BA English Language and French / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Minimalist Syntax

Course unit fact file
Unit code LELA30972
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The unit acquaints students with the tenets of the Minimalist Programme for Linguistic Theory, from its inception in the 1990s until the present. The course is inherently practical and allows students to analyse sentences of English and other languages using Minimalist machinery and focusing on the major aspects of clausal structure and the main syntactic relations and operations featured in natural language.


Prerequisites: EITHER LELA10301 English Word and Sentence Structure OR LELA20022 Analysing Grammar


On successful completion of the course, the students should be familiar with the main features, both theoretical and technical, of Chomsky’s Minimalist Syntax, how the syntactic computational component operates within this model of grammar, and the methods and solutions to specific syntactic phenomena developed within this framework. 

Knowledge and understanding

  • The students will gain knowledge of the major relations and operations assumed in syntax, such as merge, movement, feature-checking, etcetera.
  • The students will be able to segment strings of speech into phrases (or constituents) and sentences.
  • The students will be acquainted with the major technical resources developed in current generative grammar to analyse particular syntactic phenomena of English and of the world’s languages more generally.
  • The students will become more critical about syntactic proposals, and will be aware of the importance of aiming at both description and explanation in syntactic theorising.

Intellectual skills

  • Problem-posing and problem-solving skills.
  • Reasoned argumentation skills.
  • Abstract thinking.
  • Data analysis.
  • Logical thinking.
  • Communication skills.

Practical skills

  • Engagement with complex data.
  • Data collection, organisation and tabulation.
  • Arboreal representation drawing.
  • Presentation and teaching skills.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Through the study of the recent developments inside a specific framework, the students will be able to reflect on the points of stability and on the change-triggering needs that characterize the natural evolution of a scientific theory. 
  • The students will also learn to recognize and compare common properties and distinguishing features of different environments, to apply the technical tools learned through the readings and in class to specific contexts, and to evaluate proposals in present-day Chomskyan generative theory. 
  • Among the cognitive skills that the students will acquire are those relating to data-analysis, abstract thinking, critical reflection, and reasoned argumentation. 
  • In addition, during the tutorials and seminars towards the end of the semester, the students will also develop their presentational, problem-solving and analytical skills through a series of tasks and exercises to be presented in the class and which will also serve as review material for the exam.

Employability skills

The students on this course unit will learn to analyse complex data, and enhance their ability to reflect on difficult problems that require abstraction and analytical skills as well as argue in a reasoned way. Furthermore, they will develop their presentational and critical skills.

Assessment methods

Exam (or open-book exam) 60%
Small group presentation 40%


Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

In-class feedback


Feedback on presentations

Formative and summative


Recommended reading

Adger, David (2003). Core Syntax: A Minimalist Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Boeckx, Cedric (2006). Linguistic Minimalism, Origins, Concepts, Methods, and Aims. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haegeman, Liliane (2006). Thinking syntactically: A guide to argumentation and analysis. Oxford: Blackwell.

Gelderen, Elly van (2017). Syntax – An Introduction to Minimalism. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Koeneman, Olaf, and Hedde Zeijlstra (2017). Introducing Syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (Cambridge Introductions to Language and Linguistics).

Larson, Richard (2010). Grammar as Science. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.

Radford, Andrew (2016, 2nd edition). Analysing English Sentences. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.*

Sportiche, Dominique, Koopman, Hilda and Edward Stabler (2013). An Introduction to Syntactic Analysis and Theory. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2.5
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 164.5

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