X-Bar Syntax and Its Contribution to the Linguistic Theory Essay

X-Bar Syntax and Its Contribution to the Linguistic Theory Essay

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X-Bar Syntax and Its Contribution to the Linguistic Theory

'X-bar syntax, as a theory of phrase structure grammar, makes a significant contribution to both the descriptive and the explanatory adequacy of Linguistic Theory.'

The aim of a theory of language is to describe a speaker's linguistic competence. (Class notes) In order for a grammar to be satisfactory it must satisfy two main conditions: descriptive adequacy and explanatory adequacy. A grammar that satisfies descriptive adequacy "describes the grammatical sentences of a language in such a way as to uncover deeper principles and rules, which capture in a more satisfactory way the intuitions of the native speaker. A grammar which is formulated in accordance with the principles and conventions of a general i.e., universal linguistic theory with explanatory power is said to meet with explanatory adequacy." (Class notes)

During the first half of the term, we were introduced to a theory of phrase structure grammar (PSG) which includes two levels of categories: word-level (N, V, A, P, etc.) and phrase-level (NP, AP, VP, PP, etc.). However, this is not a satisfactory method of classification because it does not include a description for a string of words that is neither a full phrase nor a word; therefore failing to satisfy descriptive adequacy. Furthermore, it does not satisfy the condition of explanatory adequacy because it does not enable us to state general principles that are valid across different grammatical categories within a language, i.e. category neutral. Moreover, a grammar with two levels of categories is not powerful enough to state principles that hold true universally. In this essay, I will demonstrate how the X-bar theory of phrase structure grammar c...

... middle of paper ...

.... Thirdly, it introduces prime or bar notation, which allows us to capture the distinction between categories formally, i.e. using N", N', and N.
X-bar theory adds to explanatory adequacy because it allows us to state general principles that apply across categories, and are therefore category neutral. These principles are universals and apply across languages. In order to account for differences in languages, the theory introduces two parameters. Due to the fact that this theory is simple and universal, it helps us to explain the problem of learnablility, therefore contributing to greater explanatory adequacy (Class notes).


Haegeman, L. 1994. (2nd ed.) Introduction to Government and Binding Theory, Oxford, Blackwell.

Radford, A. 1988 Transformational Grammar: A First Course. Cambridge, CUP. (Chapter 4)

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