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Review of  Minimality Effects in Syntax

Reviewer: Rebecca Shields
Book Title: Minimality Effects in Syntax
Book Author: Arthur Stepanov Gisbert Fanselow Ralf Vogel
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Subject Language(s): German
Greek, Modern
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 16.1764

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Subject: Minimality Effects in Syntax

EDITORS: Stepanov, Arthur; Fanselow, Gisbert; Vogel, Ralf
TITLE: Minimality Effects in Syntax
SERIES: Studies in Generative Grammar 70
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Rebecca Shields, Department of Linguistics, University of Wisconsin-


Most of the twelve papers in the volume assume the framework of the
Minimalist Program, but three make proposals within Optimality Theory
(OT). Minimality effects are discussed in a range of environments,
including A-movement (passivization, raising, unaccusatives), head
movement, Object Shift, remnant movement, Stylistic Fronting,
topicalization, and wh-movement (single and multiple). The papers
would be of interest to anyone working on Relativized Minimality,
intervention effects, and more generally the encoding of locality
constraints in grammar.

The papers present novel data which are problematic for existing
theories, and make interesting new connections between previously
published facts. The focus of much of the volume is empirical, primarily
apparent counterexamples to Chomsky's (1995) Minimal Link
Condition (MLC). The authors suggest a variety of remedies: they
tweak the MLC slightly, suggest separate principles that work together
with the existing MLC, propose disposing of it and replacing it with
something different entirely, or reanalyze the offending data so that no
change to the theory is necessary. Some papers also extend the
purview of Minimality by suggesting novel analyses of data which
make use of the MLC or an OT variant. There is also much discussion
of purely theoretical issues, such as the implications of Minimality
effects for the derivation/representation debate, and the theoretical
status of the MLC in the model (is it a primitive, or derivable from more
principled aspects of grammar?).


Elena Anagnostopoulou. On clitics, feature movement and double
object alternations.

Anagnostopoulou investigates A-movement (passive, unaccusative,
and raising constructions) in Greek ditransitives. In Greek,
goal/experiencer arguments may surface as dative PPs, genitive DPs,
or cliticized genitives (with optional genitive DP doubling). But if the
sentence involves A-movement of a theme or embedded subject, not
all of these options remain possible. If the A-movement is biclausal,
the goal/experiencer must be a cliticized genitive. If the A-movement is
monoclausal, the goal/experiencer must surface either as a clitic or as
a PP. Anagnostopoulou proposes an analysis in terms of Chomsky's
(1995) notions Attract Closest and equidistance. Genitive DPs always
block attraction by TP of a lower argument, because (following
Marantz 1993) they are applicative arguments introduced by a light v,
and are therefore closer to the attracting head than the theme or
subject. PPs, on the other hand, are generated inside VP with the
theme, so that the PP and clause-mate theme are equidistant to the
attracting head. PPs therefore block attraction only of embedded
subjects, but not clause-mate themes. (Note however that the appeal
to equidistance is only necessary if it is NOT possible for the theme to
c-command the PP underlyingly, an assumption which appears to be
contradicted by the binding facts mentioned in the paper.)
Anagnostopoulou proposes that clitics appear to be an exception to
Attract Closest because they involve feature movement without pied-
piping. The features of the goal/experiencer argument may raise first,
obeying Attract Closest, in which case the goal/experiencer is spelled
out as a clitic. The theme or embedded subject can subsequently
raise without inducing a Minimality violation, on the assumption that
the stranded material does not bear a feature relevant to Attract.

Željko Bošković. PF merger in stylistic fronting and object shift.

Bošković provides a morphophonological analysis for some well-
known patterns in Scandinavian: the subject gap restriction on Stylistic
Fronting in Icelandic, and V-topicalization repair in Scandinavian
Object Shift configurations. The analysis is analogous to the Chomsky
(1957) analysis of affix hopping. Bošković proposes that Stylistic
Fronting targets a functional projection FP above IP headed by a
phonologically null verbal affix F, which must be adjacent to the verb
at PF, thus accounting for the null subject requirement. He shows that
intervening adverbs do prevent the PF merger from taking place --
evidence against a late insertion analysis of adverbs. He suggests the
same analysis for wh-questions in Bulgarian, which show a similar
restriction. The Object Shift puzzle is from Holmberg (1999), who
noticed that although Object Shift is not generally permitted when an
auxiliary undergoes V-2 movement rather than the verb, if the V is
topicalized Object Shift becomes possible. Bošković proposes
extending Bobaljik's (1994) PF affixation analysis of Object Shift to
these cases as well. On Bobaljik's analysis, Object Shift is
ungrammatical only if it interferes with the PF adjacency required
between a verb/verbal participle and the affix in I or head of
ParticiplePhrase. Bošković shows that this straightforwardly accounts
for the V-topicalization repair cases assuming multiple spell-outs.
Although the shifted object intervenes between the V and its affix in
the final spell-out, since the V moves to its topic position successive-
cyclically, there will be an intermediate spell-out where it is adjacent to
its affix and the two can phonologically merge.

