I've been closely following the work stemming from St. John and McClelland's Sentence Gestalt Model, which uses a connectist model to extract semantic information about events from sentences without first specifying the syntactic structure.

I've looked at the limitations of the model (see here for a high level overview), but nothing about them looks to be insoluble without the inclusion of syntax. This intuition has been supported by the followups done by Rohde at Stanford and Byrant and Miikkulaine at UT Austin.

So then, what's the point of syntax within the context of understanding events? Is it only epiphenomenal here or have I misunderstood the gravity of the objections to syntax free models of semantics? Does there currently exist a model of event semantics that includes syntax and produces results not reproducible by the models cited here?


Language is built as a sturdy structure with many redundant and mutually supporting features because it is by its very nature abstract since it strives to use finite means to describe infinite variety and fluidness to the world.

That being said - you have phrases:

Which boy did the knight give the sword?

Which dragon did the knight give the boy?

Which boy did the knight give the dragon?

You cannot really say what they mean with surety - for the first one you can infer from the prototypical meanings and usages that the boy is the recipient of a sword but for the latter two, you simply cannot since there are no dragons. As such, typical things with dragons differ whether you narrate a fairy tale (you give people to dragons as a nourishment/sacrifice) or in real world (you give dragons to kids as toys).

So while quite often one can infer the meaning of a sentence just from the semantics of its constituents, the morphosyntax hugely facilitates understanding and communication by overtly expressing some of the relationships between the constituents. This also quite probably allows us to express more complicated and abstract thoughts where there is no appropriate prototypical usage e.g. because normal people just do not talk about such things (to put it bluntly, try reading Heidegger without the morphosyntax).

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