Is Chomsky's X bar theory applicable to any natural language other than English? Or is it applicable to English only or to only a subset of natural languages including English?


I think that the X-bar theory in its default version describes the English language. If so, I wonder if there have been any efforts of either Chomsky himself or some other linguists to assign a different version with a set of different rules to another language than English, such as French, German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc.

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    It's certainly applicable to more than one language, as long as you can find evidence to motivate its use (i.e. evidence that there is an intermediate level of constituency between the XP and the X head). Mar 10, 2017 at 13:45
  • @WavesWashSands I wouldn't say that there must be evidence for the use of an intermediate X' level for a grammar to follow X bar assumptions. Having something like an X (head) level and an XP (phrase) level already is part of an X-bar motivated theory, and whether you ever encounter the need of a X1 level instance is not so much an issue if you either still include the additonal layer (branching unary into XP - X' - X - word) or decide to omit redunant bar levels graphically. Mar 10, 2017 at 13:52
  • @lemontree Do you mean that if the analysis includes endocentric constituents, then we're already using X-bar theory? If so, I think that's slightly strange - Chomsky (1957) also has endocentric constituents, but we wouldn't say he was using X-bar then... Mar 10, 2017 at 15:18
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    Chomsky's whole mission was to describe how the human language faculty works, and therefore every human language. So of course it was his intention that X-bar theory works for every language. Whether it's successful is another question.
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 12, 2017 at 4:35
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    @Waves Yeah I know but the OP called it "Chomsky's X bar theory", and I was just following them to focus on Chomsky. Perhaps they mean Chomsky's specific uses of the theory, or maybe they just don't know of others. In any case, it is to be expected that most linguists want reliable cross-linguistic models and theories!
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 17, 2017 at 7:33

1 Answer 1


The general X bar scheme is, although heavily motivated by English - or at least Indo-European languages - thought to be applicable to any natural language.
How well that works depends highly on what other restrictions you impose on your phrase structure (strict right/left linear and/or binary branching for example makes a lot of things not possible), but the basics of X bar theory are not more than a handful of rules determining how consitutent trees are built up, without making any claims about, e.g., available syntactic categories, morphological features or c-command relations.
So, yes, basic X bar scheme is definitely applicable and practically applied to languages other than English.

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    It would be nice if you could give some examples if you assert it is definitely applicable to languages other than English. We had a syntax class last semester and there were already problems with German, not to mention when I think in Chinese. I think the point is that "X bar theory" barely exists in isolation but is often used with various syntax theories, which make many assumptions and thus make them quite unsuitable to some non-Indo-European languages. And then if you say you want to ditch those assumptions, then X bar theory on its own can't really be used as a syntax theory anyways.
    – xji
    Mar 18, 2017 at 20:40

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