A tenet of the Minimalist Program is that all syntactic structure is binary branching. Merge always merges two constituents to a greater constituent until the greatest constituent, the sentence, is reached. What empirical evidence does the MP produce backing up this hypothesis? It seems to me that empiricism, i.e. considerations delivered by constituency tests and mechanisms such as shifting and inversion, suggests, rather, that ternary structures are common, i.e. flat structures.

Due to the interest that this question is receiving recently, I'd like to add something to it. This addition is, in my view, the main emperical evidence against strict binarity of branching. Most constituency tests that are widely employed in syntax and linguistics textbooks suggest that syntactic structure is relatively flat. Consider the string Bill a present in the following sentence:

 (1) Fred gave Bill a present. 

On strict binarity of branching, Bill a present is a constituent (think VP shell). But constituency tests tell us that it is not a constituent:

 (1) a.  *Bill a present Fred gave.  -- Topicalization

     b.  *It was Bill a present Fred gave. -- Clefting

     c.  *What Fred gave was Bill a present.  -- Pseudoclefting

     d.  *Fred gave it. (it = Bill a present) -- Proform substitution

     e.   What did Fred give? -- *Bill a present. --Answer fragment
     e'. *Who did Fred give? -- *Bill a present. --Answer fragment

For me, these data demonstrate that Bill a present is not a constituent. Thus at least in this case, there is evidence in favor of a flat VP structure, since a flat VP views Bill a present as a non-constituent. I would now like to focus my question on this type of data:

Is there some reason why data from standard constituency tests should not influence the debate about whether or not all syntactic structure is binary?

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    Really? I knew it was dumb, but I didn't realize it was that dumb. So the brain emulates Lisp, eh? What a surprise. As far as I know, there is no evidence at all for such a claim. car and cdr ride again.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 2:02
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    Jlawler, I of course do not think for a second that all branching is binary. I am giving PElliot and Olivier a chance to make their case. Olivier suggested that I ask such a question. Let's see if he answers. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 2:59
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    Oh, that's probly why they think it has to be recursive. Lisp works like that and it's ultra recursive.
    – jlawler
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 4:55
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    @TimOsborne Thank you for posting this question. I will definitely produce an answer.
    – Olivier
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 8:48
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    @TimOsborne The snark there is a bit unnecessary - we can all disagree whilst still being civil about it! My position is that binary branching should be independently preferred since it restricts the expressive power of the grammar. The burden of proof is on proponents of n>2-ary branching to provide evidence that it's necessary. Saying that, this isn't an issue that i feel so strongly about. Despite agreeing with the MP in spirit, i disagree with an awful lot of work in that tradition. I'm not sure why i've been singled out as needing to make a case for anything.
    – P Elliott
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 18:21

5 Answers 5


I think that even the most ardent supporter of minimalism should recognize that this is an important and deep question: indeed, even though Patrick Elliott is right to recall that the hypothesis of strict binary branching could be made on the basis of parsimony only, it is clearly the case that many syntactic structures appear to be ternary (or more) and so that the hypothesis that all syntactic structures are built from the bottom-up by recursive applications of a binary operation is extremely counter-intuitive and should never be assumed lightly. In fact, this hypothesis is quite recent in the literature of generative or transformational syntax: as far as I know, it was first argued for by R.Kayne in 1981 and gained dominance even within the relevant strand of linguistics only in 1994/1995, so after more than 30 years of hierarchical analysis of syntactic constructions.

When trying to organize this answer, I realized that I would face two obvious difficulties: 1) binary branching is a theoretical hypothesis, with immediate theoretical consequences but with quite sophisticated and elusive direct empirical consequences and 2) the analysis of empirical facts is not independent of the implicit or explicit theoretical framework as a wide range of contradictory interpretations can describe equally correctly any given single phenomenon (as can be seen for instance in Tim Osborne's criticism of bta's answer). A geocentrist will not be impressed by the fact that Newton's law of gravitation explains why the orbits of planets around the Sun obey Kepler's law as for him there are no orbits around the Sun to explain; and conversely, a heliocentrist will not be particularly convinced by the remark that adding a seventh epicycle yields unparalleled experimental accuracy to the prediction of the apparent movement of Jupiter. Hence I decided to present empirical evidence in the form of correlations, that is parallel occurrences of syntactic phenomena, whenever I could with the accompanying claim that the theoretical arguments I am evaluating are able to predict this correlation or not: the empirical evidence below therefore do not reside in any specific analysis of, say, reflexivity in English or of wh-movement in Japanese, but in the fact that an analysis of reflexivity in English allows to make correct predictions about wh-movement Japanese. That said, one has to start somewhere, so I will assume without further discussion that tree-like descriptions are useful in syntax: anyone subscribing to a completely linear theory of syntax will presumably not care about whether (for him non-existent) syntactic trees are binary or not, after all.


