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Review of  Interfaces in Linguistics

Reviewer: Iwo Rumenov Iwanov
Book Title: Interfaces in Linguistics
Book Author: Raffaella Folli Christiane Ulbrich
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Issue Number: 22.3713

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EDITORS: Raffaella Folli, Christiane Ulbrich
TITLE: Interfaces in Linguistics
SUBTITLE: New Research Perspectives
SERIES TITLE: Oxford Studies in Theoretical Linguistics
PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press
YEAR: 2010

Iwo R. Iwanov, Department of English Literature and Linguistics, University of


The present collection of papers adopts a broad perspective on the role of
interfaces in linguistics. In twenty-one chapters, twenty-seven authors present
cutting-edge research in this field. This edition emerged from various talks
held at a conference at the University of Ulster in 2007 (conference on
linguistic interfaces, OnLI) and is structured around four key points: ''Part I:
The Structural Properties of Sentences Interfacing with Meaning and the Lexicon''
(ch. 2-8), ''Part II: The Morphological Properties of Words Interfacing with
Syntax and Phonology'' (ch. 9-12), ''Part III: Sound Interfacing with Structure''
(ch. 13-17) and ''Part IV: Experimental Work on Interface Issues'' (ch. 18-21).
The introductory chapter is authored by the editors, Raffaella Folli and
Christiane Ulbrich, and it serves as an outline of the many stances taken in the
book. Generally speaking, the contributions in the volume are based on core
assumptions of linguistic minimalism (Chomsky 1995). This consequently implies
the adherence to two fundamental assumptions about human language: The first is
that ''it must be regulated by simple principles, but it contains intricate
structures'' (p. 14). 'Principles of economy' constitute the second cornerstone
of minimalist thinking; these follow naturally from the view that language is a
non-redundant entity. If one furthermore accepts the view that language is
structured according to certain levels of representation, it additionally
follows that ''it is less and less conceivable to analyse linguistic phenomena as
pertaining to one and only one level of grammar'' (p. 14). Hence the need for a
volume such as the present one, focussing on interfaces between different levels
of grammar, integrating various modes of linguistic analysis.

Robert Truswell starts the discussion with his contribution ''Cyclic Interaction
of Event Structure and A' Locality'' (ch. 2). He investigates the mapping between
event structure and phrase structure. His analysis leads him to propose a Single
Event Condition (SEC) that cyclically enters into syntactic checking relations
and thereby constrains A' movement. Truswell leaves open the question whether
the SEC is checked at phases, phrases or clauses.

In ''Determiners and Movement'' (ch. 3), Kyle Johnson asks two important
questions. Adopting the 'copy theory' of syntactic movement he enquires: ''Why is
only one of the copies pronounced?'', and ''How are the two copies interpreted so
that one binds the other?'' (p. 32). He proposes that lower copies of Noun
Phrases (NPs) are just plain definite descriptions, which share, via a
multidominance relation, a higher quantificational expression. In the simple
interrogative 'Which story did she tell?', the moved wh-phrase 'which story' is
overtly pronounced at the 'higher' syntactic position, though the author claims
that ''something independent of our story determines in this case that it will be
the higher position'' (p. 53).

Artemis Alexiadou's contribution is titled ''Post-verbal Nominatives: An
Unaccusativity Diagnostic Under Scrutiny'' (ch. 4). She shows how various
different modules of linguistic knowledge interact (lexical semantics, syntax,
informational status) and how this interaction may explain the distribution of
verbs in languages with verb-subject (VS) word orders. Her conclusion is that
''unaccusative syntax is not uniform'' (p. 76).

''Unaccusativity in Vietnamese and the Structural Consequences of Inadvertent
Cause'' is the title of chapter five. Nigel Duffield investigates how thematic
relations map onto syntactic structure; his analysis ''lends significant support
to the (pre-Minimalist) idea that phrase structure does more than merely combine
and express pre-specified lexical features: thematic relations are functionally
determined by structural configurations'' (p. 88). It could even turn out that
classificatory labels such as 'unaccusative' and 'unergative' are just
epiphenomenal derivatives of certain syntactic structures.

