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Review of  Uttering Trees

Reviewer: Jason Ginsburg
Book Title: Uttering Trees
Book Author: Norvin Richards
Publisher: MIT Press
Linguistic Field(s): Phonology
Issue Number: 21.4014

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AUTHOR: Richards, Norvin
TITLE: Uttering Trees
SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Inquiry Monographs
YEAR: 2010

Jason Ginsburg, Center for Language Research, University of Aizu


In this book, Norvin Richards makes two new proposals about the interface
between narrow syntax and phonology. ''Distinctness'' is the proposal that a
syntactic object can only be linearized if the elements in it are distinct.
Languages vary with respect to what types of elements are and are not distinct.
''Beyond Strength and Weakness'' is a proposal that languages attempt to minimize
the number of prosodic boundaries that appear between a wh-phrase and a
corresponding complementizer. Languages vary with respect to how they can
minimize these prosodic boundaries. Richards presents numerous examples from a
wide variety of languages to support his proposals.


Chapter 1: Introduction (pp. 1-2)

This brief chapter introduces the principles of Distinctness and Beyond Strength
and Weakness. The principle of Distinctness allows for a unified account of
phenomena that were previously thought to be unrelated; in particular, elements
of Case theory are shown to be related to other types of phenomena. The
principle of Beyond Strength and Weakness provides an explanation for why
languages vary with respect to wh-movement.

Chapter 2: Distinctness (pp. 3-142)

In this chapter, Richards examines the principle of Distinctness. Richards
assumes that Spell-Out occurs when a strong phase is constructed (Chomsky 2000,
2001) and that a phrase is linearized in accord with a version of the Linear
Correspondence Axiom (LCA) (Kayne 1994). Distinctness is proposed as a principle
of language that prevents elements of the same type from being linearized
together. Importantly, Distinctness applies to functional (not lexical)
categories. Following work in Distributed Morphology (Halle & Marantz 1993,
Marantz 1997, Embick and Noyer 2006, etc.), Richards takes the position that
functional heads are inserted into a derivation after linearization, whereas
lexical heads are inserted before linearization. Prior to linearization, the
vocabulary items of lexical heads provide enough information to distinguish
these heads, even if they are of the same type (e.g., have the same label). On
the other hand, functional heads of the same type lack vocabulary items at the
time of linearization, and thus, in certain cases, they cannot be distinguished.
What elements count as being of the same type (non-distinct) is subject to
cross-linguistic variation.

Section 2.1, ''Distinctness Violations'' (pp. 8-16), presents examples from
languages such as English, French, Italian, Turkish, and Tagalog that
demonstrate the phenomenon of Distinctness. For example, a Distinctness
violation results in English sentences with multiple DP remnants of ellipsis
because there are multiple non-distinct D heads in the same Spell-Out domain.
However, multiple remnants can occur if they are of different categories. In
Tagalog and Irish, although a predicate generally occurs in clause-initial
position, if a predicate is a DP, it cannot occur in clause-initial position
because then it would be in the in the same Spell-Out domain as a subject.

Section 2.2, ''The Mechanics of Distinctness'' (pp. 16-41), demonstrates that the
principle of Distinctness is sensitive to syntactic structure and not to linear
adjacency. For example, in English passives, when two adjacent verbs are in the
same Spell-Out domain, the result is ill-formed; there is a Distinctness
violation caused by two v heads in the same Spell-Out domain. However, in
English wh-questions, two verbs that are linearly adjacent, but separated by a
wh-trace, are allowed because they are in different Spell-Out domains.
Furthermore, in certain French and English inversion constructions, two DPs that
are separated by an adverb, and thus are not linearly adjacent, cannot co-occur
because they are in the same Spell-Out domain.

Section 2.3, ''What Nodes are Distinct'' (pp. 41-54), examines cross-linguistic
variation with respect to what elements are distinct, which Richards suggests
results from nodes being ''identified by their features'' (p. 41) rather than by
labels. For example, in English, the presence of multiple Ds in a single
Spell-Out domain triggers a Distinctness violation because these Ds are not
distinct. However, in German, Japanese, Dutch, and Greek, multiple DPs in a
single Spell-Out domain can occur, at least in certain cases, when the D heads
are distinct in some way. For example, case and (for some speakers) animacy are
features that can distinguish DPs in Japanese.

Section 2.4, ''How to Become Distinct'' (pp. 54-127) examines the processes that
languages use to avoid Distinctness violations.

One method that a language can use to avoid Distinctness violations is to add
structure that puts non-distinct elements in different Spell-Out domains. For
example, in Chaha and Spanish, a case particle can be added to a DP that puts
the DP into a KP (Kase Phrase) phase, thus separating it from a non-distinct DP
that would otherwise be in the same Spell-Out domain. In English, insertion of
the infinitival ''to'' adds an extra phase boundary and prevents two non-distinct
v heads from being in the same Spell-Out domain.

