Isolating the grammar: Removing extra-grammatical effects from the theory of grammar through investigation of grammatical viruses

Date of Completion

January 2004


Language, Linguistics




This dissertation investigates grammatical viruses, ad hoc rules created by speakers in an attempt to mimic prestige input received, for example, through prescription. Examples of phenomena regulated by grammatical viruses include the distribution of whom and nominative pronouns in conjoined noun phrases (Bill and I). Understanding of the mechanisms licensing these phenomena is necessary for the linguist who uses speakers' production and judgments in developing theories of the grammar itself. An experimental investigation is conducted and leads to the conclusion that even young children are sensitive to the input that triggers grammatical viruses, although the rules they formulate are, at first, very general and are refined later in development. The dissertation also works toward formulating grammatical virus rules that can account for the distribution of certain virus phenomena. A major finding is that grammatical virus rules can be stated without reference to objects internal to the grammar, and cannot actually carry out grammatical operations. This allows for the maintenance of a theory in which the grammar has only very shallow interaction with other cognitive modules. ^