The Central Question in Comparative Syntactic Metatheory



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    1. School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, University of Edinburgh
    • Address for correspondence: PPLS, University of Edinburgh, Dugald Stewart Building, 3 Charles Street, Edinburgh EH8 9AD, UK.


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  • This article was completed while I was Gerard Visiting Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences at Brown University. For comments on earlier drafts I am grateful to Nik Gisborne, Samuel Guttenplan, Robert Levine, Erkki Luuk, Ad Neeleman, Neil Smith, and Becky Williams. Some of the material stems from joint work with James Rogers. A fuller presentation will be provided in Pullum, Rogers and Scholz (forthcoming). Barbara Scholz, to whom I owe a many intellectual debts, would have been a co-author of this article but for her untimely death in May 2011. The article is dedicated to her memory.


Two kinds of theoretical framework for syntax are encountered in current linguistics. One emerged from the mathematization of proof theory, and is referred to here as generative-enumerative syntax (GES). A less explored alternative stems from the semantic side of logic, and is here called model-theoretic syntax (MTS). I sketch the outlines of each, and give a capsule summary of some mathematical results pertaining to the latter. I then briefly survey some diverse types of evidence suggesting that in some ways MTS seems better suited to theorizing about the relevant linguistic phenomena.