Learn Syntactic Theory: A Self-Study Curriculum

This curriculum introduces you to syntax, the study of sentence structure. Specifically, it introduces you to the generative (i.e. "Chomskyan") tradition of syntax. A generative theory of syntax aims to explain the part of speakers' tacit knowledge of language that allows them to produce and comprehend sentences.

You will spend most of your time examining the facts that a theory of syntax aims to explain, and the various theoretical tools that have been introduced to explain them. Through a combination of readings and problem solving, you'll gain a familiarity with the notation that syntacticians have developed to represent syntactic hypotheses and the ability to evaluate these hypotheses. Towards the end, you will be introduced to some of the more important contemporary topics and ideas in syntax.

The curriculum consists of twelve modules, which can be studied at your own pace. But, be warned, each module represents a crucial concept which will likely take time to absorb. When I work with students, we typically spend a month on each.

  • Module 1: Linguistic Diversity and Uniformity
  • Module 2: Grammar and the Lexicon
  • Module 3: Theta Theory
  • Module 4: Structural Relations
  • Module 5: Binding Theory
  • Module 6: Case Theory
  • Module 7: Empty Categories
  • Module 8: Wh-Movement
  • Module 9: Logical Form
  • Module 10: Head Movement
  • Module 11: The Minimalist Program
  • Module 12: Biolinguistics

If you'd like to study this with me, check out my Altminster profile.


This curriculum currently makes use of extensive reading selections and exercises from various textbooks. In the future, I plan to produce more of my own teaching material, but for now, to follow along you'll need access to these books:

  • Baker, Mark C. (2001). The Atoms of Language. New York: Basic Books.
  • Carnie, Andrew (2012). Syntax: A Generative Introduction. 3rd Edition. Chicester: Wiley-Blackwell.
  • Haegeman, Liliane (1994). Introduction to Government & Binding Theory. 2nd Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

There is also an optional textbook:

  • Isac, Daniela and Charles Reiss (2008). I-Language: An Introduction to Linguistics as Cognitive Science. Oxford: OUP. (optional)

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