Western linguistics seems to be dominated by the Chomskian transformational generative grammar and its offshoots. My attempts to familiarize myself with these theories however always leave me under the impression that they were designed "by English speakers for description of their native English" - that is they might be not optimal for describing Russian. (Although this may be more due to the fact that the books/reviews are written for the English-speaking audience.)

I will appreciate comments on this subject. More specifically:

  • Are transformational generative syntax theories popular among Russian linguists?
  • Do these theories encounter specific problems when treating Russian and related languages? What kind of problems?
  • What are the alternative theories? Are there any created by Russian-speaking linguists (or native speakers of Slavic languages)?
  • I've heard that Tartu School is pretty big, is it relevant to your question?
    – alamar
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 10:11
  • Thanks for the tip, it is worth looking into, although at the first glance it seems to be more about culture than syntax.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 10:17
  • I just don't really understand the scope of generative syntax theories, they seem to tackle "why" question, which overlaps culture.
    – alamar
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 10:22
  • 3
    a question to Russian-speaking linguists about linguistics is still a question on linguistics
    – shabunc
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 13:31
  • 2
    I never claimed such thing - still a language about linguistics is a question about linguistics. If, for instance, I ask about Russian school of math thought that would be a question about math history. This one is about linguistics.
    – shabunc
    Commented Feb 12, 2020 at 13:39

1 Answer 1


Sebastian Shaumyan proposed an order-free theory of syntax which has some currency in the U.S. However, I don't know whether Shaumyan's work was the historical source of the Western versions. I heard him lecture at the 1969 Linguistic Summer Institute at Ohio State. I think he wrote in Russian, though he was Armenian. A version of the order-free theory was made part of the GPSG theory from the '80s, where the idea was formalized by giving phrase structure rules in sets having right-hand sides with symbols occurring in all possible orders. There were ordering rules eliminating those rules specifying orders inconsistent with the facts of a given language.

This idea could be integrated into TG grammar easily enough, if someone wanted to do that, since the base component of a TG is a phrase structure grammar.

I should also mention the Russian linguist N. S. Trubetzkoy whose work was very influential in the early development of generative phonology.

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