Syntax with oscillators and energy levels

Sam Tilsen  


This book presents a new approach to studying the syntax of human language, one which emphasizes how we think about time. Tilsen argues that many current theories are unsatisfactory because those theories conceptualize syntactic patterns with spatially arranged structures of objects. These object-structures are atemporal and do not lend well to reasoning about time. The book develops an alternative conceptual model in which oscillatory systems of various types interact with each other through coupling forces, and in which the relative energies of those systems are organized in particular ways. Tilsen emphasizes that the two primary mechanisms of the approach – oscillators and energy levels – require alternative ways of thinking about time. Furthermore, his theory leads to a new way of thinking about grammaticality and the recursive nature of language. The theory is applied to a variety of syntactic phenomena: word order, phrase structure, morphosyntax, constituency, case systems, ellipsis, anaphora, and islands. The book also presents a general program for the study of language in which the construction of linguistic theories is itself an object of theoretical analysis.

Reviewed by John Goldsmith, Mark Gibson and an anonymous reviewer. Signed reports are openly available in the downloads session.


Author Biography

Sam Tilsen, Cornell University

Sam Tilsen (1979) is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at Cornell University. He received his PhD in Linguistics at The University of California, Berkeley in 2009. For two years after that he was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Southern California. Currently he is the Director of the Cornell Phonetics Lab. He does research in experimental phonetics and psycholinguistics, and he develops dynamical models of speech production.


January 22, 2019
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Cite as
Tilsen, Sam. 2019. Syntax with oscillators and energy levels. (Studies in Laboratory Phonology 7). Berlin: Language Science Press.


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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Details about the available publication format: PDF (High-res, 64MB)

PDF (High-res, 64MB)

ISBN-13 (15)




Details about the available publication format: Hardcover


ISBN-13 (15)