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Symmetry Breaking and Symmetry Restoration

Evidence from English Syntax of Coordination


Szymon J. Napierała

This book treats the faculty of language as part of the Universe subject to physical laws. It presents phenomena from syntax and semantics in the interdisciplinary context. The author analyses the origin of syntax and semantics as autonomous modules (asymmetry), even though they display parallelisms (symmetry). He presents linguistic phenomena in the interdisciplinary context where spontaneous symmetry breaking has a central explanatory role, as it is the case in the physical world.

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The approach advocated in this book refers to the recent attempts of treating language as part of the Universe, which, crucially, is subject to physical laws, just like any other part of the Universe (cf. e.g. Boeckx 2006; Krivochen 2011). The emphasis is placed on the physical concept of spontaneous symmetry breaking (SSB) and Curie’s (1884) principle which states that lowering of the initial symmetry of a given system leads to the emergence of various physical phenomena. Throughout the book I make frequent reference to the pivotal role of SSB and Curie’s (1884) principle in linguistics (syntax) in the context of the emergence of syntax from protosyntax via the emergence of the asymmetric operation Label to the previously symmetric protosyntax based on the symmetric operations Concatenate (cf. Boeckx 2008; Hornstein 2009, Hornstein and Pietroski 2009). As regards the reverse process whereby the initial symmetry of the protolinguistic level is somehow restored I distinguish the process opposite to SSB, i.e. symmetry restoration.

What is novel in the approach presented in this study is the idea that SSB is also responsible for the emergence of syntax, semantics and other modules of grammar as autonomous modules, but displaying some parallelisms. The autonomy of separate modules is interpreted to be the result of SSB, whereas the parallelisms are interpreted as the residues of the initially symmetric protolinguistic system before the SSB stage. The existence of the residues of the protosyntax in FL is considered to be the result of symmetry...

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