Superseded: Grammatical theory: From transformational grammar to constraint-based approaches

Stefan Müller  


This book is superseded by the third edition, available at


This book introduces formal grammar theories that play a role in current linguistic theorizing (Phrase Structure Grammar, Transformational Grammar/Government & Binding, Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar, Lexical Functional Grammar, Categorial Grammar, Head-​Driven Phrase Structure Grammar, Construction Grammar, Tree Adjoining Grammar). The key assumptions are explained and it is shown how the respective theory treats arguments and adjuncts, the active/passive alternation, local reorderings, verb placement, and fronting of constituents over long distances. The analyses are explained with German as the object language.

The second part of the book compares these approaches with respect to their predictions regarding language acquisition and psycholinguistic plausibility. The nativism hypothesis, which assumes that humans posses genetically determined innate language-specific knowledge, is critically examined and alternative models of language acquisition are discussed. The second part then addresses controversial issues of current theory building such as the question of flat or binary branching structures being more appropriate, the question whether constructions should be treated on the phrasal or the lexical level, and the question whether abstract, non-visible entities should play a role in syntactic analyses. It is shown that the analyses suggested in the respective frameworks are often translatable into each other. The book closes with a chapter showing how properties common to all languages or to certain classes of languages can be captured.

The book is a translation of the German book Grammatiktheorie, which was published by Stauffenburg in 2010. The following quotes are taken from reviews:

With this critical yet fair reflection on various grammatical theories, Müller fills what was a major gap in the literature. Karen Lehmann, Zeitschrift für Rezen­sio­nen zur ger­man­is­tis­chen Sprach­wis­senschaft, 2012

Stefan Müller’s recent introductory textbook, Gram­matik­the­o­rie, is an astonishingly comprehensive and insightful survey for beginning students of the present state of syntactic theory. Wolfgang Sternefeld und Frank Richter, Zeitschrift für Sprach­wissen­schaft, 2012

This is the kind of work that has been sought after for a while [...] The impartial and objective discussion offered by the author is particularly refreshing. Werner Abraham, Germanistik, 2012


  • Review of Grammatical theory: From transformational grammar to constraint-based approaches, volumes 1 and 2, 2016 by Michael T. Putnam published August 18, 2017
    ... These two volumes represent one of the first attempts since Sells’ (1985) seminal work to provide theoretical linguists and those who work closely with them with an overview of the general representational machinery of contemporary frameworks and the key issues that separate those who prefer one over another. In general, the presentation of empirical data and theoretical concepts is highly accessible to scholar and student alike. The best use of these materials is for those seeking to gain a better understanding of the core concepts that motivate the general representations present in these frameworks. Although there are traits that are shared across many of these covered here, there are also fundamental differences that persist. These volumes at the very least enable those with different perspectives on key issues to engage in discussions and perhaps gain a better understanding and appreciation of each other’s research moving forward. ...


Author Biography

Stefan Müller, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

Stefan Müller studied Computer Science, Computational Linguistics and Linguistics at the Humboldt University at Berlin and in Edinburgh. He worked at the German Research Center of Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Saarbrücken and for the company Interice. He worked as acting chair for German and Computational Linguistics in Jena and for Theoretical Computational Linguistics in Potsdam. He had an assistant professorship in Bremen for theoretical linguistics and computational linguistics, a full professorship for German and General Linguistics at the Freie Universität Berlin and is now professor for German language with specialization in syntax at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin.

His main re­search topic is Ger­man gram­mar. He works both em­pir­i­cal­ly and the­o­ret­i­cal­ly. Top­ics of in­ter­est are mor­phol­o­gy, syn­tax, se­man­tics, and in­for­ma­tion struc­ture. He pub­lished main­ly about Ger­man, but he also works on other lan­guages as for in­stance Man­darin Chi­nese, Dan­ish, Mal­tese, and Per­sian. The the­o­ret­i­cal work is car­ried out in the frame­work of Head-​ Driv­en Phrase Struc­ture Gram­mar (HPSG) and the the­o­ret­i­cal anal­y­ses are im­ple­ment­ed in com­put­er-​pro­cess­able gram­mar frag­ments. The gram­mar frag­ments that are implemented in the CoreGram Project use a com­mon core. One goal of his re­search is to un­der­stand lan­guage and to find out what lan­guages in gen­er­al and cer­tain lan­guage class­es in par­tic­u­lar have in com­mon.


March 26, 2018
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Müller, Stefan. 2018. Grammatical theory: From transformational grammar to constraint-based approaches. (Textbooks in Language Sciences 1). Berlin: Language Science Press. DOI: 10.17169/langsci.b25.167


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