LINGUIST List 10.1578

Thu Oct 21 1999

Disc: Intrinsic Formal Features

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Lotfi, Intrinsic formal Features

Message 1: Intrinsic formal Features

Date: 21 Oct 1999 12:33:56 EDT
From: Lotfi <>
Subject: Intrinsic formal Features

Dear linguists,
In a minimalist paper on language acquisition by Roger Hawkins
from University of Essex (sorry for not having the reference
information: a thesis student of mine, Arash Behazin happened to
have a copy of the script of the paper dating 16th Feb. 1999 with
no publication references-- BTW, thanks Arash!), I came to the
comment below:
"Some intrinsic formal features appear to be universal, and possibly
primitive categories: e.g. [Nom case] in I, [Acc Case] in V; the
[D] feature of I, the [tense] feature os I; the [N] feature of Num;
etc. Call these 'native' intrinsic featurtes. (p. 6)"
This seems to contradict Chomsky's understanding of the lexicon
"as a list of "exceptions", whatever does not follow from general
principle. These principles fall into two categories: those of UG,
and those of a specific language (Chomsky, 1995: 235)." If the lexicon
is such a list of non-general, non-uinversal idiosyncracies, then an
intrinsic formal feature, i.e. one that is a 'part of a lexical
items's make-up in the lexicon', cannot be universal (or even general
for a specific language).
I can think of at least four solutions for this problem but none of
them quite satisfactory (there's a fifth solution available, too;
actually my favourite one, which is more in line with my Pooled
Features Hypothesis. I don't mention it here as my paper on the
topic is still in press, and space limits don't allow me to
discuss it here on the List. For those interested, I can send the
paper on the PFH by email):
(1) Such features as those specified by Hawkins above are not
 universal nor even general, which is quite counter-intuitive to me
 at least because for a specific language like English they are
 not idiosyncratic at all.
(2) They are universal, then not part of the lexical make-up of a LI,
 then non-intrinsic (optional). This contradicts Chomsky's statement
 on page 284 of his Minimalist Program according to which the case
 feature of T is intrinsic.
(3) The lexicon is NOT a list of exceptions. Sounds fine to me,
 but ... .
(4) Intrinsicalness is redefined as the presence of a feature in the
 lexicon, full stop. The feature may be assembled into
 the make-up of a LI or left 'dangling' somewhere else in the
 Then the lexicon contains both LIs and F's. Anyway, all features
 may be then intrinsic in this sense. Moreover, the lexicon will not
 be homogeneous in make-up.
If you can think of any other way out of this problem -- if it IS a
problem after all, just write to the list or to my email address below.

Ahmad Reza Lotfi, Ph. D.
Chair of English Department
Graduate School, Azad University
 at Khorasgan, Esfahan, IRAN
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