Another method that a language can use to avoid Distinctness violations is to
remove structure that turns potentially non-distinct elements into distinct
elements. For example, in Italian, a ''restructuring infinitive'' may co-occur
with another infinitive in the same Spell-Out domain. However, Richards argues,
following Wurmbrand (1998, 2003), that restructuring infinitives lack a v head
(structure is ''removed''). Thus, although there may be two verbs (lexical Vs) in
the same Spell-Out domain, there is only one functional v head, and Distinctness
is not violated. Furthermore, languages such as Hebrew, Irish, and Hungarian can
avoid having two DPs in the same Spell-Out domain by removing all functional
structure (the D and case) from one of the DPs.

A third method that a language can use to avoid Distinctness violations is
''Movement Suppression''. Movement operations that would normally occur are
avoided in cases in which they would place multiple non-distinct elements in a
single Spell-Out domain. For example, in wh-questions in Rio de la Plata
Spanish, there is usually inversion of a subject and verbal complex, which
brings the subject into the same Spell-Out domain as the wh-phrase. However, in
cases in which a subject and wh-phrase are not distinct (e.g., a bare DP
wh-phrase and subject are not distinct), inversion does not occur, thereby
leaving the subject within the vP, and thus in a separate Spell-Out domain from
the moved wh-phrase.

A fourth method of avoiding Distinctness violations is to move an element out of
a Spell-Out domain that contains another non-distinct element. For example, in
double object constructions in languages such as Chinese, English, Kinande, and
Japanese, Distinctness violations can be avoided by moving one of the objects
out of the Spell-Out domain containing the other object. Richards also proposes
''Derivational Distinctness'' -- a preference for ''the operation (if any) that
causes a Distinctness violation to appear as briefly as possible in the
derivation (p. 114).'' For example, in Kinande, there are certain constructions
with surface structures that do not violate Distinctness, but are nevertheless
ill-formed because the derivations violate Derivational Distinctness --
potential Distinctness violations are not eliminated as quickly as possible.

Section 2.5, ''Case as Well as Case Resistance'' (pp. 127-140), takes the position
that case results, not out of a need for all DPs to have case, but rather, out
of a need for all DPs to satisfy Distinctness. Case can have the functions of a)
making elements distinct (e.g., DPs with different case values) even if they are
in the same Spell-Out domain, and/or b) adding a phase boundary via a KP phase
that contains a DP. These functions can vary for different languages. Richards
argues that in German, case distinguishes DPs and adds an extra phase boundary,
whereas in Dutch, case can distinguish DPs, but it does not add an extra phase
boundary (there is no KP phase).

Chapter 3: Beyond Strength and Weakness (pp. 143-204)

In this chapter, Richards presents the theory of Beyond Strength and Weakness,
an attempt to move beyond stipulating ''strong'' and ''weak'' features to account
for whether or not a language has wh-movement. Richards argues that languages
attempt to minimize the number of prosodic boundaries between a wh-word and a
corresponding complementizer by either a) altering prosody so that a wh-word and
a corresponding complementizer are in the same prosodic domain, thus making
wh-movement unnecessary, or b) moving the wh-word as close as possible to the
corresponding complementizer, and thus minimize the number of prosodic boundaries.

Section 3.1, ''Japanese wh-Prosody'' (pp. 144-148), gives evidence from pitch
tracks that in Japanese wh-questions, there is an altered prosodic structure
(compared to corresponding statements) that puts a wh-phrase in the same
prosodic domain as a corresponding complementizer, thereby making wh-movement
unnecessary. Richards points out that different dialects of Japanese (Tokyo vs.
Fukuoka) alter pitch in different ways in wh-questions; however, both dialects
use pitch to put a complementizer and wh-word in the same prosodic domain.

Section 3.2, ''Prosody and wh-Prosody'' (pp. 148-157), elaborates on this theory
of prosody and wh-movement (Beyond Strength and Weakness). Richards proposes a
principle whereby a language tries to minimize the number of Minor Phrase
boundaries between a wh-phrase and a complementizer where the wh-phrase takes
scope. Differences in wh-question formation are dependent on the position of the
complementizer and on how a language determines Minor Phrase boundaries, thus
leading to 4 predicted types of languages. Wh-in-situ is possible in languages
that have Minor Phrase boundaries and a complementizer in opposite directions,
because it is possible to create a single Minor Phrase that includes a wh-word
and a complementizer. Japanese (a language with a final complementizer and Minor
Phrase boundaries at the left edge of certain XPs) and Chichewa (initial
complementizer and Minor Phrase boundaries at the right edge of certain XPs) are
languages of this type. Wh-movement is required in languages that have Minor
Phrase boundaries and a complementizer in the same direction because it is not
possible to create a single Minor Phrase containing the complementizer and a
wh-word. Basque (final complementizer and Minor Phrase boundaries at the right
edge of certain XPs) and Tagalog (initial complementizer and Minor Phrase
boundaries at the left edge of certain XPs) are languages of this type.

