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date: 13 November 2019

(p. v) Preface

(p. v) Preface

This volume contains a set of essays representing work done in what is called comparative syntax. Comparative syntax, which has grown into an indispensable part of the field of syntax, studies the precise ways in which languages differ from one another (in their syntax). In so doing, it attempts to deepen our understanding of the “parameters” side of the human language faculty, to discover the form and extent and limits of the syntactic parameters of variation that underlie the extraordinary range and richness of the syntax of human languages.

At the same time, comparative syntax provides us with a new and highly promising tool with which to deepen our understanding of the “principles” side, the invariant core, of the human language faculty. The principles and parameters of universal grammar (UG) can hardly be dissociated from one another. What is common to all human languages can hardly be understood in abstraction from an acute understanding of how those languages can and do differ. The “minimalist” question why UG is as it is has little chance of finding an answer without the kind of work being done that we have tried to illustrate in this volume.

The essays included here are heterogeneous in style, in content, and in length. Yet taken together, they provide a sense of the range and power of the methods and results of comparative syntax. They do not cover all languages. That would simply be impossible, no matter how many extra pages were added. Nevertheless, we have tried to include work covering a fair range of currently existing families, with the choices in practice of course limited by considerations involving how much work had already been done (at the time we made the choices) on one family or another. (At the same time, practical constraints made it impossible to cover as many families as we might have liked to.)

To a large extent, these chapters are organized around particular families of languages (as opposed to “all languages” or to extremely heterogeneous groups of languages). This structure reflects in part simply who was available and willing to contribute but also in part our belief that comparative work is (all other things being equal) more readily doable when the languages considered are relatively more similar to one another. As the field of comparative syntax expands, as more and more work is done on more and more languages, the set of feasible groupings should grow correspondingly. (p. vi)