LINGUIST List 14.2482

Thu Sep 18 2003

Review: Morph/Phon/Lang Acquisition: Di Sciullo, ed.

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  1. Andrew Ira Nevins, Asymmetry in Grammar, vol. 2: Morphology, Phonology, Acquisition

Message 1: Asymmetry in Grammar, vol. 2: Morphology, Phonology, Acquisition

Date: Thu, 18 Sep 2003 11:29:01 +0000
From: Andrew Ira Nevins <anevinsMIT.EDU>
Subject: Asymmetry in Grammar, vol. 2: Morphology, Phonology, Acquisition

Di Sciullo, Anna Maria, ed. (2003). Asymmetry in Grammar, Volume 2:
Morphology, Phonology, Acquisition, John Benjamins Publishing Company,
Linguistik Aktuell 58.

Announced at

Andrew Ira Nevins, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge,

This is the second volume of papers from the conference on Asymmetry
in Grammar, held at UQAM in May 2001, organized under the auspices of
the Asymmetry project <;

The unifying theme of the papers is exploring ''whether asymmetry is
given by Universal Grammar'', that ''asymmetry is basic in grammar and
thus is a property of grammatical relations across the board'' (p.3).

One use of the term ''asymmetry'' may arise in linguistic descriptions
of ''argument/adjunct asymmetries'', ''subject/object asymmetries''
and ''production/perception asymmetries''. It is important to realize
that ''asymmetry'' just means ''different behavior'' in these
contexts, and has no theoretical status.

The second use of the term ''asymmetry'' is much narrower, and refers
to a formal property of n-ary relations: a relation R is asymmetric if
aRb implicates NOT bRa. Defining R in terms of sets of ordered pairs,
an asymmetric relation holds between ordered pairs if <x,y> is in R
but <y,x> is not.

It would an unexpected and interesting result if the fundamental role
of ''asymmetry'' in grammar was restricted to the second
definition. Of course, it would also be interesting to find out that
transitivity characterizes every grammatical relation, or that
''associativity is a property of grammatical relations across the
board''. But looking at some of the most familiar grammatical
relations reveal that none of these formal properties of relations
hold across the board. (Take sisterhood, which describes two
constituents with the same mother; it's not associative: spec,X
is-sister-of [X is-sister-of complement]. Take government or
theta-assignment, neither of which are transitive.)

As for falsifying the hypothesis that asymmetry characterizes
grammatical relations across the board, we need only consider the most
basic relation one can think of: identity. Identity is a symmetric
relation, and there is no way to describe ''homorganic'', ''the OCP'',
''binding theory'', ''coordination'' or any of the dozens of
components of any grammatical theory without it.

Given that ''asymmetry as fundamental'' cannot refer to the formal
property of relations where the order of arguments matters (unless we
are to ignore identical-to, sister-of, tautosyllabic-with, clausemate-
of, etc.), it must be that the unifying theme of these papers is the
broader, phenomenological use of ''asymmetry'': different behavior of
different objects. And, to that (extremely general) end, the papers do
make for an interesting collection. (Of course, there are papers in
the volume that *do* concentrate on asymmetry as a formal property of
relations; notably DiSciullo, Marquis, Raimy, and Reiss).


Introduction (DiSciullo): It raises the question of the place of
asymmetry in grammar, and provides a brief overview of the papers in
the collection. There is no bibliography provided for the numerous
references that appear in the discussion.

Chapter 1 (DiSciullo) ''Morphological relations in asymmetry theory''

This chapter examines relations in Morphological trees, which are
argued to be built by different principles of construction than
syntactic phrase markers. The two operations are Shift and Link, which
bear resemblance to Merge and Move. Shift creates a sisterhood
relation between two items and projects one of them; one property of
Shift is an asymmetric c-command relation between elements.
Derivational affixes are posited to project specifier-head and
head-complement structure. The second operation of morphological tree
composition is Link, which relates two positions: the spec(ifier) of a
derivational affix to either the spec or complement of the verbal
base. For example, the specifier of -er is Linked to the specifier of
the verb, the specifier of -ee is Linked to the complement of the
verb, the specifier of -ive is linked to the specifier of the lower
verb, and the specifier of - able is linked to the complement of the
lower verb. These structural anchors of the Link operation are claimed
to derive argument-structural restrictions on affixation, i.e. the
putative impossibility of -er affixation to unaccusatives (but
cf. examples like ''a late arriver'' (attested all over Google),
''that ship is a sinker''), the impossibility of -ee affixation to
unergatives (but cf. ''retiree'', and moreover, examples such as
''amputee'' which have no direct object (Barker 1998), the
impossibility of -ive suffixation with unaccusatives, and the
impossibility of -able suffixation with unergatives (but cf.
''danceable'', attested all over Google).

