LINGUIST List 14.2415

Fri Sep 12 2003

Review: Syntax: Lasnik (2003)

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  1. Michael Barrie, Minimalist Investigations in Linguistic Theory

Message 1: Minimalist Investigations in Linguistic Theory

Date: Fri, 12 Sep 2003 11:33:33 +0000
From: Michael Barrie <>
Subject: Minimalist Investigations in Linguistic Theory

Lasnik, Howard. (2003) Minimalist Investigations in Linguistic Theory.
Routledge Leading Linguists. Routledge.

Announced at

Michael Barrie, Department of Linguistics, University of Toronto


The silver embossed series title ''Routledge Leading Linguistics'' on
the cover is merely a typo (one of the very few) for the correct
series title ''Routledge Leading Linguists.''

This volume is a collection of nine articles published by Howard
Lasnik between 1995 and 1999. Each article tackles a particular aspect
of the Minimalist Program (MP), as it was developed from the early to
late 1990's. Lasnik approaches a particular problem or set of
problems with MP from both an empirical and theoretical perspective in
each article. In his introduction, which is actually chapter one,
Lasnik credits Chomsky for spurring his early interest in linguistics
and for demonstrating to him how to formulate a linguistically viable
argument. The entire introduction briefly traces the history of the
development of Chomskian generative syntax, which mirrors Lasnik's
personal growth as a linguist alongside the growth of the field. The
discussion on Lasnik's calling to linguistics will definitely touch a
chord with any generative linguist who reads this book. Below, I give
a brief summary of each article, followed by some critical notes. The
best overview of each chapter, though, is provided by Lasnik himself
at the beginning of each chapter. Lasnik's summaries, composed
presumably for this specific collection of his articles, provide a
historical setting for each chapter. This is a much welcome feature of
the volume, given the time frame during which the papers were
written. The reader might otherwise encounter difficulty in flipping
among the various theoretical instantiations of MP found in Chomsky
(1993, 1994, 1995).


Chapter 2: Patterns of verb raising with auxiliary ''be''

This paper is a write-up of a talk Lasnik presented at the 1995
University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Conference on African-American
English. Lasnik addresses the problem of so-called affix-hopping and
auxiliary raising in English. The central idea is that Infl can be
either a bundle of features, which overtly attracts a verb, or an
affix, which lowers to the main verb. The feature bundle in Infl
attracts either ''have'' or ''be'', which then can raise to the head
of CP in questions. If Infl is an affix, it lowers to the main verb,
which cannot raise to the head of CP in questions, rather do-insertion
must take place. Evidence from African-American English is presented,
including the null copula and the habitual ''be'' form.

Chapter 3: Last Resort and Attract F

This paper discusses restrictions on movement within MP. Lasnik
challenges Chomsky's economy constraint Greed and suggests that
Enlightened Self-Interest is a more adequate formulation of this
economy constraint. Lasnik considers feature movement in existentials,
scope phenomena and antecedent-contained deletion (ACD) to support his
arguments. In addition to dispensing with Greed in favour of
Enlightened Self-Interest, Lasnik also concludes that the direct
object in exceptional Case-marking (ECM) environments raises overtly
to the specifier of AgroP, and consequently that the verb raises to a
still higher position.

Chapter 4: Levels of Representation and the Elements of Anaphora

This chapter discusses what levels of representation impinge on the
evaluation of binding theory. Traditional assumptions that binding
relations are evaluated at S-structure must be reconsidered in MP,
where the levels of D- structure and S-structure are dispensed
with. Lasnik starts by reviewing early evidence that Condition C must
hold at S-structure and contradictory evidence as to what level of
representation Condition A holds at. He then questions the
interpretation of this data in preparation for reformulating Binding
Theory without reference to S-structure. The crucial evidence involves
movement and binding in existentials versus ECM. It is assumed that
the associate raises to the expletive at LF; however, the binding
facts suggest this is not the case. The binding facts indicate that
the object of ECM does, however, raise at LF. Lasnik discusses these
facts and some prior solutions to this problem. Unfortunately, it is
difficult to discuss the relevant data here without providing the
theoretical context in which Lasnik's discussion is framed, which
would require far more discussion than is appropriate for a review. As
in the previous paper, Lasnik concludes, based on discussion by
Koizumi (1993, 1995) that the subject raises overtly to AgroP in ECM

Chapter 5: Pseudogapping Puzzles

This chapter investigates several properties of pseudogapping in
English. An example of pseudogapping is given in (1).

(1) John will select me, and Bill will __ you. (p. 56, ex 1)

Lasnik compares and contrasts two previous approaches to this
phenomenon in the literature. The first approach, which he discounts,
assumes that the overt post-verbal material undergoes heavy NP shift,
then remnant VP deletion takes place. In example (1), ''you''
undergoes NP shift out of the VP, then the VP, which now contains only
the verb ''select'' is deleted. The approach that Lasnik argues for
assumes that the overt post-verbal material undergoes object-shift to
the specifier of AgroP before remnant VP deletion. In example (1),
''you'' undergoes object-shift, then the remnant VP is deleted. The
object-shift approach, Lasnik argues, accounts for a wider range of
data than the heavy NP shift approach, but forces him to posit a split
VP analysis, in which a VP appears on either side of the AgroP.