Gisbert Fanselow. The MLC and derivational economy.

Fanselow looks at anti-superiority effects in multiple wh-questions in a
range of languages. He notes that while the MLC appears to hold
strictly for head-movement, in the case of wh-operator movement
there are many counterexamples. He proposes that the MLC is not
able to block movement which affects the semantic scope of
operators. Specifically, he claims that the MLC only applies when the
movement involved results in a distinct Logical Form (LF). On this
view, the MLC is a global economy constraint. Fanselow claims that
obeying the MLC is not correlated with either nestedness effects or
wh-islands cross-linguistically, so these effects must therefore be
produced by some principle other than the MLC. He suggests that
other possible counterexamples to his proposal stem from the
interaction of the MLC and various pragmatic constraints.

Susann Fischer. Stylistic Fronting: A contribution to information

The topic of this paper is Stylistic Fronting (SF) in Old Catalan.
Fischer shows that the null-subject requirement is not respected in
this language, unlike in other languages that show SF (cf. Bošković
above). Several previous proposals for SF in Germanic are presented,
critiqued, and shown to make incorrect predictions for Old Catalan.
Fischer then presents her own account in terms of the types of
features involved in motivating the fronting. Specifically, she proposes
that in Old Catalan SF is motivated by the need to check off a strong V
feature on SigmaP, a functional category above IP, while in Germanic
languages the movement is triggered by the Extended Projection
Principle (EPP) feature on IP. The constituent in SigmaP is interpreted
as semantically emphasized. Thus, in Old Catalan SF is not simply the
grammatical reflex of a projection attracting the closest head because
it needs a specifier; rather, it stems from the speaker's intention to
express emphasis, and has significance for information structure.
Fischer also points out that some previously published data call into
question the Attract Closest account for Icelandic, suggesting that her
analysis may be extendable to some Germanic languages as well.

Hubert Haider. The superiority conspiracy: Four constraints and a
processing effect.

Haider takes a cross-linguistic look at multiple wh-questions, and
shows that there is considerably more variation than is predicted by
the MLC. Superiority is sometimes respected, but not always;
furthermore, the contexts where it is respected vary from language to
language. He argues that the Superiority/MLC effects are in fact an
epiphenomenon, and the patterns we observe are due to the
conspiracy of four grammatical constraints, plus a processing
restriction. The four constraints are: 1) obligatory operator - an in situ
wh in the specifier of a functional projection must be an operator
binding a variable, 2) semantic type - the moved wh and the in situ wh
cannot both range over higher-order types, 3) domain-mapping -
operators must c-command their semantic domain, and 4) minimal
binding - an in situ wh-element must be licensed by a c-commanding
wh-element in a minimal domain. Haider shows how the observed
variation (he focuses primarily on English, German, and Dutch) follows
from his constraints plus the head-parameter setting for a given

John Hale and Géraldine Legendre. Minimal links, remnant movement,
and (non-) derivational grammar.

This paper takes another look at some previously reported facts about
German remnant movement. Several researchers have noticed that
the two movements involved (raising the NP out of the VP, and
subsequent raising of the VP containing the NP trace) must be of
different types. So if the NP is moved out of the VP via scrambling, the
VP remnant can undergo wh-movement or topicalization, but not
scrambling. Müller (1998) analyzes this as a type of MLC effect, and
claims that it argues in favor of a derivational view of grammar. Hale
and Legendre point out that the same effect can be captured
representationally in terms of link minimization on surface structures.
They go on to propose just such an account in an OT framework, and
they show how variation in ranking of their violable constraints can
account for certain differences between German and Japanese.

Winfried Lechner. Extending and reducing the MLC.

