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Review of  Explorations of Phase Theory

Reviewer: Yosuke Sato
Book Title: Explorations of Phase Theory
Book Author: Kleanthes K. Grohmann
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Linguistic Theories
Issue Number: 21.1718

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EDITOR: Grohmann, Kleanthes K.
TITLE: Explorations of Phase Theory
SUBTITLE: Interpretation at the Interfaces
SERIES: Interface Explorations [IE] 17
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2009

Yosuke Sato, Department of English Language and Literature, National University
of Singapore


The volume under review grew out of the InterPhases conference that was held at
Casteliotissa Hall in Nicosia, Cyprus on May 18-20, 2006; see also Grohmann
(2009a, b) for the other two volumes which also derived from this conference.
The chapters collected in this volume variously address issues surrounding Phase
Theory (Chomsky 2000 et seq.) and interpretation at the interface of the
syntactic computation with the sound and meaning components.

The present volume consists of ten chapters, followed by the list of
contributors and index. The opening chapter by Kleanthes Grohmann entitled
''Exploring Interfaces'' introduces core concepts within Phase Theory as laid out
in Chomsky's recent writings and sketches out central questions that arise in
this theory with regards to the nature and number of interface levels, the
timing and nature of the operation Transfer, and the computational efficiency of
the syntactic derivation. This chapter also contains a useful summary of the
following chapters and of how they relate to the central theme of the volume:
Phase Theory and interpretation at the interfaces.

The second chapter by Tobias Scheer (''Intermodular Argumentation and the
Word-Spell-Out Mystery'') points out that Phase Theory opens a new possibility
for intermodular argumentation, namely, that syntax acts as a reference point
for competing phonological theories and vice versa. As one case study of this
argumentation, he argues that Kaye's (1995) version of lexical phonology is
intermodularly adequate since it provides selective spell-out, the edge of the
spelled-out domain, and the Phase Impenetrability(-like) Condition. Scheer also
notes that this argumentation crucially depends on the assumption that
morphology and syntax have the same Spell-Out system, but this is far from
obvious in light of what he calls the ''Word-Spell-Out Mystery''; the phonological
effects of cyclic spell-out are abundant below words but not above words.

The third chapter by Martin Haiden (''On Bare Prosodic Structure and the
Spell-Out of Features'') argues for a parallel model of phonology and syntax to
solve the look-ahead problem posed by Classic Arabic medial gemination and other
phenomena. According to his model, phonology does not apply after syntax but the
two components apply in parallel in a single cycle. The interface
representations are created recursively in both components and mediated by the
transparent mapping principle to the effect that (PHON, SEM) pairs must remain
unchanged throughout a derivation.

Hisao Tokizaki's chapter (''Spell Out before You Merge'') is concerned with a
paradox in direction between the bottom-up Multiple Spell-Out model and the
Left-to-Right top-down linearization. To resolve this paradox, he proposes that
a lexical item is introduced in the syntax with a syntactic bracket and
Spelled-Out to PF at the same time, ensuring the top-down nature of
linearization, with the semantic features kept in the workspace until Merge
constructs vP and CP phases, as is commonly assumed in Phase Theory. He further
argues that syntactic brackets are real objects since they are mapped to silent
deliberates that have definable phonological and parsing consequences at the
phonological interface.

Dalina Kallulli's chapter (''On the Derivation of the Relation between Givenness
and Deaccentuation: A Best-Case Model'') addresses the issue of the division of
labor between the different components of grammar with a detailed case study of
deaccentuation of given discourse material in English, Albanian, and Modern
Greek. Drawing on the best case scenario laid out by Chomsky (2004), whereby the
derivation of proceeds in parallel, she proposes that the givenness
of an embedded CP must be expressed within the syntax by a feature of a
functional head, which is instantiated either by clitic-like elements or

Carlo Geraci's chapter (''Phase Theory, Linearization and Zig-Zag Movement'')
provides evidence for what he calls Zig-Zag Movement in Italian Sign Language
where a wh-phrase/negative word undergoes movement from the edge of the vP phase
to the opposite edge of the CP phase. He shows that this type of movement should
be prohibited under the Cyclic Linearization model of Fox and Pesetsky (2005),
when combined with two independently motivated restrictions on movement: the ban
against complement-to-specifier movement within the same phrase (Abels 2003) and
the ban against movement from one specifier to another within the same phrase
(Ko 2005). He proposes that this problem is resolved once we assume that
elements that have unvalued features in the computation are unparsed for the
purposes of Spell-Out and linearization.

