Date of Original Version



Response or Comment

Abstract or Description

In a recent issue of this journal, Edward Gibson published a review of ‘The crosslinguistic study of sentence processing’ (CSSP) -- a book which contains several chapters summarizing our recent crosslinguistic work and those of our collaborators in several countries. The primary goal of CSSP was to explore the predictions that derive from a minimalist model of language processing and acquisition which we have called the Competition Model.

Gibson’s review of CSSP exposes a set of deep fracture lines separating two competing approaches to psycholinguistics. One one side of the fault zone, the Competition Model focuses on the construction of a minimalist model designed to predict exact numerical values in controlled studies. In this approach, an initial candidate model is not responsible for predicting all levels of all variables for all sentences in all languages. Instead, the model is developed inductively on the basis of a constrained set of sentence types and certain limited predictions. On the other side of the psycholinguistic fault zone, the UG model that Gibson espouses avoids minimalism and emphasizes the complexity of the theory of formal principles of language structure motivated by binary acceptability judgments generated by small numbers of professionally-trained theoreticians


This reply was submitted to Language in 1994. The editor refused publication. An update version of this reply would include reference to Gibson’s 1996 Cognition article that includes competition as a basic mechanism, a discussion of the new Frazier and Clifton “Construal” book that gives a larger role to pragmatic forces in parsing, and new mechanistic implementations of the Competition model.