Dependency Syntax

The section on core notions has established the concept of the catena, and how it relates to strings, components, and constituents. The purpose of this section is to show that catenae play an important role in many phenomena seen as central in syntax research. These areas include displacement, idiom formation, ellipsis, predicate structure, and constructions. These phenomena will be briefly addressed in turn. Prior to this, several other important terms will be introduced.

Important terms

The terms string, catena, component, and constituent have already been defined. In addition to these, the following terms are also necessary: root, head, dependent, governor, and governee.


a word or combination of words that is continuous with respect to precedence


a word or combination of words that is continuous with respect to dominance


a word or combination of words that is a string and a catena


a component that is complete


the one word in a given catena that is not dominated by any other word in that catena


the one word that immediately dominates a given catena


a constituent that is immediately dominated by a given word


the one word that licenses the appearance of a given catena


a catena the appearance of which is licensed by a given word


Displacement is the phenomenon when a governee is not a dependent of its governor. In that case, the governee assumes another word as its head. Put differently, a catena is displaced if it has a head that is not its governor. Look at the tree (a) below:


Tree (a) shows what would have to be regarded as the accurate tree of What do you want? if one assumed government relationships between words. In fact, many dependency grammars do this, and that kind of dependency grammars views (a) as accurate. The problem is, though, that the dependency edge connecting What to its governor want crosses over the projection edges of the words do and you. The crossing of dependency edges and projection edges constitutes the signature of a displacement, which is known in the dependency grammatical literature as a discontinuity.

A catena-based dependency syntax pursues the option shown in tree (b). The displaced catena What is called a risen catena. The dashed dependency edge in (b) identifies What as a risen catena, and the g-subscript on want identifies this word as the governor of What. The risen catena (here: What) is said to have risen. The entire concept is called rising. Note that this term doesn't denote any notion of movement, but rather is to be understood metaphorically. Rising is seen as a constellation defined by the notion catena. A rising catena is the minimal catena that contains both the risen catena and its governor. In (b) the rising catena is What do...want.
Rising is constrained by the Rising Principle:

Rising Principle:

It must be the case that either (i) the head of a risen catena dominates the governor of that catena, or
(ii) the risen catena itself dominates its governor.

The type of displacement shown in (a-b) is called wh-displacement. There are, however, other forms of displacement which will be briefly discussed below.