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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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Chapter 2: The operation Merge


2.1    Background

The advent of minimalism has brought about extreme reductionism with respect to linguists’ views on what constitutes the core of the human language faculty (FL). Instead of the highly modular system of grammar characteristic of the GB approach to syntax, the minimalist framework postulates a radical simplification of syntax to the binary operation Merge, defined as a concatenation and labeling procedure applicable to two elements, α and β. The followers of the minimalist approach to syntax consider this reductionism to be a promising sign for the fecundity of the MP from the methodological perspective (on the basis of occamist considerations). In this way, MP seems to provide a more accurate description of FL without resorting to the GB-style modular approach. This reductionism is expressed in Hornstein’s (2009) words already referred to in Chapter 1: “[…] all grammatical relations are grammatically executed under Merge. For example, α theta marks β iff α merges with β, α controls β iff α merges with β. α locally binds β iff α merges with β, and so on” (Hornstein 2009:16). Thus, the recursive operation Merge constitutes the very core of the grammar.14

The special status of Merge begs the question of its symmetry or asymmetry. As Merge is assumed to be the only structure-building mechanism in MP, and language is part of the natural world, it is sensible to analyze Merge from the comparative and interdisciplinary perspective outlined in Chapter 1. Some analogies between linguistic research and physics are remarkable by pointing to a stage of initial symmetry leading to...

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