Auxiliary verbs: A Dynamic Syntax account

  • Howes, Christine
Dynamic Syntax is a grammar formalism that seeks to combine insights from studies in syntax, semantics, pragmatics and psycholinguistics into a coherent model of communication. It is based on the idea of monotonic tree growth, whereby interpretations are built up in an incremental manner; word by word, as each is encountered in a string. The theoretical underpinnings of Dynamic Syntax are briefly explored in section 1. English auxiliary verbs are a well-studied group of words in many different formalisms, chiefly because they are a small group with highly idiosyncratic properties. The group of auxiliaries is described in section 2, and previous accounts of them in different frameworks, as well as attempts to explain the data from a diachronic perspective, are outlined in section 3. Section 4 introduces Dynamic Syntax’s formal tools, with examples to illustrate how the key notions interact to produce semantic parse trees for grammatical strings. Various possible ways of using these tools to analyse the complex problems presented by the English auxiliary verbs are explored in section 5. Full details of how the key notions of LINKed structures and underspecification can account for the syntactic peculiarities of English auxiliary verbs, and also accommodate their semantic idiosyncracies are given in section 6. Specific attention is paid to the tricky interaction between the auxiliary system and not, and other negative words (notably never), and the wh-question words. The analysis is extended to account for exceptional items, and its implications for infinitival-to are discussed. Conclusions and questions for further research are offered in section 7.
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Master Thesis
King's College London
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