I think the first step to understand the empirical arguments in favor of binary branching is to understand the peculiar importance the notion of c-command has come to gain in (a certain kind of) syntactic theory. A number of seemingly disparate syntactic phenomena (licensing of pronouns and anaphors, quantifiers scope, NPI licensing, wh-movements, clitic movements and reduplication, licensing of cataphoric ellipsis…) all turned out (under some interpretations) to be sensitive to that specific topological relation. Yet why would that be?

For instance, independently of any theoretical presuppositions, one can observe that both

(1) It seems that Tatsuki is angry because Masako bought something but I don’t know what.


(2) The picture of himself that Tatsuki took is nice.

are grammatical in English whereas their direct Japanese translations

(3) *Tatsuki ga Masako ga nanika o katta kara okotteiru rasii ga, watashi ha nani ka shiranai.

(4) *Tatsuki ga totta zibun no shashin ha kirei. (with the interpretation that zibun refers to Tatsuki)

are not. The apparent causes of ungrammaticality seems very different for (3) and (4) yet a linguist who believes that anaphor licensing and wh-movements are both sensitive to c-command is able to give a unified account for this (at least in the sense that he would predict that (1),(3) are grammatical if and only if (2),(4) are). Likewise, from the acceptability of

(5) Nos vamos acostumbrando a este país poco a poco.

(6) Vamos acostumbrándonos a este país poco a poco.

in Spanish, he might have been able to predict the respective acceptability of

(7) Vámonos acostumbrándonos a este país poco a poco.

(8) *Nos vamos acostumbrándonos a este país poco a poco.

in Argentinean Spanish, or at least would have been able to formulate the prediction that the acceptability of (8) would logically entail the acceptability of (7). Or again, his hypothesis that wh-movement would have to be successive cyclic from c-commanding positions to c-commanding positions would not by itself predict that Afrikaans realizes overtly copies of the wh-word as in

(9) Met wie het jy nou weer gesê met wie het Sarie gedog met wie gaan Jan trou. Whom did you say again that Sarie thought Jan is going to marry?

but given that they are, they turn out to be precisely where the c-commanding positions have to be in comparable sentences in English or French based on any of the other diagnosis above.

Of course, a number of alternate explanations and descriptions can be given for any of these facts taken in isolation: the specificity of the c-command account is that a single principle motivates the causal relations between each of them.

Binary Branching

But why should c-command, by opposition to any other topological property starting with the much simpler rule of sisterhood, play such a significant role? Here we have two concurring but quite distinct theoretical answers. Kayne’s answer is that absent stringent supplementary formation rules, very few hierarchical structures can be converted unambiguously into linear sentences. Binary branching structures with asymmetric c-command satisfy this desirable property. So in fact, according to Kayne at least (but the idea seems largely accepted in minimalist syntax) not only is binary branching the unique mode of branching allowed, asymmetric binary branching structures are the unique structures allowed, yielding the prediction that no binary structures like

(10) [A B]

are actually possible even though they are an obvious model for coordination, for instance, and the even more counter-intuitive prediction that the number of functional projections in a given syntactic trees should be roughly half the total number of nodes (as follows from some math that I skip here); seemingly predicting the existence of far more functional projections that would be assumed based on a superficial analysis of the sentence. Chomsky’s answer is that the simplest linguistic operation we can imagine to construct hierarchical structure is binary (asymmetric) set-theoretic union of labelled terms (with the asymmetry coming from the projection of one of the the labels). The recursive application of this operation predicts the importance of the c-command operation, in a way that is worth summarizing as it will play a role later on: under this model of bottom-up recursive applications of a binary operation with no supplementary operation, interactions between heads are by construction limited to interactions between a head and its complement and the easiest type of movement to conceptualize is movement from the complement to the specifier of the head. This gives movement to a c-commanding position as the simplest syntactic operation available and more generally strongly suggests that elementary syntactic operation should occur between c-commanding positions.