Though clearly distinct from overt Movement in the syntax, it is not
clear to me why the relation of these two argument positions needs to
be performed by M-link; perhaps there is some reason why binding
relations or operator movement in the syntax could not relate these
positions, but if so, it should be argued for. DiSciullo claims that
''the derivation of spec-head relations in syntactic derivations is
obtained by Move'', but this is certainly not an agreed-upon
assumption; it is a large consensus that expletives are directly
merged in Spec, TP, and that ''why'' is directly merged in Spec, CP
(see e.g., Ko 2002). The second half of the article is an application
of the operator- variable structure of M-shells to the decomposition
of functional constructs: ''what'' is created by a Shift operation
that substitutes the spec-head-comp structure headed by ''-at'' into
the complement position of the spec-head-comp structure headed by
''wh-''. Decomposition of functional words allows spellout dependent
on features. For example, if the variable is +human, it is spelled out
as ''-o'', if -human, as ''-at''. If the operator is [-wh], it
spelled out as ''th-''. (I suppose something extra must be said to
rule out ''tho'', the [+human,-wh] combination). This decomposition
is extended with interesting consequences to Romance, e.g. Italian
''per-che'' (why) vs. ''prima-che'' (before).

Chapter 2 (Angela Ralli) ''Prefixation vs. Compounding''

This chapter is an examination of the three Greek preverbs ksana-,
kse- , para- (very roughly, over-, re- and de-), and their
categorization into the categories prefix or first-member-of-compound,
due to idiosyncrasies in their semantic productivity and
compositionality, and phonological behavior. Ksana can occur as an
independent word, while the other two cannot. The separability
question and its implementation (e.g. incorporation vs. phrasal
combination) are of significant interest to researchers interested in
the independence of and level of syntactic attachment of affixes (for
example, English -able can occur as an independent word, often in
periphrastically equivalent sentences). Kse- and para- show
selectional restrictions on the Aktionsart of the verb they combine
with, and can alter its argument structure. Ralli is up to an
ambitious task in uniformly characterizing the semantic contribution
of these prefixes. One formulation of the contribution of kse- is that
it ''assumes the reversative meaning when its ability of inducing the
verbal properties to a high degree of realization crosses the limits
of the notional domain of the verb''; it would help the reader to know
the role of ''notional domain'' within the theory: is it the
essential, encyclopedic meaning of the verb (If so, how can its limits
be crossed)? In the end, Ralli proposes that there is an internal and
external para-, the former of which, along with kse- is a
Stem-attaching prefix, the latter of which is a Word-attaching prefix,
while ksana- is a Word-attaching Word.

Chapter 3 (R�jean Canac Marquis) ''Asymmetry, syntactic objects, and
the Mirror Generalization''

This chapter begins with a fascinating examination of the types of
attested and unattested syntactic objects generated by the principles
of Chomsky's (1994) Bare Phrase Structure. Marquis shows that the
Chain Uniformity Condition does not exclude (i) adjunction of an XMax
to a head (e.g. a specifier undergoing ''head movement'' and not
projecting at the target; this is licit since the chain contains XMax
at both positions), nor does it exclude (ii) movement of a head to a
specifer position, where it would then project (this is licit since
the chain contains XMin at both positions). Next, Marquis reminds us
that even head-movement does not obey Chain Uniformity, and must be
exempted by Chomsky's (1995:322) word-independent invisibility; but
then, why are X-zero and XP movement even subsumed under the same
operation Move? Finally, Marquis shows that (iii) movement of an X'
projection to a specifier where it subsequently projects is also
unattested (and notes that any formulation of a principle of X'
invisibility is directly contravened by the step of moving a complex
head in multiple head movement). One generalization over unattested
(though predicted by Chomsky) syntactic objects (ii) and (iii) is that
a moved object should not be able to project at its target
position. Marquis' solution is as follows: dominance is a primitive
asymmetric relation. When Y dominates X, if (a) the features of Y = X,
then X is non-maximal (XNMax), otherwise (b) X is maximal
(XMax). (Notice of course that these definitions rely on identity, a
fundamentally symmetric relation).

