On Folding and Twisting (and whatknot): towards a topological view of syntax.
Syntactic theory has traditionally adopted a constructivist approach, in which a set of atomic elements are manipulated by combinatory operations to yield derived, complex elements. Syntactic structure is thus seen as the result or discrete recursive combinatorics over lexical items which get assembled into phrases, which are themselves combined to form sentences. This view is common to European and American structuralism (e.g., Benveniste, 1971; Hockett, 1958) and different incarnations of generative grammar, transformational and non-transformational (Chomsky, 1956, 1995; and Kaplan & Bresnan, 1982; Gazdar, 1982). Since at least Uriagereka (2002), there has been some attention paid to the fact that syntactic operations must apply somewhere, particularly when copying and movement operations are considered. Contemporary syntactic theory has thus somewhat acknowledged the importance of formalizing aspects of the spaces in which elements are manipulated, but it is still a vastly underexplored area. In this paper we explore the consequences of conceptualizing syntax as a set of topological operations applying over spaces rather than over discrete elements. We argue that there are empirical advantages in such a view for the treatment of long-distance dependencies and cross-derivational dependencies: constraints on possible configurations emerge from the dynamics of the system.
Publisher URL: http://arxiv.org/abs/1809.07853