Nanosyntax: A fresh approach to syntactic analysis

DOI: 10.2989/16073614.2012.750819
Author(s): Erin PretoriusDepartment of General Linguistics,, Johan OosthuizenDepartment of General Linguistics,


Nanosyntax (NS) is a new theoretical approach to grammatical inquiry that is intended to be more ‘fine-grained’ than conventional Minimalist Syntax (MS), attempting to provide a method of analysis that can account for the behaviour of linguistic elements which used to appear unpredictable. According to Starke (2009: 1), researchers working in the broad field of MS have, over the past two decades, been making empirical observations that cannot be accounted for by the conventional assumptions governing linguists’ structural representations of these phenomena. NS challenges the widespread assumption that one terminal node in a syntactic tree corresponds with one lexical item. Rather, NS claims that a sequence of nodes is responsible for spelling out a lexical item. Spellout of non-terminal nodes, in addition to the Elsewhere Condition and what has been termed ‘the Superset Principle’ form the basic tools of this new approach. The conventional notion of the lexicon preceding syntax in the language faculty (LF) is disfavoured by NS, which opts for a conception of the LF in which syntax precedes the lexicon. NS remains compatible with conventional MS in most other regards: that is, as far as binary branching trees, merge and move are concerned.

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