Grammar Deconstructed: Constructions and the Curious Case of the Comparative Correlative

Heather Taylor

Comparative correlatives, like the longer you stay out in the rain, the colder you’ll get, are prolific in the world’s languages (i.e., there is no evidence of a language that lacks comparative correlatives). Despite this observation, the data do not present a readily apparent syntax. What is the relationship between the two clauses? What is the main verb? What is English’s the which obligatorily appears at the start of each clause?

This thesis reviews prior analyses of comparative correlatives, both syntactic and semantic (Fillmore, 1987; McCawley, 1988; McCawley, 1998; Beck, 1997; Culicover & Jackendoff, 1999; Borsley, 2003; Borsley, 2004; den Dikken, 2005; Abeillé, Borsley & Espinal, 2007; Lin, 2007). A formal syntactic analysis of comparative correlatives is presented which accounts for its syntactic behaviors across several languages. Most notably, it challenges the assumption that constructions are essential primitives for the successful derivation and interpretation of the data (Fillmore, 1987; McCawley, 1988; Culicover & Jackendoff, 1999; Borsley, 2003; Borsley, 2004; Abeillé, Borsley & Espinal, 2007). The analysis is framed within the goals of the Minimalist Program (Chomsky 1993, 1995a), specifically with respect to endocentricity and Bare Phrase Structure (Chomsky 1995b).

Crosslingustically, the first clause is subordinate to the second clause, the main clause. A’-movement (e.g., Topicalization, wh-movement, Focus) out of each clause proceeds successive-cyclically and, in the case of the subordinate clause, via sideward movement (Nunes 1995, 2004; Hornstein, 2001). In English, the word the which obligatorily appears at the start of each clause in English is a Force0. This provides an explanation for the ban on Subject-Aux Inversion (SAI) in the entire expression. The degree phrases which are present in each clause of a comparative correlative crosslinguistically contain a quantifier phrase in Spec,DegP; this quantifier is phonetically null in English.

This thesis concludes by presenting conceptual arguments against constructions as primitives in the grammar. Bare Phrase Structure (BPS) (Chomsky, 1995b) is included in the system by virtue of virtual conceptual necessity (VCN). Since constructions do not meet the criteria of VCN, their existence would compromise the principles of BPS. Further, when applied carefully, BPS renders constructions unable to be defined.