Chapter 6: On Feature Strength

This chapter evaluates three approaches to feature checking based on
the pseudogapping and sluicing data presented in previous
chapters. Overt movement is argued to happen because of the presence
of strong features, and failure of overt movement will result in the
survival of these strong features. Lasnik then discusses the question
of what level of representation it is that cannot tolerate the
unchecked strong feature, thus causing the derivation to crash. The
three options are called the PF crash theory, LF crash theory, and the
Virus theory. The PF and LF crash theories assume that the presence of
a strong feature at the PF or LF level, respectively causes the
derivation to crash. The Virus theory assumes that a strong feature
must be checked immediately when it enters the derivation. Lasnik
shows that the pseudogapping and sluicing data are consistent with
either the PF crash theory or the Virus theory, but that there are
theory-internal reasons for preferring the PF crash theory. In doing
so, Lasnik draws support for the notion that the strong feature is
located on the higher element rather than the lower element. In other
words, he argues for an ''attract'' versus ''move'' theory of overt
movement. At the end of the chapter, Lasnik presents some Bulgarian
data that is a challenge to the theory of overt movement presented,
and leaves this problem for future research. He notes in the
introduction, however, that subsequent work in Boskovic (1999)
suggests a solution to this problem.

Chapter 7: A Gap in an Ellipsis Paradigm

In this chapter, Lasnik revisits his analysis of English verbal
morphology presented in Chapter 2. It first appeared in the journal
Linguistic Analysis in 1997 as a response to two replies to the
analysis presented in chapter 2. Lasnik originally presented a hybrid
analysis in which lexical verbs enter the derivation uninflected and
Infl undergoes ''affix-hopping'' down to the verb, and auxiliary verbs
are ''lexicalist'' in that they enter the derivation fully-
inflected. Lasnik shows that the alternative analyses suffer from
empirical and theoretical problems. The gap in the ellipsis paradigm
is shown in (2), and is contrasted with a grammatical example of
ellipsis in (3):

(2) *John was here, and Mary will, too. (p. 104, ex 5)

(3) John sleeps here and Mary should, too. (p. 104, ex 4b)

Lasnik employs the feature checking apparatus of Chomsky (1995) in an
attempt to salvage the alternatives offered to his original hybrid
analysis in chapter 2, but in the process destroys the account for the
contrast in (2) and (3). Lasnik concludes that we must accept the
hybrid analysis, until a better one presents itself.

Chapter 8: On a Scope Reconstruction Paradox

This chapter deals with a well-known paradox in the literature
concerning scope reconstruction in subject raising contexts. The
relevant examples are given below:

(4) (it seems that) everyone isn't there yet (p. 118, ex. 1)

(5) everyone seems [t not to be there yet] (p. 118, ex. 2)

In (4), the quantifier can take scope under clausal negation, but this
reading is absent in (5). The paradox, then, is why a lowered reading
is available in (4) but not in (5). Lasnik discusses various attempts
to explain the scope phenomena in (4) and (5). Quantifier Lowering
(QL) and reconstruction are the two mechanisms employed in these
discussions. One approach argues that reconstruction cannot take place
in A-chains (as in 5), but that QL is available. Another approach
argues that there is no difference between QL and reconstruction, and
that the paradox is resolved in another fashion. The current account
of this paradox starts out by critically analyzing the semantic
characterizations of sentences with lowered readings. Lasnik points
out that previous descriptions have relied on paraphrases that are not
necessarily accurate. He tentatively concludes that the lowered
readings may be due to some other semantic factor such as a
theme-rheme distinction. In this light, the original assertion that
A-chain reconstruction is unavailable may hold.

Chapter 9: Some Reconstruction Riddles

This chapter deals with various reconstruction riddles along the same
lines as chapter 8, and supports the same conclusion that A-movement
reconstruction does not exist. The first riddle concerns a
complement/adjunct asymmetry that shows up as a Condition C
violation. The relevant contrast is given below:

(6) Which report that John-i revised did he-i submit? (p. 126, ex. 1)

(7) *Which report that John-i was incompetent did he-i submit? (p. 126, ex. 4)

Under standard assumptions, the question phrases in (6) and (7) are
merged below the co-indexed pronoun, resulting in a Condition C
violation. Wh- movement salvages the violation in (6), but not in
(7). This rather nice asymmetry is deconstructed by Lasnik's
discussion on the grammaticality of sentences as in (7). His claim is
that (7) is ungrammatical for other reasons (largely pragmatic) and
offers several examples with noun complements as in (7) that are fully
grammatical, once the pragmatic effects are filtered out. The second
riddle revisits the lack of reconstruction with A-movement. Lasnik
points out that the prohibition on reconstruction with A-movement
seems stipulatory given Chomsky's (1995) formulation of
chain-formation. He presents some further empirical evidence of
Chomsky's for the lack of reconstruction in this environment, and
proceeds to discuss the evidence. Specifically, Lasnik addresses the
A-movement reconstruction paradox again, noting that the actual
contrast concerns definite versus indefinite quantifiers. Examining
the claim that traces of A-movement are deleted, hence eliminating the
possibility for reconstruction, Lasnik uncovers another paradox,
namely that traces in theta- positions must be present at LF for Full
Interpretation. But these are the very traces that were just argued to
be erased or absent at LF to prevent reconstruction. Lasnik does not
resolve this final problem.