This paper is primarily concerned with the theoretical status of
constraints on the operations Move and Merge in the grammar.
Lechner views the conditions on these two operations as having more
overlap than is generally assumed. First, he provides a redefinition of
the MLC which eliminates the need for Chomsky's 1995 explicit Merge
over Move economy condition. This is achieved essentially by
widening the domain of Attract to include items in the Numeration as
well as items already Merged into the tree, so that Merge and Move
compete directly within the MLC. Lechner shows how his redefinition
makes some good predictions regarding Case freezing (A-movement
out of finite clauses) and Superraising. A second proposal in the
paper is that part of the MLC can be derived from Kayne's 1994
Linear Correspondence Axiom (LCA). Lechner achieves this by
positing that the LCA imposes an ordering on several sets of nodes
per derivation: the set of all terminals, as in Kayne's original version,
and additionally the subset(s) of these nodes that contain a feature
relevant to a particular type of movement. In such a subset (but
crucially NOT in the superset), a moved expression and its copy count
as a single item for the purposes of the ordering algorithm, and any
distinct item which asymmetrically c-commands only the copy will
therefore result in a contradiction for the LCA. Lechner further claims
that the LCA is computed over phases, rather than over entire
sentences, so that an ordering is required only for nodes within the
same phase. The phase implementation predicts that although
movement across a phase-mate intervener is ruled out, movement
across an intervener in a higher phase should be allowed, contrary to
fact. Lechner suggests that the latter cases constitute a residue of the
MLC which is not derivable from the LCA.

Hanjung Lee. Minimality in a lexicalist Optimality Theory.

Lee discusses some previously reported facts about word order
freezing. In Hindi, although variable word order is in general possible,
the object may not precede the subject if both bear the same
morphological case marker. Lee claims that this data is problematic for
an MLC account, and offers an alternative in an OT Lexical-Functional
Grammar framework. The data is explained by the interaction of
violable constituent alignment constraints in the bidirectional model of
Smolensky (1996). Two optimal candidate sets are computed, from
the perspectives of production on one hand and comprehension on
the other, and the overall winning candidate is chosen from the
intersection of these sets. In this model recoverability from surface
structures may play a direct role in grammar, if the comprehension
optimization yields a narrower candidate set than the production
optimization. Lee discusses further cases where recoverability
constrains syntax in this way from Chamorro and Tzotzil.

Gereon Müller. Phrase impenetrability and wh-intervention.

Müller proposes abandoning the MLC and replacing it with a PHRASE
Impenetrability Condition -- a strengthened version of Chomsky's
(2000) PHASE Impenetrability Condition (PIC). The arguments in favor
of such an approach are conceptual: Müller's condition is purely
derivational, while a phase evaluation of the MLC is strongly
representational; Müller's condition eliminates redundancies in the
MLC and PIC; and Müller's condition is symmetrical, in that the probe
must be in the head or specifier of the phrase currently undergoing
Merge, and the goal must be in the head or specifier of the next
phrase, while the MLC contains an asymmetry -- the domain of the
probe is the head and specifier of the phrase undergoing Merge, but
the domain of the goal is larger: the current phase. Actually, his
explanation of the Minimality effects also relies crucially on a condition
Müller calls Phrase Balance, which allows certain requirements of the
derivation to be satisfied by elements in the Numeration as well as by
elements already Merged. In this respect his approach is similar to
Lechner's broadening of the domain of Attract mentioned above.
Müller further shows how his approach, but not the MLC, can be
extended to certain cases of wh-intervention by non-c-commanding
wh-phrases in English and German.

Geoffrey Poole and Noel Burton-Roberts. MLC violations: Implications
for the syntax/phonology interface.

The topic of this paper is apparent MLC violations in Stylistic Fronting
in Icelandic and Long Head Movement in Breton. Poole & Burton-
Roberts claim that these types of movement are in some sense
phonological rather than syntactic phenomena, which explains why
they are insensitive to the MLC, a constraint on syntactic movement.
Their analysis leads the authors to support their Representational (as
opposed to Realizational) theory of the syntax-phonology interface.
The movement operations in question, although they do not appear to
be purely syntactic, do not appear to be purely phonological either ---
for example, they make reference to syntactic category and
constituency. Poole & Burton-Roberts claim that these phenomena
can be explained by the "representational conventions" of a given
language, which determine the mapping between syntactic and
phonetic representations, and are thus neither strictly syntactic nor
strictly phonological.

Arthur Stepanov. Ergativity, Case and the Minimal Link Condition.