Empirical support for binary branching beyond c-command

So binary branching is not primarily empirically motivated, it is a theoretical simple assumption which has the desirable effect to predict the special status of c-command in syntax, yet there would be no point in formulating theoretical hypotheses if they did not suggest empirical insights. Here are a few. First, the binary branching hypothesis suggests that the importance of c-command is not a syntactic fundamental but rather the reflex of the easiest possible relation between heads. Hence, one predicts, for instance, that as long as the functional heads assumed to be involved in anaphor binding are in mutual c-command relations, binding ensues even when antecedent and anaphor are not in a c-command relation. For what its worth, just like the prediction that wh-movement was successive cyclic, this was a genuine prediction in the sense that it was articulated and argued for before any example of the phenomenon was known. It turned out to be correct.

(11) Det ble introdusert en mann for segselv. (Norwegian) It was introduced a man to himself.

The precise mode of relations between heads that is implied by binary branching also predicts the relative acceptability of

(12) What did you order? What did Sophia order?

(13) What did no one order?

(14) Toi, tu as commandé quoi ? Sophie, elle a commandé quoi ?

(15) *Personne, il a commandé quoi ?

even though the c-command relations are all exactly the same.

As a further example, the extremely strong constraints on structures imposed by strict application of asymmetric binary branching implies the hypothesis that much more hierarchy than is usually visible or even plausible at first glance should exist. To give an example, the hierarchical structure Kayne was forced to posit for nominalization such as

(16) The election of Obama.

implies that the complement of of c-commands the leftmost phrase at some point. Again, this was a genuine prediction, in the sense that the empirical data confirming this prediction were later found (in Dutch).

(17) Het over zichzelf praten van Jan. The about himself talking of Jan.

(18) Het aan zijn eigenaar teruggeven van elk geleend artikel. The to his owner returning of each borrowed article.

Of course, countless further phenomena have by now been analyzed in this way from morphology to person-case constraints to parasitic gaps to wh-agreement.


Binary branching is a theoretical hypothesis, and as such should not be expected to have direct empirical consequences, much less direct empirical consequences which can be recognized as such from a theoretical framework different from or directly contradictory to the one it presupposes. Within its own theoretical framework, it predicts the ubiquity of the c-command relation while predicting where the c-command relation will yield incorrect predictions, with a broad range of empirical consequences; anaphor binding outside c-command, weak-cross over effects in nominalization, intervention effects in left-dislocation and island effects in elliptical questions being just a few sampled here.

  • Olivier, thanks for your answer. I have a couple of comments. The first sentence of your conclusion suggests that there really isn't much neutral empirical evidence for strictly binary branching structures. If I understand that sentence, you are saying that the evidence for strict binarity of branching exists mainly within the theory. Is that what you are saying? If so, then my side of this issue is winning. I've requested emperical evidence for the strictly binary branching strutures that the MP posits. The answer I get states that, well, the evidence resides within the theory itself. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 0:32
  • My point is supported by the emphasis on c-command in your answer. C-command is theory-internal. Other frameworks (e.g. HPSG, CxG, DG) do not acknowledge c-command. An argument in favor of strict binarity of branching in terms of c-command presupposes that c-command is a basis that both sides accept as valid. My side of this issue does not accept that basis, so the argument from c-command does not work. The results of constituency tests, in contrast, would work, since constituency tests deliver hard emperical facts, and these facts are theory neutral. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 0:42
  • But for the sake of argument, let me accept the validity of c-command as a basis for making predictions about syntax. In my response to bta's answer, I produced counterexamples in key areas. A reflexive pronoun need not be c-commanded by its "antecedent", e.g. ...but herself I know Susan would never criticize. An NPI need not be c-commanded by its "antecedent", e.g. A syntactician with any good ideas was not present. A pronoun need not be c-commanded by its quantified antecedent, e.g. The picture of every boy pleased his mother. Your answer seems to acknowledge that such data are a problem. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 0:53
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    Excellent answer Olivier. I personally don't believe there's any such thing as 'neutral empirical evidence' -- All data is interpreted relative to a theory. The question is (and always is) how good a fit there is between theory and data.
    – P Elliott
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 11:04
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    BTW, this way of evaluating theoretical proposals (not by searching for direct empirical consequences but by evaluating the logical inference they entail within the theory they fit in) seems quite reasonable to me. That is typically, for instance, the nature of arguments in favor of darwinian evolution: in itself, the theoretical framework makes very few direct empirical predictions, and certainly almost none about a given species in isolation, but it entails and explains a host of quite mysterious correlations.
    – Olivier
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 13:08

In addition to Olivier's answer, there is further evidence for binary branching structure.