Having established these definitions, he proposes a Non-Equivocal
Requirement on syntactic objects: they must be XMax or XNMax in all
occurrences. (ii) and (iii) are immediately ruled out, as follows: if
a head or X' moves and projects at the target site, then the XP
dominating its base position is simultaneously an XMax (by virtue of
dominating the featurally identical base position) and an XNMax (by
virtue of being dominated by the featurally identical new projection
at the target site). Similarly, (i) and head-movement as adjunction
are ruled out, since in head-to-spec movement, the base position is an
XNMax, but the target position is an XMax. R�jean thus proposes that
complex-head-formation is achieved through head-substitution, whereby
a head H1 adjoins to another head H2, but a feature-union H1+H2
projects. Under this implementation, H1 will retain its XNMax status
in both positions, and the H1P dominating the base position will
remain an XMax, since it its not featurally identical to the
projection H1+H2P. Having established a typology of attested
syntactic objects through these elegant means, Rejean proceeds to
examine Mirror Principle effects resulting from complex head formation
in a few schematic crosslinguistic patterns.

Chapter 4 (Abdelkader Fassi Fehri) ''Synthetic/analytic asymmetries in
voice and temporal patterns''

Fassi-Fehri examines variations in phrase structure arising from
whether the Mood-Tense-Aspect-Voice-Verb chain is expressed as a
single inflected verb or distributed across a series of
auxiliaries. He notices that the choice between analytic and synthetic
means of expression is determined by properties of the complexity of
the tense and agreement system, is organized hierarchically from lower
to higher grammatical functions, and by the nominal character of the
Agr auxiliary. Contrasts between English, French, and Arabic perfects
and passives are analyzed in detail. While my own expertise in this
area is insufficient to provide a further detailed evaluation,
interested readers are encouraged to consult Fassi-Fehri's article for
its fresh look at connections between seemingly disparate variation in
nuances of morphological exprssion.

Chapter 5 (Eric Raimy) ''Asymmetry and linearization in phonology''

Raimy's central hypothesis, developed in his thesis and book, is that
phonology allows multiple precedence: a segment can be in the
asymmetric relation immediately-precede with more than one segment.
Multiprecedence structures can lead to ''loops'', whereby the last
segment of a word immediately precedes the first segment of a word.
Linearization of a multiprecedence structure of this sort yields total
reduplication. The empirical consequences of Raimy's model yield
explanations for many phenomena, including over- and underapplication
(Raimy 2000), fixed-segment reduplication (Nevins & Vaux 2003),
multiple-reduplication, retriplication, and inherent reduplication
(Fitzpatrick & Nevins 2003). This chapter, however, focuses on details
of the linearization algorithm for simple cases. I will make a few
narrow remarks on the content of the chapter. First, Raimy claims that
precedence is ''non-transitive'', since vowel harmony across
consonants is a long distance effect, while strictly adjacent
processes are ''atransitive'' (p.130). This is an unfortunate
formulation of the problem; it seems to me, rather, that precedence is
always transitive; it is the particular phonological processes under
discussion that may be sensitive to immediate precedence, while others
are sensitive simply to transitive precedence. Second, for the benefit
of the reader-to-be, there is a potentially confusing typo on p.132
that says that linearization occurs to eliminate ''asymmetrical''
precedence relations; surely ''symmetrical'' is intended here.

