Viable Syntax: Rethinking Minimalist Architecture

Ken Safir


Hauser et al. (2002) suggest that the human language faculty emerged as a genetic innovation in the form of what is called here a ‘keystone factor’—a single, simple, formal mental capability that, interacting with the pre-existing faculties of hominid ancestors, caused a cascade of effects resulting in the language faculty in modern humans. They take Merge to be the keystone factor, but instead it is posited here that Merge is the pre-existing mechanism of thought made viable by a principle that permits relations interpretable at the interfaces to be mapped onto c-command. The simplified minimalist architecture proposed here respects the keystone factor as closely as possible, but is justified on the basis of linguistic analyses it makes available, including a relativized intervention theory applicable across Case, scope, agreement, selection and linearization, a derivation of the A/A’-distinction from Case theory, and predictions such as why in situ wh-interpretation is island-insensitive, but susceptible to intervention effects.


A’-movement; Case theory; c-command; evolution; inter-vention; Merge; minimalism

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