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Theoretical Linguistics

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Pronouns and anaphors (including reflexives such as himself and herself) may or must depend on antecedents for their interpretation. These dependencies are subject to conditions that prima facie show substantial crosslinguistic variation. In this monograph, Eric Reuland presents a theory of how these anaphoric dependencies are represented in natural language in a way that does justice to the the variation one finds across languages. He explains the conditions on these dependencies in terms of elementary properties of the computational system of natural language. He shows that the encoding of anaphoric dependencies makes use of components of the language system that all reflect different cognitive capacities; thus the empirical research he reports on offers insights into the design of the language system.

Reuland’s account reduces the conditions on binding to independent properties of the grammar, none of which is specific to binding. He offers a principled account of the roles of the lexicon, syntax, semantics, and the discourse component in the encoding of anaphoric dependencies; a window into the overall organization of the grammar and the roles of linguistic and extralinguistic factors; a new typology of anaphoric expressions; a view of crosslinguistic variation (examining facts in a range of languages, from English, Dutch, Frisian, German, and Scandinavian languages to Fijian, Georgian, and Malayalam) that shows unity in diversity.

A Study of (Mostly) English Object Structure

In Edge-Based Clausal Syntax, Paul Postal rejects the notion that an English phrase of the form [V + DP] invariably involves a grammatical relation properly characterized as a direct object. He argues instead that at least three distinct relations occur in such a structure. The different syntactic properties of these three kinds of objects are shown by how they behave in passives, middles, -able forms, tough movement, wh-movement, Heavy NP Shift, Ride Node Raising, re-prefixation, and many other tests. This proposal renders Postal’s position sharply different from that of Chomsky, who defined a direct object structurally as [NP, VP], and with the traditional linguistics text’s definition of the direct object as the DP sister of V. According to Postal’s framework, sentence structures are complex graph structures built on nodes (vertices) and edges (arcs). The node that heads a particular edge represents a constituent that bears the grammatical relation named by the edge label to its tail node. This approach allows two DPs that have very different grammatical properties to occupy what looks like identical structural positions. The contrasting behaviors of direct objects, which at first seem anomalous--even grammatically chaotic--emerge in Postal’s account as nonanomalous, as symptoms of hitherto ungrasped structural regularity.

Chomsky showed that no description of natural language syntax would be adequate without some notion of movement operations in a syntactic derivation. It now seems likely that such movement transformations are formally simple operations, in which a single phrase is displaced from its original position within a phrase marker, but after more than fifty years of generative theorizing, the mechanics of syntactic movement are still murky and controversial. In Provocative Syntax, Phil Branigan examines the forces that drive syntactic movement and offers a new synthetic model of the basic movement operation by reassembling in a novel way isolated ideas that have been suggested elsewhere in the literature. The unifying concept is the operation of provocation, which occurs in the course of feature valuation when certain probes seek a value for their unvalued features by identifying a goal. Provocation forces the generation of a copy of the goal; the copy originates outside the original phrase marker and must then be introduced into it. In this approach, movement is not forced by the need for extra positions; extra positions are generated because movement is taking place. After presenting the central proposal and showing its implementation in the analyses of various familiar cases of syntactic movement, Branigan demonstrates the effects of provocation in a variety of inversion constructions, examines interactions between head and phrasal provocation within the “left periphery” of Germanic embedded clauses, and describes the details of chain formation and successive cyclic movement in a provocation model.

In Arguments as Relations, John Bowers proposes a radically new approach to argument structure that has the potential to unify data from a wide range of different language types in terms of a simple and universal syntactic structure. In many ways, Bowers’s theory is the natural extension of three leading ideas in the literature: the minimalist approach to Case theory (particularly Chomsky's idea that Case is assigned under the Agree function relation); the idea of introducing arguments in specifiers of functional categories rather than in projections of lexical categories; and the neo-Davidsonian approach to argument structure represented in the work of Parsons and others. Bowers pulls together these strands in the literature and shapes them into a unified theory.

These ideas, together with certain basic assumptions--notably the idea that the initial order of merge of the three basic argument categories of Agent, Theme, and Affectee is just the opposite of what has been almost universally assumed in the literature--lead Bowers to a fundamental rethinking of argument structure. He proposes that every argument is merged as the specifier of a particular type of light verb category and that these functional argument categories merge in bottom-to-top fashion in accordance with a fixed Universal Order of Merge (UOM). In the hierarchical structures that result from these operations, Affectee arguments will be highest, Theme arguments next highest, and Agent arguments lowest--exactly the opposite of the usual assumption.

Linguistic Inquiry Monographs 58

A Comparative Study

In The Syntax of Adjectives, Guglielmo Cinque offers cross-linguistic evidence that adjectives have two sources. Arguing against the standard view, and reconsidering his own earlier analysis, Cinque proposes that adjectives enter the nominal phase either as “adverbial” modifiers to the noun or as predicates of reduced relative clauses. Some of his evidence comes from a systematic comparison between Romance and Germanic languages. These two language families differ with respect to the canonical position taken by adjectives, which is prenominal in Germanic and both pre- and postnominal in Romance. Cinque shows that a simple N(oun)-raising analysis encounters a number of problems, the primary one of which is its inability to express a fundamental generalization governing the interpretation of pre- and postnominal adjectives in the two language families. Cinque argues that N-raising as such should be abandoned in favor of XP-raising--a conclusion also supported by evidence from other language families. After developing this framework for analyzing the syntax of adjectives, Cinque applies it to the syntax of English and Italian adjectives. An appendix offers a brief discussion of other languages that appear to distinguish overtly between the two sources of adjectives.

