In May 1985 the University of Massachusetts held the first conference on the parameter setting model of grammar and acquisition. The conference was conceived in the belief that there is a new possibility of tightly connecting grammatical studies and language acquisition studies, and that this new possibility has grown out of the new generation of ideas about the relation of Universal Grammar to the grammar of particular languages. The papers in this volume are all concerned in one way or another with the 'parametric' model of grammar, and with its role in explaining the acquisition of language. Before summarizing the accompanying papers, I would like to sketch the intellectual background of these new ideas. It has long been the acknowledged goal of grammatical theorists to explicate the relation between the experience of the child and the knowledge of the adult. Somehow, the child selects a unique grammar (by assumption) compatible with a random partially unreliable sample of some language. In the earliest work in generative grammar, starting with Chomsky's Aspects, and extending to such works as Jackendoffs Lexicalist Syntax (1977), the model of this account was the formal evaluation metric, accompanied by a general rule writing system. The model of acquisition was the following: the child composed a grammar by writing rules in the rule writing system, under the constraint that the rules must be compatible with the data, and that the grammar must be the one most highly valued by the evaluation metric.
In this theoretical monograph, Edwin Williams demonstrates that when syntax is economical, it economizes on shape distortion rather than on distance. According to Williams, this new notion of economy calls for a new architecture for the grammatical system--in fact, for a new notion of derivation. The new architecture offers a style of clausal embedding--the Level Embedding Scheme--that predictively ties together the locality, reconstructive behavior, and "target" type of any syntactic process in a way that is unique to the model. Williams calls his theory "Representation Theory" to put the notion of economy at the forefront. Syntax, in this theory, is a series of representations of one sublanguage in another.
Regimes of Derivation in Syntax and Morphology presents a theory of the architecture of the human linguistic system that differs from all current theories on four key points. First, the theory rests on a modular separation of word syntax from phrasal syntax, where word syntax corresponds roughly to what has been called derivational morphology. Second, morphosyntax (corresponding to what is traditionally called "inflectional morphology") is the immediate spellout of the syntactic merge operation, and so there is no separate morphosyntactic component. There is no LF (logical form) derived; that is, there is no structure which 'mirrors' semantic interpretation ("LF"); instead, semantics interprets the derivation itself. And fourth, syntactic islands are derived purely as a consequence of the formal mechanics of syntactic derivation, and so there are no bounding nodes, no phases, no subjacency, and in fact no absolute islands. Lacking a morphosyntactic component and an LF representation are positive benefits as these provide temptations for theoretical mischief. The theory is a descendant of the author's "Representation Theory" and so inherits its other benefits as well, including explanations for properties of reconstruction, remnant movement, improper movement, and scrambling/scope interactions, and the different embedding regimes for clauses and DPs. Syntactic islands are added to this list as special cases of improper movement.