Section 3.3, ''Case Studies'' (pp. 157 -186), presents case studies of
wh-constructions in Japanese, Basque, Tagalog, and Chichewa. Richards
demonstrates how in these languages, the placement of Minor Phrase boundaries
and the position of a scopal complementizer determine whether or not there is
wh-movement. The rules for Minor Phrase boundary placement can be quite complex,
and not always clear (as made evident by a discussion of Minor Phrase boundaries
in Tagalog). Notably, in some languages it is not possible to place a wh-word
and a corresponding complementizer in a single Minor Phrase. For example, Basque
requires wh-movement to a preverbal position in order to minimize the number of
Minor Phrase boundaries between a wh-phrase and a final complementizer. However,
even with wh-movement, there ends up being one Minor Phrase boundary between the
wh-phrase and the complementizer.

Section 3.4, ''Interlude: More Wrap'' (pp. 186-188), addresses a reviewer
suggestion that a language with wh-in-situ must have a high-ranking constraint
(from the perspective of Optimality Theory) called Wrap, which requires a VP to
be a single prosodic domain. Richards demonstrates that this proposal is
inadequate because there are languages (for example, several Bantu languages)
that allow wh-in-situ, but that do not have a high ranking Wrap.

Section 3.5, ''Possible Further Directions'' (pp. 189-199), attempts to extend the
theory of Beyond Strength and Weakness to a variety of other cases. Richards
examines languages (French, Portuguese, and some dialects of Spanish) that have
wh-movement, but that also allow wh-in-situ (in certain circumstances). Richards
also attempts to account for some complex wh-question data in Bangla, a language
that generally (but not always) allows a wh-phrase to occur in the same Minor
Phrase as a complementizer. Lastly, Richards attempts to extend his analysis to
echo questions, which are formed with wh-in-situ, even in languages that require
wh-movement. Richards suggests that in an echo question, there is no prosodic
boundary between a wh-phrase and a corresponding complementizer, thereby
allowing wh-in-situ.

Section 3.6, ''Conclusion'' (pp. 199-203), summarizes the main proposals set forth
in this chapter and suggests that there may be a connection between prosodic
domains and phases, whereby a phase edge can correspond to a prosodic boundary.

Chapter 4: Conclusion (pp. 205-206)

This brief chapter summarizes the main ideas of the book. Richards emphasizes
that Distinctness accounts for case assignment as resulting from a more general
property of language that bans non-distinct elements from being linearized
together. Furthermore, Richards' proposal of Beyond Strength and Weakness
provides an explanation for language variation with respect to wh-movement.


This is a very well-written book that presents two relatively simple hypotheses
about how language works, supports these hypotheses with evidence from a variety
of languages, and demonstrates how these proposals account for a wide variety of
language variation. Thus, this book goes a long way towards furthering human
understanding of language.

An innovative aspect of this book is that it examines the constraints that
phonology places on syntax. Crucially, if the proposals in this book are
correct, certain phonological factors have an important influence on language.
Distinctness arises due to the inability of the phonological component to deal
with multiple non-distinct elements. Whether or not there is wh-movement in a
language is heavily influenced by a phonological constraint -- a need to
minimize prosodic boundaries between a wh-phrase and a complementizer.

The Distinctness proposal that non-distinct elements cannot be linearized in a
single Spell-Out domain accounts for a wide variety of phenomena, and according
to Richards, it may provide an explanation for why case exists. Certain issues
and questions also arise. Richards assumes that only functional heads are
subject to Distinctness and he accounts for this by assuming that functional
heads are linearized before vocabulary items are inserted that can distinguish
them. This raises the question of how much information is contained in a node at
the time of linearization. For example, whereas two DPs cannot be linearized
together in English, they can be linearized together in Japanese if the two DPs
have different case values. Does this mean that case is present as a feature on
a D node in Japanese before a vocabulary item for D is inserted? Also, could it
be that in some languages, some functional nodes are distinct because the
vocabulary items for them are inserted before linearization, whereas in other
languages, the vocabulary items for similar nodes are inserted after
linearization? Other issues arise with respect to Derivational Distinctness: a
preference to avoid Distinctness violations at any point in a derivation.
Derivational Distinctness suggests that the grammar is aware of Distinctness
''violations'' that appear during the course of a derivation, before an element is
linearized. However, Distinctness effects arise when a phrase is linearized.
Thus, how can the grammar be aware of a Distinctness effect before a syntactic
object is linearized? In the discussion of Distinctness, certain prepositions
and particles are argued, in some cases, to add an ''extra'' phase to a structure.
One concern is that phases appear when ''convenient'' for the theory. An avenue of
future research could be to find evidence that these truly are phases.

