A Minimalist Program for Linguistic Theory

Chomsky 1995


Chomsky gives a general introduction to the minmalist framework, which tries to eliminate any unnecessary components of the grammar. He says that PF and LF represent the interface levels, and so must be kept; but that DS and SS are theory-internal, and we should try to dispense with them if we can. In particular, minimality aims to state all syntactic conditions (binding, case, etc) at either LF or PF. Ideally, all conditions should be reducable to Full Interpretation (which states that the objects given to PF and LF are valid) and economy conditions.


He bases the basic syntactic representations used by the linguistic theory on x-bar theory. He assumes that the basic structure of clauses is [CP [AgrSP [TP [AgrOP [VP ...]]]]] (with specifier positions for CP, AgrSP, and AgrOP). He states that all relations between elements should be "local." He takes the spec-head and head-head relations to be the core configurations of inflectional morphology. He also defines several "locality" domains for a head or chain: the internal domain is its argument; the checking domain is its specifier and adjuncts. θ-assignment is typically done in the internal domain, and case-assignment is typically done in the checking domain. Together, the internal domain and the checking domain form the minimal domain, which is used to define movement distance: any position within the minimal domain of a head is equidistant. These domains each contain a minimal set of heads to cover the desired constituants, but can not include heads that dominate the head/chain. In the case of movement, both the head & tail of the chain are considered. Thus, the minimal domain after head movement includes the spec of both the head and the trace (so they are equidistant for movement).


He goes on to explore what the computational system of a minimalist linguistic theory should look like. Instead of generating the initial structure at DS using a single operation "Satisfy," we will incrementally build the tree from simple x-bar projections of lexical heads using three operations: GT, adjunction, and move-equation0.png. GT=generalized transformation extends an X or X' by attatching a sister to form an X' or XP. adjunction targets a (possibly internal node), splits it into a child & parent (same type), and attatches a sister to the parent. move-equation0.png is like GT, but the attatched sister is taken from within the component that is attatched to. At some point in the derivation, we invoke spell-out to send the tree to the PF; and then we continue operating on it until LF.

Eliminating SS and DS

The remainder of the paper is spent giving various reasons for eliminating D-Structure and S-Structure, including binding theory, agreement, and case theory.


author =       {Chomsky, N.},
title =        {The Minimalist Program},
chapter =      3,
publisher =    {MIT Press},
year =         1995,
pages =        {167-217}