By Sari Pietikäinen, Alexandra Jaffe, Helen Kelly-Holmes, Nik Coupland
Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users"
Date: Tue, 14 Dec 2004 17:24:49 +0000 (GMT) From: Sandra Paoli Subject: Structures and Beyond: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Vol 3
EDITOR: Adriana Belletti TITLE: Structures and Beyond SUBTITLE: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Volume 3 SERIES: Oxford Studies in Comparative Syntax PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Sandra Paoli, Department of Italian, University of Cambridge, UK
This collection of papers results from a workshop held at the University of Siena in the Autumn of 1999, which addressed the links and relations between the so-called cartographic approach (the minute investigation of the make-up of functional categories, aimed at providing the linguist with an extremely fine-grained tool to capture the great language variation witnessed) and the most recent innovations within the Minimalist Program, the Antisymmetric approach as well as the facts brought to light by both acquisition and neuro-psycholinguistic research.
The papers deal with a range of topics and issues that are at first sight unrelated: language acquisition, language pathology, language internal mechanisms and operations as well as interpretability conditions. Underlying them all, an investigation into fundamental aspects of the theory of language: a research into the computational system per se and its interaction with both linguistic (semantic interface) and extra- linguistic (cognitive) domains.
Belletti identifies three main groups of contributions: those addressing the mechanics of the computational system in both Minimalist and Antisymmetric terms (Chomsky, Kayne, Starke), those operating within the Cartographic approach (Cinque, Rizzi, Chierchia), and finally those investigating the interaction of brain and language (Caramazza & Shapiro, Mehler & Nespor).
Chomsky's contribution proposes some innovative changes to the Minimalist Program. He addresses both the internal structure of projections and the operations allowed by the system. The main points of his contribution are i) the elimination of the traditional distinction between Specifier and Head: in line with the 'bare phrase' structure, elements are heads and features are checked via a Head-to-Head (a probe and a goal, the latter contained in the head's complement) relation; ii) movement is re-evaluated as the 'internal' version of Merge, thus not an 'imperfection' of language as previously assumed; iii) the introduction of the distinction between weak and strong phases applying to the categories of vP and CP but not TP.
Much in line with this approach is Starke's article, which focuses on the [Spec, Head] relation: this is seen as unnecessary, and should be replaced by the [Head, Complement] relation. The notion of Specifier is, in itself, redundant, and causes gratuitous complexity in the computational system: by ridding the system of it, a 'more homogenous state of affairs' (Starke, 266) is gained. Other properties naturally derive from the elimination of Specifiers, in particular the system is left with the operation Merge, and the presence of an identificational tool for the new time just created, a sequence of functional projections.
The chapter by Kayne is an interesting combination of the Minimalist notions of probe and internal Merge and the derivations typical of the Antisymmetry approach, such as remnant movement. Focusing on the French preposition 'à' that appears in causative and double object constructions, Kayne concludes that it is indeed a preposition, but that it does not form a constituent with the following DP. The analysis is then extended to the case of prepositional complementisers and the following IP: the structure is derived by having the whole IP raising into the Specifier position of the complementiser projection.
Cinque's chapter exploits and further investigates the adverb hierarchy identified in his (1999) book and applies it to the so-called Restructuring constructions in Italian. Claiming that restructuring verbs are 'functional verbs', in other words the overt realisation of those functional heads whose Specifiers are filled by adverbs, Cinque argues that the clause in which they occur is a single clause, and not two as previously assumed. The investigation, in turn, provides further support for his (1999) structure, as well as an effective example of its application.
Locality is the focus or Rizzi's contribution, understood as the restriction that core linguistic relations must be satisfied in the smallest domain possible. Elaborating on his (1990) formulation of Relativised Minimality, Rizzi proposes a typology of positions within the left periphery, refining its (1997) split-CP proposal, which differentiates between argumental, modificational and quantificational elements. A binary +/- value for these features is adopted, which specifies wh-elements, quantifiers, focalised phrases as well as topicalised phrases. These score a value negative for all the above features, a specification which captures their different behaviour.
Chierchia turns to the interaction between syntax and pragmatics, considering Scalar Implicatures and polarity phenomena. Because of their similarity, the two phenomena seem to governed by uniform principles; at the same time they are also very different with respect to the influence locality has on them, suggesting that they are, in essence, two very different things. By invoking a phrase-by-phrase computing of implicatures along side with truth conditions, and not a sequential process that sees the latter being computed before the former, Chierchia is able to reconcile the two opposing characteristics.
