Timeline of the History of Generative Syntax

created by Thomas Graf

HPSG GPSG LFG Relational Grammar Transformational GB Minimalism other

How to Use the Syntax Timeline

Navigation and views

The links above the timeline allow you to switch between timeline view and list view. List view should be self-explanatory. In timeline view, you navigate around with the cursor keys or by grabbing the timeline with the left mouse button Adobe-Reader-style (i.e. hold the left mouse button and move the mouse opposite to the desired scroll direction, then release the button). The HOME and END keys on your keyboard take you to the beginning and the end of the timeline, respectively. Clicking on an entry shows you a small bubble with further information, including a link to the full bibliographic information.

Searching and filtering

To the right of the timeline, there is a list of predefined filters, which allow you to restrict which entries are to be shown in the timeline. If you only want to see what's been going on in, say, Transformational Grammar, simply click on "Transformational" under the heading "Framework". If you want to undo the filter, you need to remove the checkmark that has appeared in front of "Transformational". If you click on the name of another filter, only this filter will be activated; that is to say, all filters that you've previously selected will be deactivated. If you want to keep those filters active, you'll have to click the box next to the desired additional filter instead of its name. Note that activating multiple filters under a common heading will give you their union, while combination of filters under different headings (e.g. "Keywords" and "Author") is intersective. You can filter for arbitrary words using the search field. Unfortunately, regular expressions aren't supported at this point.


When the mouse is hovering over the timeline, an orange button with a scissor on it will show up in the top right corner. This button allows you to exhibit the JSON code of the currently shown entries or to export them to XML, Semantic wikitext and tab separated values.


Feel free to submit new entries via email to mail_@_thomasgraf_._net (minus the underscores, of course). Submissions should include

        {   "type" : "entry",
            "label" : "Author Year_in_four_digits: short_description",
            "author" : "Surname, First_name",
            "co-author" : ["second author", "third author", "... last author"]
            // delete this field for single-authored papers
            "title" : "Full_title",
            "year" : "Year_in_four_digits",
            "framework" : "abbreviation_for_framework",
            "innovations" :	[
            "innovation 1", "innovation 2", "...innovation n"
            "keywords" : [
            "keyword 1", "keyword 2", "... keyword n"
            // where possible, use existing keywords
            "details" :		    "link_to_details"
            // keep this as is


What exactly is this "syntax timeline?" How does it work?
In computer nerd lingo, it's a javascript widget for the visualization of time-based events. In the speech of mere mortals, it's simply an interactive timeline listing influential publications in generative syntax. By interactive I mean that you can filter the output, click on an entry to get additional information and so on. It's like Google maps for the history of syntax.

Why did you create it, and how?
I got interested in the development of syntactic theory since the fifties for various reasons. The single most important one was my suspicion that certain analyses in modern frameworks are historical accidents, i.e. that at some point they became the received view and have since then been ported from one theory to the next one despite well-known flaws, even if the latest incarnation of the theory would allow for alternative views (which are, of course, put forward in the literature but never make it into the mainstream).
So I grabbed pen and paper and started collecting references (I don't remember all my sources, but Newmeyer's Linguistic Theory in America and Generative Linguistics: A Historical Perspective definitely were among them). However, severe handwriting deficits soon forced me to settle for a computerized solution. Compiling a bibtex bibliography with additional annotation seemed unsatisfactory, whereas all solutions for the dynamic creation of timelines from SQlite or MySQL databases were overkill. And obviously I had no intention to settle for a proprietary solution. I then stumbled upon Simile, which fit the bill perfectly.

According to which criteria did you pick the articles? (aka "Why isn't my highly influential work mentioned here?")
I created the timeline in 2008 (the first semester of grad school) for my own personal use. Only later on did I decide to put it online. So this project is very informal in nature: the criteria for inclusion are fairly arbitrary and rarely applied in a rigorous fashion, especially for the entries after 2000. My goal was to trace the development of main concepts of generative syntax, highlighting both the publications that moved a proposal into the standard theory and those where an idea or term was introduced for the first time. The only limitation I imposed on myself is a cutoff date of 2005, which isn't much of a restriction considering that the timeline was created in 2008.

Did you do this all by yourself?
Yes and no. The greatest part of the technical work was actually done by MIT's Simile Exhibit and Simile Timeline developers, who wrote all the code and released it under a BSD-style license. But for the setup, configuration, and data collection I was on my own. However, the following people have helped me with their syntactic expertise in one way or the other (in alphabetical order of last name):
Natasha Abner, Peter Hallman, Hilda Koopman, Gereon Müller, Dominique Sportiche

Is there anything that still needs to be done?
Why, yes! Non-Chomskyan frameworks (GPSG, HPSG, LFG, Relational Grammar) are severely underrepresented, there are no references for ellipsis, quirky case or scrambling, several entries are missing keywords or short descriptions, and the detailed information should include abstracts and could definitely use a few layout tweaks. There are also several publications like Chomsky's LSLT that haven't made it into the database yet for no other reason than my own lazyness.

Why didn't you use the Semantic Mediawiki?
As I created the timeline mainly for myself, there were no advantages to a wiki, so I never gave it any serious considertations. Things are obviously different now, so if somebody volunteered to do the port, they would have my full support.

I use Internet Explorer and am experiencing overlapping text and weird time intervals.
Sorry, nothing I can do about it. Please use a different browser.


Just go to the github repository for my personal website. All relevant files are in the folder content/timeline