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Nanosyntax is an approach to syntax in which the terminal nodes of syntactic parse trees may be reduced to units smaller than a morpheme. Each unit may stand as an irreducible element and not be required to form a further "subtree."[1]

Some recent work in theoretical linguistics suggests that the "atoms" of syntax are much smaller than words or morphemes. From that it immediately follows that the responsibility of syntax is not limited to ordering "preconstructed" words. Instead, within the framework of nanosyntax,[2] the words are derived entities built in syntax, rather than primitive elements supplied by a lexicon.

The beginnings of nanosyntax can be traced to a 1993 article by Kenneth Hale and S. Jay Keyser titled "On Argument Structure and the Lexical Representation of Syntactic Relations,"[3] which first introduced the concept of l-syntax.


  1. [1] Archived May 10, 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Starke, Michal. 2011. "Towards an Elegant Solution to Language Variation: Variation Reduces to the Size of Lexically Stored Trees." MS. Barcelona, Spain.
  3. Hale, Kenneth and S. Jay Keyser. 1993. "On Argument Structure and the Lexical Representation of Syntactic Relations." In The View from Building 20, edited by Kenneth Hale and S. Jay Keyser, pp. 53-109. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-58124-0

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