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  • Print publication year: 1985
  • Online publication date: January 2010

6 - Tree adjoining grammars: How much context-sensitivity is required to provide reasonable structural descriptions?


Since the late 1970s there has been vigorous activity in constructing highly constrained grammatical systems by eliminating the transformational component either totally or partially. There is increasing recognition of the fact that the entire range of dependencies that transformational grammars in their various incarnations have tried to account for can be captured satisfactorily by classes of rules that are nontransformational and at the same time highly constrained in terms of the classes of grammars and languages they define.

Two types of dependencies are especially important: subcategorization and filler-gap dependencies. Moreover, these dependencies can be unbounded. One of the motivations for transformations was to account for unbounded dependencies. The so-called nontransformational grammars account for the unbounded dependencies in different ways. In a tree adjoining grammar (TAG) unboundedness is achieved by factoring the dependencies and recursion in a novel and linguistically interesting manner. All dependencies are defined on a finite set of basic structures (trees), which are bounded. Unboundedness is then a corollary of a particular composition operation called adjoining. There are thus no unbounded dependencies in a sense.

This factoring of recursion and dependencies is in contrast to transformational grammars (TG), where recursion is defined in the base and the transformations essentially carry out the checking of the dependencies. The phrase linking grammars (PLGs) (Peters and Ritchie, 1982) and the lexical functional grammars (LFGs) (Kaplan and Bresnan, 1983) share this aspect of TGs; that is, recursion builds up a set a structures, some of which are then filtered out by transformations in a TG, by the constraints on linking in a PLG, and by the constraints introduced via the functional structures in an LFG.

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