For reasons of space, I cannot summarize all of the interesting
aspects of Raimy's proposal here (unfortunately, the majority of the
field has ignored Raimy's response to McCarthy and Prince's (1995)
challenge that overapplication cannot be handled in a derivational
model). Raimy asks the deep and interesting question why syntax and
phonology are different: in other words, why, when as the result of
movement, syntax creates two occurrences of an item, is only one
pronounced, while in phonology, when reduplicative multiprecedence
creates two occurrences of an item, both are pronounced? Raimy seeks
an answer in the definition of chains, which ''require identity to be
formed''. But given that the deepest parallels between syntax and
multiprecedence phonology, in my opinion, can be drawn with a
syntactic model of multidominance (Gartner 2002, Abels 2002), why make
a comparison with a theory of chains? Rather, it seems that the
difference between syntax and phonology is as follows: even with
movement, there will never be symmetric dominance: it is never the
case that a moved item will dominate itself. The reason is due to one
simple fact about phrase structure: projection. Moving XP to the root
of the tree, it will not project, hence never dominate its base
position. There are thus no dominance ''loops'' in syntax. Suppose
that phonology must realize all transitive precedence relations; then
if a segment transitively precedes itself, it must be pronounced
twice. In syntax on the other hand (assuming that covert movement does
not participate in linearization), if all pairwise transitive
dominance relations must be realized, only one copy will need to be

Chapter 6 (Harry van der Hulst and Nancy A. Ritter) ''Levels,
constraints, and heads''

This paper contains a broad discussion of architectural issues in
phonology theory: intrinsic ordering of constraints, levels of
derivation, and parametric variation. van der Hulst and Ritter make
very many provocative claims e.g., 1) allomorphy is not in the
phonology, it is ''the result of phonetic interpretation'' (p.151),
without any commitment to a theory of the latter; 2) the distribution
of internal superheavy syllables (e.g., in ''mountain'') is expected
by ''the distinctions between L-words and L-clitic groups''
(p.155). 3) There are no repairs in phonology; the argument coming
from the rhetorical question ''Are there also L-morphological or
L-semantic repairs?'' (I suppose the answer is supposed to be an
obvious ''no'', but it's far from obvious that periphrasis, haplology,
vehicle change, or existential closure aren't ''repairs''.) 4) There
is a postlexical phonological level, where many of the inelegant
things in phonology (e.g., improper bracketing) occur: ''In short, the
PL system [a level of representation that is by no means necessary,
but vdH&R posit -- AIN] is largely a terra incognita'' (p.159). 5)
''Phonological representations do not express linear order''; perhaps
linear order within the constituents is predictable: onsets
universally precede nuclei, but there is absolutely no consistent way
to predict that a given syllable S1 should precede syllable S2 from
higher-level relations. I should mention that van der Hulst and Ritter
present a number of interesting ways of looking at Optimality Theory,
e.g., that a number of faithfulness constraints only serve the purpose
of anti-repair. The central asymmetry-related proposal is that
phonological constituents are asymmetrically headed; i.e., that
complex onsets are internally asymmetric.

This hypothesis has many exciting consequences (see, e.g. Shaw 1987 on
headedness in explaining many puzzling aspects of reduplication, or
Harris 1994 on headedness in explaining distribution within onset
clusters). van der Hulst and Ritter illustrate how the licensing
principle s of Government Phonology (Kaye, Lowenstamm, and Vergnaud
1990) insighfully explain closed-syllable shortening and vowel-zero
alternations in Yawelmani. The article contains 67 footnotes
(actually, 66; the last one somehow escaped print), some of which I
wish had been elaborated in order to fully consider, such as fn10:
''Later we suggest that the set of phonological expressions may not be
infinite, because there is no recursion.''(!),

Chapter 7 (G.L. Piggott) ''Obstruent neutrality in nasal harmony''