In the chapter entitled ''Surviving Reconstruction'', Thomas Stroik and Michael
Putnam discuss well-known reconstruction asymmetries with respect to Principle
C. They provide empirical and conceptual problems (e.g. tucking in, processing
complexities) with two recent analyses of these asymmetries (Fox's 2003 Late
Merge and Chomsky's 2004 Pair Merge + Simpl) and show how these problems are
naturally resolved under the version of minimalism they call Survive. The
essential ingredient of this theory is that a syntactic object with an unchecked
feature remains active in the Numeration to be accessible to syntactic
computation. This Survive framework not only derives the reconstruction
asymmetries without causing the problems with Fox and Chomsky but also allows
one to maintain a strictly derivational theory of syntax that is free from
look-ahead/look-back, tucking-in, Internal Merge, and Multiple Spell-Out/phases.

Anjum Saleemi's chapter (''On the Interface(s) between Syntax and Meaning'')
suggests a linear/horizontal version of minimalism according to which the
syntax-meaning interface constitutes one end of the derivation, with the
Articulatory-Perceptual (A-P) System being connected to it by Spell-Out. He
further argues for a view of syntax that encompasses pragmatic-illocutionary
aspects of meaning as well as lexical/conceptual structures as an integral part
of the Conceptual-Intentional (C-I) System within the CP region. According to
his view, Phases are themselves interfaces that obey the conditions imposed from
syntax and the C-I System. Saleemi argues that this reconceptualization of the
grammatical architecture allows for a new account of several empirical domains,
including right dislocation in Urdu(-Hindi), polarity items, and binding.

In his chapter ''Dynamic Economy of Derivation'', Takashi Toyoshima attempts to
situate the derivational complexity of syntax within the theory of computational
complexity developed in mathematics and information science. Specifically, he
proposes a dynamic economy principle of minimum feature retention such that at a
stage of the derivation, the operation is chosen that leaves the fewest number
of uninterpretable features in the resulting stage of the same derivation. The
idea behind this principle is that local one-step look-ahead is the very essence
of the syntactic computation; what is avoided is the derivationally
look-far-ahead. This principle resolves mis-generation problems with analyses
that resort to static economy measures such as local economy, lexical subarrays,
and the Preference for Move over Merge.

The final chapter by Dennis Ott (''The Conceptual Necessity of Phases: Some
Remarks on the Minimalist Enterprise'') argues for the conceptual necessity of
phases from the perspective of the C-I System. Given the Unconstrained-Merge
vision of the syntactic derivation, it is solely conditions imposed from the C-I
System that decide which structures are usable for conceptual organization.
Ott's proposal is that those structures are phases, namely, CP, vP, and DP, and
that these units have privileged status due to their propositional character
(information/discourse semantics, thematic structure, and referentiality,
respectively). According to this view, Ott concludes, the primary task of the
theorists is to elucidate C-I properties to give substance to the notion of


The present volume makes it abundantly clear that interface explorations have
finally come to the forefront of the Minimalist Program thanks to the advent of
Phase Theory. As stated in Scheer's chapter, this dynamic architecture leads
theorists to serious examination of a wide variety of phonological and semantic
issues that have not received the attention they deserve and concomitant
reconceptualization of the computational component from a syntax-external
perspective. I take this move as a welcome result given the recent minimalist
conjecture (Chomsky 2004; see also Hauser et al. 2002) that the computation of
human language boils down to the binary concatenative operation of Merge. In
this regard, the present volume certainly serves as an excellent showcase for
the state of the art in interface investigations. As for the other half of the
concern of the present volume, Phase Theory, however, things are still up in the
air. No agreement has been reached yet on what Phases are and what they are for
within the syntax after a decade since Chomsky (2000) laid them out. Some
(Haiden, Stroik and Putnam, and Toyoshima) reject the notion/use of Phase as a
source of computational complexity (look-ahead, look-back, mis-generation); some
others (Saleemi and Ott) try to motivate the necessity of Phases from interface
conditions; the others (Scheer, Tokizaki, Geraci and Kallulli) simply adopt the
theory though this choice does not seem directly relevant to their respective
enterprises. One major reason for this state of affairs, I believe, is that
every linguist working within Phase Theory has quite a different take on it
without ever asking what Phase Theory can do and (perhaps more importantly) what
Phase Theory cannot do. Toyoshima's attempt to frame the issue of the syntactic
derivation within the mathematical theory of computational complexity and Stroik
and Putnam's proposal for a fully local derivational theory in terms of Survive
(see also Geraci's proposal mentioned above) sheds light on this issue, but it
does not seem to be of central importance to minimalist syntacticians at this

