Sag and Fodor (1995) claim that "Bresnan's [1971] proposal was made prior to the introduction of empty constituents into syntactic theory." So when were empty constituents introduced?

Sag, Ivan A & Janet Dean Fodor. 1995. Extraction without traces. Proceedings of the 13th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. 365–384.

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    I have a vague recollection of null or zero constituents discussed back in the American structuralist era, say in the 50s, as a way of describing the absence of any overt plural counterpart to the English indefinite article "a".
    – Greg Lee
    Jul 10 '16 at 16:17

I suspect that Sag and Fodor are referring to traces in generative syntax. I don't know the definitive first proposal (it was probably in some samizdat paper or another), but can suggest some leads.

Start by looking at Chomsky and Lasnik's (1977) Filters and Control in Linguistic Inquiry 8(3) 425--504 for a detailed discussion on trace theory, as well as the subsequent criticism by Postal and Pullum in issue 9(1) of the same journal, as well as rejoinders and counter-criticism in subsequent issues.

Chomsky and Lasnik mention several papers where trace theory or its antecedents are developed, including Fiengo's (1974) dissertation, Chomsky's (1973) "Conditions on transformation", and (1977) "On Wh-movement." Bresnan's (1971) paper is also cited.

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    Thank you! Postal & Pullum state that it was "in Chomsky (1973), where [trace mechanism proposal] TMP was initially adumbrated (p. 266)." It looks like King (1970) was the first to suggest gaps as blocking contractions and weakenings of various kinds. At the same time, you can go as far back as Ward (1765, p. 139) for discussions of movement out of relative clauses. King, Harold V. 1970. On blocking the rules for contraction in English. Linguistic Inquiry 1(1). 134–136. Ward, William. 1765. An Essay on Grammar, as it May be Applied to the English Language Jul 14 '16 at 0:56
  • @BrettReynolds I used to read Pullum's papers because it was a good way to learn about the theories he was attacking... Chomsky (1973) is tl;dr
    – user483
    Jul 14 '16 at 1:33

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