For example, there's about as theory-neutral evidence as you can get for binary branching in the NP domain. Consider (1).

(1)  a.  That big brown fury dog
     b.  That big brown fury one
     c.  That big brown one
     d.  That big one
     e.  That one

If the NP complement of that had any structure other than binary-branching structure, I'm not sure how you would account for the fact that one-substitution can target all of the constituents.

There's also evidence that double object constructions are binary branching. Consider (2); I use <i> for coindexation in order to represent the intended meaning.

(2)  a.  Mary showed Susan<i> herself<i> (in the mirror)
     b. *Mary showed herself<i> Susan<i> (in the mirror)

If the structure of showed Susan herself were flat/ternary, there's no immediate reason that (2b) should be ruled out, yet it's bad. If you're worried about me sneaking in the Binding Theory and c-command here, the same thing can be shown with passivization. Consider (3).

(3)  a.  Mary gave Susan a book
     b.  Susan was given a book by Mary
     c. *A book was given Susan by Mary 

If the structure of double object constructions were ternary branching, it's not clear why (3c) would be bad. Note that the problem for a flat/ternary analysis of this data is even worse than this, too. (3c) actually is good on the reading where the book is the recipient of Susan.

Plausibly, somebody advocating a flat/ternary analysis of this data could claim that their theory accounts for the data by assuming that the interpretation of the arguments to the verb depend on the linear order and that passivization also happens via a rule that adverts to linear order. In other words, (3c) is good on the reading where the book is the recipient of Susan because it started out as Mary gave a book Susan and was transformed into a passive by grabbing the closest DP, a book. But passivization cannot occur as the result of some rule/transformation that adverts to linear order, as the passivization of dative verbs from German shows. (German examples were adapted from here.)

(4)  a.  Eva     hat Jan     den     Rucksack     gehalten
         Eva.NOM has Jan.DAT the.ACC backpack.ACC held
         `Eva held the backpack for Jan'
     b.  Der     Rucksack     wurde Jan     gehalten 
         The.NOM backpack.NOM was   Jan.DAT held
         `The backpack was held for Jan'
     c. *Jan     wurde den     Rucksack     gehalten
         Jan.NOM was   the.ACC backpack.ACC held
         `The backpack was held for Jan'

Similar evidence against a ternary/flat analysis and in favor of a binary analysis can also be shown with the to-dative verb explain. Consider (5) and (6).

(5)  a.  Mary<j> explained Susan<i> to herself<i/j>
     b.  Mary<j> explained herself<*i/j> to Susan<i>
(6)  a.  Mary explained Susan to Bill
     b.  Susan was explained to Bill by Mary
     c. *To Bill was explained Susan by Mary

There's also evidence that suggests adjuncts are adjoined in such a way so as to create binary branching structure. For example, if the structure of shot a deer with a gun were flat, there would be no way to explain the two interpretations of (7).

(7)  Mary shot a deer with a gun

(7) can mean either (i) that Mary shot a deer, and she used a gun to do the shooting; or (ii) Mary shot a deer, and the deer had a gun. These two meanings follow straightforwardly from assuming binary branching structure and that the adjunct can adjoin to either the NP or the vP.

Finally, the last bit of evidence that I can think of at the moment that isn't already covered in Olivier's answer—there's probably more—comes from morphology. If you buy into non-lexicalist theories, such as Distributed Morphology, then you have further evidence for binary branching structure. I can't imagine, for example, that anybody thinks the structure of governmental is flat as in [govern -ment -al]. Surely it has to be [[govern -ment]-al]. So if you do everything in the syntax, then derivational morphology is going to be another argument for there being a lot of binary branching syntactic structures.

Let's recap. (1) shows evidence for binary branching in the NP domain. (2) through (7) provide evidence against analyzing structures which could plausibly be analyzed as ternary/flat as ternary/flat. (Moreover, the data in (2) through (7) follow straightforwardly on an account that assumes binary branching, some version of the Binding Theory, and some version of Relativized Minimality, the latter two being quite robustly independently motivated.) And the morphological argument is further evidence for there being a lot of binary branching in the syntax if non-lexicalist theories of derivational morphology are right.

What this answer has not shown is evidence that all syntactic structure is binary branching, which is at least the title of your question. I don't think it's possible to do that, at least not if you're looking for a completely dispositive case.

