Economy of Expression as a principle of syntax


  • Mary Dalrymple University of Oxford
  • Ronald M. Kaplan Nuance Communications
  • Tracy Holloway King


Lexical Functional Grammar, Economy of Expression


The purpose of a grammatical theory is to specify the mechanisms and
principles that can characterize the relations of acceptable
sentences in particular languages to the meanings that they express.
It is sometimes proposed that the simplest and most explanatory way
of arranging the formal mechanisms of grammatical description is to
allow them to produce unacceptable representations or derivations
for some meanings and then to appeal to a global principle of
economy to control this overgeneration. Thus there is an intuition
common to many syntactic theories that a given meaning should be
expressed in the most economical way, that smaller representations
or shorter derivations should be chosen over larger ones.

In this paper we explore the conceptual and formal issues of Economy
as it has been discussed within the theory of Lexical Functional
Grammar. In LFG the metric of Economy is typically formulated in
terms of the size of one component of syntactic representation -- the
surface constituent structure tree -- but it is often left unstated
which trees for a given meaning are to be compared and how they are
to be measured. We present a framework within which alternative
explicit definitions of Economy can be formulated, and examine some
phenomena for which Economy has been offered as an explanation.
However, we observe that descriptive devices already available and
independently motivated within the traditional LFG formalism can
also account for these phenomena directly, without relying on
cross-derivational comparisons to compensate for
overgeneration. This leads us to question whether Economy is
necessary or even useful as a separate principle of grammatical


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How to Cite

Dalrymple, M., Kaplan, R. M., & King, T. H. (2016). Economy of Expression as a principle of syntax. Journal of Language Modelling, 3(2), 377–412.