Evidence from aphasic patients is the starting point of Caramazza and Shapiro's article. The series of experiment that they report show how, at the phonological level, the difference between verbs and nouns seems to be a primitive one, encoded in the cognitive module specific to language. This could be reflected both in the way information is stored in the brain but also in the way it is computed at the morphosyntactic level, where verbs and nouns are clearly treated differently.
Mehler and Nespor address the important issue of the setting of parameters in language acquisition, more specifically, how children can make sense of the inconsistent input they are exposed to since birth. The evidence put forward suggests that on the basis of the specific rhythm class their first language belongs to, children seem to be able to derive the phonological structure they will eventually use as well as information on mean word length. Furthermore, rhythm seems to play an essential role in the acquisition of both grammar and lexicon.
This varied collection of papers is an invaluable contribution to linguistic knowledge, drawing on very different and current issues in linguistic theory. Furthermore, it also addresses a very important issue that has not been tackled before: the contrast between the cartographic approach and Minimalism. There is a clear conceptual distance in attitude towards syntactic structure between the so-called cartographic approach and the aims of the Minimalist Program. The validity and extent of this distance can be evaluated by the reader in this collection of papers.
The minute analysis of functional projections and their subsequent decomposition into a myriad of semantically and syntactically distinct positions clashes prima facie with the Minimalist tendency to reduce syntactic structure to the bare minimum. Both are, nevertheless, concerned with expressing syntactic information in a way that allows it to be interpretable at the interface and give raise to appropriate semantic interpretations. This is the fundamental aim behind identifying numerous positions within the structure that accommodate elements distinct from one another both syntactically and semantically, and behind the various checking mechanisms that ensure that only features carrying a [+interpretable] specification make it to the interface. Thus there is a one-to-one connection between interpretable features in Minimalism and functional projections in the cartographic approach.
A difference which does not seem so easily reconcilable is the proposal by Chomsky and Starke to eliminate the traditional distinction between Specifiers and Heads and the relation between them, on which Principles and Parameters has heavily relied. Within the cartographic approach the [Spec, Head] relation is at the basis of agreement processes, and the categorial distinction between Specifiers and Heads is exploited in deriving different types of movement. Starke provides a practical application of the new system, showing how ridding it of the notion of Specifier can considerably simplify the structure. Agreement relations are captured through binding occurring between head and complement. Given the novelty of this idea, its further application to the phenomena that have been explained exploiting the notion of Specifier is necessary in order to be able to evaluate its strength as well its impact on the cartographic approach.
The very interesting result obtained in Caramazza and Shapiro's article, i.e. that the distinction between verbs and nouns seems to be a primitive one, encoded in the cognitive module, pose a challenge for current morphology theories such as Halle and Marantz's Distributed Morphology (DM). DM treats the distinction between verbs and nouns as the result of the action of the computational system, not as an intrinsic property that the elements carry with them when they are introduced in the syntactic structure. At this level, they are all undistinguished neutral roots. The evidence brought forward by psycholinguistic research is the linguist's window on the way the brain functions, and its contribution must be reflected in the theory of language being developed. Further research is clearly needed to see the extent to which DM needs to change to accommodate such insights.
In conclusion, the papers in this collection offer points of reflection on the theoretical system, as well as bringing forward interesting data. They are not aimed in particular at the student first approaching Linguistics, as they require familiarity with a variety of theoretical as well as empirical issues. They nevertheless offer an invaluable example of these different approaches at work, which will certainly inspire students and more experienced linguists alike.
Cinque, Guglielmo (1999) Adverbs and Functional Heads. Oxford University Press.
Halle, Morris and Alex Marantz (1993) 'Distributed Morphology'. In Kenneth Hale and Samuel Jay Keyser (eds) The View from Building 20. MIT Press.
Rizzi, Luigi (1990) Relativized Minimality. MIT Press.
Rizzi, Luigi (1997) 'The fine Structure of the Left Periphery'. In Liliane Haegeman (ed) Elements of Grammar. Kluwer. pp. 281-337
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sandra Paoli is a researcher at the University of Cambridge, UK. Her interests lie within Romance linguistics, Italian dialectology in particular.