Catenae: Introducing a Novel Unit of Syntactic Analysis

Timothy Osborne, Michael Putnam, Thomas Groß

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


This paper introduces a novel unit of syntactic analysis, the catena (Latin for 'chain'; plural catenae). The catena is defined in a dependency-based grammar as a word or a combination of words that is continuous with respect to dominance. According to this definition, any dependency tree or any subtree (complete or partial) of a dependency tree qualifies as a catena. The paper demonstrates that idioms are stored as catenae and that the elided material of ellipsis mechanisms (e.g., answer fragments, gapping, stripping, VP ellipsis, pseudogapping, sluicing, and comparative deletion) is a catena. Constituents are always catenae, but many catenae are not constituents. Based on the flexibility and utility of the catena concept, the claim is put forth and defended that the catena is the fundamental unit of syntax, not the constituent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-396
Number of pages43
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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