The Structure of Syntactic Typologies


  • This article builds on an earlier study, reported in Grimshaw, 2013. Many colleagues and audiences have made invaluable contributions to the research reported there, which are acknowledged in the prior paper. Here I would like to thank in particular, Nick Danis, Alan Prince and Vieri Samek-Lodovici. The audience at the Mind & Language Syntax Workshop, held at Birkbeck College in January 2012, raised important issues which I have tried to address. I thank Ian Roberts for an illuminating commentary on material I presented at the workshop, Neil Smith and Samuel Guttenplan for wise advice concerning the appropriate focus for this article, and Neil Smith for constructive criticism of a draft which led to many improvements.


This article illustrates how language variation and the limits of variation are given a shared and principled explanation in Optimality Theory. It shows that languages can be ‘uniform’, choosing the same grammatical structures in three different sentence types. They can also be ‘non-uniform’, but the combinations of grammatical structures that they can exhibit are extremely restricted. The theory characterizes possible and impossible grammatical systems without special stipulations or additional theoretical machinery.