Recursion in language: a new approach
Jan-Wouter Zwart
February 2010

This paper argues that recursion in language is to be understood not in terms of embedding, but in terms of derivation layering. A construction is recursive if part of its input is the output of a separate derivation layer. Complex clauses may be derived recursively in this sense, but also iteratively, suggesting that standard arguments for or against recursion in language are misdirected. More generally, we cannot tell that a grammar is recursive by simply looking at its output; we have to know about the generative procedure. Using the new definition of recursion in terms of derivation layering, we once again inspect the recorded data of Pirahã, arguing that there is reason to believe that the grammar of Piraha is recursive after all.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/001110
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: Submitted to Biolinguistics
keywords: recursion syntax derivation cycle piraha, syntax
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