There is a dissertation from 1973 by Richard Coulter Brittain "Critical History of Systems of Sentence Diagramming in English" which outlines development of syntax diagramming until the work of Chomsky.

Maybe there is some article/book/chapter/dissertation containing history/overview/comparison of different systems of syntax diagramming used in modern linguistics, i.e. in Chomsky and later?


  • I disagree with putting this question on hold. It is specific enough. It is asking for a particular sort of reference work, one that focuses mainly on the development of tree diagrams. – Tim Osborne Dec 14 '14 at 12:20
  • You might make use of this article on Dependency Parsing. It's not exactly what you want, but it does a good survey of the literature surrounding syntax parsing (for computational purposes) and covers the history/development of dependency parsing. – user3898238 Dec 18 '14 at 20:45

Although the diagramming issue has long ceased to be an important topic of discussion or research (after all, you can easily 'translate' labelled brackets, trees, boxes, relational igloos, feature structures, relations, functions, etc. into each other and find ways to prove that they are mathematically equivalent), I think you could still benefit from reading at least the following (oldish) books:

Edith A. Moravcsik & Jessica Wirth, eds., 'Current Approaches to Syntax'(Syntax and Semantics volume 13), New York, Academic Press 1980. (With info on practically all approaches to syntax still alive ca. 1980)

Peter Sells, 'Lectures on Contemporary Syntactic Theories', Stanford, CSLI, 1985 (good for GB vs. LFG and GPSG)

Stuart M. Shieber, 'An Introduction to Unification-Based Approaches to Grammar' (CSLI Lecture Notes, 4), Stanford, CSLI, 1986. (good for LFG, GPSG, HPSG)

Giorgio Graffi, '200 Years of Syntax. A Critical Survey', Amsterdam & Philadelphia, John Benjamins, 2001. (A generally informative overview of syntactic theory and analytical techniques, including diagramming, since the early 19th c. to the late 1990's).

Good luck!



I think you are best served by taking a look at Andrew Carnie's Constituent Structure (link to OUP). The focus in his book is less on comparing tree diagrams across different theoretical frameworks, but rather on tracing the notion "constituency" within the generative framework associated with the work of Chomsky. Changes of the concept "constituency" have at times resulted in changes in tree diagramming. Carnie addresses other theories (such Lexical Functional Grammar, Dependency Grammar, categorial, functional, construction, and cognitive grammars) in chapter 9.

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