Stefan Müller » Publications » Grammatical theory

Grammatical theory: From transformational grammar to constraint-based approaches

Picture: Grammatical theory Author: Stefan Müller

Key Words: PSG, GB, GPSG, LFG, CG, HPSG, CxG, TAG, syntax, semantics, German

This book appeared in 2016 in Textbooks in Language Scineces, No 1, Berlin: Language Science Press. The book is a translation and extension of the second edition of my grammar theory book that appeared 2010 in the Stauffenburg Verlag.

This book introduces formal grammar theories that play a role in current linguistics or contributed tools that are relevant for current linguistic theorizing (Phrase Structure Grammar, Transformational Grammar/Government & Binding, Mimimalism, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, Lexical Functional Grammar, Categorial Grammar, Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, Construction Grammar, Tree Adjoining Grammar, Dependency Grammar). The key assumptions are explained and it is shown how each theory treats arguments and adjuncts, the active/passive alternation, local reorderings, verb placement, and fronting of constituents over long distances. The analyses are explained with German as the object language.

In a final part of the book the approaches are compared with respect to their predictions regarding language acquisition and psycholinguistic plausibility. The nativism hypothesis that claims that humans posses genetically determined innate language-specific knowledge is examined critically and alternative models of language acquisition are discussed. In addition this more general part addresses issues that are discussed controversially in current theory building such as the question whether flat or binary branching structures are more appropriate, the question whether constructions should be treated on the phrasal or the lexical level, and the question whether abstract, non-visible entities should play a role in syntactic analyses. It is shown that the analyses that are suggested in the various frameworks are often translatable into each other. The book closes with a section that shows how properties that are common to all languages or to certain language classes can be captured.


  1. Introduction
  2. Phrase Structure Grammar
  3. Transformational Grammar – Government & Binding
  4. Transformational Grammar – Minimalism
  5. Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar
  6. Feature Descriptions
  7. Lexical Functional Grammar
  8. Categorial Grammar
  9. Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar
  10. Construction Grammar
  11. Dependency Grammar
  12. Tree Adjoining Grammar
  13. Inateness of linguistic knowledge
  14. Generative-enumerative vs. model-theoretic approaches
  15. Competence/performance distinction
  16. Language acquisition
  17. Binary branching
  18. Generative capacity and grammatical formalisms
  19. Locality
  20. Recursion
  21. Empty Elements
  22. Extraction, scrambling, and passive: one or several descriptive devices?
  23. Phrasal vs. lexical analyses
  24. Universal Grammar and doing comparative linguistics without an a priori assumption of a (strong) UG
  25. Conclusion


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Reviews of the German version

  • Review by Karen Lehmann in Zeitschrift für Rezensionen zur germanistischen Sprachwissenschaft, 2012
  • Review by Wolfgang Sternefeld und Frank Richter in der Zeitschrift für Sprachwissenschaft, 2012
  • Review by Werner Abraham in Germanistik, 2012
  • Review by Helga Pető-Szoboszlai in Sprachtheorie und germanistische Linguistik, 22.1, 2012, p. 88–92.
  • Review/Comment by Martin Neef on lingbuzz, 2013

Reviews of the English version

  • Review by Mike T. Putnam in Glossa, 2017
  • Review by Frank Van Eynde in Constructions and Frames, 2018
  • Review by Liesbeth Augustinus in Constructions and Frames, 2018