In contrast to Piggott's (1992) feature-geometric account of nasal
harmony, he presents here a constraint-based account of the behavior
of voiceless obstruents in nasal harmony domains. One fascinating
aspect of the proposal is the suggestion that constraints can be
ordered according to the elsewhere condition. For example, the
faithfulness constraint MaxStop (which I think bears more resemblance
to an Ident constraint than a Max constraint), prohibiting
nasalization of stops, is ranked higher than NasHarm, enforcing nasal
harmony, and this ranking is due to the fact that the structural
description for the former constraint (stops) is more specific than
the structural description for the latter constraint (all
segments). Piggott's 1992 paper was, in my own opinion, quite
insightful; he claims its weakness was the ''failure to explain why
voiced obstruents are never transparent to nasal harmony''
(p. 190). It's hard to see how the constraint-based implementation,
with MaxStop, gets any closer to this goal; on p.198 Piggott claims
that the constraint does independent work in characterizing static
inventories: ''since stops are present in every language, MaxStop must
be part of every grammar''. But it is doubtful that every instance of
nonparticipation in spreading (e.g. the transparency of sonorants to
voice-spreading in Russian, summarized in Steriade 1995) will have
independent justification based on the universal structure of

Chapter 8 (Charles Reiss) ''Towards a theory of fundamental
phonological relations''

Reiss examines conditions on vowel deletion rules discovered by Odden
1988. One class of rules deletes a vowel only if flanking consonants
are identical. Reiss points out that there is no way to compute
identity of all feature values between two consonants given the
current technology of feature geometry, which does not make use of
variables, and introduces universal quantification as a means for
computing identity: for all features f(i), segment 1 and segment 2
have the same value for f(i). Another class of rules deletes a vowel
only if flanking consonants are non-identical. Reiss employs
existential quantification: two segments are non-identical if there
exists some feature f(i) for which segment 1 and segment 2 have
different values. Reiss's introduction of existential and universal
quantification are extremely useful tools in formulation of structural
description, and it is important to realize that they actually limit
they class of possible conditions on rule application: if only
existential and universal quantification are allowed, we will not
predict systems that delete a vowel just in case any three arbitrary
features (could be voice, place, and continuancy OR stridency, voice
and palatalization, OR ...) are identical. In my own opinion, Reiss's
decision to discard feature geometry altogether, because it contains
more expressive power than feature-geometry, hence rendering the
latter unnecessary, is unfounded. To describe Yapese vowel deletion,
which requires homorganicity of flanking consonants, Reiss's
structural description requires identity of values for all features in
the subset of features {[coronal],[labial],[dorsal]}. Having to
enumerate all of these features as a conjunction misses the
generalization that these are all Place features, and not some other
haphazard set. Reiss' formulation of the conditions on Koya vowel
deletion, requiring total identity except for retroflexion, catalogues
an even longer set of features, and misses the generalization that the
only feature missing is a secondary place of articulation, a
subdistinction among classes of features. The hierarchical
organization of features captures many generalizations about the types
of features that behave as a natural class, for all of the reasons
discussed by Clements (1985). The addition of quantification is a
useful limitation on structural descriptions, but does not warrant
rejection of the representational vocabulary used to organize the
features quantified over.

Chapter 9 (B. Elan Dresher) ''Contrast and asymmetries in inventories''

Dresher begins with a useful illustration of the fact that logical
redundancy of feature specification is not enough to make that feature
redundant (and hence, subject to underspecification) in a particular
contrastive hierarchy. Consider two elements which are different for
all three relevant features: a small shaded square and a large clear
circle. Clearly any one feature is predictable given the other
two. But omitting every logically redundant feature results in no
features at all! More generally, the set of contrastive specifications
depends on the overall symmetry of the inventory. Dresher argues for a
contrastive hierarchy, in which each feature has relative scope over
the rest, as determined by an algorithm that performs successive
division of the inventory. He concludes with an illustration of how
successive contrastive specification in the 7-vowel inventory of
Written Manchu has the effect of underspecifying the back high vowels
as labial. These specifications precisely accord with the fact that
these vowels do not trigger labial harmony. Xibe, however, a
descendent of Manchu which lost the -ATR high back vowel, now needs
Labial specification, and, concomitantly, /u/ triggers labial harmony
in Xibe. Dresher's approach to contrast (part of a larger project:
<;) within inventories appears
to have broad consequences for the relationship between syntagmatic
processes with the structure of the inventory, and possibly for the
acquisition sequence as well.

