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I am currently reading 'Syntax: A Minimalist Introduction' by Andrew Radford. In chapter 3, they mention the method of feature checking, which is used to determine if the grammatical features carried by different words in a sentence are compatible with those of other words in the same sentence.

Please correct me if I'm wrong. I think by compatibility we mean that the full sentence is grammatical. Is it the case?

Also, if I try to do the feature checking myself to check if the sentence is grammatical it feels the reasoning that I'm using is circular. In order to find all the head, specifier and complement features of a word, I try to look at examples and try to extract the feature.

For example, consider the sentence 'You must feel proud of yourself.' If I try to find the features of must, I'm not sure what the features of the head are. If I try to find the complement features of 'must', I know that the verb following it should be in the infinitive form. I know this because I have looked at a large number of grammatical sentences (including the sentence 'You must feel proud of yourself') and in all of them the verb following the 'must' was in infinitive form. Had there been a single grammatical sentence known by me where a verb in a finite form had followed a 'must', I wouldn't have considered this as a feature. In a way, I already intuitively know that 'You must feel proud of yourself' is a grammatical sentence and then I'm using this knowledge to find features of 'must' and to show that the sentence 'You must feel proud of yourself' is grammatical. Hence, the circularity.

I think there might be some ways in which my reasoning would not be sound.

  1. By compatibility, we don't mean that the sentence is grammatical but some other thing.
  2. Feature checking is not a test to show that some sentence is grammatical or not, but has other uses.

Thank you.

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    I haven't read Radford's book, but does he not introduce the features he's talking about when discussing feature checking? I'd think the book would start with whichever features motivate "features" at all (agreement probably) and then introduce more as the book goes on and encounters more phenomena that require them.
    – Draconis
    Nov 15, 2022 at 16:45
  • I'm afraid I couldn't find features defined in any way before that discussion. I'll look up again. Nov 16, 2022 at 16:37
  • I think that for minimalist program, they consider all movements are driven by feature checking. Is it related to your question? Hence, movements must be one of them.
    – Yili Xia
    Nov 17, 2022 at 2:48
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    In a nutshell, features are a heuristic tool used to explain why certain sentences are grammatical whereas others aren't. The list of features (or inventory) has been up for debate for a long time (also known fancifully as cartography in some quarters) and this is the bread and butter of the majority of linguists. Even though different linguists understand features differently, esp. those who are into the MP (e.g. strong vs. weak, interpretable vs. uninterpretable etc.), I recommend taking a look at the very first chapter, Why features? in Greville Corbett's 2012 book Features
    – Alex B.
    Nov 18, 2022 at 17:54
  • (cont.) - this part is available as a free marking excerpt from the CUP website. I think he explains pretty well why we even need features in the first place. Once you understand this, you can move on to the intricacies of the feature theory in the MP. In the future, you might want to peruse smg.surrey.ac.uk/features - but this is not for beginners though (and not necessarily the MP stuff)
    – Alex B.
    Nov 18, 2022 at 17:54

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