Chapter six (''Building Resultatives in Icelandic'') by Matthew Whelpton mainly
deals with the question whether a macro- or microparametric approach to
resultative structures is better suited to explaining the variation found. An
instance of a resultative structure would be ''The blacksmith hammered the metal
flat'', containing a main verb ('hammered') and a secondary predicate ('flat').
Using data from Icelandic and numerous examples, Whelpton argues for a
microparametric view.

In his contribution ''Categorization and the Interface Levels'', Jamal Ouhalla
shows how the two approaches to the theory of categorization
(Syntax-LF/Semantics and Syntax-PF/Morphology) could be unified and that in
doing so deeper explanatory power would be achieved. In one sense, 'little v'
(v) combines with different roots and their associated feature sets and thereby
yields the categories of verbs, participles, and adjectives; in another sense,
the syntactic operation of head-raising to T, which is the relevant factor here,
makes a binary distinction between verbs on the one hand and participles and
adjectives on the other. This point is important as the operation of
head-raising obviously targets the morphosyntactic make-up of syntactic
elements. Morphosyntax may vary across languages; semantic/syntactic features
and their combinations are presumably uniform. Ouhalla believes that only an
interaction with LF syntax and morphosyntax can produce the right categorization
of the parts of speech in human language.

Chapter eight, ''Non-topical wa-phrases in Japanese,'' is authored by Reiko
Vermeulen. She investigates the interface between syntax and information
structure. The element 'wa' is widely believed to be a topic marker in Japanese,
but Vermeulen reinterprets it as ''a discourse anaphoric item, in the sense that
it has been previously mentioned'' (p.137). After elaborating on the notions of
sentence topic and discourse topic and making obvious how the two are
interrelated, she introduces a new analytical category: the discourse anaphoric
wa-phrase. Towards the end of the chapter, she discusses which particular
interface interplays may be responsible for the actual licensing of the 'wa'

Naoko Tomioka's chapter (''Word-internal Modification without the
Syntax-Morphology Interface'', ch. 9) addresses the fundamental question of
whether the Word Effect is really a theoretically meaningful unit. There are two
views on this: Those who endorse the first view claim that complex words are
formed outside the syntax module and that these completely formed elements are
not visible to syntax proper. Others would deny this and say that narrow
syntactic operations can create morphologically complex items and that syntax
can 'read' them. Using examples from Japanese, Tomioka shows how the Word Effect
hypothesis may sometimes be too strong. She partially reduces the Word Effect to
structural properties of syntactic configurations.

In ''Affixation and the Mirror Principle'' (ch. 10), Heidi Harley calls into
question Baker's well-known Mirror Principle (Baker 1985) by presenting some
problematic cases. The basic tenet of the Mirror Principle is that ''morpheme
order parallels the hierarchy of syntactic projections'' (p. 166). She draws on
two languages that show typologically rare patterns (Cupeño and Navajo) and
argues that the morphological structure these languages exhibit may be accounted
for by ''a complex combination of distinct affixation mechanisms'' (p. 186). She
identifies three determinants that affect the affixation mechanism:
head-movement, an affix-specific linearization requirement, and merger under

The following chapter (11) is by Lisa Travis, titled ''Phases and Navajo Verbal
Morphology''. Her contribution ties in with Harley's discussion of Baker's Mirror
Principle. Just as in Harley's approach, Travis focuses on Navajo and the
problems this language poses for Baker's generalization. For instance,
morphological factors in Navajo determine that the subject be expressed closer
to the verbal stem than the object. If Baker's generalization held without
exceptions, we should not expect such an ordering. Travis calls the attested
morphological Navajo pattern ''Anti-Mirror Principle'' (order being Aspect,
Object, Tense, Subject, Trans/Voice Stem, p. 189). The morphology part of
grammar should account for this pattern. The problem is further aggravated by
the fact that the phonological, semantic, and syntactic components of the
grammar apparently group morphemes differently; they seem to 'compete' as to
which grouping dominates. Only by using PF and LF interface processes can these
problematic issues be accounted for.