Combining the two points made above, the current volume makes clear two
directions of research one could pursue within the Minimalist Program. One is to
elucidate the properties of the syntactic component from a domain-general
perspective (along the lines of Chomsky's 2005 'Third-Factor''); the other is to
investigate sound and meaning-related phenomena and understand how syntax should
work to capture them from an external perspective. Either way, it seems safe to
conclude that syntax as the traditional subdiscipline governing sentence and
phrase construction has come to an end; it either falls within domain-invariant
principles of mathematics/physics (cf. Biolinguistics; Chomsky 2005) or is
relegated to external interfaces.

The InterPhases Conference was definitely the biggest conference on Phase Theory
and Interfaces ever held, which brought together some 200 linguists in Nicosia
to exchange ideas on various issues regarding these topics. As a participant of
the conference myself, I am confident that the volume bears testimony to the
exciting week back in May 2006. I recommend this volume to linguists and
advanced graduate students who are interested in Phase Theory and linguistic


Abels, Klaus (2003) Successive Cyclicity, Anti-Locality, and Adposition
Stranding. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Connecticut, Storrs.
Chomsky, Noam (2000) ''Minimalist Inquiries: The Framework.'' In Roger Martin,
David Michaels & Juan Uriagereka (eds.) Step by Step: Essays on Minimalist
Syntax in Honor of Howard Lasnik. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 89-156.
Chomsky, Noam (2004) ''Beyond Explanatory Adequacy.'' In Adriana Belletti (ed.)
Structures and Beyond: The Cartography of Syntactic Structures, Vol. 3. Oxford:
Oxford University Press. 104-131.
Chomsky, Noam (2005) ''Three Factors in Language Design.'' Linguistic Inquiry 36:
Fox, Danny (2003) ''On Logical Form.'' In Randall Hendrick (ed.) Minimalist
Syntax. Oxford: Blackwell. 82-123.
Fox, Danny & David Pesetsky (2005) ''Cyclic Linearization of Syntactic
Structure.'' Theoretical Linguistics 31: 1-45.
Grohmann, Kleanthes (2009a) Explorations of Phase Theory: Features and
Arguments. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Grohmann, Kleanthes (2009b) InterPhases: Phase-Theoretic Investigations of
Linguistic Interfaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hauser, Mark D., Noam Chomsky & W. Tecumseh Fitch (2002) ''The Faculty of
Language: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?'' Science 298: 1569-1579.
Kaye, Jonathan (1995) ''Derivations and Interfaces.'' In Jacques Durand & Francis
Katamba (eds.) Frontiers of Phonology. London/New York: Longman. 289-332.
Ko, Heejeong (2005) Syntactic Edges and Linearization. Ph.D. Dissertation. MIT.

Yosuke Sato received his Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Arizona in May 2008. After serving as a Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow at the University of British Columbia, he joined the Department of English Language and Literature at the National University of Singapore/NUS as of July 2009. His research interests revolve around syntax and its interface with morphology, semantics, and phonology within the framework of Generative Grammar through case studies from Indonesian, Javanese, Japanese, and English (e.g. active voice morphology, sluicing, P-stranding, the denotation of bare nominals, reduplication, nominal ellipsis, nuclear sentence stress, contraction, psychological predicates). He is currently working on a volume developed from his 2008 dissertation while teaching Semantics and Pragmatics, Morphology and Syntax, and the Lexicon of English at NUS.

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