LINGUIST List 10.1934

Tue Dec 14 1999

Review: Rohrbacher: Morphology-Driven Syntax

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  1. Michael Moss, Rohrbacher Review

Message 1: Rohrbacher Review

Date: Fri, 10 Dec 1999 12:36:51 +0100
From: Michael Moss <mmossdab.microsun.com.pl>
Subject: Rohrbacher Review

Rohrbacher, Bernhard Wolfgang, (1999) Morphology-Driven Syntax, A Theory of
V to I raising and pro-drop, Volume 15 of the Linguistik Aktuell Series,
Amsterdam/Philadelphia:John Benjamins Publishing Company, 296 pages. 

Reviewed by: Michael Moss, University of Gdansk, Poland.

Synopsis
This book, which is a revised and expanded version of the author's 1994
Ph.D. dissertation presents a theory which relates the presence of
morphological features (1st and 2nd person singular verbal endings) in a
given language to the presence of syntactic processes (V to I raising and
pro-drop). The main evidence presented to support his arguments is taken
from the Germanic languages. Other language groups are also cited such as
Italian, French, European and Brazilian Portuguese. Interestingly, the book
also uses a fair amount of diachronic evidence showing how syntactic
patterns change as the result of morphological changes. That is, in the
change from middle English to early modern English, the phasing out of 1st
and 2nd singular verbal endings coincides with the phasing out of V to I
movement. Such patterns are also shown to occur in the history of the
development of other Germanic languages. 


Critical Evaluation

The borders between morphology and syntax have been disputed since the early
days of generative linguistics. Chomsky (1970) is cited as the moment when
derivational morphology was 'born' by relegating it to the lexicon: "This
paper presents a new theory of syntax, in which all of derivational
morphology is isolated and removed from the syntax; it is instead dealt with
in an expanded lexicon, by a separate component of the grammar. This
distinction legitimizes the field of morphology as an independent entity"
(Aronoff 1976:6). Placing all of the morphological information in the
lexicon came to be known as the "strong lexicalist" position. 

In this work, Rohrbacher rejects the 'strong lexicalist' approach, saying
that while inflectional information (when present) is listed in the lexicon,
it is dealt with by the syntax. This is quite different to the 'traditional'
approach which assumed that even if 'syntactic' information such as
agreement features were stored in the lexicon, that they would be dealt with
by the morphology, supplying the syntax with complete morphological words.
In this book, agreement features are separate lexical items which are
'visible' to the syntax and which are capable of projecting their own
structures. Rohrbacher uses this argument to support the existence of AgrP
projections in syntactic derivation. The presence of inflectional affixes,
specifically distinct affixes for the 1st and 2nd person plural, determines
whether or not a AgrP will be projected in the derivation of a sentence. The
presence of AgrP, in turn, makes certain syntactic events to take place such
as V to I movement by providing a landing site for the verb to move to. If
the language does not have distinct inflectional features, then no AgrP will
be projected and the verb will remain in situ. Furthermore, if agreement is
not taken care of by the use of affixes independently listed in the lexicon,
then it is taken care of by post-syntactic spell out rules in the PF
component. Such an approach in which overt inflection (such as -s in
English) is introduced post-syntactically resembles Anderson's
'interpretavist' model of inflectional morphology. Other evidence of
traditionally 'syntactic' information being stored independently in the
lexicon is also found in works such as Baker, Johnson and Roberts (1989).

Rohrbacher's account of pro-drop phenomena is also quite convincing. Taking
evidence form, Faroese, Icelandic and other Germanic languages as well as
non-Germanic languages such as European and Brazilian Portuguese, he argues
again that AgrP projected by verbal affixes for 1st and 2nd person (when
present and distinct) provides a structure in which 'pro' can occupy the
specifier position. If no AgrP is projected, 'pro' cannot appear in the
specifier position and V does not raise for agreement feature checking,
forcing an NP to occupy the specifier position of the matrix VP.
Furthermore, he expands this hypothesis to include explanations of clitic
placement in French and Italian and other romance languages.

One very interesting aspect of the book is Rohrbacher's use of diachronic
analysis to support his thesis. Using data from the period during the
passage from Middle English to Modern English, the author shows how the
syntactic V to I raising structures diminish with the elimination of 1st and
2nd person singular verbal agreement affixes. This is important evidence
supporting the 'parameter' approach to language structure. If syntactic
structures change over the course of a language's history due to
language-internal modifications (such as the loss of agreement features),
then we have evidence of linguistic elements 'triggering' necessary results.
Syntactic structures are thus not simply the result of training or social
conditioning, but can be shown to have an independent internal and hopefully
universal structure.

This work is important not only to people interested in Germanic
linguistics, but also to those interested in morphology and and the
lexicalist theory in generative linguistics, as well as syntacticians
interested in V to I movement and pro-drop phenomena.




References
Aronoff, Mark. 1976. Word formation in generative grammar. Cambridge,
Mass.:MIT Press
Baker. M, K. Johnson and I. Roberts. 1989. Passive arguments raised.
Linguistic Inquiry 20, 219-251.
Chomsky, Noam. 1970. "Remarks on nominalization." in Chomsky. 1973. 11-61.
Chomsky, Noam. 1973. Studies on semantics in generative grammar. The
Hague:Mouton.

The reviewer:
My name is Michael Moss, I am currently writing a doctorate at the
University of Gdansk. My intersts research interests include: theta-role and
case assignment, agreement phenomena, and subcategorization frames in
generative grammar.
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