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  1. The Surprising Simplicity of Syntax: Derivation Trees, Subregular Complexity, and What It Implies for Language and Cognition

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract It is a well-known fact of computational linguistics that syntax is mildly context-sensitive and thus highly complex —- certainly more complex than phonology or morphology. This complexity is at odds with the ease of language acquisition and the impressive speed of human sentence …

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  2. C-Command Dependencies as TSL String Constraints

    Graf, Thomas, and Nazila Shafiei

    Abstract We provide a general formal framework for analyzing c-command based dependencies in syntax, e.g. binding and NPI licensing, from a subregular perspective. C-command relations are represented as strings computed from Minimalist derivation trees, and syntactic dependencies are shown …

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  3. Adjunction to Movement Paths: Floating Quantifiers as the Little Brother of Parasitic Gaps

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract A lot of recent work in computational phonology seeks to pinpoint the complexity of phonotactic dependencies from a formal perspective. Numerous mathematical classes have been proposed, but Graf (2017) subsumes them all under the umbrella of interval-based strictly piecewise dependencies (IBSP). IBSP …

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  4. Tiers and Relativized Locality Across Language Modules

    Graf, Thomas, Alëna Aksënova, Hyunah Baek, Aniello De Santo, Hossep Dolatian, Sedigheh Moradi, Jon Rawski, Suji Yang, and Jeffrey Heinz

    Abstract Heinz and Idsardi (2013) draw attention to a profound computational difference between syntax and phonology: phonology only requires regular computations over strings (Johnson 1972 …

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  5. Derivations as Representations: News from the Computational Frontier

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract Ever since McCawley (1968) one of the fundamental questions of linguistic theory has been whether formalisms should be construed as derivational or representational in nature. The former focuses on how structures are built in an incremental fashion from pre-defined atoms via structure-building …

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  6. One Reason to Move, a Million Reasons to Be an Island: Third-Factor Explanations from Computational Syntax

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract Two linguistic findings are commonly taken for granted yet are anything but trivial:

    1. Phrases can be displaced from their base position.
    2. Some phrases block displacement.

    On a technical level, these properties are hashed out in terms of movement and islands. From a …

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  7. It’s a (Sub-)Regular Conspiracy: Locality and Computation in Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, and Semantics

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract It is commonly believed that phonology, morphology, syntax, and semantics are distinct modules of language, governed by very different principles with little common ground. Nonetheless several approaches (e.g. Government Phonology, Distributed Morphology) subscribe to the idea that at least some of …

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  8. Computational Parallels Across Language Modules

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract Linguists study a variety of aspects of language, including phonology, morphology, and syntax. It is commonly believed that those are distinct modules of language, governed by very different principles and consequently studied with very different tools. While there have been attempts at …

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  9. A Computational Guide to the Dichotomy of Features and Constraints

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract A contentious issue in the Minimalist literature is whether certain phenomena are best described in terms of features or constraints. Building on recent work in mathematical linguistics, I argue that constraints and features are interchangeable in Minimalist syntax. This does not invalidate …

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  10. Adjuncts, Conjuncts, Ojuncts: Deriving Strong Island Constraints

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract Adjuncts differ from arguments by a number of properties, in particular i) optionality and ii) their island status, which renders them opaque for extraction of subconstituents. Conjuncts, too, are optional and forbid extraction. Starting from this basic observation, I demonstrate that islandhood …

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  11. A Hidden Consensus: Computational Invariants of Minimalist Syntax

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract A common sentiment among linguists is that the Minimalist literature features a dazzling array of competing proposals that seem to share little common ground in their technical assumptions. While differences certainly do exist between accounts, a computationally informed perspective reveals a set …

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  12. A Computational Guide to the Dichotomy of Features and Constraints

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract I draw on various result from mathematical linguistics to argue that feature-based accounts and constraint-based ones should not be viewed as competing with each other but rather as complementing each other. In particular, recent results on Minimalist grammars show that features and …

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  13. Beyond the Apparent: Cognitive Parallels Between Syntax and Phonology

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract One of the central changes in 20th century linguistics was the reconceptualization of language as a cognitive ability rather than merely an abstract relational system of signs —- in the terminology of Chomsky (1986), the move from E-language to I-language. This shift entails …

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  14. Local and Transderivational Constraints in Syntax and Semantics

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract A long-standing tension in Minimalist syntax is that between the structure-building operations Merge and Move on the one hand and the constraints restricting the shape of the structures built by said operations on the other. Proposals differ vastly in how much weight …

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  15. The Syntactic Algebra of Adjuncts

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract I argue that the special behavior of adjuncts is a consequence of two properties that set them apart from arguments: optionality and independence.

    • Optionality Adjuncts can be omitted.
    • Independence Independently well-formed adjuncts can be combined.

    These properties yield several grammaticality inferences that …

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  16. Concealed Reference-Set Computation: How Syntax Escapes the Parser’s Clutches

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract It has been conjectured that all properties of language beyond recursion can be motivated by interface requirements. One component in this setup is the parser, which is thought to give rise to a preference for computational parsimony. I discuss a mathematical result …

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  17. Optimality Is Not a Race: Against a Performance-Based View of Reference-Set Computation

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract Reference-set constraints (RCs; also known as transderivational constraints) differ from standard well-formedness conditions in that for every tree, they compute a set of output candidates called its reference set and pick from said set the optimal candidate(s) according to some economy …

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  18. Lost in Translation: A Formal Model of Merge-over-Move and Its Implications for the Language Faculty

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract I demonstrate that Merge-over-Move (MOM), a transderivational constraint (TC) put forward in Chomsky (1995, 2000), can be modeled by linear tree transducers, i.e.\ machines that take a tree as input and traverse it from the leaves towards the root while at …

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  19. Concealed Reference-Set Computation or How Syntax Escapes the Parser’s Clutches

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract A core assumption of the biolinguistic program is that all properties of language beyond recursion can be motivated by requirements imposed by other cognitive modules. One component in this setup is the parser, which is thought to give rise to a preference …

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  20. A Tree Transducer Model of Reference-Set Computation

    Graf, Thomas

    Abstract Reference-set constraints are a special class of constraints used in Minimalist syntax. They extend the notion of well-formedness beyond the level of single trees: When presented with some phrase structure tree, they compute its set of competing output candidates and determine the …

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