For reasons of Economy & Parsimony, The Minimalist Program discards Deep Structure (DS) because it’s not a linguistic level. The main reasons for eliminating DS were based on ‘conceptual grounds’ (related to methodological considerations) not ‘empirical grounds’, at least as far as I know. Is there any ‘empirical reasons’ for eliminating DS, in terms of 'data'?

  • I assume you mean "used in Minimalist studies", so excluding arguments from a different framework, unless adopted by MP.
    – user6726
    Oct 19, 2017 at 20:18
  • The MP's arguments against DS are 'conceptual', I want to know if there're any other arguments used against DS that are mainly 'empirical'.
    – Tsutsu
    Oct 19, 2017 at 21:02
  • 1
    How about movement paradoxes? Oct 20, 2017 at 9:27
  • If anything, there are empirical arguments against eliminating DS.
    – Atamiri
    Oct 20, 2017 at 16:01
  • @WavesWashSands - movement paradoxes can be explained simply by other rules being applied after the movement, (not before). Pro-forms like 'that', 'the', and 'he' are not stored at all (only their referents are), and words like 'met' and 'aren't' are stored more like 'did meet' and 'not be' -- the transformations occurring later in the composition of an utterance than the fronting movements.
    – amI
    Oct 20, 2017 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


There is empirical evidence against DS, though it has nothing to do with MP. DS is required for transformationalist theories to move things around so as to get constituents where they are observed to be in surface structures. We need to describe movement, to describe the relationship between active-passive pairs of structures, for instance, among the many movement constructructions studied in transformational grammar. But Gerald Gazdar and others found a way in the 70s and 80s to describe movement without DS and without transformations.

Aside from simplifying TG radically, Gazdar's method predicts some of the Ross constraints on movement. This, then, is the evidence. The Ross movement constraints are not explained, and probably not even formally describable in Chomsky's original TG theory. However, once transformations are removed, the CSC (Coordinate Structure Constraint), the across-the-board condition on the CSC, and perhaps also the CNPC (Complex NP Constraint) "fall out"; that is, they are predicted. This is empirical evidence against DS.

The CSC is due to a general constraint on coordinate structures that only constituents of the same syntactic category can be coordinated. The across-the-board condition on the CSC has the same cause. See for example Gazdar, G. 1981. “Unbounded dependencies and coordinate structure”. Linguistic Inquiry 12.155-184.

If it were not for the CNPC, using Gazdar's non-transformational analysis, an unbounded number of syntactic categories would be required, but this is not possible in a context free phrase structure grammar. Thus, some version of a CNPC-like constraint is also predicted when transformations are eliminated from TG.

  • How is your 2nd para. not just conceptual evidence? What fact does the concept of DS get wrong?
    – user6726
    Oct 20, 2017 at 5:11
  • @user6726, Violations of the CSC are actually unacceptable in English. That's a fact. It is predicted to be so when movement is described without transformations, using Gazdar's method, as I said. It is not predicted by TG. I don't really know what "conceptual evidence" is.
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 20, 2017 at 8:02
  • Greg Lee, your argument again is 'conceptual in nature'..'conceptual evidence' simply means that DS is eliminated due to methodological considerations, MP is optimal in nature, it tries to get rid of 'unwanted technology'. DS is an unwanted technology, the facts it accounted for were captured under the operation Merge. What you said about 'movement' and 'passive' is right. Add to this that in early generative theorizing (1957/1975) /there've been no DS, there was only a generalized transformation+transformation markers.. Still your answer doesn't provide any empirical evidence against DS.
    – Tsutsu
    Oct 20, 2017 at 9:37
  • @TarikLahyany, I see. But that is not the argument I made. Rather, my argument is based on the CSC. Here is a reference for that: glottopedia.org/index.php/Coordinate_Structure_Constraint
    – Greg Lee
    Oct 20, 2017 at 14:20
  • Occam's Razor is the most fundamental form of conceptual evidence. "Does not even grind out the correct data" is an empirical argument. "Cannot account for unbounded dependencies", if true, is another. "Requires an unpleasant stipulation to account for UDs" is another conceptual argument.
    – user6726
    Oct 20, 2017 at 15:30

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