Unification and efficient computation in the minimalist program

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This talk explores issues in the construction of computationally simple grammars. In particular, we investigate the trade-off between simplicity of implementation and expressive power. We begin by developing what appears to be the simplest possible definite clause grammar implementation for a sub-theory in the minimalist program: that of probe-goal case agreement (Chomsky, Lectures in Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris; 2001). In computational modeling, there is a simple trade-off between simplicity of mechanism and expressive power, e.g., the Chomsky hierarchy. However, simplicity of implementation need not correlate with limited expressive power. Unification is a simple but powerful mechanism that can be used to implement uninterpretable/interpretable feature matching. We show, using examples from Chomsky (Lectures in Government and Binding. Dordrecht: Foris; 2001), as in (1)-(3), that unification-based derivations result in agree relations with fewer probe-goal steps than predicted. This economy of derivation results because once unified, unvalued features from different heads can be instantiated or valued simultaneously at a parse global level. Therefore, unification trades off fewer probe-goal steps for possibly unbounded agree relations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLanguage and Recursion
PublisherSpringer New York
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781461494140
ISBN (Print)1461494133, 9781461494133
StatePublished - Oct 1 2013


  • Computational modeling
  • Declarative approach
  • Grammar
  • Keyword: Keywords: Unification
  • Minimalist program
  • Operational approach

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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