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Review of  Interface Strategies

Reviewer: Adam Werle
Book Title: Interface Strategies
Book Author: Tanya Reinhart
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 18.913

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AUTHOR: Tanya Reinhart
TITLE: Interface Strategies
SUBTITLE: Optimal and Costly Computations
SERIES: Linguistic Inquiry Monographs
YEAR: 2006

Adam Werle, Department of Linguistics, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Sadly, I must preface this review of Tanya Reinhart's recent monograph with
the news that Tanya has passed away. I never met Tanya, but I am an admirer
of her insightful and groundbreaking work in our field. I'm afraid that
this review compares poorly to its subject, but I'd like to offer it in
Tanya's memory.


In this monograph, Reinhart addresses the question of whether the
derivation of grammatical utterances relies on comparisons of alternative
derivations. She proposes that the grammar sometimes performs comparisons
on ''reference sets'' of pairs, in order to
determine whether some desired interpretation is possible only by means of
a derivation that includes some otherwise illicit operation, and that the
grammar may then license that derivation. She offers theoretical,
empirical, and experimental arguments in favor of this view.

The book is organized into an introduction and five chapters. Chapter 1 is
a theoretical overview, Chapters 2 through 4 are case studies, and Chapter
5 discusses evidence from processing and acquisition.

In the introduction and Chapter 1, Reinhart traces the idea of reference
set computation to the concept of Optimal Design. This concept is based on
the premise that syntax (in the broad sense) is a computational system (CS)
that serves as an interface between several otherwise unconnected brain
systems, which include concepts, inference, context, and the sensorimotor
system. If the CS is optimally designed, then it's complex enough to
translate information between brain systems, but as simple as possible in
order to minimize the burden on memory and computational resources, both in
production (derivation) and in comprehension (parsing).

CS operations that don't translate perfectly between brain systems are
deemed imperfections, whereas costly strategies that burden brain resources
are deemed inefficient. Naturally, the design of the CS involves tradeoffs
between perfection (Optimal Design) and efficiency (Economy).

Reinhart's principal claim is that the CS decides when illicit
(inefficient) operations should be licensed by performing reference set
computation. That is, a computation over a reference set of pairs,
where each pair consists of a derivation (d) and an interpretation (i). A
derivation that includes an illicit operation is permitted only if there's
no corresponding pair with the same interpretation and a simpler

Ironically, although reference set computation makes derivations as
economical as possible, the computation itself is a costly procedure in
terms of memory and computational resources. This is because, in contrast
to local operations and conditions that are evaluated on portions of a
derivation, reference set computation is global, comparing two or more
entire derivations and their interpretations. Therefore, Reinhart argues,
the CS performs reference set computation only when necessary, and should
cause a significant processing load when it does.

Reinhart identifies four phenomena that are mostly accounted for by a few
simple, local operations and conditions, but which sometimes require
costly, otherwise illicit operations in order to derive certain
interpretations. These phenomena are quantifier scope, prosodic focus,
interpretation of anaphora, and interpretation of scalar implicatures. In
each case study, Reinhart first evaluates and refines the analysis of the
particular phenomenon, then shows that some costly operation is allowed
only when no alternative derivation yields some desired interpretation.
This, in turn, shows that reference set computation is needed.

Chapter 2 is a case study of scope shift, where quantifiers are interpreted
in positions different from where they're pronounced, by Quantifier Raising
(QR). Reinhart takes QR to be an imperfection in the CS, because it
involves covert movement. Reference set computation occurs when a speaker
considers applying QR in order to get a desired interpretation. For
example, sentence (1a) is ambiguous between in situ and QRed
interpretations. The reference set that licenses QR consists of the
pairs in (1b) and (1c). The derivation with QR (1c) is allowed because its
interpretation is distinct from that of (1b).

a. A student read every book
b. books>
c. each book>

Also key to Reinhart's account of QR is that indefinites are choice
functions, bound by an arbitrarily wide scope existential quantifier, and
therefore not governed by QR.

Chapter 3 is a case study of focus, specifically, of how to account for
when non-default focus is signaled by stress shift. First, Reinhart
distinguishes real stress shift for focus from apparent stress shift caused
by destressing given information. Then she argues that, unlike default
phrasal stress, which is determined by an efficient, local operation,
stress shift requires global computation over an entire utterance, and is
therefore licensed only when necessary.

