Syntactic Theory

Binding Theory

Binding theory is a module of the grammar that deals with the appropriate interpretation of the italicized NPs in sentences like the following:

  1. Mary likes her.
  2. Mary hurt herself.
  3. Mary claimed that she had slept.
  4. Mary expected her to be attentive.
  5. She expected Mary to be attentive.
  6. They expected each other to be attentive
  7. She claimed that Mary had slept.

We distinguish three types of NPs:

  1. full NPs such as Mary, Fred, etc. We will call them "R-expressions", "R" for referential
  2. pronouns such as she, they etc.
  3. reflexive and reciprocal elements such as herself, himself, each other, etc. Reflexives and reciprocals are collectively called "anaphors."

This distinction is based on their distribution. Binding Theory seeks to explain the interpretation of these elements with three Principles, A, B and C.