Government and Binding Theory/Binding Theory

Government and Binding Theory
The pro-drop Parameter Binding Theory Subjacency

So far, we have not seriously discussed the relationships of pronouns to their antescedents, although we have touched upon the subject slightly, such as this example:

(1a) Ii introduced myselfi
(1b) *Myselfi is so proud of me.

This phenomenon is actually part of binding theory, which explores such relationships in detail, and explains the ungrammaticality of sentences like (1b).



In our discussion of the VP-Shell Hypothesis, we noticed that (1a) is grammatical because I c-commands myself, and (1b) is ungrammatical because me does not c-command myself.


The relationship between the two is known as binding: I binds myself. However, c-command is not the sole criterion that determines binding:

(2a) I hate homework.
(2b) I hate myself.

In (2a), I c-commands homework, but obviously does not bind it. In (2b), I c-commands myself and binds it. We can explain this using the concept of indexation:

(2a) Ii hate homeworkj.
(2b) Ii hate myselfi.


α binds β if:

  • α c-commands β
  • α and β are co-indexed

Governing categories


Binding does not appear to be a sufficient explanation for reflexives like myself, however. Refer to this:

(3a) *Ii think he hates myselfi.


Although I c-commands myself and the two are co-indexed, (3a) is not grammatical. This suggests a locality constraint on the grammaticality of reflexives. Reflexives bound by antecedents too far away – outside of some local domain – are not grammatical. However, that is a weasel word. What exactly is a local domain?

Clause-Mate Condition


This observation led to the Clause-Mate Condition, which, however, does not stand up to scrutiny.

Clause-Mate Condition

Reflexives must be bound by its antecedent in the same clause.

Exceptional case-marking (ECM) sentences, for example, are an exception:

(3b) [IP I want [IP myself to be happy]].

In (3b), myself is the subject of the lower-level IP, while I is the subject of the higher-level IP, yet the sentence is grammatical.



We can further examine using these examples:

(4a) [IP I want [IP myself to be happy]].
(4b) *[IP I think [IP myself is happy]].
(4c) *[IP I want [IP someone to love myself]].


In (4c), myself is governed by love and in (4b), myself is governed by the finite inflection of is. However, in (4a), myself is governed by want. This suggests that the local domain of a reflexive is the smallest clause containing its governor. (We do not go into the details of government here; refer back to the chapter Case Theory.)



Yet another example complicates the situation:

(5a) *He disapproved of the way by which [IP the government treated himself].
(5b) *He disapproved of [DP the government's treatment of himself].

(5b) is grammatical according to our previous assumption, since himself and he belong to the same clause where himself's governor on is found. Yet it is not. This suggests that the DP also limits binding. We have seen in our discussion on DPs that DP and IP structure share significant similarities. In fact, the possessor in a DP can be said to be the subject of a DP, so (5a) and (5b) are ungrammatical for similar reasons:


By incorporating the notion of subject in our definition of the local domain, we come to what is called the complete functional complex (CFC).

Complete Functional Complex

The complete functional complex is the smallest domain that contains

  • A DP
  • The governor of the DP
  • A subject

Even the concept of CFCs does not fully capture all the possibilities of binding, however. Further modifications have been made, and the resulting domain is most commonly known as the governing category. We will not go into the intricacies of the governing category here, and will hereafter refer to the local domain as the governing category without regards to these intricacies.

Exploring the four cases


Typology of DPs


DPs can be divided into four types according to two features: [anaphoric] and [pronominal].

[anaphoric] [pronominal] Symbol Name of empty category Corresponding overt noun type
- - t Ā-trace R-expression
- + pro little Pro pronoun
+ - t A-trace anaphor
+ + PRO big Pro /

In the sections below, we will look at each type and its corresponding principle in Binding Theory.

Anaphors and A-traces


In GB theory, anaphors refers not to pronouns in general, but to reflexives and reciprocals. In English, this includes myself, yourself, each other, one another and so on. Anaphors and Ā-traces have the features [+anaphoric], [-pronominal] and are subject to Principle A of Binding Theory:

Principle A of Binding Theory

Anaphors must be bound in their governing categories.

Here are some examples:

(6a) [GC Ii introduced myselfi].
(6b) *Ii think [GC he introduced myselfi].
(6c) [GC Hei seemed ti to be unhappy].
(6d) *Hei seemed [GC ti was unhappy].

We will not go into (6a) and (6b) as our explanations above were sufficient. The entirety of (6c) is a GC as a to was infinite and thus unable to govern the trace. Instead, the whole sentence was a GC with the subject hei and the governor seemed. (6d) was ungrammatical as the trace was not bound in the IP ti was unhappy, in which the finite inflection of was governs the trace.

Pronouns and pro


In GB Theory, pronouns excludes reflexives, and includes pronouns like it and him. They act in the same way as pro, since pro appears when these pronouns are left out. Both are [-anaphoric] and [+pronominal].

Principle B of Binding Theory

Pronouns must be free in their governing categories.

(7a) [GC I introduced him].
(7b) *[GC Hei introduced himi].
(7c) Zhe-ge youxii hen haowan, [GC wo keyi jieshao proi gei ni].
(this-classif. game very fun, I can introduce pro to you)
(This game is fun; I can introduce it to you.)
(7d) *[GC Tai jieshao-le proi] hou, women jiu kaishi chifan-le.
(he introduce-asp. pro after, we then started eat-asp.)
(After he introduced himself, we started eating.)

In (7a), both I and him were free. In (7b), him was bound to he, which is impermissible. In the Mandarin sentence (7c), pro referred to this game, and was free in its governing category. In (7d), pro was bound by ta in its governing category, and was thus ungrammatical.

Note, however, that (7e) is grammatical:

(7e) Myi mother introduced mei.

This is because my does not c-command me:


R-expressions and Ā-traces


An r-expression has no antecedent. It refers directly to something in the real world, like Wikibooks, Barack Obama, those colourless green ideas and the sandcastle I just built. Both r-expressions and Ā-traces are [-pronominal] and [-anaphor], and therefore subject to Principle C of Binding Theory:

Principle C of Binding Theory

R-expressions and Ā-traces must be free everywhere.

(8a) Ii dare say there is absolutely not a living soul on the earth [GC who does not hate Derrickj].
(8b) *Ii dare say there is absolutely not a living soul on the earth [GC who does not hate Derricki].
(8c) Whati doj you tj think he has done ti?

Although Derrick was free in its governing category in (8b), it was not free everywhere: I still c-commands and is co-indexed with Derrick, so Derrick is bound by I and the sentence is thus ungrammatical.

As PRO is [+anaphoric] and [+pronominal], it faces two conflicting principles regarding its governing category: It must be bound and free in its governing category at the same time. This is impossible... unless it doesn't have a governing category in the first place. [+anaphoric] and [+pronominal] explains the PRO theorem, which states that it must appear in ungoverned positions.