Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | 248 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 15 b&w illus. | February 2010 | ISBN: 9780262013765
Paperback | $30.00 X | £24.95 | 248 pp. | 6 x 9 in | 15 b&w illus. | February 2010 | ISBN: 9780262513715
eBook | $21.00 X | February 2010 | ISBN: 9780262290616
Mouseover for Online Attention Data

Look Inside

Uttering Trees


In Uttering Trees, Norvin Richards investigates the conditions imposed upon syntax by the need to create syntactic objects that can be interpreted by phonolog—that is, objects that can be pronounced. Drawing extensively on linguistic data from a variety of languages, including Japanese, Basque, Tagalog, Spanish, Kinande (Bantu language spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), and Chaha (Semitic language spoken in Ethiopia), Richards makes two new proposals about the relationship between syntax and phonology. The first, “Distinctness,” has to do with the process of imposing a linear order on the constituents of the tree. Richards claims that syntactic nodes with many properties in common cannot be directly linearized and must be kept structurally distant from each other. He argues that a variety of syntactic phenomena can be explained by this generalization, including much of what has traditionally been covered by case theory.

Richards’s second proposal, “Beyond Strength and Weakness,” is an attempt to predict, for any given language, whether that language will exhibit overt or covert wh-movement. Richards argues that we can predict whether or not a language can leave wh in situ by investigating more general properties of its prosody. This proposal offers an explanation for a cross-linguistic difference—that wh-phrases move overtly in some languages and covertly in others—that has hitherto been simply stipulated. In both these areas, it appears that syntax begins constructing a phonological representation earlier than previously thought; constraints on both word order and prosody begin at the beginning of the derivation.

About the Author

Norvin Richards is Professor of Linguistics at MIT and the author of Uttering Trees (MIT Press).


“A brilliant book by a one of the most creative minds in the field sets an example of how theory should be combined with data, vividly illustrating why syntactic research can be so exciting.”
Elena Anagnostopoulou, Professor of Linguistics, University of Crete
“In this learned, imaginative, and closely argued study, Richards proposes several simple and plausible theses about the relation between the core and possibly universal internal structure of language and the many ways in which it is manifested in speech. He embeds these in an architectural framework that has considerable independent confirmation, and, using a remarkable wealth of empirical materials from a wide typological range, shows how solutions emerge for subtle and surprising linguistic phenomena along with deep explanations for properties of language that had seemed to require stipulation. His results support important modifications of the framework and open intriguing questions that should inspire much new research. It is a stimulating and provocative illustration of linguistic inquiry at its most satisfying.”
Noam Chomsky