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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 major aim of this study is to contribute to the discussion of natural language in the broader context of interdisciplinary considerations with reference to “the third factor of language design” and “principles not specific to the faculty of language” (Chomsky 2005:1). Deriving inspiration from the treatment of language as a part of the Universe governed by physical laws (cf. Boeckx 2006) I concentrate on a single “principle not specific to FL” and a principle that underlies the formulation of physical laws, i.e. symmetry. I expand this topic by applying Curie’s (1884) formulation on the pivotal role of spontaneous symmetry breaking (SSB) with respect to the emergence of various physical phenomena to linguistics (especially with regard to the emergence of syntax and semantics as separate/autonomous modules of grammar).

To these ends I first provide some interdisciplinary context with respect to the significance of symmetry and related phenomena (dissymmetry, asymmetry, symmetry breaking and symmetry restoring) in Chapter 1. I discuss the significance of symmetry in mathematics, physics and biology. Then I discuss selected syntactic phenomena (operation Merge, syntactic categories, coordination, parataxis, subordination, recursive embedding) as well as descriptive domains (syntax-semantics interplay in the context of Jackendoff and Culicover’s (2005) Simpler Sytax Hypothesis, Jackendoff’s (2011) Parallel Architecture or Leung’s (2007) LF-PF-NS model.

Chapter 2 is devoted to discussing the recursive operation Merge in terms of its symmetric and asymmetric aspects corresponding to Hornstein’s (2009) distinction between symmetric operation Concatenate and asymmetric operation Label. Various approaches...

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