But what this answer has shown is evidence for binary branching in a lot of different types of syntactic structures. And given that binary branching is well motivated in many syntactic structures, the null hypothesis ought to be that all syntactic structures are binary branching.

Perhaps an analogy will be helpful here: I think you would be hard-pressed to make a completely dispositive case that all matter is made up of protons, neutrons, and electrons. We have good evidence that a lot of matter is like that, so we assume that it all is. But unless you go check every single piece of matter, I'm not sure what dispositive evidence one could offer for such a hypothesis.

  • Adam, thanks for your answer. I appreciate that you are arguing with data. But you've missed so much. You are picking your data. I am now going to refute each one of your arguments in a separate box here. It's going to be difficult, because I'm so limited in space. But nevertheless, here we go. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 8:36
  • One-diagnostic. How does your argument from the one-diagnostic deal with examples like the following: "Jane has a big black dog, and Jean has a brown one". The antecedent of one here is "big...dog", which is a non-constituent and a non-string. Here's another example: "that silly picture of Robin from Mary that is on the table, and this one from Susan". The antecedent to "one" is now the non-constituent and non-string combination "that silly picture of Robin...that is on the table". The last datum is from Culicover and Jackendoff (2005: 137). Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 8:43
  • I have just written a paper on the one-diagnostic that is under review at a good journal. The paper has passed the first round of review. If you'd like to have a look at it, please contact me ([email protected]). It demonstrates extensively that the one-diagnostic delivers solid evidence for flat NPs. Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 8:45
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    Lastly, I'm going to keep this discussion to the data and ignore your rhetorical points, for two reasons. I expect it will be more productive to do so. And second, it's not fair to reasonably expect me to be able to explain all of 'my camp'. We're not a homogeneous group; we disagree on a lot of things. And I also don't know why you're looking for vindication in a forum that, as far as I can tell, barely has any actual trained linguists.
    – Adam Liter
    Commented Feb 25, 2015 at 16:01
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    @TimOsborne I'm happy to drop you an email. And I didn't mean to sound so brash on the rhetoric issue. It's just unfortunate that this is the way this site has gone. I know linguists who avoid this site because it's a lot of stuff that isn't really linguistics and/or it solely devolves to polemic. That's how I honestly feel about the site, too. I only decided to post an answer to this because there was data missing from Olivier's answer that further motivates binary branching. And it is worth noting that Olivier's answer does use data too. There's just also a big conceptual argument.
    – Adam Liter
    Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 1:57

binding, pronominal binding, and other c-command sensitive operations (e.g. NPI licensing, or association with focus particles like "only") provide evidence that most structures that are commonly assumed to be 3+ branching are not.

here are some of these tests applied to ditransitive verbs: BINDING I will show Mary herself * I will show herself Mary I will show Mary to herself * I will show herself to Mary

NPI LICENSING I gave no student any extra credit * I gave any student no extra credit * I gave any extra credit to no student I gave no extra credit to any student

PRONOMINAL BINDING I sent every girl her grades (✓pronominal binding) I sent her grades to every girl (*pronominal binding)

for ditransitive verbs there is other evidence too, with scope, crossover effects, and coordination that converge on a constituency of [V [obj obj]]

now here is a pronominal binding test run on a coordinated structure: I paid for every boy and his girlfriend (✓pronominal binding) I paid for his girlfriend and every boy (*pronominal binding)

coordinated structures are less transparent, because fewer tests provide obvious support for binary branching, but see Zhang 2009's book "coordination in syntax"

if there are other types of phrases that you think ought to be "flat", I'd love to have a discussion about those too

  • OK, let me take these one at a time. Your binding examples are also explained by a hierarchy of syntactic functions (subject > first object > second object > prepositional object. HPSG and LFG approaches to binding base their accounts of binding on this sort of hierarchy. Furthermore, there is precedence; in each of your acceptable examples, the antecedent precedes the reflexive. Concerning precedence, how does you account in terms of binary branching explain the acceptability of, for instance "... but herself I don't think Susan would ever criticize." Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:22
  • How does your account in terms of binary branching account for the acceptability of NPI examples such as: "A doctor with any knowledge of accupuncture was not to be found". The trigger, i.e. the negation, does not c-command the NPI, right? How does strict binarity of branching help with such data? Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:25
  • Concerning pronominal binding, how do strict binarity of branching and c-command help with an example like: Every boy1's mother was happy with him1. The coindexation reading is easily available, yet on most accounts of c-command, "every boy" does not c-command "him", right? Pure precedence is a more promising approach to such data. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:39
  • Concerning scope, crossover effects, and coordination, concrete examples are needed to back up any claims in the area. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:40
  • Concerning pronominal binding and coordination, precedence alone accounts for the data you produce, similar to how it accounts for the quantifier pronominal binding. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 6:41

