Trace theory

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Trace theory is theory about traces left by movement. This theory assumes that if an element X has been moved in the course of a derivation, it has left a trace in its original position.


In (i) the NP John is moved while leaving a trace t, indicating its d-structure position.

(i) Johni seems [ti to have left]

Since theta-marking occurs at d-structure, it is possible to determine the thematic role of the moved NP via its trace. The concept of a trace is crucial to the theory of movement and to bounding theory, because a trace can be treated as an empty category. See NP-trace, wh-trace.



  • Chomsky, N. 1986a. Knowledge of language: its nature, origin and use, Praeger, New York.
  • Chomsky, N. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding, Foris, Dordrecht.
  • Chomsky, N. 1973. Conditions on transformations, in: S.R. Anderson & P. Kiparsky, A festschrift for Morris Halle, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York.
  • Riemsdijk, H. van and E. Williams 1986. Introduction to the theory of grammar, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass.
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