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Review of  Edges, Heads, and Projections

Reviewer: Lengji Nudiya Danjuma
Book Title: Edges, Heads, and Projections
Book Author: Anna Maria Di Sciullo Virginia Motapanyane-Hill
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Syntax
Issue Number: 23.5104

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This volume is a selected collection of papers from the conference on Interface Legibility at the Edge, held in 2009 in Bucharest. The volume focuses on how the syntax of edges, heads, and projections affects development in minimalist inquiries, with specific attention to the interaction of these syntactic properties at the interface level of the conceptual-intentional system. Underlying the notion of edge, head, and projection is the minimalist-theoretic principle of ‘derivation by phase’, which holds that units of computation are derived by operations of grammar and transferred to interfaces for interpretation. The basic hypothesis pursued in this volume assumes that the asymmetric relation of a specifier, a head, and a complement play an important role, not only in grammar, but also in syntax, morphology, and phonology. This assumption raises the following questions: What is the categorical nature of phases?; Are phases (i.e. strong phases) only CPs and *vPs or DPs? Are other categories also syntactic phases? What are the properties of the functional fields within CPs?; What is the border of narrow syntax?; Does narrow syntax expand projections up to the CP or are projections derived in the CP-field only?

The volume is divided into two parts. Part One is a collection of five papers on edges while part two is a collection of five papers on heads and projections.

The first paper of part one is ‘Why edges are needed?’, by Cedric Boeckx. In this paper, Boeckx presents three different notions of edges as assumed in the Minimalist Program. The first notion sees the edge as the structure of the left-periphery of syntactic domains, i.e., the domain of the clause responsible for peripheral-feature checking and discourse-oriented interpretive effects. The second notion is given as a position from which a constituent may be displaced, i.e., landing-sites for extraction in phase derivations. The third notion is given within the context of phases also, where edges are considered to be features, i.e., edges are properties of lexical items which permit operation merge to take place in the derivation. Boeckx concludes that a unified syntax-semantics justification for edges is part of the grammar. This assumption argues that Agree plays a regulatory role in the grammar, as it makes it possible for the product of merge to be clearly demarcated so as to guarantee efficient mapping to SEM and PHON.

Tabea Ibsane’s ‘Bare nouns with different edges’ examines the ambiguous interpretation of bare nouns under coordination by adopting a strict syntax-semantics mapping, which holds that this ambiguity is a result of the level of complexity at the left-periphery. Based on ample examples of French conjoint bare nouns, Ibsane argues that (in)definiteness is determined by edges and not by the presence of the determiner. In other words, any difference in the interpretation of nominal constructions is a result of the properties of their edges and not the presence or absence of a specific category (i.e. determiner). This position holds true for a language such as Finnish, which does not have determiners. The argument is that these interpretive features are encoded in the structure of nominal expressions by the properties of edges.

‘Implicit agentivity without agents in the syntax’ is a crosslinguistic analysis of SE-verbs in French and European Portuguese. In this paper, Patricia Cabredo Hofherr and Carmen Dobrovie-Sorin observe that implicit agents are syntactically active only if they are projected at LF and only if the spec, IP position is semantically empty in the syntax. This position assumes that implicit agentivity in SE-verbs is projected as a spec, TP position which helps provide evidence that this position is not a phase edge. Hofherr and Dobrovie-Sorin argue for a unified analysis of SE-verbs in which implicit agentivity is available in spec, TP at the semantic interface in passive and middle readings. In other words, the derivation of agents is independent of the edge properties of v (i.e., the core functional category, verb).

The proposal that part of the split left-periphery of a clause provides evidence for a very high phasal head inside the CP field, which encodes speech act features, sheds new light on the status of the interface between syntax and pragmatics. This is the proposal of Nicola Munaro in his paper, ‘On the edge-feature of particles, interjections, and short answers’. Munaro examines the interface legibility and processability of these syntactic elements and their role in the interpretation and typing of related clauses. Munaro argues that sentential particles, interjections, and short answers are syntactic elements endowed with an edge-feature that associates them with a clause. This analysis allows for a better understanding of clausal processes and the pragmatic features which are encoded in syntactic structures.

The last paper in Part One is ‘The grammar of polarity particles in Romanian’, by Donka F. Farkas. This paper argues that semantic features of polarity particles are syntactically mapped and integrated in the edge properties of clauses. These polarity particles head projections which are merged at the highest level of the left periphery. Farkas’ analysis situates itself within the architecture of context structures, which capture the discourse paradigm of these polarity particles from a pragmatic point of view. This establishes a connection at the syntax-pragmatics interface.

The five papers in part two of this volume are concerned with functional heads and their projections. This concern with heads and projections is discussed, at a considerable level, within current approaches to minimalist research. The basic assumption in this line of research is that heads project features and these features are checked in syntax through the internal or external merge of relevant heads. This line of research further assumes that the set of functional features is projected at the high left periphery of clauses. In other words, the properties of these heads constitute the CP field and its projections, if there are any.

It is from this perspective that Peggy Speas investigates the syntax of evidentials in ‘Evidentials as generalized functional heads’. In this first paper of Part Two, Speas proposes that evidentials are functional heads which encode inclusion and accessibility relations. As a feature set, evidentials are a morpho-syntactic parallel to other feature sets such as those of tense, person, and mood. However, this claim opens the door for further investigations to show whether this proposal cuts across all languages and whether there is a significant difference in the CP field cross-linguistically.