I believe in binary branching, but not your binary branching. In HPSG (and Categorial Grammar), constituents combine by the application of a function to a single argument. Function and argument -- that's two, so it's binary. The order of application is determined by the obliqueness of arguments. The most oblique arguments are applied to first.

The following is my interpretation of an HPSG-like theory. I don't know what HPSG (Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar), the true theory itself, says about your example.

In your example, "Fred gave Bill a present", the dative "Bill" is most oblique, the accusative "a present" is next most oblique, and the nominative "Bill" is least oblique. The constituent structure is given by the applications:

[gave](Bill) = [gave Bill]  
[gave Bill](a present) = [gave Bill a present]  
[gave Bill a present](Fred) = [Fred gave Bill a present]  

The organization of constituents into applications of functions to arguments does not intrinsically enforce binary branching, since one could have functions with more than one argument. But evidence from certain ambiguities of scope argues for application to single arguments only.

When an adverb occurs with a term argument of the same obliqueness, James McCawley discovered an ambiguity:

25% of voters probably voted for Trump.  

could mean either (1) for each voter among 25% of voters, it is probable that that person voted for Trump, or (2) the proportion of Trump voters is probably 25%.

If the subject and the adverb arguments could be applied to in one step, there would be just one possible constituent structure for the example and therefore no ambiguity of structure.


i have not read the minimalist program, but i agree that all syntax is binary.

i show that your example is also binary.

Fred gave Bill a present.


Fred give ed Bill a present.


(Fred give ed Bill (a present)).


Fred give ed Bill (a present)


( Fred give Bill (a present) ) ed


( Fred ( give Bill (a present) ) ) ed


give Bill (a present)


( give (a present) ) Bill

. and, combined form of it:

( ( Fred ( ( give (a present) ) Bill ) ) ed ).

and i semantically sort it by "heads" and "specifiers":

.( ed ( ( ( give ( present a ) ) Bill ) Fred ) )


( ( Fred ( Bill ( (a present) give ) ) ) ed ).

ok, i will try to write an answer to "What empirical evidence can be produced that all syntactic structure is binary branching?".

i show with your example: as far as i understand you say that (give Bill a present) consists of 3 elements:

(give Bill (a present))

and probably you think that "give" is main element here and Bill and (a present) are 2 equal not-main elements. but "binarists" say that that 2 not-main elements are never equal. proof for that: 2 different elements are never equal, because they are different. one of them is always more "close" to main element than the other.

grammatical relations can and should be shown by virtual morphemes:

(Fred give ed Bill (a present)).


((Fred (subject marker position)) give ed (Bill (some indirect object marker)) ((a present) (some direct object marker))).


.( ed ( ( ( give ((direct object marker)( present a )) ) ((indirect object marker) Bill) ) ((subject marker) Fred) ) )


( ( (Fred (subject marker)) ( (Bill (indirect object marker)) ( ((a present) (direct object marker)) give ) ) ) ed ).
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    You've sketched up a binary constituency tree for the sentence, but it still needs justification. What evidence do you have of the constituents proposed by your analysis, and how do you respond to the challenges posed by Dr Osborne in the OP? Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 13:50
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    Ah, sorry, just realised that Dr Osborne's argument doesn't apply to your tree. But still, it's a pretty elaborate one involving quite a bit of movement, so it seems that you still need to state more evidence in favour of it... Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 13:58
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    All you've done is draw brackets around phrases - I don't see any actual evidence or argumentation for binary branching structures. Nor does this seem to match any kind of generative grammar that I know of, which wouldn't separate the verb and the tense so far apart.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 14:30
  • @curiousdannii verb and tense are not far apart in the sorted versions.
    – qdinar
    Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 14:32
  • Sorry, but I still don't think the argumentation is adequate at present. You mention that one of the dependents is always closer to the head than the other, but what sort of evidence suggests this? And does this 'closeness' have to be represented in constituent structure, rather than in terms of grammatical relations? Commented Jan 25, 2017 at 17:47

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