Beyond Strength and Weakness is an interesting hypothesis about why languages
may or may not have wh-movement and I think that this hypothesis successfully
goes beyond the traditional reliance on strong and weak features. Not
surprisingly, a number of questions also arise. According to Richards' proposal,
wh-movement results from the need to minimize the number of prosodic boundaries
between a wh-phrase and an associated complementizer. Does the need to minimize
prosodic boundaries alone cause wh-movement? Could it be that this need forces
there to be a strong feature (or EPP feature) to appear in a scopal C that
forces wh-movement? If this is the case, something akin to a strong feature may
still be needed. Basque, according to Richards, is able to use scrambling to
move a wh-phrase to a position near a complementizer. Leaving aside the complex
issue of what exactly triggers scrambling, is there something that motivates
movement in languages such as English that lack scrambling ? Further questions
arise with respect to the possibility of both wh-in-situ and wh-movement in a
single language. Richards writes that ''for languages that have the option of
leaving wh in situ, what we now expect is that, all other things being equal,
wh-movement ought to also be an option, as long as the movement improves the
prosodic structure of the question (p. 155).'' If this is correct, what happens
in languages that have wh in situ, but that lack wh-movement? Do these languages
lack wh-movement because wh-movement cannot improve the prosodic structure?

Overall, this book develops straightforward hypotheses about the interface
between phonology and syntax, and these hypotheses account for a wide variety of
linguistic phenomena in a variety of languages. This is a great achievement.
This work also raises many avenues for future research and it should be of
interest to linguists with interests in one or more of the following areas: the
interface between syntax and phonology, Case theory, Phase Theory, Distributed
Morphology, wh-movement, prosody, etc.

Lastly, below are a list of a few (perceived) problems next to relevant page

p. 33: Misspelling of ''inversion'' as ''invesion''.

p. 92: There is reference to a movement operation in example (194), but it is
not clear if (194) contains the relevant movement operation.

p. 173-180: Section 3.3.2 discusses a reviewer's suggestion that the ''left'' edge
of a branching maximal projection be associated with a Minor Phrase boundary.
However, the following discussion focuses on the ''right'' edges of branching
maximal projections.

p. 192: Misspelling of ''determine'' as ''deteriminer''.

p. 197: Richards writes: ''These two languages [French and Portuguese] are
therefore predicted to allow either wh-movement or wh in situ, as indeed they
do.'' The discussion focuses on why these languages allow wh in situ and it is
not clear (to me) why these languages also allow wh-movement.

p. 198: There is a reference to (103b) instead of to (102b).


Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In Roger Martin, David
Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, eds., Step by step: Essays on minimalist syntax
in honor of Howard Lasnik, 89-155. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Chomsky, Noam. 2001. Derivation by phase. In Michael Kenstowicz, ed., Ken Hale:
A life in language, 1-52. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Embick, David, and Rolf Noyer. 2006. Distributed Morphology and the
syntax/morphology interface. In Gilian Ramchand and Charles Reiss, eds., The
Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Interfaces, 289-324. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Halle, Morris and Alec Marantz. 1993. Distributed Morphology and the pieces of
inflection. In Kenneth Hale and S. Jay Keyser, eds., The view from Building 20,
111-176. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. Antisymmetry. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Marantz, Alec. 1997. No escape from syntax: Don't try morphological analysis in
the privacy of your own lexicon. In Alexis Dimitriadis et al., eds., Proceedings
of the 21st Annual Penn Linguistics Colloquium: Penn Working Papers in
Linguistics 4:2, 201-225.

Wurmbrand, Susi. 1998. Downsizing infinitives. In Uli Sauerland and Orin Percus,
eds., MITWPL 25: The interpretive tract, 141-175. Cambridge, MA: MIT Working
Papers in Linguistics.

Wurmbrand, Susi. 2003. Infinitives: Restructuring and clause structure. Berlin:
Walter de Gruyter.

Jason Ginsburg is an Assistant Professor in the Center for Language Research at the University of Aizu in Japan. He received a PhD in linguistics and an MS in Human Language Technology from the University of Arizona in 2009. He also has an MA in TESOL from American University. His research interests are in syntactic theory (in the framework of Generative Grammar), computational modeling of syntactic theory, and applications of syntactic theory and natural language processing for teaching languages.

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