LINGUIST List 21.1718

Thu Apr 08 2010

Review: Linguistic Theories; Syntax: Grohmann (2009)

Editor for this issue: Monica Macaulay <>

        1.    Yosuke Sato, Explorations of Phase Theory: Interpretation at the Interfaces

Message 1: Explorations of Phase Theory: Interpretation at the Interfaces
Date: 08-Apr-2010
From: Yosuke Sato <>
Subject: Explorations of Phase Theory: Interpretation at the Interfaces
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Announced at
EDITOR: Grohmann, Kleanthes K.TITLE: Explorations of Phase TheorySUBTITLE: Interpretation at the InterfacesSERIES: Interface Explorations [IE] 17PUBLISHER: Mouton de GruyterYEAR: 2009

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


The volume under review grew out of the InterPhases conference that was held atCasteliotissa 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 PhaseTheory (Chomsky 2000 et seq.) and interpretation at the interface of thesyntactic computation with the sound and meaning components.

The present volume consists of ten chapters, followed by the list ofcontributors and index. The opening chapter by Kleanthes Grohmann entitled''Exploring Interfaces'' introduces core concepts within Phase Theory as laid outin Chomsky's recent writings and sketches out central questions that arise inthis theory with regards to the nature and number of interface levels, thetiming and nature of the operation Transfer, and the computational efficiency ofthe syntactic derivation. This chapter also contains a useful summary of thefollowing 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 theWord-Spell-Out Mystery'') points out that Phase Theory opens a new possibilityfor intermodular argumentation, namely, that syntax acts as a reference pointfor competing phonological theories and vice versa. As one case study of thisargumentation, he argues that Kaye's (1995) version of lexical phonology isintermodularly adequate since it provides selective spell-out, the edge of thespelled-out domain, and the Phase Impenetrability(-like) Condition. Scheer alsonotes that this argumentation crucially depends on the assumption thatmorphology and syntax have the same Spell-Out system, but this is far fromobvious in light of what he calls the ''Word-Spell-Out Mystery''; the phonologicaleffects of cyclic spell-out are abundant below words but not above words.

The third chapter by Martin Haiden (''On Bare Prosodic Structure and theSpell-Out of Features'') argues for a parallel model of phonology and syntax tosolve the look-ahead problem posed by Classic Arabic medial gemination and otherphenomena. According to his model, phonology does not apply after syntax but thetwo components apply in parallel in a single cycle. The interfacerepresentations are created recursively in both components and mediated by thetransparent mapping principle to the effect that (PHON, SEM) pairs must remainunchanged throughout a derivation.

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

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

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

In the chapter entitled ''Surviving Reconstruction'', Thomas Stroik and MichaelPutnam discuss well-known reconstruction asymmetries with respect to PrincipleC. They provide empirical and conceptual problems (e.g. tucking in, processingcomplexities) with two recent analyses of these asymmetries (Fox's 2003 LateMerge and Chomsky's 2004 Pair Merge + Simpl) and show how these problems arenaturally resolved under the version of minimalism they call Survive. Theessential ingredient of this theory is that a syntactic object with an uncheckedfeature remains active in the Numeration to be accessible to syntacticcomputation. This Survive framework not only derives the reconstructionasymmetries without causing the problems with Fox and Chomsky but also allowsone to maintain a strictly derivational theory of syntax that is free fromlook-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 thesyntax-meaning interface constitutes one end of the derivation, with theArticulatory-Perceptual (A-P) System being connected to it by Spell-Out. Hefurther argues for a view of syntax that encompasses pragmatic-illocutionaryaspects of meaning as well as lexical/conceptual structures as an integral partof the Conceptual-Intentional (C-I) System within the CP region. According tohis view, Phases are themselves interfaces that obey the conditions imposed fromsyntax and the C-I System. Saleemi argues that this reconceptualization of thegrammatical 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 tosituate the derivational complexity of syntax within the theory of computationalcomplexity developed in mathematics and information science. Specifically, heproposes a dynamic economy principle of minimum feature retention such that at astage of the derivation, the operation is chosen that leaves the fewest numberof uninterpretable features in the resulting stage of the same derivation. Theidea behind this principle is that local one-step look-ahead is the very essenceof the syntactic computation; what is avoided is the derivationallylook-far-ahead. This principle resolves mis-generation problems with analysesthat 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: SomeRemarks on the Minimalist Enterprise'') argues for the conceptual necessity ofphases from the perspective of the C-I System. Given the Unconstrained-Mergevision of the syntactic derivation, it is solely conditions imposed from the C-ISystem that decide which structures are usable for conceptual organization.Ott's proposal is that those structures are phases, namely, CP, vP, and DP, andthat 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 thetheorists is to elucidate C-I properties to give substance to the notion ofpropositionality.