Stepanov's puzzle is Nominative Case assignment to the absolutive
argument of transitive verbs in Hindi. Assuming Nominative Case is
assigned by T, the fact that it can be assigned to the absolutive object
across an interfering ergative subject appears problematic for the
MLC. Stepanov argues that Case assignment in this configuration is
possible because ergative-absolutive verbs in Hindi are actually
unaccusative, with the ergative argument receiving inherent Case.
Such NPs, he claims, are merged counter-cyclically, in this case at a
point in the derivation following the establishment of a structural Case
dependency between T and the absolutive object (via Agree). At the
point when the Nominative Case dependency is established, then, the
MLC is respected. Stepanov gives examples from English raising to
show that inherently Case marked NPs do not induce Minimality
effects for structural Case related dependencies in general.
Additionally, the counter-cyclic merge analysis helps to explain some
scope freezing facts for ergative subjects as well.

Ralf Vogel. Correspondence in OT syntax and Minimal Link effects.

Vogel provides an OT analysis of Minimality effects in topicalization
and wh-movement. In his model, violable constraints govern the
possible correspondences between three levels of representation:
semantic, syntactic, and phonological. The mappings are evaluated
bidirectionally: like Lee above, Vogel discusses how his model handles
the factor of recoverability in word order freezing. Vogel derives the
differences between English and German (German allows Superiority
violations in multiple questions, while English does not) by ranking the
relevant Faithfulness constraints above Markedness in German, with
English displaying the opposite ranking. Since Superiority violations
are marked, English will never allow them, even if a violation is
specified in the input. German, however, will tolerate markedness
violations in order to remain faithful to the input, thus allowing marked
Superiority violations to surface.


Most of the papers are clearly written and well-argued; all of them
present new and interesting data, analyses, and/or argumentation
points. Anyone interested in locality effects in syntax will find here new
puzzles to ponder and new approaches to consider.

A few things I found lacking:

It would have been interesting to see the papers dealing with anti-
Superiority effects in wh-movement compare their proposals with the
featural movement analysis in Pesetsky (2000). Is there any way to
distinguish between these proposals?

Also, in presenting wh-movement paradigms that are known to be
sensitive to D-linking, some authors used wh-words that are
ambiguous between D-linked and non-D-linked interpretations, such
as 'who' and 'what.' In order to control for D-linking, it is necessary to
compare unambiguously D-linked wh-phrases such as 'which person'
with unambiguously non-D-linked wh-phrases such as 'who the hell,'
and/or to present informants with explicit contexts. If this factor is not
controlled for, it makes it difficult to know how to interpret the judgment
patterns reported.

One other small but noticeable problem is that some papers contain
an exceedingly large number of typos and grammatical errors, which
in some cases compromise clarity. Such a nice and expensive
publication surely deserved better proofreading.

Nevertheless the book is well worth reading. Particularly interesting in
my view is the variety of environments where Minimality effects show
up, and the variety of solutions adopted for similar problems across
environments. This work naturally invites questions of further

Are the various approaches presented here empirically
distinguishable, or are they notational variants?

For those approaches which are empirically distinguishable, what is
the scope of their explanatory power? Where do they overlap, and
where do they complement each other? Can some be subsumed
under others, or do we in fact need some or all of them to achieve
maximum coverage?

For those approaches which are notational variants, can they be
distinguished given some metric of simplicity or elegance? And do
these metrics give the same results when applied to Minimality effects
in various environments, or do some approaches seem better suited
to some environments than others?

More generally, is Minimality a unified phenomenon, encoded "in one
spot" in the grammar, or is it encoded redundantly (and perhaps
somewhat differently) in various components of grammar?


Bobaljik, Jonathan. 1994. What does adjacency do? MITWPL 22:1-32.

Chomsky, Noam. 1957. Syntactic structures. The Hague: Mouton.

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

Chomsky, Noam. 2000. Minimalist inquiries: The framework. In R.
Martin, D. Michaels, and J. Uriagereka, eds., Step by step 89-155.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Holmberg, Anders. 1999. The true nature of Holmberg's
generalization. Studia Linguistica 53:1-39.

Kayne, Richard. 1994. The antisymmetry of syntax. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.

Marantz, Alec. 1993. Implications of asymmetries in double object
constructions. In S. A. Mchombo, ed., Theoretical aspects of Bantu
grammar 113-150. Stanford: CSLI.

Müller, Gereon. 1998. Incomplete category fronting: A derivational
approach to remnant movment in German. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Pesetsky, David. 2000. Phrasal movement and its kin. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.

Smolensky, Paul. 1996. On the comprehension/production dilemma in
child language. Linguistic Inquiry 27:720-731.


Rebecca Shields is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Linguistics at
the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on
Relativized Minimality, intervention effects, functional categories, and

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