What are the differences between the old Principles and Parameters approach and the developing Minimalist Program?

As I understand it, though the MP is just a framework for developing theories in, in practice it is treated like a theory as most of its development in the literature has been as a generative grammar. I see that mainstream Minimalism still uses the X-Bar template. The focus of the MP is on economy and perfection (minimalism), but the only structural difference I know of is the addition of the Hierarchy of Projections.

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    The question is too brief, and requires too much explanation. Please explain what you have tried to find out for yourself, and how potential answerers may add to what you already know.
    – prash
    Sep 18, 2011 at 19:00
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    @hippietrail: there is no content in even an extension of that comment to be an on-topic answer. It is very reasonable to ask the OP to provide the extra relevant content to make it answerable. Frankly, I don't know what 'Principles and Parameters' or 'Minimalist Program' really mean.
    – Mitch
    Sep 18, 2011 at 19:46
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    @Mitch: There are Wikipedia articles on both 'Principles and Parameters' & 'Minimalist Program' and I have edited the question to link to them. I guess the question must be aimed at people who are familiar with the two. An answer stating something like that the question can't really be answered for reasons 1, 2, 3 can still be an answer. Yes it is reasonable to ask for more information, I'm just trying the other tong in a two-prong approach to rescuing the question (-: Sep 18, 2011 at 20:34
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    @prash: It's not reasonable to expect every person with curiosity passing the site to be familiar with all articles and books but it is 100% acceptable to give an answer saying what you seek is in article X and book Y. Sep 19, 2011 at 8:22
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    My only reason for objecting to the question was that the question seemed ineffective, for the reasons I mentioned in my earlier posts. I would not vote for it to be closed on such short notice. If others have a better ability to answer such questions here, I might learn from their example. Oh, the references I posted, they were just a short google away -- I do not consider them an answer.
    – prash
    Sep 19, 2011 at 8:43

1 Answer 1


My understanding of the issues is as follows. Principles and Parameters is an almost-tautologous restatement of Chomskian UG: there are certain things that are not subject to cross-linguistic variation (principles) and other things that can vary but only in constrained ways (parameters). (The part about parameters is where the "almost" in "almost-tautological" comes in.) There are other things that can vary freely, of course – e.g. vocabulary.

All of Chomsky's syntactic theories fall under the P&P approach. In Government & Binding (the immediately previous generation), things like Conditions A, B, and C were principles; parameters were things like the EPP ("Extended Projection Principle;" originally this was the "subject movement to Spec,IP" parameter).

Minimalism's principles are things like Merge (the operation) and the conditions on it (Last Resort, no lookahead, ...). One of the themes of Minimalist thought has been moving the locus of cross-linguistic variation to the lexicon. So the old EPP parameter, which in GB was true or false of a language, now can be specified independently for each functional head. In response to the observation/criticism that a small set of global parameters is not empirically adequate to describe the syntax of all natural languages, there has been research into lexical "micro-parameters" to fully describe languages (dialects) with small syntactic differences.

  • Thanks a lot, this is excellent. I see I had PP mixed with GB.
    – Nate Glenn
    Sep 19, 2011 at 18:36

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