The subtitle of Alexandru Grosu’s paper, ‘On the pre-theoretical notion phrasal head: Ignoring the left periphery is at your own risk’, warns us of the risk of ignoring the left periphery by claiming that heads at the left periphery have the same properties and bi-dimensional representation as functional heads in the lower domain. Grosu comes to this conclusion by examining phrasal heads in ‘transparent free relatives’, whereby he defines a phrasal head as a pivot that must share certain properties with a larger phrase that properly contains it.

The proposal that reduced relatives have a head edge, which is PredP based on a passive vP, shows a Pred head without any peripheral features that attract the closest active nominal. This is the argument in ‘Predication and the nature of non-finite relatives in Romance’, by Ion Giurgea and Elena Soare. The assumption here is that reduced relatives undergo a mechanism of relativization, which does not involve a C head. In other words, reduced relatives are weak phases.

The role of phrases in syntactic variation in the high functional field points to the fact that the phrasal property of a projection is determined by the degree and the type of movement to the left periphery. In this regard, verb-second properties are asymmetric at the edge of main and embedded clauses, as Jose Camacho argues in the paper, ‘On the asymmetry of root and embedded clauses: Evidence from Shipibo second position clitics’. By comparing the verb-second-like properties of Shipibo with Germanic, Camacho argues for a two-way parameterization of verb-second. The first parameter requires the highest position of a strong phrase to be filled, while the second parameter requires that the highest projection at the left periphery behaves like an extended verb projection.

Cartographic mapping and the Minimalist Phase Theory form the bedrock of the paper, ‘The cartography of phases: Facts and inference in Meiteilon’, by Ayesha Kidwai. In this paper, Kidwai argues in support of feature transfer from C to T, even in languages without tense, whereby it is shown that T inherits uninterpretable features from a higher C-like dominating head. Kidwai marries the two theoretical frameworks by showing that functional sequences map onto a syntax of phases, and that the core functional categories C, T, and v are expressed in terms of a feature transfer/inheritance relation within phases. This analysis by Kidwai suggests that cartographies are the elements involved in transfer/inheritance processes that hold within phases in phase-based computations.


The effort of the editors of this volume is highly commendable. The editors not only made a careful and insightful selection of relevant papers for this volume, but also ensured that the papers met the goals of the volume. Indeed, the papers are able to put into clear perspective the notion of phrase and the importance of heads, edges, and projections on interface legibility conditions that underlie development in linguistic minimalism. These ideas allow for a systematic parameterization of phasal heads cross-linguistically.
Each of the papers in the volume presents an impressive list of references that reflects depth and quality in research practices. Grimshaw (1990), Cinque (1999), Di Sciullo (2003), and Boeckx (2008), among others, present rudiments of the goals of this volume. In order to maintain coherence among the papers in the volume, the editors divided it into two parts of five papers each. In spite of the fact that data from different and divergent languages are used, the focus of the volume is not in any way distorted; rather, the points raised are clearly presented in line with the two-part theme that makes up the volume. For example, all the papers in Part One explore the notion of edge as it relates to the focus of each of the papers. The same point is made for the papers in Part Two, which explores the theoretical notions of heads and their projections.

The first article in this volume is of particular interest to me as it establishes for the reader the background assumption of the selected papers; grammar is comprised of edges, heads, and projections which interact at the interface level of the Conceptual-Intentional system. ‘Why edges are needed?’, by Cedric Boeckx, makes it clear that Agree plays a regulatory role in the grammar, as it makes it possible for the products of merge to be clearly demarcated so as to guarantee efficient mapping to SEM and PHON. These products of merge are related to heads, projections and edges, as his presentation of the three notions of edges indicates. Edge is the domain of the clause responsible for peripheral-feature checking and discourse-oriented interpretive effects (head), the landing-site for extraction in phase derivation (projection) and the property of lexical items that permits operation merge to take place in the derivation (edge).

This volume opens up a potential research avenues in the cross-linguistic investigation of these theoretical concepts in minimalist linguistics because, in spite of the different and divergent languages used in the volume, many other languages, particularly, African languages, if investigated along these lines, will definitely help in establishing the finer points of these concepts. For example, an in-depth investigation of the phase properties in Ngas, Hausa or Fulfulde will definitely shed light on the complexity of the human language faculty with respect to edges, heads, and projections as understood today.

This volume is a useful resource for linguists and cognitive scientists who are interested in advances in minimalism and situating language within or outside human cognitive systems. Although the volume presupposes familiarity with the basics of linguistic minimalism, as espoused in Chomsky (1995), and more recently in Chomsky (2008), among others, it is also meant for interested members of the public with a more than casual interest in developments in theoretical linguistics, particularly, in minimalist linguistics.


Boeckx, C. 2008. Bare Syntax. Oxford: OUP.

Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

Chomsky, N. 2008. On Phases. In Fundamental Issues in Linguistic Theory, R. Friedin, C. Otero & M. --L. Zubizarreta (eds) 133-166. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.

Cinque, G. 1999. Adverbs and Functional Heads: A Cross-Linguistic Perspective. New York: OUP

Di Sciullo, A. M. 2003. Asymmetry in Grammar. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Grimshaw, J. 1990. Argument Structure. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press
Lengji N. Danjuma teaches linguistics in the Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Jos, Nigeria. Presently, he is a PhD student in the Department of Languages and Linguistics, University of Maiduguri, Nigeria, where his particular research interests include theoretical and African linguistics. The focus of his current research is ‘Move-alpha, TOP, and PRO within the Minimalist Program: A Cross-Linguistic Analysis of Ngas, Hausa, and Fulfulde’. He is also a 2012 American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS)/ African Humanities Program (AHP) dissertation completion fellow.