By "generative grammar", I take the widest interpretation and do not mean "Chomsky's theory of syntax today", thus HPSG and LFG would be instances of GG(broad). Phonology has a concept "feature", and there are two competing theories of features. One is that a feature is a value-attribut pair, for example "-coronal" where the attribute "coronal" has the value "-". There are various theories of what the values are (+,-,integers,u,m....) and what the attributes are: I don't care about that. The competing theory is the privative theory, that features are only attributes.

Earlier versions of syntactic theory e.g. Aspects employed a value-attribute model so that there are things that are [+N,-V]. My question is where in any domain other than phonology, has it been posited that features are privative, that is, are they just attributes and never values. My recollection of HPSG is hazy enough that I don't know if that is an example. It would be useful for me to know about mixed theories (where some features might be binary and come privative). I don't know anything about the theory of features in minimalist syntax.

  • Does this distinction really matter? What is the difference between an attribute coronal (that can be present or absent) and a value-attribute pair +coronal/-coronal? Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 20:59
  • 1
    The question is not whether one theory or the other is empirically better, or whether they predict exactly the same things, the question is whether both theories exist in practice, outside of phonology. The specific answer in phonology depends on the theory of features and feature structures you use, also the theory of rules. A really quick answer is that the privative theory is simpler, but understanding that point requires a lot of theoretical background.
    – user6726
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 21:23
  • Generative Semantics (e.g, McCawley, Lakoff, Ross, Postal) might fill the bill. Though I don't understand the difference you posit. "Privative" to me is the semantic term that's the opposite of "providential", and distinguishes seed a pepper from seed a lawn. Clearly that's not what you mean. Properties of lexical items and grammatical relations in GS could be partial -- Ross has a whole series of papers about that -- and variable, as sociolinguists have been demonstrating. Also, there are phenomena like scope and/or binding that are measurable but not binary.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 16, 2022 at 16:18


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.