Saturday, April 23, 2022

Failure in Linguistics: A Case Study

In an earlier blog post, I talked about “failure” in linguistics and gave some strategies for dealing with it. 

Embracing Failure in Linguistics

In this blog post I talk about one of my personal failures. The only purpose of this post is to convey a personal anecdote. I do not mean to make any general statements about the field of syntax and the direction it is going in. Nor do I intend to elicit any sympathy. I realize I am an extremely fortunate person in many ways. Rather, this post is meant to be biographical, sketching some events in my life and my reaction to them. Nothing else is intended, so please do not read anything else between the lines, or calculate any far-fetched implicatures.

Syntax Example Game

Syntax Example Game

An important skill in doing syntax research is finding examples. The best syntacticians are usually also very good at finding interesting example words and sentences.

The purpose of the game is to generate example words or sentences that conform to some condition. For example, the players may be looking for NPIs (negative polarity items, defined as those words that only occur in downward entailing environments). 

Other possible conditions include: prefixes, islands, irregular plurals, DE contexts, idiom chunks, constituent structure tests, theta-roles, speaker imposters, etc. The sky is the limit.


1. The game requires two players, A and B. 

2. A starts by giving an example: 

A: ever

I didn’t ever see him.

*I ever saw him.

3. B then responds with his/her example: 

B: at all

I don’t like him at all.

*I like him at all.

4. The process repeats, and the last person to give an example wins.

5. The players, A and B, must both agree that each example is valid

(e.g., that the example shows what it is meant to show).

6. If a player disagrees, he/she can challenge. 

7. If a player is challenged, he/she can defend the example by asking others, searching on the internet, consulting a linguistics paper, etc.

8. Players must be honest about their judgments and use challenges appropriately. Challenges should be used very parsimoniously.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Collins and Stabler 2016 (Appendix)

The appendix to Collins and Stabler 2016 contains proofs of various theorems that were given in the paper. We usually have a few people ask for it each year, so I thought I would post it in a convenient place (my blog):

Collins, Chris and Edward Stabler. 2016. A Formalization of Minimalist Syntax. Syntax 19, 43-78.