Linguistics Syntax Minimalist Theory Term Paper

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EPP and "There" construction in English

The question of how humans develop language capabilities has been a question that researchers have grappled with for many years. The question has divided theorist into two ideologically different camps of thought. The first hold that feature movement in sentences is controlled by separate morphological processes. The second holds that the processes are unified and that the "wiring" is already in place when an infant is born. This concept is led by Noam Chomsky and developed into first the EPP and secondly into the Minimalist approach to the EPP. This study addresses many research gaps that can be found in literature on this subject. This study proposes the direction that research into this topic should take to address these gaps in the future and the use of the expletive there as a means to explore this mechanism.


The extended Projection Principle (EPP) was first proposed by Chomsky (!981,1982). EPP required that every clause must have a subject in a specific position. A clause must have an entity or object that performs an action. Subjects that form this requirement can come in many forms, as long as they are in the proper position. The purpose of the study is to explore a minimalist approach to the expletive "there" in fulfillment of the EPP.

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The subject of the sentence need not be complex, as long as it satisfies the requirements of the EPP. A simple example is the sentence, "Mary wept." This phrase satisfies the requirements of the EPP as it has both a complete subject and a complete predicate. It has an entity that performs an action. This is all that is required according to Chomsky's EPP principle.

Term Paper on Linguistics Syntax Minimalist Theory Assignment

Many different types of subjects can fulfill the subject position of the sentence. For instance, nouns and pronouns can fill this position. When the subject is a noun, it is easy to spot. However, the subject of the sentence does not always have to be a concrete object. For instance, in the sentence, "Love is blind," the subject of the sentence is an abstract concept. One may not see "love" as the subject of the sentence at first. However, "love" is a noun in the sentence and fills the requirements of the EPP.

As open can see, the subject of the sentence can be abstract or concrete. However, other types of words can occupy this position. For instance, imperatives can serve, as a subject of the phrase as in the sentence, "Don't do it!" In this case, "Don't" occupies the position before the verb, and therefore serves as the subject of the sentence. Verbal phrases can serve as subjects as well such as "to see the light," "picking peppers" and other similar phrases. As one can see, the subject of a sentence is not always obvious and many types of phrases and objects can satisfy the subject requirements of the EPP. Of these non-concrete examples, "there" is one of the most commonly used phrases in the English language.

Literature Review

Since Chomsky first proposed the theory of EPP, it has been a topic of interest and confusion for linguists. The application of the EPP has changed over the years from its first introduction by Chomsky. One must explore both the original theory and its current application in order to apply it to the topic of this research. The following will explore key literature regarding the EPP with the intention of examining possible hypotheses and theories concerning the future of the topic.

Understanding the EPP

The EPP developed out of the realization that "dummy" subjects often exist in the English language. In the Introduction of this research, many examples of "dummy" subjects were found to exist. In some sentences, the subject position is filled by a pronoun, such as there or it. Of the two, it is easier to understand, because it directly refers to a noun that was referenced previously. It must be defined before one can use it as a direct replacement for a noun. It serves the purpose in the English language of reducing redundancy.

According to Chomsky's minimalist approach, Chomsky strips his original theories of all but the most essential elements (Chomsky, 1995). One of the key concepts that sparked this change is that the EPP is not found universally in all languages. For example, German lacks the EPP (Garcia, 2007). It has also been suggested that null-subject Romance languages such as Spanish, Italian, and European Portuguese also lack the EPP, but the results of these studies have not been conclusive (Garcia, 2007). Additional research on the existence of the EPP in these languages is needed.

When discussing the EPP, what serves as the subject of the sentence is not easily defined by conventional means (Garcia, 2007). This being taken into consideration, one can still find examples of sentences where the subject seems to have been moved to a non-traditional position. For instance, "In the house, were two birds." In this example, the phrase "in the house" does not appear to satisfy the subject of the sentence, even though it is in the traditional subject position. It one were to recast the sentence, it would read, "Two birds were in the house." From this example, it would appear that not only is the subject vague, its position in the sentence can be moved as well. The later minimalist approach was developed in order to account for these position movements (Chomsky, 1995).

This brings us to the expletive there. Pronouns are identifiable by their previous definitions. As with it, she, he or they, we can attach concrete meaning to them through previous definition. However, in the case of there, Chomsky (1998, 1999, 2001) there is an uninterruptible person. In come cases, expletives such as there do not replace the subject, but serve as a placeholder instead. This position by Chomsky is further complicated by Chomsky's claim that the expletive cannot serve as a probe in the sentence. These difficulties and inconsistencies have led to discussions about the validity of EPP and the possibility that it should be dropped as a theory. The following will explore current literature and issues surrounding this controversial topic.

Research on the EPP

We found the expletives, such as there, could be used as a place marker for the subject. However, there can only be used in the subject position when the predicate does not assign an external subject position (theta role). Many verbs indicate that a subject must be assigned, such as, "Angie ate the cookie," or "Amy kicked the soccer ball." The EPP states that regardless of whether or not the main predicate assigns a theta role, the subject must still be present. This creates a situation where verbs tha6t do not assign external theta roles may require subjects that have no defined meaning, such as in the case of there. An example of this is with the case, "It seems to be a problem with the wire."

However, this is not always the case with there. Sometimes the predicate does require that there represents a specific subject. For instance, "There it is!" has meaning when combined with nonverbal gestures such as pointing to an object. These examples demonstrate that there can have a specific meaning or not, depending on the assignment of theta role by the predicate. Chomsky classified features into strong and weak features, as they affected the need for movement. Strong features were considered to trigger an overt operation. However, weak features are characterized by an absence of overt movement (Chomsky, 1995).

Another feature of Chomsky's theory is not only does the verb have to have a subject, the subject and verb must agree, forming a relationship (Chomsky, 2000, 2001, & 2004). In English and other languages such as Spanish, the verb and subject agree in most cases. For instance, if one uses the verb "arrived" a clause usually follows that further explains the tense, such as "two weeks ago," or "yesterday." One would not say the someone arrived tomorrow. Therefore, one of Chomsky's key precepts is that the operation must "Agree."

An exploration of Chomsky's theory suggests that in order to fulfill the rules set forth by his theory subject must have certain features. It must have case and be interpretable as a person. Upon first examination, it would appear that using "there" as a placeholder satisfies none of these conditions. This is one of the key challenges to Chomsky's minimalist approach to using the expletive "there" as a placeholder in the subject position.

Chomsky is best known for the EPP theory and his later reduction to the minimalist approach. However, as one begins to explore literature regarding the theory, it becomes apparent that not everyone agrees with the basic premise. Many of these disagreements are based on cases where Chomsky's basic premises do not hold true. For instance, Chomsky argues that there does not have a case . However, Moro (2006) and Groat & O'Neil (1999) disagree and claim that there has a… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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