In Localism versus Globalism in Morphology and Phonology, David Embick offers the first detailed examination of morphology and phonology from a phase-cyclic point of view (that is, one that takes into account recent developments in Distributed Morphology and the Minimalist program) and the only recent detailed treatment of allomorphy, a phenomenon that is central to understanding how the grammar of human language works. In addition to making new theoretical proposals about morphology and phonology in terms of a cyclic theory, Embick addresses a schism in the field between phonological theories such as Optimality Theory and other (mostly syntactic) theories such as those associated with the Minimalist program. He presents sustained empirical arguments that the Localist view of grammar associated with the Minimalist program (and Distributed Morphology in particular) is correct, and that the Globalism espoused by many forms of Optimality Theory is incorrect. In the “derivational versus nonderivational” debate in linguistic theory, Embick’s arguments come down squarely on the derivational side. Determining how to make empirical comparisons between such large positions, and the different frameworks that embody them, is at the heart of the book. Embick argues that patterns of allomorphy implicate general questions about locality and specific questions about the manner in which (morpho)syntax relates to (morpho)phonology. Allomorphy thus provides a crucial test case for comparing Localist and Globalist approaches to grammar.

Clitics, Incorporation, and Defective Goals

In Agreement and Head Movement, Ian Roberts explores the consequences of Chomsky's conjecture that head-movement is not part of the narrow syntax, the computational system that relates the lexicon to the interfaces. Unlike other treatments of the subject that discard the concept entirely, Roberts's monograph retains the core intuition behind head-movement and examines to what extent it can be reformulated and rethought. Roberts argues that the current conception of syntax must accommodate a species of head-movement, although this operation differs somewhat in technical detail and in empirical coverage from earlier understandings of it. He proposes that head-movement is part of the narrow syntax and that it applies where the goal of an Agree relation is defective, in a sense that he defines.

Roberts argues that the theoretical status of head-movement is very similar—in fact identical in various ways—to that of XP-movement. Thus head-movement, like XP-movement, should be regarded as part of narrow syntax exactly to the extent that XP-movement should be. If one aspect of minimalist theorizing is to eliminate unnecessary distinctions, then Roberts’s argument can be seen as eliminating the distinction between "heads" and "phrases" in relation to internal merge (and therefore reducing the distinctions currently made between internal and external merge).

Linguistic Inquiry Monographs 59

Vowel harmony results from a set of restrictions that determine the possible and impossible sequences of vowels within a word. The study of syntax begins with the observation that the words of a sentence cannot go in just any order, and the study of phonology begins with the same observation for the consonants and vowels of a word. In this book, Andrew Nevins investigates long-distance relations between vowels in vowel harmony systems across a range of languages, with the aim of demonstrating that the locality conditions that regulate these relations can be attributed to the same principle that regulates long-distance syntactic dependencies. He argues that vowel harmony represents a manifestation of the Agree algorithm for feature-valuation (formulated by Chomsky in 2000), as part of an overarching effort to show that phonology can be described in terms of the principles of the Minimalist program. Nevins demonstrates that the principle of target-driven search, the phenomenon of defective intervention, and the principles regulating the size of the domain over which dependencies are computed apply to both phonological and syntactic phenomena. Locality in Vowel Harmony offers phonologists new evidence that viewing vowel harmony through the lens of relativized minimality has the potential to unify different levels of linguistic representation and different domains of empirical inquiry in a unified framework. Moreover, Nevins’s specific implementation of the locality of dependencies represents a major advance in understanding constraints on possible harmonic languages.An online tool on the MIT Press Web site demonstrates the algorithm for calculating vowel harmony with the derivations exemplified in the book.

In Uttering Trees, Norvin Richards investigates the conditions imposed upon syntax by the need to create syntactic objects that can be interpreted by phonology--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.

Linguistic Explorations in Honor of David M. Perlmutter

Anyone who has studied linguistics in the last half-century has been affected by the work of David Perlmutter. One of the era’s most versatile linguists, he is perhaps best known as the founder (with Paul Postal) of Relational Grammar, but he has also made contributions to areas ranging from theoretical morphology to sign language phonology. Hypothesis A/Hypothesis B (the title evokes Perlmutter’s characteristic style of linguistic argumentation) offers twenty-three essays by Perlmutter’s colleagues and former students. Many of the contributions deal with the study of the world’s languages (including Indo-European languages, sign language, and languages of the Americas), reflecting the influence of Perlmutter’s cross-linguistic research and meticulous analysis of empirical data. Other topics include grammatical relations and their mapping; unaccusatives, impersonals, and the like; complex verbs, complex clauses, and Wh-constructions; and the nature of sign language. Perlmutter, currently Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, and still actively engaged in the field, opens the volume with the illuminating and entertaining essay, “My Path in Linguistics.”ContributorsJudith Aissen, Mark Aronoff, Leonard H. Babby, Nicoleta Bateman, J. Albert Bickford, Sandra Chung, William D. Davies, Stanley Dubinsky, Katarzyna Dziwirek, Patrick Farrell, Donald G. Frantz, Donna B. Gerdts, Alice C. Harris, Brian D. Joseph, Géraldine Legendre, Philip S. LeSourd, Joan Maling, Stephen A. Marlett, Diane Lillo-Martin, James McCloskey, Richard P. Meier, Irit Meir, John C. Moore, Carol A. Padden, Maria Polinsky, Eduardo P. Raposo, Richard A. Rhodes, Wendy Sandler, Paul Smolensky, Annie Zaenen

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