Chapter 10: Chains of Arguments

The final chapter of this volume deals solely with the absence of
reconstruction effects in A-movement as dealt with in the previous two
chapters. He begins by examining Chomsky's claim that reconstruction
should be barred from A-chains on conceptual grounds, starting with
some early arguments against the claim that intermediate traces can be
deleted. He points out that some of Chomsky's (1995) arguments against
A-chain reconstruction are not straightforward. Lasnik then discusses
some empirical data concerning binding and scope. To understand the
lack of reconstruction effects with A-movement, Lasnik takes a close
look at ECM. He shows, using binding effects and pseudogapping that
the embedded subject in ECM constructions raises to the matrix
clause. These are the same arguments presented in earlier chapters.
Lasnik then discusses scopal properties of ECM subjects and clausal
negation and concludes that raising of the ECM subject is obligatory
for pronouns and optional for full DPs. He suggests that the
optionality of raising might be a reflex of the optionality of the
presence of AgroP. Lasnik revisits Quantifier Lowering one last time,
and concludes, tentatively, that it does not exist. Finally,
discusses some arguments that suggest that A-movement does not leave a
trace, hence the unavailability of Quantifier Lowering with


The reader who chooses to sit and read this entire volume at once will
be prone to bouts of deja vu, as many of the articles revisit the same
topic, using the same data, several times. Although it may seem
redundant to the reader to read through the volume in one fell swoop,
it actually proves to be a rather insightful exercise, since the
articles are cleverly ordered chronologically so as to highlight
Lasnik's development of the ideas expressed in this volume. Indeed,
after finishing the final chapter, the reader has an extremely good
sense of the issues at stake, what Lasnik's views are on them, what
competing views exist in the literature, and most importantly, how
these views were arrived at over time. Most chapters have also been
prefaced by recent advances in the topics in question since the
original publication of the articles in question. This helps to make
the task of reading this volume less of an exercise in examining the
historical development of the issues, but educates the reader on the
current state of affairs of the matters at hand. In general, I found
very few problems with the text. Explanations were clear and well
thought-out. As I mentioned above, Lasnik credits Chomsky for his
learning how to lay out a linguistic argument. However, the point
Lasnik is trying to demonstrate is sometimes obscured by the use of
esoteric examples, which are telling of his background in mathematics:

(8) The mathematician made every even number out not to be the sum of
two primes (p. 122, ex. 21)

Lasnik states that ''the only reading available for [8] is the
implausible one...'' The implausibility of this reading may be obvious
to mathematician, but not necessarily to a linguist. The problem
wouldn't bear mentioning except that examples such as this one appear
several times throughout the volume. Also, coreference between
nominals is sometimes not made explicit. A particularly troublesome
example is found on p. 115, ex. (59), where an index - i is found on a
pronoun, but it is not clear what NP it is meant to refer to. The
point Lasnik is trying to make crucially depends on the pattern of
coreference, here. These problems, however, are minimal, and should
not be a deterrent to the potential buyer.


Boskovic, Z. 1999. ''On multiple feature checking: multiple
Wh-fronting and multiple head movement,'' in S. D. Epstein and
N. Hornstein (eds) Working minimalism, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 1993. ''A minimalist program for linguistic theory,'' in
K. Hale and S. J. Keyser (eds) The view from building 20: essays in
linguistics in honor of Sylavain Bromberger, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 1994. ''Bare phrase structure,'' MIT Occasional Papers in
Linguistics 5, Cambridge, MIT.

Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Koizumi, M. 1993. ''Object agreement phrases and the split VP
hypothesis,'' in Papers on Case and Agreement I: MIT Working Papers in
Linguistics 18, J. K. Bobaljik and C. Phillips (eds)
99-148. Cambridge: MITWPL, Department of Linguistics and Philosophy,

Koizumi, M. 1995. ''Phrase structure in minimalist syntax,''
unpublished PhD dissertation, MIT.


Michael Barrie is a PhD student of linguistics at the University of
Toronto. His main research interests are noun-incorporation and
clause structure of Iroquoian languages and Romance syntax,
particularly the syntax of Portuguese clitics. His MA thesis was on
the verb movement and clitic placement in European Portuguese. He is
currently working on Control Theory in English and the properties of
control in Oneida, an Iroquoian language.
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