Does binding theory occur in syntax or semantics?

Personally, I think the index of the pronouns is semantic because who it refers to is interpreted in the meaning, which should be regarded as semantic.

However, I still think that we should not ignore the syntax playing a significant role for sure.

I have read that the traditional binding theory is syntactic while Reinhart's approach predicate-argument is kind of semantic. What is the nature of the pronoun then?

1 Answer 1


In traditional binding theory, the syntactic conditions A, B, and C restrict the domain of entities from which the antecedent can be picked. However, except for condition A, these conditions will usually not restrict the domain to just one entity, and that's where semantics (and pragmatics) come in to determine the most likely antecedent in context. However. So yes, there are both syntactic and semantic aspects, and you could say that "binding is semantic (but restricted syntactically)".

  • Thanks so much for your answer. So semantics and pragmatics also influence the antecedent the pronoun can take. To what extent do you think that semantics changes the index of the pronoun? I have found a lot of literature would study the pronouns by a purely syntactical approach or a purely semantic/ pragmatic approach. Their boundary is rather obscure.
    – Yili Xia
    Dec 2, 2022 at 11:24
  • 1
    @Xia.Yili it's hard to tell. In the case of reflexive pronouns, the syntax often restricts the domain to just one entity, and context does not play a role. But for pronouns that do not fall under condition A, the domain of possible antecedents will typically be much larger, so there is more room for ambiguity, and hence a larger role for semantics-pragmatics. How large depends first of all on the size of the domain.
    – Keelan
    Dec 2, 2022 at 12:11
  • Thanks for your explanation Keelan. How about reflexives that do not fall under condition A, then it is the semantics/pragmatics that play a role, am I correct?
    – Yili Xia
    Dec 2, 2022 at 16:42
  • @Xia.Yili Yes. To be clear: even principle A does not necessarily restrict the domain of possible antecedents to 1 element; it's just that this is usually the case. If you look at Pollard & Sag (1992), 'Anaphors in English and the Scope of Binding Theory', Linguistic Inquiry 23/2, for example, there are a couple of examples: Mary [i] explained Doris [j] to herself [i/j]; The men [i] introduced the women [j] to each other [i/j]. And whenever there is more than one possible antecedent syntactically speaking, you need semantics-pragmatics to choose.
    – Keelan
    Dec 2, 2022 at 20:45
  • thanks very much, Keelan it makes sense. Thanks for your explanation.
    – Yili Xia
    Dec 3, 2022 at 5:10

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