The present volume makes it abundantly clear that interface explorations havefinally come to the forefront of the Minimalist Program thanks to the advent ofPhase Theory. As stated in Scheer's chapter, this dynamic architecture leadstheorists to serious examination of a wide variety of phonological and semanticissues that have not received the attention they deserve and concomitantreconceptualization of the computational component from a syntax-externalperspective. I take this move as a welcome result given the recent minimalistconjecture (Chomsky 2004; see also Hauser et al. 2002) that the computation ofhuman language boils down to the binary concatenative operation of Merge. Inthis regard, the present volume certainly serves as an excellent showcase forthe state of the art in interface investigations. As for the other half of theconcern of the present volume, Phase Theory, however, things are still up in theair. No agreement has been reached yet on what Phases are and what they are forwithin 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 asource of computational complexity (look-ahead, look-back, mis-generation); someothers (Saleemi and Ott) try to motivate the necessity of Phases from interfaceconditions; the others (Scheer, Tokizaki, Geraci and Kallulli) simply adopt thetheory though this choice does not seem directly relevant to their respectiveenterprises. One major reason for this state of affairs, I believe, is thatevery linguist working within Phase Theory has quite a different take on itwithout ever asking what Phase Theory can do and (perhaps more importantly) whatPhase Theory cannot do. Toyoshima's attempt to frame the issue of the syntacticderivation within the mathematical theory of computational complexity and Stroikand 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 itdoes not seem to be of central importance to minimalist syntacticians at thispoint.

Combining the two points made above, the current volume makes clear twodirections of research one could pursue within the Minimalist Program. One is toelucidate the properties of the syntactic component from a domain-generalperspective (along the lines of Chomsky's 2005 'Third-Factor''); the other is toinvestigate sound and meaning-related phenomena and understand how syntax shouldwork to capture them from an external perspective. Either way, it seems safe toconclude that syntax as the traditional subdiscipline governing sentence andphrase construction has come to an end; it either falls within domain-invariantprinciples of mathematics/physics (cf. Biolinguistics; Chomsky 2005) or isrelegated to external interfaces.

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


Abels, Klaus (2003) Successive Cyclicity, Anti-Locality, and AdpositionStranding. 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 MinimalistSyntax 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 36:1-22.Fox, Danny (2003) ''On Logical Form.'' In Randall Hendrick (ed.) MinimalistSyntax. Oxford: Blackwell. 82-123.Fox, Danny & David Pesetsky (2005) ''Cyclic Linearization of SyntacticStructure.'' Theoretical Linguistics 31: 1-45.Grohmann, Kleanthes (2009a) Explorations of Phase Theory: Features andArguments. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.Grohmann, Kleanthes (2009b) InterPhases: Phase-Theoretic Investigations ofLinguistic Interfaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Hauser, Mark D., Noam Chomsky & W. Tecumseh Fitch (2002) ''The Faculty ofLanguage: What Is It, Who Has It, and How Did It Evolve?'' Science 298: 1569-1579.Kaye, Jonathan (1995) ''Derivations and Interfaces.'' In Jacques Durand & FrancisKatamba (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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