Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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AUTHOR: Richards, Norvin TITLE: Uttering Trees SERIES TITLE: Linguistic Inquiry Monographs PUBLISHER: MIT Press 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 numbers.
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).
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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.
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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.
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.