Visualising Merge as a Three-Dimensional Constructed Language Open Access

Harris, Keara (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL:


Language as we know it is bound in time; in both spoken and signed varieties, we experience language in a linear form. However, linguists such as Noam Chomsky suggest that language is not linear at all. Rather, the rules and meanings of language are bound by hierarchical structures. This paper aims to explore the idea of hierarchical structure in language by taking Chomsky’s hypothesis of Merge seriously and using it to create a constructed language in three-dimensional space. The model will be able to represent an unlimited array of hierarchical structures of language. I will additionally explore the implications of such a structure on language acquisition. This paper represents an in-depth, theoretical thought experiment into Chomsky’s Merge and the idea of universal grammar.

Table of Contents

1         Introduction                                                                                                              1

2         Background                                                                                                              2

           2.1      Chomsky and Universal Grammar                                                               2

           2.2      Alternative Theories; Usage-Based Grammar                                             5

           2.3      Potential Arguments for Linearity                                                               6

                       2.3.1   Garden Path Sentences                                                                     7

                       2.3.2   Centre-Embedding                                                                           8

                       2.3.3   Pragmatic Arguments                                                                       9

           2.4      Internal and External Merge                                                                         10

           2.5      Constructed Languages and Structural Dependence                                    12

3         Concept                                                                                                                     13

           3.1      Design Process                                                                                             14

                       3.1.1   Blender                                                                                             14

                       3.1.2   Clip Studio Paint                                                                              14

                       3.1.3   Modelling Process                                                                            15

4         The Model                                                                                                                15

           4.1      The Building Blocks                                                                                     15

           4.2      Basic Model                                                                                                 16

           4.3      Clarity in Structure                                                                                       18

                       4.3.1   Ambiguity in Meaning                                                                     18

4.3.2   Garden Path Sentences                                                                     21

           4.4      Impossible Forms                                                                                         22

           4.5      Possible Errors                                                                                             23

5         Discussion                                                                                                                24

           5.1      Relation to the Field                                                                                     24

           5.2      Feasibility Based on Current Theories                                                         25

           5.3      Accounting for the Combinatorial Property of Language                            26

           5.4      Further Directions                                                                                        27

6         Conclusion                                                                                                                28

7         References                                                                                                                29

8         Appendix                                                                                                                  29

           8.1      Creative Work: Theoretical Plan                                                                  29

           8.2      Concept Sketches and Sculptures                                                                32

About this Honors Thesis

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files