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David Pesetsky

David Pesetsky is Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics and Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow at MIT. He is the author of Zero Syntax: Experiencers and Cascades and Phrasal Movement and Its Kin, both published by the MIT Press. Pesetsky is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was recently elected a Fellow of the Linguistic Society of America.

Titles by This Author

In this book, David Pesetsky argues that the peculiarities of Russian nominal phrases provide significant clues concerning the syntactic side of morphological case. Pesetsky argues against the traditional view that case categories such as nominative or genitive have a special status in the grammar of human languages. Supporting his argument with a detailed analysis of a complex array of morpho-syntactic phenomena in the Russian noun phrase (with brief excursions to other languages), he proposes instead that the case categories are just part-of-speech features copied as morphology from head to dependent as syntactic structure is built.

Pesetsky presents a careful investigation of one of the thorniest topics in Russian grammar, the morpho-syntax of noun phrases with numerals (including those traditionally called the paucals). He argues that these bewilderingly complex facts can be explained if case categories are viewed simply as parts of speech, assigned as morphology. Pesetsky’s analysis is notable for offering a new theoretical perspective on some of the most puzzling areas of Russian grammar, a highly original account of nominal case that significantly affects our understanding of an important property of language.

This study investigates the types of movement and movement-like relations that link positions in syntactic structure. David Pesetsky argues that there are three such relations. Besides overt phasal movement, there are two distinct types of movement without phonological effect: covert phrasal movement and feature movement. Focusing on wh-questions, he shows how his classification of movement-like relations allows us to understand the story behind wh-questions in which an otherwise inviolable property of movement—"Attract Closest"—appears to be violated. By demonstrating that more movement takes place in such configurations than previously suspected, he shows that Attract Closest is actually not violated at all in these cases. This conclusion draws on recent research in both syntax and semantics, and depends crucially on Pesetsky's expanded repertoire of movement-like relations.

Linguistic Inquiry Monograph No. 37

Experiencers and Cascades


The analysis and theory developed in Zero Syntax is an important contribution to the understanding of Universal Grammar. The overriding theme is the notion that the availability and syntactic positioning of arguments is not a matter of chance but arises from laws governing the structure of lexical entries and from laws governing syntactic structures themselves. Along the way, Zero Syntax also examines issues of broad significance to current theoretical linguistic research in syntax and lexical semantics.

Zero Syntax develops two main topics: a simple view of syntactic linking regularities that it defends in the domain of Experiencer predicates (predicates such as "annoy"), and a theory of syntactic constituency that involves two parallel modes of structural organization (one of which is the Cascade syntax). The theme that ties these issues together is the supposition that phonologically null ("zero") morphology is present in structure, detectable through its syntactic and morphological consequences.

The arguments in Zero Syntax will be relevant to debates about such issues as empty elements in syntax and morphology, whether syntactic structures should be binary branching, the structure of double-object constructions, and whether verbs have multiple meanings related by lexical rules or abstract/general meanings that are ambiguated in particular constructions.

Current Studies in Linguistics No. 27


Titles by This Editor


Recent developments in linguistic theory have led to a reconsideration of the role of optimality in the overall architecture of the grammar. Emerging from this research is the idea that different components of the grammar interact to yield the best choice from a set of candidate derivations. This idea departs from traditional approaches to the output of linguistic levels in generative grammar, in which rules, principles, and constraints interact to determine the grammatical status of each linguistic object independent of the status of possible competitors.

In the past five years, interest in the linguistic role of optimality has been sparked by the sharpened notions of "economy" in Chomsky's Minimalist Program and by Prince and Smolensky's Optimality Theory, originally developed for phonology. Work on these ideas has raised many new questions. These include new versions of an old debate between constraints on derivations and constraints on representations, and entirely new questions about the nature of the candidate set, as well as questions about learnability and computability. Writing from a broad range of empirical and theoretical perspectives, the contributors to this volume examine the role of competition in syntax and in syntactic interfaces with semantics, phonology, and pragmatics, as well as implications for language acquisition and processing.

Contributors: Peter Ackema, Eric J. Bakovic, Joan Bresnan, Kevin Broihier, Luigi Burzio, Noam Chomsky, Danny Fox, Edward Gibson, Jane Grimshaw, Yookyung Kim, Geraldine Legendre, Masanori Nakamura, Ad Neeleman, Mark Newson, David Pesetsky, Stanley Peters, Geoffrey Poole, Douglas Pulleyblank, Vieri Samek-Lodovici, Paul Smolensky, Bruce Tesar, William J. Turkel, Colin Wilson.

A copublication of The MIT Press and MIT Working Papers in Linguistics.