[Below, the sequence '',e'' stands for ''e-ogonek''. --Eds.] Chapter
10 (Mar�a Luisa Rivero and Magdalena Gol,edzinowska) ''The
acquisition of constructions with reflexive clitics in Polish''

This article argues for a version of the Maturation Hypothesis (Borer
& Wexler 1992) to syntactic development: young humans have a proto-UG
with the Unique External Argument Proto Principle: every predicate
associates with a unique external argument. The evidence comes from
the omission of reflexive clitic ''si,e'' and the impersonal modal
''wolno'', and the late development of extrinsic reflexives,
reciprocals, and impersonals, all of which involve more than one
external argument. Developmental data comes from five children in the
CHILDES database.

Chapter 11 (David Lebeaux) ''A subgrammar approach to language

Lebeaux models acquisition as the addition of Licensing relations to
the grammar, rather than a process of parameter-setting. His example
is conjunction, the acquisition of which is, in his model, the
addition of a licensing relation (a generalized transformation) among
the conjuncts, and ''against Merge as a monolithic structure building
operation'' (p. 289). Lebeaux argues that licensing relations are
added monotonically, with theta-subtrees coming in before X'-theory,
which comes before Project-alpha, a transformation that takes trees
composed of open class categories and projects them into a closed
class frame, a pure representation of Case. The phenomenon of
telegraphic speech in young children is thus before they acquire
Project-alpha. Additional evidence for Project-alpha (or, more
generally, Case structure as a distinct level of representation from
theta structure) is mustered from studies of speech errors (Garrett
1975) such as ''my frozers are shoulden'' in which open class items
are permuted while closed class items remain in place (apparently, the
-ers in shoulders is a functional morpheme). One interesting benefit
of the licensing analysis is that it makes predictions about the types
of two-word utterances encountered in child language: phrases such as
''Mommy sock'' [meaning either ''Mommy's sock'' or ''Mommy puts on the
sock''] are more common (no actual counts are provided) than ''Mommy
Kathryn'' [meaning ''Mommy puts on Kathryn's sock''], because two
theta-subtrees are involved.


Abels, Klaus. 2002. Move? Generals Paper, UConn.

Barker, Chris. 1998. Episodic -ee in English: A thematic role
constraint on new word formation. Language 74.4.

Borer, Hagit & Ken Wexler 1992. Bi-unique relations and tha maturation
of grammatical principles. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory

Chomsky, Noam. 1994. Bare Phrase Structure. MIT Occasional Papers in

Clements, G.N. 1985. 'The geometry of phonological
features'. Phonology Yearbook 2.

Gaertner H.-M. 2002. Generalized Transformations and Beyond:
Reflections on Minimalist Syntax.

Garrett, M. 1975. The analysis of sentence production. In G. Bower
(ed). Psychology of Learning and Motivation Vol. 9

Harris, John. 1994. English Sound Structure. Blackwell.

Fitzpatrick, Justin & A. Nevins. 2003. Linearizing Nested and
Overlapping Precedence in Multiple Reduplication. Penn Linguistics
Colloquium 27 Proceedings.

Kaye, Jonathan, Jean Lowenstamm and Jean-Roger Vergnaud. 1990.
Constitutent structure and government in phonology. Phonology 7.2.

Ko, Heejeong. 2002. On the Origin of Why-In-Situ. Paper presented at
the Worlshop ''On Wh- Movement'', Leiden.

McCarthy, John and Alan Prince 1995. Faithfulness and Reduplicative
Identity. UMass Occasional Papers 18.

Nevins & Vaux 2003. Metalinguistic, Shmetalinguistic: The Phonology of
Shm- Reduplication. CLS 39 Proceedings.

Odden, David. 1988. Antigemination and the OCP. Linguistic Inquiry 19.

Piggott, G.L. 1992. Variability and feature-dependency: the case of
nasality. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 10.

Raimy, Eric. 2000. Remarks on Backcopying. Linguistic Inquiry 31.

Shaw, Patricia. 1987. Non-conservation of Melodic Structure in
Reduplication. In CLS 23 Volume 2.

Steriade, Donca. 1995. Underspecification and markedness. In Handbook
of Phonological Theory, ed. Goldsmith,1995:114.174.


Andrew Nevins is a graduate student at MIT interested, among other
things, in the details of representations in linguistic theory.
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