In (2), default stress assignment puts phrasal stress on the object (2a).
By focus projection, this can indicate focus on the object DP, on the VP,
or on the entire IP. Therefore, stress shift to, say, the verb (2b), is
licensed only if the intended focus is the verb, and not the object, VP, or
IP. Such stress shift is licensed by consulting the reference set
consisting of (2c) and (2d).

a. [IP My neighbor is [VP building [DP a DESK.] ] ]
b. My neighbor is [V BUILDING] a desk

Chapter 4 treats the licensing and interpretation of (pronouns and)
anaphora. Reinhart begins by distinguishing binding, where two entities are
equated because one saturates a predicate that contains the other, from
covaluation, where entities are equated by discourse-determined variable
assignment. She then appeals to reference set computation to account for
the observation that, if binding is ungrammatical, then covaluation is
ungrammatical too, unless it would yield a different interpretation from

For example, in (3a), _he_ is positioned to bind _Max_, but can't because
_Max_ isn't a variable. Therefore, covaluation of he and Max (3c) is
conceivable, but permitted only if binding and covaluation have distinct
interpretations. The reference set containing (3b) and (3c) shows that they
do, hence covaluation is licensed.

a. Only he [still thinks that Max is a genius].

Reinhart reasons that covaluation is illicit and constrained because it's
less economical than binding. Binding resolves a predicate quickly and
locally, whereas covaluation requires variable comparison over a larger

In Chapter 5, Reinhart claims that evidence from acquisition experiments
shows that reference set computation is psychologically real, because
children are sometimes unable to correctly interpret utterances in exactly
those contexts that require reference set computation. In such contexts,
children's responses indicate two kinds of bypassing strategies: either
guessing, yielding an otherwise unexplained 50 percent success rate, or an
invariant default parsing strategy that doesn't require the computation.

Reinhart justifies this claim by examining experimental evidence on
children's interpretations of contexts involving anaphora, stress shift,
and scalar implicatures (she doesn't find sufficient experimental data to
show this for QR). In each case, she argues that children are aware of the
required computation, but can't perform it. In the case of the
interpretation of scalar implicatures (not discussed until this chapter),
Reinhart argues that this requires reference set computation in order to
determine whether implicature along a scale is informative enough to use.


I have a few observations and questions concerning the claims in this book.
First, the theory outlined here is appealingly verifiable. Reinhart claims
that, given a theory of how the CS derives some construction, reference set
computation occurs only in order to license interpretations for which the
normal CS is insufficient, and furthermore, that this exceptional
computation is observable as processing load in mature speakers, and by
guessing or arbitrary parsing in children. In this vein, Reinhart outlines
several promising directions for future processing and acquisition experiments.

However, I found myself wondering whether this theory predicts that
utterances involving two or more illicit operations (such as QR and stress
shift) should be correspondingly more difficult to process, and whether
this is falsified by, for example, cases where stress shift actually serves
to disambiguate quantifier scope. This sentence seems to be such a case:

(4) ALL students didn't cheat on the test. (not > all)

Perhaps Reinhart has an account of such cases, but it wasn't addressed in
this book.

Reinhart also makes several comparisons between this restrictive theory of
reference set computation, and the evaluation of output candidates in
Optimality Theory (OT). She criticizes OT on two general counts: that OT
constraints are unrealistically costly to evaluate because they're
evaluated globally over an entire derivation, and that since constraint
evaluation applies across all kinds of constructions, this predicts roughly
equal processing loads across constructions.

I suggest that whether these criticisms hold depends on how OT is
implemented. In a sense, Minimalism and OT work from opposite directions on
the problem of explaining grammaticality. In Minimalism, the principles of
grammar are the operations and conditions that derive grammatical
utterances, and generalizations over grammaticality are epiphenomena.

In OT, by comparison, the principles of grammar are constraints that
generalize over grammaticality, and it's the operations that realize these
generalizations that are epiphenomena. However, just as a parser need not
be a mirror image of the grammar, the grammatical operations that implement
a formal constraint ranking need not be a mirror image of the ranking.
Therefore, the processing cost of selecting an optimal candidate according
to a constraint ranking depends on its practical implementation. For
example, many constraints apply only in a syllable, word, or phrase, and
are therefore compatible with local computation during a derivation.

Last, regarding this study's relevance for linguistic theory in general,
Reinhart evaluates several decades of research in quantifier scope, focus,
anaphora, and implicatures. The unified theory that results from their
collation should therefore be considered by anyone undertaking formal
analyses of these topics.

Adam Werle is a Ph.D. candidate at UMass, Amherst, currently writing his
dissertation on clitic prosody and word order in Bosnian, Serbian, and
Croatian. His theoretical interests include clitics, the syntax-phonology
interface, and the Wakashan languages. He conducts periodic fieldwork on
the Southern Wakashan language Ditidaht.

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