''The Syntax and Prosody of Turkish 'Pre-stressing' Suffixes'' forms chapter
twelve and is written by Arsalan Kahnemuyipour and Jaklin Kornfilt. They
investigate the 'pre-stressing' behaviour of a certain group of Turkish suffixes
(for instance 'ki' and 'ken' as clausal suffixes). These suffixes partially fall
outside the domain of Vowel Harmony, and their general pre-stressing behaviour
depends on their syntactic position. This sheds some light on the interface of
prosody and syntax in Turkish.

The next contribution (ch. 13) is ''Restrictions on Subject Extraction: A PF
Interface Account'', by Peter Ackema. The extraction of subjects out of embedded
clauses is governed by fairly tight constraints. A short example may be helpful
here ('t' marks the trace of the moved wh-element): In the declarative sentence
'You think [that John read that book yesterday]', 'John' is the subject of the
embedded clause. If we ask about the subject, the interrogative would be *'Who
do you think [that t read that book yesterday]'; an ungrammatical construction.
Note also that leaving out 'that' makes the construction completely grammatical.
Ackema now asks what could be responsible for these facts. He adduces examples
from various languages and concludes that ''the data pertaining to it [the
complementizer-trace effect] fall out from an account that takes into account
the interplay between syntax and PF'' (p. 241).

Suwon Yoon investigates the particular interpretive asymmetry between argument
and adjunct wh-phrases. Chapter fourteen (''An Experimental Approach to the
Interpretation of wh-phrases: Processing and Syntax-Prosody Interface'') shows
how wh-phrases may not move across certain intervening elements (known as the
Intervention Effect, cf. p. 244) and that the decisive factor in determining
which element can move and which cannot is the phrase's status as argument
('what/who/where') or adjunct ('who/when/why'). This asymmetry is particularly
relevant in Korean, Japanese and Turkish-type languages.

The next chapter by James M. Scobbie and Koen Sebregts (''Acoustic, Articulatory,
and Phonological Perspectives on Allophonic Variation of /r/ in Dutch'', ch. 15)
discusses the issue of where to draw the line between Phonetics and Phonology.
The authors say that ''there is no scientific, or analytically consistent or
agreed means for determining which fineness of phonetic transcription
constitutes the raw data for phonological analysis'' (p. 258). The complex
phonetic behaviour of /r/ in Dutch leads the authors to conclude that '''the'
phonetics-phonology interface is multifaceted'' (p. 276).

Jonathan Howell addresses the question whether potential focus associates
receive phonological prominence in ''Second Occurrence Focus and the Acoustics of
Prominence'', ch. 16). He performed one perception and two production
experiments; his results suggest that ''the focus associate is not always
realized as most prosodically prominent'' (p. 298).

''Loan Adaptation of Laryngeal Features'' is the title of chapter seventeen.
Sang-Cheol Ahn and Juhee Lee investigate how loan adaptation patterns in
English, Korean, Thai, Japanese and other languages develop and how they could
best be analysed. The model the authors suggest is based on the notion of
''typological adaptation'' (p. 314), which entails that typological similarity
between contact languages is crucial for determining the inner workings of loan

Chapter eighteen by Andrea Gualmini is titled ''Scope Ambiguity in Child
Language: Old and New Problems''. His arguments are based on reasoning from the
realm of formal pragmatics. For instance, as analysis of the sentence 'Every
horse didn't jump over the fence' (p. 320), Gualmini puts forward and tests the
hypothesis that ''children select surface scope interpretations to a larger
extent than adults'' (p. 321). To illustrate, the construction here allows for
two scope assignments: (1) none of the horses had jumped over the fence and (2)
some horses in fact jumped over the fence, except for one horse (possibly more),
which had not jumped over the fence. The author shows how both interpretations
are available to the child, depending on the context; this would, to some
extent, falsify the tested hypothesis. Towards the end of the contribution,
Gualmini touches on questions of language learnability and asks if something
like ''pragmatic bootstrapping'' (p. 329) could be available to the child.

The next contribution (''Interaction of Syntax and Discourse Pragmatics in
Closely Related Languages: How Native Swedes, Native Germans, and
Swedish-speaking Learners of German Start their Sentences'', ch. 19) is by Ute
Bohnacker and Christina Rosén. Both Swedish and German are V2 languages (with a
requirement of finite verb as second constituent in declarative sentences); the
pre-field is the position to the left of the finite V. The two authors found
that the constituent types in pre-field position differ substantially in Swedish
and German. They conclude that L2 learners ''transfer information-structural
patterns from their L1 into the L2'' (p. 350).

