Playful speculations on how language might be and why there is functional material
Boban Arsenijevic
June 2020

Hierarchical constituent structures are a hallmark property of natural language. Traditional generative syntax either generates these structures solely in the module of syntax, as in main-stream generativism (Chomsky 1995), or different modules generate them in parallel (Kaplan and. Bresnan 1982, Jackendoff 1983). I argue that the source of hierarchical structure in language is a specific algorithm of knowledge retrieval and update. The procedure of information retrieval and update is domain-general, as it builds, maintains and retrieves general-purpose web-shaped knowledge representations. The way of operation of this component is such that its output consists in the type of hierarchical structures observed among linguistic constituents. These structures, representing segments from the knowledge representation, are mapped to and recovered from the phonological structure by a language specific mapping component. This view dispenses with the module of syntax, reducing the space between phonology and semantics to an algorithm mapping between hierarchical and linear structures. Illustrations are provided of the proposed structure of knowledge representation, of the mechanisms and outputs of the procedure of information retrieval and update, and of main operations involved in the mapping algorithm. It is shown how at a certain stage in the mapping, exactly structures attributed to linguistic expressions in generative grammar, in particular those argued for in Kayne (1994) and in cartographic approaches to syntax (Rizzi 1997, Cinque 1999, Cinque and Rizzi 2008), emerge, thus indicating that the proposed modification of the big picture does not significantly affect the empirical research into the meaning - constituency - word order interactions, or models provided to account for them. It is argued that the material in grammar identified as functional corresponds to those elements of knowledge representation which have priority in retrieval and a special role in the mapping algorithm, due to their universality and/or high frequency of occurrence. A discussion is provided of how this shift affects the architecture of grammar, as well as of some of the other general questions opened by the proposal.
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Reference: lingbuzz/005085
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keywords: hierarchical structure, language architecture, sound-meaning mapping, semantics, syntax, functional material
previous versions: v2 [March 2020]
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