than VP-Deletion. Section six considers another principle which purports to block the removal of certain structure-nonfinal constituents and exposes its inadequacies. Section seven offers additional arguments that the principles discussed in this paper are different from island constraints in general, and from a particular island constraint to which they bear certain superficial similarities in particular.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-202
Number of pages44
JournalTheoretical Linguistics
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - 1975


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