So what?

Feature percolation

One problem for Transformational grammar solutions is the idea of feature percolation. Say you have a sentence like this:

1. You gave money to him.

No problem, right. Straightforward sentence.

Now let’s make it into a question.

Still no problem, right?

Now let’s try moving the wh-question word.

2. Who did you give money to?

Who did you give money to? No problem. The wh-word just moves.

But this is also a good sentence:

3. To whom did you give money?

To whom did you give money? OK, so what? Oh, yes! It’s as if a wh-feature is being matched onto the whole PP. For example, maybe it is copied by the preposition to and transmitted to the whole of the PP. Ah! Feature matching!! That’s exactly what the Unification Grammar people are suggesting.

Actually, these feature percolation facts are a huge problem for the Minimalist Program. If features can be matched (or unified), why do we need movement? Just having copying is a better Minimalist approach.

Are we just mentally superior to animals, or do we also have unique, innate modules built into our brains? Photo. By Ltshears (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
Make up your own mind — or just keep an open mind

If the Chomskyans are right, we are born with communicative ability that is really fundamentally different from other animals. We are born with grammatical rules wired into our brains! Maybe this ability has a perfect design.

Animals do not have language-related information wired into their brains. How could this kind of ability evolve? Photo. User:Mike R

If the Unificational Grammar people are right, then everything boils down to a copying/matching mechanism. Maybe we are not so different from animals after all. What do you think?

Anyway, take a look at the PowerPoint slides here.