Chien-Jer Charles Lin tackles the problem of how possessive constructions are
interpreted at the syntax-semantics interface (''Processing (In)alienable
Possessions at the Syntax-Semantics Interface'', ch. 20). Normally, alienable
nouns serve as one-place predicates; they are argument-complete. In his
contribution Lin takes inalienable nouns to be kinship terms; it is generally
agreed that these nouns take arguments (they are two-place predicates). 'A man
came into the room' is grammatical, whereas 'A son came into the room' is not.
'Son' would have to be bound by, say, 'Mary's', yielding the grammatical
construction 'Mary's son came into the room' (cf. p. 355). Under certain
pragmatic circumstances, however, it is possible that the inalienable noun is
not bound by an antecedent in the same sentence but by an element occurring in
the previous discourse (cf. examples, p. 356). Sentence comprehension
experiments show alienable and inalienable nouns are interpreted differently
(inalienable nouns are parsed more efficiently).

The final chapter (21) is titled ''Picturing the Syntax-Semantics Interface:
Online Interpretation of Pronouns and Reflexives in Picture NPs'', authored by
Elsi Kaiser, Jeffrey T. Runner, Rachel S. Sussman, and Michael K. Tanenhaus.
Based on classic Binding Theory (Chomsky 1981), they investigate potential
difficulties in interpreting possessorless and possessed picture noun phrases
(PNPs). Two illustrative examples are (1) ''Andy said that Peter saw the picture
of himself/him'' and (2) ''Mary saw Lisa's picture of her/herself'' (p. 370).
Contrary to binding theoretical expectation it has been found that Conditions A
and B can be violated in (1) and (2). There are multiple reasons for this. The
authors concentrate their experimental efforts on investigating Susumu Kuno's
notion of 'source of information' (Kuno 1987), and their results suggest that
''the mechanism responsible for anaphor resolution … is capable of accessing
information that is outside of 'syntax proper', namely source/perceiver
information'' (p. 383).


Those working in generative and minimalist frameworks will find Folli &
Ulbrich's edited volume of interest. By and large, the contributors are
influenced by various linguistic strands and methods, though core generative
notions are clearly perceptible throughout the volume.

I would have liked to be able to find some of the following issues dealt with in
the book: (1) If one takes linguistic minimalism and its concomitant
biolinguistic development seriously, then the biological dimensions of human
language should receive some attention. Unfortunately, none of the contributions
in the reviewed volume addresses this point. (2) Many articles place special
emphasis on the fact that interface interactions are highly dynamic and complex,
but I would like to have known what kind of biological mechanism could be
responsible for this vital interactivity. Arguments here are likely to come from
the field of the brain sciences, neurophysiology in particular. (3)
Developmental paths and growth of interfaces could have been another topic, but
nearly none of the authors talks about this issue, which is so crucial for the
whole generative and biolinguistic enterprise. Andrea Gualmini's chapter is a
rare exception to this (ch. 18).

As a snapshot of on-going debates on the question of how linguistic interfaces
interact, the picture's margins are well-defined; the picture's internal
composition, however, is in continuing need of clarification, definition, and
re-definition. The reviewed volume most certainly is responsive to this need and
thereby expands the active and interested researchers' horizons.


Baker, Mark. 1985. The Mirror Principle and morphosyntactic explanation.
Linguistic Inquiry 16(3). 373--415.

Chomsky, Noam. 1981. Lectures on Government and Binding: The Pisa Lectures.
Dordrecht: Foris.

Chomsky, Noam. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

Kuno, Susumu. 1987. Functional Syntax: Anaphora, Discourse, and Empathy.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Iwo R. Iwanov received his M.A. in English linguistics from the University of Heidelberg and is currently affiliated with the University's Department of English Literature and Linguistics. His field of research encompasses broader perspectives on the work of Noam Chomsky, the structure of generative theory, and the biolinguistic enterprise in particular. Additionally, he is interested in debates surrounding the division between linguistic functionalism and formalism.

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