On Parametric (and Non-Parametric) Variation

  • Neil Smith
  • Ann Law
Keywords: parametric variation, phonology, syntax, universals


This article raises the issue of the correct characterization of ‘Parametric Variation’ in syntax and phonology. After specifying their theoretical commitments, the authors outline the relevant parts of the Principles–and–Parameters framework, and draw a three-way distinction among Universal Principles, Parameters, and Accidents. The core of the contribution then consists of an attempt to provide identity criteria for parametric, as opposed to non-parametric, variation. Parametric choices must be antecedently known, and it is suggested that they must also satisfy seven individually necessary and jointly sufficient criteria. These are that they be cognitively represented, systematic, dependent on the input, deterministic, discrete, mutually exclusive, and irreversible.