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Essentials of semantic syntax: An appetiser

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Seuren,  Pieter A. M.
Other Research, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Seuren_Cadernos_2021.pdf
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Citation

Seuren, P. A. M. (2021). Essentials of semantic syntax: An appetiser. Cadernos de Linguística, 2(1). doi:10.25189/2675-4916.2021.v2.n1.id290.


Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0007-DAE7-F
Abstract
Semantic Syntax (SeSyn), originally called Generative Semantics, is an offshoot of Chomskyan generative grammar (ChoGG), rejected by Chomsky and his school in the late 1960s. SeSyn is the theory of algorithmical grammars producing the well-formed sentences of a language L from the corresponding semantic input, the Semantic Analysis (SA), represented as a traditional tree structure diagram in a specific formal language of incremental predicate logic with quantifying and qualifying operators (including the truth functions), and with all lexical items filled in. A SeSyn-type grammar is thus by definition transformational, but not generative. The SA originates in cognition in a manner that is still largely mysterious, but its actual form can be distilled from the Surface Structure (SS) of the sentences of L following the principles set out in SeSyn. In this presentation we provide a more or less technical résumé of the SeSyn theory. A comparison is made with ChoGG-type grammars, which are rejected on account of their intrinsic unsuitability as a cognitive-realist grammar model. The ChoGG model follows the pattern of a 1930s neopositivist Carnap-type grammar for formal logical languages. Such grammars are random sentence generators, whereas, obviously, (nonpathological) humans are not. A ChoGG-type grammar is fundamentally irreconcilable with a mentalist-realist theory of grammar. The body of the paper consists in a demonstration of the production of an English and a French sentence, the latter containing a classic instance of the cyclic rule of Predicate Raising (PR), essential in the general theory of clausal complementation yet steadfastly repudiated in ChoGG for reasons that have never been clarified. The processes and categories defined in SeSyn are effortlessly recognised in languages all over the world, whether indigenous or languages of a dominant culture—taking into account language-specific values for the general theoretical parameters involved. This property makes SeSyn particularly relevant for linguistic typology, which now ranks as the most promising branch of linguistics but has so far conspicuously lacked an adequate theoretical basis.