Interface Strategies
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From Linguistic Inquiry Monographs

Interface Strategies

Optimal and Costly Computations

By Tanya Reinhart





In this monograph Tanya Reinhart discusses strategies enabling the interface of different cognitive systems, which she identifies as the systems of concepts, inference, context, and sound. Her point of departure is Noam Chomsky's hypothesis that language is optimally designed—namely, that in many cases, the bare minimum needed for constructing syntactic derivations is sufficient for the full needs of the interface. Deviations from this principle are viewed as imperfections.

The book covers in depth four areas of the interface: quantifier scope, focus, anaphora resolution, and implicatures. The first question in each area is what makes the computational system (CS, syntax) legible to the other systems at the interface—how much of the information needed for the interface is coded already in the CS, and how it is coded. Next Reinhart argues that in each of these areas there are certain aspects of meaning and use that cannot be coded in the CS formal language, on both conceptual and empirical grounds. This residue is governed by interface strategies that can be viewed as repair of imperfections. They require constructing and comparing a reference set of alternative derivations to determine whether a repair operation is indeed the only way to meet the interface requirements.

Evidence that reference-set computation applies in these four areas comes from language acquisition. The required computation poses a severe load on working memory. While adults can cope with this load, children, whose working memory is less developed, fail in tasks requiring this computation.


$16.75 S ISBN: 9780262182508 336 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 1 illus.


$34.00 X ISBN: 9780262681568 336 pp. | 9 in x 6 in 1 illus.


  • The central question of Reinhart's long-awaited study is how language is designed so that it can be used by systems of thought, interpretation, and interaction in a manner appropriate to circumstances. One original thesis, rich in consequences, is that the computational system of language that generates linguistic expressions is distinct from the computational strategies that operate in cases of mismatch with properties of the systems that access internally generated expressions in language use. These 'interface strategies,' she argues, involve choice of an 'optimal competitor' within a narrowly constructed reference set of options. This sophisticated and wide-ranging study, and the framework it presents and explores in depth, should prove invaluable for further inquiry into the fundamental questions of language and thought, and their place in the biological world and in human life.

    Noam Chomsky

    Institute Professor, MIT

  • This volume investigates fundamental questions of language structure like quantifers, anaphora, and focus. A unifying trait of such constructions is that their interpretation hinges on comparing alternatives. As Reinhart shows, the consequences of this for the architecture of grammar are far reaching. Her investigations go to the very heart of the problems, combining thorough analyses of specific issues with broad insights on universal grammar. Research of this sort vividly illustrates why the generative enterprise, with all its problems and controversies, remains so exciting and keeps pushing forward the frontiers of our understanding of human cognition.

    Gennaro Chierchia

    University of Milan—Bicocca and Harvard University

  • Interface Strategies is a carefully crafted study, explaining how several seemingly unrelated psycholinguistic phenomena can be unified. This is a major scientific achievement, bringing linguistic theory to bear directly on child and adult language processing.

    Stephen Crain

    Professor of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University, Australia